Saturday, 31 March 2012

Restaurant Review: The Waiting Room

Location: 8 Whiteman St, Crown Casino, Southbank, Melbourne
Phone: 03 8679 1800
Cuisine: Morning Tea/ High Tea, Wine bar, Bar food
Overall Impression: 6.5/10

It all began with Rockpool and then came Spice Temple and now The Waiting Room (TWR). On the horizon, there is his new venture - an Italian Restaurant opening later this year. Not surprisingly, also in Crown. Suffice to say, the Neil Perry Empire’s expansion is on the move and certainly taking over the fine dining scene in the Crown Casino complex. Whilst I am certainly not his biggest fan given my mixed experiences, it is a fair observation that everything Perry touches seems to turn to gold. His latest Crown addition, TWR is more than a trendy bar. The menu also offers Perry’s take on the traditional ‘Afternoon Tea (served daily between 12pm – 5pm) and High Tea (served daily between 5pm – 9pm).
As part of P’s hens’ weekend, we decided to treat her to Afternoon Tea at TWR.
The savoury biscuits to start were lovely.
The sandwiches were pleasant to eat and were kept deliberately simple.
The bottom tier was filled with ‘sweets’ and scones.
A key component to a successful Afternoon tea is good scones. These scones were delightfully light and immersed in a fresh apricot scent and flavour. That vanilla bean cream was to die for and the strawberry jam was delicious.

The other ‘sweets’ looked beautiful and were moreish. We were all pleased with the quality and standard of the offerings.
In terms of service, the lady who waited on us kept our tea pots filled throughout our time there. She was attentive and friendly and certainly made our group of five feel very welcome.

The main downside to an Afternoon Tea with your girlfriends at TWR is the fact that it is situated in the lobby of Crown. As we were seated at the entrance, it was slightly awkward as we felt like we were “on display” while hotel guests entered and looked curiously at us.
Whilst TWR offers a commendable Afternoon Tea option for Melbournians, it is certainly not an experience that is unique or that goes above and beyond existing establishments.
That said, it is an experience I would recommend and have thoroughly enjoyed.

The Waiting Room on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Restaurant Review: Hako

Location: 310 Flinders Ln, Melbourne
Phone: 03 9620 1881
Cuisine: Japanese
Overall Impression: 7/10
Hako's style is minimalistic and elegantly Japanese. The food is authentically simple, to the point and delicious. It is obvious that great care and discipline has been taken in it's preparation. The service is prompt and the waitstaff are polite and accomodating.
Hako is perfect for a weekday lunch for CBD workers that have a mere hour to spare and want to spend it wisely.
Hako on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Restaurant Revew: Vegie Bar

Location: 380 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: (03) 9417 6935 
Overall Impression: 6/10
During my first visit to Vegie Bar, BB and I were meeting A's new found love (in the form of a Russian investment banker from Sydney) for the first time. We thought lunch would be a good option as it would be a lot more casual. A has been slowly but surely turning vegetarian and her favourite restaurant of late has been Vegie bar. Vegie Bar has been gaining quite a following, especially with the skinny jeans and retro sun glasses crowd. So, in an attempt to be part of the "in crowd" the four of us decided to have lunch there.
Threading the delicate balance of my omnivorous existence, I would say I am more carnivorous than I am herbivorous. As such, I wasn't particularly excited about the thought of eating at Vegie Bar.

The food was surprisingly much better than I had expected. I quickly forgot that I was having a vegetarian meal. Although simple, the food was hearty and smacked with flavour. Nothing revolutionary but it was honest and good food. My positive experience has brought me back time and time again. Last weekend, J and I decided to go back and it is as good as the first time I was there.  

Sha He Fen Noodles

The noodles were delicious! I am always slightly weary about ordering “Asian” style dishes from non-Asian eateries but this has certainly changed my mind. Although the faux chicken tasted like tofu and was fooling no one, it was still very enjoyable. The only criticism I have of this dish is – where are the mushrooms I was promised per the descriptions on the menu?
Cajun Stew

I love that it was served with brown rice. There’s something about the texture of brown rice that gives a rustic edge to a dish. That said, I could not help but think that the stew was simply glorified baked beans. OK, maybe that is a bit harsh. Baked beans with a twist? However, I must say that although it resembled baked beans, the stew was in fact enjoyable to eat. It was hearty and had very good flavour.
Berry Cheesecake with soy ice cream
The desserts here are particularly good. I tasted their soy ice cream the first time I visited. Nobody else was a fan of the soy ice cream but I certainly was. A and BB even joked about how everything in life is relative and only someone who had never had ice cream before would find the soy ice cream good. So, be warned! It is certainly an acquired taste.
 All in all, the food was enjoyable. It is honest, wholesome food. Nothing fancy but it certainly does the trick. Everything is well-priced and the place has a great atmosphere. Unfortunately, this is let down by the fact that service is poor. Every time that I have visited Vegie Bar, I have had to wait very long for my food to arrive.

Vegie Bar on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review: Laksa King

Location: 6 - 12 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington
Phone: 03 9372 6383
Cuisine: Malaysian
Overall Impression: 7/10
When it comes to Malaysian hawker-style laksa (of both the curry and assam variety), Laksa King knows best. The broth certainly packs a punch, satiating the strongest of cravings.
Penang style Assam Laksa
Combination Curry Laksa

I will certainly be recommending this eatery to other Malaysian hawker food enthusiasts!

Curious about how Chef Lagenda (right next door) compares? Read Gastrology's review here!

