Thursday, 5 March 2015

Penang Laksa House

482 Springvale Rd 
Forest Hill, VIC

Penang Laksa House and I got off on the wrong foot. Why? Because it sits on the grave of one of my favourite places for yum cha and Cantonese dinners – The Treasure. Still, it’s there, so I may as well make the most of it and give it a go. The feedback may be lukewarm but stranger things have happened.

Though the outside is more or less the same, I could barely recognise the interior. The menu however is a bit too familiar for comfort. Despite there being classic Malaysian hawker dishes available, there is also a disconcerting amount of Cantonese dishes, and worse still, westernised Asian. It doesn’t come cheap either; at $26 for a prawn omelette, it’s overkill even in this economy. 

Penang Har Mee ($11.8)

Though I don’t have it often, Penang Har Mee ($11.8) is one of my favourite things to eat. Spicy and aromatic, I often liken it to bun bo hue. Though it was a bit pricey, the bowl of noodles served up by Penang Laksa House was satisfyingly large, and certainly looked the business.

Penang Har Mee ($11.8)

And thus, it was twice the shame when it fell short of expectations. Whilst all the right ingredients were there in generous amounts, I couldn’t believe something so fiery-looking could be so bland and generic. The soup had none of the aromatic briny tang of a good bowl of prawn noodles. It wasn’t bad eatin’, but it was a disappointment for sure.

Crispy Roast Pork Rice ($13.5)

Though I had wanted to try another traditional hawker dish, there wasn’t very much in the way of non-noodles, so we settled for a plate of Crispy Roast Pork Rice ($13.5).

Crispy Roast Pork Rice ($13.5)

Faring a bit better than the noodles, this pork was decently tender (but occasionally burnt) and the skin reasonably crunchy (but occasionally chewy). The accompanying rice, soaked in gingery pork broth, was a definite plus. At $13.5 however, it’s hard to find reasons to come back for this when any restaurant in Box Hill does better pork for much less moolah.

Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed with Penang Laksa House. Not only was the food borderline bad, the service wasn’t helped by the waitress who took away Chris’ chopsticks, which we found awfully presumptuous. Despite harbouring a grudge, I was desperate to like Penang Laksa House even partially as much as I loved The Treasure, but unfortunately it was not to be. Not when the most interesting part of our meal was when the power went out smack-bang in the middle of it due to one of Melbourne’s signature summer storms.

Rating: 11/20 – yeah no.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. 

Penang Laksa House on Urbanspoon

Monday, 2 March 2015

Huff Bagelry

112 Koornang Rd 

Latte ($4.5, large)/Flat White ($3.5, small)

Chicken Schnitzel on Onion and Poppy Bagel ($9.5)

Summer Brekky Bagel on Wholemeal Bagel with Seeds ($8.5)

Huff Bagelry on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Kettle Black

50 Albert Rd 
South Melbourne, VIC

Melbourne is growing up. Though grungy is definitely still very much in, the trend seems to be slowly but surely shifting towards minimalist stylishness. As much as I’m a fan of the homely and the rustic, I have to say it is nice not to run the risk of feeling like I’m sitting in someone’s garage for brunch. 

Whilst I’ve been brunch-less for the last year, the Eggs Benedict scene has been moving forward without me. One of the most recent developments is The Kettle Black, spanning across one end of a modern apartment block through to a quaint Victorian home. The result is surprisingly harmonious, making for a uniquely chic and polished spot that have people flocking to in droves. 

Drenched in sunlight and decorated with clusters of plants, The Kettle Black brought to mind Top Paddock, which only makes sense given that they are part of a string of cafes opened by the same group of blokes. Follow the lineage back further, and you’ll come across Two Birds One Stone, and eventually Three Bags Full, though it underwent a change of ownership a few years back. 

Whilst it’s the youngest, The Kettle Black is the most refined sibling of them all. There is nothing predictable about the brunch menu (though the famous Top Paddock Hotcakes makes an appearance), and each item read like a short, tantalising poem. Despite the sophistication however, brunch here is anything but stuffy, and diners are left in peace with their coffee and paper to soak up the sun. 

Flat White ($4)

Having finally convinced K to get into coffee, we had a Flat White ($4) each, and enjoyed teasing out the various aromas in the brew, guided by the page of tasting notes. 

Flat White ($4)

My cup of coffee was pleasingly strong, with overarching tones of toffee and cocoa. Once the coffee cooled a little, I could just pick out the more delicate notes of floral and stone fruit. I could definitely get used to having tasting notes with my coffee. 

Benedict Styled Eggs with Free Range Pork Shoulder and Aerated Hollandaise ($17) 

I had a game plan – K and I will each pick 3 dishes we want to try, and then pray that 2 of them overlap. That failed miserably as we had no mutual dishes on the first try, but we did agree that the Benedict Styled Eggs with Free Range Pork Shoulder and Aerated Hollandaise ($17) sounded like the bee’s knees. 

Benedict Styled Eggs with Free Range Pork Shoulder and Aerated Hollandaise ($17) 

It certainly was an elegant variation of the traditional breakfast, the moist pulled pork flavoured warmly with cumin and spices. The poached eggs were perfect, and the tangy hollandaise was indeed extra light and fluffy as promised. My only complaint was that the toast succumbed to the common pitfall of being WAY too tough, and whilst I can forgive that in light of the gooey eggs and tender pork, it does not an enjoyable experience make.

