Monday, 15 September 2014

Gyoza Douraku

147 Bourke St 
Melbourne, VIC 

Hey all, it’s Chris here again, taking the reins for a blog post while Ming prepares for registration exams and is generally incredibly busy. Enjoy!

I’ve always known Melbourne’s CBD is wonderfully packed with great places to eat, but I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated this fact more than the night Ming and I tried Gyoza Douraku – our original plan was to go to Gangnam Pocha, only to find that they had closed down. Not fazed for even a second, Ming instead whisked us a mere 2 doors down the street to Gyoza Douraku.

Gyoza Douraku is a quaint little Japanese restaurant along Bourke St. You’d be hard-pressed to fit a large group of people through the cramped entrance, but thankfully the space opens up toward the back, showing off a cosy wooden interior.

Here you’ll find a tapas-style menu, with a wide variety of smaller dishes all available for the price of $6.50. Like any good tapas restaurant, they also have an extensive drinks list – including wines, sakes, $14 shochu cocktails and all sorts of other Japanese beverages

Tori no Karaage ($6.5)

We ordered a varied selection of their small tapas-style dishes, starting with their Tori No Karaage ($6.5). I’m not sure what makes this different from their popcorn chicken, but I couldn’t care less upon biting into one of these hot and crispy morsels. The juicy chicken was offset with a satisfying crunch from the batter, as well as the creamy mayo alongside it.

Salmon Sashimi ($6.5, 4pcs)

Contrasting with the rich fried chicken, the Salmon Sashimi ($6.5, 4pcs) that arrived next had an impressively fresh taste to it. These slices of salmon had a great firm texture to bite which gave to a softer, richer meat on the tongue.

Agedashi Tofu ($6.5)

Next up was our Agedashi Tofu ($6.5), which was plump and flavoursome in its sweet broth. Rather than some tofus which are a bit dry (and bland) or over-sauced (and soggy), this hit the sweet spot between the two.

Having taken a little longer to cook, our gyoza arrived as we were reaching the tail end of our other dishes. Provided alongside your gyoza is a DIY sauce kit, complete with Japanese Grain Vinegar, Soy Sauce, Chili Oil, Sesame Oil, Roasted Sesame Seeds, and Fresh Crushed Garlic. Unless you prefer your dumplings plain like me, chances are you’ll find something to suit you here. (It’d also be nice if the kit didn’t take up so much table space, but I doubt much can be done about that)

Pan-Fried Pork and Garlic Gyoza ($3.5, 6pcs)

The first gyoza we tried were the Pan-Fried Pork and Garlic Gyoza ($3.5, 6pcs). These tasted less of pork and more strongly of garlic than I expected, but they were nice and juicy whilst still holding together remarkably well.

Steamed Chef's Special ($6.5, 6pcs)

We also tried the steamed Chef’s Special Gyoza ($6.5, 6pcs), which were a much more balanced affair. The pork, prawn and vegetable blended in together until they were almost indistinguishable, and were rather mild when compared to the pork and garlic gyoza we had just had. However, that didn’t keep the familiar taste from being enjoyable.

Gyoza Douraku is a gem - their food set nary a foot wrong for us, and for a tapas-style menu the portions are nicely sized and very reasonably priced. We may not have tried the drinks, but we were certainly very tempted by the colourful concoctions being delivered to nearby tables. If that alongside a range of tasty $6.50 dishes appeals to you, be sure to check it out.

Rating: 13.5/20
This rating reflects my (Chris’) personal experience at the time of visit. 

Gyoza Douraku on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Cutler and Co.

55-57 Gertrude St 
Fitzroy, VIC 

The stars seemed to have aligned just right this year, because just a couple months after an extravagant long lunch at Vue De Monde, I found myself at Cutler and Co, the flagship restaurant of my beloved Andrew McConnell of Cumulus Inc. fame. Did I mention I also plan on having dinner at Attica before the year wraps up?

Photo via

Chris and I have been to enough nice restaurants to have a list of places that has our favourite bread, butter, and bathrooms. Cutler and Co takes the cake for best interior though. I thought it had the air of an abandoned cottage in the woods, with a hint of the fantastical about it, whilst Chris, who was facing the bar, thought it slick and modern. We both agreed that it was gorgeous though. Unfortunately I couldn’t take (or find) any photos that did the decor justice, so you’ll have to go and see for yourself. 

Like all of Andrew McConnell’s other restaurants, the menu is very much designed to be shared. And because more is always more when it comes to food, we opted for the 6-Course Tasting Menu ($130pp) in order to try as many things as we can. When I came back from the bathroom (definitely top 3 material), there was a basket of bread sitting on our table, along with house-churned butter, sea salt, and beetroot chutney. This spread took the awards for best bread and best butter in one fell swoop, the lashings of pale, creamy butter melting into the hot rolls of sourdough, which were ensconced with a crust that crunched audibly with each bite. 

