Saturday, 18 April 2015

Bistro Vue

I am often found wandering the city late-ish at night, trying to find a dessert to satiate my stomach post-dinner (and/or first dessert). One of my qualms with the CBD is the lack of dedicated dessert cafes or restaurants, or the ones which are present, being ridiculously overpriced, or not even coming near what I expect from dessert (too Asian, cakes too dry etc).So, after much urbanspoon’ing, I settled on the walk towards Bistro Vue, the smooth bar-style restaurant that remains on the old Vue de Monde site on Little Collins. The décor is lovely and warm with dark mood lighting to set the scene for romance. Dessert romance.

First up was my beloved Tarte Tatin, they brought the dish out and turned it out in front of you. A beautiful, warm crispy pastry that wasn’t as heavy as a shortcrust, but definitely as buttery. The apples were highly caramelised, so quite sweet but the crème anglaise was very good at neutralising the sickening sweetness. I would have preferred a big scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream, but I can see how crème anglaise is more fancy pantsy.

Crème Brulee is a staple dessert for most restaurants, though sometimes it can be lacking in some ways. This style brulee was very eggy and disappointingly the shell was not thick enough to be cracked when broken.

The Mango St Honore was quite a strange choice. Presented in the very-hip “deconstructed” manner, it visually was the most modern of all the desserts but the taste of the dish wasn’t very cohesive. The mango jelly was too solid, the sorbet was biting but refreshing, the chocolate was smooth and tempered well. The puff pastry slices however, tasted very similar to burnt weetbix.

TL;DR An alright dessert spot for when you’re desperate, and it’s open late!

Bistro Vue on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Dainty Sichuan Hot Pot

I am a long-time fan of Sichuan cuisine, and Dainty Sichuan provides a more (unnecessary) up-market take on well-loved dishes. They recently opened a new location in the city which offers both their a la carte menu and hot pot style dining, so we jumped at the chance.

One thing you cannot expect from most Asian restaurants, is good or friendly service. Dainty Sichuan is no exception. The service was slow, and due to no one waiting at the front desk, it took a long time to be seated. A brief check of the menu showed a lot of my staple dishes were missing, but that’s ok, bring on the Chong Qing Hot Pot ($31.8/pp).

There is a lot of choice of items to cook in your hot pot, and all of the meat is fresh and tastes quite nice. You are able to split your pot into half-half, for the diners who don’t like chilli as much. The spicy side is saturated with spices and chilli and really makes it a Dainty Sichuan recognised soup. The non-spicy side has a lot of Chinese herbs and is chicken stock-based.

There were a few starters you could order as well, the pre-cooked fried chicken bits were reminiscent of the a la carte “kung pow chicken”. The lap cheong sausage was a favourite, but I typically don’t like the oily fattiness of the Chinese sausage. My favourite items were definitely the raw meats, meat balls and the pig’s blood cubes. The vermicelli and potato noodles were great as well, and the unlimited factor is definitely a plus. For those who need a bit of green in their meal to not feel guilty, there are plenty of leafy bok choy and cabbage to go round.

Just a warning, the soup gets quite oily after a while, so you may want to ask the waiters for a new bowl, and use one as an oil dumping ground.

TL;DR overall a nice hotpot, but you can get cheaper elsewhere (and it’s hard to mess up hot pot)

Dainty Sichuan Food on Urbanspoon

Monday, 13 April 2015

Masons of Bendigo

Masons of Bendigo kicked off our 24 hour food frenzy in the beautiful town of Bendigo. They are a beautiful establishment, with high ceilings and bright lighting. The wait staff are efficient, polite and the manger is enthusiastic about his work and the locals. They cater to dietary requirements with ease and extra servings for the dishes.

We were starving by the time we reached Masons, so we started with some Hand Cut Royal Blue Potato Chips with aioli ($8.0) while we were waiting. They were great and disappeared in like ten seconds.

Complimentary carbs arrived, which was an in-house made Milk Bread with delicious Smokey Miso Infused Butter. I would buy a whole loaf and pot of this butter, and then just om-nom-nom in the surrounding Bendigo gardens. HASHTAG DROOL.

