Friday, July 29, 2011

Red Spice Road

27 McKillop St
Melbourne, 3000

Somehow Red Spice Road has managed to remain off my radar since opening a few years ago. It was suggested by a colleague that I should check it out and the crispy pork belly dish. Funny thing is, between the recommendation and eating there, it seemed like everyone I know has been there and also recommended the pork belly. Interesting.

L: Pork Belly with Apple Slaw, Chilli Caramel & Black Vinegar
R: Rockling Green Curry With Eggplants & Baby Corn

Upon arriving at Red Spice Road it all made a bit more sense. Red Spice Road is not a tiny operation, in fact I would estimate it sits around 200 covers in the lengthy premises. It seems like it is built to do group dining, but its sheer size and style does seem very un-Melbourne like. This would explain why it isn't revered amongst most bloggers out there, but also explains why just about every person I know has been there.

Food wise, Red Spice Road does well. The food is predominately Thai influenced but takes bits and pieces from other Asian cuisines as well. The much raved pork belly is crispy, tender and complimented well by the apple slaw. Other dishes tried such as the green curry and beef ribs also delivered safe but well executed, cleanly presented dishes.

If there are negatives, well it is noisy, very noisy and with the communal tables being rather wide to make the sharing plates easy to serve, conversation can be a challenge. The other negative is that it price wise it is competing with the likes of Spice Temple. As much as the pork belly is nice, it doesn't have the same return appeal as other similarly priced restaurants.

So Red Spice Road, I would easily recommend it as a venue for group bookings and would say it is worthy of checking out, however, if you are looking for something a bit more adventurous, perhaps Spice Temple is a better destination.

Red Spice Road - 12/20
Red Spice Road on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 16, 2011


38 Toorak Road
South Yarra, 3141

It was a case of when, not if I got around to visiting LuxBite. Open for a mere 7 months, it has been hovering in the Urbanspoon top 10 almost since opening and is currently number 1.

The E.T.

Upon entering it is easy to see why it is so popular, while offering a few savoury dishes and an all day breakfast, LuxBite is all about dessert "Life is uncertain, eat dessert first" is the motto and they live by it.

Black Knight of Appetite

Motivation for my visit was a to enjoy some belated birthday cake. Growing up, my birthday cake of choice for several years was a chocolate blackforest cake so it was somehow fitting LuxBite had their take on it which is the Black Knight of Appetite. The cylinder of chocolate holds layers of kirsch soaked sponge, mousse and cherry and tastes as good as it looks, very good in fact.

My wife opted for the E.T. which is a very rich chocolate mousse with salted caramel and topped with popcorn. Totally decadent and went very well with their tea and coffee, in fact the coffee is superb with their short black being one of the best I have had in a while. The E.T. proved somewhat challenging to complete, the richness was eventually conquered but it would take a keen chocolate tolerance for most to complete on their own.

Of course last but not least are the macarons. Macarons have become almost an obsession in Melbourne to the point where sites are dedicated to rating Melbourne's top 20 macarons. LuxBite make it clear they are players in the macaron game with a range of at least 16 and can turn over several thousand in a day.

While I would like to say I enjoyed the macarons as much as the cakes, sadly I didn't. The filling was very good, but I found that they were a bit soft for my liking and didn't have the crispiness and chewiness I like in my perfect great macaron.

Overall LuxBite is a dessert lovers paradise and the buzz well and truly justified.

LuxBite - 4/5
LuxBite on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


264 Centre Rd.
Bentleigh, 3204

Centre Rd Bentleigh is the home of what I would consider safe suburban eating. There are dozens of restaurants along this road and I would say that the difference between good and bad dining is quite small with few "surprises"

Driving along Centre rd almost daily, the little cafe of Sumalee never leapt out as a place to try. In fact I couldn't figure out what sort of food it actually served, I had heard it was Thai, but the fitout was very non-Thai. Based on recommendation we decided to give it a try and see if it would play in the safe Centre rd broad mid point of the Centre rd bell curve or breakout one way or another.

Prawn Pandan

Initial impressions once inside is that Sumalee feels nice, lots of little decorative touches that give the place a bit of personality. Once seated and looking over the menu I was beginning to get uncomfortable, the menu seemed to have plenty of Thai sounding dishes, but the detail looked a bit concerning. Lamb Shank Massaman? This was looking like it would certainly stray outside the common part of the bell curve but which way?

To commence we ordered the Prawn Pandan which I can't say I have had before which is a shame since they were fantastic. Crisp rice cake with a fragrant soy cooked prawn perched on top is a long way from the standard spring roll or satay stick.

Crispy caramel pork belly

The mains continued to surprise in a pleasant way. The crispy caramel pork belly was cooked perfectly and while the scallops would have been nicer with a bit more caramelisation, they were certainly not overcooked. The presentation was not typical of a Thai restaurant and certainly better than what one would expect for a sub $20 meal.

