Thursday, 30 October 2014

Kong BBQ

599 Church St 
Richmond, VIC

It was a beautiful day. I had finally finished my pharmacy registration exam, the weather was warm and breezy, and summer was more than just a hint in the clear blue skies. And what’s on the agenda? Food, of course. 

Photo via

I remember back when Chin Chin just opened up; I was still in my early days at uni, and thus at perfect liberty to visit booming new restaurants at odd hours in order to avoid the queues. But when Kong BBQ, another venture of Chris Lucas, opened in Richmond earlier this year, I was in a bit of a pickle. Thankfully I had been allotted a morning exam, and Chris was lucky enough to knock off work early that day, and we were left with enough time to arrive at Kong just 20 minutes before the Friday night rush. 

The restaurant seats 60, but it’s a near thing. Though we rocked up early enough to score our choice of tables, those who arrived a little later had to make do with being squeezed onto a bar barely a hand span wide that lined the entryway, putting up with the jostling of the waiting throng at their backs. Both the size and the interior came as something of a surprise; given the success of Chin Chin, I imagine Chris Lucas could’ve afforded to plate his new restaurant in gold leaf. Instead he continued the warehouse trend, settling on a space that’s airy and minimalistic, with lots of light wood. 

Housemade Passionfruit and Lemon Soda ($6)/Coconut Crush ($9)

It ain’t a celebration without drinks, and although I had originally intended on getting one alcomohol, I found myself tempted instead by the Coconut Crush ($9), a slushee of young coconut juice and the fruits of the day – watermelon, apple, and a sprig of mint. This was just my poison, or rather, just my antidote to the stress of exams, the warm weather, and the rather meat-heavy meal we were about to have.

Housemade Passionfruit and Lemon Soda ($6)/Coconut Crush ($9)

Chris on the other hand had the Housemade Passionfruit & Lemon Soda ($6), which was fruity and fresh... and rather alcoholic. Turns out they had inadvertently made this soft drink into a cocktail, so boo to that. 

BBQ Chicken Ssam Roti Roll ($12)

The BBQ Chicken Ssam Roti Roll ($12) came as a big surprise. Held together tenaciously by the crisp roti was a messy mix of smoky chicken from the grill, lashings of kimchi, crunchy slaw, all slathered with spicy, earthy gochujang sauce. 

BBQ Chicken Ssam Roti Roll ($12

I had expected something greasy and over the top indulgent, but the combination of flavours and textures absolutely blew me away with how bright and vivacious they were. I’m salivating just thinking about it.

Wood Roasted Pumpkin ($14)

Pumpkin has been cropping up in unexpected and delicious places for me this year, and Kong’s offering was a solid wedge of Wood Roasted Pumpkin ($14), garnished with a tumble of edamame salsa and a gooey ramen egg. The pumpkin was delicious; the skin was burnished to a charred crisp, and the tender sweetness of middle augmented beautifully by the garlic and shallots in the savoury salsa. The ramen egg didn’t really belong anywhere, but the gooey, smoky flavours were so good that they didn’t need to. 

Kong Bossam BBQ Tray ($29)

The Kong Bossam BBQ Tray ($29) is for the people who can’t decide on anything, but want a bit of everything. This platter for two showcases 4 different meats cooked in the wood fire pits, to be mixed and matched to your heart’s content with a selection of pickles and stuffed into a lettuce leaf. Kind of like a gluten-free Korean taco!

Three fat and succulent slabs of pork belly falling apart at the seams, served with an entire tile of crackling on the side.

Saucy pulled chicken coated in an earthy gochujang sauce.

Pulled pork that broke apart as we tried to pick it up with our chopsticks melted in the mouth with a rich meatiness.

And thinly sliced beef brisket, covered in a smoky tomato sauce and tasting strangely Texan.

But this dish is a case where it is more than the sum of its parts. All of the meats were delicious in their own right, but they absolutely sang when paired up with tangy pickles, and wrapped in a vibrantly crunchy lettuce leaf. Add a dollop of the sticky-sweet walnut ssamjung, and you’ve got yourself an opera.

