Friday, December 23, 2011

Purple Peanuts Japanese Cafe

620 Collins St
Melbourne, VIC 3000














Energy, this is not what I normally notice when I walk through the doors of most establishments, especially those serving Japanese. As soon as I stepped in to Purple Peanuts Japanese Cafe though I was not struck by the food, but rather the energy of the place. The staff here are all youthful and buzzing with enthusiasm attracting all manner of clientele from students to suits.

After my attention shifted from the eclectic fit out featuring amongst many things a peculiar octopus over the fridge and a Beatles Japanese tour poster it moved to the food and there was a lot to take in. The handwritten menu on the back wall throws up a lot of choice and some unusual items such as Tofu Burgers amongst more traditional fare such as Soba noodles and assorted don dishes.


Purple Peanuts is not scared to serve up sushi made from brown rice and with that I was tempted by the Tuna onigiri to start with. Taking their recommendation to pair this with their chilli sauce, this was definitely a winner. The crusty exterior yielded to a nutty brown rice filling bursting with flavour, specs of tuna, spring onion, Spanish onion and carrot all combine harmoniously.




Moving on to the Gyuzara (aka Gyudon) and Miso, this I thought would be a bit more traditional and while the Gyudon didn't stray too much from convention, the inclusion of chunky vegies in the miso was both novel and welcome. The gyudon was pretty much spot on, thin slices of beef cooked in a sweet soy broth was hard to fault and at a mere $8.90 on it's own or $10.90 with soup is a bargain in the end of town many consider a dining wasteland.

Purple Peanuts is a welcome change from the more predictable Japanese cafes in town and certainly good enough for me to go out of my way to go there again.

Purple Peanuts Japanese Cafe - 4.5/5

Purple Peanuts Japanese Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Eis



188 Bridport St
Albert Park, VIC 3206


In the Albert Park hub of Bridport St & Victoria Ave (or Vic-Ave as the locals call it) sits a number of mediocre, overpriced eateries (Hint, one of them begins with A and ends with lbert Park Deli). So whenever I go there for lunch it always surprises me the Eis is almost always empty.

Why am I surprised? Simple, Eis' food is exceptional and the Bento boxes terrific value. Perhaps it is the stark white interior, or perhaps it is on the wrong side of the road to get the afternoon sun, but for some reason it doesn't seem to attract the locals for lunch. That said, I shouldn't complain since getting a seat and quick service is a bonus.

The Traditional Bento box I ordered is a greatest hits of Japanese cuisine. All the components of the Bento are exceptional, but if I were to single out one item as the star it would be the Katsu Chicken. The Japanese have plugged away with their Fried Chicken with the obsessiveness of a Heston Blumenthal and when they got it right with Katsu chicken they stuck with it.


The Katsu chicken offers great panko crumbed crunchiness with a  moist, tender, juicy filling that shows "The Colonel" is a bit of a lightweight when it comes to fried chicken. This alone is worth the price of admission, but the sashimi and green salad both add to what is one of the best Bento boxes in Melbourne.

Eis also has the coolest ice cubes spheres in Melbourne, a perfect clear sphere the size of a cue ball bobbing away in my Lemon Lime and Bitters is a pretty neat trick.

So despite the lack of crowds, there are certainly other reasons to venture to the roundabout end of Bridport St that isn't Andrew's Hamburgers.

Eis - 4/5
Eis on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Point

Aquatic Drive
Albert Park VIC 3206






















The Point in Albert Park has become one of my favorite restaurants over the past few years. The combination of location, service and above all else the cooking of Scott Pickett has made it a place I've enjoyed going to again and again.

So when I heard that Scott had left The Point to go to The Estelle two questions stood out. Who would take over? and what impact would it have?

The answer to the first question is Justin Wise who has a detailed bio on The Point web site. Head chef at Press Club and Sous Chef at Maze amongst other positions are impressive credentials to bring to the role.

Roasted quail, braised leek, black garlic and truffle dressing
As for the food? The overall menu feels the same with some tweaks. The entree of roasted quail & braised leek had lots of things going on and most importantly the star of the dish, the quail, was perfect. Crispy skin, tender meat and perfectly presented quail paired with the braised leeks showed plenty of finesse and clever combination of flavours.





Things were off to a good start, but there was a major delay between entree and main. I am generally patient preferring a longer rather than shorter gap, but getting close to an hour it left the table wondering if our order went missing. Just as we had asked main course arrived, funny how it always seems to end up that way......

Individual portions of Sher F1 Wagyu,  
Hopkins River grain and Cape Grim pasture fed beef
The Point has built a healthy reputation as a leader in steak and I am yet to be disappointed in my dining there, however, there was a small disconnect between what we had thought we ordered and what was presented. The table had all ordered the beef tasting plate expecting five different portions steaks. Under Justin Wise this has now become three larger portions of steak.

