Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Melbourne - Verge

Last half-day in Melbourne with a 7.5 hour plane ride ahead of us bound for home. Try to do the sensible thing and go light? There is Verge. Modern European with Japanese touches - sounds like jackpot.
If you're not familiar with the area, the non-descript bar entrance on the ground floor may throw you off, but the restaurant on the first floor, with floor to ceiling glass windows overlooking Treasury Garden across the street, is a good place to sit and watch the Melbourne CBD crowd enjoy their lunch outdoors or Melbourne's trim and fit hit the park for their lunch-time run or yoga sessions.

Verge offers a set lunch menu but we decided to try their main menu since we may not get a chance to visit again.

The veal tartare, granny smith apple, mojama, red miso, and fried tuna mayonaise was a decent and fresh start. Not spectacular but an interesting mix of flavours. The use of granny smiths was quite clever since they lent both a sweet but tangy flavour to the dish.

Our first main of Japanese eel tortellini, califlower, rice senbei, melon and spring onion was good if not too tiny. Thinking this was Australia, we opted for the starter portion almost at the hint of the waiter, who probably thought little of our Asian appetites. A little unfortunate but we did savour what there was. If we weren't pressed for time, we would have ordered another but service was a tad slow despite it not being very busy.

Our mains was the catch of the day of Barramundi with pumpkin and sea urchin foam. While it was decent enough, the fish was a tad overcooked and there was no hint of sea urchin. An otherwise blah dish although their pumpkin was unusually sweet and creamy.

All in all, interesting takes on food but not for the hungry. If you really don't feel like eating too much, and just want to watch people and listen to the sparrow mock you about the bird-sized portions from the tree next to the window, go. Otherwise, you might give this a miss.

1 Flinders Lane
Victoria 3000
Telephone: +61-3-96399500

Monday, May 25, 2009

Melbourne - Giuseppe, Arnaldo & Sons

Back to Melbourne, yeah! Back on a Sunday night, oh no!! Not having lived in a western country for a while, I forget that Sunday is a rest day and dining out is a limited adventure. Thank goodness for the Crown Casino, there is a wide range of cuisines available and while I generalise that most of these establishments don't usually surprise (pleasantly at least) nor have the best value, we were quite pleased with what we got at Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons.

Because you can't look into the restaurant from the outside, there is that slight feeling of walking into a mafia meeting as you pull the doors open but step in, and it's a jazzy, noisy Italian kitchen and bar at work. Great for a relaxed and casual dinner.

The placemat menu was impressive. A lot of interesting dishes, some traditional, some with a modern twist but the overarching denominator was the fresh produce, a lot of which are made in-house.

We started with the Ossocollo - made from the neck fillet of larger Berkshire pigs where there is natural heavy marbling. Rolled, tied and hung for 3 to 4 months to age, it had a nice sweetness to finish as you savour each thinly sliced piece. The marbling was not at all greasy but lent a smoothness to the cuts. And in this decade, as we become even more conscious about the effects of the environs on our food, etc., the meats here are both gluten and phosphate free.

The "Punterella" wild Italian chicory salad, exclusively grown by the group, and served with salted anchovy, Asiago cheese, shallot dressing and 3 vinegars was nice and fresh. The leaves aren't as bittersweet as their Italian counterparts, but if you like your leaves a little more peppery, you would like this more. The various parts to the dressing were well balanced to provide harmony to the palate.

Our first pasta dish continued along the own produce theme. The Mezzi Rigatoni, made with their very own pork sausages, tossed with sage, tomato, garlic and chilli was very robust. The sausages, broken down into little pieces for saute-ing, were very tasty and provided a fantastic base. Brings new meaning to Ragu.

Our other choice of Spaghettini with sea urchin was not available so we were recommended the Lumarche, which was a broccoli based pesto laced with anchovies, garlic and a tiny amount of chilli. While it wasn't spectacular, it was a nice contrast to the rigatoni, and provided good balance. And as pestos go, this wasn't too bad.

The calamari fritti with zuchinni and mint was an interesting twist to the usual seafood only dish. The tempura-ed zuchinni and mint added crunch and freshness respectively. Of course, not detracting from the very well and just-cooked calamari. A little much on its own, but perfect to share.
To finish, the baked chocolate pot with chocolate pearls, served chilled, was decadent goodness. With Melbourne's obsession with chocolate, this certainly did not disappoint. Very smooth, rich and not at all cloying. Definitely ends the meal on a high, accompanied by a good Flat White.

Thus saved our Sunday night in an otherwise ghost town.

Crown Casino
Ground level
8 Whiteman Street
VIC 3006
Tel: +61-3-9694 7400

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Apollo Bay - Chris's Beacon Point Restaurant

Given the location of Apollo Bay and its history as a sleepy fishing village, it does not boast a varied culinary scene. But Chris Talihmanidis' efforts since 1979 have not gone unnoticed. Having survived humble beginnings and a fire which took everything away, Chris' new (since 2003) premises on Skene's Creek Road is built in a beautiful and tranquil setting high in the Otways, overlooking green fields reaching to the sea. Spectacular!