Coconut Sago with Passionfruit and Pineapple Trifle ($12)

And to top our amazing meal off was a dessert of Coconut Sago with Passionfruit and Pineapple Trifle ($12). Even in my full to bursting state, I found room to appreciate the cool layers of cream and summery fruit jelly, and the fluffy bed of sponge hidden at the bottom. I especially loved the contrast between the silken pop of sago and the crunch of passionfruit seeds. 

We enjoyed our meal at a leisurely place, the accommodating staff happy for us to take our time despite the long queues. I left Kong entirely satisfied, but also feeling a little bit bummed; I have hardly ever had such a nice meal, but when on earth am I going to be able to make it back to try the sticky ribs and miso butter corn?

(Note to self: Kong also does take-away.)

Rating: 16/20 – king kong.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. 

Kong BBQ on Urbanspoon

Monday, 27 October 2014

Gradi Crown Casino

Shop 25, 8 Whiteman Street,
Southbank 3006

Everyone knows 400 Gradi. It skyrocketed to fame overnight by snatching the award of Best Pizza in the World from 600 other competitors, and in Italy no less. And next thing I know, they’ve opened up a huge 200-seater branch in Crown, with another to come in Essendon. Choosing not to challenge the queues at the original location, we made for the crown branch instead. 

Gradi Crown is a pizzeria, with a pair of bronzed wood-fire ovens to show for it. But instead of the warm intimacy of nonna’s kitchen, this is set up like fine dining, complete with the unabashed glamour of crown. The effect was somewhat ruined by the fact that service was scattered and disjointed, though in all fairness they had only been open for less than a week at this point, and I’ve no doubt that this is a problem that will be fixed with time.

Anyway. Despite having arrived just past 6 on Wednesday, the only 2 seater available was in the pizzeria section of the restaurant, under the proviso that we’ll be out within the hour. We were seated swiftly, wine lists were handed out, and pizzas were promised to be in our mouths within 15 minutes of ordering (my words not theirs). 

Given the large deli section we walked past on our way in, we couldn’t resist starting our meal off with a smorgasbord of cheeses and meats. I like the option of choosing your serving size, giving us the opportunity to try a wider variety of smoked, cured, and aged goods, all plated up on a brittle lavosh cracker drizzled in rosemary oil. 

Bufaletto (Taleggio) ($8.5, 25g)

The Bufaletto (Taleggio) ($8.5, 25g) was an easy choice for me, being extremely fond of soft white cheeses. It was creamy and velvety, with the distinctly fruity taste characteristic of taleggio cheese, and a hint of ripe mustiness at the end.

Asiago ($5, 25g)

The Asiago ($5, 25g) was cut from a different block of cheese entirely – literally and metaphorically. Sweet and waxy, but surprisingly mild, it was a lot mellower than its texture would suggest.

Proscuitto Cotto d'Abruzzo ($5, 25g)
The Proscuitto Cotto d’Abruzzo ($5, 25g) was less than impressive. Not only did it look like ham, but it didn’t taste much different either, except perhaps with longer fibres. For those who were expecting fat-streaked Italian prosciutto, don’t be fooled! 

NdujaCalabra ($4.5, 25g)

The NdujaCalabra ($4.5, 25g) was a foray into unfamiliar culinary territory. During my research I had confirmed that it was a sausage, but I failed to realise that it was in fact a spreadable sausage. Thus, we found ourselves served with pieces of crusty bread, smeared with a fiery-looking paste. And it was indeed spicy as the waiter had warned, tasting of smoke, pork fat, and chilli peppers.

Margherita Verace ($21)

But really, we were here for the best pizza in the world, and first impressions were good indeed. The Margherita Verace ($21) was hands-down the most delicious pizza I’ve ever been lucky enough to eat, the creamy pockets of buffalo mozzarella  melting into the tomato sugo, sun-ripened to equal measures of sweetness of acidity. 

