Archive for the Food Reviews Category

I Ate At MoVida And I Liked It

Posted in Food Reviews, Restaurants, Restaurants in Melbourne with tags , on February 2, 2010 by thepseudoepicurean

(image taken from movida.com.au)

I can still remember the first time I went to MoVida last year; Next Door had not yet opened and a table booking for two in their puny Hosier Lane hideout was one of Melbourne’s most prized possessions at that time. It probably still is. So when we happened to find ourselves a table booking for two on a Wednesday night, we hesistated not and went straight for it.

I can still recall the tiny tables crammed into that tiny space like a tin of sardines. It was dark, it was bustling, it was kinda novel, almost sexy.

Then the food. I can’t quite recall what we ordered, but I do remember being rather unimpressed with whatever we did. The food wasn’t bad at all, don’t get me wrong, but it certainly wasn’t worth the incredulously long waiting list. The brusque waiter didn’t help either, and I remember walking out of the restaurant feeling a little bit jaded by the fact that this was yet another over-raved, over-rated restaurant. One down; how many more to go?

Fast forward to yesterday. The husband’s friend is back in town and a few of us congregated at the new MoVida Aqui in Bourke Street. I wasn’t keen, to be honest; after all, chefs have this thing about opening their restaurants in threes and it’s only proved to be the start of disaster (I shan’t name names). I had my doubts that MoVida would impress, particularly if they’d failed to nail it in their first restaurant (in my books anyway).

Anyway. We got there. We got our menus. And it was a tad overwhelming. Every nook and cranny of the menu sheet was crammed with dishes and descriptions. There were dishes to share, dishes off the grill, individually portioned ones, paellas and goodness knows what else. Trying to decipher the menu was one thing; trying to decipher a menu and decide on what to eat on an empty stomach at 8 in the evening was a whole new ball game altogether!

So we did the next best thing by asking the waiter for his recommendations. I loved our waiter. He was pretty humourous and duly explained the menu to us. Not that our hungry stomachs caught half of what he said, but he was great to suggest what he thought were the really good, must-try, or you-can-skip-thats. In the end we gave him the reigns and let him do the ordering for us. And then of course, we had the paella del marisco, the quintessential Spanish classic of a seafood paella.

This is what we ended up ordering (names and descriptions I took from their website because there’s no way I can recall the names of all that we ate!):

  1. Ostra ($18/half dozen) – Oysters. Served with manzanilla and watermelon dressing. The sweetness of the watermelon and the tartness of the (don’t-know-what) jelly complemented the creaminess of the oyster nicely. Nice, but not outrageous.
  2. Choco ($15.50) – Cuttlefish on the plancha with onion and squid ink sauce. This was definitely one of the highlights. The calamari was tender, and the sauce, with the onions having been reduced and cleverly melded into the squid ink, was gold. It was thick and sweet and rich!
  3. Vieira ($16/3 pieces)- Scallops grilled with jamon on pisto, braised manchego style vegetables. Scallops were very fresh, and sandwiched between a thin slice of jamon and a ratatouille-like vegetable bed. Fresh flavours were the highlight.
  4. Xato ($17.50/4 pieces) – Grilled tuna with a black olive crust, romesco sauce and endive. I liked the tuna, again for its freshness, but the black olive crust didn’t do anything to impress me. I was expecting a stronger presence from the olives but didn’t get any. The romesco sauce had an interesting texture, though flavour wise it tasted like unseasoned, non-spicy chilli paste. Once again, freshness was the highlight of the dish, but I can very easily get a good tuna steak from the market and do it at home myself.
  5. Paella del Marisco ($48/2-4 people; $92/4-6 people) – Bomba rice cooked with seafood and saffron. The quintessential Spanish seafood paella. This was the highlight of the night (I’ll talk about desserts later). The serving was more than enough even for 5 hungry people as we had other dishes to share, and it was chockful of fish, prawns, and clams.  The rice had a fantastic bite to it, it wasn’t at all soggy or mushy. The seafood was fresh as could be, and even the fish (which normally comes out the worst in any seafood combo) was delightful. My only gripe is the lack of a good and crispy charred base but all was forgiven as the rest of the dish made up for what was lacking. I also noticed on their menu the salt cod, rabbit and artichoke paella which is on my must-eat list for the next time I return.

