Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Tutto Bene

Shop M28 Southgate Plaza
Southbank, VIC 3006


Forget the other effects of inflation, all I care about in the summer is the rising cost of gelato. Almost without anyone noticing, the price of gelato has slowly crept up from 3 dollars a scoop... to 4 dollars... then 5... and before you know it, some places are charging over 6 dollars for a single scoop. SIX DOLLARS A SCOOP!


Thank goodness for places like Tutto Bene, which still sells gelato for well under 5 dollars, despite being in the premium location of Southbank. Their flavours rotate daily, which means that it’s definitely worth revisiting, even if it’s just to try some new flavours.

Mixed Berry Sorbet (single scoop, $4)
 
And the rotating flavours meant that we were unfortunately unable to get the lemon sorbet we’ve both been craving, but we settled for what we were told to be absolutely delicious, the Mixed Berry Sorbet (single scoop, $4). This scoop of ice-cream lasted us quite a while, due to it being bursting with intense berry goodness. It was thick and creamy (well, not creamy seeing as it was a sorbet but I’m sure you get what I mean) and as a result was less refreshing than what we would’ve liked, but it was definitely delicious. 

Panna Cotta Gelato (baby scoop, $2.5)

Because I’m a greedy food blogger, we also got some of the Panna Cotta Gelato (baby scoop, $2.5). This was once again lusciously creamy, and tasted like a sweeter and lighter vanilla. It was yummy, but I totally should have gone with the honey flavoured one we were offered a taste of. 

Rating: 13/20 – actually affordable gelato


Tutto Bene on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Pizza Meine Liebe

231 High St
Northcote, VIC 3070


What would the world do without pizza? Large, beer-sodden parties will no longer be catered for; a group of friends with differing tastes will be reduced to eating at a food court; and another, less delicious way to use up the ingredients at the bottom of the fridge will have to be found. Pizza Meine Liebe in Northcote is clearly at the forefront of the pizza-love movement, with their name literally meaning ‘pizza my love’. And the love shows – an almost pizza-exclusive menu with more choice than I’ve ever encountered, finished off with the assurance that it’s ok to eat pizza with your hands, because they’ll taste better and you’ll look sexier

Interior

A booking here is more than recommended for weekends, but at 6pm on a Wednesday night, it was empty save for a family of four. However that didn’t stop the aroma of pizza permeating every corner of the shop, or the young hipster staff from lingering at the back, eating slices of what’s no doubt a very good margherita. 

Kitchen
 
It was fun to watch the young and energetic kitchen staff effortlessly kneading the dough and stretching it out into impossibly thin pizza bases, all whilst flirting with the waitresses clad in skinny jeans and vintage tops.

Buffalo Soldier (large, $21)

Me and K both had eyes for the same pizza, so as opposed to ordering a small one each, we ordered a Large Buffalo Soldier (tomato, buffalo mozzarella, basil leaves, and prosciutto, $21) to share. It came out just how a good pizza should, with a crispy pizza base that’s slightly puffy around the edges, topped with minimal but quality toppings. The tomato base was flavourful, and the pockets of chewy mozzarella stretched into long, thin strands when we bit into them. The prosciutto added a lovely meaty and salty punch, though they were quite tough and we had to resort to cutting them into smaller pieces. The pizza could have done with more basil, but it definitely didn’t suffer for the lack of it.

Chocolate and Strawberry Pizza ($9.5)

For afters, we shared a Chocolate and Strawberry Pizza ($9.5), which was actually a small pastry boat filled with melted dark chocolate, 
strawberries, dusted with icing sugar, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.


The chocolate was rich, the strawberries had a fresh, fruity aroma, and the ice cream was deliciously light and creamy. But I still think I prefer the excessively indulgent dessert pizza served at Bimbo Deluxe. 

Pizza Meine Liebe is a good spot to get a gourmet pizza that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Just make sure you don’t try and visit for lunch, and that you come on a cooler day, because on the hotter days (like the one we visited) the un-air-conditioned space can get rather stifling, though it does still smell delicious.  

Rating: 14/20 – gourmet yet fun


Pizza Meine Liebe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Flora Indian Restaurant and Cafe, Part 2

238 Flinders St
Melbourne, 3000

Second Chances.  I rarely give them to restaurants that I’ve had bad experiences with, no matter how glorious the reviews for the place are. But a good word from a good friend can do wonders. And if the food happens to be from her native country, then I’m sold. I was all for disliking Flora until Sneha mentioned in passing that they did the best Indian curry in the city, which led me to think: what if I just ordered the wrong thing last time?

