Thursday, December 21, 2006

In Hong Kong, health requires wealth - Life Cafe


The customer rep guy from PURE fitness (gym) called me the other day to remind me that my credit card entitles me to a reduced joining/monthly fee. I went into PURE about 3 weeks ago (?) for a free trial and I have to say, it's one of the best I've been to in Hong Kong. I can say this with a little authority because I had a lot of spare time on my hands when I first got back to Hong Kong so I did actually go and take advantage of quite a few of those "one-day free trials" out there. PURE costs quite a bit more than most of the other 'executive' clubs, but if you can afford it, it's worth every cent.

So I went in and had a listen about this deal, which turns out still to be about double of Fitness First and Seasons, so I suppose I'll have to give it a miss for the time being, considering my current situation.

A couple of days before this call, I visited a cafe on Shelley Street, next to Eat Right. I wonder if it was pure coincidence that these two cafes for the health-conscious are right next to each other. Maybe soon we can call Shelley Street "Vego Street"...


I remember reading about Life as a hippie kind of place with a Birkenstock-wearing clientele. When I read 'hippie', I think dreadlocks, sweeping beaded Indian cotton sari-like dresses, and colourful Tibetan prayer flags. To me, 'hippies' are vegans into raw food, and, in keeping with the theme of nature, marijuana. I imagined the café to be more of a crumbling (or at least made to look crumbling) wooden shack than the minimalist dark-wood ski lodge that it turns out to be.

The diners certainly aren't dreadlocked either; the look could indeed include Birkenstocks, but paired with hip leather biker jackets (animal activists: attack!) rather than faded, tie-dye cottons.

I've spent so much space to describe the customers because they better define the price range and target market of the café. Coming from Australia, where fresh produce is plentiful and organic is increasingly becoming the norm rather than a niche, the prices on Life's menu are a little astounding. The least expensive food items are the soup and dahl of the day, going for $35 for a small or $55 for a large (which, to their credit, lives up to the size). Both come with house bread, which was on this particular day, a yeast-free heavy millet-looking slice. (WTH do yeast-free and organic have in common anyway? What makes you think people who suffer from coeliac disease have to consume organic products? They're put together in the 'niche' category so often that you wouldn't be blamed if you thought it was common knowledge.) A serving of edamame beans, so often offered as a complimentary starter at Japanese restaurants, will set you back $45.

I went for salad, and was advised that a mini ($30) would only be a scoop and that the next size up (small) would be $75. The benefit of choosing this size is that you can choose a maximum of three salads, for a bit of variety, which was welcomed wholheartedly by this indecisive eater.

The roast pumpkin salad was great, the mushroom (white button - boring!) and potato was fine, the beetroot and chickpea, I suppose, would have been good for roughage, as the chickpeas seemed hardly cooked.

Although a little pricey, I must admit that the quality of the ingredients was very good on this visit, which is absolutely necessary for a place that offers so little in the way of culinary skill (salads, pizzas, simple noodles). For coffee, pop into Eat Right next door, unless half-heartedly frothed soy milk is your thing.

At least I left feeling I did something good to my body for once. Akin to a session at the gym, really.

Life Organic Health Café
10 Shelley Street
Soho
Central
Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2810 9777

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Wonton noodles - Not the Mak's you know

It's been ages since I've been to Mak's - almost forgotten how to get there. This isn't the one featured in tourist guide books, that one's on Wellington Street around Soho I think, and should be a lot larger (and a bit more expensive). This one's tucked inside the narrow Wing Kut Street, off Des Voeux Road Central, with street hawkers and random clothing stores as its neighbours. We got there at around 12.45 and I was half expecting there to be a line, especially because it's not much more than a hole in the wall, but to my surprise, we got seats straight away (albeit sharing a table with two other lone diners).

The waiter comes to take our orders before we even had time to settle on the tiny stools, which was fine since we both wanted the wonton noodles they're most famous for anyway. Wonton noodles come in two sizes, large or small bowls. Usually small is sufficient if you're not particularly hungry. At $21, it's a steal, especially since Wellington St is selling them for $25 (I think) and Tsui Wah (which isn't even a specialist wonton store) is probably asking around the $30 mark.

There are about five wontons in the small serving along with plain egg noodles that are excellent clean-cut strings. The wontons themselves have a similar fresh, almost crunchy quality that unfortunately does not seem to be able to be expressed by a word in the English dictionary. In Chinese it's 爽. The pasta around the dumpling is extremely thin, delicate and silky, allowing diners to see almost exactly all the ingredients within - which is mostly, a very fleshy and tasty prawn.