A pity we were so engrossed in our food that we forgot to take any pictures whatsoever, so you’re just gonna have to trust me on this one. You may also have noticed the absence of meat on the menu. The lamb and the goat came highly recommended by the waiter, but having left the call of duty in ordering our food in his hands, he told us that he wanted us to finish our meals first before he went ahead to put through the meat orders because he’d figured we might actually be REALLY full! Good call, Mr. Waiter! And great honesty too!

Now onto desserts…there is ALWAYS room for dessert and that’s no myth. We had our eyes set on 2 things: a trifle with macerated strawberries and almonds, that’s been heavily-infused with Pedro Ximenez (there isn’t a dessert menu online and so I can’t provide you with the names!), and the Valrhona chocolate mousse.

According to Mr. Waiter, all the desserts came highly recommended, but if he had to choose, he’d go with the churros, the flan and the pineapple granita. We went with the flan (in addition to the first 2).

And here’s the verdict:

  1. Trifle – It was pleasantly fruity, and nicely balanced with cream, sponge and alcohol. It was however not a strong winner in my books but nonetheless good.
  2. Valrhona chocolate mousse – Forget about this one. This was quite a disappointment. I think we were blinded by the word “Valrhona”. The chocolate was too mild and it was a wimpy dish (I like my chocolate dark and robust). They can’t be faulted for texture and technique though. It was light and airy. It also came with a pistachio biscuit and poached apricot, but we would have been more grateful for a generous sprinkling of freshly-roasted pistachios instead.
  3. Flan – This was an absolute winner! I’d never tasted custard this good and it was heavenly. I was secretly thanking my lucky stars that this was placed right in front of me so I could keep digging at it without being noticed that I’d taken more than my fair share of the dessert. MUAHAHA! The  sm000000ooth custard sliding down my throat was simply sensational. It had the right amount of sweetness to it and ohboy this. was. damn. good.

We realised soon enough that we should’ve followed Mr. Waiter’s recommendations and decide to repent by adding another one of the two remaining recommended desserts to our table. We went with the churros. The churros were great (crispy on the outside, light and airy on the inside) but the chocolate dip was again disappointing. I’ve always loved my churros with a dark chocolate sauce but this one was almost milky with barely a hint of chocolate taste to it. I don’t know, but maybe that’s how the Spanish like their chocolato!

It was on the whole a thoroughly enjoyable dinner and apart from the disappointing chocolate mousse, I loved every dish on our table that night. It for one has certainly changed my mind about the institution. I do apologise for the wordy, picture-less post but photos or not, I knew I certainly had to blog about this one!

So now that I’m going to head back for more, any kind sponsors out there?

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The Gippsland Getaway

Posted in Food Reviews, Restaurants, Restaurants in Melbourne with tags , , , , on October 13, 2009 by thepseudoepicurean

The husband and I spent the weekend away up in the little town of Metung somewhere south-east of Gippsland. It was our little way of celebrating the 3-month mark of our marriage, though really, we would’ve come up with any other excuse just to slip out of town for a holiday.

We left the city on a Friday night, and after a hearty meal at the Skinny Dog Hotel, stopped over in Drouin for a night. Drouin is an extremely sleepy town approximately an hour and a half from Melbourne, but was nonetheless cosy and good enough to get us by the night before another long and arduous commute to our final destination.

Breakfast the next morning was an absolute disaster. Thinking that Warragul would be a great place to stop for breakfast, we had set our expectations extremely high only to be sorely disappointed with a big but mediocre breakfast. We ordered a big breakfast – bacon and poached eggs on toast, mushroom, spinach, grilled tomatoes and sausage – individually they were decent, but somehow the elements didn’t gel together quite well, and to top it off my chai latte was a failure too. The Jman and I concluded that the place simply lacked soul. Full but disappointed, we decided to soldier on to our lunch stop – Port Albert.

