Monday, June 11, 2012

Trunk Bar & Restaurant

Location: 275 Exhibition Street, Melbourne 3000
Phone: (03) 9663 7994
Cuisine: Italian

Off the plane and first stop is Trunk Bar & Restaurant for lunch. We hadn't made a booking and the place was fully booked, but the staff were accommodating and found us a nice table next to the window anyway. 

warm bread and olive oil
You know you're at a good restaurant when they offer complimentary bread that is actually warm. Slices of toasted focaccia bread arrived at our table with some olive within minutes of ordering. The bread smelt amazing and was soft and fluffy inside, crispy on the outside.

soft shell chilli crab
Hands down one of the best soft shell crabs I've ever had. A light tempura batter coated large pieces of soft shell crab, so crispy that a small press of the knife snaps the pieces into manageable pieces. The crab is sweet and juicy, perfectly cooked. And then there was the seasoning - a good kick of chilli (but not overpowering), ample salt, and refreshing herbs to break it all up. It was a generous serve, but not so huge as to fill you up before the main. 

house-made saffron linguine with prawns, calamari,
scallops, garlic, chilli, lemon & torn rocket
As if I hadn't had enough seafood already, I ordered the seafood linguine. The linguine was rustic-looking and thicker than usual, but had a nice springy texture. There was plenty of seafood, and all were cooked to perfection. The sauce was rich and infused with seafood flavours and coated the linguine well. A nice hearty dish to fight off some of the cold outside!

I was very impressed by the quality of service - even though we hadn't made a booking, they had seated us, and surprisingly there was no rush to get us out. Food arrived in a timely manner and the waiters were friendly and polite. Definitely a place that can be done during a lunch break, but also good for a cruisey long lunch if you can afford to take the extra time.

A good way to start a weekend of feasting in Melbourne!

Overall Impression: 8.5/10
Trunk on Urbanspoon

Chin Chin

Location: 125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 3000
Phone: (03) 8663 2000
Cuisine: South East Asian

After a good 6 months or so of waiting, I finally made it to Chin Chin for lunch last Friday. And the best part was that there was no line - we were seated almost immediately!

I've heard mixed reviews about the place. Some like the food, some don't. Sometimes the service is good, sometimes not so good. We were lucky, this was one of their good days, and we had decent food and pleasant service.

kingfish sashimi with lime, chilli, coconut & Thai basil

I love kingfish sashimi. Not the biggest fan of cooked kingfish, but when it's served fresh or cured, it has a beautiful delicate texture. And this was probably the best kingfish I have ever had. Thinly slices of amazing fresh kingfish was dressed with tangy lime and a kick of chilli. Coconut cream was used creatively like a mayonnaise and drizzled over the sashimi, and the dish was finished off with fresh basil.

crispy barramundi & green apple salad with caramelised pork, chilli & lemongrass
One of the 'larger' dishes. The barramundi pieces were crispy on the outside, flaky on the inside and well seasoned. The caramelised pork was sweet and fall-apart-tender. The apple pieces provided a nice refreshing crunchy texture to the dish.

grilled roti madtarbak filled with Indian spiced beef & cucumber relish
This caught my eye on the menu following Mindy's winning dish in the MasterChef sandwich invention test a couple of weeks ago. When it arrived, I was a little disappointed - it looked nothing like Mindy's dish. But the roti was crispy, thin and buttery, the mince was nicely flavoured and the cucumber relish was deliciously refreshing. Not exactly a 'wow' dish, but it was quite tasty.

"son in law" eggs with chilli jam
If you're looking for Gingerboy's famous 'son in law' eggs, this is not it. Gingerboy's version is soft boiled and quickly deep fried so that when you put the whole thing into your mouth, the yolk bursts in your mouth. These ones were different. The egg was closer to being hard boiled than soft boiled, and the yolk was relatively solid. You can imagine the disappointment that the eggs have already been cut in half, and there is no yolk to break into. 

The chilli jam was nice, as were the condiments which added some extra flavours and textures to the dish. But my verdict goes in Gingerboy's favour.

