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

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Seoul Soul

323 Victoria St 
Abbotsford, VIC

It’s no secret that Melbourne loves to eat. Combine that with the fact that Melbourne is also a rather worldly place (despite its small size), I’ve been left rather reluctant to make any claims on the authenticity of a restaurant. Good yes, authentic no. I’ve only been to less than half a dozen countries myself, but luckily between friends and co-workers, I can usually get a pretty good opinion on just how genuine the food at a restaurant is. 

Take Bilge for example. She found her one true love – Korea – in our 3rd year of uni together, and has since embraced all things Korean; she even flew over at one point just to see one of her favourite K-pop stars in concert. I’m expecting her to bring a nice Korean boy to show us any day now. Anyway, she knows what’s up when it comes to Korean food, and according to her, Seoul Soul is up high, not down low, and definitely not too slow.  

Bucking the TARDIS trend, Seoul Soul is even smaller inside than it appeared from the street, consisting of just two long tables running down the narrow length of the restaurant, and a couple of tiny little tables jutting from the walls. Though I’m not keen on the cement walls and bare light bulbs, as it reminded me too much of an awful flat I lived in for a year when I was 3, I did like the little hand-made bits and bobs sitting around that seem to be characteristic of Korean restaurants. The staff were lovely. 

Tofu and Stir-Fried Kimchi ($8) 

Tofu and Stir-Fried Kimchi ($8) 

Whenever I feel a little less sprightly than normal, kimchi and tofu hotpot is my go to dish, and it has never disappointed me with its restorative properties. Keen to mix things up a bit this time, I ordered the Tofu and Stir-Fried Kimchi ($8) instead, and was pleasantly surprised by the smokiness underscoring the vegetables, which were stir-fried with kimchi in a spicy chilli paste. Paired with the delicate cubes of tofu, this was the perfect ying-yang combination. 

Dduk Bok Ki ($13)

Dduk Bok Ki ($13) is another favourite of mine, and I especially like that Seoul Soul gives the option of having the rice cakes cooked with a spicy or soy sauce, as Chris’ love for food usually stops where the chilli starts. The fingers of soft yet chewy rice cakes were cooked in a delicately sweet soy sauce, and were decidedly comforting in its stodginess. There was a good amount of beef and fish cakes without too much cabbage padding it out, and the pair of spring rolls and curry puffs was a welcome, though slightly unorthodox interlude. Despite my preference for the robustness of the rice cakes at Warra Warra, there is something to be said about this lighter, more graceful version. 

Marinated Butterflied Beef Rib ($18, 180g)

Running down each table is a metal grill often found in Korean restaurants for the purpose of BBQ, but on closer inspection, it actually turned out that these were for decorative purposes only. Still, if you like Korean-styled BBQ meats, there is an a la carte section dedicated to it. We sated our fleshly desires with the Marinated Butterflied Beef Rib ($18, 180g), which was as good as grilled meat gets. My only complaint is that the pieces were cut up a bit too small to fully show off the full, smoky flavours of the beef, and I longed to sink my teeth into something more substantial.

Marinated Butterflied Beef Rib ($18, 180g)

So it was lucky that Chris hates working for his food, and I got to monopolise the challenging but absolutely delectable rib. Though it was hard to get all the meat without grabbing the bone with both hands, what I did manage to get was brimful of charred, fatty goodness. A truly awful photo of me attacking the rib also exists, and no I will not post it.

Kimchi/Pickled Turnip

And to go with the meat, tiny jars of kimchi, and sweet and crunchy pickled turnip that was delightfully refreshing. All in all, this was a relaxing and enjoyable dinner, and downright cheap for Korean food, especially Korean food of this quality.

Rating: 13.5/20 – i like dinosaurs.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.

Seoul Soul on Urbanspoon

Monday, 13 October 2014

Big Boy BBQ

27 - 31 Hardware Lane 
Melbourne, VIC

Travelling is something I’ve always wished I had more time and money for. Aside from the obvious lure of food, I do actually enjoy seeing the sights and immersing myself in the diverse cultures. I’ve always been in two minds about America though. Several friends, after coming back from the USA, have told stories of entrees the size of share dishes, and milkshakes that are really just desserts in disguise. Though I loathe the idea of getting fat thighs and fat arteries, it’s hard to resist food that’s engineered so deliberately to taste good. 

It took a lot of mental preparation and self-justification before I finally made the decision to indulge in Big Boy BBQ. Though set up like fast food, the motto here is actually slow food, fast.  And indeed, BBQ ribs, beef brisket, and pulled lamb shoulder doesn’t happen overnight. Cutlery is highly discouraged, and there are entire rolls of paper towel on every table. After all, there are 5 types of BBQ sauce on offer.

Wings 'n Ribs Platter ($39, +$4 for pork ribs)

To our great amusement, a couple of the platters on offer were toted to ‘feed 1-6 people’. As we were neither 6 people nor 1 American, we chose the much more reasonable Wings ‘n Ribs Platter ($35, +$4 for pork ribs), a selection of wings and ribs (go figure) with two side dishes, designed to feed 1-2. 

Kansas City Ribs

If you like your ribs fatty and melting off the bone, then Big Boy BBQ is not for you. However we relished how substantial the Kansas City Ribs were. The thick glaze of slightly spicy BBQ sauce remedied the slight dryness that came with cooking the ribs to the dense, almost jerky-like degree of meatiness.

Chicken Wings

The Chicken Wings on the other hand were a lot more traditional, though absolutely massive. Rubbed with chilli and spices, the wings were grilled until the fatty edges were smoky and caramelised, before being drowned in copious amounts of authentic BBQ sauce. 

Onion Strings

I’ve always been a fan of good onion rings, but this is the first time I’ve come across Onion Strings. Piled up in a paper boat like a spindly golden flower, the crunchy shreds of battered onion were sinfully moreish and downright addictive. 

House Salad

And it was with a great effort of will that I turned away from the chilli con carne on chips, and instead had the House Salad. For a place that does caveman food, this salad is pretty fab. The mixture of sprightly cos leaves, vegetables, and tomatoes were pepped up with salty olives and crumbly feta. Sure that made it less healthy than I would’ve liked but by this point, I am kidding no one.

The entire platter was served with sliced pickles, which I ate with relish, and 3 slices of white bread, which was bemusing. But thanks to the large amount of meat on offer, we had no need for the bread. Though we polished off the plate with relative ease, I spent the next 24 hours digesting what felt like half a dozen eggs swallowed whole. This must be what it feels like to be a snake.

Rating: 14/20 – next time: chilli con carne on chips.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.

Big Boy BBQ on Urbanspoon