Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Readership Survey

Inspired by The Amateur Gourmet's post on his readers, I'm also interested to know who reads this blog.

This humble blog is by no means as popular as The Amateur Gourmet, but we do try our best. I say WE because this is a collaborative blog, although I, Thanh, do put up the most post. It was Alan from Photo Finish who initially suggested to me that we do a group blog. I then thought of a food blog, since the bloggers who I had met (through their blogs but not in real life yet) all seemed to be interested in food. Hence this blog was formed. You can read about the contributors here. We are a very diverse bunch in terms of age, interests, location and food experience.

The most involved with food is Choo. Choo actually owned a restaurant and ran one at one time in Singapore. The rest of us just enjoy eating. I personally am a terrible cook but love to eat. My ultimate job would one day to be a food critic or food writer. This is very different from my current job as an engineer. But who knows, life is unpredictable, it could happen. If not, I will just keep enjoying food and reading about it on other blogs and writing about it on this blog.

Now that you know some more about me, tell me something about yourself. It can be whatever you like that is related to food I guess but a few of the details below would also help me understand what type of people read this blog and why.

Please let me know
How are you involved with food:
What types of food you like and why:
Any good food blogs you recommend:
Anything else you would like to comment about:

Hopefully there will be a few responses. Don't be shy, no one will eat you, unless you're made of chocolate. :-)

Let me be the first to do the survey.
Name: Thanh
Location: Melbourne
Age: 26
Sex: Male

How are you involved with food: I just like eating a lot and try to eat as many different types of food as possible. I write a food blog and that's is as far as my professional involvement with food is.

What types of food do you like and why: Being a Chinese growing up in Australia, I enjoy a variety of food. It needn't be expensive food, but it has to be good food. I am not afraid to eat anything and will give anything a try. I do enjoy Chinese food the most I guess since I did grow up eating that. I love eating desserts the most and can't resist them.

Any good food blogs you recommend: The blogs that I personally read every couple of days are on the links section on the side of this blog. I'm constantly looking for more food blogs to read. The blogs that I enjoy most are those that show people's personality. They will talk about their own lives and how food is involved rather than just doing professional posts about the technical aspects of food.

Anything else you would like to comment about: I would love to meet some other food bloggers in Melbourne and go out for meals, gatherings and events.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Red Hill Vineyards

On Sunday, I went to visit some vineyards with my friends Justin and Adrian. We choose the closest ones to our place, which turned out to be Red Hill. There was also quite a few clustered together in close proximity, which meant we got to visit a few all in the one day. We also visited the Ashcombe maze, which you can read about here and learn about the scientific way to get out of a maze.

The first vineyard we visited was Red Hill Estate. It was a simple fairly small vineyard but looked wonderful bathed in the morning sunshine. From the manicured car park, we walked into a fairly dark tasting area. This vineyard had the largest selection of wines to try of the four we went to. The assistant offered 17 wines for us to try, but we didn't want to try that many and opted for a few of them. I really like the chardonnay so bought a bottle of that.

The next vineyard was Tuck's Ridge. It had a huge vineyard that spread out far into the distance. The tasting area was a small bar where the assistant was very nice and explained things to us. She also recommended certain wines that were what they were good at. I liked the Pinot Noir 04, but not enough to part with $35 for a bottle. Hence it was on to the next winery.

The next winery happened to be just a walk next door from Tuck's Ridge and into Montalto. Montalto was the most interesting winery in that you could actually walk amongst the grape vines. It also had all these rather strange sculptures scattered all over the winery and wetlands.

Here I am standing under one of the sculptures. I'm looking sad because since I was the driver, I had to taste and spit most of the wine, rather than getting to swallow them. There were many many more sculptures and I took photos of some of them which you can see at my Flickr account.

The last vineyard was Paringa Estate. It was supposedly the must see place since they had some gold award wine. Paringa had a great view from the restaurant but was probably the worse in terms of enjoyability. Firstly, whereas you could as least walk around the vineyards at the other places, this was not possible at Paringa. Secondly, the tasting area was this tiny bar inside the restaurant. There was quite a lot of people that it took a while to get a glass poured. There was also a very very discreet little sign saying $2 for wine tasting. If we had seen it beforehand, we probably would have left, gold award wine or not. In the end, they didn't charge us but we felt kind of funny walking out not sure whether we should hand over 2 bucks. It just felt like it was too posh and rather than getting genuine warm service, we were being looked down at and expected to buy.

