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!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Coconut House Review

Coconut House

449 Elizabeth St, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9329 6401

Cheap eats are normally what comes to mind when we enter a place like Coconut House. But no no, this is not disparaging it in any way. Not when it's places like this that gives us the most delicious thrills...

Coconut House is a Malaysian joint serving much-beloved street hawker food. It is not spartan, nor minimalist. The chockers seating plan is to maximise space and discourage lingering 3 hours over your meal. No frills but filled with a type of familiarity and warmth many Asians are accustomed to from the brusqueness of the servers to the military abrupt manner of taking orders at the counter. It's cash-only of course. 

The menu was filled with colourful assortment of pictures, scribbly fonts and they ALL look wonderfully delicious! But a must-try for us was the mee pok. Given a selection of crispy chicken, bbq pork, etc...we chose the cripsy chicken. The chicken was acceptably ordinary, it definitely took second place to the mee pok. 

Perfectly seasoned and with the right amount of bounce, we were not disappointed as we are wont to be when it comes to dry mee pok here in Melbourne.

The Yee Mee stood out on one of Melbourne's cold winter spring nights. Thinking it was the dry claypot variety, we were surprised by the soup. Unfortunately the soup was slightly chalky and while not bad, it was not one of their specialties.

Mmmmm....the fragrance of Bak Kut Teh in all its aromatic herbally glory was beautifully sublime. They also offer pig stomach as an option, which horrified S but sooo excites me! One of my Aussie colleagues told me casually he had pig's ears at the new St Kilda joint Uncle. If only more were as adventurous! When certain offals or even ears, are cooked and seasoned in the right way, they are absolutely yum.

Now, being a Singapore girl at heart, and having had the real Singapore chicken rice and its accompanying condiments, I'm just going to make a bold statement and ruefully state Malaysians just do not make good chicken rice dishes. Sorry, not sorry.

Moving on, I was keen to try the charcoal-grilled char siew (bbq pork). For sure, this does not disappoint. The meat was tender and well-marinated. Though the sauce is thin and not the sticky rich gooey sauce like Singapore, it did provide a juicy dip for the char siew. The trump card though, has to be the chilli sauce! Since the closure of Chom Chom, the elusive authentic Singapore Chicken Rice Chilli Sauce cannot be found anywhere. But I think we may have just found the closest alternative here at Coconut House.

The roast chicken was too salty for personal preference, but overall not a bad dish. I wish they would have offered just bbq pork and rice rather than forcing us to order a serve of chicken if we wanted to order the char siew.

I love ban mian and again, not a dish Malaysians know well or specialise in. But Coconut House has done it reasonably well and we were not too disappointed. The soup stock needs improving and we need braised mushrooms instead of soaked. Instead of shallots, would be great if the fried anchovies were given more generously.

Noodles were only passable. But kudos for the attempt.

Nasi Lemak is one of my all-time soft-spot dishes. Simple but so delightfully spicy, boldly flavoured and texturally such a burst of aromatics with every crunch. Coconut House has done this dish well. The chilli had the right hit of spice but as with many differences in Singaporean and Malaysian cuisine, I would have preferred a sweeter taste, it's really down to personal preference.

Dry wanton noodles as we Singaporeans like to call it out of habit is actually known as Kon Lo Mee in Malaysia. Whatever the name, yum yum and yum!

The dishes I would not recommend are the Prawn Noodle Soup (shockingly it has coconut milk in it and those in the know know there's all sorts of things wrong with that. Those who don't, never mind), Laksa (sadly, after Chom Chom, every other Asian joint serves the less authentic Malaysian version of Laksa and it truly lacks the punch or richness of the laksa that I know and love). Before raging Malaysians with a grinding agenda start coming at me, I adore so much of Malaysia's food offerings. To name some, Penang Hae Mee (not sure why it's pronounced Har Mee there as Hokkien is the primary dialect not Cantonese), Penang Char Kway Teow, Penang Laksa, Ampang Yong Tau Foo, the quirky Ship restaurant in KL and heaps more.

