Melbourne, the food capital of Australia, where multi-cultural cuisines reign supreme. You've arrived at a food blog where good food has no boundaries - be it restaurants, cafes, takeaway joints and any other eating places. Recipes to try out with successes and failures blogged to no shame. The focus is on authentic Asian (Singapore) food found right here in the heart of Melbourne. Just remember, the best dining experience could surprise your tastebuds when you least expect it. Get ready to be surprised on my food journey. Bon Appétit!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Mamak Melbourne Review

 

Mamak came with much fanfare. A popular Malaysian food haunt in Sydney, it has also received praise in The Age Cheap Eats Guide and positive reviews. We had to check it out when it first opened and knowing how long the queues normally are, we set foot by 11.30am just before the lunch time crowd on a Saturday.

Service was cheerful and efficient. 
 
 

One of the things we ordered was Indian Rojak. Different from the rojak with pineapples, mung kwang and the dark pungent aroma of hae gor, Indian Rojak originated from Singapore. It is normally filled with all manner of deep-fried dough, potato, tau hu, cuttlefish or any selection you make from the hawker's assortment of displayed goodies. After which, you'll be served with a dipping sauce of peanut, chilli and gravy-like origins. 

At Mamak, the Indian Rojak received a more refined twist. Shredded cucumber, radish, half an egg and some fried doughy concoction was served up with a peanut, chilli and gravy-like sauce that is not unpleasant, but like the whole ensemble, a very mild and distant cousin to the authentic Indian Rojak.


Now the Roti Prata/Chanai is another story. Having been to several Malaysian outlets, we have been disappointed time and again by the lack of proper authentic Singapore-style Roti Prata. Sorry Malaysians, but the chewy, yeasty and stretchy prata I am used to in Singapore differs quite a bit to the ones we've found here and in Malaysia.

Expecting prata of Pappa Rich standard, we ordered a Plain (Kosong) Prata. However unlike Pappa Rich, Mamak really triumphed in making a prata that is stretchy, yeasty, crunchy and doughy at the same time. It came with 2 varieties of curries and some sambal chilli. For $5.50, it is well worth it with condiments. However, the servings for the curries were too generous for just one Prata and there were no options for ordering an extra prata. The people living in Malaysia and Singapore may snigger, but it would be reasonable if they offer the option of ordering extra Prata for $2-$3 without the curries. As is $5.50 for extra prata is steep.
 

The Satays were passably good. But texturally it felt like Coles Kebabs rather than the sliced and skewered authentic Malay satays. The satay sauce was similiar to the Indian Rojak sauce with a slight difference in spices. Marinade was good and meat was tender.


 We have had their Nasi Lemak on different occasions. While the coconut/pandan rice, sambal, peanut/anchovies and cucumber combo make up the basic components ($8.50 or $8.90), you can then "pimp" up your Nasi with options. The fried chicken is an amazing contradiction in crunchy batter yet tender juicy flavoursome chicken inside. I am still trying to figure how the batter itself is soft yet crunchy at the same time. You can add as many as you like to your Nasi. At $3 it is certainly affordable. It is not shown here, but we also had the sambal cuttlefish. Nope, not sotong, it's actual jiu heer. The sambal is probably just slightly too sweet with more of sambal than cuttlefish ($4).


  
 

I think Mamak's signature and specialty of Pratas in their variations are the big drawcards to this place. They have the formula right in terms of the dough and their cooking techniques. 

The Roti Tissue ($9.90) is a thin crispy-buttery-sugary cone of addiction. It is served with ice-cream although it really can do without. The Roti Tissue is so crispy you pull off shards, close your eyes and enjoy! 

P.S: You don't want to share...



 And a satisfying Teh Tarik at the end of any meal.

Or Luak Oyster Omelette Recipe

Oh how I've missed a Singapore hawker staple - Or Luak.

Melbourne might be a cove of gastronomy treasures, but this is the one thing that no fine-dining establishment can or will replicate.

As with my other cravings, I just make do with my own version. Or Luak turned out to be easy to make and even easier to eat!



