Sunday, April 29, 2007


I had first heard of Balzari after reading Michael's post about Balzari. It sounded like a good restaurant, so when my friends Dennis and Kevin rang me to go to dinner, I suggested we try Balzari on Lygon Street.

The restaurant is a long thin room with an open kitchen behind the bar.

It has fairly dim mood lighting and lots of large mirrors and decorations on the wall. The booth seating at the end of the restaurant where we sat was quite comfortable. But it was a bit tacky to have butcher's paper on top of the white table cloth to reduce clean up.

The service was extremely slow, in terms of waiters and food. It took the waiter a long time to give us a drinks menu and we had to ask for it again. We settled on a '04 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Barossa Valley called St John's Road. It had a very strong taste. It smelt really good but had quite a bite to the after taste, which I didn't like that much.

For entrees we got the Confit Duck and Currant Pie with Braised Red Cabbage and Orange Sauce since it sounded very interesting. It tasted really good, with the crisp pastry wrapping a filling of duck confit. I really liked the sweet flavour provided by the currants and orange sauce.

For mains, Kevin got the Linguine Carbonara - Olive Oil, Bacon, Garlic, Egg Yolk, Breadcrumbs and Parmesan. I tried a little and it was very good. The crispy bacon and breadcrumbs tasted really good. It was a little too oily as Kevin had pointed out.

Dennis got the Chargrilled Black Angus Porterhouse With Warm Potato Salad, Red Wine Jus and Onion Jam. He showed me how nice and juicy it was done medium so that it was still pink. He said it was really good.

I got the Crayfish Bouillabaisse with Scampi, Pippies, Fish and Rouille. I asked for no mussels since I'm allergic to them. The dish was very nice but not very filling. The three halves of scampi resulted in probably one tablespoon of meat. Pippies aren't exactly filling and the few pieces of fish didn't not satisfy my stomach. Hence Kevin offered me some of his linguine that he was having trouble finishing anyway.

Only Dennis and I got dessert as Kevin was struggling to finish his pasta even. Dennis got the Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberry Soup. It was ok but the panna cotta was too soft. It was a bit disappointing for the $14.50 it costed.

My Blueberry and Lemon Curd Trifle was also disappointing for $13.50. The blueberry was made into a jelly type thing as well as pieces of blueberry in the trifle. I couldn't taste the blueberry at all to be honest. The lemon curd was too sour for my liking.

The entrees and mains were good. The desserts were quite disappointing. The menu is quite limited and what you see on the website is basically all on offer. There is a specials board that had one entree and mains and thats it.

Atmosphere is nice, although the mood lighting is probably a bit too much. I love the open kitchen though. Seeing flames flying from the kitchen is a great sight. The service was a bit slow, with only two waiters working the whole restaurant.

Overall Rating: 12/20, Food is ok. Service is a bit lacking. The atmosphere and open kitchen are good.

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.

Just finally, on the way back to the car, I passed this sign. I've seen it a million times as I even park at the Carlton Clocktower sometimes.

But there was a smaller sign in the alleyway. Look what some funny people had done to the sign. My childish humour made me laugh at it :-).

Balzari on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Soft Shell Crab

After eating soft shell crab at East Dynasty, Koko and Horoki, I thought "There must be a way to make this at home." Surely the restaurants don't use "fresh" soft shell crab that they get from the markets everyday. The fact that crabs only shed their shells during certain times of the year means restaurants can't possibly be buying them fresh and alive. This means that they must buy them frozen.

Hence, a trip to the local Asian grocery store yielded what I wanted to find. You can buy soft shell crab in packets. The packets I found were 400g for $7.50. So its roughly $19 for a kilo. With the crabs, you have to take off the top shell, which is quite hard and those lung fingers. They're bitter and not nice to eat. Apart from that, you can do anything you like the crab. Obviously, you can try to do what the restaurants do. A light coating of egg and flour and then fried gives the crabs a beautiful crunch. Then just quickly stir fried in salted egg and spring onion gives it a smooth coating of slightly salty egg and fresh taste of spring onion. It was utterly delicious and I couldn't stop eating it. Now I can eat a lot of it since its so much cheaper than eating about 4 pieces for $20 at a restaurant.

