Tag Archives: Restaurants

Dainty Sichuan

2 Mar

Dainty Sichuan
176 Toorak road, South Yarra

A month or so ago we went with Howie and Silvia to Dainty Sichuan. James and I hadn’t been in awhile and Silvia had a hankering for spicy food. We had recently gone to Spicy Fish in the city and while it was reasonably fresh in my mind I wanted to compare it with Dainty Sichuan.

The definite favourite of the night was fish flavoured eggplant ($17.80). I was worried that I had built it up in my mind but it was everything I had remembered. I don’t even want to think of how much oil is required to get eggplant that soft and sticky.

The boiling fish in golden basin ($38.80) was the equivalent of the spicy fish from Spicy Fish. It came out quite theatrically, sizzling inside its gold bowl. Then the waitress scooped out most of the chilli bits – our whole table agreed that they probably reused them in the next dish.

James said he enjoyed this dish more than the spicy fish at Spicy Fish, which he was quite surprised at because he loves the Spicy Fish spicy fish. The fish was surprisingly light and was perfectly cooked – not soggy or overcooked at all. I was pretty impressed with this dish – it made my mouth all buzzy. =)

We also ordered the chong qing chilli chicken ($25.80). I’ve never met a fried chicken I didn’t like I think we made a mistake getting the one with bones. It was fiddly to eat and although it was OK I didn’t enjoy it as much as its counterparts at Spicy Fish and Sichuan House.

The dry stir-fried beans ($19.80) were another thumbs up from me. They were much less oily than the ones at Spicy Fish and I liked their slightly dehydrated texture. The dish was pretty salty though (and I have a high tolerance for saltiness) so if you don’t like salt you probably won’t care for this one.

The spiciest dish of the night ended up being the spicy green bean jelly noodle ($7.80). It was entree-sized, and I needed some big gulps of water while eating it. It didn’t seem that popular with our table and I probably wouldn’t order it again.

After our meal, James and I agreed that Dainty Sichuan tops our list of Sichuan restaurants we’ve eaten at in Melbourne. The waiters were efficient and quick with the water refills, and the food is bursting with flavour and reasonably good value – with a big beer and some soy milk it ended up being about $30 a head. I’ve been much less satisfied at much pricier restaurants.

Dainty Sichuan on Urbanspoon

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Bourke Street Bakery

4 Jan

Bourke Street Bakery
633 Bourke street, Surry Hills

When James and I went to Sydney in November, I knew I had to go to Bourke Street Bakery. We went straight from the airport to Surry Hills, braving the rain and gross humidity. We were lucky to score a seat because it was tiny inside (there was some outdoor seating and also a park across the street but nobody was using those because of the rain).

My main reason for wanting to go was that I have the cookbook and wanted to try the finished products before deciding whether to make them. James was actually quite surprised at how quickly I chose what to order, because I’m normally a lot more indecisive.

The first part of the meal was a beef pie. The pastry was darker and more cooked than I normally prefer, but that was more than made up for by the giant chunks of tender meat inside. There weren’t any fancy flavourings to the pie, but it was very beefy and satisfying.

James preferred the lamb harissa sausage roll. It’s been so long that I can’t remember exactly what it tasted like, but I remember it was vaguely Middle Eastern, fragrant, and not as heavy as lamb tends to be. I looked it up in the book and it’s pretty easy to make, so it may pop up the next time I’m in the mood for a big cheat meal.

For dessert we had ginger creme brulee. James liked it but I was a bit meh. Though that’s not the recipe’s fault, and more that I think I’m just not into ginger in non-savoury dishes. The texture of it was lovely though – a perfect, shattery top with silky insides, and I loved the sprinkling of pistachio nuts on top.

We also had a passionfruit meringue, which I liked and James didn’t. I had expected the top to be hard, but it was soft and airy (and sure enough when I looked it up in the book they specified that it’s a soft meringue topping). I really loved the passionfruit curd inside, so I think if I make this recipe I’d just do the curd – how lucky that the easy part is the tasty part!

I think the pastries plus coffee ran a little over $36. Actually, speaking of coffee, my only complaint about Bourke Street Bakery was the coffee guy, who snapped my head off when I politely enquired as to whether the coffee on the table was mine (“I called your name multiple times“). According to James, the coffee was not nearly good enough to warrant that kind of attitude. The guys behind the counter were lovely, but he was a douche.

Aside from the average coffee and crappy coffee guy, Bourke Street Bakery was great, and if it were my local I would try everything on the menu (except maybe the prune tarts, I’m a little scared of those). Instead I will have to satisfy myself by leafing through my cookbook and making the recipes at home.

