Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Cafe Review: Purple Peanuts Japanese Cafe

Location: 620 Collins St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9629 3988
Cuisine: Japanese
Overall Impression: 7/10

Check out our latest review of Purple Peanuts Japanese Cafe here!
Believe the hype. With an appropriately simple and fresh menu, Purple Peanuts ticks all the right boxes. With an emphasis on fresh and high quality ingredients, it certainly aims to please and does! Their house-made miso soup is certainly commendable and a notch above the average MSG-ridden stuff.
Another thing I love is having the option of brown rice in your sushi.
Purple Peanuts Japanese Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Restaurant Review: Hooked

Location: 384 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: (03) 9417 7740
Cuisine: Fast food
Overall Impression: 6/10

J and I were in the mood for a casual dinner. Whilst J wanted something naughty and greasy, I felt like something simple and relatively healthy. Hooked was the perfect option as, from what we had heard, it would accommodate both of our cravings. 
Light Tempura Battered Blue Grenadier with Hand Cut Chips $12.90

Nothing can compete with the fish and chips of our childhood. I will forever carry fond memories of the greasy battered fish and chips I would collect from the dingy fish and chip shop after school. Unwrapping the white butchers paper to reveal the salty, greasy, crispy contents was one of life’s great little pleasures.

The Hooked style fish and chips are a twist on that old classic; an attempt to appeal to a more mature, refined audience and make fish and chips ‘trendy’. The ambience of Hooked is inviting, the decor is funky and relaxed and the service warm and prompt.

The tempura batter used to coat the fish is lighter and to a slight extent, less greasy than the offerings from your average ‘run of the mill’ fish and chippery. The “house” fish is blue grenadier instead of flake which, considering the rapidly dwindling numbers of gummy shark around the globe, is definitely a good thing.

As a whole, the fish was well cooked, succulent and tasted relatively fresh. The hand cut chips were beautifully crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Whilst far from earth shattering, as a whole, it was an enjoyable dish.
Grilled Blue Grenadier with Brown Rice and Bok Choy $12.90

Again, the fish was quite fresh and everything on the plate was seasoned well. The grilled fish was slightly overcooked but well within what I would consider acceptable. The portions for both of our dishes were also surprisingly generous.

Although the dish was enjoyable in its entirety, the inescapable reality was:

·         the brown rice had been steamed and drizzled with Soy Sauce;
·         the Bok choy had been boiled and drizzled with Soy Sauce; and
·         the fish had been seasoned and grilled.

It was all very simple.

Hooked proudly proclaims that it offers healthier fish and chips, but precise details regarding this are scarce. The information on their website labelled “why Hooked” simply spruiks the health benefits of consuming any seafood from any source. No information is given regarding the calorie and saturated fat content of their products relative to others.

Sure, if you order a grilled piece of fish and select rice and bok choy instead of chips it will be healthier. But then again, this really isn’t earth shattering news is it? And boiled rice and bok choy soaked in soy sauce is certainly not something unique to Hooked.

What Hooked does, it does well. However, it doesn’t really do that much, which is why Hooked ultimately fails to delight. The decor might have changed, the plating might have improved, there may be alternatives to chips but at the end of the day, it is just another old fish and chip shop, albeit with a face lift.

Hooked on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Restaurant Review: Royston Hotel

Location: 12 River St, Richmond
Phone: (03) 9421 5000
Cuisine: Gastro-pub
Overall Impression: 9/10

Hand pumped, cask conditioned beer. This is how beer used to be (before big corporations started pasteurising and carbonating it) and how beer should be.

After years of mass produced, artificially carbonated beer flooding the market and becoming the new ‘norm’ in Australia, hand pumped beer is beginning its resurgence thanks to breweries like the Holgate Brewhouse in Woodend, and temples of beer worship such as The Royston and the Great Northern Hotel.
Holgate ESB

This genuine, English style of beer shows greater complexity and depth of flavour than its artificially carbonated and pasteurised competitors. A pint of this brings J and I right back to the time we spent in the UK.