Ingredients for Or Luak:

- 4 Large Eggs
- 3 Tablespoons of Tapioca Flour
- 2 Tablespoons of Sweet Potato Starch/Flour
- 1 Tablespoon of Rice Flour
- 1.5 Cups of Water
- As many Oysters as you like
- Chives or Spring Onion
- Fish Sauce

Mix all 3 varieties of flour with water. Set aside. Heat up the sautee pan or cookware with a flat surface. Pour a bit of oil and once heated, sprinkle generous dashes of flour mixture all over the pan with a ladle. When it looks semi-cooked, crack and pour in the eggs, spread them evenly meshing the whites and yolks. Add chives and generous amounts of fish sauce. Once the bottom is crispy, break up the omelette and turn onto the other side. Add oysters and more fish sauce. Coriander to garnish.

Ingredients for Chilli Dip

- 3 or 4 tablespoons of white vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and salt
- 6 or 7 cloves of garlic
- 2 or 3 birdseye chillies

Blend together and add water to dilute if necessary.







Thursday, May 2, 2013

Dandelion Elwood Review

133 Ormond Rd  Elwood VIC 3184
(03) 9531 4900
 
This follows my previous post on Vietnamese dining at the wonderfully current and quirky Miss Chu's. It is no secret my adoration for Viet cuisine brings me from the hub-bub of cafe-style Chapel dining to the bustling markets of Springvale. 

Dandelion is much-lauded in various media outlets and located surprisingly in the relatively quiet suburb of Elwood. This beachy enclave might not be the hub of dining and most thought-of venue for gastronomical trendsetters, but it has its fair share of hippy vibe with a mix of professionals, families and singles wanting to stray away from the busier St Kilda and still a decent pace away from blue-chip but decidedly more suburbia Brighton.

I have been wanting to try Dandelion for a while, having heard all about it. But it took a couple of friends moving into the neighbourhood raving about their new local joint before I caved.


I ordered an entree of Soft Shell Crab Rice Paper Roll. The soft shell crab was bland and while I appreciate the generally milder flavours of Viet cuisine, this was a real disappointment. It was hard not comparing it to Roll'd. Perhaps if I had not tried Roll'd's version first, this dish would have been passable but not memorable. 
  

 The Hmong Steak Tartare with Artichoke Chips and Black Sesame-Encrusted Crackers was absolutely the star dish on the night and the menu, I might add. Steak tartare in all incarnations I have had many. But the version served by Dandelion was bold, brazen and strong in its own identity. Forget the refinement of subtlety, this dish is not shy in its introduction to the kind of dish the restaurant stands for. Acidic, spicy, sharp and rich. It makes no apology for the flavours. If there is only one dish and one dish alone that brings me back to Dandelion, it is this. A definite must-try.
 

Entree of Tempura Prawns with Pickled Veggies and Dipping Sauce. The prawns were battered and crunchy enough, complemented well by the fish sauce.


I ordered the Blue Swimmer Crab Pho. Regretably so. The broth was weak and gluggy. If Pho was meant to be the signature dish, it might well appeal to a different kind of palette not used to the authentic version of pho. The soup was watered down and bland. I could not finish this dish.


The Fish in Claypot is cooked perfectly coated with a caramalised sauce.


Pork Belly was soft and the gravy suitably rich.

In all, the only dish that actually stood out was the Steak Tartare. Would I go back for the rest of the dishes? No. Would I go back and order the rest of the dishes if the Steak Tartare was on the menu? Absolutely.

I can see the appeal of Dandelion with its polished floors, full reservations and diners generally having a great time conversing with friends and having a watered-down but still exotic meal. 

I certainly do not shy away from paying good prices for good food. Being a foodie, paying homage (pun unintended) to taste something exquisite and a culmination of having your tastebuds and sense of wonder fulfilled is equal to none. But Dandelion is overpriced. 

This is my personal opinion and will certainly not deter other diners from having a great experience there. My friends continue to rave about the restaurant and unlike others, who am I to correct their dining experiences and how they feel? Their opinions are valid and so are mine.

Miss Chu Review

The feisty and very likeable Miss Chu is the best billboard for her eateries. From time to time we tend to get a little disappointed with highly-recommended IT places to eat, only to find out the hype does not match the ike.


The decor is quirky, kinda old-school with an eco-feel to it. The long deep seating plan almost mimics a laneway of Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi. I adore the Chinese porcelain bowls as lamp pendants dangling from the high ceilings. The down-to-earth feel of wood in the space makes the area somehow vintage or reminiscent of another era.

