Saturday, December 29, 2012

Roast Duck Inn

Location: Carrington Road, Box Hill, VIC
Cuisine: Cantonese

It's been a while since I've been very impressed with a Cantonese eatery. New ones crop up all the time in Box Hill, only to disappear months later due to mediocre food, bad service, or simply just bad management.

So when I say I was impressed with the recently opened Roast Duck Inn in Box Hill, I was very much impressed.

It started from the moment we were seated. Polite waitresses brought out not only complimentary tea but also a bowl of complimentary soup each. Little gestures that don't necessarily cost the restaurant much, but can impress their patrons. Too many restaurants these days charge exorbitant amounts of money for tea that costs next to nothing to provide. The soup is a classic Cantonese starter and goes down a treat as we read the menu. 

Classic Cantonese starter soup

The menu is only 2-3 pages and sports all the classic roast meats (duck, roast pork, BBQ pork etc), as well as all the usual Cantonese noodle and rice dishes. We order a beef brisket noodle soup and a char kuay teow to share. About a minute or so after we order, the manager comes over to check if we've had our orders taken. The attention to detail is overwhelming for a little cafe like this.

Food comes out pretty quickly. The beef brisket noodle soup arrives and you can immediately smell the aromas of the herbs and spices that the brisket has been stewing. The meat is fall-apart tender, the tendon is cooked to perfection - soft, slippery and full of flavour. A nest of egg noodles, some greens and aromatic broth. Simple and brilliant.

beef brisket noodle soup

The char kuay teow is also beautifully executed. The all-too-famous wok-smell is evident as it hits the table, and the dish is loaded full of rice noodles, prawns, chicken, fish cake, cuttlefish and Chinese sausage. Just enough seasoning to lift the dish, but not so much as to overpower it. 

char kuay teow

And to top it all off, the meal came to approximately $20. This is the epitome of Box Hill food. Classic dishes, thoughtful management, attentive waitresses and generous serves at decent prices. I wouldn't hesitate to go again.

Overall Impression: 9/10
[someone needs to create an Urbanspoon account for this place]

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Henry and the Fox

Location: 525 Little Collins Street, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9614 3277
Cuisine: Modern Australian

So it's been a while since my last post. And no, it's like I haven't been eating, but it's more the fact that Canberran food tends to be mediocre compared the culinary superiority of Melbourne and Sydney. And so I return.

First venture into the CBD this trip and this time, it's for lunch at Henry and the Fox. It's got a fun name, which sounds more like the name of an inn from a fantasy novel than the name of a modern day restaurant in Melbourne. But modern day restaurant it is, with the polished wooden decor, outdoor seating and simple menu.

Service is pleasant, the food is fresh and cooked to perfection, and the place just has a nice casual ambiance with plenty of space between tables.

scallops, jamon, pea risotto
Risotto the way it should be. You can see and feel the individual rice grains swimming with some fresh green peas in a subtle creamy sauce. The scallops are perfectly seared, lightly crispy on the edges, soft and delicate and sweet inside. The dish is garnished with shards of crisp jamon, which add the salt element to the dish.

Unlike most risottos, which tend to be very heavy, the dish was well-balanced and the portion size was perfect for lunch.

chocolate brownie, salted caramel, hazelnut,
freeze-dried strawberries, burnt fig ice cream
Soft gooey chocolate brownies, cubed for presentation purposes, is matched with intense hits of sweet and sour from the freeze-dried strawberries, salted caramel, hazelnut and a creamy burnt fig ice cream. A brilliant balance of flavours and textures, and again not too heavy, a trap many chocolate based desserts tend to fall into.

The place is great for both small and large gatherings, or even just for a few after work drinks in the outdoor seating area. My only gripe is that the complimentary starter bread is cold. But that is negligible issue when the meals themselves are of such high quality.

Overall Impression: 8.5/10
Henry and the Fox on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 27, 2012

Giraffe Cafe

Location: 302 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne 3000
Phone: (03) 9640 0889
Cuisine: Coffee, Desserts

It's a Saturday night and we've just finished dinner early so we fire up Urbanspoon to see whether there are any dessert places in the vicinity. Giraffe Cafe comes up and after looking at the reviews and the photos, we decide to give it a shot.