Chicken Parma

Apart from excellent beer, the Royston provides very good quality food at reasonable prices. They have mastered the Aussie pub basics (the Royston’s Parma is my favourite in Melbourne), but are also not afraid to push the boundaries of pub cuisine (Lamb Kofta, Lentil Sheppard’s Pie, Asian Calamari Salad, Hungarian Goulash etc.)
Royston Bar Plate: Marinated rainbow olives, grilled chorizo sausage, Persian fetta, smoked salmon, warm Turkish bread, roti bread $18.50

The share plate was, like everything at The Royston, very generous. The aged fetta was delicious, the Turkish bread warm and fresh and the inclusion of several different olive varieties a particularly thoughtful touch.
Lentil Sheppard’s Pie: Winter vegetable & green lentil hot pot, mashed potato, melted cheese, parsley, wild rocket salad $25.90
Lamb Kofta: Home-made lamb kofta balls, Indian spices, fruit and nut rice, cumin & honey yoghurt $27.90
Asian Calamari Salad: Grilled Calamari, rice noodles, Asian greens, Vietmanese mint, hot & sour dressing $25.90

Hungarian Goulash: Smoked paprika and tomato beef hotpot, home-made potato gnocchi, sour cream, parmesan, parsley $27.90

Although the Lentil Sheppard’s Pie and Asian Calamari Salad could have done with a touch more seasoning, the Lamb Kofta was lovely. Of particular note was the Goulash, which was packed chock full of flavour. The chunky cubes of beef were tender and the fresh gnocchi resembled soft potato pillows. It was more authentic and generous than that served at The Hungarian.

Although not always entirely successful, The Royston’s efforts to break with the conventions of standard pub fare are to be commended. 

250g Porterhouse Steak: with wild rocket salad, chips, red wine jus $23.50

The steak at The Royston is solid but not a standout. After having tried it many times on ‘Locals Nights’ (certain dishes such as the Steak and Parma come down to $17 on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays) it has never truly impressed (the cut of meat used is only average).
Bread and Butter Pudding
Peanut Butter Parfait

The deserts at The Royston are particularly good, especially the Peanut Butter Parfait. I have tried this desert many times over the years and despite it regularly changing shape and receiving small tweaks, it is consistently delicious.

Whilst I would love to keep it a secret, The Royston’s growing popularity in recent times has shown that the secret is already out. The Royston is clearly starting to gather a local following as until recently, ‘Locals Nights’ brought the price of certain dishes down to $15.

It is an unassuming, unpretentious pub that serves excellent beer and great food. This is why The Royston has been our local for several years now. Even though we do not live locally.

Royston Hotel on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Restaurant Review: Don Don

Location: 321 Swanston St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9662 3377
Cuisine: Japanese
Overall Impression: 6/10
Don Don serves up cheap, incredibly fast and good Japanese food. I sometimes wonder about the turn around time (from the point of ordering the food to receiving it), it is a little scary how little time they take. However, it is this very factor that gives Don Don the appeal it has as it makes it a great alternative to fast food.

Don Don on Urbanspoon

Cafe Review: Limelight Cafe

Location: 352 Blackburn Road, Doncaster East
Phone: (03) 9841 0511
Overall Impression: 5/10

KM, AT, LW and I had a lovely catch up at Limelight Cafe. From the get go we teased poor little KM about his secret love affair with PP. As usual, he denied it. But it is difficult to arrive at any other conclusion since he was caught having dinner with her at Vue de Monde only a few weeks ago. As you can see, Limelight Cafe is great for casual catch ups and interrogations. Although there are a few hiccups here and there, the food certainly meets expectations.
Duck Risotto $22.90
Risotto cooked with a slow braised Duck ragout, shitake mushrooms and bokchoy, topped with parmesan cheese

This dish was well-seasoned and quite enjoyable. It was however, unfortunately 'fusion' in a manner that was quite unnecessary. Although pleasant, the dish may have been better, for a lack of a better term, left un-fusion-ed.
Chocolate Thickshake
 Iced Mocha
This cafe is great for all the sorts of drinks and desserts your dietician would advice you against. They make great thickshakes and a delectable New York style cheesecake. I have also enjoyed their breakfast menu during my past visits. During my previous visit, I was presented with a perfectly poached egg on Rye bread with beautifully sauteed spinach leaves on the side. Unfortunately, compared to these, their lunch menu is a bit of a let down.

