Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Restaurant Review: My Cambodia

Location: 28 Buckingham Ave, Springvale
Phone: (03) 9558 5555
Cuisine: Cambodian and Thai
Overall Impression: 7.5/10

J loves Cambodian food. Speaking about his travels to Phnom Penh, he salivates with the thought of the local cuisine he had the opportunity to devour. I, on the other hand, have not had the pleasure of tasting authentic Cambodian food until today, thanks to my lovely colleague, C.

After attending a presentation by a government department all the way in Dandenong, S, C and I thought it fit to reward ourselves with a Cambodian feast before returning back to work in the city. After all, Springvale was very much on the way.
C is familiar with both Springvale and Cambodian food, so we knew we were in good hands. Upon her recommendation, we ventured into a quaint looking restaurant called The Purple Orchid (now known as "My Cambodia"). The fittings were casual – practicality certainly reigned over the aesthetics. That said, it brought about a relaxed ambience that was appropriate for the sort of feasting we were about to luxuriate in.  
Over the meal, S told us tales of his adventures in Cambodia. His stories ranged from $5 per night huts on the beach to waking up with his mates all of whom were unexplainably wearing new t-shirts.
The menu boasts a variety of Thai, Vietnamese and Cambodian dishes. But C, S and I decided to stick to the plot – Traditional Cambodian cuisine. We gave C free reign over the menu (which turned out to be an excellent decision). The following are the delectable dishes we had:
 Cambodian Traditional Lemongrass Soup
The soup was incredibly fragrant. It was beautifully rich in flavour. It was a great start to the meal as it certainly induced appetite.
 Cambodian Rare Beef Salad
The beef was incredibly tender. Cooked to perfection; it was pink and juicy. The flavours of the salad were incredibly balanced. The crunch from the peanuts and onions brought a lovely textural element to the dish. The sourness from the lime juice, the sweetness of the palm sugar, the savouriness of the fish sauce/soy sauce and the freshness of the basil and coriander leaves came together in an immaculate flavour explosion. And of course, the perfect hint of chilli brought that extra edge to the dish. I would describe this as a Thai beef salad on steroids. Our taste buds were satiated.
 Prawn Spring rolls
The spring rolls were pleasant to eat. They were crisp and well-seasoned.
Crab Fried Rice
It was an enjoyable introduction to Cambodian food. The portions were notably generous - the three of us certainly glutted our appetites and there was still plenty of food left over. Thank you for sharing this gem of a restaurant, C! I cannot wait to go back!  

The Purple Orchid on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Restaurant Review: Lemongrass

Location: 176 Lygon St, Carlton
Phone: (03) 9662 2244
Cuisine: Thai
Overall Impression: 5/10

Ying Thai 2 is one of my favourite Thai restaurants. It is incredibly well priced and has the best coconut rice I have tasted in Melbourne. Every dish you order at Ying Thai 2 is always served in generous portions and every dish packs a punch in terms of flavour. The food is rough around the edges but delicious.
Ying Thai 2 on Urbanspoon

We found ourselves on Lygon Street last Saturday but resisted the urge to re-visit Ying Thai 2 when we saw Lemongrass right next to where we had parked our car. Written boldly across the exterior of the restaurant are the words “Royal Thai Cuisine”. In Thailand this basically means food that was once served only to Royals. In Melbourne, I’m not sure exactly what this means. I don’t believe any restaurant can truly live up to such a bold proclamation. Royal Thai cuisine has high standards. Firstly, only the freshest and best ingredients can be used. There will never be any bones in any of the meat or fish. Even if the fish is served as a whole, historically, it would be carefully de-boned with tweezers before being served. The flavours of every dish have to be perfectly balanced. In contrast to Thai street food that is deliciously smacked full of spice leaving you breathless with sweat dripping down your forehead, Royal Thai cuisine is balanced. Nothing is supposed to be too spicy, too sour, too salty or too sweet. There is also great attention to detail, in the preparation and presentation of food. The dishes also have to be served in a certain manner in terms of placement on the table and when and how they are served.
Needless to say, Lemongrass did not abide by these high standards. It is also notable that scattered throughout the menu are various Malaysian and Singaporean dishes whose presence on the menu certainly does not help the legitimacy of Lemongrass’ “Thai Royal Cuisine” claim.
The “Royal Thai Cuisine” label also meant inflated prices that were not justified.
The following are pictures from Lemongrass for your viewing pleasure:
Mieng Kham / Betel Leaf Tidbits
Platter - Traditional do-it-yourself tidbits of fresh garlic, ginger, lime, pomelo, peanuts, toasted coconut, longan, etc, wrapped in betel leaves and accompanied with a savoury-sweet sauce. Centuries-old recipe.