Bourke Street Bakery on Urbanspoon

Beatrix (Again)

3 Nov

Beatrix
688 Queensberry street, North Melbourne

I didn’t get a shot of the exterior last time. From the outside and to the side, Beatrix looks like one of those houses-that-used-to-be-shopfronts that dot the inner city.

After my first sublime sandwich at Beatrix I took James back so he could also try it out. Plus it helped in my quest to eat (almost) all of the Beatrix sandwiches. On offer that day was The Sampson – pot roasted Spear Creek lamb shoulder with spicy harissa carrot salad, labne and mint.

The lamb was gorgeous – moist and lamby (without being greasy). The carrot was a little bit tart and a little bit sweet, and it went well with the mint and the yoghurt. It was slightly (but not very) spicy and tasted vaguely Middle Eastern.

Oh, also, they source their lovely ciabatta bread from Let’s-A-Loaf, which is available from the big bread store at the Vic Market. James wasn’t as big a fan of the bread as Kim and I were though – also he said that I had hyped Beatrix up too much =(. James thought the bread overwhelmed the contents of the sandwich, and overall he preferred the bread/sandwiches at Earl.

I wish he’d been able to taste The Chachi, since meatballs are probably more his style (and also I do think The Chachi was better than The Sampson).

We finished with a passionfruit sponge cake. I’m generally not a fan of sponges, but I liked the tanginess from the passionfruit, and even with the cream the texture was light and airy.

There are a couple more sandwiches on my must-try list – I want to try The Rachel (to see how it compares to my reuben), and there are a few more that I can’t remember the names of. I guess I’ll just go without James and bring him back a slice of cake. =)
Beatrix on Urbanspoon

Isthmus of Kra

28 Oct

Isthmus of Kra
50 Park street, South Melbourne

This time it was Joan and Damo’s pick and they went with Isthmus of Kra, a Thai restaurant in South Melbourne.

We started off with drinks at Damo and Joan’s new apartment. They broke out some Bollinger for us, and it was fantastic – apparently the bready, almost savoury taste is classic Bollinger.

After drinks we walked to the restaurant. My heart sank a little when I saw the dim lighting inside cos I knew that was going to fuck with my photos. Also we were pretty much the only people there, which is a bit ominous for an inner-city restaurant on Saturday night.

We went with something called the Saffron banquet, which was $65 a head.

The first course to come out was the Tom Yum soup. I think my soup must have been from the bottom of the pot because it had a higher cabbage and lemongrass to soup ratio than everyone else’s. I should have taken a photo of another one because my soup is pretty ugly and didn’t reflect its tastiness. This Tom Yum seemed heavier on the sour and lighter on the hot than others I’ve had, and everyone seemed to really enjoy it.

The next three courses came out together. From the top going clockwise: Cassava Mushroom Pillows, Steamed Blue Dumplings, and Quail Secret.

The blue dumplings were definitely the most striking. I’ve never seen blue dumplings before, and I reckon these are a must-get just because they’re so unusual. They are filled with caramelized minced beef, but they’re really tiny so you don’t get much beef.

The mushroom pillows were fairly bland – I could taste the seaweed, beancurd, and a had a general impression of earthiness. Supposedly it came with a wasabi herbal salsa but I don’t remember it.

The Quail Secret was my favourite. I loved the sour pickles, and the quail was succulent.

The rest of the main courses arrived at once. This is the King Prawn Laksa.

We were keen to try the red roast duck curry, and although it wasn’t part of the banquet Isthmus Kra let us substitute it for the duck salad. It makes sense to substitute duck for duck, but in hindsight I think it would have worked better if we’d substituted for one of the curries. We had a lot of curries, and they kind of blended into each other, and I wouldn’t have minded a nice, light salad course somewhere in there.

No complains about the duck curry though, it was probably my favourite of the lot.

I loved the roti that came with it all. It was light, flaky and not too oily.

This is the Chicken Pad Horm – chicken wok-singed with anise basil, cashews and Asian greens, with a mild garlic basil paste. I remember enjoying this one at the time, but a week later and I can’t remember what it tasted like so it can’t have left that strong an impression.

The Beef Krabi was slow cooked rump beef in a mixed spice stock which was then braised in a coconut reduction. I liked the sauce but I wasn’t crazy about the texture of the meat – some parts I got were a bit stringy.