Once we got over the disconnect it was business as usual, the perfectly cooked steak was presented nicely on one of those new "trendy" stone style plates. Whilst they look nice, I still feel the knife passing over the surface akin to fingernails down a blackboard. After the initial surprise of the change, I think the new three steak format works better, the winner hands down was the Hopkins river grain fed.

Banana souffle, caramel fudge 
and condensed milk ice cream
Desert's which have always been good at The Point again were not a let down. The banana souffle was a surprise in that the dense, heavy texture of a banana translated well in to a souffle.

Overall I think The Point is in safe hands, the front of house was as solid as always and assuming that the lag between entree and main was an off moment should continue it's two hat reign.



The Point - 15/20
The Point Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Koko

Crown Towers 8 Whiteman St
Southbank














If memory serves me correct, Koko opened up at Crown as one of the launch restaurants way back in 1994. At 17 years old, it would have to be the equivalent of 70 in restaurant years, especially considering the way restaurants come and go in the Crown complex.

Hidden away on level 3 of Crown, perhaps one of the clues to its true age is the elaborate stone garden water feature. There is no way a restaurant today would sacrifice so much space for aesthetics, the beancounters would forbid it.





Thankfully the beancounters haven't concreted this in to make room for more tables so Koko continues to have a serenity unlike anything else in Crown and possibly the CBD. The other thing that seems to giveaway the age of Koko are it's prices. $60 for Teppanyaki, including Sashimi, Tempura, Teppanyaki prawn, scallops and beef? That is pretty good value when you consider $60 doesn't go far at many other places at Crown, surely a sign that this place doesn't need to recover the cost of an expensive fitout like The Atlantic.

As for the food? One could argue that Teppanyaki is the same no matter where you go. In some respects that is true, in others false. The quality of the produce is hard to hide in Teppenyaki and Koko's is pretty good. The prawns and scallops in particular stood out as fresh. Our chef cooked everything perfectly and the appetiser courses of Sashimi and Tempura also hit the mark.


So while Koko doesn't have the same buzz about it now as some of the other restaurants at Crown, it certainly holds it own. Reasonable prices, great service and imported Japanese beer offers a good alternative to the trendier Crown restaurants.

Koko - 13.5/20
Koko on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Atlantic














Crown Entertainment Complex 
Melbourne, VIC 3006

Rolling Stones? Nirvana? Hendrix? When you ask a music fan who they would loved to have seen in their prime, quite often you get the performers aforementioned. If you were to ask a foodie, or more specifically a Melbourne foodie where would they loved to have dined in the past, you would get perhaps Vue du Monde in Carlton, maybe a Stephanie's but chances are you would get Est Est Est or Ondine.

The common factor in both Est Est Est and Ondine was the leadership of Donovan Cooke who worked with Marco Pierre White and came to Australia with a similar level of drive and obsessiveness. The question is, his latest venture - The Atlantic? Is it the culinary equivalent of the 60's Stones, frenetic and full of energy? Or the older stadium performers that are selling out stadiums based on hits from the past rather than the present?

I could continue the analogy's here, but the fact I never made it to Est Est Est or Ondine is still one of the things I feel a tad regretful of today. So it was only a matter of time before I ventured in to the sombre interior of The Atlantic which seems a universe away from the decor described recently in Gourmet Traveller's piece on Est Est Est.

Caramalised Crispy Skin Berkshire Pork Belly
Straying from The Atlantic's seafood bias for my first course, I opted for the very non-pescatarian selection of Pork Belly. The pork belly was all upside. Crispy skin, melting pork and complimented with pineapple cumberland sauce this was very solid start.




Snapper - Radicchio

Main course of Snapper Fillet with radicchio offered a generous fillet of snapper cooked perfectly that didn't state wood fired in the menu, yet I somehow think this had some wood fired treatment and was all the better for it. While I am normally a red meat diner, I would happily change teams for fish this good any day of the week.

Panna Cotta



Desert was nice, if not less than spectacular. The pannacotta, pina colada salad and granita was both light and refreshing, but really was nothing spectacular for the price asked. Had it been around $14 instead of $19 I wouldn't object, but this is no Quay snow egg.



 
So overall the food was solid but didn't deliver a true OMG moment, the atmosphere pleasant but confirmed my initial reservations. The Atlantic is Donovan Cooke's stadium show pleasing a much bigger audience and doing a good job of it. Somehow though I don't think Gourmet Traveller 2021 will reminisce over The Atlantic with the same nostalgia as Est Est Est.