Shira Nui

Shira Nui is one of a few restaurants that is highly rated and not located near the city. It is instead nestled near a KFC and a Charcoal Chicken on Springvale Road in Glen Waverley.

It was suppose to be a cheap and easy meal with Paul and Kin on a lazy Anzac day holiday. When we got to Glen Waverley, I suggested that we eat at Shira Nui since I'm currently in a Japanese food fetish phase. I had tried to go 3 times previously and they were closed or fully booked so this was the perfect opportunity. Hence we went there to eat and it turned out far from cheap, but it was good.

I had already brought along my bottle of Leura Park Estate 25 d' Gris, that I had picked up at Bellarine Peninsula, to Kin's house, ready to drink. So we brought it along to Shira Nui. It turned out that everyone who was dining inside also brought a bottle of wine. I guess a higher class restaurant means people generally want to drink their wine there as well. The Pinot Gris was absolutely delicious, with a slightly sweet flavour and extremely smooth on the palate.

I had heard so much about the sushi and sashimi, so that was a must order item. We got the Sushi and Sashimi Platter. The salad portion of the platter (pictured in the middle below) was very refreshing. It contained pieces of sashimi, all extremely fresh and full of flavour, mixed in with a daikon and green salad with a tangy vinegrette. It was very similar to the Daikon Sashimi Salad at Horoki, but not quite as good as the Horoki one. The sushi and sashimi was so fresh. The flavours were great, and I really loved the sushi roll and the white fish sushi. I'm not sure what fish were used, I must ask next time.

The other sushi we ordered was the Seared Salmon Sushi. I was not that enthusiastic about it upon seeing it on the menu, but Paul and Kin wanted to try it so we got it. Normally I don't like cooked salmon, but these sushi were unbelievably good. The salmon had a nice charcoal type flavour to it, and the only dressing was some pepper, lemon and one other flavour I couldn't identify. But it worked so well and as advised by the waitress, no soy sauce is required. Just add a little bit of wasabi and it melted perfectly away in your mouth.

The Seafood and Beef Udon was quite good. It was much better than the one at Sakura, which tasted like water with salt added to it. This one had lots of juicy scallops and pippies which I love.

The Grilled King Fish Head was quite good, if a little salty. The meat was very smooth and had good flavours. We ate that head and scavenged it until there was nothing left. I loved the cheek portion, the flesh there is the best part of any fish I reckon. Kin cleaned up the eyes and gelatinous eye sockets while Paul cleaned the fish of all the skin. We were an efficient eating machine. Nothing was to be wasted.

The last dish was a less traditional Japanese dish, Lamb Cutlets. They were done very well still. It had strong flavours and was not overcooked, still slightly pink and very juicy. The fried crumbs on it gave it a crunch, which I liked.

As we were getting very full, we just got one dessert to share. The Green Tea Creme Brulee was beautiful. The creme brulee part was sort of half mousse, half creme brulee. It definitely had green tea flavour and was sweet without being too sweet. The crispy sugar top gave a great contrast. The fruits were covered in sugar syrup and served with cubes (yes cubes, they had cut them into little cubes like ice) of the most delicious ice cream.

The atmosphere in there is relaxed. Since the restaurant is small, the noise levels don't get too high and you can hear each other. The decor is simple, with beige wooden floorboards giving a nice clean look. The long counter benches looked great, with the master sushi and sashimi chef serving customers the whole time.

Service was very good indeed. Upon arriving and quickly being seated, the waitress took our wine to open and put in an ice bucket. We were then served a complimentary fried chicken and daikon salad, very yummy. We were given drinks menus and once that was done, we got food menus. When each dish was finished, plates were cleared away quickly. Then at the end of the night, we were given a glass of iced water each, just what I needed actually.

Overall Rating: 15/20, Food and service were great, but serving size is quite small for the prices.

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.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Enoteca Vino Bar - Foodies Meet Up

Previously I had written how I was going to meet up with Swee from A Self-Proclaimed Foodaholic as she was visiting Melbourne. Well we decided to give Enoteca Vino Bar a try. Other bloggers and foodies who decided to come along were Mel The Secret Foodie, Yvonne and Shirely.