We even polished off the soup afterwards...

Mak's (Chung Kee)
Wing Kut St
Sheung Wan
(strictly speaking between Sheung Wan and Central, close to Central Market)

Monday, December 11, 2006

I can't believe it's not summer! - 798 unit & co

Hau Fook Street has always been a bit of a refuge for hungry shoppers on this side of the Victoria Harbour, since eateries along Canton Road can be pricey and/or unreliable, and a bit far from us 'hip' people (look, it's a euphemism, okay? No need to spell out that we can't afford a new Bottega every weekend...) who shop at Rise, and in and around Granville Road.

Then again, Hau Fook can be a bit boring, dominated by cheap and cheerful Canto outlets, with the dessert shop that everyone knows (I forgot the English name) as its only salvation.

Introducing 798 unit & co. - a new(ish) NY bistro type place in the heart of Hau Fook Street, right next to the groovy design/homewares store Homeless. According to my friend, 798 is in fact the Hong Kong outpost of a restaurant by the same name in NY. Anyone been (to the NY one)?

Located on the first floor, the dining room is quite spacious, especially by HK standards, featuring a stainless steel open kitchen at the entrance, where cakes are also displayed. There is an almost nautical feel with the round windows lining the side (painted black) of the space that looks out to HF Street, and mirrors on the back wall where several white banquettes are also located. Tables and chairs are simple solid wood that squeal and grumble like a kid and a grandpa rolled in one (though both would be quite unhappy making those noises) when moved upon the black and white tiled floor. Tables are sans tablecloth and with paper napery, but good basic silverware (as you would expect at any decent cafe, not to mention restaurant in say, Melbourne). Lighting is a little in sufficient for me, but then again maybe I'm just not enough of a romantic. One last comment before getting onto the food - the aircon is bloody freezing.

I've been here two times now, and my impression of the food, unlike the quality of food itself, has been quite consistent - not exactly up to scratch... sometimes.

The first time I went, I had a fennel risotto with some sort of fish, which was fine. I remember being glad that the risotto was actually cooked to the correct texture (though it was nothing amazing). It was the fact that fennel was on the menu that caught my eye. Ask someone at some so-called 'western' restaurants and they wouldn't have a clue what it is. That was the night I had a glass of wine off their winelist. I couldn't resist at $38 a glass (yes that is HKD), but just let me say, price can never determine quality, but can be suggestive of it nonetheless.

On my most recent visit the service was unattentive to say the least. Do they understand that the same course for people on the same table have to be served at the same time??? Just because I ordered roast chicken doesn't mean my friend's (mediocre) Thai-inspired risotto had to sit under the freezing aircon-created conditions for a full 10 mins (at least) before my dish arrived. errr, sir, ever heard of planning? Or even an apology?!

My roast chicken was fine - huge portion - about four to five pieces of honey-glazed roast chicken spruced up with paprika or something. A little too sweet for my liking, but the baby spinach (salad) underneath helped. For dessert we had banoffee pie (they spelt it 'banoffi' - more on menu proofreading should-haves later) which was very nice. The cream on the pie seems to have been chilled for a while and by the time we ate it, was marshmallowy, which suited me fine, although my friend said it was quite different from what she had on her last visit. We also had a lime pannacotta that was way sour - I only liked it because I'm the kind of person that basically drinks vinegar from a soup spoon with my xiao long bao and drowns my viet broken rice in nuoc cham.

They've changed the presentation of the menu since I last visited; added Chinese translations (not that that affects me as such) and updated some of their offerings, which is what all good restaurants should do. But apart from the 'Banoffi' incident, we noticed a pasta dish claiming to feature summer vegetables. I know winter isn't really wintry in this part of the world, but it certainly ain't summer any more by anyone's standards. Unless of course, they were using imported vegies from Down Under or the Kiwis, which I doubt. I can smell a hint of pretentiousness in the air...

The main thing to give them credit for is for their Hau Fook Street-friendly prices. Pastas go for about HK$60-90 for more than acceptable portions, and there has definitely been thought put into the food, just not enough care on the part of management - both within and beyond the kitchen. The wine list is horrific, but I guess they're just trying to keep within (customers') budget and good enough for most of the target market. But I mean, anyone in the right mind would not have wine in HK that costs $28 a glass, $140 by the bottle (pompous comment by me that night: "I usually have wines by the glass at the price of that bottle"). Okay enough said.