The place can be hard to find - from the front entrance, it just looks like a little takeaway bakery or pastry shop. Weave your way past the counter into the dining area and you're in a whole new world.

The dining area is slightly eclectic and set up to mimic something of a indoor courtyard. Wooden slats run across one wall of the room with some smaller pieces of shelving to display a collection of random objects. There are wooden bookcases, mismatched chairs, a couch and even a tree right in the centre of the room.

The menu sports about 8-9 different desserts. Taking the advice of fellow critics, we order the creme brulee and the chocolate pudding.

creme brulee
The creme brulee comes out presented beautifully. The brulee itself is a nice caramelised brown, two soldiers of sweet brioche sit on the plate with a raspberry compote and a drizzle of chocolate. We dive for the brulee and are glad to hear the familiar crack as we break through the sugar.

That's where the excitement ends. The custard inside is eggy and overcooked. And that's not all. We hit the bottom and find liquid custard. The dessert is a bit of a disaster, and the only thing I can think of is that the custard has split when it was first made, and therefore has not set properly in the oven.

overcooked eggy custard with liquid custard at the base
Given the creme brulee is supposed to be the best dessert this place have, it is a total disappointment.

chocolate pudding
Still a little scarred by the creme brulee, we move onto the chocolate pudding. The pudding itself is rich, smooth and heavenly. But the deliciousness of the gooey chocolate pudding is let down by what seems to be a large scoop of cheap ice-cream that's already melting into the pudding as it hits our table. My first thought is that the ice-cream should have been served on the side, and we'd have paid more for decent ice-cream.

Despite all that, surely they can get a mocha right? I judge a good mocha by how much chocolate I can taste in it. And I wasn't overly impressed with this. The coffee was strong, but there was little to no chocolate flavour. If I had wanted something that tasted more like coffee, I would've ordered a cappuccino.

Not the best experience, and I'm certainly not expecting to return any time in the near future.

Overall Impression: 3.5/10
Giraffe Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Press Club

Location: 72 Flinders Street, Melbourne 3000
Phone: (03) 9677 9677
Cuisine: Greek

It's been another weekend of good old Melbourne feasting and where else to start but with the highlight?

The Press Club is probably George Calombaris' most well-known restaurant and it certainly lived up to expectations. The entrance is tucked away just inside the Ernst & Young building on Flinders Street, but once inside, you can't even tell. 

The interior is smart and elegant, with a nice calming ambience. A friendly waitress leads us to our table, takes our coats away and returns with a drinks menu. We're asked whether we'd like still or sparkling water, and after requesting tap, we're informed that is not available. Fair enough if that is the restaurant's protocol, but we later hear a waitress offering our neighbouring table if they would like tap, still or sparkling. Not impressed.

We order cocktails and scan the two options available for lunch: a kerasma (four course sharing menu) or the mini symposium (five course degustation of chef's choices). The Zeus dessert from MasterChef All Stars catches our eyes, and we're pretty much sold. The waitress returns with a wooden box to explain the menu and the specials for the day. With truffle season drawing to a close, it must be on the menu. The waitress opens the box to reveal a large ball of truffle, the aroma immediately wafts across the table.

We're left to ponder our menu choices but with the truffle smell still lingering, it's not hard to decide. We go for the symposium, and add in the truffle special as an extra course.

olive bread, white bread, anchovy butter
The bread arrives - small stacks of olive bread and white bread, with a quinelle of anchovy butter. The butter is to die for - smooth, rich and salty - and it melts into the warmed bread. A great starter, and when offered seconds, we accept without hesitation.

Artichoke - Jerusalem, celeriac, parsnip, smoked walnut, toursi onion, kalamata olive
We're impressed with our first course. From meat lovers like us, any dish that comprises simply of vegetables doesn't ordinarily appeal, but the number of techniques that have gone into the various components on this dish somehow win us over. 

The artichoke is sweet and tender from slow cooking, the onions have been made into a sweet caramelised sorbet, the celeriac is fresh and a little crunchy, and the parsnip is soft. The smoked walnut and olives scattered around the place draw the dish together. But the best part is the quinelle in the centre - subtle flavours of olive oil and grains that taste like cereal in a sorbet.

