Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Strawberry Muffins

So what do you do with the sweetest strawberries you have ever tasted, well for me, I first eat through a punnet, then I decide to make strawberry muffins. These strawberries were as sweet, if not sweeter than the ones that I have picked a few times from farms. Hence I put a bit less sugar into the mixture.

Strawberry Muffins

125g butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar (I used slightly less than 1/2 a cup)
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1 cup milk
1 punnet (250g) strawberries

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the sifted flour and milk. Spoon into a 12-cup muffin tin, lined with paper cases. I then pushed the strawberry pieces in so that each muffin has a good amount of strawberries. Bake at 180 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of a cake comes out clean.

The muffins come out nice and smooth and you can definitely taste the strawberries. Very easy to make and I will definitely make it again with other fresh fruits.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

EQ Cafebar

With his freshly purchase Entertainment Book, Kin was eager to put it to use, so asked me to pick a restaurant as the resident self proclaimed foodie. I flicked through the book and picked EQ Cafebar since the food sounded good and it was suppose to have a great view along the Yarra. The restaurant is located next to the Melbourne Concert Hall, around the corner from the Arts Centre.

We arrived to find a restaurant with a huge Q of purple lights surrounding the entrance. The restaurant had that mood lighting that I dislike, where its really dark. There were dark columns holding up a cavernous roof, a good three storeys high. There was modern paintings lining the walls surrounding round dark wooden tables.

We are seated and the waitress pours us some ice water. This was a good thing, but then she proceeded to ruin her good work by asking what we would like to drink. Firstly we could decide what we wanted to drink if a)we were given drinks menu, but b)it is fairly obvious by the bottle of wine on the table that we would like to drink that. Instead of saying that she will go and get glasses, we had to ask her to open the wine and to get some glasses for us. She looked hesitant and we asked if we could bring our own wine. She went off to get glasses when a few minutes later, another waitress came and said "There's a ten dollar corkage, make up your mind whether you want to open the bottle." What was this, an ultimatum. Of course we were assuming that there would be corkage. So we told her that we would like to drink the wine. Despite trying to bill themselves as a fine dining experience, the youth of the waiting staff ruins this facade as their inexeperienced service cannot be hidden too long.

As the usual practice, we order an entree and then each pick a meal to share. I suggest the EQ Cafebar Tasting Platter, which turns out to be a great choice, with everything on the plate tasting great. The platter is huge and there is heaps to sample. From left and going clockwise, as far as I could identify, here was the contents: Strips of squid marinated on a lettuce leaf, candied onion (never had this before and it was really nice), fried cheese with yoghurt, pastry parcles of cheese and spinach, falafel with yoghurt and tabouleh, crispy herb bread on hommous, olives, pumpkin mash, chorizo, goats cheese and pickled vegetables in the centre.

For mains, Kin and Jo both chose the Pork Cutlet with veal and tuna sauce, anchovies, kipfler potatoe crisps, watercress and apple grapes (wow that was a long title). It was good but the sauce was a bit too much I thought. The grapes provided a good burst of sweetness.

I chose the Roast Rib Eye Beef with bone marrow, braised silverbett and a red wine sauce. This dish was excellent, with the beef full of flavour and cooked just right. I love bone marrow so sucked that straight away. The sauce was rich with the flavour of wine and I dried it off the plate with lots of bread.

Phuong had the very modestly portioned Calamari Rings, cooked with chilli, garlic, parsley and white wine. It was tasty and the calamari was cooked well and not tough.

Paul's Squid Ink Pasta with roasted red peppers, pig's cheek, chorizo in a tomato sauce looked great and tasted great too. I had never eaten squid ink pasta before and it is very good. I conjured up thoughts that it would taste bitter or something since that's what I imagine ink to taste like.

For desserts we got Sorbets that were served with a caramelised sugar thing. The sorbets were hit and miss. I loved the berry and passionfruit one. But the read bean one didn't do it for me. The texture was very good on all three, with a smooth texture rather than an icy type feel.

The Pear Tart with currants and spice with ice cream was surprising good. The warm pear inside the flaky pastry was nicely matched with the hint of spices just coming through rather than being overpowering. The walnut brittle in the ice cream was also good.