798 unit & co.
1/F 9 Hau Fook Street
Tsim Sha Tsui
Hong Kong
Tel: +852 23660234

Best Burgers in Town? - Main St. Deli

The festive season's come again and for some reason I'm getting hungrier and allowing myself to eat more. Yay for oversize clothes this season! Popped down to Main St. Deli at the Langham Hotel in TST for dinner - I'd been to their 'high-end' restaurant The Bostonian before and wasn't too impressed, so I wasn't really expecting much.

I think it was a Wednesday night - mid-week, nonetheless - but they were full. The waiter at the door asked to have my name to put on the waiting list and said it might be a half-hour wait because there were three to four other names on the list. (Possibly because of the trade fair on right now?) Really weird, because every time I walk past this place is near empty. Anyhow, seeing I had to wait for my aunt, I grabbed a copy of HK Mag and sat down. So my aunt (who suggested we come here and is pretty much a regular) arrives and is equally stunned that the place is full. She proceeds to hassle the girl (in a nice way - perhaps they recognised her), at which point a table leaves, and we get offered that table. So much for a waiting list haha...

The decor is, as the name suggests, very down-to-earth, although still quite American. Think Dan Ryan's with more lights plus a bit if art deco. The four-seater banquettes would be the best seats, but unless we wanted to be back on the lobby seats, a normal dining table it was.

The food - burgers, sandwiches, salads and grilled meats pretty much says it all; portions are at least 1.5 times of what is usually offered, i.e. very American. My aunt tells me that the Monster Burger is the best - a pretty 'standard' sort of beef burger with pickles, tomatoes etc. The burger varieties are pretty standard and if I remember correctly there's a vego one too. We order the most expensive one on the menu (one of the things you can do when dining out with aunties and uncles kekeke...), a wagyu burger with foie gras. Thank goodness we're 'supposed' to gain weight around Christmas. The wagyu, according to the manager there, is graded M7 - if that means Marble Score 7, then it's pretty damn good (max is 12, anything above 9 is great). In Australia, only really bad cuts and bad grades of wagyu are ground into mince for burger patties, and I've had a pretty bad one before at Urban Burger.

The foie gras is actually a foie gras terrine (which is usually cheaper and should have been indicated on the menu but wasn't), and although encased within the wagyu patty, makes no effort to stay inside it once you bite into the burger - it just comes oozing out. All very messy as the juices, oils and sauces start dripping and soaking the so-so bun, but at the same time extremely indulgent.

Along with a generously sized grilled chicken salad and a huge slice of NY cheesecake (both very decent), I felt like I didn't need to eat for the next three days (but of course I did and had custard buns for breakfast the next morning...)

I'd probably go back on a cold drizzly day when everything else seems to have failed me, because I know their burgers won't. Although I think I'll stay away from the foie gras (terrine) for a while.

I'm a little inspired for a burger hunt now. I've heard good things about the one at the Lobby Lounge of the Intercon...

Main St. Deli
Langham Hotel
8 Peking Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2375 1133

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Dim Sum is Yum - Lin Heung

What's old is just plain old at lin heung. for what seems like a million years, this restaurant has had a no-bookings policy except at dinner, and there isn't even someone to point you to a free table. But maybe that's because there just aren't any around here.


this is only a quarter of the restaurant.
imagine the whole place this full...

a take-out bag i stole from them. apparently the
seal (glued closure) at the bottom of these bags
can only be done by hand, which is why
they're starting to disappear from restaurants
Lin Heung at yum cha hours is a bit like a train station at peak hour, but on steroids. to get a seat, you basically eye tables that you think are almost done and just stand next to them and wait. to get food when it comes out on a rickety trolley, you have to run towards the cart, pushing and shoving at the mass of like-minded diners and stick your hand into a couple of hot bamboo steamers (without really knowing what you're getting your hands into - quite literally) and force your little ordering card at the cart lady to be stamped. Phew.

Lucky that you'll have burnt a few more calories by then though, because there's so much worth eating here you wouldn't want to miss any of it. 

Dirty, noisy, cramped, it's basically WWII all over again. But I suggest you go, and go early, very early, on a weekday, because the food and the 'experience' is all worth it. (although next time I may just get take-out - you'll still have to fight your way into the carts though, I suppose)

There's been all this fuss about eating eels lately, but the report's not out yet, and it would be horribly pathetic if you let the terrific steamed eel pass you by (if I were meant to die of some unnatural cause, I know it would either be from food or wreckless driving). It's not just the usual black bean and garlic - that can be nice too but nonetheless a little unexciting. The sauce at Lin Heung is savoury and somehow manages to create a concentrate of the sauces that run out of the eel. it's fresh, but not fresh-out-of-the-sea, it's more like what cantonese people call seen ('fresh') - some soy sauces for example, despite having been fermented for goodness knows how long, exude that sort of 'freshness'. I guess it's just one of those things you have to try for yourself.