We started with the Seared Hervey Bay Scallops with curried cauliflower, salmon caviar, coriander vinaigrette, prawn crackers (x3 pcs $14.0). I could see they were trying an asian influence with the curried cauliflower, but I think that flavour overwhelmed the naturally subtle taste of the scallop. That being said, I really enjoyed the textures and flavour combination of this dish, but I think a lighter vegetable would also suit.

I was hesitant about the Warialda Beef Carpaccio, black pepper, golden beets, smoked aioli, potato chips, fried onions ($14.0) as I usually prefer fish tartares, but this was delicious, tasty and full of flavour. It turned out to be my favourite savoury dish of the afternoon.The beef slices were incredibly well prepared, and the large amounts of beet and aoili really added to each mouthful.

Chicken, blue swimmer crab & corn pot sticker Dumplings, cucumber, white soy and ginger sisho (x4pcs $12.0) were a tad dry, but really nailed all the asian-inspired flavours, and they were stuffed full of delicious fillings, so it was forgivable! 

The McIvor Farm Berkshire Pork Belly Skewer, sweet & sour blood plums, szechuan spice (x2pcs $10.0) was tender and succulent and everything a beautiful pork belly dish should be. The sweet plums brought out the flavour of the pork incredibly well.

The Roasted McIvor Farm Berkshire Pork Fillet with pork belly, pork cheek schnitzel, roast pumpkin, crackle pinwheel ($30.0)

The Crispy Fried Soft Shell Mud Crab with cucumber, beanshoot & avocado salad, nam prik mayo ($13.5) was a refreshing salad, especially with the addition of the crunchy beanshoots and semi-spicy nam prik mayo. The crab was nicely fried but had only a little meat on it, so wasn't anything grand.

Butternut Pumpkin Gnocchi with Holy Goat fromage frais, fried onions, young spinach, black basil pesto ($23.0) was a vegetarian dish but really quite impressive. The pesto with spinach was perfectly blended and the gnocchi were fried pillows of soft potato goodness. I really enjoyed the sweetness of the butternut and the gamey goats cheese together.

The Panfried Tassie Salmon, mussels, prawns, risotto tortellini, moghrabieh, saffron braised tomatoes ($29.0) was a good choice. I expected more seafood in that the mussels and prawns must have been hidden in the tortellini, but the salmon made up for that. I was surprised how well the tomatoes went with the salmon!

Masons Dessert Tasting Plate which included small serves of vanilla & peach brulee, Eskimo pie, Meredith yoghurt pannacotta with passionfruit gel, choc-hazelnut delice, baked cheesecake, Yuzo curd & tapioca pot with summer fruits, pomegranate ice-cream and Persian fairy floss ($26.0). In reality I could've smashed this out my self, but social etiquette deemed that I shared the sharing plate. It was beautiful. Subtle flavours when needed, paired with a good mix of heavier bites like the choc-hazelnut delice and baked cheesecake. They used different textures, from the light flossy persian rosewater fairy floss, and the tapioca sago. I really, really loved this dish.

TL;DR A definite hit in Bendigo, I would return to eat here fo' sho.

  Masons of Bendigo on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Hell of the North

Hell of the North and its famous yellow door had been recommended to me incredibly frequently, and when I finally made the booking, more gushes of “I've heard that place is amazing” came my way.

The interior is a maze of rooms which house a various amount of heavy wooden dining tables, pub style round high seated tables, private room and a beer garden. Definitely eclectic, but the atmosphere is smooth and refined. The menu had my mouth watering for days, and our table ordered a fair whack of it, much to the amusement of our waiter.

I kicked off the night with an Orchard Mule: Vodka, Apple Liqueur, Shiraz, Lime, Ginger beer ($17.0) which was a sweet treat down the hatch. 

The Heirloom Tomato Gaspacho, Buffalo Mozzarella, Smoked Tomato & Anchovy Sorbet ($7.0) was served frosty cold. The sorbet was exciting in words, but when I tasted it, it was too sweet and did not have the salty kick that anchovies usually have. The tomato with balsamic oil through the soup was refreshing and sweet. The cube of mozzarella had a nice earthy flavour, grounding the dish along with the brioche cubes. It was an alright start, but definitely not the best gazpacho I've had. 

The next dish to arrive was the Pulled Pork & Gruyere Doughnut ($7.0) which was AMAZEBALLS. Hearty and meaty, and fried dough which wasn't too thick to hide the pork flavour inside. You can’t get much better than this. 