The Atlantic - 13/20
The Atlantic on Urbanspoon
The Atlantic on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fenix


680 Victoria St,
Richmond, VIC 3121

Aussie Rules - No, Cricket - No, Rugby - Not even close. These are the incorrect answers to the question "What is the number one sport that unites Australia?" the correct answer is "Cutting down our tall poppies". Greg Norman will tell you, so will Rupert Murdoch and looking at some of the critiques circulating about Fenix I think Gary Mehigan may have a thing or two to say about our true national past time.

Unless you have been living under a moderately large rock, you would know Gary as one of the Masterchef judges and generally comes off as the lighter hearted judge, likeable, and generally fair in his assessment. Along with this he is one of the owners and public face of Fenix in Richmond.

Fenix has struck me as a place that looks like worth trying if in the general area, not necessarily worthy of a trip to Richmond's Victoria Gardens to get to though. So on a fine sunny Melbourne spring day I found myself at Fenix for a coffee that transitioned in to an unplanned and very fine lunch.
 

For entree I selected the scallops which were perfectly cooked. Caramalised with a slightly translucent centre, these were delicious. Overall the presentation was great with the shells perched well above the board buried under tasty foam. The accompanying crumbs and puree complimented nicely.
Pot roast lamb rump, braised neck w carrot & star anise puree, fresh dates



For my main course I chose the Pot roast lamb dish. This was a faultless cracker of a dish and had Gary been there it would be high-fives all round. The lamb rump and neck were both cooked perfectly, the carrot and star anise puree added a vibrancy to the plate that made this visually attractive. The supporting roles of the date puree and carrots should not be underestimated either, visually great and every component played a role. If you were to go to Fenix wanting a "Gary" dish I think this would be the one to go for.

Service from the floor staff was also faultless, both friendly and attentive through lunch. The wine list was good with reasonable markups which makes splashing out for a good bottle more attainable.

So back to my opening, if you were to google "Fenix review" you would find several mixed reviews and if you drill in to the comments sections of The Age or Urbanspoon you would find all manner of disappointed people that I would suggest were dying to go to Fenix to simply say how bad it was. Whilst I wasn't dying to go to Fenix, I can only offer praise for a restaurant producing well cooked, honest food in more than pleasant surroundings. If I were local, I would certainly go back on a regular basis, perhaps I might even go out of my way to get there.

Fenix - 14/20
Fenix on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Porgie + Mr Jones














291 Auburn Rd,
Hawthorn, VIC 3122

Hidden in a strip of anonymous shops on Auburn Road, Porgie + Mr Jones has developed a reputation of producing good food and spectacular coffee. While I have enjoyed many breakfasts here, today was my visit for lunch.

Very good coffee
I do have to say I like interior here, it is reminiscent of the Mark Dundan style of fit out with a Brother Baba Budan meets St Ali meets Seven Seeds. It works well and has a laid back atmosphere without the pretentiousness that one tends to encounter a few suburbs in.

I was surprised and impressed to see the menu range on offer, 4 vegetarian & 5 carnivore options along with a good range of baguette's & panini .


As much as the Hopkins river beef "steak sanga" sounded attractive, it was hard not to go past the "Porgie Parma" of parmesan crusted chicken, smoked + roasted tomato, pulled pork, three cheese gratin with pear salad (phew)
 





The Porgie Parma
Despite the lengthy description that conjured up visions of a massive plate of never ending food, the plate I was presented with was actually quite tidy. The parma was a nice juicy fillet with the mix of the tomato, cheese and pear salad making this much lighter and more enjoyable than a regular pub parma. The lack of fries or chips was not missed as the slices pear provided the required crunchy texture and helped to refresh the saltiness of the cheese and pork.

Overall I am impressed my lunch at Porgie's + Mr Jones, excellent food, coffee and service. The only thing I would ask is that they take visa!

Porgie + Mr Jones - 4/5
Porgie and Mr Jones on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

adriano ZUMBO













80 Pyrmont St
Pyrmont, NSW 2009

Walking past an entrance to the newly renovated The Star casino, it was hard not to notice the bright pastel window of Adriano Zumbo's latest outlet. 

As luck would have it I was there only a few days after opening. The macaron sweatshop was in full swing, but the desert train (yes like a sushi train, only with deserts!) was not.

Since a macaron is ever so small and seems so harmless, it is easy go overboard. In a few days I worked through quite a few of Zumbo's sweet macaron creations.
Caramel and raspberry - nice, but ever so sweet. The jamminess is rich, thick, syrupy with the caramel coming though momentarily.

Lime Mojito -What great flavour. Upfront the kick of lime is great, as you get through it, the mint comes through with a large amount of subtleness.



Cola - Wow, I've complained about a lack of chew in some macaron's I've tried lately, this is not one of them. Not overly cripsy and the cola flavour doesn't pack as much of a whallop compared to the others, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Peach - This is not quite what I expected, the flavour was spiced like a plum pudding with a peach background

So Zumbo's macarons (or Zumbarons as he calls them, I kid you not) are nice, but not faultless. But the little shop has lots of charm and would love to go back when the train is in full swing.
Adriano Zumbo P√Ętissier on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 26, 2011

My 5 favourite food things about Singapore










Recently I went on my 4th visit to Singapore in the last 5 years. When mentioning this to others, the most common response I get is “Won’t you get bored?” the answer to this is a definite "No"!

