Thursday, 16 April 2015

Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen

27 Russell St 
Melbourne, VIC

It has begun. The Ramen Revolution. 2014 blessed Melbourne with two of the best ramen restaurants we have to date – Fukuryu Ramen and Hakata Gensuke. In fact, my hopes have been raised high enough that the thought of a visit to the newest ramen restaurant in Melbourne – Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen – no longer makes me retreat into my shell for fear of being disappointed. 

Though a bit hard to find, the result is well worth it. The set-up reminded me a lot of Japan, albeit being a lot less grungy and rough around the edges. The window behind which the chefs work in clouds of steam is the main attraction, but the sake bar and private function room is pretty sweet too.

Yakimeshi (normally $12)

Whilst waiting for our ramen, we whetted our appetites with a couple of the samples coming out of the kitchen. The first was a pinch of Yakimeshi (normally $12) – Japanese fried rice. The fluffy grains were tossed about in a hot wok with a fragrant mixture of egg and pork, bound together with a savoury smokiness. 

Gyoza ($11, 5pcs)

Equally as lovely were the Gyoza ($11, 5pcs), its slippery smooth skin burnished to a crisp at the bottom, and holding within it a juicy nugget of pork mince. 

Sake Punch

From the bar was a Sake Punch – a refreshing combination of sake and apple juice. 

Ikkoryu Original Tonkotsu ($15) 

There were 5 types of ramen on the menu, and customisation ranged from toppings, to noodle texture, to the amount of oil on your ramen. Going back to basics, I ordered the Ikkoryu Original Tonkotsu ($15) with a ‘normal’ level on all the customisable options. This bowl of noodles took me back to Japan, with its creamy soup and globules of fat glistening on the surface. The toppings were also top-notch; the gooey egg was savoury from being marinated in a soy mixture, and though thin, the charshu slices had an optimum fat-to-meat ratio that melted in the mouth. 

Miso Tonkotsu ($17)

The Miso Tonkotsu ($17) was exactly what it sounded like. The addition of miso paste meant that the soup was earthier, and had a thicker mouth-feel that nevertheless still allowed the porkiness to come through. 

Miso Tonkotsu ($17)

The noodles themselves were absolutely fantastic. Medium thickness and just a little bit curly, these were toothsome with a lingering hint of bicarbonate – a necessity in any good noodle if you ask me.

So what did I think? Despite the good food, this was a hard question to answer. I thought the noodles were noticeably better than Fukuryu Ramen, but not as tasty as the JUST-LIKE-JAPAN ramen of Hakata Gensuke. Although this puts Ikkoryu well within the top 3 ramens you can get in Melbourne, I just couldn’t get over the pricing. I was nowhere near full after my $17 bowl of noodles, and although the toppings were first-rate, they were rather miserly in terms of portion size. Even more insulting was the price of the gyoza - $11 for 5 pieces! I don’t like to bring price into my reviews (unless it’s a bargain of course!), as I believe that everyone has different standards as to how much a meal is worth, but the prices at Ikkoryu are borderline daylight robbery. Combined with the fact that I can get better noodles for less at Hakata Gensuke, or a cheaper, larger, and still pretty great bowl of noodles at Fukuryu, I don’t think I’ll be back any time soon.

Rating: 13/20 – what a shame.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen. 

Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen on Urbanspoon

Monday, 13 April 2015

ORee Korean Duck Restaurant

179 Queen Street 
Melbourne, VIC

Korean BBQ? Been there, done that. Except it turns out that I haven’t – not quite anyway. Whilst I am intimately familiar with the seductive sizzling of beef and pork and occasionally chicken over a coal fire, I have to admit that duck is not something that swims to the forefront of my mind when I think KBBQ. 

As it turns out, duck is actually a rather popular BBQ meat in Korea, and its absence in Melbourne meant that the opening ORee Korean Duck Restaurant was long overdue. Though the outer half of the restaurant felt like a casual takeaway lunch sort of place, the inner sanctum was lined with booths and ventilator pipes that are surely familiar to anyone who has ever had Korean BBQ. And if you haven’t, the smoky smells will give the gig away. 

Duck with Nut Porridge/Banchan

We were recommended the Course 2 ($60pp) by our lovely waitresses, and being cold and hungry, we happily agreed on the 8 courses of duck-centric goodness. Within minutes we were plied with plates of banchan, and the first course – Duck with Nut Porridge. Though unusual sounding, the combination of almonds and rice boiled down in duck stock was nutty and comforting. And if you want a bit more pep, you have your choice between sour pieces of crunchy Kimchi, slivers of Pickled Onion, and chewy strips of marinated Fish Cake. The best bit of all however was the Steamed Egg Omelette. Piping hot and aerated like cotton candy, it was studded with specks of carrot and onion, and perfect for whetting the appetite. And yes, it is complimentary. 