His food is focused on the day's catch and Greek-inspired methods, true to his origins. The cooking may be a hit and miss, but the produce is always fresh and local.

The starter of chargrilled squid topped with a breaded prawn on skewer was well executed, with the seafood retaining much of its fresh bounce and juices. Simple enough to appreciate the proximity of where the bounty originated.

While not from the sea, our other starter of the Duck terrine, was a nice representation and combination of all parts of the duck, centred around a prune to liven things up, served with a salad and crispy bread. Such a nice contrast to the seafood.

Our mains was the day's catch of crayfish (although it looked big enough to be lobster!) served on buttered pappardelle. The crayfish was well grilled but we thought the sauce was a little of an anti-climax. Too one dimensional and didn't really bring out the freshnesss of the crayfish but instead overpowered it. A little unfortunate in execution.

Our selection of Greek desserts were probably a little too Greek for us. Across 8 varieties, we overdosed on nuts, and a lot of honey. While I like them both individually, I thought it was a bit much and regretted not ordering something more mainstream. Oh well, at least I know now.

Given the limitations in the area, Chris's remains a viable visit and his villas certainly look enticing. If there was more competition in the area, he may not be able to command the prices he charges and the steady crowds which come into Apollo Bay seasonally.

280 Skenes Creek Road
Apollo Bay 3233

Tel: +61-3-5237 6411

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Apollo Bay - Cafe 153

Apollo Bay at this time of the year is quiet - a seaside surf town in winter isn't quite the place to be. If not for the Scody Great Ocean Road marathon which culminates in Apollo Bay, I wouldn't think it would be a destination of choice. Given the time of year, the restaurants also have limited operating hours. As such, there wasn't much of a culinary scene going on.
But on the eve of the marathon, as people start streaming into town, the buzz seems to have returned. Cafe 153 does a roaring business and when we were there for brunch, the staff definitely had their hands full.
But even with the crowds, the quality was undeniably good. Their claim to fame in using fresh produce from around the region was evident.
My French Toast with fresh blueberries and clotted cream dusted with cinnamon sugar was decadently good but because everything is so fresh, you don't feel icky and heavy after finishing it despite a good-size serving.

The Eggs Benedict was less spectacular but by no means shabby. Free range eggs and a good quality smoked ham on a lightly toasted English muffin, topped with a rich Hollandaise sauce and Alfafa brought out the reason why this dish remains a classic till today, especially when executed well.
Wash down with probably the best coffees served in this town, what a great way to start the day. The menu is certainly large enough for you to visit every day of your stay in Apollo Bay. I did.

153 Great Ocean Road
Apollo Bay
VIC 3233

Tel: +61-3-5237 1123

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Melbourne - The Chokolait Hub

A chance find while walking along Little Collins. The Hub Arcade is a quaint little mall with little boutique shops but quiet. Walk through and it's a pleasant enough experience but you don't expect to find treasures but lo and behold - follow the signs and you end up at The Chokolait Hub.

Love chocolate, and you will love the Chokolait Hub. With a focus on Belgian chocolates, they have hot and cold drinks with chocolate as the focus. On a cold and cloudy Melbourne afternoon, nothing is more comforting than a hot chocolate. But who would have known that a non-descript shop with a very inviting interior would serve up such magic?

My Milk Belgian was luscious, smooth and rich but not cloying. How they achieved it was beyond me - that's just the quality of the produce isn't it? Priding themselves in importing direct from Belgium keeps the standards.

Alas, I had no room to try the other goodies on offer but given a chance again, I certainly would especially if my beautiful beverage was anything to go by..

Shop 8 Hub Arcade
318 Little Collins Street
Melbourne 3000
Tel: +61-3-96396188

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Melbourne - Bistro Vue

Helmed by Shannon Bennett, Vue de Monde offers classic French inspired cuisine in the heart of Melbourne's CBD. Situated at Normandy Chambers since 2005, the location does inspire a sense of arrival into something traditional, yet modern in decor. Its bistro - Bistro Vue - next door, which can be entered via the side lane, however is a nice throwback into provincial France, where some of the classics can be enjoyed.
On this late morning, I was ushered into the bistro from the main restaurant, and woke up to the day with a Flat White while taking my time to pore over the menu. The waiter, who had a sense of humour and some great recommendations, was of great help.
We started with the French onion soup with beer, topped wtih gruyere. A light contrast to the classic, the beer lent a nice twang which made for an appetising start. And the gruyere, oh my, has got to be one of the best I've had in a long time. Combined with the pastry which was crisp over the top and chewy around, yummy!