Port Albert was the complete opposite of Warragul. It’s a small sleepy boating town with nothing but a jetty, a restaurant called Wildfish and a fish-and-chips shop (also owned by the restaurant). The Jman found out during his research that they (i.e. Wildfish) had apparently won some pretty good awards for their fish-and-chips. And so it was a done deal. Walking into the restaurant, you wouldn’t think much of it. Sure it was modern and bright with its white walls and minimalistic décor, but it was also empty. The staff were professional but cold, lacking the friendly touch of a welcoming place.

We sat down, placed our orders – the Jman had the beer-battered local flathead fillets, while I ordered a local Gippsland grass-fed eye fillet. And then we waited…and waited…and waited. One would’ve thought that our meals would be out in a flash since we were the only customers there, but I suppose they’d have to wait for the oil to heat up since it didn’t seem like they had any visitors for the day thus far. When our food finally came, there’d been at least another 10 people who’d come into the restaurant now.

Anyhow, here’s the verdict: the fish and chips was truly THE BEST we’d ever tasted. Golden, crisp to the core, light and simply divine. It was like we’d died and gone to fish-and-chips heaven. There was none of that soggy, mushy “crust” business that most F&C shops dish up – this one was just incredible and unbelievably amazing. I’m really, really pleased to say that I’m pretty confident we’ve found the best fish & chips in Victoria, hands down. Every element of the dish was made to perfection – the fries remained golden and crisp throughout the meal, the salad was light and fresh, the only thing I didn’t try was the bearnaise sauce because I am not a fan of creamy sauces.

Beer-battered local flathead fillets

Beer-battered local flathead fillets

As for the steak – it tasted good. It was full-flavoured, robust and tasted like a pretty darn good piece of meat. It was however overcooked (it turned out more medium done than medium rare) and swimming in a pool of red wine jus which didn’t quite hit the spot for me. The mash was decent but not exciting, but if anything, the meat made up for everything else that the dish lacked.

Local Gippsland grass-fed eye fillet in red wine jus

Local Gippsland grass-fed eye fillet in red wine jus

I highly recommend a visit to Wildfish if you’re in the area, bearing in mind it isn’t exactly the closest to Melbourne, and is in fact a good 3 hour drive from the city. I can still remember how delightful it felt crunching my teeth through the crispy batter and into the silky flesh of the flathead. This would be one of my most memorable meals in a long time to come, though I suppose having very little expectations to start off with would’ve played a part in the overall experience of this restaurant.

Apart from the fact that the Gippsland region is a gorgeous place to begin with, the food is definitely another reason to return.

Next up…our meals in Metung where we visited the Metung Galley and Bancroft Bites.

How Free Are Your Free Range Eggs?

Posted in Food Reviews, Life with tags , , on August 13, 2009 by thepseudoepicurean

The notion of “Free Range” has always been a slightly contentious topic. Unlike “organic”, the free-range-ness of animals is not widely certified, particularly when it comes to eggs. Just check the egg cartons in any supermarket aisle and you will see what I mean.

Of course the health-conscious, environment-conscious, animal-friendly (I say animal-friendly, not animal-lover by the way) chicks like me would still choose to pay $6 for a dozen eggs instead of $2.49 to keep our consciences free of evil as well, but I’ve often wondered to myself – exactly how free are those chooks laying our supposedly free-range eggs?

My folks spent a week up in the country and just returned to the city today. We joined them over the weekend at the Tonimbuk House, which is in a little township called Tonimbuk about an hour and a half’s drive from the city. Anyway, when they returned this afternoon, my city-bumpkin mother excitedly announced that she had brought back with her a DOZEN FREE-RANGE EGGS from the owners’ chickens! Frankly, I think my mother was more excited about the fact that the eggs were from the owners’ chickens (because you don’t ever get chickens running around in your HDB/apartment balconies in Singapore), while I was doing a little victory dance that mother dearest had scored us some beautiful REAL free-range eggs. And we know that they’re free range because we’d seen witnessed those chooks running around with our own eyes!