Beef Madras (large, $10.5)

Turns out I was ordering the wrong things after all. The Beef Madras (large, $10.5) was divine. The flavours were deep and rich, the sauce with piping hot and contained whole chillies and bay leaves, in which floating tender chunks of beef. It was toted to be ‘medium’ in terms of spiciness, but it wasn’t all that spicy, but the heat did slowly build on the palate as you work your way through the brass bowl.

Plain Dosa ($6)

The curry didn’t come with rice, but that’s no issue considering that we had ordered the Plain Dosa ($6), which is like an enormous, thin pancake served with coconut sambal and chutney. The chutney was a bit watery and is more like a soup, but the sambal was sweet with desiccated coconut and perfect for cutting through the heat of the curry. It was a joy to break off a crunchy golden shard of dosa to dip into the sambal, or to tear off a soft spongy section to soak up the curry sauce. And did I mention that the dosa was enormous?


No seriously, look at it. LOOK AT HOW ENORMOUS IT IS.

Moral of the story: it pays to give those who have wronged you a second chance, they might just surprise you. Or at the very least they’ll provide you with a giant pancake.

Rating: 14/20 – ATTACK OF THE GIANT DOSA

Sunday, 22 January 2012

St Ali

12/18 Yarra Pl
South Melbourne, VIC
3205

Hype for a restaurant can be a dangerous thing. There’s always a tense moment when the food arrives, where I’m both expecting it to make my tastebuds dance, and being terrified that it won’t. And a little piece of me dies every time a restaurant falls short of my expectations. Unfortunately, this post on St Ali, third most popular brunch spot in Melbourne (according to Urbanspoon), comes attached with a broken and shrivelled piece of my soul – that’s how disappointed I was. But let’s start at the beginning. 

Exterior

Located in brunch-savvy South Melbourne, St Ali follows the tried-and-true formula of locating itself in a converted space of some sort. We think the non-descript white building looks like an old mechanic, but warehouse is also a popular guess.

Interior
 
The interior of St Ali is grungy, even by Melbourne standards. The floors are scruffy, the walls are a mixture of wood, plaster and brick, and the furniture is seriously mismatched, with everything from leather to wood to metal. Thankfully the potted plants (in old paint cans, naturally) and the large door letting in natural light softens the space up.




A large chalkboard boldly proclaims the specials of the day (which includes a whole slab of bacon), and the coffee blend of the day. It took us quite a while to order thanks to the extensive double-sided menu, yet I still didn’t manage to avoid the serious case of order envy when the table next to us got their food.  

Flat White ($4) / Hot Chocolate ($5)

We started off with some of St Ali’s famous house coffee blend in a Flat White ($4) for me, and a Hot Chocolate ($5) for Chris. As you’d probably expect, my coffee was certainly good, very easy to drink, though it didn’t blow my top hat off. The hot chocolate on the other hand was atrocious. Bland and lukewarm, you’d have a better time heating up some chocolate milk and stirring cream into it. How they justify charging 5 dollars for it I’ll never know.

My Mexican Cousin ($17.5)
 
According to most bloggers, the corn fritters here are a must-try, so I ordered the My Mexican Cousin (corn fritters, baby spinach, haloumi and kasundi with poached or fried eggs, $17.5) with poached eggs. Being on the steep-end of brunch, I expected this dish to at least come out with a couple of slices of toast. Instead all I got was two baby-fist sized fritters that were barely larger than the eggs on top of them, sitting lonelily in the middle of the plate. And from here it only went downhill. The fritters were cold and dense with nary any corn to be seen, the kasundi (hot Indian tomato relish) was watery with no heat whatsoever, and the thin slice of haloumi perched on top can barely be tasted.  


The only redeeming factor of this dish were the eggs. Round and flawless, they released a stream of golden yolk when they were cut into. I wonder if they offer egg-poaching classes (like they do barista classes); does anyone know the secret of how to get a perfectly poached egg?

Creole Beans with Poached Egg ($18.5)
 
I used the only method I knew to lure Chris out of bed for brunch on a Friday morning – meat. He was totally gunning for the steak sandwich until his jaw locked up something bad, and had to pick something else that didn’t involve much chewing. The Creole Beans ($16.5, add poached egg $18.5) fit the bill pretty well, so he got that, minus the hot sauce. The beans were toothsome, the toast was crusty, and the egg was runny. It would’ve been a good brunch dish too if it weren’t for the fact that I whip up beans that taste almost identical to these on my I’m-lazy-but-I-want-something-nutritious days. It’s honestly nothing more than a 4-bean mix stewed in a tomato-based sauce with a dash of cumin. 