Fromage Blanc Cigars

We were treated to a mini-entree of Fromage Blanc Cigars, presented whimsically in a Cuban cigar case. We were instructed to start at the end that contained the salty olive tapenade, work our way through the centre of mild cream cheese wrapped in the crispiest of wafers, finishing with a zing at the dollop of white balsamic vinegar. Simple yet stunning, this nibble set the tone for the rest of the meal.

Cured Kingfish, Eel Brandade, Dill Oil, and Buttermilk 

Cured Kingfish, Eel Brandade, Dill Oil, and Buttermilk 

Our first dish, the Cured Kingfish, Eel Brandade, Dill Oil, and Buttermilk was a dainty sculpture sitting in a shallow pool of herbed oil and buttermilk. Thickly cut and lightly cured, the plump slices of fish balanced between the verdant fronds of dill, and the buttery eel brandade. The elements came together so harmoniously that I couldn’t believe my tastebuds; though light and fresh, it was an undeniable riot of flavours. 

Jerusalem Artichoke, Turnip, Chestnut, and Bread Sauce 

Nothing was going to top the cured kingfish, but I don’t think the Jerusalem Artichoke, Turnip, Chestnut, and Bread Sauce tried to. After the delicate yet complex flavours of the previous dish, it was good to have something so reassuring. Covered in the velvety bread sauce were chunks of crisp, sweet roasted Jerusalem artichoke. The aroma that wafted up from the soft grating of cheese was so tempting that I regretted immediately not paying the extra $25 to have some truffle on top of this dish.

Flounder, Smoked Mussels, Leek, and Brown Butter 

The Flounder, Smoked Mussels, Leek, and Brown Butter was another deceptively complex dish. The fillet of flounder was cooked to perfection, the skin brittle and crisp, the fish falling apart in silken, pearly flakes. Adding to the aroma was leek done two ways – in a buttery puree, and grilled over hot coals.  The single smoked mussel was a salty, briny spotlight amongst the sweet earthiness. 

Smoked and Cured Duck, Golden Raisin, Candy Striped Beets 

Forget turkey and cranberry sauce, the Smoked and Cured Duck, Golden Raisin, Candy Striped Beets is where it’s at. The duck, gently cooked, was allowed to remain fatty and plump, its flavour augmented with honeyed beetroot and golden currants. Sitting underneath was the most fabulous charred onions, adding an extra layer of smokiness to the duck. 

New Zealand Venison, Quince, Burnt Onion, and Morcilla 

New Zealand Venison, Quince, Burnt Onion, and Morcilla 

Our final savoury dish of New Zealand Venison, Quince, Burnt Onion, and Morcilla was a surprisingly substantial one. The stout chunks of venison were pink and juicy, rubbed with a mix of ground spices and pepper. And for that little extra bit of indulgence, a cube of rich, crumbly black pudding on the side. To balance out all that protein was the most exquisitely roasted pumpkin, and little dollops of quince jam served quaintly in onion petals. 

Coconut Sticky Rice with Ginger and Lime

Before our dessert proper, we were given a little jar of Coconut Sticky Rice with Ginger and Lime. For such a plain, and dare I say it, bland looking dessert, the amount of flavour it packed defied logic. The luscious coconut milk, the fiery crystallised ginger, the airy yet zesty lime cream – it collided in an explosion of flavours and textures, leaving my knees a little weak as I scraped the last vestiges of cream from the jar. 

Warm Pressed Apple, Bourbon, and Cream Cheese Pastry 

At long last, dessert. Taking a simpler approach, our dessert of Warm Pressed Apple, Bourbon, and Cream Cheese Pastry was a deconstructed apple pie for grown-ups. The brick of poached and pressed apple pulled apart into warm layers fragrant with cinnamon, to be eaten with the buttery layer of pastry underneath, and a scoop of heady bourbon ice cream. 

Turkish Delight

Our meal was wrapped up with little jewels of Turkish Delight. Instead of being overly sweetened and flavoured, these little sugar-dusted cubes were delicate and floral, and just a little bit sour. It melted in a way that brought to mind the Turkish delight from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. A perfect ending to a perfect meal.

Cutler and Co. has me smitten. Each dish was a work of art that had us appreciating it with every sense, and every part of our meal was dazzling in a simple, understated way. There isn’t much else to say other than ‘I love Cutler and Co.’ – it’s my new favourite restaurant for sure.

Rating: 19/20 – copping out on the 20/20 because what is perfection anyway?
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. 

Cutler & Co on Urbanspoon

Monday, 8 September 2014

Po' Boy Quarter

295 Smith St 
Fitzroy, VIC 

Ever since I first heard of the Gumbo Kitchen Food Truck, I’ve been keen for a slice of its Southern American action. What I wasn’t so keen on was chasing a food truck all across town in Melbourne’s finicky winter weather. Or Melbourne’s finicky summer weather. And I’m glad the owners understand that dilemma, and have since gone on to open up Po’ Boy Quarter, the sit-down eat-in version of Gumbo Kitchen

Set up just like any other ‘order at the bar/counter’ restaurant, it’s not so much the interior that caught my attention as the menu. The food on offer is refreshingly different, Southern in a loud, bawdy way that most places fall short of. All the most wanted suspects were there, from pulled pork to beef brisket, everything battered and fried, stuffed in logs of soft baguette, or braised in thick stews.