     
    
clockwise from top left
pork stomach siu mai dumplings; 'cotton wool' steamed chicken and steamed turnip cake; 'chicken bundle' gai tsaat and steamed eel (foreground); old-school lotus paste bun; fried egg twist with syrup and traditional pork siu mai dumplings (foreground); one of the waiters (it must be an employment requirement here that they must all be at least aged 50+) pouring hot water from a mile away into our teacups.

Lin Heung Lau 

160-164 Wellington Street
Central
Hong Kong
+852 2544 4556

RARRRRRRRRRRRR

my photos won't appear!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I have to say, the layout on Blogger is so much more aesthetically pleasing, but so much less user friendly (maybe I'm just slow to adapt). I'm staying on Xanga. Sorry...!

19.08.2008 edit: seems that Blogger has made itself more user friendly in the time that I haven't touched it... testing the waters cautiously now...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Bangkok

I absolutely lurve Thai food, and although I don't have all the addresses of places I went to, hopefully this will suffice to give a vague idea of what's on offer in this city that's forever under construction (seriously, they're digging up roads everywhere).

First, my favourite dishes:
- Tom Ka Gai - Coconut chicken soup (although I eat it like curry - over rice - but it's not spicy)
- Ga Pow Mu/Gai - Minced pork/chicken with holy basil; excellent again with rice
- Pork Knuckle rice - My guess that it's heavily influenced by Chinese (esp. Chiu Chow) cooking, as the pork is braised in a five-spice type sauce. Easily found in street stalls and food courts.
- Fish balls - especially the kind that looks like a rugby ball (with pointed ends)
- Mango sticky (glutinous) rice
- Any way they they cook fish - deep fried or steamed with lemongrass, lime etc.

Places I liked:
- MBK food court (6/F)
In general, food courts in Bangkok malls serve great food at excellent prices, and because they've all renovated recently to keep up with the competition, they're now also a fairly pleasant place to sit in too. MBK is a pretty local, down-to-earth mall, and it's got everything from mobile phones to hair accessories to furniture. They have this glam 'food court' thing on the fifth floor - I say avoid it unless you've had enough Thai food. Head to the sixth floor for stuff like pork knuckle rice, pad thai, som tum (green papaya salad) and fish balls. Buy coupons at the counter - buy more rather than less as they are fully refundable if you don't use them all. Prices are similar to street stalls; everything is pretty much 30-45 baht. To get there, just get off the skytrain at National Stadium station.

- Some day (funnily enough, closed on Tuesdays)
A small restaurant somewhere around Thong Lo. Nothing glam, just comfy and cozy with good Thai food. Pretty hard to find though, so hopefully your local friends are as good as mine! haha just kidding...

- Mango Tree/Lemongrass
Both upmarket Thai restaurants - yes, they are featured in tourist guidebooks, but hey, those things aren't all evil. Lemongrass is just behind Emporium (an upmarket mall at Phrom Pong station) which easily dissolves post-shopping fatigue/hunger - although the food court at Empo isn't bad either.

Mango Tree is a bit further away, in an old-ish business district, but is worth the trouble. Décor is bright and cute, whereas Lemongrass' is more subdued but no less elegant.

Lemongrass
5/1 Sukhumvit Soi 24
Tel: 02258-8637

Mango Tree
37 Soi Tantawan (near the Ramada Hotel)
Tel: 02236-2820

- Street food
There are street stalls all over the place, and while they do vary in quality, given that you are without any local guidance, just try anything that you think looks good. If you are concerned with hygiene, all I can say is that I don't have the strongest of stomachs and I didn't have any problems with street food, even with cut fruit. When I did once have a problem, it was actually at a posh restaurant where I had a cold drink with ice that was probably house made with tap or badly-filtered water.

There are more places (including non-Thai cuisine), but I don't know where I've put all my name cards... However, I did once find a good restaurant guide at the concierge of my hotel, so I guess it wouldn't hurt to look in there.

May the manao soda be with you~!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Cellar Bargains

Sorry, this isn't a post about wine - but if you want to have bang for your buck to the max, try out this Italian treasure, the cheapest sibling (as in least expensive, not lacking in class) of the Grossi Florentino trio.