Free range eggs from the Tonimbuk House

Free range eggs from the Tonimbuk House

Daffodils from the Tonimbuk House garden

Daffodils from the Tonimbuk House garden

That’s not all. My father-in-law has a colleague whose family runs a farm, and they too have free range chickens (according to the FIL who’s supposedly visited them before, and thus has seen ’em chickens running around happily). So every now and then, when our stars are slightly aligned, we get to buy some free range eggs of them! DOUBLE SCORE! It also happens that the family makes their own cabana. Lovely paprika-scented, smokey smokey smokey and delightfully flavourful cabana, which we had the privilege of buying home earlier on in the week. TRIPLE SCORE!

Eggs from the FIL's colleague's farm

Eggs from the FIL's colleague's farm

So yes. I’ve now been spoilt with unsupermarketed free range eggs (I now have 23 free range eggs sitting in my fridge) and homemade cabana. I wonder if I can ever go back to the supermarket shelves to get my supply now. We’ll see!

Osteria House

Posted in Food Reviews, Restaurants in Melbourne with tags , on August 6, 2009 by thepseudoepicurean

We had our weekly dinner catch up last night with the usual suspects, this time at Osteria House down towards the end of North Carlton (near the corner of Rathdowne and Pigdon Streets). Nestled comfortably amidst a row of shophouses – flanked by a bottle shop and a residential property – Osteria House seems rather nondescript and an unlikely choice when you’re thinking of “dinner with kakis” (“kaki” means mate or companion in Malay), but there is a certain charm about the humble and unfussy décor of the place.

It was a Wednesday night and the restaurant was empty; apart from our table of 6, there was only one other table of 4 sitting not too far from us. Yet the place seemed warm and hospitable, and the chatters and laughter made me feel well at home.

The waitress (probably the boss’ daughter) brought us the menus. It wasn’t extensive or grand, just some paper wedged between two sheets of hard protective plastic. They look like they’d been around for ages too. There were probably about 15 different kinds of pizzas and a variety of about 10 sauces to accompany the pasta of your choice. We opted for a tortellini tirolese (tomato, cream, zucchini, mushrooms and what I thought was eggplant), a classic spaghetti marinara, and a very rich penne l’osteria (cream, peas and bacon). We also ordered a pizza magherita and a four seasons (seems to be the pizza of choice for the undecided!)

The food took a while to arrive. Considering there were only two groups of diners (and the other table had already been served), our 15 minute wait seemed like ages for our growling stomachs.

The pizza magherita arrived first. The crust was a little too thick for my liking but the bread dough was good, if you like a thick pizza base. The tomato paste was distinctively homemade (the chunks of tomato pulp gave it away). It was completely flavoursome and the top of the pizza was a little charred, but it tasted really good. It was, however and very unfortunately, far too salty. It was as if someone had tipped a whole jar of salt into the tomato sauce! Quite a shame because it would’ve been otherwise an excellent starter to whet our already-enormous appetites!

Next up, the pastas. They were pretty impressive. If not for the wrong choice of pasta on our part, the tirolese sauce was actually excellent. It was flavoursome and it was chock full of mushroom and zucchini deliciousness. The balance between the tomato and cream was well mastered and it was overall a very enjoyable dish. It would’ve gone better with a short pasta like penne or something, but then again us starvin’ marvins couldn’t care less!

My favourite was the spaghetti marinara. It had the right amount of garlic and tomato sauce without being overpowering or offensive. The morsels of seafood were tiny but there was lots of them; more importantly they tasted pretty fresh, and the spaghetti had an amazing bite and texture to it. I highly suspect they used a bronze-cut spaghetti in this dish because of the texture, but even if they did not, it sure tasted pretty darn marvellous!

My least favourite was the penne l’osteria – ironically the Jman’s choice – because the cream was too rich for my liking. One could argue that I am biased towards non-cream-based pastas, but this was far too rich and gluggy for my palette. The Jman, however, enjoyed it and heaped even more parmesan cheese on top. The parmesan cheese, as he said, was surprisingly good. No stinking 10-day-old parmesan smells but freshly grated and pleasant.

Finally the four seasons pizza. It was disappointing in my books. It had mushrooms, ham and green peppers. The ham was the spoiler for me because of the unbearably strong meaty smell that made me want to run ten miles away from it. I thought the dish could’ve done with a better quality ham to give it the edge.