As you can see, the term “platter” was hardly an appropriate description for this dish. Perhaps ‘plate’ would have been less misrepresentative. Sufficient for at most, one person’s entrée, the portion size was very disappointing. It was however, the best dish of the night. The mixture of the numerous elements wrapped up within the betel leaf created a magical flavour combination that transported me straight to Thailand.
Gaeng Keow Wahn/Green Curry
Our version of the famous green curry as made by Mentor Boonchoo and still made by her daughter and granddaughters today. Cooked with Peppers, asian snake bean and Thai eggplant
Stir fry seafood
Gaeng Ped/Red Curry (beef)
Our handmade red curry with peppers, snake bean and Thai eggplant
coconut rice
Lemongrass is let down by its claims to be serving “Royal Thai Cuisine” and its inflated prices for what is available elsewhere at lower cost. That is not to say that our experience of Lemongrass was a negative one. The service was attentive and the ambience pleasant. Each dish was good, just not particularly special. The presentation of the dishes, much like the flavours, is conventional.
At the end of the day, you are paying for the ambience and the service. But when presented with a choice between Lemongrass and the not so royal Ying Thai 2 just down the road, I will choose Ying Thai 2 every time.
Lemongrass on Urbanspoon

Note: Ying Thai 2 in Carlton is distinct from Ying Thai in Richmond. I visited Ying Thai in Richmond and was surprised at the difference in the quality and standard of the offerings. It was a far cry from Ying Thai 2. The food was very disappointing.

Ying Thai on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Cafe Review: Sensory Lab

Location: David Jones, 297 Little Collins St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9643 2222
Link: www.sensorylab.com.au
Overall Impression: 7/10

Presenting Sensory Lab…from the people that brought you St. Ali.
With state of the art equipment and premium coffee beans, the product from their ‘laboratory’ is difficult to fault. The tasting experience offered by the chemistry lab-coated baristas, is one I highly recommend. 
Sensory Lab on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review: Tao's

Location: 201 Bulleen Rd, Bulleen
Phone: (03) 9852 0777
Link: www.taosrestaurant.com.au
Cuisine: Fusion?
Overall Impression: 6/10

The danger with fusion cuisine is that there is a lot more room for error. In Tao’s case, I am not sure I would even classify the cuisine it serves as ‘fusion’. There are dishes from different cultures all over the menu but there is no fusion in the equation. Take for example, our entrees: the drunken chicken dish is distinctly Shanghainese, the Ka-seki Sashimi is Japanese and the Beef Consommé is without a doubt Taiwanese. The dishes themselves are not a result of ‘fusion’. They simply exist on the same menu.
Tao's Seasonal Assorted Platter
The Oyster was beautifully fresh. However, the balance of flavours in the vinaigrette that accompanied it was not quite right. It was too sweet. The dip that was to be eaten with the bread stick was very pedestrian and the rolled cured meat around a small piece of cucumber was at best, underwhelming.
Raw Beef Nigiri with Sesame Sauce
The sesame sauce went incredibly well with the Beef Nigiri. The beef itself was tender and delectable.
Tao’s Drunken Chicken
The chicken was wonderfully tender and infused with a beautiful rice wine flavour. It brought back memories of eating drunken chicken in Shanghai. It was perfectly seasoned and well balanced.
Kai-seki Style Sashimi
The sashimi was very fresh and enjoyable.
Teapot Style Bonitto Dobimushi
This soup was very disappointing. It tasted like it had been made of frozen marinara mix that had been boiled with water with a bit of instant miso soup mix added to the mixture at the end.  
Beef Consommé
The beef consommé was very good. It was basically a Taiwanese style beef brisket. Although it was a clear soup, it was smacked full of flavour. The beef was tender and flavoursome.
Palate cleanser - Plum shots
Baked Ocean Trout with Sweet Corn Paste
The Trout was unfortunately overcooked. The sweet corn paste did not do the dish any favours.
Hot Stone Sizzling Steak
The black pepper seasoning worked very well. The Steak arrived, sizzling on the plate. As such, it was ‘perfectly cooked’ in the sense that if you were not a fan of medium-rare steak, all you had to do was wait for a while longer. The steak was juicy, tender and had a very good flavour to it. The stir-fried side dish consisting of vegetables were an odd presence on the plate. It was not very good by itself and it did not go well with the steak either. It is worth noting that the exact same side dish was used for all the main dishes that we had.  
Marinated Rack of Lamb
The lamb was cooked perfectly. Tender and delicious, the mint sauce matched the lamb very well.
Rice of the Day
Almond Tart with Custard Sauce
This dish was disconcerting. What was described as an almond tart was 4 unpitted cherries sandwiched between two biscuits with custard drizzled inside it.
Crème brûlée
Coffee Cheese Cake
The coffee cheese cake was particularly good. The caramelised popcorn brought a ‘crunch’ element to the dish and the coffee reduction on the plate brought a depth to the whole dessert.