So 45 dollars and a broken heart later, we walked out of St Ali. For that price tag I was hoping for something phenomenal, or failing that, at least something that filled me up and warmed my tummy. Instead we had to go and get some pork buns for afters. And how were the pork buns? Well that’s a different story altogether. 

Rating: 9.5/20 – ridiculously overhyped


St Ali on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Pho Dzung Tan Dinh

208 Victoria St
Richmond, VIC 3121


Nothing gets between me and a craving. If i want ice cream in winter, I will damn well have it and suffer the consequences. And same goes for pho in 30 degree plus weather. I tie my hair back and dig in, what heat-stroke? Making good on my mission to eat every single pho on Victoria Street, we found ourselves at Pho Dzung Tan Dinh, more commonly known as the ‘cow and chicken place’. I enjoyed the city branch of pho dzung, so I was eager to see how the original stacked up.

Menu

The menu here would have most pho purists nodding in approval. It consists of little more than pho (served every way under the sun, naturally) and a selection of colourful drinks. There’s also a smattering of other traditional Vietnamese dishes such as broken rice, vermicelli, and spring rolls, for those whose tastes veer away from the nourishing beef noodle soup. But judging from how every table gets automatically given a plate of sprouts and Thai basil, there aren’t many people who stray far from the pho.

Small Special Beef Pho ($7.5)

I got my standard order of Small Special Beef Pho ($7.5), which came topped with rare slices of beef, beef balls, tendon, and tripe. The beef slices were tender and of a good cut, and the vegetables served on the side were clean and plentiful. But the real star of the show is the soup. A bit less sweet than most I’ve had, it’s ridiculously aromatic from hours of simmering, and the best part is that there’s little to no MSG in the soup, so you won’t feel sick from drinking it all up.  And I don’t know if it’s just me, but I absolutely love the fragrance of Thai basil hitting the beef soup; it’s an invigorating promise of what’s to come.

Grilled Chicken on Rice ($8.5)

Chris, who bears a vendetta against pho, ordered the Grilled Chicken on Rice ($8.5). Despite being known as a hardcore pho eatery, this dish was actually rather excellent. A big juicy slab of chicken (boneless, to Chris' delight) was slapped onto a plate next to a mound of rice and a small vinegared salad. Take a bite of the sweet and tender chicken, follow it up with a mouthful of fluffy rice, top it off with a pinch of zesty salad, and I guarantee you’ll be in heaven. The fish sauce and the rather bland soup on the side went mostly untouched. 

Three Coloured Drink ($2.5)

Hydration is important, especially on hot days. So instead of just having the complimentary tea, which was surprisingly fragrant, we also ordered a Three Coloured Drink ($2.5) to accompany our meal. Slippery strands of jelly and chewy sweet kidney beans are brought together by a liberal dousing of coconut milk, and topped with crushed ice. A drink that doubles as a dessert? How could you say no?

The service here is rather perfunctory, but the large chattering family sitting at the front making spring rolls, and the barefoot children running in and out of the kitchen with icy poles dangling out of their mouths lets you know that you’re in a genuine, family-run eatery. You know that their stock is simmered on site and that the vegetables are washed by hand. And it’s this sort of care that makes for one of the best pho Melbourne has to offer. 

Rating: 14/20 – pho-tastic!


Pho Dzung Tan Dinh on Urbanspoon

Friday, 13 January 2012

China Bar Signature

380 Burwood Highway
Burwood East, VIC 3151


I’ll probably be stripped of my foodie status for saying this but, I Love Buffets. To me, the sheer variety and quantity of food available excuses any corners cut in terms of quality (unless if you’re at Smorgy’s; nothing excuses food that bad). Because let’s face it – no one goes to buffets for fine dining; it’s the promise of All You Can Eat that’s luring all the people in.

Exterior (yes that is unfortunately my finger in the corner)

However, at China Bar Signature, you can have your cake and eat it too. Not only is there a mind-boggling variety of food on offer but, the quality is far superior to what you’d find at most buffets. That said though, a meal at China Bar doesn’t come cheap. Starting at 29 dollars for a weekday lunch, it can go as high as 59 dollars for a weekend dinner that comes with the whole shebang, including all the Peking duck and seafood you could eat .The other times I’ve been here with family for dinner, I’ve found the seafood selection to be quite impressive. There are three types of sashimi sliced to order, and the seafood on offer includes oysters, mussels, scallops, prawns, smoked salmon, and crab. The Peking duck is also halfway decent. This is the first time I’ve been here for lunch, but it’s good to see that aside from the duck and seafood, nothing seems to be missing.

