Thursday, 24 July 2014

Yim Yam Thai Laos

415 Mt Alexander Rd 
Ascot Vale, VIC

Never judge a book by its cover, I say, except I don’t practice what I preach. I reject interesting-sounding books because it has an ugly design more often than I care to admit; I’ve even put down a book simply because I can’t stand the font and layout of the text – true story. And seeing as we’re admitting to personality flaws, I’ll admit to the fact that when I heard the name Yim Yam Thai Laos, I wasn’t exactly preparing myself for an authentic Southeast Asian dining experience.

Still, the restaurant itself is pleasing enough, and seemed to be quite a hit with the locals on a Friday night. The sound bounces off the high ceiling and bare walls, making intimate conversation nigh on impossible, but the overall vibe is one of warmth and comfort. 

Royal Golden Baskets ($8.9, 6pcs)

On first glance, the Royal Golden Baskets ($8.9, 6pcs) seemed to be pandering to the westernised palate, but it surprised me with how tasty it was. The warm chicken mince was alive with chilli and herbs, and was quite a tantalising little appetiser served in the crumbly fried pastry cups. 

Crispy Pork Strips ($11.9)/Yim Yam Sausage ($13.9)

Our platter of Crispy Pork Strips ($11.9) and Yim Yam Sausage ($13.9) was distinctly more folksy, and tastier for it. The house made sausage was pungent with spices and lemongrass, and the chewy strips of pork sported a sweet marinade with a hint of cumin in its smokiness. I knew I should’ve been saving room for dishes to come, but we cleared this plate in no time. 

Tom Yum Rice with Chicken ($13.9)

Speaking of saving room, fried rice is definitely not something I normally save room for. But an exception was made for the Tom Yum Rice with Chicken ($13.9), a dark horse that was arguably the most enjoyable dish of the night. Moist and aromatic, this fried rice presented a great depth of flavour, redolent with the distinctively piquant taste of kaffir lime, lemongrass, and fish sauce. 

Roasted Rice, Pork Sausage, and Coconut Salad ($13.9)

Roasted Rice, Pork Sausage, and Coconut Salad ($13.9)

I was really excited about trying the Roasted Rice, Pork Sausage, and Coconut Salad ($13.9) – Matt Preston’s Favourite! – as the menu proudly proclaimed. And the golden snaps of toasted rice, not unlike the kind you find at the bottom of good paella or bibimbap, was a boisterous play on textures. Tossed through with a mixture of fresh herbs, sausage, and a generous squeeze of lemon (the coconut was mysteriously absent), this was indeed a satisfyingly crunchy and moreish salad.  

Crispy Pork and Chinese Broccoli Stir Fry ($13.9)

We didn’t have a whole lot of room left by this point, so the Crispy Pork and Chinese Broccoli Stir Fry ($13.9) was greeted with a little less enthusiasm then it probably deserved. Despite being a simple dish of crisp vegetables in a chilli-soy base, it had a tantalising hint of peppercorns to it, coupled with strips of streaky pork belly, its skin crunchy from the wok.

So in the end, I wound up having a satisfying dinner at Yim Yam, despite my unfounded preconceptions. Though it’s not quite fully Thai, the menu goes beyond curry puffs to dishes such as papaya salad with salted crab, and their delectable house-made sausage. There are 5 or so branches of Yim Yam scattered all across Melbourne, and frankly, if I had one in my neighbourhood, you’d find me in their takeaway line for sure.

Rating: 14/20 – yim yum.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of Moonee Valley City Council, hosted by Yim Yam Thai Laos.

Yim Yam Thai Laos on Urbanspoon

Monday, 21 July 2014


Healey's Laneway
550 Lonsdale St 
Melbourne 3000, VIC

It gets a bit hard to keep up with all the new and exciting restaurants popping up. Between life and writing my own blog, there’s not always enough time to trawl through news articles and blog posts. So it’s lucky that I ended up in a work place that loves good food just as much as me. So now, instead of going to the recommendations, the recommendations come to me. A recent one that caught my attention was Suda (thanks Mimi!), a Korean restaurant that does things just a little differently.