All in all, it was an enjoyable meal. Most people I know either hate or love Tao’s. Personally, it does not invoke in me any strong emotions on either side of the spectrum. For the very reasonable price we paid ($38 for a 6 course degustation), I thought it was fair. Notably, the food was far more pleasing to the eye than to the taste bud. However, nothing was particularly bad. The ambience was lovely. The service was impeccable. The timing of each dish was difficult to fault. I would recommend this restaurant for a lazy Sunday lunch.   

Tao's on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review: Kouzina

Location: Shop 2225, Knox Ozone, 509 Burwood Hwy, Wantirna South
Phone: (03) 9837 5444
Cuisine: Greek
Overall Impression: 5/10
Kouzina is a restaurant chain that serves reasonable Greek fare.
Mixed Grill Platter For Two 54.00
Lamb Gyros, Pork Souvlaki, Souvlaki, Lamb T-bones, Biftekia (burgers), Sheftalies (pork sausages)

Greek Salad 14.50
Traditional village salad w/ tomato, cucumber, capsicum, onion, olives, feta

Overall, I thought the quality of the offerings were quite good. Although most of the meat had been slightly overcooked, everything was well seasoned and enjoyable. The service was unfortunately very slow even though the restaurant was far from packed. I certainly will not be returning in a hurry.

Kouzina - Knox on Urbanspoon

Bar Review: Melbourne Supper Club

Location: Level 1/161 Spring St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9654 6300
Overall Impression: 6.5/10

It's late. We're a little bit tipsy and slightly peckish. Staggering along the sidewalk, V, J and I are clearly a class act...
But walking around in extremely high heels will not stop us from venturing down to the Melbourne Supper Club. Afterall, it harbours their famous sticky date pudding we love so much. Delectably moist and fluffy, it is one of the best I have had in Melbourne.
The thing I love about the Melbourne Supper Club is how Melbourne it is. It's entrance is a lonesome door tucked somewhere discreet on Spring Street. But for those in the know, it is a cocktail haven with food that will satisfy the worst of any midnight cravings.

Melbourne Supper Club on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Cafe Review: Pellegrini's Espresso Bar

Location: 66 Bourke St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9662 1885
Cuisine: Italian
Overall Impression: 5/10

There used to be the four of us. Veronica, Cathy, Liz and I. Veronica now lives in Cairo. Cathy, in Singapore and Liz in New York. During Veronica and Liz's recent visit, we decided to pop by Pellegrini's for a quick coffee to reminisce. It doesn't look like anything has changed. I love the charm of Pellegrini's. A Melbourne icon, it has the style of a 1950’s Italian diner with its checquered tiles and humble bar stools. Renown for hearty and classical Italian fare, it is a cafe that has earned a place in my heart. I have many fond memories here with friends.
I have read recent blog reviews on Pellegrini's and have noticed that many walk in expecting une veritable experience gastronomique and are not surprisingly disappointed.
I like this cafe because I do not go here to be blown away by the food. The pastas are priced at a very fair $15 a plate. This is hearty, simple and honest Italian food. Nothing fancy. And certainly, nothing gourmet. It is peasant food executed reasonably well at a reasonable price.
In my opinion, Pellegrini's delivers because it brings into fruition all that it promises.
So, yes, come here if you would like something casual and simple. The service is great (the staff are wonderfully friendly and helpful) and the food is simple and nice.

Pellegrini's Espresso Bar on Urbanspoon