Of all four vineyards, I liked Red Hill Estate the best. The service was warm and friendly. They had a huge range to try and the place just felt comfortable. Montalto was also good for a walk around the wetlands and looking at the strange sculptures. In terms of actual wines, well, there were quite a few that were good but after a while, I forgot which was which and they all started to taste the same after the 15th glass. I'm not a very good wine taster I guess. To be more subjective next time, I guess I should take notes. But oh well, being my first wine tasting trip, I think I can be forgiven. I think wine from any of these places are a very high quality already and you can pick up quite a few good varities of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The gold medal Pinot Noir from Paringa was probably the stand out, but at $90 a bottle, have you credit card ready.

For lunch, we tried to get tables at each of the vineyards, and despite all restaurants looking totally empty, we were told that they were all booked out for lunch. I guess people all turn up at the same time. So instead, we went to the Pig and Whistle pub.

The prices were quite high at this pub and the food portions turned out to be quite small. It also took an unbelievably long time for the food to be prepared. Luckily it was a beautiful day outside and we sat around talking. If this were any other place in the city, this level of service would be quite bad.

I ordered the Beef Peppered Pie. The pie itself was good, with actual pieces of beef. However, it was tiny for $14.50 and even with the chips, my starving stomach was not fully satisfied with the meal.

Adrian ordered the Salmon Salad, which took an eternity to arrive. You would think it was quite simple to cut up the salmon and toss the salad together. He said it was good though.

Justin got the Chicken Parmigiana and this one was good. It contained real chicken rather than processed chicken and the ham was of a decent type.

Word of caution, the pub ale was totally awful. This could be due to us drinking wine beforehand. Is it true that you should never drink beer after wine? Did this ruin the taste of the beer? Or was the pub ale actually terrible.

Beside the beer being hard to swallow, it was a great day trip and I recommend it to everyone. It's very close to the city, the scenery is fantastic, and you get to try lots of free wine without pressure to buy any from most places. Should you try a few wines you lick and pick up a few bottles, thats a bonus. Till the next wine tasting tour, bottoms up.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Koko is a fairly high class Japanese restaurant located on level 3 in the Crown Casino Complex. On Saturday, Kin, Jo, Paul and I decided to treat ourselves to a special meal there since it was Chinese New Year.

We got there at exactly 6pm since initially we were told the booking was for an hour and a half. I felt this was a little disappointing, but it turned out they did not try to push us out the door.

As an aside, here is Kin, myself and Jo sitting outside waiting to go into the restaurant. It looks like we purposefully posed for this photo like a fashion ad, but we were really just sitting there talking. It just shows you that the natural photos are the best. I really like this photo.

We were seated in a table that was a bit far from the stunning water feature pond in the centre of the room and the window views. However, it was still comfortable, with the lighting just right, not too dark but still with some ambience. The plates and cultery were quite nice, with only the embossed paper place mats a bit out of tune with everything else.

Upon being seated, we were offered a drinks menu. We decided on the Umeshu, which at $43 for a bottle was on the low scale compared to all the other wines. It was a plum type wine, which was delicously sweet at the start, but got a bit too much at the end of the meal.

For entrees, we ordered the Chinese New Year special of Oyster Miso Yaki, which was a beautifully presented set of oysters on a bed of rock salt. The oysters were covered in a mustard miso sauce with "Fat Choi" black moss mixed in. The flavours were rich and very interesting. I quite liked it.

The Wagyu Sashimi was thinly sliced wagyu beef seared on the outside. The sauce was a sharp soy type sauce. The beef layed on a bed of thinly sliced onion. Eaten all in a mouthful, the textures and flavours were perfect. I always love the yukke at most Japanese restaurants, but this beef was even nicer.

The tuna tataki was also a special for Chinese New Year. It was similar to the Waygu Sashimi in that the sauce was also a tangy sauce, but slightly different. The tuna was quite firm and seared as well. It too tasted good, but I liked the texture and flavours of the beef more.

For our sushi and sashimi order, we firstly got the Chef's Special Sashimi Platter. My favourite sashimi was the squid and this white fish, which had a very firm texture and strong flavours. The seafood was extremely fresh and flavoursome. I forgot to ask what types of fish they were though, must do that next time.

