Thursday, 20 November 2014

Mr Nice Guy

535 Little Lonsdale St 
Melbourne, VIC 

I’m just going to come out and say it: I love blogging and writing about food, but I’m rubbish at writing intros. There are only so many times I can say ‘I like food x’ and not sound like a broken record. And now that Thai food has picked up in Melbourne I’ve lost my go-to rant of ‘why is there no good Thai food’ as well. Bummer (??).

I spotted Mr Nice Guy on my way out of a dinner at Mapo Grill. It was the colourful tables and cute chalkboard drawings that caught my eye. To my surprise, the menu on the window toted pad grpow gai and the like, instead of... I don’t know what I expected, but tom yum definitely wasn’t it. 

Less surprising was the brunch on offer during daylight hours at this kitschy, laid-back little cafe. Thai and brunch seems a weird combination, but according to most of the reviews I’ve read, they’ve been swinging it just fine. The staff were a sweet as the bushels of flowers on the tables. 

Nam Tok Moo ($12.9)

Thai salads have life worked out. The mixture of sweet and sour, meat and herbs defies boring. The smell of lime and mint wafted up tantalisingly from the Nam Tok Moo ($12.9) the moment it came to our table, the aromas of the herbs released by warm pieces of pork neck that reminded me a lot of good BBQ pork. I like my tamarind and lime dressing to be a little sharper and less sweet, but other than that, the flavour profile is absolutely perfect. 

Pad Kee Mao Beef ($15.9)

Pad Kee Mao Beef ($15.9)

As our ‘filler’ dish, we shared a pleasingly generous plate of Pad Kee Mao Beef ($15.9). Glistening from the wok and with just enough chilli to tingle, the chewy noodles contrasted delightfully with the handful of crisp sprouts scattered on top. It was so richly flavoured with Thai basil and green peppercorns that it barely needed the nubbins of beef.

Mr Nice Guy Famous Oven Grilled Chicken ($19, half)

Believe it or not, despite eating half my meals out, I still try and maintain some semblance of health. And that’s how I ended up having the Mr Nice Guy Famous Oven Grilled Chicken ($19, half) over the pork belly.

Mr Nice Guy Famous Oven Grilled Chicken ($19, half)

Though simple, I’ve hardly had a better piece of roast chicken. The brining meant that the meat was moist and succulent, and the quick trip into the oven left the chicken melt-in-mouth tender. It sat on a bed of spicy cauliflower cooked until just crisp, and the jug of chicken jus added extra flavour.

It may have been because of all the salivating I had done during the day over the promise of Thai food, but I thought this meal was seriously good. Though not the most authentic, the flavours were bold and delicious, and the chefs ha clearly put their own little twist in. Consider me a fan.

Rating: 15/20 – mr brightside.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. 

Mr. Nice Guy on Urbanspoon

Monday, 17 November 2014


1 Main St 
Box Hill, VIC 3128

It just hit me that in the two and a bit weeks I spent in Japan last year, I didn’t have a single bowl of udon. At the time, I was too busy chasing up the perfect ramen that was, until recently, so elusive in Melbourne. In hindsight it probably would’ve been nice to have a bona fide Japanese udon, but I’m not too upset – I think we have it pretty good here in Melbourne. 

Japanese food doesn’t have much of an audience in the outer eastern suburbs, where the Asian population largely stems from China and south-east Asia. But that doesn’t stop the occasional Japanese restaurant, such as Umaido, from cropping up. And I for one rather like the blatant Japanese-ness of it. 

One thing I got very used to seeing in Japan was wide selections of fried snacks lounging under heat lamps – they were everywhere, in restaurants, supermarkets, even convenience stores. And Umaido, aside from specialising in udon (and a small smattering of rice-based dishes), also has one of those nostalgically familiar pick-your-own-sides stations. 

Ontama Udon ($5.9)

The Ontama Udon ($5.9) is exactly what I think of when I think of udon. Though the noodles were a bit overcooked, they were fat and slurpable. The soup is fantastic, a light umami with the faint fishiness of bonito, turning creamy with the stream of yolk from the soft boiled egg. 

Hungrier than I am, but less of a purist, Chris had the winter special of... I have embarrassingly forgotten to note the name down, but it was something along the lines of a Pork Belly in Pork Broth Udon ($9.9). Unlike the delicate little bowl of Ontama Udon, this one was much more generous in portion, the delicate soup replaced with a cloudy, garlicky broth. The slices of pork, rather than being thick and fatty, were smoky and chewy, and enjoyable in its own right. 

Takoyaki ($2, 2pcs)/Vegetable Korokke ($1.8)/Karaage Chicken ($2.9, 3pcs)

We chose three sides to go with our meal. The Takoyaki ($2, 2pcs) was a disappointment, gluggier than it should’ve been even after sitting out under the heat lamps. The Vegetable Korokke ($1.8) fared better, the patty of smooth mashed potato coated in a golden crumb. The Karaage Chicken ($2.9, 3pcs) was the best, the juicy ribs flavoured with a spice rub and tasted fantastic despite being lukewarm.

Though Umaido is not fine dining, and the udon certainly isn’t as good as this or as this, it provides a good imitation of the true udon experience for a fraction of the price. If I can peel myself away from the Ontama Udon, I might give the soft boiled egg curry rice a go.