The most disappointing dessert was actually the one that sounded best on paper. The Chocolate Drowning, which is a liquer shot and hot chocolate that you pour over a chocolate brownie ice cream tasted like an iced chocolate. It looked much better than it tasted.

After dinner, despite it being such a cold night, we just had to go outside to look at the wonderful view of the Yarra and city. Here is Kin and Phuong acting silly.

Here I am almost fainting from the cold.

It was so cold that even the ducks came out to play.

The wonderful Melbourne skyline with Flinders Street Station and the Yarra in the foreground.

The Meseum which is currently showing the Guggenheim Collection.

The Arts Towers changing colour throught the night.

Isn't Melbourne just beautiful at night. It may not have huge skyscrapers like some other citys, but it has its own charm with unique buildings and a river that runs through it.

Too bad I can't say the same about all the people. There we were just happily laughing and taking photos when a group of "Aussies" walked past us and one guy yells out "We aren't in China or Vietnam." He then proceeded to turn to his friend and say "I'm more Aussie than all of them." If it means that you have to be a racist to be Australian, then I'm definitely not Australian. If it means you are proud of living in this country and contribute to it, then I will call myself an "Aussie".

Back to the meal though, the food was good and the view is excellent. The service could be a bit better. In terms of price, it is better with the Entertainment Book discount. Otherwise it would have been a little more.

Overall Rating: 14/20, Food is very good, service not so great. The view outside is beautiful, well worth a good look once you finish your meal.

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.

EQ Restaurant + Bar on Urbanspoon

Kang Na Roo

So there we were looking for a cheap quick eat before going to watch the Asian Cup quarter final between Australia and Japan. Our first choice was Korea House on Centre Road, but that was all full and had a wait of 30 minutes. So, pressed for time, we headed off to Clayton Road where both Korean BBQ and The Taste of Korchi were also full. Running out of ideas, we were even going to settle for Malaysian Garden across the road. A quick peek upstairs showed lots of empty tables. Upon walking up the stairs, we were informed by the waitress that all the tables were booked. Who would book for Malaysian Gardens. There food isn't exactly great or cheap. And the atmosphere and decor aren't something you would bother booking for, but apparently people did.

We were quickly running out of options. We walked past Kang Na Roo (this has got to be another really bad restaurant name) a few times but since it seemed so empty, we thought it must be bad. But being ultra desperate, we decided to go in and give it a go. At the time of entering, there was one other occupied table in the whole place. After we were seated, another table was occupied after us.

The decor in the restaurant was nice. It was newly refurbished and recently had new owners. We were served tea and given very nice looking red embossed menus. Paul, Kin and I each chose a dish to share and an entree of Seafood Pancake.

The assorted condiments arrived with the steamed rice served in metallic bowls. We also had metallic chopsticks, which after using for a while got really tiring to hold in our hands as we all mentioned. It puts a lot of strain on your fingers to grip them due to their weight and tiny size. However, all Korean restaurants seem to use these chopsticks. Anyway, the condiments were very nice. I liked the kimchi and the black seaweed thing the most. The fish cakes weren't as good as some other places. The white jelly thing was like any other place. The two vegetable type condiments were good but slightly too salty.

The Seafood Pancake was huge and looked spectacular. It had huge chunks of squid that you could see and I thought it was going to be great. Instead, the flour mixture was a bit too heavy and it was ok.

The Spicy Squid that Kin picked was not bad. It wasn't that spicy despite the fierce looking red colour and had a sweet tinge to it even. The contrast of the crunchy cabbage with the squid was a good mix.

My favourite dish was the one that I picked of Beef Bulgogi. The beef was of fairly good quality and texture. Their sauce is one of the better ones, with enough sweetness but not too much. It was really sizzling and was good to eat on a very very cold night.

The Dumpling Stew also sounded good for a cold night but turned out to be not that good. The soup lacked flavour and the dumplings tasted quite ordinary. The rice cakes needed to be cooked a little bit more so they were a bit softer.