Cheesy Mac Croquette ($3) 

The Cheesy Mac Croquette ($3) hit several cravings all in one go; the flat slab of cheesy pasta was rolled in parmesan crumb, and fried to shimmering, golden perfection. 

Deep Fried Shrimp Po’ Boy ($11.9) 

Deep Fried Shrimp Po’ Boy ($11.9) 

Given the names ‘Po’ Boy Quarter’ and ‘Gumbo Kitchen’, there wasn’t much to do other than to order the namesake dishes of these restaurants. The Deep Fried Shrimp Po’ Boy ($11.9) was heaped up like a fresh catch, the tender crumbed prawns falling from the crusty baguette, still coated in a spicy dressing. Fear not, under all that seafood was a whole pickle and some salad too, even if it felt a bit redundant with the thick schmear of mayo oozing out with every bite.

Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo ($11.9)

Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo ($11.9)

Feeling a bit too lazy to take on a sandwich larger than my calves, I instead dug eagerly into the Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo ($11.9), a smoky stew made with a creamy base of red beans. Unapologetically thick and chunky, this mixed into the rice like a good curry, the slow cooking having infused the sauce with the meatiness of chicken and sausage.

Clearly the worlds ‘southern food’ cannot physically exist in the same sentence as ‘stingy’, and within 15 minutes, we were full to the brim with honest, home-cooked food. It is absolutely impossible to walk away from Po’ Boy Quarter unsatisfied.

Rating: 14/20 – food for every juan.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. 

Po' Boy Quarter on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Hammer and Tong Food Truck

Location Varies (See Website)
Melbourne, VIC 

Remember Hammer and Tong, my favourite brunch place of 2013? (And probably of 2014 too, considering I haven't had any brunch since the new year rolled around.) Well they’re expanding, not with another store, but with a snazzy Food Truck. And I was lucky enough to be fed silly by the gang on a cold Monday night. We ended up trying everything on the short, concise menu, so brace yourselves!

Soft Shell Crab Burger ($14)

As we had hoped, the legendary Soft Shell Crab Burger ($14) is the first item on the menu. It is as amazing as I remembered, the crispy whole crab mingling with shredded Asian slaw and lashings of sriracha mayo between the buttered brioche buns. It is downright sinful. 

Lobster Roll ($16)

The ying to the soft shell crab burger’s yang is the delicate Lobster Roll ($16). The dainty filling of lime butter sauce and celery pieces, interspersed with real chunks of translucent lobster, overflowed from the charcoal roll. Unfortunately it came across as rather bland after the soft shell crab roll, and I probably wouldn’t have it again, even if the ingredients were top notch.

Sweet and Sour Pork ($15)

Sweet and Sour Pork ($15)

Hammer and Tong doesn’t do things by half measures, and the Sweet and Sour Pork ($15) is as good as any slow-cooked pork belly from a restaurant. The seductive chunks of sweet yet tangy pork mingled with the crunch of puffed rice and pork crackling, and if you don’t like Brussels sprouts, you’ll love them after these soft, maple-glazed ones.

Carrot Cheesecake Salad ($9)

I almost didn’t order the Carrot Cheesecake Salad ($9). Because honestly. Carrot cheesecake salad. And it only got weirder; grilled and pickled carrots were scattered with chestnut crumble, dollops of cheese curd, salty kale crisps, and get this – curried caramel. But by god it worked, the sweetness dallying with the salty and spicy for a sensationally different salad. Good luck trying to replicate this at home. 

Lavender Yoghurt Custard ($8)

The surprises continued with the ridiculously pretty Lavender Yoghurt Custard ($8). Thick and tangy, it’s almost Greek yoghurt-like, topped with a sweet potpourri of fresh and freeze-dried fruits, and flower blossoms you can actually taste. This was a fantastically versatile dessert that could double as a virtuous breakfast. Or a flower arrangement. 

Candy Bar Cookie ($4)/Nana's Pavlova Cookie ($4)

For those with a more primitive sweet tooth, the home-made cookies are sure to satisfy. Chewy on the edges and oh-so-soft in the centre, the Candy Bar Cookie ($4) was mixed through with chocolate, nuts, and caramel. Meanwhile the Nana’s Pavlova Cookie ($4) was flavoured with strawberry and a topping of crushed meringue. These were seriously good.

If you go through our meal and add up the costs, you’ll see that it ended up being as much as pasta, wine, and tiramisu for two. A tad exorbitant, but entirely understandable given the calibre of the food. Plus, I won’t pretend that having the soft shell crab burger roving across town upsets me very much at all.

Rating: 15/20 – restaurant food truck.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of Hammer and Tong. 

Hammer & Tong Food Truck on Urbanspoon