Saturday, May 28, 2011

Monk & Me

9 Evans Place
Hawthorn East, 3123

I tend to think one of the keys to a great dining experience is all about context. A great dinner at somewhere like Iggy's would be diluted in a group of 10, similarly some restaurants are just made for group dining. Monk & Me is one of these.

Situated in Camberwell Junction, Malaysian cuisine is not normally what one would consider when going in to perhaps the whitest of Melbourne's suburbs, however, over the road from Rivoli it is a great spot for a group to converge pre-movie.

Turning up for a table of 10 at 7pm about 15 minutes early had me a fraction concerned as the table was not ready, but was confidently told it would be ready at 7pm. True to their word they were on time, they had me thinking Monk & Me should run our train system too!

L: Lohbak
R: Spring Rolls

Being a large table I made the executive decision on some starters, which was also my way of ensuring we got lohbak and lots of it. Simply put it is the Malaysian equivalent of a sausage roll. Chicken mince and spice rolled up in bean curd and fried crispy. It rarely disappoints and I can't think of better lohbak than here. The other entree's of Spring Rolls and Curry Puffs were also good, but the lohbak is just a cracker.

L: Lemongrass heart beef
C: Beef Rendang
R: Spicy Calamari

Soon after our mains arrived and this is where I think Malaysian is the vastly underrated as a group dining experience. In front of us were 8 plates of well executed Malaysian food and while I would happily enjoy a full plate of beef rendang, being able to mix around was magnificent. The aforementioned beef rendang is perhaps the finest example I have had of this. The huge tender chunks of beef served in a rich spicy rendang sauce - fantastic.

Decisions, decisions, what would I sample next. The allure of the spice calamari was too hard to resist and my choice rewarded me with crispy, spicy tender calamari. I don't think I have had better anywhere else to be honest, it was butter soft tender and juicy.

From there it just was high after high, the lemongrass beef had the spice of chilli and the fragrance of lemongrass enhancing the tender beef.

Char Kway Teow

Providing some balance to the chilli was the mild but certainly not bland char kway teow noodles and a serve of braised duck that was in no way fit for photo by the time it got to my end of the table.

So in the space of 90 minutes, Monk & Me served fantastic food in a friendly manner to a group of 10 with no complaints all under $30pp excluding drinks. I would consider this to be amongst the best group dining experiences one could have in Melbourne and would highly recommend it. For a table of two? Maybe a fraction noisy, but only because there are so many groups having fun.

Monk & Me - 14/20
Monk & Me on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Royal Saxon

545 Church St
Richmond, 3121

Once upon a time frequenting a pub in Richmond would mean drinking VB, in a dim interior choosing between the mixed grill & roast of the day. I am sure the sight of the Royal Saxon would have many a former workers cottage dweller rolling in their grave. Moscato on tap?

The Royal Saxon is one of the more recent gastro-pubs to open up as part of the ongoing gentrification of the Richmond pub scene. The fit out is light and spacious sharing many design cues as the forerunner to The Newmarket Hotel with a menu that is themed around the rustic Italian.

I was a bit doubtful, but several visits have never failed to impress. Thin crispy pizza's and generous pasta dishes show how Lygon St is just a culinary antique which is evidenced by what I would call my favourite pasta dish outside of Rome.

Fettuccine Toscana - rabbit braised in juniper berry, bay leaf & chianti

Despite the lengthy menu, recent visits have seen me returning to the fettuccine Toscana. This dish embodies rustic Italian - perfect ribbons of al dente fettuccine and a complex braise of rabbit that is lifted by the juniper berries. This is a dish worthy of travelling for and I doubt anyone who sets eyes on this seductive little dish would argue.

The Royal Saxon is a whole world away from Lygon St and cliched check tablecloths. Salut!

Royal Saxon - 14/20
Royal Saxon on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Grill'd Southbank

Southgate food court
Down by the river (Next to the Arts Centre)

Recently I went to Earl Canteen and liked the food but thought that at $13.50 the price point was a bit high for my liking for a day to day lunch proposition.

It would appear that the market is testing the appetites of the consumer to spend >$10 for lunch with prices everywhere seeming to hit the $9.95 mark and above.

Testing this price point is the recently opened Grill’d at Southgate. Serving from an extensive choice of Burgers, Chips & Drinks, a combination of all 3 would leave one lucky to have change out of $20.