Though Asian restaurants aren’t usually known for having a focus on service, I have to say that Alice, the owner of Suda, went above and beyond. She was extra friendly and helpful, and just plain great for a chat. It gave the already cosy restaurant an extra bit of warmth and charm. Even Ethan thought so, and he’s been in the hospitality industry for the last 7 years.

Plum Mint Soju Cocktail ($6.5)

I don’t usually waste previous stomach space on drinks, but I’d make an exception for the beautiful Plum Mint Soju Cocktail ($6.5). Once stirred, the layered drink became a sparkling beverage flavoured with plum syrup and sprigs of mint, with just a hint of alcohol towards the end. 

Kimchi Fritters ($10)

The Kimchi Fritters ($10) were a great nibble to go with the drinks. Beneath the crisp exterior were juicy corn kernels and chewy diced calamari, bound with a spicy, fluffy batter.

Tteok-Galbi Skewers ($11)

Unwilling to give up on the snacks, we ordered a serve of Tteok-Galbi Skewers ($11). Marinated in a mix of apple, pineapple, and onions, the skewers of beef short rib were tender and meaty, the smokiness from the grill balanced out by the fruity sweetness in the marinade, and confit vegetables on the side. 

Chilli Seafood Spaghetti ($16)

For mains, we shared an indulgent serve of Chilli Seafood Spaghetti ($16). What that ended up being was a mixture of fresh mussels, charred prawns, and pieces of calamari in a simple tomato sauce. Standard enough, but then there was the addition of pickled chillies and a hint of wok hei. Though unusual, this was one of the most delicious pastas I’ve had for a while.

Suda is a little bit different, but quite a lot of fun.  Portion sizes were more than reasonable, and the food had some intriguing twists and turns whilst knowing its own boundaries. Definitely a gem of a find that’s good for an intimate dinner. And functions – they do those too.

Rating: 14/20 – suda visited sooner.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. 

Suda on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Southgate Movable Feast

If you’re anything like me, meals definitely do not need to be constrained to just one location – why settle for an unexciting dessert after an excellent dinner when you can go somewhere else and get precisely what you’re craving? Southgate Moveable Feasts take that same idea, but stretch it just a little bit further – literally. It spreads out your entrée, main and dessert over three separate venues all within the Southgate complex. Unable to resist the opportunity, Chris and I joined a group of similarly eager food-lovers one Sunday to see what Southgate has to offer.

Upper level, Southgate Complex
3 Southgate Ave, Southbank, VIC 3006

Our first stop was Artusi, a newly opened Italian restaurant right at the Hamer Hall end of Southgate. The interior was bright and pretty with a modern look, as well as a view overlooking the Southgate walkway.

As we looked at the selection of entrees available for our feast, the owner came forward to speak to us about Artusi’s menu and to explain the entrees available. He explained how they aim to mix the old and the new by providing traditional flavours with a twist – which starts with making their bread and almost all of their pastas completely in-house. We were eager to see how this would translate to our entrees.

Along with our menus had come a glass of wine each, so we chose one each of the red and white wines available for us to try. The red was fruity, spicy and juicy, and although the white smelt musty and warm, it was actually sweet on the body with a bright, crisp finish.

House-made Sundried Tomato and Basil Bread

Upon ordering, we were served some of their House-made Sundried Tomato and Basil Bread. It’s no secret that I love my bread, and this bread was delightful – the exterior was as crunchy as a good potato chip, whilst the middle remained fluffy and light. When they came back to offer us more, there was no way we could refuse, despite wanting to pace ourselves for the meal.

Pancia di Maiale al Vincotto

Not long after, our entrees arrived, and the first I tried was the Pancia di Maiale al Vincotto, aka Berkshire pork belly. I was unsure what to expect from pork belly at an Italian restaurant, but this turned out to be very crisp and indulgent – even rivalling the pork bellies of Asian restaurants with its unabashed fattiness. The pomelo and endive salad on top was a loving contrast of the fresh and the bitter, making this dish a great start to our feast.