Limelight Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, 19 August 2011

Restaurant Review: One Thai

Location: 346 Belmore Rd, East Balwyn
Phone: (03) 9857 9186
Cuisine: Thai
Overall Impression: 6/10

With a menu that boasts common favourites and exotic dishes, it is no wonder this humble eatery is bustling almost every night of the week. One Thai is not for the faint-hearted. Most dishes are smacked filled with spice and flavour. If you are not keen on spicy food, my advice is to let the chef know well in advance!
The items on the menu are very well prices so you can have a feast without blowing a hole in your wallet. And on top of that, this is a BYO restaurant - we didn't even have to pay for corkage.
Ambience-wise, it is relaxed and casual. Note however that the restaurant gets very noisy. One Thai on Urbanspoon

Monday, 15 August 2011

Restaurant Review: Verge

Location: 1 Flinders Ln, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9639 9500
Cuisine: French and Japanese fusion
Overall Impression: 5.5/10
J spoiled me with a surprise dinner at Verge over the weekend for no reason at all (Thank you, my generous J!).
I had suggested going to Verge for lunch weeks ago because Verge is having a winter lunch special – 30% off your total lunch bill but J refused. J believes that you haven’t truly ‘experienced’ a restaurant if you have only been there for lunch. In some respects, I agree with him. The ambience and the mood is usually lacking during lunch.

We had heard quite a lot about Verge prior to our dining experience. Unfortunately, everything we had heard had been scathing. In spite of many warnings, to my utmost delight, J decided to take me there. After all, Verge has consistently been granted 2 hat status over the past couple of years and has earned a firm reputation among food critics in general. We both thought, “How bad can it be?"
The beautiful view from where we sat

Our culinary journey thus far has been exciting. It has been filled with ups and downs. Melbourne’s culinary scene is amazing but there are always institutions that have gained acclaim that still puzzle us until today. That said, with every Vue de Monde that disappoints, there is a Jacques Reymond that excites and inspires. The things we had heard about Verge were hardly encouraging. The recurring complaint point received from friends and family was that Verge plated up ludicrous, crazy flavour combinations that were simply incompatible.
But that was what excited us about Verge. We desired a change from the classical flavours with which we had grown accustomed, and were hoping to taste something crazy on the plate – whether it worked or not. And experience has shown us that when a strange flavour combination does work, it can be a magical experience.
To out disappointment, nothing was ‘crazy’.
The night started with a high and ended with a high. The dishes intertwined between these two ends, however, were simply disappointing.

Two out of our 6 courses were amazing. The other 2 were very good. 1 of the dishes made me want to throw up a tiny little bit and another dish was drastically under seasoned and devoid of any flavour whatsoever.

The following is the six course menu we chose.
Amuse bouche: Veal Tartare

The veal tartare was a good amuse bouche. Perfectly seasoned, it certainly induced appetite.  
First Course: Mushroom, fresh ricotta, dark beer, truffle

As a whole, this was a very pleasant dish. We were both pleased that we had each been given a generous piece of truffle. The house made ricotta was creamy and delicious. The dark beer sauce was sweet and well-balanced. It really brought the whole dish together. It was a pity that there simply was just not enough of the sauce to go around. Everything had incredibly subtle flavours but as the first course of the night, we both thought it was quite appropriate.
Second Course: Sand Flathead, clams, elderflower, green melon

This dish was amazing. It was a promising start to our meal. The fish was cooked to perfection and the elderflower scent that permeated the dish was beautiful. The clams were luscious. Every element worked like an orchestra playing in absolute harmony.
Third Course: Rolled Rabbit, heirloom carrots, black pudding

Looking at the dish, it was beautiful and I could not wait to devour it. My first mouthful was anything but disappointing. The heavenly succulent piece of rabbit and the luxurious puree that accompanied it was to die for. And then I had my second mouthful, this time, making sure I had ample amounts of “black pudding” covering my piece of rabbit. This was a big mistake. The “black pudding” differed from tradition in the most unpleasant way.  It was actually a “black pudding” (blood) mousse. I could not help but expel what remained in my mouth. It was unpleasant in both taste and texture (think blood whipped with cream). I took great care to avoid the “black pudding” for the rest of this course.
Fourth Course: Kangaroo, marinated pear, turnip and radish