L: Grill'd Crispy Bacon & Cheese Burger

R: Grill'd Chips

The choice I made for my first Grill’d burger was to go with the safe option of the crispy bacon and cheese burger with a side of chips. This had me conjuring up very fond memories of the delicious burger I had at Chili's too, hopes were high for a quality burger. With the exchange of $15 I walked to my table left to ponder my expectations of the forthcoming burger and at this price point I am beginning to expect a bit more than the other chains, but at the very least a minimum of:

- Quality ingredients
- Care in the cooking
- Good flavour

I didn’t have too long to ponder though since by the time I sat down, my burger was on it's way from the pass. Alarm bells went off and not the gentle wake up in the morning alarm bells, but a klaxon blaring WTF am I about to eat alarm bells.

Looking somewhat exposed with nowhere to hide on the naked plate (chips to come later) would be best described as a burger disaster. Between two desiccated buns or “Panini” was lettuce, tomato, cheese, sauce, bacon and beef pattie. I picked up the burger and in an instant the upmarket veneer of Grill’d was shattered leaving me thinking that I would have been better off with a “little bit schmancy” burger.

Ingredients? The lettuce was a pass, the cheese was a pass. Epic fail to the bun, it was dry and had possibly been toasted hours ago. The pattie was tepid and the bacon was anything but crispy.

Cooking? Well there wasn’t any really. If the burger was “cooked” in the time it took me to order and sit down I would eat my hat, hat being probably more appetising than the $10.90 burger. If I know anything about bacon it is that crispy bacon is something that needs time and needs to be served straight away.

Flavour? Well the tepid burger led me to do something I rarely do, send it back saying that it is just too cold and not enjoyable. The replacement came out and while being a bit warmer on a nicer bun, the bacon was still rubbery with what would appear to be grill marks that had been sprayed on. Not good, not good at all.

Positives? Well the chips were nice, very nice. Crispy chips with rosemary and salt were the highlight in a regrettable culinary adventure.

Afterwards I referred to the Grill’d web site to check that it still commits to “cook to order”. If Grill’d cooks to order then either Grill’d and I have different definitions of what cooked to order is. Alternatively Southgate Grill'd may be an exception since cooking to order is just that, placing raw meat on a grill and cooking until the meat is cooked. Taking a cooked piece of meat and placing it on a grill to the point where it is barely reheated is not cook to order, or at least by my definition and the definition of the average diner.

I could go on, but won’t. The experience was not good, especially at the prices asked.

Are the burgers better at Grill’d? No - and damn expensive.

Grill’d Southbank – 1.5/5

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


4 Cecil Pl Prahran, 3181

David's web site makes sure you know how good it thinks it is upfront - "Top 50 Best Chinese restaurants outside of China" and "9 Good Food Guide hats in a row" are splashed across the home page. Big claims, big claims indeed.

On a particularly cold Melbourne night we found ourselves at David's located just off Chapel St. Navigating along the dark Cecil pl along skips of rubbish and construction sites helped to make the entrance in to the restaurant all the more warm and comfortable.

In fact the interior is more than just warm it is quite smart proudly saying "I am a Chinese restaurant" without resorting to red carpet, dragons and lanterns.

Being a sucker for "Greatest Hits" along with the others on our table we went with the David's Superior Banquet. At $59 pp it is a steal when you consider the ingredients listed, a trendy tapas bar serving the same based ingredients would lighten your wallet at least 30% more than this with what I refer to as "The Spanish Surcharge"

L: Lobster San Choi Bao
R: Homemade dim sim basket (shanghai juice pork, prawn, chicken)

Our banquet began well with San Choi Bao, perhaps a bit too gingery which overpowered the Lobster. The mixed dim sim basket served nice juicy morsels of flavour, but perhaps not as good as their sister restaurant Oriental Teahouse during Yum Cha. The Shanghai juice pork in particular stood out.

L: Scallops with ginger and shallot
R: Peking Duck served with homemade pancake

Following on from the dumplings the food ramped up a notch with three plump scallops served in a perfectly balanced ginger & shallot sauce. The scallops cooked perfectly, delivered where it matters most in taste.

Peking Duck was next and this separates the good from the pedestrian in Chinese dining. The duck did not disappoint, tender meat and crispy paper thin skin and semi translucent pancake all spot on and made all the more better when I discovered there were two serves as part of the banquet not one.