Laksa King on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review: Shanghai Street Dumpling

Location: 342 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne
Phone: 03 9600 2250
Cuisine: Chinese
Overall Impression: 8/10

Check out our review of the La Trobe Street restaurant here!

The queues started. We immediately heaved a sigh of relief. It appeared we had just beaten the infamous dinner rush in a matter of seconds. As we waited impatiently for our dumplings to arrive, J and I wondered whether they would live up to the hype. Such enormous hype for such tiny little dumplings.
The one thing that I have struggled to find in Melbourne that I really enjoyed during my time in Shanghai has been the fried pork buns. They are basically the rougher, tougher, more hawker style cousin to the delicate ‘Xiao Long Bao’. They still have that beautiful pork broth inside but the casing is very different and far from delicate. The dumpling’s base is crisp and caramelised from the frying.
Steamed vegetarian dumplings

Our dumplings arrived promptly and they were brilliant. Everything tasted incredibly fresh. It was clear that the ingredients being used were of a good standard. Dumpling eateries are notorious for dubious fillings but these were certainly a few notches up the norm. Our vegetarian and Beijing pork dumplings had a beautiful encasing that had quite a lovely ‘bite’ and a good chewiness that is synonymous with freshly made dumplings – not surprising given how ludicrously busy this place it. The dumplings are probably sold the moment they are made!
Steamed Beijing pork dumplings
Fried pork buns

And the star plate of fried pork buns finally arrived. The broth was beautiful and flavoursome, the base was perfectly crisp and delicious.

Looks like Melbourne has a welcomed new best dumpling eatery contender!

Shanghai Street Dumpling on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review: HuTong Dumpling Bar

Location: 14-16 Market Ln, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9650 8128
Cuisine: Chinese
Overall Impression: 8/10

Eating Xiao Long Bao at Hu Tong takes me back to the time I spent working in Shanghai. I will never forget all the invaluable life lessons I learned and the good friends I made. There is a tight knit ex-pat community and for some reason everyone foreign seems to know everyone else. And it was within that tight knit group that I felt completely welcomed and was introduced to various Shanghainese delicacies.
Dumplings are the heart of Shanghainese cuisine. In my opinion, the humble Xiao Long Bao is the most delicious and delicate of dumplings. I still remember the first time I had these in Shanghai.
Hu Tong’s Xiao Long Bao is amazing. It is by far the best that Melbourne has to offer.
A good Xiao Long Bao is characterised by a delicious filling and broth, and very importantly, a delicate casing. Ideally, you should be able to hold the Xiao Long Bao towards the light and be able to see through the skin into the filling inside.
Hu Tong's Xiao Long Bao (pictured above) - with its beautiful, fragrant broth and luscious filling, enveloped by a dainty dough, was such a pleasure to indulge in.

The same, however, cannot be said about their other offerings. All the other food was pleasant but ordinary. It was clear that the Xiao Long Bao was the stand-out dish.
In terms of value for money, Hu Tong is excellent. They have BYO without any corkage and a very affordable menu with a nice ambience in terms of décor (especially level 3 of the restaurant). However, it does get extremely noisy.
All in all, it is great for a casual get together. Remember to book well in advance because it is very difficult to get a table (even for two) without a booking.
HuTong Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review: MoVida Bar de Tapas VS MoVida Aqui and Terraza

MoVida Bar de Tapas
Location: 1 Hosier Ln, Melbourne
Phone: 03 9663 3038
Cuisine: Spanish, Tapas
Overall Impression: 8/10

MoVida Aqui
Location: Level 1, 500 Bourke St, Melbourne
Phone: 03 9663 3038
Cuisine: Spanish, Tapas
Overall Impression: 8/10

When I think of Spanish cuisine, I always think of tapas – little bowls of appetisers or snacks that come in many varieties, both hot and cold.
I enjoy the concept of having tapas for dinner. You get to taste a whole bunch of little dishes so your taste buds will be spoilt with the variation in flavours and there is something just so casual and fun about it. Being familiar with the 2 hat Movida bar de Tapas, we decided to have dinner at their 1 hat sister restaurant, Movida Aqui.  The main difference between the two is that Movida Aqui has a much more relaxed and casual setting. Having said that, the quality of the food served at both venues is remarkably of a similar standard. So, don’t expect a duller version of the menu from Movida bar de Tapas at Movida Aqui! In fact, the menus are very much alike, to say the least. But then again, so is the price tag.

Surprisingly, the broccoli dish we ordered out of a sense of guilt (trying to meet our 5 serves of vegies a day target) was the biggest crowd pleaser. If only broccoli tasted as amazing in “real” life.

The following are the lovely dishes we were privileged to indulge in:
Menestra De Broccoli $11.50
Organic broccoli braised with Iberico jamon, tomato and garlic
Fabada $23.50
Butifarra $19.50
House-made Catalan pork and pepper sausage with chickpeas and house made morcilla
Sardine special $16.50
Sardines on white bean puree with tomato and olive oil
Bomba $4.50 each
Catalan Potato bomb filled with chorizo
Bocadillo de calamares $7.00 each
Calamari sandwich with Basque guindilla and mayonnaise
Romesco con Conejo $23.50
Postre Para Compartir $30.00
Share plate of flan, churros, sopa inglesa, chocolate marque and olive oil sorbet
I highly recommend this dessert platter. It is a great way to eat through their dessert selections!

Each dish was beautifully flavoured, down-to-earth and uncomplicated, reflecting the heart of Spanish cuisine.

Move aside, Movida bar de Tapas, Movida Aqui is “aqui” (English: Here)!

MoVida Aqui and Terraza on Urbanspoon

MoVida Bar de Tapas on Urbanspoon