On the whole, Osteria House fared better than expected. They did well in some areas – namely the pastas which I highly recommend – but having been a frequenter of La Bussola, I dare say that I haven’t found a family restaurant that beats them in the pizza department. If there’s anything that would lure me back, it would be the pastas and the tucked-in-the-corner quietness that envelopes the restaurant and transports you out of the madness of the Melbourne city.

Hellenic Republic

Posted in Food Reviews, Restaurants, Restaurants in Melbourne with tags on February 18, 2009 by thepseudoepicurean

I had lunch at The Press Club once and I was absolutely awed. I loved the flavours, the food, the bread and the olive oil. Every dish didn’t disappoint, and hence I was looking forward to a meal at Hellenic Republic. I was also thrilled because it was only a few doors down from where I live, which means that if HP turned out good, I’d have a good go-to restaurant if I ever needed one and was too lazy to travel.

Unfortunately I also had a hunch. Judging from the crowds (and you should see how much parking space these diners have taken up!), the Jman and I suspected that this might just be one overhyped restaurant, but we held judgement before trying it out.

Sad to say, the food was only average; I’ve had better Greek food elsewhere (i.e. Jim’s Greek Tavern). The service was efficient but cold and brusque, very untypical of a Greek restaurant. The Greek service we’ve experienced have always been efficient and rushed, sometimes brash but we always felt that the waiters were personable.

Since we were only there to pique our curiousity, we ordered mainstream dishes which we thought were safe, such as the grilled octopus, a grilled fish, and some vegetables. Our theory was this: if they scored well in these dishes, we’d come back for more. The octopus was tough and chewy, and we didn’t like the seasoning that they used. I did enjoy the charred flavours, however.

The fish too was disappointing. We had 4 fish steaks, 2 of which were tough and rubbery, the other 2 were satisfactorily done. The vegetables were the highlight of the meal, if there even was one at all. It was a simple mishmash of silverbeet and spinach (I think), served cold, in a wrangled mess, with a hint of olive oil and lemon. I liked that one.

Considering the few dishes we ordered, I felt it was a little pricey but I guess it’s more the brand name and the location that you pay for.

I’ve also had breakfast there before and I have to say that it was pretty good, but the coffee was crap and over-extracted.

All in all, I don’t think I’ll be heading back there anytime soon. I don’t think Greek food’s meant to be this fancy, and as much as The Press Club impressed me, I still like my Greek food honest and simple.

Very Vlado’s

Posted in Food Reviews, Restaurants, Restaurants in Melbourne with tags , , on December 9, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

It’s been 13 hours since I had my cow and I am still unable to look at food without feeling sick. I had an apple for breakfast instead of the usual cheese-toast, a sign that last night’s carnivorous indulgence hasn’t bid my tummy too well.

Yes, we had our inaugural (and epic, if I may add) dinner at Vlado’s, what is supposed to be the best steakhouse in Melbourne. Those who know me would know that I am not fanatic about meat. I love the occasional chicken or beef and more often than not a good piece of fish, but ask me on any day and I would happily opt for vegetarian. When R&S suggested heading there on Sunday, I thought, meh, why not. I would probably order a piece of steak and let the Jman have the rest.

BOY WAS I WRONG! What we didn’t realise was that the menu was already set – the only thing you get to choose is how you want your meat to be cooked and if you wanted more salad. The moment we sat down, a tray of sausages was ushered out onto our plates. Those are the “starters”. Then came the entrees, a mixed meat platter of pork neck, calf’s liver, mini scotch fillet (which was divine). I had a piece of the scotch and passed on the rest.

By the time we were done with our pre-mains, I was already reaching my limit. If not for the salad, I didn’t think I could get past the sausage. But there were the mains – a choice of an eye fillet of epic proportions, or a porterhouse that was equally huge – and they all looked REALLY good so we soldiered on. The waiter brandished 4 slices of pure red meat on a tray in front of us and asked us to choose our victims. I chose the eye fillet, medium rare, while the Jman had a beautifully marbled porterhouse done the same way. Some 15 minutes and more salad later, our lovely steaks arrived.