Fried Duck Salad with Kiwi Dressing

Our next course was the Fried Duck Salad with Kiwi Dressing. Koreans have always been good at frying, and these succulent pieces of duck were bound tightly in a crisp and savoury batter. It reached its full potential when dipped in the (spoiler alert!) honey mustard sauce that we were served later on. One thing I couldn’t wrap my mind around however was the salad. Whilst the vegetables held no surprises, the kiwi dressing tasted like melted fruit-flavoured ice cream, and left me with my bewildered face on. Don’t get me wrong – it tasted nice; I just wasn’t sure how to feel about it. 

Fried Duck Dumpling

Another twist on a classic dish was the Fried Duck Dumpling, which was delicious with its pink and juicy centre, dipped in sweet and sour sauce.

At roughly this point in the meal, Chris left to go to the bathroom. Why am I mentioning this? Because on the way back in, he walked smack-bang into the devilishly clean sliding glass door, and proceeded to bleed profusely from his nose for the next 15 minutes, scaring all the staff (and me of course!) silly. He’s alright now, but the swelling is making his nose look even more crooked than it already is. So if the food descriptions become a bit weak after this, you’ll know why. 

Fresh Roast Duck (100g)

Fresh Roast Duck (100g)

Between dried blood off Chris’ face and giving first-aid advice, I managed to stuff down mouthfuls of the Fresh Roast Duck (100g). Even in my anxious state, I was able to appreciate just how delicious it was. The duck was rich and meaty, lined with just enough fat to give it that extra flavour. I had fun playing mix and match with the buffet of condiments we were given, and I decided that it tasted the best with Onion Sauce and Salt and Pepper

Smoked Duck (100g)

The second plate for the BBQ was the Smoked Duck (100g). With some of the fat trimmed off, this duck tasted a lot leaner. The smoking process also left it a lot more tender, and infused it with a woody aroma reminiscent of camping trips. It was distinctly different from the roast duck, and I honestly couldn’t decide on which I liked more. 

Duck Soup

The leftover duck bones were made into Duck Soup to be served with rice. I was super full by this point as Chris hadn’t done much eating, but I did manage a sip or two. Steeped with herbs, this soup was light and cleansing – an ideal conclusion to the rich BBQ meats. 

Marinated Soy Bulgogi (100g)

The last savoury dish (I know! More!) was the Marinated Soy Bulgogi (100g). Instead of being cooked on a fire, this mix of duck and vegetables were cooked on a stone hot plate, which was slanted ingeniously so that all the fat dripped into a little paper cup.

Marinated Soy Bulgogi (100g)

Having been marinated for hours in the sweet soy, all the tough fibres in the duck were broken down, and the result was the most tender and succulent duck I’ve ever had. Interspersed with the meat were a variety of vegetables, including bushels of mushrooms and thinly sliced onion to soak up the marinade. 

White Bingsu

Luckily, our dessert contained no duck. Instead, it was the popular Korean (and Asian) dessert of White Bingsu, aka fluffy shaved ice cream topped with condensed milk and sweet red beans. 

Despite Chris busting his nose, this was still one of the nicest Korean meals I’ve had in a long time. The food was both high quality and well made, and a duck-centric menu is definitely not something you see every day. Just make sure you do like duck because it’s in more or less in everything on the menu – no joke.

Rating: 15.5/20 – quacker of a meal.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of ORee Korean Duck Restaurant.

Oree Korean Duck Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Belle's Hot Chicken

150-156 Gertrude St 

After a week of having home-made rice paper rolls for lunch at work, I felt that I’d earned a meal at Belle’s Hot Chicken. And call it providence but, this also turned out to be an early celebratory dinner, as less than 12 hours later, I finally got my big break as a pharmacist! Hooray to working in prestigious hospitals!

The vibe here is diner-classy (yes that’s a thing now) and so is the food. Once night dropped, the bar and booths took on the glow of perpetual twilight, evoking with it a mood of quiet companionship and the promise of a night still young. 

Eschewing any beating around the bush, Belle’s Hot Chicken is exactly what it says on the packet – Meat, Heat, Sauces, Sides, Eat! The thoughtful box of wet wipes on the table gives a hint of what’s to come; there is also cutlery available but PFFT. Fish and mushrooms are available for those who don’t like fried chicken – a considerate addition. If you don’t like fried however, then you’re very much out of luck.

Hot Dark Meat (drumstick and thigh) ($16)

For $16, we were given the option of 3 cuts of chicken in 5 degrees of spiciness, all the way up to Really F**king Hot (sic). It was a no-brainer of a choice for me, and I went with the Hot Dark Meat (drumstick and thigh) ($16). The chicken was crazy juicy, and each bite left the fat dripping down my chin. The crisp, dry batter had a nice, smoky kick; between the sizzling fat and spices, I regretted not getting a tub of ranch sauce to cool things down. Luckily the chicken was served with a generous handful of sweet house-made pickles, so I doused the fire that way. 

Southern Tenders ($16) 

Mild-mannered Chris on the other hand ordered the Southern Tenders ($16) – a placid serve of 4 chicken strips coated in a warm mix of spice. Though not as juicy as the dark meat, these were nevertheless notably tender and moist, and the batter was flavoursome without overpowering the chicken. 