What we had thought would have been a “safe” dish to order, (in the sense that it did not sound particularly edgy in terms of flavour combinations), turned out to be baffling. The kangaroo, turnip and radish did not have a single ounce of flavour. The turnip was waterlogged and tasted like it had been boiled in unseasoned tap water. Perhaps Verge is taking the concept of “respecting the ingredient” to an egregious level.  That said, the marinated pear was beautiful. It had earthy flavours that chimed commendably with the gamey kangaroo meat.
Fifth Course: Melon, caramel, malt, meringue, orange blossom

This was a fascinating dessert. There were so many elements to this dish but it was absolutely perfect. It was like exploring a delicious edible jungle full of many different and wonderful delicacies that when eaten together, created a flavour combination made in heaven. Different textures percolated the dish. There was something that tasted like sweetened Assam that brought a delicious salty, sweet and tangy aspect to the dish. It was mouth-wateringly good. As full as I was by the end of the meal, I would have had no trouble eating a tub of this dessert.
Sixth Course: Elderflower, yoghurt sorbet, bubble-gum, hibiscus

This was delicious and incredibly enjoyable. It was a delightful end to the degustation. The flavour of bubblegum permeated the dish, bringing me back to my childhood. The sorbet was striking, balancing a creamy sweetness with the tartness that is so prized in high quality yoghurt. Unfortunately, however, the elderflower flavour was so dominated by these other flavours that it was hardly perceptible. This is a shame because I am a massive fan of the subtle floral taste of elderflower.

The entire experience as a whole was disappointing, especially for a two-hat restaurant. Unfortunately, it appears that not every item on the menu is worth tasting. That said, there were glimmers of brilliance that shone through with some of the courses. With the benefit of hindsight, we could have orchestrated a brilliant dining experience by selecting certain dishes and steering well clear of others. But without prior knowledge of what each course will be like, I am afraid the Verge menu is a bit of a gamble. So play if you dare.

Verge on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Cafe Review: Be-Hive Cafe Bar

Location: 459 Collins St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9614 0019
Overall Impression: 5/10
Be-Hive is known for its salads. No, they are not your traditional I-am-on-a-diet type salad. These are salads that are harsh on the waist line but easy on the hip pocket. Think slivers of juicy deep fried chicken on a bed of creamy Caesar salad. There is nothing delicate or refined about the salads at Be-Hive but they certainly satisfy. Starting at $8.00 for a choice of two salads from their salad bar, it is a bargain. The portion sizes are incredibly generous.     
Choice of 2 salads from the Salad Bar: Roast Chicken and rice Salad [left] and Chickpea salad [right] $8.00
Lamb Risotto $16 from the a la carte menu

I have tried items from their a la carte menu but have not found them particularly impressive. However, as all the items on the menu are kept under $20, it is no doubt, reasonable.
Be-Hive Café Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Restaurant Review: Maedaya

Location: 400 Bridge Rd, Richmond
Phone: (03) 9428 3918
Cuisine: Japanese
Overall Impression: 7.5/10

I have visited Maedaya on numerous occasions and have been impressed each time. This Izakaya-style restaurant authentically resembles the Japanese izakaya experiences J and I have had during our time in Japan.

An izakaya is a typical Japanese bar that serves food that accompanies Japanese drinks very well. Maedaya has a great range of sake available, impressive cocktails made from sake and the usual plum wine and various other Japanese liquors.
Savoury pancakes
delectable soba noodles
one of the sauces of the day to accompany the grilled meat...
This has remained one of our favourite Japanese restaurants for a while now. It is always nice to indulge ourselves with good sake and delicious food here whilst reminiscing our Japanese adventure back in 2010. Everything is delicious, fresh and of high quality. I highly recommend Maedaya for a nice casual dinner or after work drinks at the bar area.
Maedaya on Urbanspoon