Swordfish - "Poseidon god of the sea", sea weeds & vegetables, ouzo mayoneza, pink fir
This is the first time I have knowingly eaten swordfish (hey, who knows what people put in 'fish' dishes these days?) and it's impressive. It's gently seared on the outside, and still rare in the centre. The fresh pieces of fish almost have a jelly-like consistency, but firm enough to hold its shape. The delicate flavours balance well with the crunchy savoury seaweed and shaved vegetables. The ouzo mayonnaise is sweet and ties the dish together.

Tasmanian truffle, marron, girolles, kritharaki
A foodie's heaven. After much anticipation, our truffle dish arrives. It's a risoni (Greek rice) based dish, with pieces of marron meat, a mushroom foam and generous slivers of truffle. When they said the special was to showcase the truffle, this certainly does the job. The risoni is cooked to al dente, plump from soaking in its cooking liquid, the marron pieces are sweet and tender, and the mushroom foam is creamy and intense in flavour. 

But the hero is the truffle which has been delicately sliced so thinly that it almost just melts in the mouth without being too overpowering. Truffle is the most amazing thing in the world, end of story.

Hapuka - Trahana, parsley, strawberry clams, maratho, kalamares, lahano
It's my first time eating hapuka and it is certainly an interesting experience. It is one of the firmer types of fish, with a texture that is almost crocodile like - overcooked fishy flavoured chicken. The foam on top is perhaps a little overkill in that it doesn't add much flavour or texture to the dish, but the crisp shavings of vegetables, and the green olive sauce give the dish the added flavour it needs.

Wagyu - 24 hour oyster blade, helleniko kafe, celeriac, horta, heirloom carrot
On arrival, the dish looks a little like your usual steak and mash. Not so. It's no ordinary beef. The wagyu is so tender it cuts easily with a normal knife, and just melts in the mouth. The heirloom carrots are sweet and slightly caramelised, and the white emulsion on the side is slightly sweet and creamy. The grains on top again add an interesting texture to the dish.

Sokolata - A story of Zeus & his 8 mistresses with Michel Cluizel single original dark chocolate
All those who watched MasterChef All Stars would remember the Zeus dessert. It was slightly disappointing that this dish did not look like the one on the show (in particular, the chocolate bar representing Hera was not wrapped in edible gold), but it was nevertheless a beautiful end to the meal.

A large quinelle of 'chocolate clay' (sorbet) was surrounded by various textures and forms of chocolate - chocolate caramel, chocolate sorbet, chocolate cake, chocolate tuile, white chocolate nougat - and some freeze dried raspberries to add a sharp zingy contrast to the richness of the chocolate. The tuile was perfectly crisp, the chocolate clay was cold and refreshing, and the rest just fell into place. Definitely an indulgence.

The service was near impeccable. Aside from that misleading line about water (for which we were then charged $6 per person), the dishes were well timed and presented by passionate waiters and waitresses who ran us through was we were about to eat.

Overall Impression: 9/10
The Press Club on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

PappaRich Doncaster

Location: 540 Doncaster Road, Doncaster 3108
Phone: (03 9848 1572
Cuisine: Malaysian

So the Pavilion closed down and in its place up popped Pappa Rich, a relatively casual and family friendly restaurant chain that has only recently come to my attention.

We're there on a Thursday evening without a booking and, despite the place been packed out, we're seated almost immediately. We soon find out why - the tables are tiny and all crammed together. Typical Asian restaurant.

The food soon demonstrates why the place is already so popular. We order an assortment of dishes to share and somehow manage to juggle these on the small surface area of the table.

roti canai with curry chicken
First up is a roti canai with curry chicken. The roti is crisp and flaky on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. It soaks up the curry and various dips brilliantly.  As an added bonus, the chicken is 'fall-off-the-bone' tender and full of flavour.

crispy fried chicken skin
This is a bit of an odd dish, and ordering it turns out to be a bit of a mistake. We had somehow envisaged crispy and juicy pieces of chicken skin much like that found on grilled chicken wings, but alas these are dry and overcooked. The redeeming feature is the sweet chilli dipping sauce, which adds a nice fresh hit of spice and moisture to the dish.