Being one of only a few customers, service was very good. Upon our request for a second serving of kimchi, dried seaweed and one of the vegetables condiments, the waitress said "Anything you want, we will do". This was slightly desperate sounding but I guess I would be too if there were no customers in my restaurant on a Saturday night when all the restaurants in the vicinity were completely packed. Also at one stage, the older waitress sort of walked to our table, stood there for a few seconds and then said something in Korean to Kin. We had no idea what she was saying so smiled and then she said something else and walked away. That was a bit weird, maybe she thought we were Korean.

Overall Rating: 12/20, Food and service good, not sure why its so quiet. Possibly its because its a new establishment and people still aren't sure about it. I would say give it a go since the food is no worse than other Korean restaurants and the prices are very 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.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Weird Foods

After reading Anna's post about not eating salmon previously and now giving it a try, it made me think of food that I will and will not eat. It also made me remember a post that I had read from Pim about weird food.

Food is such a subjective thing. Something that tastes great for one person may taste awful for another. What defines our tastes is the culture around us and the environment that we grow up with. I don't think twice about eating offal and love it, but most Australians would go that is disgusting. Growing up in Vietnam and then in a very Chinese family here in Australia, I'm not afraid to eat anything.

Here is a list of some weirder things that I like to eat, in no particular order. I won't discuss about the ethical issues, that's another discussion altogether.

* Pig offal and feet. I particularly love the gelatinous nature of pig feet in a nice Vietnamese style noodle soup. I also can't get enough of pig's intestines (fried or slowly cooked) and order it at restaurants whenever they have it or buy it take away from restaurants that sell roast duck. I also like pigs stomach and tendons. I don't particularly like tripe or kidneys of the pig. The weirdest part of the pig that I absolutely adore is the brain. Cooked over 10 hours in a slow crock pot with Chinese medicine, the brain is delicious.

* Chicken feet and duck feet. Chicken feet are served in most Yum Chas and are a must have. Duck feet can sometimes be found in Chinese restaurants. I also like chicken feet that are marinated in vinegar and sugar. I don't like any of the chicken innards such as the gizzards, kidneys or liver.

* Jellyfish. I love marinated jellyfish with some boiled pork and pickled vegetables. The crunchiness and slippery texture of the jellyfish is great.

* Sea cucumber and abalone. These delicacies of Chinese cuisine are the top of the range. They are ultra expensive and are only eaten rarely. I guess abalone is less uncommon now but sea cucumber is still fairly yucky to most people. When cooked properly, the soft gelatinous texture of the sea cucumber matches perfect to the firm texture and wonder strong sea flavours of the abalone. My dad told me that when he first got to Australia, fishermen were throwing back abalone. He said you could buy a whole kilo of Green Lip abalone for $10, where nowadays you would be lucky to find a kilo for less than $300. The trade in black market abalone is so high that its now being run by gangs similar to the trade in drugs.

* Rabbit and goat. These aren't too strange but they're not your everyday items either. I loved the texture of the meats and the beautiful flavours.

There are a lot of weird food that I would love to try, but as yet haven't had the chance. Once again, I will not discuss the ethical issues. The foods I would like to try are

* Witchitty grubs. These are the quintessential Aussie bush tucker and I would love to see how they taste.

* Snails and foie gras, the quintessential French food are definitely on my must try list.

* Whale and seal. I wonder what the flesh texture will be like for such huge animals.

* Horse. They used to eat horses in the past so I'm intrigued as to how it tastes.

* Insects such as grasshoppers, scorpions, worms etc. Obviously I'm not going to go and just grab insects and eat them. I want to eat ones that are properly prepared.

* Octopus that are still alive and eaten that way. Must be a strange sensation to have something still crawling in your mouth.

There are a lot of weird foods that I have tried and don't like or don't want to try. For example, I've tried snake, crocodile, deer and pigs blood but don't like them. I used to like eating duck eggs where the ducks start developing already and have feathers. They are a delicacy in Vietnam and I used to eat them here in Australia too. But recently, I've found that I can't stomach them anymore. When I see the little duck with the feathers and eyes, it just puts me off.

I don't ever plan on eating cats, dogs, mice, anything blood related such as snake blood or things that might kill me, such as those Japanese puffer fish. No food can ever be good enough to risk possibly death (although that can be said for McDonalds and people eat that all the time hahaha). I don't know why people would want to eat those puffer fish when over 100 die from it each year.