Interior

During the day, the spacious room is already lovely, but at night-time it’s borderline opulent with its high ceilings, wall to wall windows, and plush couches. Service is polite (I actually had my chair pulled out for me by a waist-coated waiter) and efficient (too efficient –  several times we had hawk-eyed waitresses whip our plates from under us the moment we picked up the last morsel).

When I said the food selection was enormous, I wasn’t kidding. So I went around (clockwise) and took photos of everything. And this is where this blog post stops being a blog post, and turns into a photo album with extensive captions.  



The sushi station, located right next to the fresh fruits. There isn’t a huge selection of sushi available because it’s lunch time, just your generic salmon rolls and a couple more. At dinner this area becomes much more exciting, because not only do things like scallop sushi get added to the selection, but this is also where they slice up the fresh sashimi. The fruits are seasonal, with apples, watermelon, oranges, and nectarines on offer.


Dim-Sims and Malaysian Dishes. You actually can’t see the Malaysian dishes, they’re a bit further off to the left. There are a couple curries available, some roti, and nasi lemak. The dim-sims are in cute little baskets that unfortunately only hold one dumpling at a time (to prevent wastage). There are also other treats such as fluffy pork buns, egg tarts, and the obligatory spring rolls.


This is the Cook To Order Station, where they whip up stir-fried vegetables and noodle dishes any way you like – just pick your ingredients and they’ll get it ready for you in a matter of minutes. We didn’t have any this time, as a whole dish would take up way too much stomach room, but I know from past experience that their stir fried vegetables and fried kwei teow are worth getting. 

My favourite savoury section is probably the Meats Section. Here, you’ll find everything from roast pork to roast duck to Hainan chicken. And just a little bit around the corner, where the waitress is standing, they also have century egg congee and several soups in small clay pots.


Facing the entrance directly is the section I’ve dubbed as the Westernised Dishes. The dishes here however are a little more high-class than what you’d expect, including things like steamed prawns, calamari in sauce-that-I’ve-forgotten-the-type-of. Of course there’s also your typical sweet and sour pork and honey chicken.


The last of the savouries come in the form of a Salad Bar. Not only does it have raw salad ingredients and a plethora of dressings, but it also has 5-ish pre-made salads, such as turkey wardolf salad, and smoked salmon salad. Predictably, the salad bar was left mostly untouched by the patrons, who like us preferred to fill up on roast piggie and juicy duck.


DESSERTS DESSERTS DESSERTS. Every kind of cake and tart and mousse you can imagine, and a freezer filled with those one dollar Asian ice creams a bit further along! I was surprised to discover that they’ve upped the ante on their desserts; they were a bit disappointing when I was last here two years ago, but now they’re actually rather pleasant. 

Now. Onto what we ate. Funnily enough I actually ate more than Chris, but at the same time, I’ve had heaps of experience with buffets (and Asian parents intent on getting our money’s worth) whilst he’s all but a buffet virgin. The following is what went into our collective stomachs, though the last few plates were mostly me.


Shark Fin Dumpling: pretty unmemorable but it was at least tasty.
Steamed Pork Bun: this was actually pretty good! A bit on the sweet side but hot and fluffy
Fried Chicken Bun: more seared than fried with a sweet mince. It wasn’t too bad


Sushi: about the same as you’d find in food courts. Rice was nicely vinegared but a bit gluggy from sitting around
Dumplings: I don’t quite remember what type these were, but one had prawn and fish roe in it? Once again, palatable yet unmemorable


Sweet and Sour Pork Rib: pretty standard with a sticky sweet glaze. Good for the sweet and sour fans
Stuffed Olives: the kind you get in jars, or from the deli at supermarkets. What else is there to say?
Deep Fried Cuttlefish: this actually turned out to be a deep fried fish ball, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Winter Melon and Pork Soup: this is definitely worth having. The little clay pot contained a light but fragrant pork soup, and chunks of pork, soft winter melon, and a couple of dates.

And a side serve of hairy arms.


Smoked Salmon Salad: not the best. The smoked salmon wasn’t as fresh as it could be, and the whole thing was just too salty.
Deep Fried Crab: and by crab they mean the fake red and white kind, covered in batter and deep fried.
Roast Duck: now we’re talking. Juicy and tender, we (along with most of the patrons) went back for thirds. And thanks to the fast turnover, the duck was always nice and fresh.
Calamari In Sauce-I-Can’t-Remember: nice tender calamari in a sauce that’s reminiscent of black bean sauce.
Grilled Eggplant: this tasted funny and slimy, so we left half of it untouched.


