Sunday, December 11, 2011

Izakaya Den

Location: 114 Russell Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9654 2977
Cuisine: Japanese

Another blast from the past. We went to Izakaya Den over Easter this year, still mentally salivating over the sweet corn kaki-age we had tried at the Taste of Melbourne 2010.

The place itself is pretty hard to find, tucked away inside an office building of sorts. Inside, there is a long bar with seats, and table seating running parallel to that. 

Japanese izakaya is like a Japanese pub. Drinks and small plates of shared food form the basis of the menu. I see it as a cross between tapas and yum cha, with a Japanese twist. And why not? The Japanese are famous for their bite sized snacks, which are perfect for sharing. Surprisingly, no sushi on this menu, possibly not quite pub-food like enough.

Sakata coated prawns, citrus mayonnaise
The prawns were nicely cooked, and the sakata crumbs formed a nice light crispy coating. The citrus mayonnaise provided a nice counterbalance to the deep fried goodness. 

Crispy cocktail potato, anchovy butter
A pretty average potato, jazzed up with an amazing anchovy butter. Forget all that salt-reduced or unsalted butter. This is the god of all butters. Even if you don't like anchovies, this simply tastes like a intense saltiness immersed in the butter - nothing offensive, but definitely brought an otherwise boring (not even that crispy) potato to life.

sweet corn 'kaki-age'
After Taste of Melbourne 2010, there was no hesitation when it came to ordering this dish. Sounds really simple and possibly boring. But reality was nothing as expected. Crispy handfuls of sweet corn kernels coated in a light and seasoned tempura battered, then deep fried just a medley of flavours and textures. The popping juiciness of the corn against the crispy light batter, paired with green tea salt, was just a party in the mouth. I could eat an entire meal of these.

Steamed snapper with rice in bamboo leaf
 Pretty small serve, with delicate pieces of snapper and some rice. Nothing special.

Wagyu tataki, wasabi cream
At the time of this feasting episode, I wasn't the hugest fan of raw beef. The tataki tasted fresh, but lacked seasoning. And when you don't like wasabi, there wasn't much of a choice.

Grilled squid with sea urchin sauce
From memory, this was one of the specials for the night. Curious about sea urchin sauce, we thought we'd give it a go. I wasn't impressed. The squid was chewy, and coated in a strange tasting sauce (whether it was the sea urchin or not, I couldn't really tell).

Special daikon salad
A simple salad to cleanse the palate. The daikon was refreshingly crunchy. But again, nothing special.

lamb ribs, red miso
The lamb ribs were nicely grilled, but could have had a little more meat on them (or the serving could have contained more than six skinny pieces of bone). We had been curious about the 'red miso' sauce, but it ended up tasting like a saltier version of hoisin sauce.

Den fried chicken
This was the second best dish of the night. Fried chicken? This was no ordinary fried chicken. We couldn't work out what exactly made this chicken taste so good, but it was just brilliant. Light tempura batter, soft pieces well marinated (or seasoned?) chicken. Nothing fancy, but it just worked.

Service was slow, and aside from the two or three keynote dishes of the night, there was nothing to cry home about. I would gladly go again for the corn and the fried chicken, but I'd probably be looking at trying the other dishes on the menu. From discussions with other friends, it seems we may have ordered the wrong dishes.

Overall Impression: 8/10
Izakaya Den on Urbanspoon

Red Spice Road

Location: 27 McKillop Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9603 1601
Cuisine: Asian, Thai, Fusion

Every time I see or hear the words 'pork belly', I immediately think of Red Spice Road. Which is why it is a bit surprising that it's taken me this long to get around to putting up this review. Unfortunately this feasting episode took place well over a year ago (Easter 2010), but the memories of the pork belly still set the standard for pork belly everywhere I go.

Red Spice Road is hidden away in another CBD laneway, off the corner of Bourke and Queen Streets. The atmosphere inside is sophisticated but casual at the same time - particularly since the seating is mostly communal. Get in early or book to snap up a collection of seats if you have a large group.

I'll start with the pork belly, but the rest are all a distant memory, and I won't be doing them justice if I try to comment.

pork belly with chilli caramel, black vinegar, cabbage, mint

Hands down the best pork belly ever. Nice crisp crackling, soft tender pork meat, and an amazing concoction of sticky caramel, spicy chilli and sour black vinegar just topped it all off. The cabbage and mint  worked well with the vinegar and provided a nice refreshing contrast to the heat and stickiness of the meat.

betel leaf with salmon, lemongrass, chilli and Kaffir lime
prawns filled with spicy pork
wild barramundi, sugar peas, baby corn, spicy coconut, lemongrass

minced wagyu beef stir fried with thick rice noodles in black pepper sauce

Service was pleasant, our waiter in particular was friendly and helpful. What was disappointing at the end of the meal was the fact that the waiters didn't bring back the change and simply assumed that it was an automatic tip. We waited 10 minutes to see if they would bring back the change, and in the end, gave up and asked for it on the way out. Rather than apologizing, they begrudgingly handed back the $3.