Anyway, I hope no one will judge me on what I want or hope to eat ethically. You may object to not eating those things, but you shouldn't force your own opinions on me. I know that eating some of those things are not ethical, but then so is killing that chicken to eat. It's just that we have gotten used to some things. I don't want to go and hunt down all whales to eat, I just want to try a little bit.

Are there any weird things you have tried that are good and can suggest. Are there any strange things that you are still yet to try?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Moosewood Fudge Brownies

Firstly I have no idea why they are called Moosewood Fudge Brownies, but boy do they taste good, one of the best brownies I've tasted. And the great part is that to make them was so unbelievably easy. I will be making these again and again for sure.


250g butter, softened, not melted
155g dark chocolate, melted and cooled
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
5 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plain flour


Preheat oven to 180C.

Cream the butter, light brown sugar and eggs. Add vanilla extract. Beat in the melted, cooled chocolate and plain flour. I modified the recipe by adding 1 cup of roasted cashew nuts.

Spread into a buttered 23 x 33cm baking pan. Bake 20-30 minutes.

One batch makes about 24 brownies.

I used dark (40% cocoa) cooking chocolate and found the flavour just right. I think using 70% cocoa chocolate would make the brownies too bitter, but if you prefer that, do whatever you wish.

The brownies are nice and moist and taste so good. I felt that the nuts really added an extra flavour to them so I recommend you put them in. I also melted some white chocolate and drizzled that on top, again to add another dimension to the flavour. All up, this is one great brownie and so simple I will never pay $2.50 for another store bought brownie again.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Chon Thong

Chon Thong is a Thai restaurant located in Glen Waverley on Springvale Road right next to Shira Nui. I suggested that we go here for Friday lunch.

It's a very small restaurant inside and is decorated quite nicely with lots of Thai decorations. It was a little dark inside but otherwise it all looked quite nice. The waitress was dressed in a traditional Thai style dress and served us chilled water and gave us menus. This was a good sign, but unfortunately, the water was undrinkable for me. It had the strongest smell of oil ever. The cups, or the water, had been sitting in the kitchen with all the frying woks and all the oil had settled on it. But it wasn't fresh oil, this oil smell is the stench of old oil. It's the smell you get when you fry things in a fryer and never remove the oil from that fryer. It really stinks. I thought it might have been that one glass but when I asked for a second one, it was the exact same smell.

We got the lunch specials, which were various dishes with your choice of meats. Emmanuel went for the Pad Krapao (which Keiran kept joking about "So how's your"). It looked good and since Emmanuel ate it all, I must assume it tasted nice too.

Jeffrey got the Pad Thai, which looked very good. It didn't quite look like the usual Pad Thai but it smelt wonderful. He ate it all fairly quickly so again it should be quite good.

Keiran, Trung and myself got the Red Curry Beef. The flavours were very good, with the sauce rich and creamy. The coconut rice went well with the sauce. The vegetables were soft and well cooked. The beef was a bit tough, with probably a cheaper cut being used. But the sauce covered the slightly poorer quality of the beef quite well.

Hien got the Green Curry Chicken, which again was equally creamy and looked good. Overall the service and food were good. The serving sizes were a little small but a lot of Thai places are like that.

Overall Rating: 12/20, I like the food and service was good but sizes a bit too small.

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.

Apple Pie

I saw heaps of apples in the fridge so decided to throw together an apple pie. I searched the web for recipes and there were a few variations. I decided on one with butter as I thought that would be the one with the richer filling.

Here is the recipe that I used.

6 large apples
30g butter
2 tablespoon flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 lemon juice

Basically I just mixed everything together and cut the apples up into small cubes. Then I lined a tin with some supermarket bought pastry that I had in the fridge and put the apple filling in. Put a pastry top on the pie and poke some holes for the air to escape.

So its not the best looking pie as its a bit lumpy. I put in too much apples. The verdict on the apple pie is that the filling is good, with a thick sauce with the apples. I have learnt that you should peel the apples as I didn't like the baked skins. Also, you should use sour apples as the pie was a bit too sweet since the green apples I used were fairly sweet. Otherwise, this pie took 30 minutes all up to make and tastes quite good. I'm going to try this again but using sour apples with peeled off skin next time for a better result.