At our waiter's suggestion, the plat du jour for a Friday was a decadent but oh so good Pied de cochon - pig's trotter stuffed with chicken and liver served with a buttery smooth mash. The trotter served like a sausage was softly chewy on the outside with a hearty inside which was meaty in some parts and livery smooth in others. A good variety of textures within one serving and made even better with the mash and excellent reduction (probably a combination of the meat's juices with a madeira of sorts). Traditional goodness. And served with a regional Pinot Noir and salad on the side, it was quite a bargain.

The seared tuna, wrapped in crispy bread, served on a bed of Asian coleslaw was better than it sounded. The tuna was of decent quality and a nice melty smoothness in contrast to its crispy bread coating. The Asian interpretation of the coleslaw was cool and crunchy with Japanese sprouts and Coriander in addition to the usual cabbage and carrot julienne in a mildly sweet dressing. Very fresh.

Of course, any trip to a French bistro is never complete with Pommes Frites - and these did not disappoint. Fresh cut potatoes deep fried in a fragrant fat. Mmmm...
Unfortunately, that left absolutely no room for dessert from an enticing classic French dessert list but with a 3-hour drive ahead, I just couldn't possibly risk falling asleep at the wheel, could I!?

430 Little Collins Street (entrance via New Chancery Laneway)
Melbourne VIC 3000
Telephone: +61 3 9691 3888

Friday, May 15, 2009

Melbourne - Brother Baba Budan

Melbourne is known as the coffee capital of Australia, with every other shop a cafe, competition is keen and yes, they do take their coffee seriously. So on this short visit to the city, I wanted to get a sense of how good it really is.
First stop, Brother Baba Budan - an eclectic place on Little Bourke Street, where all the action is centred around the espresso machine, amidst spartan to no decor, just some stools along the wall and a bench where customers can just grab a quick seat, sip and go.
But as you sit and sip, remember to look upwards - although the sight of the guhzillion chairs might make you uneasy, since they look to be just precariously glued to the ceiling and may fall into your coffee any minute.

My choice of the flat white was mistaken since I couldn't really taste the coffee through all that milk.. I really should have gone for a black to get a better taste for the beans and their roasting skills. I will go back since it's close enough to the hotel. The pastries look dismal but don't be fooled, they were quite good, in particular the chocolate brioche. Soft, chocolatey and perfect with the cuppa, not overpowering it.

And if that isn't enough, Little Bourke is a great collection of little delis and smallish restaurants where you can find interesting eats for brunch/lunch.

359 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne 3000
Telephone: +61 3 9606 0449

Monday, May 11, 2009

Singapore - Cafe de Hong Kong

Having read the many reviews of Cafe de Hong Kong recently, I decided to take the plunge and try it despite the fact that I generally avoid Hong Kong style food when I am in Singapore. I tend to unfairly compare it with the cuisine available back in Hong Kong and inevitably leave unsatisfied, especially in the cafe-style eateries popping up ceaselessly over the island.

The repertoire at Cafe de Hong Kong is broader than the usual cafe. It serves Cantonese favourites like home style food or "small fries" - the type of food served in family style smaller eateries in Hong Kong. And if Grandma and Mom like the fare, and it is the week culminating in Mother's Day, why not indulge them a little.

I made reservations in the morning and was pleasantly surprised at being asked if I would like to reserve any dishes for dinner. Despite the reviews, I asked for recommendations and ended up reserving the Roast Chicken and Claypot Waxed Meat Rice.

When we got there, we started our dinner with the soup of the day - Old Cucumber and Pork Rib soup. In my opinion, the standard of the soup for a Cantonese restaurant was sorely lacking - quite tasteless and was little more than salt water.

Pre-ordering was advantageous in that we did not have to wait - our Claypot rice followed our soup almost immediately. A little strange since this is usually served last but I wasn't complaining since I was dying for some rice. The waxed meats were already taken out of the claypot and served separately while the rice was dished at the table straight from the piping claypot. The rice was impressively aromatic and not very oily and just the way I like it - grainy and not soft. The meats cooked well over the rice although the quality of the meats were not not up to the standards of its HK counterparts - the duck was a tad too sallty and overall the meats were just not flavourful. Grandma says that since the waxed meats are done in-house in Singapore, they will never be as good because we lack the North winds required for drying them.
As we finished most of the rice, we requested for a little hot soup to pour over the remnants so as to get the best and burnt bits (fan chiew) off. They kindly offered to do it for us in the kitchen where they can bring it to a quick boil over the fire. The result is a nice rice soup - very comforting to the soul.

The roast chicken was the piece de resistance of the evening - very well roasted with hints of Nam Yue (red fermented beancurd). The Nam Yue based serving sauce added to the experience. The chicken was well roasted - light crispy skin with not a hint of grease/fat with very moist flesh - even the breast meat did not lose its juices in the process - very hard to accomplish. Kudos to the chef!