For a first visit, I was happy. The food was tasty and interesting, and that kingfish sashimi was definitely the best dish of the day. Will happily return, there are still lots of things to try from the menu1

Overall Impression: 8.5/10
Chin Chin on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Happy & Lucky Family Chinese Restaurant: Yum Cha

Location: 23-25 Anderson Creek Road, Doncaster East
Cuisine: Chinese, Yum Cha

After an unimpressive visit a while back, we decided to give this restaurant another go following rumours that the ownership had changed.

How wrong were we?

We arrived for a late lunch and were terribly disappointed by yet another bad experience.

The first of the trolleys arrived at our table, and the waitress  asked us what we wanted without telling us what was available. We had to point and ask about each individual steamer. We ended up with a range of dumplings and some braised beef tendon.

It later turned out that that was the one and only trolley circulating. The rest either came out on trays or had to be ordered (without a menu).

clockwise from left: scallop dumplings, prawn dumplings,
chive dumplings, braised beef tendon
The dumplings were rather average. The scallop and prawn dumplings had nice thin wrappers, but were lacking in actual seafood content and tasted like they were predominantly filled with some floury base. The chive dumpling was a little better, with a strong chive flavour. The beef tendon had a nice gelatinous texture, with the exception of a few pieces that were slightly underdone.

left: rice paper crispy prawns; right: chicken feet

The biggest disappointment was the crispy rice paper prawns. We should have guessed from the lack of colour that they wouldn't be that crispy, but we didn't expect them to be borderline soggy. It was as though the oil wasn't hot enough when they were deep fried, so instead of frying, the rice paper wrappers just soaked up all the oil. The dipping sauces were the only redeeming features, and they were stock standard sauces.

Unlike the other dishes, the chicken feet came out smoking hot and were cooked well. Nice flavour, actual pieces of black bean and soft chewy gelatinous pieces of chicken feet.

The only other dish we ordered was the fried turnip cake, which had a nice crispy finish, but was a little underseasoned.

The lack of quality in the food was one thing. On the way out, I noticed a dead fish in their 'live seafood' tank. I'm not sure I'll be returning anytime soon, and definitely won't be ordering any live seafood from there.

Overall Impression: 4/10

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sage Restaurant

Location: Gorman House Arts Centre, Braddon ACT 2612
Phone: (02) 6249 6050 
Cuisine: French, Modern Australian, Degustation

As a special farewell for a friend who was leaving the city, we headed to Sage for a last hurrah and some fine dining.

I'd heard lots of good things about Sage, so was definitely expecting great things. It possibly didn't help them that I'd just been to Vue de Monde a few days before.

Service on arrival was pleasant as the waiter offered to take out coats and made friendly small talk. Menus were laid out on the table with a selection from the already rather limited menu. My first disappointment for the night was that the two dishes I had set my eyes on from the online menu were not available. I'm not sure if it was due to the size of our group (~12 people), or whether it was standard, so we'll let that one slip.

We opted for the three course meal for $80, which included bread and amuse bouche.

house baked bread with artisan churned butter and sea salt

First up was a starter of house baked bread served with artisan churned butter and sea salt. The freshly baked bread was warm, crusty on the outside and soft and fluffy inside. The butter was smooth, rice and creamy, and salt was, well, salt. A nice start to the meal.

amuse bouche: mushroom miso consomme

Ahh, I love this kind of food. The amuse bouche came in the guise of a mushroom soup infused with miso, a tuile and some pieces of mushroom served on a piece of slate. The soup was rich and filled with mushroomy goodness, although a tad too salty. The tuile was crisp and acted a little like a crouton. Delicious!

After quite a long wait, our entrees were brought out.

pork ‘all sorts':slow cooked belly, braised cheek, choucroute, baby vegetables
I ordered the pork 'all sorts', which was essentially different cuts of pork cooked in different ways. The pork cheek was beautifully soft and tender, flaking when pulled at with the fork. It had a nice rich flavour which was balanced out with the sweetness of the choucroute (pickled cabbage). The baby vegies were cute and added some nice colours and 'crunch' to the dish. But the pork belly. What a total disappointment!