Ricotta Mascarpone Chocolate Orange Tart

Once again, I saw another recipe on Adski's blog for a Chocolate Orange Tart that looked very nice and quite easy to make so I gave it a try.

Here is the recipe.

250g ricotta cheese
250g mascarpone cheese
125g icing sugar
grated zest of 3 oranges
seeds from 2 vanilla pods
2 eggs, separated

90g bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped

Combine everything except the egg whites and chocolate in a mixing bowl, whip until smooth and shiny. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold the egg whites into the filling. Pour the filling into the tart shell that has been blind baked already, then sprinkle the chocolate on top. Add a lattice over the top and put into oven to bake.

Bake 40-45 minutes (light to medium brown) at 160-170C in a fan forced oven.

I too like Adski, also used 70% Lindt dark chocolate. I was also too cheap to fork out $8 for a couple of vanilla pods so used vanilla essence instaed. Your really can't taste the vanilla as much so it was ok.

The tart is quite nice, but it could have been slightly sweeter for my liking. If you like chocolate and orange, you will love this tart as both flavours really come through.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cookies Chicken

My friends Kin and Jo have gone all chicken, the chicken business that is. They are now the regional license sellers for Cookies Chicken around where we all live. I've never heard of Cookies Chicken, but apparently there are stores in the US and they are starting to have stores in Austarlia. Since I like eating chicken, when they told me they were doing a taste testing session, I said I would like to come and try it, as well as do some research for this blog of course. See what I have to do for the name of research so that you, the reader, can know about more foods.

So I rocked up to their house and then we went and bought some chicken. One of the rules for selling Cookies Chicken is that only the chicken breast shall be used. So we bought some of that, but I kept insisting that we should get chicken wings too, since I love those the most.

Here is the Cookies placard showing the various cookies food items. Its the usual things of chicken strips, burgers, wraps etc. I commented that their slogan of "lipsmakingood" was strangely familar. Then I said it was sort of a rip off of KFC's "fingerlickingood" slogan. Also, the 12 secret herbs and spices is clearly a dig at KFC and their 11 secret herbs and spices only. Just like KFC, the exact components is unknown and the batter comes in pre mixed bins.

Here is Jo cutting up the chicken breasts into cubes so that it will cook faster, as I was ultra hungry and wanted to eat. You then go through the secret ritual of chicken battering (you get out a big rolling pin and start to beat up the chicken until it submits and screams out in pain) which I cannot reveal here for fear of my life. I did have a hand in helping put the batter on the chicken.

And the final results are below. There are three flavours, original, mild and hot. The original was good, but slightly salty. This is probably due to us not mixing the mix properly and all the large salt particles probably came to the top from the vibration from the transportation of the mix. The mild one was as named, slightly more spicy and also less salty. The hot one was actually not too hot (but I'm quite good at eating hot food) and again even less salty. I preferred the hot one the best, as I like spicy food.

I have to honestly say, the chicken were better than I expected. Usually I'm not a fan of chicken breast meat as after cooking, they tend to be very dry. However, these chicken pieces had a nice crunch to them, the flavour was good, they weren't oily at all, and the breast meat remained quite juicy.

However, call me bias, but these illegal chicken wings were definitely my favourite. The chicken wing meat was so smooth and juicy still. The coating on the wing gave it a perfect crunch and these were some very good chicken wings I've had. However, Jo kept saying that these are not part of the Cookies philosophy of "no bones" and "breast meat" only and that I had to clearly let all the readers know that she was only doing this because I kept requesting it. So below are the non-Cookies conforming chicken wings, hot flavour.

At this point, I should say that if you are interested in obtaining a license to sell these Cookies chicken, please contact me and I'll pass you on to Kin and Jo. And no, I am not being paid to do this and will gain nothing from this. I'm merely writing about another food experience, my first exclusive story for this blog. There are no other Cookies stores in Victoria yet so remember that you read about it first here when it becomes the next Nandos. Reporter Thanh signing out. :-)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Table For One Please

Previously, I had planned on going to Tom Phats in Sydney Road to have a meal by myself. But it turned out that the Sydney Road Festival was on that day and the shops weren't open for normal business. So instead, I walked around for a couple of hours and had a great time.