Margherita Verace ($21)

And the base was pure magic. Despite being just millimetres thick and having sat around waiting for me to take photos, the base still managed to be both crisp yet pliant. The experience culminated at the burnished, puffy crust, and one bite took me straight through the crisp exterior to the fluffy, chewy middle, flavoured with just a dash of salt. It was sheer perfection.

Verdure Grigliate ($13)

It’s a shame I couldn’t say the same about the Verdure Grigliate ($13), aka roast vegetables. Though the freshness of the fennel and baby carrots weren’t to be faulted, their sweetness brought out by a scattering of sea salt, the serving size was beyond absurd. It should be glad that the pizza was around to cover its buttocks.

My meal actually brought to mind one I had some time back at DOC. But whereas at DOC I hated the pizza and adored the sides, it was the opposite case with Gradi. The deli selection was average, the roast vegetables were atrocious, but the pizza shone brightly enough to cast its glow over the entire meal. I will definitely come back, especially given how convenient the location is, but you’ll never see me with anything that isn’t pizza, that’s for sure.

Rating: 12/20 – overall.
Rating: 15.5/20 – pizza only.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. 

Gradi on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 23 October 2014

China Red

Shop 6, 206 Bourke St 
Melbourne, VIC

Given that I have a few more exciting meals lined up for the next couple weeks, Friday night dinner this week was less of an affair, and more of just a simple meal at China Red that doesn’t break the bank. 

I’m really not very sure when China Red rocked up, but it’s been a while. They seem to do continuously well due on a mixture of reasons, including a reliably adequate menu, a large range of dishes, and the novelty of touch-screen ordering. I imagine being the little sister of HuTong doesn’t hurt their reputation either. 

Chilli Wontons ($8.9, 8pcs)

Though I’ve long since given up on HuTong as a bad job, I’ve always retained fond memories of the Chilli Wontons ($8.9, 8pcs). Unfortunately these if not destroyed, then at least tarnished those recollections at least a little. The skins on these wontons were no longer silky and delicate, and the sauce was heavy on both sugar and vinegar, whilst the chilli oil had lost its smoky aroma. They’re hardly bad, but I would no longer go out of my way to order them.

Peking Dumplings ($11,8, 12pcs)

The Peking Dumplings ($11.8, 12pcs) however defied expectations. Mind you, they were very low to start off with, but these were actually on the nicer end of the spectrum. Despite being somewhat gluggy and mushy, the taste was actually quite authentic, though presentation could definitely use some work.

Seafood Combination with Beancurd in Clay Pot ($21.8)

The pick of the night was the Seafood Combination with Beancurd in Clay Pot ($21.8). Everything about this dish was fresh and perky, the vegetables vibrantly crisp, and the curls of calamari competed with the arched prawns for attention. The pale yellow tofu, wobbling inside its fried exterior, soaked up every last drop of the glistening egg gravy. I love it when a simple dish like this is made well.

China Red is neither good nor bad, cheap nor expensive. Though I wouldn’t remember it when I’m on the hunt for good Chinese food, I’m sure it’ll crop up here and there when I’m out of ideas for places to eat, when I want something simple and comforting, or after a long day of work where I would rather keep to myself and order from the touch screens instead.

Rating: 12.5/20 – antisocial dining.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. 

China Red on Urbanspoon

Monday, 20 October 2014

Rice Paper Scissors

19 Liverpool Street 

Sometimes I forget about why I blog. It’s unfortunate that when I get more involved with a hobby (such as food blogging!), it will slowly morph over time from hobby to commitment, and commitment to chore. There are days where blogging feels like a dead weight to be lugged around on top of my work and study obligations. And in times like this, it’s good to pause and to remember what led me to food blogging in the first place – a love of food and new experiences.  

After forcing myself to take a short break, I’m back at Rice Paper Scissors feeling if not like a new person, then at least somewhat refreshed and more excited about blogging. Though the smell of fresh paint has long since dissipated, Rice Paper Scissors has only been open for a year or so, but managed to whip itself up a fanatical following in that time. Our plans to visit on a Friday after work were thwarted by a 1+ hour wait, despite arriving just 10 minutes after opening. Oh how I miss not working 8-5!