More detail to come.

Meals: around $10-20

Grossi Florentino Cellar Bar
80 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Australia
Open: Mon-Sat 7.30am-midnight
Tel: +613 9662 1811

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Shhh....!

I've found coffee heaven in the eastern suburbs, but don't tell too many people 'cause this place isn't exactly big and the last thing i want to do (being the selfish caffeine addict that i am) is have to wait in line for 10 minutes for a coffee...

They roast on-site and you can buy a zillion different blends of coffee by weight to have at home, or just duck in for a take-out or a quick coffee (you won't be staying too long because they don't have food, apart from a few sweet things, and plus it gets so busy you'd feel awkward hogging a seat for too long anyway).

i had a long macchiato: strength - check. heady crema - check. textured milk - check. balanced aroma/taste - check.

i.e. the coffee is excellent. and i'm pretty conservative with word choice.

i suppose i needn't say more, except that we also tried out their vanilla slice and it's pretty damn good (although perhaps they just buy it off someone??) - just don't put sugar in your coffee 'cause it's sweet enough .

if you live in the eastern suburbs (of metro melbourne), you'll love me for telling you about this place.

caffe romeo
319 doncaster road
north balwyn vic 3104
australia
open: mon-fri 8am-6pm, sat 8am-5pm

[click here to see what others had to say about it]

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Taming of the Brew

Friends and family of caffeine addicts beware. Letting your coffee lover near Icoco is like releasing a five year-old in a toy store.

First, they’ll stand staring wide-eyed at the shelves, transfixed by the sight of espresso cups, shiny stainless steel milk frothing jugs and bags of coffee beans roasted on site. Then, they’ll see the scintillating silver espresso machine and the coffee menu on the wall behind the counter, and they’ll tug you gingerly by the sleeve with a smirk on their face that tells you that they want to take all this home. To really get them jigging, whisper to your five year-old that if they ask the lovely ladies behind the counter politely, they might be able to get a glimpse of the almighty roaster out the back. While they’re jumping up and down like a veritable preschooler, sit yourself down on one of the humble black tables and have a read of the coffee menu on the wall. It’ll tell you a single shot of espresso is made with 7-8 grams of ground coffee that is extracted for 25 seconds to give you 25 millilitres of their heavenly brew, and that your latte has a double shot of espresso (40 millilitres of extraction from 14-15 grams of coffee in 30 seconds) in a large glass with textured milk. No wonder it’s called a coffee ‘menu’. By now, even the occasional coffee drinker should be excited.

Only a coffee aficionado confident in their baristas would be bold enough to write in such detail without being labelled pretentious, so I decided have a go at their macchiato (“single shot in a traditional espresso cup with a ‘touch’ of textured milk” though I ordered a long macchiato, so I imagine it would have had a double shot). The coffee came, as promised, with no more than a dash of milk – purists would protest that milk is utter blasphemy, so by all means have yourself an espresso or a long black, because the coffee here is so heartbreakingly good, you won’t taste an ounce of unwanted bitterness; it just rolls around on your tongue like velvet with a fullness and complexity of taste akin to a good cognac.

To go with your coffee, there are several cakes, which are rumoured to be as great as the coffee, on which I unfortunately had to give up in place of a proper lunch, which wasn’t bad either. They have a range of panini and some specials, such as homemade pizza, soup and a healthy roasted vegetable lasagne. The Moroccan lamb panini came toasted with slightly spicy lamb mince, roasted eggplant, squash and baby spinach. An interesting and pleasing combination that breaks away from the café staples of roast veg and bococcini, roast beef and the like. If you happen to walk in wanting breakfast, they also have the usual suspects such as scrambled eggs on toast.

Coffee has often been reserved for adults, but for real kids (i.e. not the one begging you to buy the coffee machine), there are storybooks and puzzles, as well as a children’s menu, so mum and dad can enjoy their food and coffee in relative peace. Alternatively, soak in the sun on the pavement tables (if you’re lucky enough to see the sun in the gloomy Melbourne winter).

The star here is undoubtedly the coffee. The baristas are incredibly friendly, skilful and knowledgeable, and the coffees they make are sure to have even the most doubtful and unadventurous drinker excited.

Their beans are also being distributed in other cafés under the 'Woven' brand.

Average spending: AUD$5-15 p.p.