Do note, dear readers, there are 2 Coconut House eateries within a few metres of each other. Aptly named Coconut House 1 and Coconut House 2. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Som Tam Thai Restaurant

750 High Street Thornbury 3071
03 9480 5276

Melbourne is a beautiful mesh of people who are born here and migrants from all cultural backgrounds and nationalities. We are all happy to call ourselves Aussies. The Asian community forms a crucial part of the population and this is evident by the colourful array of food available in Melbourne. 

However, the generic term "Asian" has never really sat right with me. In Asia, we do not refer to ourselves as Asians. We own identities such as Singaporeans, Hong Konger, Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Korean, to name a few. In fact, South-East Asia very much differs from the rest of Asia. 

I love the provenance of where people come from and the cuisine they proudly represent and stamp authentically so. The Thai couple, who are owners of Som Tam Thai Restaurant, have owned their identities in the most sincere way...through their food. 

When a chef presents a dish they feel so strongly about, it's a privilege to experience a piece of their heart and sentiment on a dish. For the owners, that dish is Som Tam, the namesake for their restaurant. The owners are both chefs with 15 years experience in Thailand, and if Som Tam is their quintessential signature Thai dish, they brook no argument from us. 

Som Tam
When we think Thai, the first thought that comes to mind are fresh ingredients and aromatic gutsy seasoning and flavours. Som Tam is a gorgeous visual feast of salad made up of green papaya, snake beans, roasted peanuts, lime juice, palm sugar, tamarind sauce and fresh prawns ($12.90). A salivating mix of locally sourced ingredients and all cooking oils and spices directly from Thailand. 

We respect and are very excited to witness the presence of a genuine authentic Thai restaurant in Som Tam. We have made a conscious effort to steer clear of the awful overly sweet Thai curries and Pad Thais peddled in every suburban "Thai" joint with no punch. We long for a whole deep fried fish with fantastic spicy fish and tamarind sauce and assortment of salad (Som Tam-style) to top it off, instead of the bottled sweet chilli sauce variety. We look forward to what Som Tam has to offer, especially from their Off The Boat range.

Red Duck Curry
True authentic seasoning from Thailand and fresh produce sourced locally is the identity of this restaurant. The wonderful concept of serving traditional food from the homeland in Melbourne never gets old. We can certainly appreciate successful and creative fusion concepts of cooking. It keeps the culinary landscape exciting. But boy, it's good to taste home. Even if it's our neighbours'.

* This post is a sponsored advertorial

Monday, September 1, 2014

7D Dried Mangoes

The scent and taste of food for many brings back fond memories of a certain period in our lives. A constant for me are dried mangoes. The best as everyone knows, are from the Philippines. A country known for their amazingly sweet aromatic tropical fruits such as mangoes, bananas and papayas.

Ripened and sweet, they taste of South East Asia, a beautiful homage to the topical climate and wonderful panache of the land there.

Based on an obsession lasting decades, my favourite brand has always been 7D Mangoes. Soft and fragrant, it delivers in consistency. Now stocked in Daiso stores Melbourne-wide and of course in all good Asian supermarkets, run, don't walk for the best dried mangoes in the world. I stand by that statement.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Shizuku Ramen - Review

309 Victoria Street Abbotsford
03 9995 8180

The thought of ramen fills me with the familiar waft of childhood memories and steam fogging up little glasses. 

It seems the ramen gods have skipped Melbourne in the ramen sweepstakes. In an endless search for what appears to be a deceptively simple dish of soupy "instant noodles" in my beloved home state, it has surely become a complicated fruitless journey.

We were graciously hosted by Jonathan, Shizuku's manager, on a cold winter night made for greedy souls soul-warming soups. The email exchanges with the owner sounded promising. We were excited and hopeful for the taste of slurping up noodles as loudly as we could old Japan. 

The restaurant had a great selection of beer. My dining companions would have loved some recommendations for pairing with their choice of ramen.

I opted for a pot of green tea. It was soothing with the smokiness of roasted corn kernels.

One of our dining companions decided on a Japanese sweet potato beer, a dark rich amber liquid with tones of bitter dark ale.

 Our rookie on the CF team chose a traditional wheat beer, much lighter and golden in appearance.

 The soy popcorn was a fun touch and start to the evening. I can definitely taste the soy aftertaste in the popcorn and although nothing and I mean NOTHING EVER  beats butter EVER, the hint of soy sauce was light and pleasant, even as I exhale, the aroma creeps through the nasal canal. 