Ironically, we had enjoyed the meal and the service had been really good and would have tipped the change - had they brought it back. The fact that they were annoyed at having to hand back their assumed tip was a bit of a spoiler for an otherwise wonderful night.

Overall Impression: 9/10
Red Spice Road on Urbanspoon

Papa Goose

Location: 91-93 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9663 2800
Cuisine: Modern Australian

My latest Melbourne trip didn't involve much more than eating and sleeping. My feasting for the weekend began on a Friday evening after getting up at a ridiculously early hour to fly interstate for an all day meeting. Had drinks after work, then headed to Papa Goose for dinner. 

Another gem tucked away in Flinders Lane, Papa Goose has a similar style of food to the Aylesbury

Palate cleanser - minted pea puree
First up was the complimentary palate cleanser - a shot of minted pea puree. Surprisingly appetising, the pea puree was smooth and the mint was subtle and refreshingly. A great start to the meal.

Aylesbury duck, roasted carrot puree, fennel, fig, mandarin marmalade
Having had an amazing duck experience at the Aylesbury, I couldn't go past the Aylesbury duck here. The duck was well cooked, still moist and tender. The carrot puree was sweet and smooth, but there wasn't too much of it. And then there was the mandarin - a modern and very clever take on duck a l'orange!

Toasted coconut pannacotta, rum & pineapple sorbet, caramelized pineapple, coconut foam
This dessert reminded me a fair bit of 'citrus' at the Aylesbury. The pannacotta was nicely infused with coconut and had a smooth consistency. The sorbet was refreshing, and provided a nice contrast against the caramelized pineapple. The coconut foam was a little confusing, as it tasted more like whipped cream than foam. But all round, a great dessert.

Eskimo's pie, 'hot chocolate'

Service was good. Atmosphere was nice, and not too noisy so it's definitely a place for conversation.

Overall Impression: 8.5/10
Papa Goose on Urbanspoon


Location: Basement 141 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9650 3155
Cuisine: Spanish, Tapas

It's been quite a long time since V and I went to Coda, but in keeping with the tapas theme of late, I thought I'd finally post up the photos, and add what commentary I can remember.

Coda is one of a number of tapas places slowly popping up along Flinders Lane, alongside Cumulus and Movida.

Syrahmi salami by Adam Foster
Not your ordinary salami, which generally taste mostly of salt and chilli, this one was delicate and had a hint of smokiness. Went very nicely with the bread sticks.

Hervey Bay scallop, pearl tapioca and Yarra Valley salmon caviar
My top dish of the night - fresh scallops cooked perfectly, sitting on a smooth pearl tapioca sauce and topped with salmon caviar that just popped in the mouth. Absolutely delicious and a nice balance of flavours and textures.

Crispy prawn and tapioca betel leaf
Another flavoursome dish, combining the crispy outer of the prawns, the juicy prawn meat inside a betel leaf.

Fremantle octopus, green mango & kaffir lime salad, roasted chilli & shallot dressing
V's favourite dish of the night - in fact, every time we go for tapas she constantly reminds me of how good the 'octopus at Coda' was. The octopus was grilled until tender, and sat on a bed of pounded chilli and shallots. sour green mango and kaffir lime provided a contrast to the fiery spice of the chilli and shallots.

Quail lettuce delight, lup cheong, shitake mushroom, coriander and water chestnuts
Probably the least stand out dish for me. The quail was cooked very well, but the construction was nothing special - a couple of Asian flavours stir fried together and poured into a lettuce leaf. After getting hit with all the wonderful flavours and aromas of the earlier dishes, this was a bit of a let down. There wasn't anything wrong with it, it just lacked the 'punch' that the other dishes had carried with them.

Unfortunately I don't really remember much about this dish.

What impressed me most with the service at Coda was the thought that our waiter put into designing our meal. After leaving us to peruse the menu for a few minutes, the waiter we through the dishes we had selected, then designed an order in which they would arrive, so as to break up flavours and also to build into the whole experience that degustation feeling.

Overall Impression: 9/10
Coda on Urbanspoon