Icoco café and foodstore
143 Victoria Ave
Albert Park VIC 3207
Australia
Tel: +613 9690 7638
Open: Daily 8am-5pm

Seasons greetings

As winter dawns upon us (for those of us in the southern hemisphere), it seems harder and harder to get out of the house. The heater’s on, the kettle’s boiling, you’re in your snuggly booties and shapeless but warm trackie dacks, and the sofa looks more inviting than ever. But there are rewards for those who brave the chilling winds and venture into the depths of the country.

The Yarra Valley isn’t exactly so far into the country anyway. In about an hour’s drive from the city, you can have yourself an excellent sample of local produce. Of course, you can go and pick your own apples, pears and what not, but how about having the fruits of the regional harvest expertly prepared and presented in a quaint setting (à la wicker chair, Victorian garden patio and starched napkins)? Then off you go to Healesville Hotel.

They make it no secret that they were awarded ‘Country Restaurant of the Year’ by the 2006 The Age Good Food Guide; you’ll see signage all around the entrance of the restaurant displaying proudly the pair of hats (out of a maximum of three) they’ve earned.

To be frank, we were indeed lured to this place because of its title, but became slightly wary about seeing the aggressive marketing leveraged from it when we arrived, but we’d made reservations and we’d driven this far, so there was no backing out. Lucky we didn’t because if only for the slippery jack gnocchi, it would have been worth the trip.

We’d seen the slippery jacks for sale in the deli next door and weren’t particularly amused by the look of this large mushroom. Heaped into a basket, they looked flaccid and limp and had a colour that I could only describe as mouldy soil, but to our dismay these unwelcoming looking fungi were on the specials board for lunch, featuring in a dish of housemade gnocchi. As it turns out, slippery jacks are firm, almost to the extent of having a crunch, and have a wonderful grassy, smoky flavour that proved themselves as the perfect partner to the fluffy pillows of potato gnocchi. Burnt butter with herbs brings the best of both worlds together.

The menu tells us that the paprika grilled quail is from the Yarra Valley, and comes with roasted quince (very much in season), rocket and manchego cheese. It arrives butterflied, with a crisp, apricot brown skin, atop fresh green leaves and ruby red chunks of quince as promised. The quail is tender and juicy, however a little lacking in flavour.

The main of roasted duckling is charming, although not as architecturally appealing as the previous dishes, but the depth of flavours make up for whatever was lacking. Wonderfully savoury, especially with the surrounding pool of reduction, the duckling was well complemented by the sweetness of the cannelloni packed with brightly coloured grated carrot.

There are just enough choices for dessert to have any sweet tooth psychologically torn. Although my hazelnut pudding with figs would have satisfied anyone, dessert fan or otherwise, as it was never cloyingly sweet; the pudding even had savoury qualities, and the vine leaf in which it was wrapped provided an additional shade of flavour that made the dessert feel wholesome yet sophisticated. A sprinkling of roughly chopped hazelnuts adds texture and brings a slightly ‘wild’ side to an otherwise tame dish.

The winelist is incredibly long, and while the mixture of local, smaller labels as well as European selections is appreciated, brevity is what challenges the sommelier.

Despite its slightly above-average (only very slightly) prices, given its relative proximity to metro Melbourne, the restaurant is quite popular, so remember to book ahead.

Come on, produce this well used is worth getting out of your ugg boots for.

Average spending per person: AUD$40-50

Healesville Hotel
256 Maroondah Hwy
Healesville VIC 3777
Australia
Tel: +613 5962 4002
Open: Daily Noon-3pm, 6-10pm
Website: www.healesvillehotel.com.au

Thursday, June 08, 2006

and so it is...

after a horrifying removal of the 'reviews' section of my xanga blog sans aucune explication, i have decided to abandon xanga for all my food writing.

in case you have stumbled upon this by chance, allow me to say "nice to meet you".

the purpose of this blog is to share my thoughts on food, mostly in the form of restaurant 'reviews'. i use quotation marks as i feel quite inadequate as a 'reviewer' - i have never owned or run a restaurant, and my experiences working in the industry are limited to a single short waitressing stint (if you really wanna know, it was here!). yet i dare say that food is my life. i live to eat (please excuse the cliché, but clichés only become as they are because of their inevitable truth).

i want value for money - which means i try anything at (almost) any price. my only criteria is that it tastes good, and that the whole package is what i would expect for the amount i pay.

what i write is merely my thoughts - as a visitor, as an 'eater'.

right now i'm in melbourne, australia, but regretfully it's time to move on and i'll soon be leaving this foodie city for... well hong kong mostly, but i envision that it'll soon be a bit of everywhere, so eventually there should be more posts about places to eat around the world.