Enoteca Vino Bar is located on Lygon street up in the Carlton North end. As I had mistakenly told Yvonne, it is not near the shops. In fact, its near nothing. Its in the middle stretch of Lygon between the Carlton end where all the restaurants are and the Brunswick end, where more restaurants and shops are. It is a great looking restaurant though. You walk in to very nice decor, attached to a shop that also sells lots of Italian food items. I was going to go into the shop after the meal but unfortunately they closed it at about 10pm. That just gives me a reason to go back as Swee said.

So here are all the foodies. As you can see, I was a thorn between the roses. We look like a talk show panel. From left to right is Swee, Shirley, me, Mel and Yvonne. Strangely enough, it turned out we were all Chinese and all spoke multiple Chinese dialects. The meal was conducted in English as that was the common language between everyone.

No one knew anyone before the meal so we all got to know each other and how we all love food. A lot of the conversation did revolve around food obviously. Swee gave us a run down of her job as a pastry chef since she was the only one actually involved in the food industry. The other girls were all studying while I was the only one who is already working.

We decided to order meals and to share so that we could try as many things as possible. For entrees, we got (from bottom to top) Red Emperor Carpaccio, Artichokes wrapped in Prosciutto and Swordfish. I liked the artichoke wrapped in proscuitto the most, with the two other fish dishes very interesting in flavour but not totally yummy to me.

When the food arrives, noramlly with my friends, I always have to tell them "Wait, wait, no one touch the food until I take a good photo." But this time, everyone understood that no food will be touched until all photos were taken. We must have looked so weird with the camera flash going off at our table at regular intervals. It was like a Western gun battle to see who could draw out their cameras first to take a photo. Also, as Yvonne said, we had to take turns so the flashes wouldn't totally blind the food and make the photos look awful. Here's Yvonne, Swee and Shirley with their cameras ready to fire.

For mains, we each picked a dish and then shared them. Mel went for the very interesting sounding Pear and Gorgonzola Risotto. I quite liked this dish actually. It sounded strange but the pear works well to give the dish a fresh flavour. The cheese was slightly too strong, but otherwise it was a good dish.

Yvonne chose the Slow Cooked Lamb Risotto. The lamb was extremely tender and easily fell apart in your mouth. The risotto also had a cheese flavour which was different to the Gorgonzola cheese. The spicy tomoato broth added another dimension to the dish. I liked the lamb and thought the risotto was ok.

Swee chose the Braised Lamb with all these other things in it that I can't remember. However, this dish was my least favourite as the flavour kept reminding me of hot cross buns. The sauce was sweet and there were cloves or something so hence it just kept tasting like hot cross buns to me, not nice when you're eating lamb.

Shirley chose the Blue Swimmer Crab Risotto. This dish was very nice on first bite since it had this great seafood flavour. It was still very good until near the end where I was getting full and it got a bit too overpowering with the seafood juices getting quite salty.

I choose the Rabbit, and in my opinion, was the best dish. The rabbit meat was very tender and full of flavour. There was the rabbit leg which had a milder flavour and a roll of rabbit that had a much stronger flavour. There was also a kidney split in half which Yvonne and I tried a piece each of. It was quite good, until Yvonne joked that it might not be a kidney but some other part of the rabbit that we just ate.

Dessert was an extremely easy choice for me. Upon seeing Tiramisu on the menu, my decision was made. The tiramisu was very nice and tasted similar to the one at Cafe Trevi on the other end of Lygon Street. However, I still prefer Brunetti's Tiramisu as that one has a stronger coffee and alcohol flavour that I like.

The Sorbet consisted of three flavours, from the traditional lemon, to the yummy blood plum to the strange and not so good watermelon. It was served with candied orange and syrup.

The last dessert was a Zambaglione with Toffe and Sorbet. When all three things were eaten together, this was a brilliant dessert. The flavours and textures combined to give a really great tasting experience.

The service was very good, with the waiters sounding like they knew what they were talking about. I think the waitress had clearly memorised what she had to off the menu as I saw her look up a few times as if trying to remember the menu. The waiter rolled off the dessert menu with such ease that we couldn't even figure out what he was saying, until we slowly thought about it and realised he was saying the sorbet flavours and the cheese types. We were also discussing whether he was putting on this rather fake sounding Italian accent or if that was his real accent. I decided it was fake since I think I heard him talk to some other waiters in an Aussie accent. Whatever the case, the service was very professional.