L: Stir fried diced eye fillet steak and bok choy in a black pepper, honey and oyster sauce
R: Stir fried fish fillet with snow peas in coriander, light ginger and garlic

The banquet rounded off with two stir fried fish & beef courses. Both good but not quite scaling to the heights of the previous two dishes. Quality of the produce was first class and both had great balance in flavour. The fried rice accompanying the beef delivered too with a great balance of oiliness, egg and other elements such as Chinese sausage.

Crispy banana fritter served with vanilla ice cream

One thing I have left out so far is the staff, mostly young and quite casual, not casual bad, more casual the opposite of stiff like Flower Drum. This level of casualness was highlighted by desert. Amongst the table of four, I was the only person to elect for the banana fritter with the serve of ice cream. The waiter offered to serve me the banana from the other three to which I declined. A few minutes later we were served three bowls of ice cream and a platter of banana fritter and ice cream! I think the staff chuckled as much as we did, nice touch and not a normal display of humour one would get in most restaurants.

So would I consider David's to be one of the 50 best restaurants outside of China? Well I can't think of 49 better, but think it might set some up for unrealistic expectations in their dining experience. It is good and perhaps another visit through the some menu items I would classify as the road less traveled for a westerner like me would be an ideal way for me to stretch the kitchens talents.

I would put David's in the top group of Melbourne's Chinese restaurants delivering a similar experience to the likes of Choi's, Bok Choy & Tea House.

David's - 13/20
David's on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mrs Parma's

25 Little Bourke St
Melbourne, 3000

If you have ever seen the TV show "Extras" you would know one of the running gags between the lead characters Andy Millman and Maggie Jacobs is to pose a question beginning with "Would you rather...." e.g. "Would you rather have a bionic arm or a bionic leg".

I often think "Would I rather go to a restaurant that does one thing and only one thing well or a restaurant has more choice but may not be as good?". Invariably the answer is always one thing and one thing well so when I venture to a single choice restaurant it had better be damn good.

While Mrs Parma's apart from having a name that would make the script writers of the carry on movies blush with such a ludicrous double entendre, does offer more than just parma's. Though really it is pointless to have anything else and based on the lack of plates coming from the kitchen sans parma - I think the public has voted.

Chicken Bolognese Parma

On my most recent visit, I opted for a chicken bolognese parma and if I were to create a list of criteria for a good parma it ticked all the right boxes.

Crispy schnitzel - Tick
Good quality chicken with decent thickness - Tick
Quality topping grilled well - Tick
Crispy chips - Tick
Salad quarantined from spoiling the aforementioned chips and parma - Tick

While it is not gourmet food, if I am to ingest such large amounts of cheese covered oily goodness I want it to at least be as good as it can be and at Mrs Parma's it is pretty good.

Mrs Parma's also has an excellent range of microbrewed beers on tap and bottle and judging by the standing room only crowd plenty of people agree that the mix is right.

Mrs Parma's - 4/5
Mrs Parma's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ta Wee Wan Thai

770 Hawthorn Rd
Brighton East, 3187

How does one review a restaurant like Ta Wee Wan Thai? A regular little Thai restaurant in the 'burbs? At times comparing how one is better or worse is like getting to the pointy end of an eye test, you find it hard to really differentiate.

Ta Wee Wan Thai in Hawthorn road does have some things going for it, the interior is less cliched than a lot of Thai restaurants around town. No pink neon lights here and it is also free from a daft name like "Thai me up" or "Kun Thai".

L: Golden Bags
R: Chicken Satay

Food wise it also has a few things going for it. Entrees were all good, the curry puffs in particular were nice and crispy with a great filling, not what I consider a traditional Thai dish, but good nonetheless.

L: Pad Thai
R: Spicy Lamb

This also continued in to the mains, while the Pad Thai noodles were a bit light on for meat, the spicy lamb stir fry and the Thai green curry were very good. Overall dishes were spot on, vegetables were firm but not raw, good balance of flavour and not too oily.

I'd happily go back, but wouldn't say it is worth crossing town for either. Safe bet if you are region and has a good atmosphere.

Ta Wee Wan Thai - 3.5/5
Ta Wee Wan Thai on Urbanspoon

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