The other recommended dish of braised garouper fillets with tofu was pretty decent even if unspectacular. The fish was very fresh and was almost wasted in a braised dish - very soft but firm flesh. The tofu tasted home made and was very smooth in texture. The main ingredients braised together with mushrooms did not come together as I had hoped but the sauce was tasty enough and good with rice.

Our compulsory fibre which came in the form of Chinese spinach served with superior stock was also decent - sweetened with roast garlic pieces and wolfberries.

Being a cafe, I skipped the limited dessert menu and instead, settled for a milk tea - which was quite impressive as HK milk teas in Singapore go. Pretty smooth down the palate with the taste and fragrance of the tea coming through the milkiness.

Our shared sweet of French toast served with peanut butter inside was also well done - crisply deep fried but soft on the inside, and drizzled with honey, it made for a good alternative to the usual Chinese desserts. And definitely one of the better ones around.

It's certainly nice to see cafe foods of Hong Kong becoming more readily available on our sunny shores and hopefully over time, with growing and keen competition, the standards do go even further up! In the meantime, Cafe de Hong Kong is certainly one of the better ones to hit in Singapore to satisfy those cravings.
586 Balestier Road
#01-01 Eastpac Building
Tel: +65-6255 3865

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Foodie's Response to H1N1

As the world is thrown into a frenzy on the spread of the H1N1 virus, it is easy to just blame the pig. Swine Flu as it is also called - but only because it is the type of bug which usually affects pigs. But pig to human transmission is rare and certainly if we don't have common contact with the species, any risk of transmission is remote, with only 50 cases recorded since the 1950s.

As with any flu bug, the common precautions of keeping hygiene levels high is important. Wash your hands often. If you have symptoms of any flu strain, stay home. Keep a surgical mask on to keep any body fluids to yourself. Avoid crowded places.

But there is NO NEED to boycott eating pork!!! So long as you ensure your pork is properly and thoroughly cooked, the WHO (World Health Organisation) has advised that there is no risk to eating pork and you certainly cannot contract the H1N1 virus from eating cooked pork. Of course, make sure you buy your pork from a recognised supplier.

Don't let the poor pigs die in vain. And let's not further the economic crisis with the pork industry.

This foodie's response: buy a bag of ribs, marinate for several hours or overnight, grill and/or bake them well, and serve on a bed of salad with roast baby spuds. For a touch of fineness, create a reduction from your fave Burgundy, drizzle over and and serve!

Enjoy! There is no finer justice than eating a well cooked swine!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Singapore - Tai Shek Hei House of Traditional Bamboo Noodles

Every now and then, you have to take your hat off to the person who’s trying to make a difference. Even if he’s not at perfection yet, you know he is on to something. So give it up for that someone who is passionate about trying to make it right, and is willing to put his bottom dollar investing in doing so.

John See is passionate about his noodles and the history of it. The art of bamboo noodles, a South China specialty is almost a lost art form these days. While Hong Kong and Macau might still boast a dwindling few who still persist in this technique of making their egg noodles as springy as they can be, John is probably the only one in Singapore who’s bothered to do this – in an age where machined noodles are less costly and quicker to make.

His Tai Shek Hei House of Traditional Bamboo Noodles is testament of his passion. Since I spend a good part of my time in Hong Kong, I have to be honest and say that John’s noodles are definitely not the best I’ve had. But his passion and commitment to what he does is commendable. His philosophy of using “enough eggs to bring out the fragrance”, of using Tobiko is his dumplings to give it the sweetness and juicy crunch is of not cutting corners as your customers are also your worst critics! AMEN!

So while not amazing nor outstanding, Tai Shek Hei is worth a visit for a little something different. Of course, try the noodles – if you’re having the soup version and are a slow eater, salvage the noodles and eat them from your plate as the noodles lose their springiness fairly quickly in the hot soup. This way, you can keep the texture and still enjoy the MSG-free soup separately.

The wantons with Tobiko are different because the Tobiko lends a nice juicy crunch every time you burst them in your mouth. A good way to create succulence but he might be better off using a better combination of minced pork and crunchier prawns to make it even better.

The salt-herbed chicken was also decent and reminiscent of how Grand Aunt used to make her traditional steamed salt chicken – a Southern Chinese village dish commonly made in the old days (without refrigerators) to preserve the chicken for longer.

The side dish of cereal tofu was also good. Dry-roasted cereal with curry leaves and chillies lent a nice crisp fragrance to the otherwise bland but soft and silky tofu. The tofu was also cleverly dunked in Agedashi tofu type flour, lending a nice chewiness for bite. This made for a nice side.

So support the ones who want to make a difference. That is the only way we can ever get to better!

Joo Chiat Road
Tel: +65-6345 5095