It was a great night getting to meet other foodies and discussing things. I hope to meet up with them again next time and other foodies/bloggers in Melbourne. Enoteca is a good place to meet up with friends or total blogging strangers for a meal and a chat. The atmosphere is calm inside with a touch of elegance and class. Service is good and food is also good. Prices are not too expensive.

Overall Rating: 14/20, Serive was good. Food was good without anything being fantastic but there were a lot of other dishes on the menu yet to be tried. The atmosphere is excellent, very classy but not expensive.

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.

Enoteca Vino Bar on Urbanspoon

Bike Ride To Melbourne

About two weeks ago, my friend John and I were going to ride our bikes from Glen Waverley to Melbourne, but he got sick so instead we drove to Mount Dandenong. Today though, we finally did that bike ride and I got to see this so called path that ran along the freeway all the way to the city.

The path is actually a nicely paved path starting at Glen Waverley and runs all the way to Birrarung Marr and Fed Square in the city. It's pretty well marked out so you can follow it all the way. Here I am riding and using my mobile at the same time to take this photo. That's John in the background, not a bad shot if I say so myself.

Here's a closer photo of John with his dodgy socks over his jeans so that his jeans wouldn't get caught in the bike. It makes him look like his ready to start leaping in the air and sing "What a feeling, bein's believin'" Flashdance style.

It was amazing all the places we passed. I couldn't believe how many other people were also using the track to jog, take their dogs for a walk, ride on their bikes and many other fun activities. It's like this secret that I've never known about. There were beautiful creeks like below, foot bridges, parks, schools, railway tracks, houses, buildings I never see from the freeway, mansions and even a rock climbing wall. I gave the rock climbing a try only to be upstaged by a 10 year old kid who made climbing from one side to the other look so simple while my arms were literally burning and I was ready to fall off.

When we got to Chadstone, I just had to stop and get something to eat. I chose the greasiest burger at Hungry Jacks and wolfed that down. Serves me right not to eat breakfast. Bike riding is tiring stuff. I found out that I'm a really bad bike rider. My desk bound legs are so weak that climbing every hill really hurt. I was getting overtaken by ladies riding with a baby carriage in the back with child. Oh the shame. When we started to ride slower, it was more enjoyable since I could look at the scenery. My bottom though, was starting to really hurt at about the 20km mark and I found myself out of my seat quite a bit.

When we finally reached Fed Square, my legs were like jelly. We stopped for a breathe, locked up our bikes and went for a wander around the city on foot.

Having riden all that way, I was hungry again. We went to QV and had lunch at Ecpot. John got the Hainan Chicken Claypot Rice while I got the Chicken and Mushroom Claypot Rice. The chicken was tender and I love the rice when it gets all crispy and sticks to the side of the pot.

As we were walking out of QV, I saw a Puffy store and I couldn't resist but get a vanilla puff after remembering Helen's post about them a while ago. This was the first time I had seen a Puffy store in Melbourne. The puff was indeed delicously rich.

My main motivation for going to QV though was to try the Max Brenner Hot Chocolate that my friend Rowena had shown me a photo of. You get to put in the chocolate pieces yourself as you keep drinking. Initially the fun factor was very high as I dropped in more and more chocolate pieces and poured in more milk to the candle lit pot. But after a while I realised that the drink wasn't that good and didn't go back for a refill of milk. Maybe it was because I was so full already.

After Max Brenner it was time to go home, but as we passed Little Bourke Street, I saw Maxim's out of the corner of my eye. I just had to drop in and grab a cocktail bun that Cindy had scientifically rated and come to the conclusion that the Maxim cocktail bun was the best in Melbourne. I also picked up some egg tarts which had just come out of the oven and were so hot that I had to wait in quite a long queue to get hold of.

Then it was truly time to go home. I was so tired that I said I couldn't ride back. So John and I took the train home, during which I fell asleep on the train since I was so tired. It was a very fun day and I would ride to the city again, but not for a month or so whilst my bottom recovers and my legs stop wobbling.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Isthmus of Kra

It was Jo's birthday so we all went to Isthmus of Kra for dinner. Jo turned ....., hahaha you never reveal a woman's age.