Ipoh horfun with chicken and shrimp
Another Malaysian classic, Ipoh horfun is a rice noodle in soup dish, accompanied by various proteins and vegetables. This one comes with pieces of juicy prawns and slices of chicken. Simple ingredients with a flavoursome soup base.

Pappa char kway teow with cockles
When we saw cockles on the menu, we had in mind cockles still in their shells. Despite the dish coming out very much shell-less, the char kway teow is everything a char kway teow should be. A mix of soft rice noodles that have been slightly charred in the wok, crunchy fresh bean sprouts, chewy cockles and a range of other vegetables, all brought together with a wonderful wok smokiness.

nasi lemak with fried chicken
Nasi lemak is traditionally served with a curry base. But given we'd already had curry chicken with our roti, we went with the fried chicken.

Not your typical KFC chicken, but the skin is crispy and the meat inside still tender. The coconut rice is deliciously sweet and aromatic, and the sambal, ikan bilis and peanuts round out the flavours and textures in the dish.

In terms of ambience, this is not the place to go for a nice quiet dinner. The place is loud and abuzz with the chatter of patrons and waiters racing around taking orders and delivering meals. A great vibe for a casual dinner.

Overall Impression: 8.5/10
PappaRich Doncaster on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Circa, the Prince

Location: 2 Acland Street, St Kilda, VIC 3182
Phone: (03) 9536 1122
Cuisine: Modern Australian, French, European

I've started trawling through my photos from restaurants for which I still have reviews outstanding. Don't ask how many there are.

My first and only experience at Circa was actually dinner at my first professional conference last year. So the meal was served function-style, and no doubt a real a la carte experience would be much much better. It's also been a while since I was there, so some of the details are a little hazy,

Entrée is either a Thai Wagyu beef salad or a salmon gravalax, served alternatively. 

Thai style Wagyu beef salad, toasted rice
I'm served the beef, which consists of thinly sliced grilled Wagyu, doused in a zingy Thai dressing and topped with crunchy bits of toasted rice.

sugar cured salmon gravalax, warm dill pancakes and finger lime dressing
The salmon looks impressive, and I hear good reviews.

For main course, it's a choice between slow cooked lamb or harpuka. A bit of a sucker for slow cooked meats, I order the lamb.

slow cooked lamb crusted in tomato, caramelized onion and red peppers
The serving is generous, the lamb is soft and tender and cooked just right. The caramelized onion and peppers add a nice sweet contrast to the meatiness of the lamb. The only thing I'm missing is some zing, perhaps some fresh herbs or a wedge of lemon to help cut through the richness of the dish. But for a function this size, the dish is far better than expected.

harpuka, crushed kipfler potato with green olives, oven dried tomato, basil and artichoke

nougat praline semi freddo, strawberries, warm doughnuts
I didn't grow up a sweet tooth, but I've developed a real appreciation of desserts over the years. In particular, desserts that don't feature chocolate. Don't get me wrong, among the best desserts I've tasted are a chocolate pudding and a chocolate pudding, but I have a huge respect for any restaurant that can make a star dessert without chocolate.

The semi freddo was light and airy and topped with a fresh strawberry sorbet. The praline was crunchy and very much toffee goodness. The doughnut was nothing special, and did kind of confuse the dish a little.

chocolate pave with coconut ice-cream
The other dessert was the talk of the night. Chocolate, of course.

petit fours
And to finish off, tea or coffee, accompanied by little bite-sized snacks. Simple, tasty and a nice way to end the evening (along with the drinking of course).

Overall Impression: 8/10
Circa, the Prince on Urbanspoon

Aspro Ble

Location: 389 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9602 4444
Cuisine: Greek

For a while, Aspro Ble was a little-known Greek restaurant hidden away in a corner of the CBD not generally known for food. Following some foodie rumours, we decided to test it out on one of my Melbourne trips some time ago.

The layout is more cafe-style than fine dining. Decor is minimal and follows a light blue and white theme that almost gives it a nautical feel. The limited tables are arranged around a bar and open kitchen.