What can I say! We mercilessly dismembered our steaks and were surprised at how wonderfully tender and juicy the meat was. I didn’t like the porterhouse as much (it was sandpaper next to the eye fillet!), but the eye fillet almost melted in my mouth. What absolute pleasure! Pity I could only manage half my steak (which was in itself huge) before I had to admit defeat and passed on my precious medallion of pleasure to the Jman.

This is the first “proper” steakhouse I’ve been in Melbourne so there isn’t anything for me to compare it with, but I can say it was an enjoyable experience and definitely beats all those powerhouses in Singapore (the big boys such as Lawry’s and Morton’s) hands-down. It is also worth noting that a fellow dining companion who ordered his meat well-done found it butterflied so that it wouldn’t be dry and tough when it arrived on his plate, something I was rather impressed with. For now, even though I cannot look at another cow for a long time, I would say the dinner was a very memorable one.

We ended off dinner on a sweet note – strawberry crepes with vanilla ice cream. Not surprisingly, I polished off my entire plate with glee. As they say, there’s always room for dessert!

Next up: Charcoal Grill on the Hill. But I don’t think that would be happening in the next half a year or so.

Moo out.

The (Cauc)Asian Invasion

Posted in Food Reviews, Restaurants, Restaurants in Melbourne with tags , on July 31, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

:: Disclaimer: The subject of this post, by no means, carries any derogatory weight nor intent. If anything, it pokes fun at my own Asian heritage. ::

Even though I work reasonably close to Chinatown (I walk past it every morning on my way to work), I don’t really walk into it all that much. It’s not my venue of choice when I consider restaurants to eat at when I am out; it’s a let’s-go-for-yum-cha or we’re-eating-with-a-group-of-10-poor-students kind of place, which doesn’t happen very often at all. But tonight, since I ended work late and was waiting for the Jman to finish up his stuff, and we were going to have dumplings at Camy’s, I took a walk down to the Asian grocers and ended up walking up and down the Chinatown belt.

Now we’re all too familiar with the notion of the Asian invasion. There’s a joke among us that there are probably more Asians than local, white Aussies in Melbourne. The student population in my undergraduate course was testament to this; throw a stone and you’ll have a 7 in 10 chance of hitting an Asian. Now the tables have turned.

Imagine my surprise when we walked into Camy’s and were greeted by HORDES, no, MULTITUDES, of Caucasian university students. Yes, the same Camy’s – the one that was a hit amongst us international Asian students during my undergrad days – had nary an Asian in sight. And there was a QUEUE! Of Caucasians! At 8PM!!! For once I really felt like I was in Melbourne, but at the same time it felt incredibly weird! What on earth was happening?

Shock and awe aside, it was a refreshing sight to see all the local students armed with their bottles of booze, lapping up those plump, juicy dumplings dipped into the bowl of vinegar, and with chopsticks no less! They did it with such finesse that if you covered their heads, you’d probably mistake them for the Shanghainese folk.

Rent must be really expensive these days“, I jokingly whispered to the Jman. Well, at $5.80 for a giant’s serving of 15 pork or beef dumplings, and $6 for a truckload of noodles, the $10 pub meals seem like MoVida to Maccas. Why pay $10 (or probably $15 by now at the rate inflation is going) for a deep-fried unhealthy parma when you could get a plate of boiled less-unhealthy dumplings for half the price?

We left Camy’s highly amused and incredibly satisfied by our $12 meal of dumplings AND noodles, although I have to add that the outlet at Boxhill is much better than this one. So much that our dumpling-and-noodle dinner there last night left us pining for more, which explains our second visit to the city outlet tonight. To give it a little more perspective, I’d give the Boxhill outlet an 8/10 rating, and the city one a 6.5/10.

Camy Shanghai Dumpling & Noodle Restaurant (Chinatown outlet)

25 Tattersalls Lane
Melbourne, 3000
Tel: 03 9663 8555

David & Camy’s Shanghainese Dumplings (Boxhill outlet)

605 Station street
Box Hill, VIC 3128
Tel: 03 9898 8398

Update: Looks like Cindy and Michael have reviewed it too! Gotta agree with their review of the vegetarian dumplings. Absolutely pukka!