Isthmus of Kra is a Thai restaurant located in South Melbourne. It is on Park Street which is mainly a residential area. Below is a photo of Jo pointing out the small window shop front. Once you step inside, you are greeted by a lucky monkey who leads you to a very warm and beautifully decorated restaurant interior.

Here is a photo of us dressed up a bit more nicely since we rarely get to dress up. Clockwise from left is Kin, Jo, Rowena, Son, Thanh, Paul and Phuong.

We ordered a Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon and a Margaret River Chardonnay to drink while we slowly picked from the delicious sounding menu.

The first entree we chose was the Oysters with Spicy Lime and Lemongrass. It was served in a very stylish terracotta plate, a similar plate to the one that Horoki served their Roast Octopus with Garlic Sauce in. It made for a dramatic effect when you opened the little lid and found a plump oyster floating in a spicy sauce. The oysters were yummy and I could have had a dozen all by myself.

The next entree was a totally delicate arrangement of Blue Dumplings. The dumplings got their colour from butterfly pea flower and was filled with caramelised minced beef. This was a dish that definitely looked better than it tasted. It still tasted good, but the artistry of the food made you not want to eat it even.

The final entree was the Crab Tod Mun, which is a mixture of blue swimmer crab meat and gem fish paste. They were fried to a golden crunch outside and served with a spicy salad and almond cucumber chilli dip. Very refreshing and flavoursome.

For mains, we firstly got the Seafood Yam Talay salad, which was king prawns, scallops, calamari with snake beans, kaffir lime leaves and mints, all dressed in roasted coconut tamarind. The flavours were very tantalising on the tongue and you could taste so many strange flavours all at once.

The Duck Peng Yang is your typical Thai red duck curry. I liked it but its hard to tell one red duck curry from another. This one was good but didn't stand out in any particular way.

The Beef Chakkri contained slow cooked beef with cardamom, cinnamon, baby leaves in a coconut sauce. The beef wsa very tender and I quite liked the flavour.

The Chicken Pai Nai was grilled marinated chicken served with a green mango salad.The chicken was nice and moist but didn't have too much flavour on its own. But when eaten with the mango salad, made for a great contrast of the tangy salad with the chicken meat flavour.

Surprisingly, one of my favourite dishes for the night, along with the oysters, was the Barramundi. The fish was steamed and as we found out later, already boned but still remained intact as a whole fish. It had many spices stuffed in it and was cooked in bamboo leaves. The meat was moist and when dipped in the totally wonderful coriander vinegrette, made for a superb dish. I usually don't like fish but I found myself going back for more and more.

With the end of mains, it was time for my favourite part of any meal, dessert. I already had my eyes set on the Durian Bavarois when we were initially looking at the menu. It did not disappoint. It was so smooth and the durian flavour was totally pungent, just how I like it. The palm sugar syrup added a bit more sweetness to it.

However, the other desserts were not to be outdone. The Chocolate Pudding with hazelnut and cardamom seed custard was also delicious. It was very moist and I loved the custard.

The Ice Cream tasted like it was home made and had nice stong flavours. The three flavours were vanilla, mango and strawberry.

The only dessert I didn't really like was the Tofu Caramel with crush toffee pistachio. The tofu caramel tasted like, well, tofu. The texture was good, but it didn't have any flavour. Even when eaten with the pistachios, it was still mainly a bland flavour that you tasted.

The service was top notch. Plates and cultery were change between entrees and dessert. Iced water was brought without being asked and glasses were constantly filled. They cleared the table when required and wiped it down between dishes so that it was always clean. Tney were very attentive indeed and got everything right. Even when my jacket fell on the floor, they picked it up and offered to hang it up in the staff room. Now that's service. Take note awful Dragon Boat. Read the Dragon Boat review, and then don't go to the place, its awful. Spend the same amount of money at Isthmus of Kra instead. What a difference the same money can get you.

Overall Rating: 16/20, Wonderful atmosphere, great food and excellent service made for a very enjoyable dining experience. Prices are fair given the quality of everything.

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.

Isthmus of Kra on Urbanspoon