We're waiting for a friend to get out of work, so we grab a drink and some bread and dips to tide us over.

blood orange tiro
Turkish bread with trio of dips
There's two types of bread - chargrilled pieces of crisp flatbread, and thicker slices of fluffy Turkish bread. Both go impeccably well with the trio of dips (caviar, tzatziki and hommus).

slow roasted lamb with garlic yogurt dressing, lemon and tarragon gravy
If you're hungry, the slow roasted lamb is the dish for you. The plate is brought out with what looks like a dainty mound of shredded roast lamb, a garlic yoghurt, a jug of gravy and a wedge of lemon.

Dainty? Think again. The serve of lamb is very generous and the slow roasting has done it justice. There is a smoky aroma which is drawn out more by the zingy freshness of the garlic yoghurt and a squeeze of lemon. The tarragon gravy is smooth and silky, and as much as I love the flavours in the gravy, it does leave me wondering what role it had to play in the dish.

crispy chat potatoes with olive oil, lemon and oregano
Who doesn't love potatoes. Crispy on the outside, light and fluffy inside. A simple but tasty side, although given the amount of lamb there was, a side salad might have been a better choice.

Oh well, there is always next time!

Overall Impression: 8/10
Aspro Ble on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Grandma's Little Bakery

Location: 5796 Federal Highway, Collector NSW 2581
Phone: (02) 4848 0240
Cuisine: Italian, Greek

Grandma's Little Bakery is a snug little cafe located at the Fedra Olive Grove, along the Federal Highway on the way to Sydney.

We haven't booked, and it turns out that they have a full house. We're given two options - get take away, or sit outside. The sun is shining, so we opt for sitting outdoors.

As luck would have it, it starts raining but the wonderful waiter finds us a table inside. Seated inside the cosy dining area, our dishes are brought out.

Wow. Out come two platters larger than we had imagined.

Grandma's gourmet lamb 'basket pie' served with side salad

So it turns out that the 'basket pie' is literally a 'basket' of crispy flaky pastry filled with a generous serve of braised lamb and beans. An assortment of sides are nestled against the side of the pie. A pesto, a tomato salsa and a fresh garden salad. 

slow cooked osobouko & Grandma's tomato marinade served with wild rice
Soft and tender pieces of slow cooked beef that literally falls off the bone with a light prod of the fork sits surrounded by a rich tomato gravy. The wild rice is textural, aromatic and soaks up the gravy beautifully. On the side are a slice of freshly baked bread and a minty pesto to add a refreshing contrast to the richness of the rest of the dish.

Overall Impression: 8.5/10
Grandma’s Little Bakery on Urbanspoon


Location: 297 Exhibition Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9077 1097
Cuisine: Vietnamese

After quick and simple Vietnamese food in the CBD? MissChu is the place to go. It has a tiny shopfront so if you're not looking for it, it's pretty easy to miss.

 'sashimi tuna' and 'satay chicken & coconut young' rice paper rolls
Rice paper rolls are what MissChu is known for and these certainly impressed. We ordered one with sashimi tuna, and another with satay chicken and coconut. Both were delicious. The sashimi was fresh and delicate. The chicken one was packed with flavour and sweet pieces of coconut. And the dipping sauce was sweet and savoury, a little spicy and totally to die for.

coconut juice
There was a little disappointment at seeing the coconut juice arrive in the form of packaged coconut juice. Given everything else on the menu seemed to be made on site, I had been hoping for some fresh coconut juice. That said, it was sweet and fresh and went great with the rest of the meal.

Peking duck pancakes
These peking duck pancakes were tasty. The pancakes were light and delicate, the duck was tender and the skin was a little crispy. However, it lacked

traditional pork Hanoi spring rolls
This is nothing like the typical boring spring rolls you get from the take away store, which are usually filled with a bunch of shredded vegetables and little to no meat. The traditional Vietnamese spring roll is filled with a fragrant mince mixture with a range of different textured vegies. These were the most authentic I've had in the Melbourne CBD - crispy on the outside, fragrant juicy meat filling on the inside.

The only complaint I'd make is that for $6, I'd have expected more.  In Springvale or Footscray, one would get a good 6-8 of these crunchy treats.

Overall Impression: 9/10
MissChu on Urbanspoon