Thanks to Damo we managed to polish everything off. I was pretty surprised at how full I was feeling towards the end. Luckily I’d managed to save a bit of room for dessert. We got two desserts, the first of which was a Black Rice Mango Pudding. In general I’m not a fan of rice-based desserts, but this was OK.

The home-made ice creams were much better! Clockwise from left they were: chocolate ripple (like a cookies and cream), mango, and gingerbread. Everyone seemed to prefer the gingerbread, but after such a heavy meal the lightness of the mango really hit the spot for me.

We were given a choice of coffees and various teas to drink after dinner. I chose peppermint, which was soothing though not as nice as the Middle Eastern ones, which are now my benchmark for peppermint teas.

Thanks to Howie and Damo’s Entertainment Book we got a discount, and it came to $120 per couple. It was an enjoyable meal overall, but I think it was expensive for what we got. It was about twice as expensive as Ying Thai 2, and although the atmosphere and service were better I don’t think the food was.

Admittedly it’s a tricky price range to work in – not expensive enough to bring in exotic ingredients and get all arty with the food, but expensive enough that it needs to be something special to make it worth returning. And in my opinion, while there’s nothing wrong with the food, Isthmus of Kra just isn’t interesting enough for a return visit.
Isthmus of Kra on Urbanspoon

North Melbourne Fish & Chips (Formerly Snapper Heads)

27 Sep

North Melbourne Fish & Chips
38 Haines street, North Melbourne

For a long time I have been searching for a great fish and chip place nearby. Top Catch on Errol street is okay in a pinch, but I’m still on the hunt for something better. James and I tried Bottom of the Harbour on Lygon street, and although the fish and chips were better than Top Catch, it was more expensive, much more of a hassle to get to, and the portions were ridiculously tiny.

The other night it was time for North Melbourne Fish & Chips to step up to the batting plate. All the online reviews I could find were very positive, with several saying that these guys made the best fish and chips in Melbourne, so I was feeling pretty optimistic.

Look at James in the photo above – he is all calm, waiting for our order, but I was outside taking photos and practically vibrating with anticipation.

Also adding to my optimism was the fact that it was pretty busy the whole time we were there. See? A line of impatient locals!

All the signage calls it North Melbourne Fish and Chips but online it seems to be referred to as Snapper Heads Fish and Chips. I’m guessing there was an ownership change or something.

James ordered a flake ($4.70), burger with the lot ($6.50) and minimum chips ($3.30), and I ordered the Lunch Box which had flake, chips, 2 dim sims and 2 potato cakes ($8.50). Chip portions were probably on the smaller side, but not egregiously so like Bottom of the Harbour.

So … the best fish and chips in Melbourne?

Blergh.

Blergh.

Not even close.

The batter on the fish was waaay too thick, the fish was overcooked, and everything collapsed as soon as I bit into it. The chips were overcooked – hard on the outside and soggy on the inside. And stale tasting, even though I’d seen them fry everything up in front of me. Everything was also oddly flavourless – I used up so much salt trying to get it to taste like something other than grease, batter, and crushing disappointment

The dim sims and potato cakes were awful as well, but I don’t really judge fish and chip places on the non-fish non-chip parts.

I don’t know if it was the worst fish and chips ever, but it was definitely the worst I’ve had in recent memory. I think there’s one other place in North Melbourne I haven’t tried, but it’s not a dedicated fish and chips place, more of a general “fried takeout” store. I think if I want excellent fish and chips I’m going to have to expand my radius a little.

Oriental Spoon (Again!)

6 Sep

Oriental Spoon
254 La Trobe St, Melbourne

There are a bunch of our friends who live around the CBD, and we all decided that we should try to catch up more often. So we started a new thing where every couple of months we get together and one couple chooses the restaurant. Howie and Silvia chose Oriental Spoon for the first restaurant.

Mum and I had lunch at Oriental Spoon not too long ago but I’ve never been at night before. Oriental spoon is a lot busier Saturday night, and we were pretty unimpressed because they accidentally gave away our reserved table, forcing us to wait an extra half hour. Then we kept getting another table’s food. The service was pretty scattered to begin with, but once we’d ordered things started to go better. The manager comped us a jug of coke for the inconvenience, which was unexpected and quite nice.

The banchan took awhile to come out – they are much speedier with it when the restaurant isn’t full. The kim chi wasn’t as good as it normally is here – it was a bit grittier than I remember.