Rice Paper Scissors is my sort of bar, where the food is just as revered as the alcohol. The menu is short and succinct, consisting of two dozen or so (that’s including the daily specials) street-food-styled dishes taken from South-East Asia. Most couples opt for the Share the Love option – any 5 dishes for $55, to be split between two people. Though not necessarily cheaper than ordering the dishes individually, as they are all somewhere around the $10 mark, it’s a relief to know exactly how much food to order, with the added bonus of a predictable bill at the end. The menu suggested that we ‘use our hands’, and the suggestion is so sincere that we were given a small finger bowl along with our cutlery. Other street-styled restaurants, taken note!

Twice Cooked Pork Belly with Chilli Caramel Sauce ($11)

Always hard to resist is the Twice Cooked Pork Belly with Chilli Caramel Sauce ($11). Very used to Melbourne’s serving sizes, I found the four bricks of golden pork belly to be surprisingly generous, a theme that carried through the rest of our meal. Ribboned with fat and crackling, the pork belly showed its true potential when dipped into the sticky chilli jam, which was a harmonious yet spirited blend of sweet and tangy, and just enough chilli to tingle. 

BBQ Lamb Ribs ($11)

The BBQ Lamb Ribs ($11) were marinated in a mixture of soy and Mekong whisky, and melted sweetly and succulently off the bone, helped by a generous amount of fat. Though the marinade could’ve capitalised from more depth of flavour, the lemongrass and coriander garnishing the ribs provided a prime opportunity to liven up the lamb. 

Thai Ceviche ($12)

I really liked the way the Thai Ceviche ($12) was served in a small metal tin. It reminded me a little of the canned fish with black beans I used to eat when I was younger (it’s also the first image that pops up if you google ‘Chinese canned fish’)

Thai Ceviche ($12)

But this was a far cry from greasy, preserved fillets of dace. Bright and spicy, the diced kingfish was mixed with a mouth-watering blend of chilli, fresh herbs, red onions, and a squeeze of lemon. The texture of the crackers varied a bit, and some were rather stale and tough, but I was quite happy eating the ceviche straight from the spoon. 

Thai Fried Chicken ($11)

I had started to regret ordering so many rich dishes by this point, but there was no way I could’ve gone past the Thai Fried Chicken ($11). Once again, bonus points for presentation that reminded me nostalgically of paper boxes of chicken nuggets. 

Thai Fried Chicken ($11)

Despite being golden and crunchy, the batter was actually quite wet. I suspect this was due to the fact that the batter was actually fairly minimal; instead, the chefs decided to let the subtle flavours of ginger, chilli, and coriander root soak into the chicken itself. The meat was tender and incredibly moist, and I almost burnt myself trying to eat these in my eagerness. 

Son-In-Law Eggs ($9)

Son-In-Law Eggs ($9)

Finishing up our mini-banquet were the Son-In-Law Eggs ($9). These were a little odd; instead of being soft boiled then deep fried, the eggs were fried sunny side up, before being blanketed with herbs and chilli. I’ll admit, it was nice not having to worry about egg yolk getting everywhere, but I felt that the sauce could’ve used more backbone to it – too much caramel, and not enough chilli.

Only minor things stopped Rice Paper Scissors from becoming my new favourite hangout. Though the service was friendly, it suffered from inconsistency. Our tiny space along the bar became rapidly cluttered when we were served 4 dishes within 5 minutes, but when we requested that they slowed the food down, we didn’t end up getting our final dish until we asked, despite our table having been cleared. Petty I know, but it’s just frustrating watching all the food go cold in front of our eyes. Still, Rice Paper Scissors is pretty great, and is the answer for everyone who can’t be bothered queuing up outside Chin Chin for half their evening.

Rating: 15.5/20 – rice beats scissors.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. 

Rice Paper Scissors on Urbanspoon