Roast Pork: here piggy piggy piggy! Well roasted with juicy flesh, crunchy crackling, and just that tiny layer of fat, this just melted in our mouths.
Roast Duck: about 4 pieces of it.
Soy Chicken: this was pretty boring, being a bit bland and not all that tender, but at least the chicken was lean.
Deep Fried Chicken Wings:they're um, fried, and um, chicken?


Century Egg Congee: there was a huge vat of plain congee which we were free to ladle out and top with whatever ingredients we wanted. I topped this with century egg, pork, shallots, and fried wonton bits. It’s a bit thicker and less flavoursome than what I’d like but it was nice all the same, considering I don’t get to have it too often.


Hainanese Chicken: little dishes of poached chicken sat there ready to be topped with ginger sauce, chilli sauce, and shallots. This was actually really good, flavourful and tender.


Olives: more olives! Because Chris loves his sodium.
Tomatoes and Cucumber: because we’re good kids that eat our vegetables.


Chocolate Cream Cake: this tasted a lot like Coles mudcake, but lighter and less rich.
Orange Fruit Jelly: this was unfortunately a tad watered down, so you don’t get the intense burst of fruity flavour you’d usually expect with jelly.


Beef Curry: tender flaky beef swimming in a sauce that was strongly flavoured with coconut milk and lemongrass
Roti: probably not made the traditional way, but it was good to mop up the excess curry sauce with.
Spring Roll: Chris ate half of this before I could get a picture, and at the rest before I could taste it. It looked pretty unremarkable though.
 
Chicken Feet in White Vinegar: more sweet than sour, this was good to slowly gnaw on, though Chris didn’t quite agree.
Mussels in XO Sauce: the mussels were tender, but overall the flavours were a bit bland.
Prawn Dumplings: skin a bit gluggy, but good quantity of bouncy prawns inside.
And yes, More Duck.

Jellyfish: bland and rubbery, nothing too special
Salt Water Duck: thin and salty, it’s probably half decent if you like your duck cooked this way. I (clearly) prefer my duck to be roasted


Black Glutinous Rice Soup: same as the one we had at China Bar Shabu Shabu, it’s absolutely delicious with its sweet kernels of glutinous rice, soft red beans, and an undertone of coconut.


Crème Brulee: not so much a brulee as a custard, there was nevertheless still a hint of burnt sugar to it. The custard itself was thick, creamy, and delicious.
Chocolate Mousse: we all know what chocolate mousse tastes like, and this one is completely unremarkable
Raspberry Mousse: this was actually airier than the chocolate mousse, and it was topped with a refreshing layer of red jelly.
Mini Éclair: a small puff pastry piped with cream. It unfortunately didn’t taste nearly as good as it looked.
Pistachio Mousse Tart: the pistachio mousse tasted funny, and the tart pastry tasted a bit stale. Next.
Chocolate Praline Cake: this was yummy, but didn’t taste too different from the other chocolate-based cakes. Which is a shame because this piece of cake looked quite lovely.


Red Bean and Green Tea Mousse: the mousse tasted strongly of green tea, but the red bean was tasteless and made the mousse a bit watery.
Water Chestnut Cake: this was a bit different. The cake itself was sweet with the texture of firm jelly, but the crunchy shards of water chestnut in it made it very moreish.
Tiramisu Tart: the tart shell once again tasted a bit stale and crumbly, but the filling had a strong taste of coffee to it, which was nice.
Mini Mud Muffin: possibly the richest chocolate dessert on offer, this was really good, but a bit too rich at this stage of the meal.
Layered Grass Jelly Pudding: I honestly don’t remember much about this one. It was sweet? And nice? And had a layer of coconut jelly at the bottom?


Watermelon and Orange: kids, don’t be like us, eat your 5 serves of fruit and 7 serves of veggies a day.

Two and a half hours later, we rolled out of the door, filled to bursting. But watch out – if you visit on weekends and Friday night, you’ll only have one hour and a half hours to have all you can eat. And given the variety of food on offer, that’s probably nowhere near enough time. Would I visit again? Yes, but not for a while, and only if I wasn’t the one paying.

Rating: 13.5/20 – decent all you can eat


China Bar Signature (Asian Buffet) on Urbanspoon