Lamb shank massaman curry

The lamb shank massaman curry also offered similar pleasant surprise. Generous chunks of broken down lamb in a light nutty masaman sauce with sweet potato was a winner. The portion size and richness made it challenging to finish, but it rates as one of the best massaman curries I have ever had.

Once we were finished, the owner came up for a chat and asked our opinion. The only criticism we had was the crispy pork skin was bordering on too salty, she took the advice on board and told us that it was the apprentice's first night serving this dish so she wanted to ensure it was all good. When so many places serve food with indifference and any criticism or feedback treated with contempt this was refreshing to see.

So which side of the broad Centre rd Bell curve does Sumalee sit? Very much on the right hand good side. Definately worth trying if you are local.

Sumalee - 13.5/20
Sumalee Cafe & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Chez Dre

(rear of) 285-287 Coventry Street
South Melbourne, 3205

Chez Dre typifies what I love about South Melbourne and the cafes that populate the streets of this suburb. Great food, fantastic coffee, no pretension. Essentially Northcote without the fixies.

Pain au chocolat & coffee

Barely open for 3 months, Chez Dre appears to have a winning formula. Excellent pastries, fantastic macarons and coffee that matches the best in the area courtesy of the beans from the Maling Room.

French Vanilla Macarons

My visit to Chez Dre was initially meant to be in and out to purchase some macarons as a birthday treat and suddenly temptation got the better of me. Before I knew it I was sitting with a coffee and a delightfully flaky pain au chocolat. In fact temptation is all around Chez Dre, the display of eclair, tarts and macarons are all simply begging to be eaten and the menu featuring classics such as croque monsiuer & madam could have one indulging in gluttony of Mr Creosote proportions.

Lime & basil, french vanilla, orange tonka bean macaron

Whilst I escaped without exploding, my sample of Chez Dre's delicacies was not complete. My cute little takeaway box of macarons were up there with the best I have had. The lime and basil macaron put forward a delicate blend of citrus and herbaceousness that worked very well, orange and tonka bean delivered a similar experience this time in a citrus and spice context. While both were good, the French vanilla was the star, light, crispy, creamy and chewy.

Blackcurrant chocolate mousse - to be tried on my next visit

If you haven't gathered by now, I am somewhat impressed with Chez Dre and will enjoy many return trips there. The biggest challenge will be what will I have next!

Chez Dre - 4/5
Chez Dré on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Recipe Test - "Under Pressure" Thomas Keller

Thomas Keller's Under Pressure next to my Sous Vide Magic.

It can't be that hard can it? I think this is one of those statements made by someone who knows before they even begin, yes it is and definitely will be

Along with eating out, I also enjoy cooking at home. In general I am quite good and can have a go at most recipes and get them right first time. However, alongside the approachable recipes produced by the likes of Stephanie Alexander lies the world of what I would call gastro-porn. These are the two-inch thick hard covered tomes that are equal parts photography and recipe.

I concede I have a decent collection of these books but don't dare have a go at the recipes as they generally take a fleet of people and days of prep to even get close if you stick to them by the rules. What do I mean by rules? No bought stocks, no shortcut of process, no dropping key ingredients. Saying you have cooked a Heston recipe with Campbell's stock is really not far from saying "Look at my Louis Vuitton wallet" that you bought from someone on a street corner.

So with that said, I really wanted to have a go at a recipe from Thomas Keller's under pressure from scratch. My first attempt is his rather minimalist and approachable pork belly recipe as shown below:

Thomas Keller's - Glazed Breast of Pork with Swiss Chard, White-Wine-Poached Granny Smith Apples, and Green Mus­tard Vinai­grette

Pretty simple eh? I can have a go at that eh? Well have a go I did. With military planning, I procured the lengthy list of ingredients and produced the recipe as outlined including base stocks - Beef stock, chicken stock, vegetable stock. These in turn were reduced to practically nothing, in fact about 1.5l of stock reduced to 200 ml for the pork sauce which is a great insight as to how a sauce ends up on your plate in a fine dining restaurant.

My version

My version, well the only sacrifice I made was the rainbow swiss chard stems on the apple balls as they were unavailable. Start to finish it was several hours of work making the stocks. The pork belly was the easy part, 12 hours at 82.2 degrees and it was a perfect balance of tenderness, texture and fattiness.

Overall I was happy with the result, the plating needs a bit of work, but the flavour of the meat was sensational and every component on the plate served a purpose. The sous vide apple provided a more textured burst than an apple sauce and the pork sauce was also a knockout despite the work.

I would say that I did learn a lot from this dish and while I won't make it again from start to finish in a while, there are many elements I will pick up from this. It also was a good reminder why a Quay or an Iggy's charge for what they do and what separates them from the middle of the pack.

Prawn Star