Almost Arnold’s Beans

Each serve of chicken also came with your choice of any side, and the first we had was the Almost Arnold’s Beans. Completely defying expectations, the string beans were cooked to a comforting mushiness in a pork hock stew, and then given a little pick-me-up with a hint of spice and pickle.  Frankly I could have this on its own as a meal, scooped over a bed of fluffy white rice. 

Hot Dark Meat with Almost Arnold's Beans ($16)/Southern Chicken Tenders with Old Bay Fries ($16)

And of course, the Old Bay Fries. These were cooked to perfection – the outside lightly bronzed, with a fluffy centre. Shaken over was the nostalgically savoury spice mix, and we had no trouble polishing them off.

Chocolate and Peanut Brittle Soft Serve ($6)

Our indulgent meal was wrapped up with a serve of Soft Serve ($6). This isn’t just any soft serve – the flavours change from day-to-day, and we were lucky enough to stumble upon the concoction of Chocolate and Peanut Brittle. The ice cream was light and smooth, almost like a just-frozen milkshake, and tinged with cocoa. Meanwhile the brittle was layered lavishly through the soft serve, the crunch of toffee shards combining addictively with crushed roasted peanuts. This is a soft serve that’s definitely worth the price tag.

In the end, fried chicken is just fried chicken, but there’s something to be said about even the most simple of dishes when they’re made to such a high standard. Plus, where else can you go that practically mandates ordering fried chicken? And if you say KFC, just wait until you try fried chicken that doesn’t leave a coat of grease in your mouth. Like Belle’s Hot Chicken.

Rating: 13.5/20 – beautiful hot chicks.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.

Belle's Hot Chicken on Urbanspoon

Monday, 6 April 2015

Juicy Bao

Shop 2/178-190 Little Bourke St
Melbourne, VIC 

Excuse me as I interrupt your usual Ming-written programme with a guest post from Chris! I’m back for another round whilst Ming does a 9am-7pm work week. She’ll be back shortly!

Sometimes it feels like, for all the Chinese food Ming and I eat, we very rarely go to Chinatown. I suppose given any random Chinatown restaurant, it’s hard to know if you’re in for some authentic Chinese food or just some Western-pandering Beef in Black Bean Sauce. However, on recommendation from a friend of Ming’s, tonight we once again made our way into that small, brightly lit street to try out Juicy Bao.

Juicy Bao looks more or less like your typical Chinatown restaurant, if somewhat less extravagant than some others (and certainly cleaner than yet others too), but we had high hopes as we sat down and ordered from their no-surprises menu.

Pork and Prawn Wonton Soup ($9.8, 15pcs)

Ming was very eager to try their Pork & Prawn Wonton Soup ($9.8, 15pcs), and having normally eschewed wontons in favour of dumplings myself, I was happy to concur. After clumsily dropping one of these meaty parcels onto the floor, I fished another out of the light chicken broth, and thankfully this one was securely in my grasp. 

Pork and Prawn Wonton Soup ($9.8, 15pcs)

Despite the juicy flavour granted by the soup, these wontons unfortunately failed to impress, lacking somewhat in prawns – the pieces of prawn were simply spread out too much and too little to be majorly noticeable. This left Ming a bit disappointed, though personally I still enjoyed them.

Salt and Pepper Squid ($6.8)

My first bite of their Salt & Pepper Squid ($6.8) yielded a lovely hit of flavour, the salt and pepper plentiful though not overdone. However, when I eagerly started eating some more pieces, I was instead greeted with a much more restrained flavour. As it turns out, the flavouring in this dish was inconsistent, the aforementioned pattern repeating throughout the meal. That said, even when not bursting with flavour, I enjoyed the batter which was not too heavy like some others we’ve had, and the squid hidden inside which had a good level of chewiness. All in all, I liked the dish, I just wish it had been more consistent!

Zha Jiang Mian ($9.8)

Zha Jiang Mian ($9.8)

One of these days, I’ll remember Zha Jiang Mian ($9.8) by its actual name – but until then, I’ll simply get by on “oh, that really slippery noodle dish with the pork and cucumber on top”. I’ll admit upfront that the slipperiness of these noodles has always bothered me a little; my white-boy chopstick skills can only handle so much! But I digress – these savoury noodles, heaped generously in the bowl, became a tasty, chewy mix with the morsels of minced pork. It also made for a tasty lunch the next day, thanks to our slight over-ordering.

Perhaps Juicy Bao didn’t quite live up to our expectations, but to be perfectly honest, I would happily eat there again and try some of their dumplings and rice dishes. It doesn’t really exceed the other good restaurants in Chinatown, but it’s on par with price, so you won’t feel short-changed spending your money here either.

Rating: 12/20
This rating reflects my (Chris’) personal experience at the time of visit. 

Juicy Bao on Urbanspoon