The drinks menu is interesting with a few Asian flavours such as lychees thrown in.


We decided to try a Chalkboard Special in the Steamed Rice Rolls with Minced Pork. Seeing as I am such a big fan of Viet food, I have yet to try the Viet version of Chee Cheong Fun. Miss Chu's version was certainly interesting. The broth was a nice surprise. It was light and I do love subtle flavours. The crunch of the shallots and bean shoots complements the softness of the rice roll and minced pork.


I was so curious about the vermicelli and Prawn and Crab Net Springrolls. It did not disappoint. The net springrolls were crunchy and the fillings were seasoned perfectly. The vermicelli was really yum. Yes, YUM. Not very colloquial but the brave hit of chillies unabashed in the spicy kick added to the blander and milder tastes of the fishsauce, salad of greens and vermicelli.


The Pho ($14) was reasonably tasty. The soup was beautifully clear with a generous serve of spring onions. S missed the taste of chilli condiment for pho as he is so addicted used to Pho Hung's chilli paste made for pho.



The Prawn Rice Paper Rolls with Green Mango were a refreshing change and twist on the traditionals, as with the rest of their rice paper rolls. By now, you would have thought I would be bee-hooned out but the salads in all the dishes did not fill me up as much as carbs or proteins would.


I was definitely into trying the Roast Duck with Shredded Banana Flower Rice Paper Roll. The unusual combo actually works. The fragrance of the banana flower reminds me slightly of lemongrass but milder. It offsets the richness of duck and combines perfectly with the mint and vermicelli.



It is a fun lunch spot or perfect for a casual dinner. Easy to order and you can't really go wrong with anything on the menu. It is unpretentious, current and the food is blooming good!

Crystal Jade Melbourne Review

54 Little Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone:(03) 9639 2633

I remember the old Crystal Jade well when it was off Little Bourke St in an alleyway. While the new (or rather newer) premises is much bigger in square footage, there is a bit of nostalgia for the smaller cosier feel of their old stomping ground.

Nonetheless, the food has a familiar Singapore Chinese restaurant feel/taste about it. And no wonder. The owners' mother mentioned her sons were chefs in the Singapore restaurant of the same namesake. Originally from Malaysia, the restaurant is very much a family affair with their sister and brother-in-law involved in the running of the operation.

We were disappointed on this trip they were sold out of one of their signature dishes, Sea Cucumber with Fish Maw and Mushrooms braised in a rich thick master stock. Not a surprise really. It was CNY and the always-full and bustling restaurant had celebratory patrons all around us.


Service was efficient and with a great menu of various teas, we opted for a premium brew of Jasmine tea ($12). It was fragrant and really helped to erase some of the greasiness of the fried dishes.


This was a special order. Egg or Japanese Tofu deep-fried with spicy salt. The batter was light and crunchy and the tofu tasted home-made.


We definitely enjoyed our Kurobuta (Berkshire) Pork with Garlic Shoots sauteed with curry leaves ($32). For the uninitiated, pork is not just pork. Kurobuta pork has a beautifully non-porky and sweet flavour. I would urge you to try it before thumbing your nose with "overpriced" or "overated" "pork is pork" statements.

I am all for fresh and best produce treated with respect. I think personal judgment is fair when it comes to food but brazenly denouncing the taste of something without having tried it? Makes me wonder if one is judging the food itself or the person endorsing it...


The Deep-Fried King Prawns with Duck Egg Yolk is a staple at most Cantonese restaurants nowadays. Crystal Jade does their version well, but was just slightly too greasy and personally I do prefer the Pacific House (South Yarra) version.


The Braised Yee Fu Noodles with Seafood was generous with servings of seafood. While the seafood were cooked perfectly, there was something lacking in the sauce and the noodles had a strangely bland taste and the mushrooms took over in a bizarre woody aftertaste.


Complimentary fruit to make us feel a teensy bit better before the following arrived.


Red Bean Pancake was decent but not outstanding.


The Yam/Taro Paste (Or-Nee) with Ginko Nuts is definitely my FAVOURITE dessert. So velvety smooth and decadent, it took every ounce of self-control and threat of public humiliation not to lick the bowl clean. Although the portion is tiny, the richness packs a punch in a small serve.