Rating: 13/20 – slippy slurpy.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. ‘

Umaido on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 13 November 2014


119 Hardware Street 
Melbourne, VIC

What happens when one person wants to eat Korean food whilst the other person wants Mexican? It sounds like a bad joke, and if it was one, the punch line would be: go to KOBA

I’m starting to think that the space KOBA occupies along Hardware Street is jinxed. In the last couple years, at least 3 different restaurants have come and gone, but it seems KOBA is here to stay. It’s a tiny place but it functions more as a takeaway than eat-in, though it does have a narrow bench lining the wall, and a couple of al fresco tables.

We arrived at about 7pm on a Friday (overtime again – my pharmacist and I turned over a whole ward!) to find a long line, and staff that were upbeat but scattered. It took a long time to get to the front of the line, and when we did, we found that they were out of fried chicken and sliders. On a 6 item menu. 

Tokpokki ($5)

Cutting our fried, delicious losses, we started with a bowl of Tokpokki ($5), which were pretty decent for the price. Though hardly subtle, the spicy bean paste was flavoursome, and soaked thoroughly into the sticky pieces of rice cake. The raw shredded cabbage on the other hand? Not so cool. 

Chicken Tacos ($7, 2pcs)

The Chicken Tacos ($7, 2pcs) sounded really good on paper, but once I saw that they were no longer in soft shells, their appeal diminished twofold. Seriously, who thought hard taco shells were a good idea? If I wanted that, I would’ve ordered nachos! Anyway, the toppings on these tacos were a tepid and unremarkable mix of grilled chicken, shredded cabbage, and spicy bean paste. I couldn’t taste the kimchi or salsa at all. For such a distinctive combination, the taste of these tacos was profoundly unremarkable.

Kimchi Fries ($7)

Topping off the lukewarm night was a box of lukewarm Kimchi Fries ($7). Once again, this was a study in wasted potential. The chips were too skinny to be able to get away with sogginess, and though the toppings of kimchi, cheese, onion relish, and sour cream promised to be a riot of delicious flavours, the reality was that they were rather bland, and had trouble attaching themselves to the chips.

I feel as if the meal would’ve gone quite differently had we been able to order the fried chicken and sliders that I had originally came to KOBA for, and what we ordered instead were poor substitutes indeed. KOBA not only made me sad with its long waits and subpar food, what disappointed me the most was all that wasted potential – Korean food and Mexican food have some of the most prominent and bold flavours, and a kimchi and grilled chicken taco could’ve gone so right, so easily!

Rating: 10/20 – sad face.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.

KOBA on Urbanspoon

Monday, 10 November 2014

Mapo Grill

551 Little Lonsdale St 
Melbourne, VIC 

When I get hungry, I get HANGRY. And the worst part is, I don’t realise that I’m hangry until I stop being hangry. Mind you, it is sort of nice to find that most of my problems look better on the right side of a good meal.  I like Cantonese or Korean food when I’m hangry, but I’ve just about run clean out of both without straying from the CBD. Luckily my trawling through the internets turned up Mapo Grill, a relatively new Korean restaurant tucked away amongst a strip of eateries at the top end of Bourke Street.

I have to admit, first impressions weren’t good. Though the restaurant was spacious and comfortable, littered with homely trinkets so characteristic of Korean restaurants, we did not appreciate the owner hovering over us and breathing down our necks as we examined the menu. And we weren’t even in the restaurant at that point; we were standing outside, looking at the menu on the door. It was almost enough to drive me away. Seriously, stop hovering and let me decide at my own pace whether or not I want to eat at your restaurant. /endrant

Cheese Fire Chicken ($19.9)

Needless to say, once I decided that I will eat here despite all the hovering, we were seated quick smart. Although the smells of beef rib on the grill from the adjacent table were amazing, I was too lazy to cook my own food and went for the a la carte options instead. There was army stew on offer, but in an attempt to eat healthier, I decided to have the Cheese Fire Chicken ($19.9) instead. It took me about 2 hours to realise why chicken covered in cheese wasn’t the best choice for a wholesome dinner.  

Cheese Fire Chicken ($19.9)

Still, it was worth it, as it was the best chilli chicken with cheese I’ve ever had. A little spicy and a little smoky, the pieces of chicken seared on the hot plate were covered with melted cheese, mingling with the spicy soy bean paste and whole cloves of caramelised garlic for a creamy, zesty mouthful.

Bulgogi in Hot Stone Pot ($15.9)

Compared to the chicken, the Bulgogi in Hot Stone Pot ($15.9) wasn’t much of a standout. It’s not nearly as bold and aromatic as some of the other bulgogi stews I’ve had, and although I don’t think I’ll ever say this again, it lacked the characteristic sweetness of a good bulgogi.


Bulgogi in Hot Stone Pot ($15.9)

Despite that, it was a well priced and hearty stew, containing a generous amount of sliced beef. The soup is as comforting as ever, maybe even more so with the addition of a healthy amount of pepper to the cloudy beef stock. It is the ultimate restorative, ladled over rice and spooned up with big pieces of spicy, crunchy Kimchi. Give the Sprouts a miss though – they’re bland and deflated.

I came out of Mapo Grill feeling a lot happier than when I walked in. Sure I was no longer hangry, but the fact that it was a good meal helped as well. I have every intention of coming back to try their Korean BBQ options, as the smell of sizzling pork fat is just too good to resist forever.

Rating: 13.5/20 – stop hovering.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.

Mapo Grill on Urbanspoon