I thought I needed to cut 2kg in 2 weeks for comps (which turned out to be incorrect since they’ve changed the weight categories and I now very easily make the 51kg category) so I ordered separately from everyone else. I got the spicy chicken bulgogi, which was advertised as “lean” chicken, but I was extremely suspicious once I saw the pool of oil it was sitting in. Lean chicken doesn’t glisten! It was delicious, tasting like a slightly less spicy version of the pork bulgogi (both of which are far superior to the beef bulgogi), and after tasting my chicken, James said it was the best dish of the night, so yay.

I’m relying on James’ impressions of the other food.

He wasn’t overly impressed with the beef and mushroom casserole (looking at it though, it seems like it would have been a great option for my dinner if only it came in single portions). I think in general neither of us really care for hot pot style dishes. They always end up tasting like watery broth.

James also thought this next dish could have done with some extra sauce or something. I felt a bit guilty because I’d recommended the fried chicken based on some blog reviews, assuming it would be like Rose Garden fried chicken.

James liked the kim chi jeon. He said it was moist rather than crisp, so I guess the texture of the first jeon I had here was an aberration.

His favourite dish was the chicken tang su yak. I took a nibble of this one and didn’t like it as much as he did – it tasted like the overly sweet lemon chicken that you get at Chinese restaurants. He liked this one because you got large chicken bits without bones. Overall I much prefer Rose Garden’s fried chicken, which has a thinner and crispier batter.

Much to my annoyance James refused to try the jap chae, which I’ve read is quite popular. (Direct quote from James: “noodles?! Pshh!”) Aside from the noodles this also looks like it could have been a contender for my healthy dinner.

He also didn’t try the stone bowl bibimbap (sorry about the super blurry photo) because he didn’t realise it was on the table.

It worked out to about $25 a head, which was pretty good value considering we have some pretty big eaters (you can see the holy trinity of hungry hippos here – James, Kieren and Damo. Sorry Howie, you don’t make the cut). Also look at the way James is holding his fork. It always makes me giggle because I think he holds it that way for maximum shoveling power.

Afterwards we went to Joan and Damo’s apartment in Southbank to check out their nearly-finished renovations, and then to Howie’ and Silvias place to play card games. Joan and Damo are in charge of choosing the restaurant for the next dinner in a couple of months, which I am looking forward to because I’ll actually be able to eat!

To help work off the food, James and I walked home from Southbank to North Melbourne. It was a bit past midnight and the city was populated with drunk clubbers. Which actually worked out well for us because eagle-eye James spotted this on the ground.

And yes, when we got home, I made James put the money on the table so I could take a photo.

It was a great ending to a great night out. =)
Oriental Spoon on Urbanspoon

Beatrix

31 Aug

Beatrix
688 Queensberry street, North Melbourne

Love, love, love.

I just came back from Beatrix and am all swoony with bready goodness. Kim came over to pick up some sourdough starter, and we hopped over to Beatrix because I’ve been hearing wonderful things about their sandwiches.

They have a different sandwich every day of the week (except Tuesdays when they are closed) and post the upcoming sandwiches on their facebook page. As you can see from the board, today’s sandwich was the Chachi – chianina white beef and ricotta meatballs braised in tomato with basil and balsamic roquette.

Which was fantastic. The photo doesn’t do it justice (also I wish I’d taken the photo at a slight angle to get a better indication of size), but trust me – it was an incredible sandwich. Everything was perfect – they weren’t stingy with the meatballs, which were packed with flavour, the mozzarella was glorious and clumpy, and there was enough sauce to get the tomato taste but not so much that it dripped everywhere. I got the large ($13.50) and Kim got the small ($11.50). The large is about twice the size of the small.

The bread was among the best I’ve had – the outside was light yet shattery and the inside was chewy and moist.

Look at the beaters above the counter. And all those gorgeous pastries. The raspberry meringues were on the other side of the counter and looked amazing. I would have bought one except I had a container of pastries at home (courtesy of Kim). See?

Everyone seemed to be having lunch, then taking some treats home with them, and there were a few people who dropped in just to get the pastries. Kim got a tangelo chiffon cake to take home, and it was gorgeous, moist and bright with flavour.

Kim said she’ll take Adrian there, and I am most definitely going to bring James, and Cat/Scott if they swing around our area. I love how pared down Beatrix’s menu is, and how they are really conscientious about finding good quality produce. In the store they have a list of where they source their ingredients from – next time I will check where they got their ciabatta.

I want to try all of their sandwiches now, just so I can pick my favourite out of what will surely be an amazing line-up. If you are ever in that part of North Melbourne (or even if you’re not) I highly recommend dropping into Beatrix. It is just freaking sublime.

Beatrix on Urbanspoon