The trio of pickled vegetables was a great palette cleanser and certainly refreshing. Generous in serve, the carrot/radish combo was perfectly forgettable cured but not a stand-out. The wombok was a bit of a surprise. Wasn't expecting the interesting juxtaposition of textural crunch coupled with juiciness. Light sprinkling of ground black sesame seeds added yet another taste element. The soy-based garlic radish pickles was my favourite. Piquant, fragrant and solid in form, it was suitably pegged for a delightful little snack I went back to throughout the meal.

The next dish was superb in presentation and I do like the twist of modern flair in traditional cuisines like Japanese or French. The concept in itself was brilliant, but I question the execution of pairing the rather pedestrian efforts of melted Colby cheese (perhaps) with edamame and spring roll (popiah) skin. Adore the idea of using edamame as the filling within the crispy lightness of popiah skin is wonderful. But I would do without the plain cheese and add a touch of mornay sauce with a hit hint of wasabi. This would also remove the bizarre inclusion of bottled sweet chilli.

A picture might say a thousand words to some, but this picture evokes savage tearing and devouring of deep fried chicken skin real-housewives style  pure emotions of joy and endorphin rush. Generally not a fan of deep fried food, I tend to steer clear of greasy goodness anything dipped and fried. But commendably, this plate of chicken was crispy, light and perfectly seasoned on the skin and incredibly moist and soft inside.

The infamous Ramen Burger. Many have tried and failed. Shizuku's efforts were valiant but there was no rescuing the "buns". The top half was hard and stodgy and the base part was soggy. The slaw was decent but the star of the ramen burger show was of course the braised pork belly. It was soft, dark and cooked to perfection. Tender and caramalised, it is no doubt any carb encasing the pork belly is but a vignette around the main attraction.

Their signature Tan Tan Ramen is a rich murky strong bold statement in flavour and appearance. All of Shizuku's ramen are made with a base of chicken and pork bones. The overlying essence and flavour profile is that of pork at first taste. S was very pleased with his bowl of ramen. The egg could do with a more oozy yolk for sure and be marinated longer.

My favourite ramen in general has to be the Hokkaido ramen. I love the butter and corn addition. The broth was still rich but does not pack as much of a punch as the Tan Tan. It could definitely do with more butter but again that's a personal preference. The chefs have scoured Melbourne for suppliers of miso from Hokkaido. Unfortunately none of them carry it here and Shizuku imports them directly from Hokkaido. It is this ethic and passion for the food they serve that I respect in a food joint. The pursuit for authenticity and improvements is continuous for any chef or restaurant.

The noodles overall were yellow and bouncy. We were informed the Japanese chefs are still refining the recipe and perhaps adding a bit more flour to balance the bounciness of the noodles. For what it's worth, I like it the way it is.

Shio Ramen is not as common here as most ramen bars in Melbourne serve mainly miso or soy flavoured broth. Shio is flavoured with salt. At Shizuku, 3 different types of salt are used in their shio broth - Fleur de sel, Moroccan salt and Japanese sea salt. On the whole, I do find the general taste of all the ramen to be slightly saltier than I'm used to but that's my personal tolerance for salt content in food.

The diner who ordered the shio ramen complained about the fishiness of the broth immediately. However what hit me first was the "porkiness" of the soup as the main strain of flavour followed by a subtle taste of seafood. I adore fish broth and frequently have my soba in dashi-based stock. I like the clearer flavour of this soup over my Hokkaido ramen. 2 very different ramen to be sure but again personal taste dictates my leanings for one over another. We were told the broth was the same base of chicken and pork, with the chefs drizzling a bit of scallop-flavoured oil as a finishing touch.

I was told the espresso panna cotta was an absolute flavour bomb. No instant coffee mix in this one. Wonderful extraction of good coffee in a perfectly made panna cotta.

This panna cotta is one of the highlights for me this very night. The smoothness of the texture and the milkiness of the flavour were sublime. It slithered into a smooth thick liquid consistency as you let a spoonful of panna cotta through the confines of the roof of your mouth and your tongue. This is a true test of good panna cotta for me. I could certainly eat many industrial tubs another bowl of it.