For the sushi, we got the Koko Special. The colours were stunning, and so was the flavours. The rice had just enough vinegar in it, and had a fairly firm texture without being dry and clumpy. My favourite sushi from this platter were the fish roe roll. The little red roes just burst in my mouth and filled it with flavour.

The final sushi dish we got was the Spider Roll, which was filled with crispy soft shell crab. This was the best dish of the night in my opinion, just edging out the Waygu Sashimi. The flavours in this roll worked so well together, with each bite producing so many sensations in the mouth, the crispyness of the skin and crab, the softness of the avocado, the slightly chewiness of the nori and rice.

For mains, we got the Gyuniku Sanshoku, which is beef cooked three ways. The pan fried beef with a similar miso mustard sauce to the oysters was good. The teriyaki beef rolls with aspargus had its own nice flavour. The braised beef belly was a bit plain and was probably the only disappointment of the whole night.

The Kaisen Yaki Udon was stir fried udon with seafood and vegetables. It was better than other seafood udon I've had, but still not something I would order for myself normally.

The last savoury dish of the night was the Ten Zaru Sumi Udon, cold charcaol noodle served with tempura sweet potato. This dish was again magnificently presented, but again its not something I would order. The noodles are nice enough with the sauce, but not something you would eat for a mains by itself. It worked well at the very end of the meal to help clear the palette a bit.

With just enough space to share a couple of desserts, we got the Triple Chocolate Box. The chocolate ice cream wasn't good. The chocolate pudding with white chocolate sauce was rich and quite good. My favourite though was the panacotta with chocolate crisps inside. Very interesting mix of texture and flavours. The berry sauce just made it all the more interesting.

The last dessert was the Mach Crepes, green tea crepes. The crepes were not made of green tea but instead had a hot green tea filling. That part was ok but the highlight was the ice cream accompanying it. The ice cream tasted like it was Rafaello chocolate balls crushed up and mixed with vanilla ice cream. It was totally addictive as I love Rafaello's normally but they tasted even better in this ice cream.

The service throughout the night was top class. Our plates were changed regularly, especially when going from entrees to eating sashimi where you want a clean plate so other flavours don't contaminate the sashimi. Our waitress was very attentive, regularly filling up our tea pot and wine glasses. She also made sure we knew what the progress of the dishes were and remembered every request we made. I guess when you want quality service, you have to pay for it.

Overall, it was a fantastic meal. The atmosphere was great, the conversations were interesting, and the food was very good. There weren't a whole lot of WOW dishes in terms of original mixtures of food, but everything was done to a very high standard, both in presentation and flavours. I loved the spider roll and the waygu sashimi the best and recommend you try them. I would definitely go back to Koko for another meal, but due to its fairly high price, about $100 each including wine, I don't think I will have to opportunity to go back too regularly. However, it is great for special occasions or just when you want to indulge yourself in some fine dining.

Overall Rating: 17/20, Everything was great.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20: Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Koko on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fasta Pasta

Fasta Pasta is a chain of stores that sell mainly pasta, but also other things like pizza and steaks. My previous experiences with Fasta Pasta have not been good. However, Kin, Jo and I just wanted a quick lunch. We contemplated going to Springvale where everything is good and cheap, but with Chinese New Year's festivities going on there, it would have been very hard to get parking. Hence we went to the Fasta Pasta in Keysbourough.

When you first walk in, there is a distinct lack of atmosphere in the place. It feels so dead and I just disliked it straight away. Fasta Pasta is like a take away shop in that you pay for your meal before you get it. This is ok with me, but at least the staff should be trained to use the till and how to take orders. Here was an exchange
Kin: "I'd like a Chinotto and a tomato juice please".
Waitress: "A Chin what."
Kin: "That bottle of drink that's sitting right on your display counter."
Waitress: "Ok so that one Chinotto. And what juice did you want."
Kin: "A tomato juice".

Waitress: "So would that be three plates or just two."
Kin: "Three."
Kin to Thanh: "There's three of us so why would we want only two plates."

Thanh: "I'd like the Ravioli please".
Waitress: "Is that the Ravioli Milanese."
Thanh thinking, "That is the only Ravioli dish on the menu so what else could it be."