Lingua di Bu

The other entrée we ordered was the Lingua di Bu – ox tongue slow-cooked for 16 hours and served with quail eggs and salsa verde. Unfortunately, this didn’t live up to the standard set by the pork belly – the ox tongue was quite bland and rather oily combined with the salsa verde. A sprinkling of salt helped to pep up the flavour, and the quail eggs were a welcome creamy treat, but the dish was still a bit disappointing overall, especially following in the wake of the pork belly.

Artusi on Urbanspoon

Mid Level, Southgate Complex
3 Southgate Ave, Southbank, VIC 3006

We sat chatting for a short while after finishing our entrees, but soon our host had returned, ringing a bell to signify it was time to move on. A short walk later, we arrived at Amarok, a restaurant and bar with a North American and Inuit theme, reflected in its mock ski-lodge interior, its menu, and the fact that it’s damned cold inside. This is attributed to the ice bar located just next to the dining area, and although I’m sure it’d be a nice place to go in summer, I’d be lying if I said I appreciated the low temperatures on a rainy winter's day.

Stout, Pine Needle, and Acorn Roasted Chicken Breast

After a long wait, our mains arrived, the first of which was the Stout, Pine Needle, and Acorn Roasted Chicken Breast. The appealingly large chicken fillets were rather dry, but this was offset by the sweet and malty jus spread over the plate, which added a nice dash of flavour as well as moisture to the dish. The winner here, however, was the potato bake with blue cheese that the chicken was served upon – the blue cheese making the humble potato bake into something more unique and even more addictive.

Pouched Baked Salmon

Pouched Baked Salmon

Our second main was the Pouched Baked Salmon, cooked in a foil bag with a side of salad. To be honest, the salmon tasted rather pedestrian, and there was nothing more to it than met the eye. It was also slightly overcooked and under-seasoned. Meanwhile, the salad was quite a refreshing mix of greens with quinoa in a light mustard dressing, with an added burst of sweetness from the grapes. It may not have been amazing, but it is also the first salad I’ve had that Chris also enjoyed, so that’s a plus.

Amarok Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Upper Level Southgate Complex
3 Southgate Ave, Southbank, VIC 3006

After a quick tour of the (literally) freezing-cold ice bar, our host was along yet again to escort us to the considerably warmer Bluetrain. Bluetrain is more of your traditional restaurant and café, with a focus on modern Australian cafe-styled food, but of course we were limited to their dessert menu for the afternoon.

Flat White/Hot Chocolate

We kicked off dessert with a Flat White and a Hot Chocolate. I’m afraid to say I can’t speak well of either of these; the coffee was awful and had no flavour beyond a limp bitterness, while the hot chocolate similarly tasted like hot milk with a shadow of chocolate-y taste.

 Duo of Creme Brûlée

Our desserts fared better: I was first to try The Duo of Creme Brûlée, a pairing of chai tea and New York cheesecake styled brûlées. The chai was rich and spicy, while the New York cheesecake had a lighter taste that allowed the cheese flavour to show itself after a moment or two of tasting. Both were nice and creamy with a crisp toffee shell.

Childhood Memories

The Childhood Memories presented itself similarly to a deconstructed snickers bar, incorporating all sorts of delectable treats from your (the chef’s, as he later admitted during a quick chat) childhood onto one plate. The fairy floss was a particularly welcome element to the dish, and although I’d not thought of Milo ice-cream before, it was a definite hit for my tastebuds. And whilst I wouldn’t call the mix of chocolate cake and peanut brittle very imaginative, it’s very hard to complain about a dessert that hits the spot with such simple elements.

Bluetrain on Urbanspoon

On that note, our Moveable Feast had come to an end. We left quite comfortably full, though thankfully not stuffed due to the drawn-out nature of the meals. We enjoyed the experience, but it’s a slight shame that I actually enjoyed each successive venue slightly less than the last – it’s not to say that the later venues were bad, but I definitely found Artusi to be the highlight of the meal. The event also seemed slightly disorganised, our host arriving late and some small mix-ups at the venues. Hopefully they can iron these wrinkles out as they run future events, but regardless it was an enjoyable afternoon, perfect for a slightly different date.