Singapore is well known for great shopping and tourist attractions like Sentosa, the Jurong Bird Park, Zoo’s and the spiffy new Marina Bay Sands Casino that would keep most busy with things to do for at least a week.

Along with this is perhaps the most underrated attraction to Singapore is the thriving food scene. So with this in mind I have compiled my 5 favorite foodie attractions to Singapore

Little India














When you get to Little India, you don’t need to see it, you can smell it! The waft of cardamom, incense amongst the open faced restaurants leave you with no confusion as to where you are. Without having traveled to India, I’ve been told that the food in Little India is about as close as one can get outside of India which suits me fine!

If you can eat it in India, you will most likely find it in Little India. The food is cheap and tasty and while I’ve sampled many, it is hard to go past the relatively upmarket Banana Leaf Apollo.

Having eaten at the Banana Leaf Apollo several times, I’ve tried many tasty dishes, but find it hard not to keep coming back to the Dum Biryani,Tandoori Chicken, Naan and an ice cold beer.

If you want a suit, I can also recommend Continental Little India just near the entrance. If you do go though, get ready for some serious haggling.

Japanese Department Stores















Having been to Japan a few times, one thing I really like is the way they run a department store. A typical department store has everything from Sushi, okonomiyaki, yakitori, chocolate,rice crackers all within metres of each other. It is awesome stuff.


The Japanese department stores on Orchard Rd feature Takashimaya and Isetan and the food basements of these department stores are faithful replicas of their Japanese parents with the added benefit of going through Japanese-English translation!
On my last visit, Isetan were doing their own Japanese food festival which meant along with the regular food, there were many samples to enjoy. If only our quarantine were not so strict I would have brought some of the tastiest Bonito flakes I have ever tried.

Hawker Markets
















One thing you don’t have to worry about in Singapore is going hungry, food is everywhere and when you get to one of the hawker markets,there are plenty of cheap and delicious options. Almost all the travel guides talk about Newton Circus, but based on the ridiculous level of touts, the out of the way location and the expensive prices, I would steer visitors to the decorative wrought iron Lau Pau Sat which has a wide range of variety. If you want to try a more every day "what the locals would go to" Hawker market then Amoy St is probably the way to go. Nice, but there isn’t a huge amount of variety and would recommend that where you see a queue, it is probably the one to go to! A meal is normally well under $5 with Haianese Chicken rice being a particular favorite of mine.

Fine Dining

DB Burger

























At the opposite end of the Hawker Market scene, Singapore has a huge fine dining scene. Restaurants are scattered all over Singapore with a new cluster opened at The Marina Bay Sands. Over the past year Tetsuya, Savoy, Daniel Boulud, Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali have opened in the casino to sit along other restaurants such as the Tippling Club, Blu, Jaan, Gunthers and Salt to name a few.



My recent trip included a great degustation experience at Blu, some of the best Cantonese food I’ve enjoyed with some ridiculously crispy Peking duck at Shang Palace and the mother of all burgers at DB Bistro Moderne.

The DB Burger which features slow braised short rib, a centre of foie gras encased in prime ground sirloin is perhaps the perfect burger. At $38SGD it did not disappoint.

With all this fine dining, consensus amongst the chefs, restaurateurs and food writers is it is considered a a case of when, not if, the Michelin Guide covers Singapore.




Iggy’s















At the top of the tree for dining in Singapore in my opinion is Iggy’s. I’ve been there three times now and seen it ascend in to the Top 50 of the world at number 26. I was concerned that the atmosphere may not be the same having moved from The Regent to The Hilton, but nothing has been lost.
The dining room has lost the counter service that I really enjoyed, but the connection to the kitchen is still there via glass doors with a tricky shutter system that shows a glimpse of the kitchen for about 20 seconds prior to plates being sent out. It gives a great view of the inner operation,but doesn’t distract from the meal.

My most recent visit for lunch didn’t disappoint, the food was of excellent standard. Their signature dish of ebi cappelini still makes me smile along with their liberal use of Foie Gras. I think the winner dish though was the confit duck with sweetcorn puree & Yukon gold potato chips.


At $85++ SGD for lunch it is excellent and Ignatius Chan seems to be asserting himself across the floor a lot more than in previous visits which is most pleasing. While others may match the quality of food, Iggy’s seems to have just a slight edge in creativity and atmosphere that keeps me coming back





So this is my top 5 favorite food things about Singapore. Do I get bored at Singapore? Nope, not at all.