The thing I took away from this dining experience is the subjective palette of each diner. The understanding of technical details aside, every individual has their personal like/dislike of certain flavours and how they prefer their dishes to be cooked or flavoured. What turns one on in a dish could just as well turn another off. There is no adamant right or wrong in personal taste. We have been on tastings with several different people with sophisticated and refined palettes completely having different takes on a dish. No one states and defies with absolute authority and discounting all others. It's a common understanding a dish might not be bad, but it's a matter of personal preference.

* Couture Foodie dines compliments of the restaurant

Monday, May 19, 2014

Flavours of Melbourne Coffee Table Book

Flavours of Melbourne
Hardcover 2014 Edition
ISBN 978-0-9873712-8-7
RRP $69.99

This book is a romance novel and the ultimate love story. An ode to Melbourne if you will, but the universal language and visual delights surrender readers to the delicious melting pot of cultures we embrace in this beautiful and culinary city. 

The artistic direction speaks of Melbourne's diversity, creativity, cultural leanings and our intrinsic passion for EVERYTHING. It is our way of living, our lifestyles, we breathe it, we cook it, we frequent it, we eat it. Thank you Jonette George and Ethan Jenkins for your homage to our home and Kaitlyn Wilson and Bianca White for photographing the essence of every street and food haunt the book has highlighted. 

I cradled and flipped through the pages of this award-winning updated edition (2nd) compliments of the publisher. My first was pretty dog-eared. But I love the cover of the 2014 edition so much more. 

Every visitor to Melbourne speaks of our laneways and the cafes that are like hidden gems inside them. This book features a lot of the above but we have no shabby main street eateries either. Walking around Melbourne city is like discovering celebration of food in every form and Flavours of Melbourne captures it so perfectly in spirit of design, photography and words.

Meander through the laneways and the history and eateries with this book. It takes you there.

Most of the eateries are comfortingly familiar. As we flip through every page, we anticipate who or what was coming up. We reminisce, review and chatter excitedly. This book does that to you. The bonus is flipping the page after one of my favourite eateries to find a recipe from them! 

Wonderbao provided a sinfully delish roast pork gua bao recipe. But I'll definitely be trying 90 Secondi's Calzone Con Silverbeet, Pancetta, Anchovies and Olives.

And Red Spice Road's Barramundi with Pork Belly and Roast Shallot Green Nam Jim.

My imagination and inspiration run wild with these tauntingly tempting dishes. They are staring, daring and inviting. Now excuse me while I get lost in my copy of Flavours of Melbourne and journey through the familiar streets and the food they serve.

Get your copy from all good bookstores or buy online here.  This is one coffee table book that is a must-have on my coffee table.

*All images are copyrighted to Smudge Publishing and the Authors of Flavours of Melbourne

Indian Palace Takeaway

I have been having more and more of those days. Yes, THOSE days when long days at work, a million things to do for home and still more on the to-do list. Cooking generally relaxes me and as you, dear readers, know, I adore trying out new recipes. But not when we have zero fresh produce at home to cook with.

We have been caught out ordering via Menulog quite a few times, just because it's easy to order online and state exactly what special instructions you want for each dish by typing it out instead of repeating it again and again to some person on the phone. I have not tried other online food delivery order websites so cannot vouch for them, but I figure since Menulog is the No 1 site for this sort of thing and they seem to have the best restaurant and cafe network in Melbourne, I'll stick to what I know, merci!

We tend to order local so the food delivery is fast and stays warm or it's just easier if one of us is on the way home to drop by and pick up the order. So it's now just down to choices.

Today, we decided on an old favourite of ours, Indian Palace in Brighton.

We had Indian Palace years ago in Balmain, Sydney. It was delicious and it must be food kismet, I swear, because they opened a branch right here in Brighton, in Melbourne, where yours truly lives!

Sooo....we hit the know-it-by-heart-but-must-still-browse menu.

I know it bloats me some, but to me any North Indian cuisine is not complete without my staple, Garlic Naan. Light as a cloud but so satisfyingly chewy and doughy, I love the slathered garlic butter and the aroma is so addictive you literally eat it by itself.

We ordered an entree version of the Tandoori Lamb but it's really generous at 6 cutlets a serve. Marinated well and cooked to perfection, the tandoor oven has delivered one yummy slightly charred dish!