Only I wanted to try the Prawn Fritter, Tamarind Sauce ($7.0) but they ended up bringing out two, which was a bit of a waste. Though the prawn was definitely a prawn, a lot of the flavour came from the nice salty/sweet tamarind sauce. The dish was a lot like something you’d get at Yum Cha, but for double the price. 

Charcuterie Selection ($28.0) included the Chicken Liver Parfait, Madeira Jelly, Brioche + Pork, Prune & Pistachio Terrine + Pork Rillets, which were delicious and fatty. The terrine was quite nice, especially if you managed to get all ingredients in one forkful. Next time I would just order the Parfait on its own, as it was the clear start of the selection. A smooth liver parfait with a layer of Madeira jelly on top meant there was the meaty tasted of chicken liver, combined with the sweetness of the Madeira.

I loved the charcuterie selection, and they even gave us an extra serve of bread when they noticed we had run out. Without us asking! I was suitably impressed. 

The Beetroot Cured Kingfish, Orange, Pickled Cucumber ($26.0) wasn't that good. It was lacking in salt to bring out the fresh sweetness of the kingfish, and there was an abundance of oil used which didn't add anything to the dish. The cucumber and carrot were quite a neutral flavour, so the dish fell flat overall. 

I wanted to try the Bloody Maria ($15.0) with tequila instead of vodka, and it definitely gave the drink a different dimension. The taste became deeper and heavier, but it wasn't my favourite Bloody base, so it was hard to judge. 

Navarin of Lamb ($32.0) was a deliciously cooked medallion of lamb; the red wine jus and peas gave the dish a sweeter element, and it was nice to sample a red meat and contrast it with the white meat in the following dish.

I quite enjoyed the Milawa Duck, Red Cabbage, Madeira Jus ($34.0) the duck was tender and had a substantial amount of meat on the thigh for a duck. On top of that there were additional cuts of duck fillet on the site. The crackling was like a combination of fried duck skin and prawn cracker, which was gone all too soon.

I always order Pommes Frites ($8.0) when I can. Delicious!

I am a big fan of the crunch from these Green Beans, Chilli, Garlic, Anchovy Crumb ($8.0), the anchovy crumb was quite subtle, as was the chilli spice (one piece pictured), but it offered a nice token vegetable dish to our meal.

Crème Brulee ($14.0) is Crème Brulee, a good creamy vanilla custard texture with a thin crust which shattered daintily. 

The Baba au Rhum, Pineapple, Licorice ($14.0) was not as strong as other Babas I’ve had, which was good, as it’s still not my kind of dessert. The cake was very soft, with a nice springy texture, but I let the others finish this one.

Chocolate, Peanuts & Whisky ($14.0) was probably the most coveted desert of the night, with a unanimous vote of confidence. There was a good chocolate cake base, with whisky ice-cream and foam sprinkled with peanuts. I thought it would be a boring traditional dish, but it definitely tasted the best. 

For some reason, in my mind the Apple Bavarois, Blueberry Sorbet ($14.0) was like a warm Tarte Tatin, but instead it came out as a cold, creamy dessert. Either way, it was quite interesting. It had a rather thick custard-like texture, with a crunch from the clever use of celery. It was a nice subtle sweet dish, without being too overpowering and filling. 

TL;DR Try it, even just for the Pork Doughnuts

Hell of the North on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Belles Hot Chicken

Belles Hot Chicken used to be Belles Hot Diner until they realised that fried chicken is all a person REALLY needs. Now their menu is slick, stripped back and it’s fried chicken to perfection. It very much still resembles an American Diner, but with the lights down low and a little more moody.
Seating at the bar is significantly less romantic, but tables turn over quickly, even for a Thursday night.

I started off with Wings ($16.0) at Medium Heat, whilst a friend ordered the Dark Meat (Drumstick & Thigh $16.0) at the Hot Heat. I opted for the Old Bay Fries which were included in the price, and paid for the Mississippi Comeback Sauce ($2.0) which is like a garlic aioli.

The chicken wings are oily and tender, and really, really tasty. When the basket arrived I looked at it with great scepticism, but I was full by the end.  Each basket comes with a slice of white bread to soak up that chilli oil, and you can choose to eat it or avoid it at the end of the meal. I should have opted for the Hot Heat level, as Medium was barely even spicy. They definitely do not use KFC’s secret spices at Belles, and the flavour is so much more intense and less commercial. I much prefer this fried chicken over Crazy Wings.