For me, pork belly is either braised or stewed to the point where the rind becomes soft and gelatinous, or it is roasted so that the crackling is crunchy and 'cracks' when cut with a knife. Yes, yes, MasterChef has taught me a lot...

This one? The meat was soft and tender, the fat was rendered, but the crackling was not the least big crunchy. It was soggy and a little chewy. To be honest, I would've gotten better roast pork from an Asian BBQ store (and there aren't that many of them around in Canberra).

The other entrees included a heirloom carrot dish, and a 'beetroot variations' dish that my friends raved about. 

honey peppered heirloom carrots:malt, yolk, ricotta, olive powder, brioche

beetroot variations: eucalyptus smoked trout, freeze dried mandarin, coriander
Again, another long wait before our mains were brought out, and this was where the service started going downhill. Whilst the gentleman waiter we'd had to start with remained polite and friendly all night, we had one waitress who looked like she clearly did not want to be there. I got a sense of a 'can't be bothered' attitude from her as she collected dishes after we finished each course.

What was worse was when she brought out the veal for a friend, and somehow managed to spill sauce on my coat (perhaps it would have been a better idea to hand my coat in when we got there).  I didn't realise what had happened until a friend pointed it out to me. The waitress made one of the biggest mistakes in restaurant service - she failed to acknowledge it and pretended nothing happened, but clearly knew because she suddenly became very flustered, and her attitude only got worse after that.

Anyway, onto the mains...

lemon sole: potato crumble, cauliflower, parsley, capers, red wine jus
I don't often order fish when I'm out, partially because I've had too many experiences with overcooked fish fillets or fish with their bones left in, and also because I'm more a shellfish or meat fan. I was rather pleased with this dish - a generous serve of three fillets of perfectly cooked fresh sole with crumbles of potato and cauliflower scattered around it. The highlight of the dish was the yellow 'roll-up' - which tasted just like a mango roll-up only fruitier - that added a nice sweetness to the dish.

I couldn't quite work out where the red wine jus or lemon elements of the dish were. The sauce dolloped around the plate certainly did not taste like red wine (and were creamy and tangy, going well with the fish). What I missed most with the dish was the lemon. I felt like there could have been a much more intense lemon flavour, whether it be in some deconstructed form, or even as a wedge of lemon on the side. Without the lemon, the dish really relied heavily on the 'roll-up' for any variation in flavour.

muscovy duck: orange, carrot, pickled red cabbage, licorice

artichokes: textures of globe & jerusalem artichokes, hazelnut, kale, sherry

veal tenderloin: sweetbreads, forest mushrooms, sweet potato, soy & maple glaze

French peas - bacon, eschallot, cos lettuce
The peas were but one of the sides that we ordered for the table, along with the delightfully buttery Paris mash. These peas were fresh and had a fragrant aroma from the eschallot and smokiness from the bacon.

The waiting times were getting longer and longer. If I recall correctly, dessert took almost 45 minutes to be served - and this was after the waiters insisted we order our desserts when we ordered the entrees and mains. One would have thought that pre-ordering dessert would mean that it would come out faster, or at least in a reasonable amount of time.

electric citrus: pound cake, kalamansi curd, marshmallow, lemon sorbet
When it finally arrived, I was immediately impressed by the presentation and creativity inherent in the dish. Sage had finally redeemed it's 'fine dining' reputation through this one dish. The chef had certainly demonstrated 'electric citrus' - light and airy pound cake, sweet and juicy pieces of mandarin, strawberry and soft pilllowy marshmallows, quinelles of zingy lemon sorbet and a beautiful lemony foam that floated over the top of all the other ingredients.

The dessert was everything a dessert needed - textures, flavours, and aethetically pleasing.

chocovado: chocolate cremeux, hazelnut cocoa crumble, lemon gel, avocado cream

rhubarb & raspberry: quinoa crunch, creme brulee foam, rose petals
I have never been to a fine dining restaurant and been so disappointed with the service. The food was generally very good with some amazing dishes, and others that fell short of the mark. For $80, it was decent value for money.

Just don't go for the service.

Overall Impression: 7.5/10
Sage Restaurant on Urbanspoon