hopefully i'll be adding some writing here soon.

meanwhile, eat, drink and be merry~

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Get those feet under - The Undertaker, Hawthorn

went to the undertaker tonight. but fear not, it's not a dead person typing here, and i'm not due to go to a funeral (touch wood).

the undertaker is the name of a new-ish restaurant in hawthorn. not your typical suburban thing, thank goodness, but not really city-standard either. prices are less reasonable than the city - probably due to lack of direct competition - there aren't many real restaurants in the eastern suburbs. let me be fair - to be precise, mains were reasonably priced, while 'small plates to share' and desserts were not. the 'small plates' were indeed 'small', but unless you have a scalpel on hand, not so easy 'to share'. desserts lacked skill - very little cooking or even assembly is involved, and the servings were small, but nonetheless they cost the price of a decent lunch with coffee (around $12). i had a chestnut cake with roasted quinces and a yogurt/cream thing. the cake was something i could have easily made, and the serving was easily one sixteenth of the whole cake. the quinces were cold. no, not room temp, cold.

anyhow, to their credit, nothing was bad. my little quail was actually quite tender and juicy, though a little lacking in flavour, but the combination with fresh grapes was pleasing and unexpected. the grilled sticks of polenta on the side were very well made. this is probably the only dish i'd ever recommend here. my gnocchi with black cabbage and something else (i've forgotten) was tiny - though it would've helped, visually, if it weren't served in finger bowl sized crockery. hmm, and i just realised - where was my black cabbage? i had loads of spinach but surely...

the wine list is decent; there are several choices by the glass, which was great cause it was just dad and i and he was having fish. (i hardly ever have white wine by choice.) my milkwood 2003 pinot noir was surprisingly nice for an australian pinot. flowery on the nose, light but rounded on the tongue - i shan't go into it any more cause i'm no wine commentator. i'm worse than an amateur :P all i can say is i want to go out and buy a dozen.

a value for money suburban place it is not, but for a mid week i'm-too-lazy-to-cook-or-go-out-and-i-feel-rich-this-week night, it's a decent bet. and apparently, they can do bookings for up to ten people (without it being a 'function' with reduced menus and all that crap), which is pretty cool if you tend to have dinners with extended family (yes, i am speaking from many years' experience). it's got a nice looking bar too, so it might be a good place to pop into for a late night drink and dessert with friends. speaking of good-looking, the decor isn't bad - you can tell they spent heaps on it; though i've never understood why restaurant interiors in melbourne are becoming increasingly ignorant of acoustics. too many places end up sounding like sunday yum chas on busy nights.

it's very popular with the easterners, so remember to book. (though beware that they do have one of those horrid "press 1 for X" recordings...)

the undertaker
329 burwood road (near cnr glenferrie road)
hawthorn 3122
tel: 98183944
open: daily noon-3pm, 6-10pm

[edit]
forgot to say that this place has this funny name because they took over the site of a real undertaker... scaryyyyyyy kakaka

Friday, May 05, 2006

Intellectual property - Journal

Okay, fine. I admit. I’m a nerd. Letting me loose in a library or a bookshop is like dropping a strawberry into a chocolate fondue: you’ll literally have to fork me out; and simple conversations with me can lead to full-blown discussions about whether the concept of a truly global organisation is a myth.

Journal, a café on the corner of Flinders Lane and Degraves Street, tucked neatly into the City Library inside the CAE, is the perfect place for us nerds, ahem, intellectuals. And you needn’t worry about being glued to your book (and hence your seat) or have begun a never-ending debate, because fortunately, they’re open until late on weekdays, a rare sight for cafés in the CBD.

The timber bookshelves hanging above the communal tables complete the literary atmosphere without the stuffiness of an old bookshop thanks to the large windows opening up to the view of boho Flinders Lane and the equally chic Library.

In the evening they serve antipasto as well as a range of small dishes, such as salads, bruschetta and soup, and have ‘construct your own roll’ offerings greatly anticipated by the hungry CBD hoards at lunchtime.

My chickpea and vegetable soup was a tomato-based broth with small hunks of potato and carrot along with a generous handful (or two) of chickpeas, making it a very pleasant and comforting soup to have on that cold, rainy (aka typical Melbourne) night. It came with a slice of toast drizzled in olive oil, as do their salads, like the witlof, pear and ricotta salad, or the more traditional Italian rocket and tomato.