I know what you are thinking. How pedestrian butter chicken is. No. It's. Not. When made by Indian Palace. Rich unctuous sauce with a depth of flavour that will haunt your taste buds with tingling memories. The chicken is tender and succulent. The sauce smooth and spicy (we order our butter chicken very spicy).

My one and only regret EVER at Indian Palace was the entree of Mushrooms. Soggy with a strange flavour, I will not recommend this dish.

The beef and potato curry is overlooked for the more popular choices such as Vindaloo, Saag or Korma. But the rich tomato flavours mixed perfectly with the herbs and spices that provide such a saucy kick to the juicy and soft beef pieces and roasted potatoes, I do wonder all the time sometimes, why cook?

We receive plenty of emails a day requesting more info on a post or restaurant, so we do apologise if we are unable to reply to everyone. Please either download the Menulog App or go to their website to place an order or for more info. Yes, the website is legit and will not be swallowing your money! I have had heaps of fun ordering various cuisines there. Ahem, all for greedy research purposes.

* Meal compliments from Menulog

Friday, May 2, 2014

Sugar Bun Nanyang Melbourne Review

205 Russell St

The hustle and bustle of busy Chinatown on a busy Friday night with spruikers down Little Bourke and neon signs everywhere are distracting enough for one to seek refuge in what appeared to be a little joint with the quirky name of Sugarbun.

My first thought was Chinese bakery with sweet offerings and a hot drink on a cold night. But no...

We were led to a private lift and ushered to the 2nd level. It's rustic, industrial with jazz music fluted from hidden speakers. Where are we?

A cozy spot for an intimate tete-a-tete it seems...

The decor is unmistakably trendy and without a menu, it would be easy to imagine this being a cafe serving modern/bistro French/Italian/Australian.

But no, the items on the menu were unabashedly Malaysian. I chortled at delight with the inclusion of old faves like Bak Kut Teh (pork stomach no less!) and Fish Bee Hoon Soup.

We've never tasted Dry Bak Kut Teh. This was flavoursome, mooreish and perfect with rice. The dish might be described as "dry" but really, the pork has absorbed the wonderful herbal and dark bold flavours of the concentrated stock/broth it was so delightfully cooked in. I love the rice and the little serve of preserved veggies.

Generally not a fan of deep-fried chicken from that oh-so-famous-secret-spices fast food chain, I must declare Sugarbun's Broasted Chicken to be one of their best signature dishes. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.
Who knew? Soft moist juicy tender meat encased with light crispy crunchy skin. Seasoned to perfection. Order it with Nasi Lemak, have it on its own or just take it home. It heats incredibly well in the oven, which is normally not the case with other fried food.

Now we ain't coming here without trying their "signboard" dish - BAK KUT TEH.  The you teow dipped in strong herbal piping hot soup will forever remain one of my close-eyes-and-savour dishes. There is no disguising the origins of this broth. It speaks loud and it speaks clear. Punchy, herbally and with great body.

Some might not appreciate the intense relationship I have with Fried Fish Bee Hoon Soup. It's a love-hate relationship. Love the good ones. Hate vendors of bad ones.


Intensely smoky, the soup is rich with the enticing aroma and taste of fish bones simmered to such a state of extraction, the flavours of that is at one with the broth. Molten fish bones. The fish was crunchy and the cut red chilli padi in soy packs a spicy dipping punch.

My pet peeve was the fact this was served wtih thin bee hoon. It should be served with thick laksa noodles (chor bee hoon). There's a reason why this dish is cooked with thick bee hoon in Singapore. It WORKS.

This is the broasted chicken with chiciken rice. Enough said about the broasted chicken. Yes we know it's high-pressure cooked to maintain the sweetness and juiciness of the meat. Yes we know it takes 15 minutes to cook in controlled oil temperature. Yes the cucumber salad is charming. Now we just want to sink our teeth and surrender our taste buds already.

Oh yummy yum yum. This drink is so perfect as the finish to a wonderful meal. Not too sweet, this red date and longan combination with the fragrance of rock sugar and textural addition of white fungus (to our Aussie readers, no it does not come from putrid feet), order not one but two of these beauties!