The Hashima in Almond Milk is truly amazing. What's Hashima you ask? It's technically dried frogs' fallopian tubes or uterus. It definitely sounds way grosser than the actual dessert. To be honest, I am not even sure they've used the real deal or substitute jelly, which seems more likely the case. But for the chilled almond milk, they could really put anything or nothing and I am just as happy having it.

There have been many other dishes we have had on prior visits. I have always enjoyed every single one. It is a great place for supper or a comfortable dinner with family. The constant hum and waiters bussing around dishes of wonderfully delicious platters of food is exciting. Try the Chilli Crab with Mantou next time.You won't regret it.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Wonderbao Review

Shop 4, 19-37 
A'Beckett Street
Melbourne 

The Wonderbao "phenomenon" in foodie circles has been around for quite awhile. Popular with mostly hip quirky students, especially located in the uni district, it has the distinct industrial chic look so popular with achingly-oh-so-current eateries. Situated at the rear of an unassuming building with a neighbour selling dubious copies of Chanel and Hermes bags and shoes, with a milling crowd of youngsters wearing funky glasses with no lenses, it definitely appealed to the quirkiness in me (but the high-brow alter frowns at their fashion copy neighbour).

Truth is I have been tremendously indolently inert in my posts. I have been to Wonderboa countless times, especially when I did not feel up to braising pork belly for 8 hours in my slow cooker. The clam buns are called Mantou. Bragging is abhorrent, but really, after you have had West Lake "Kong Bak (braised meat) Bao (bun)" and have emulated the same home-cooked version (recipe here) several times, yours truly holds the title of smug expert in all things bao.


The large steamers with branding and Chinese wordings of "buns" gives the space a clever Chinese identification. Service is always cheery. But let's face it, this eatery is really a takeaway outlet than a dine-in experience. Strangely, with the entire back wall of glass facing a back alley with a dumpster in close proximity, there were actually people (by choice) sitting outside enjoying their buns. I applaud their bravado.



We have tried most of the items on the menu. Their ordinary baos are decent but are not stand-outs by any means. What we really come here for are their pork belly (braised or roasted) and the tofu.


The roasted pork belly bao has a beautifully soft texture while retaining just enough firmness of its shape. The clam buns are soft and sweetly made. The pickled carrots/daikon with cucumber and a sticky brown sauce completes the ensemble where each component provides a nice contrast with the other. The textural aspect of the Roasted Pork Bao was great. The crunch of the salads with the juiciness of pork that has somehow retained its meaty flavour despite the softness of the belly suggests a long cooking time, is just brilliant.

The tofu was an absolute delight although too generous a serving of sauce can dampen the bun and make it soggy. The crust of the fried tofu belies a soft and piping hot centre. With the fragrance of coriander and crushed peanuts also in a mouthful, vegetarians can truly enjoy this bun without compromising on taste as so many eateries tend to cater to vegetarian options almost like an afterthought.

 

But the piece de resistance as a personal fave for S (mine is torn between tofu and this) is the Braised Pork Belly Bun. The pork belly has been braised to tender perfection. A tell-tale sign is the deep kecap-manis colour of the pork, the gelatinous layers of fat and almost melt-in-your-mouth pulled chunks of meat. The richness of this kong bak is complemented by warm steaming clam mantou, providing a pillowy slightly sweet sidekick to the pork belly. The addition of preserved mustard cuts through the richness of the meat with the tang and sourness needed to intensify the flavours. Texturally, the mustard, peanuts and coriander harmonises with the softness of the bun and pork belly. Wonderbao serves the Taiwanese version rather than the Singaporean one, but it works.

For times when we are not entertaining and we crave the hit of kong bak bao, a trip down to Wonderbao is an easy fix. We are there and back way before the timeframe of 8 hours of braising time. Although tempting, I quite likely would not serve this to our guests due to the sogginess of the buns from the sauce if not eaten fresh. Besides I so enjoy the process of catering for a dinner party.

I can quite easily reach my calorie count for the day with a few of these. But again, if this is my only meal of the day and I have spent all my calorie budget on it, might as well make the calories worth it.