The roast pumpkin and fetta bruschetta was excellent. Thick, sweetly roasted golden wedges of pumpkin lay atop a large slice of toasted sourdough, the whole thing finished off with a generous slice of fetta and a sprinkling of spices.



As for sweets, they have several danishes as well as Portuguese egg tarts and little bars of rocky roads. They’re all displayed up front, so leave your debating opponent to conjure up new arguments for a minute and wander up for a glimpse. They act more as an accompaniment to the coffee (which is superb, so why you would want anything else to steal the show?), rather than shine on their own, but my pear danish was pleasing nonetheless.



The service is friendly enough, though timing could be better. Having arrived early in the evening with the place not exactly buzzing, we weren’t expecting to be asked every three seconds whether we were ready to order yet. We had made it clear we were to order food, so giving us a couple more minutes to study the menu (especially when written on a chalkboard a fair way from our table) would only seem natural. When we were ready to order however, staff attention seemed to have diverted from us.



Everything at Journal, the lighting, the surroundings, the general hum of the place, the food and the coffee (oh my goodness, did I mention the coffee?) is almost faultless, and it exudes that kind of welcoming sensation that you get when you arrive home and know you can just curl up with a book and forget about the trivial things in life like who’s going to do the dishes. I mean, when did you last hear of Sartre or Confucius worrying about chores?

Journal
253 Flinders Lane (corner Degraves Street)
Melbourne 3000
Tel: +613 9650 4399
Open: Mon-Fri 6.30am-late, Sat 8am-6pm

Fine wining - Gertrude Street Enoteca

What would Melbourne be without its rightful scattering of cafés? For a long time we’ve boasted the most restaurants per capita in Australia, as well as claiming our superiority for all things foodie. Recent years have seen the emergence an increasing number of casual but wine-focused eating places around town, such as City Wine Shop on Spring Street, and Gertrude Street Enoteca in Fitzroy.

Gertrude Street is definitely the food-lover’s street of the season, with an organic baker and food store, a great pizza place (Ladro) that’s worth every ounce of hype it’s received since opening, even a bookstore that specializes in cookbooks (Books for Cooks). Gertrude Street Enoteca (enoteca is the Italian name for a wine shop which could also be a bar/café) completes the landscape beautifully.

Passing by in a car, the enoteca’s humble exterior reveals little of the greatness within. Look into the deep space and you will gasp upon seeing the abundance of wines lining the walls. Step in and you will stand in amusement of the chains of garlic, bay leaves and cured meats descending from the ceiling, their aromas filling the Scandinavian-chic marble and blonde wood room, wafting amid the gratifying scent of coffee.

We arrive for lunch a little early, but unfortunately not early enough for breakfast, so we wait, musing at the range of wines – Italian (of course), French, Australian, New Zealand, but to list a few of the origins – while the small selection of lunch choices are being made in the back kitchen by the lovely Rosa with whom we chatted while enjoying a refreshing prickly pear salad. (Although I think poor Rosa was feeling less than refreshed about having to handle the spiky fruits.) The golden-yellow fruits have a pleasing texture, in between mango (a similar stringy, fibrous quality) and cantaloupe, and lay, assembled in a spontaneous manner, with rocket, prosciutto and parmesan. The salty cured taste of the wonderfully stretchy prosciutto, is helped by the shavings of parmesan to articulate how great antipasti ingredients can be. Though for more antipasti, they have a platter, which has been all the rave in Melbourne recently.

There are three sandwich-type offerings today – a focaccia with pickled artichokes, provolone and rocket, a panini with zucchini frittata, fetta, mint and rocket, and a porterhouse panini with horseradish mayonnaise, cheddar, caramelized onions and lettuce, which we chose. The porterhouse was thin, but would still be classified as a steak for its juiciness. The whole panini was spruced up by the great condiments, particularly the onions that were caramelized so well I thought those soft translucent strings were relish. We had been seriously prepared to ask them to warm it up for us, as we knew to do this by default in most cafés, but to our delight, it arrived crisp, tender, warm, and not too thick. The art of a good sandwich is revealed when the hungry customer raises it to a vertical and yet hardly anything falls out.

Gertrude Street Enoteca isn’t about fancy pansy food. It’s about having a relaxing time with good food, wine and company. I needn’t be reminded that I must be back soon for some late night drinks and antipasto, if I’m lucky enough to find a table, that is.

Average spending per person: $10-15 (excluding wine)

Gertrude Street Enoteca
229 Gertrude Street
Fitzroy 3065
Tel: +613 9415 8262
Open: Mon – Fri: 8.30am – late, Sat: 10am – late