After that fun episode, we sat down and waited for our meal. Despite there being hardly any customers, it still took quite a while for the meal to arrive. The wait was not worth it. None of us enjoyed our meals at all. My Ravioli Milanese had way too much cheese in it and was just too much. Jo's Salmon Fettucine hardly contained salmon and the fettucine was quite tough. Even Kin's stock standard Ceasar salad wasn't good.

Ravioli Milanese

Salmon Fettucine

Ceasar Salad

Overall Rating: 7/20, Food, service, atmosphere all bad. Price too expensive as well. The restaurant was clean and roomy so I gave a few points for that. I promise myself never to go back unless it's the only thing to eat.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20: Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Food Eaten In Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore

I finally got round to sorting out my food photos from my overseas trip. Below is an assortment of the foods that I liked the best. For more photos of what I ate, go to my Flickr page.

Hong Kong
Hong Kong cuisine is obviously famous for its Cantonese cuisine. All the food were pretty much to my liking. Hong Kong also had lots of other Asian cuisine such as Japanese, Korean, Malaysian etc.
My favourite food items in Hong Kong were the desserts. They had a lot of sweet type soup things that we don't see much of in Australia, or not as much variety anyway. My favourite dessert would have to be the Durian Puffs. Mmmmm sweet creamy durian baked inside puff pastry, how can you go wrong.

Another dessert I really loved was this two skin milk thing. It has the texture of tofu, is slightly sweet and has a very nice milk flavour. The glutinous rice ice cream balls helped to make it even better.

With mains, I loved the Korean BBQ buffet we went to. More meat than you can poke a stick at, marinated and cooked on a flaming hot pan. Perfect.

The roast goose was also totally delicious. We have roast duck in Australia but the flavour of goose is so much nicer than duck. No wonder goose costs so much more than duck in Hong Kong.

Finally, the hot pot in Hong Kong was excellent. All the different type of meat and seafood balls were made fresh and you can taste the rich flavours and beautiful texture.

There were so much more food that I loved Hong Kong, but if I post every photo here, I would need quite a few pages. I also loved eating things such as the soft shell crab, fresh seafood at Lamma Island, dumplings, noodles and more desserts.

Malaysia food is typically spicy, with curries and other noodle and rice dishes that are generally spicy.

The hawker food was very good and extremely cheap. A dish cost only a couple of Aussie dollar. The food was very flavoursome and never lacked a punch.

This prawn fried noodle was a typical example of what you could get at this cheap restaurants. The food was very good and the price was even better.

We ate a lot more food in Malaysia but I kept forgetting to take photos. I really like this roast suckling pig that I had there, very different in flavour to pig here. A lot of meals that we ate in Malaysia were in food courts. The food courts were huge and had so many varities of food. The quality was great and as usual the prices were very cheap.

I don't know how you would classify Singapore food. It's sort of like a mixture from other countries. Their Hai Nan chicken is from China. The Nasi Lemak and Bak Kut Teh is from Malaysia. A lot of food seemed to be very similar to Malaysia but just not as spicy.

This tempura ice cream I had in a Japanese restaurant was stunning. You get fried ice cream here but the tempura batter was so much lighter and gave it a whole different flavour and feel.

As with Malaysia, I forgot to take photos of most of the food I ate. One particularly weird dish was coffee ribs. That was quite strange but tasted quite good too.

So from all these delicious food, what food do I remember the most from my trip. Well it would have to be the two most pungent foods you could possibly taste. The first one was the very foul smelling "smelly tofu" in Hong Kong. I can still smell and taste it now. For those that don't know "smelly tofu" is tofu that is slightly fermented, hence giving off that taste. The flavour really sticks in your mouth after you eat it. Also, the smell from the shops quite far away makes you want to vomit a little bit. Equally pungent but, to me at least, extremely good smell was the durian in Malaysia. In Australia, you can only get one type of durian. There were so many types in Malaysia. We tried the type like Australia and it was nicer since it was fresh. But then we tried the most expensive one, the "Cat Mountain King" durian. Boy did that stink as well, but in a good way. Those durians were so strong I couldn't believe it. They were also slightly bitter, just the way I like it. Mmmmm Mmmmmm. Amazingly, after eating so much food on hoilday, I didn't put on any weight. That must have been due to all the walking I had to do. It was basically public transport everywhere, which meant a lot of walking.