Rating: you tell me!
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. 
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of Southgate Movable Feasts, Artusi, Amarok, and Bluetrain.

Monday, 14 July 2014

New Shanghai

Third floor, Emporium Centre
287 Lonsdale St Melbourne, VIC 3000

We’ve been a little spoilt for shopping recently. The hype from the H&M opening had barely died down when Emporium, hot on its heels, opened its doors after years of construction. And whilst Emporium is a pretty swank and shiny shopping complex, I didn’t realise that it also offered an awful lot in the ways of food. So it was almost by accident that I discovered that their food court isn’t so much overpriced take-away as pop-up versions of popular restaurants, including (believe it or not) Jimmy Grants and EARL Canteen

In hindsight, I probably should’ve guessed about the extensive and impressive selection of food on offer when I received an invite to New Shanghai’s launch dinner. What I had originally expected to be an inconspicuous little dim sum shop turned out to be just one arm of an empire, expanding rapidly across Australia from its heart in Sydney. They clearly made an effort to make the place really feel like the bustling streets of old Shanghai, and I have to admit it smelt pretty delicious too. 

Special Blended Grapefruit Green Tea ($4.8)

We were in for an unbelievably extensive banquet, but before we began stuffing our faces, we were encouraged to pick one of the drinks from the selection of Asian drinks, tea, cocktails, beer, and wine. Everyone at my table went for something a little ethnic, and I decided to have a refreshing drink of Special Blended Grapefruit Green Tea ($4.8). There wasn’t much citrus to this drink, but I liked the strong, sweet taste that attested to the use of real tea leaves. 

Drunken Chicken ($9.8)

We started off with some cold dishes to match our drinks, and Drunken Chicken ($9.8) is a classic. This chicken was definitely sloshed, the silken smooth slices fragrant with Chinese rice wine and spices.

Chopped Cucumber Tossed with Fresh Garlic ($4.8)

The Chopped Cucumber Tossed with Fresh Garlic ($4.8) was another classic done well. The bright pieces of cucumber were crunchy and covered generously with garlic mince. You don’t want to be kissing anyone after eating these, but they’re rather tasty.

Sweet and Sour Pork Ribs ($5.8) 

The Sweet and Sour Pork Ribs ($5.8) confused me a little; being a dish that I’m used to being served hot and tender, I kept feeling like that these chewy little beer snacks had been sitting out on the bench for too long. However the sweet and malty vinegar marinade was right on the money.  

Xiao Long Bao ($7.8, 8pcs)

Then came a whole slew of dim sum and yumcha snacks, the first of which a ubiquitous steamer of Xiao Long Bao ($7.8, 8pcs). Though these didn’t excel per se, the skin neatly held a mouthful of hot soup and pork mince, and were well-received all round. 

Steamed Vegetarian Dumplings ($9, 8pcs)

The Steamed Vegetarian Dumplings ($9, 8pcs) brought to mind beautifully furled blooms, but that wasn’t the only impressive thing about them. The mixture of chopped vegetables and tofu was clean and fresh, even if it did start falling everywhere after a bite or two. 

Pan Fried Pork Buns ($10.5, 8pcs) 

The Pan Fried Pork Buns ($10.5, 8pcs) were sensational. The bun had its bottom burnished to a crispy golden-brown, but the rest was left bready and sweet. Inside was a geyser of flavour, steam, and hot soup, and I ended up with my lips burnt. Still, don’t miss these delicious little grenades, as they were a highlight. 

Shallot Cakes ($6.5, 2pcs) 

The Shallot Cakes ($6.5, 2pcs) showed off once again the pan frying skills of the kitchen; the outer layers crackled like old parchment, whilst the inner sheets were soft and moist, chopped shallots hiding in its crevices.  