Hotcakes with House-Made Ricotta, Blueberries, Pure Maple, Double Cream and Seeds ($18)

It wasn’t too hard to convince K that he would like to try the Hotcakes with House-Made Ricotta, Blueberries, Pure Maple, Double Cream and Seeds ($18), especially after showing him a picture of it online. And it turned out to be even more beautiful than I had anticipated; the thick pancake sat at the bottom of a shallow bowl, garnished with a lush array of summer berries and flowers. The sprinkling of lavender sugar on the cream was as pretty as fairy dust. 

Hotcakes with House-Made Ricotta, Blueberries, Pure Maple, Double Cream and Seeds ($18)

The hotcakes themselves were warm and fluffy, soaked in a deluge of sticky maple syrup and topped with a smear of thick, cool cream. The rich sweetness contrasted marvellously with the tart and juicy berries, and texture came in the form of scattered nuts. Each bite was a work of art, and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face as I ate.

It’s really not very hard to like The Kettle Black, given its beautiful food in a beautiful surrounding at a reasonable price, and the excellent coffee topping it off. However I think Top Paddock will still stay as my favourite brunch place for the time being; when I think of brunch, I think of simple and indulgent meals, and whilst there’s nothing wrong with the more high-brow version at The Kettle Black, I guess I’m still a little old-fashioned at heart.

Rating: 14.5/20 – pot to kettle.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.  

The Kettle Black on Urbanspoon

Monday, 23 February 2015


76 Bourke St 
Melbourne, VIC

As sad as I am to admit it, Friday night dates have sort of lost their shine ever since I’ve been out of a job. A nice meal out may still be enjoyable, but it just feels like I’ve done absolutely nothing to earn them. But am I going to stop having Friday night dates? NOPE.

Ombra opened quietly (or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention; I probably wasn’t paying attention) three years ago at the top end of Bourke Street, right next to the Grossi empire. That would normally be a terribly foolish move for any Italian restaurant trying to make it big, but not in this case, as Ombra is also a Guy Grossi venture. 

As you’d expect of the famous Italian chef, Ombra is an Italian wine bar at heart. There is a large cellar hidden under the stairs, and plenty of meats being cured in-house. The downstairs section is pretty but it’s got nothing on the enchanting upstairs section – a provincial Italian dining room, with a balcony that opens up to the leafy Paris-end of Bourke street. 

Prosciutto ($9 for 1, $12 for 2, $18 for 3)

I love cheese platters but I love meat platters even more, and after a lengthy consultation with our knowledgeable waiter, we opted for a duo of Prosciutto and Tartufo ($9 for 1, $12 for 2, $18 for 3), which was served with a slide of crusty white bread. The prosciutto came in freshly sliced ribbons, and though delicate, the soft and pliant slices of ham were nevertheless nutty and full-bodied in flavour. 

Tartufo ($9 for 1, $12 for 2, $18 for 3)

But our hearts were taken by the Tartufo – fatty slices of salami flavoured with black truffle, and finished with a drizzle of olive oil. Despite being so thinly sliced, each piece of salami was indulgently rich, augmented by hints of earthy truffle. 

Crisp Lamb Ribs, Salsa di Peperoni ($16)

Making no concessions to our arteries, we followed the cured meats with a plate of Crisp Lamb Ribs, Salsa di Peperoni ($16), one of the signature dishes of Ombra. And you know what? The blogger who said that these smelt like KFC were entirely correct; in fact, they even looked a bit like it too!

Crisp Lamb Ribs, Salsa di Peperoni ($16)

Underneath the brittle coating, the lamb was unbelievably unctuous, dissolving off the bone at the lightest touch. The accompanying capsicum sauce was sweet and fruity, and although the lamb would've benefited from a more generous amount of seasoning, the cooking itself could not be faulted. Believe me, 4 ribs were more than enough for 2 people.

Slow Cooked Octopus, Potato, Salsa Verde ($18)

I had been eyeing the Slow Cooked Octopus, Potato, Salsa Verde ($18) all night, and you know what? It turned out to be one of the best dishes I’ve ordered for quite a while. The slow-cooked octopus had an amazing texture; instead of being overly chewy or saggy, it was satisfyingly meaty, soaking up the salsa verde, which danced with fresh parsley and good olive oil. Accompanied simply by crisp stalks of celery and slices of potato, this was an invigorating cold dish that’s perfect for summer. 

(Although, maybe avoid this dish if you’re squeamish about octopus. The tentacles were so huge that the little suction caps were falling off.)

Polpette, Tomato ($14) 

This was the deal Chris and I made: I get the octopus, and he’s allowed to have the Polpette, Tomato ($14) – a rustic serve of meatballs in a cast iron pan. As we had predicted, this was a classic dish made well, the meatballs coarse but moist, soaked in a rich tomato and vegetable stew. We gleefully soaked up the excess sauce with our remaining bread.

I may have been completely oblivious about Ombra until last week, but apparently I’m one of the last few people who are. By 7pm, not only was the entire upstairs and downstairs of the restaurant packed out, there wasn’t even any room left in the al fresco section. Ombra encompasses all of what Melbourne loves – a chic, stylish wine bar with beautifully made food and excellent wine (or so I’m told). It is a winner through and through (like Australia in the Asian cup!)

Rating: 15.5/20 – italian movida.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. 

Ombra Salumi Bar on Urbanspoon