The Dark Meat selection seems to have more meat, with less fiddling around with the bones, but the flavour does not penetrate in to the chicken meat as much as with the wings.

To end, I couldn’t resist getting the Soft Serve of the week ($6.0) – chocolate with crumbled caramelised peanuts. It was pretty good, but nothing special. A fudge brownie would’ve really made it good.

TL;DR Some finger lickin’ chickin.

Belle's Hot Chicken on Urbanspoon

Monday, 6 April 2015

Captain Melville

Captain Melville was a suggestion from a friend who is a fellow eating enthusiast, and what makes him even cooler, is his capacity to indulge my ability to over-order and over-eat. So, we ordered a lot of food this sitting.

Captain Melville is placed on the old Miss Libertine’s site, and as I’ve heard, is a far cry from its old personality. Walking in via the back space, you’re greeted with a chic outdoor beer-garden style courtyard with wooden chairs and an area which could double as a casual birthday celebration, or a corporate flog.

Inside is slightly more pub-style, but with sleek black bar spaces and artful fluorescent lighting. It’s quite intimate without being sleezy. And the food menu: so many varied dishes to choose from without being ridiculous and over the top.

We started with a drink. For my drink I chose the Hailstorm Julep ($17.0), if not solely due to the fact it claimed to be “life changing.” Golden grapefruit infused vodka, pineapple & almond syrup, mint, splash ginger beer.

Saganaki Cheese – mustard fruits, pomegranate dressing ($7.5) came next. A small slice of thin but oil-packed cheese which didn’t drip nor fall apart, but wow it was flavour packed. The saganaki was also cut through with the sweet fruits and sour pomegranate dressing which I’ve never seen done before; it was incredible.

Already on a roll, we decided to carb load: Chipotle buttered Kipflter potatoes with kale ($15.0). The potatoes were slightly dry, but it combined well with the added saltiness of the kale. It could have done with some aioli though.

We added on a Croquette – corn and smoked mozzarella with spicy tomato jam ($6.5) cos YOLO. It beautiful, creamy and cheesy, with all aspects done very well. Covered in a crispy coating on the outside and soft on the inside, all of which went great with the tomato pasta-style sauce.

For the first main we ordered the Rotolo: ricotta, mushrooms, mushroom cream and roasted chestnuts ($23.0). Though not your most beautiful of dishes, the chestnuts were a nice surprise to my sceptical stomach. It was very much your warm winter dish, with a beautiful creamy mushroom sauce. For someone who had no clue what a Rotolo was, it pleasantly surprised.

The Western Plains Pork Belly Bun – warm sesame bun, baby cos, crackle ($7.5) was in reality, a slice of pork belly in a bun. The pork belly was tasty and not overcooked, but nothing spectacular.

Togarashi Soft Shell Crab Roll – wasabi mayo, shiso, pickled radish ($8.5) came up next and was a lot better received than its brethren. The soft shell crab was fried to a crunchy finish and stuck in a much nicer brioche bun. There was also a lot more sauce and wasabi mayo, which made it a good contender in the soft shell crab burger realm.

Captain’s Burger: wagyu, bacon, cheese, Yarra Valley egg, pickles, soft bun, French fries ($22.0). What they didn’t tell you was this burger is a double patty burger. YES. It was a nice sloppy burger, easy to eat, with a very heavy taste which was filling in your stomach. When left with four pieces to finish, I chose the soft shell crab, pork bun and the rotolo.

Finally, dessert arrived. The Fried Hot Apple Pie served with vanilla ice-cream ($14.0) was the dessert my stomach immediately gravitated towards. That pastry. Light. Flaky. Pastry. Nice sweet apples served piping hot inside that light, flaky pastry. It reminded me of a more refined maccas apple pie, without the mass production and preservatives. It tasted even better with the vanilla bean ice-cream and sugared toffee crunch. I loved it. A simple but effective dessert. I am such a big fan of apple pie and this feels like it’s rocketing to the top.

TL;DR A nice sophisticated gastro-pub that you should check out, even if it’s just for the apple pie!

Captain Melville on Urbanspoon