Shepherd’s Purse and Pork Wonton ($10.5, 10pcs) 

The Shepherd’s Purse and Pork Wonton ($10.5, 10pcs) was a dish that brought back cherished memories from my childhood. Shepherd’s purse, a vegetable that looks like a weed and tastes like a more herbal version of spinach, is often used in dumplings. But when we first got to Australia, we couldn’t find it in any shop – unsurprising, as it’s rarely used in western cooking. So to me, these dumplings tasted like trips with my parents to the outskirts of a small country town, shovels in hand, ready to harvest the abundant crops of wild shepherd’s purse.  Anyone less sentimental would describe these as a light pork dumpling with a distinctive herbal taste, covered with a sensational skin that’s smooth and elastic, topped with a fragrant mixture of fried chillies and peanut butter. 

Turnip Cakes ($10.5, 4pcs)

The Turnip Cakes ($10.5, 4pcs) were nothing like the greasy, pan-fried squares of starch you find at yumcha, and whilst we unanimously agreed that we loved the traditional turnip cake as much as the next Asian, it didn’t stop these from being a welcome change. These little footballs of crumbly pastry held a revitalising mesh of bitter, crunchy turnip strips, turning the traditional turnip cake into something at least faintly healthy. 

Pork Belly Braised in Sweet Soy Sauce ($17.5)

Pork Belly Braised in Sweet Soy Sauce ($17.5)

Kicking off our mains was a mystery urn, which turned out to be a sumptuous offering of Pork Belly Braised in Sweet Soy Sauce ($17.5). If we’re very good, sometimes mum makes this dish for us, and this version is every bit as indulgent. The glistening cubes of pork belly melted in the mouth with a burst of flavour, the rich and tender pork having had time to soak up the sweetness of the sauce into the gelatin. And props to the urn having ‘braised pork belly pot’ etched onto it. 

Rainbow Beef ($17.8)

I wasn’t so keen on the Rainbow Beef ($17.8), which despite the exotic name was nothing more than fried beef strips in sweet and sour sauce. 

Salt and Pepper Soft Shell Crab ($29.8) 

The Salt and Pepper Soft Shell Crab ($29.8) on the other hand was gone within minutes. Succulent nuggets of crab were married with that light, spicy batter normally found on salt and pepper squid, and it was a hit with everyone at the table.  

Crispy Duck with Steamed Bun ($31.8, half duck)

Crispy Duck with Steamed Bun ($31.8, half duck)

Another one of my favourites for the night was the Crispy Duck with Steamed Bun ($31.8, half duck). The little purses of steamed bread were split open, ready to be stuffed with full and made into a sandwich. The bread was fluffy and light, a perfect vehicle for the plump pieces of duck rubbed with pepper and spices, and a drizzle of plum sauce. 

Stir-Fried String Beans ($13.5)

After all the indulgent eating done in the last hour and a half, it was a relief to see some greenery in the form of Stir-Fried String Beans ($13.5). Shame the beans were soggy and overcooked, or it would’ve been a lovely dish, enhanced with garlic and dried shrimp. 

Fried Rice with XO Sauce ($11.9)

Stir-Fried Shanghai Noodles ($9.9)

By this point we were all stuffed to the brim, and I had no room in my tummy left, not even for another duck sandwich, and definitely not for two filler dishes – Fried Rice with XO Sauce ($11.9) and Stir-Fried Shanghai Noodles ($9.9). But I did take a bite of each for research purposes, and they were perfectly adequate, the chewy texture of the noodles catching my attention before my stomach said NAY. 

Fresh Mango/Strawberry Shaved Ice ($10.8)

Ok maybe I did have a bit of room left for Fresh Mango/Strawberry Shaved Ice ($10.8). After all, the glittering confection of ice, syrupy fruit, condensed milk, and ice cream proved too good to resist.

I had a good time at New Shanghai; though some of the dishes were definitely better than others, there were some smashing hits like the pork belly, crispy duck, and pan-fried pork buns. If you work nearby, you could definitely do worse when it comes to a quick lunch or a place to meet up with a friend after dinner. But maybe wait until the hype has died down a bit first.

Rating: 13.5/20 – old shanghai.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of New Shanghai.

New Shanghai on Urbanspoon