I don't have a problem doing things such as going to festivals and wondering around by myself. This is because its very busy and no one notices that you are alone. However, I have this insanely irrational fear of eating alone at a "proper" restaurant. By proper, I just mean a restaurant where you sit down at a table, order and eat. I have no problems sitting in McDonalds or any other fast food or takeaway places and eating by myself. But at a proper restaurant, I feel that people will stare at me and think "what a loser for eating alone". I know this is a ridiculous fear, as when I see someone else eating alone and enjoying themselves, I'm so jealous that they have the confidence to just sit there and enjoy their meal and alone time.

So last Sunday, I took a ride down to Rathdowne Street to try eating a meal by myself. I'm starting with lunch as I still don't have the guts to do it at dinner yet. Dinner just seems even more serious for me so that will have to wait till another time. Anyway, I walked along Rathdowne Street looking for a place. The restaurants were surprisingly full, but eventually I saw Sinan's, which was about half full so I went inside.

When I asked for a table for one, the waitress said any table was fine. So I decided to plonk myself smack bang in the centre of the room on a table by myself. I was a little nervous, but when I saw people weren't really noticing, I relaxed a bit. I ordered a steak baguette and orange juice. I was really starting to relax now. When an Irish couple asked to see the chef, things got even more relaxed for me. The couple were about to leave when the chef finally came out of the kitchen. They couple then proceeded to express their anger at their eggs being very runny and taking 30 minutes when they were in a rush and expressly asked for a quick meal. This little discussion made me really relaxed as I thought everyone would be focused on that and not on me.

When the meal and drink arrived, I slowly ate my meal, just gazing around the restaurant and in my own thoughts (none of the thoughts were about my present situation and fear). The food itself was not that good, a bit oily, but this excursion wasn't too much about the food. After I finished my meal, instead of rushing off, I just sat around and enjoyed the music and slowly drank my drink. When it was approaching 3pm (I got there about 1:30pm), it was time to head off to Lygon for a drink. I had successfully eaten a whole meal by myself without breaking out into a cold sweat. I was really happy when I walked out of the restaurant and to my car.

I then headed to Lygon Street and Brunetti's for a coffee. A place like Brunetti's holds no fear for me because it's so busy and no one will notice you. Also, you don't really sit down for a proper meal in the drinks area. There are lots of bench seats and other people by themselves stopping for a coffee as well. I got myself a cappuccino and fruit tart and sat down and slowly ate them. Then I got out my book and read that for an hour.

All in all, it was a good day, with my confidence boosted by facing this fear. I'm going to try eating dinner one day one my own. I might have to choose some place less posh though, I don't think I can handle sitting at Vue de Monde by myself through a 3 hour meal. Also with food so great, I would want to talk to people about it while I ate.

Little Lamb - Part 2

Little Lamb is a very popular buffet hot pot place in Box Hill. I had gone previously when it just opened. Since then, I have gone back another 3 times, with yesterday nights meal being the 4th time all up.

There's nothing too special about Little Lamb, but it is great value for money. For $20, you can eat until your hearts desires (generally more than you stomach can actually hold but I resisted temptation yesterday so wasn't in pain all night with a bloated stomach) and that includes desserts even. There are other hot pot places that have similar buffet, but the service here is fast so it means your food actually arrives for starters, and that you don't have to sit around waiting. The quality of the food is quite good too. The various meat balls, fish balls etc are all frozen, but at least the squid balls taste good.

The place is getting so popular now that everytime I have been there since, even with a booking, you still have to wait a bit. This last time, we waited about 15 minutes. Then we got seated at the table which hadn't been set yet. The service standards have dropped a little just due to the number of patrons. It took a while to get some tea and also bowls, chopsticks and serviettes. The soup and food had arrived and was sitting there bubbling away but we had nothing to eat them with. I guess they have food serving part working, just the peripherals aren't working so well.

Anyway, it was still a good meal on a very cold night. Your stomach gets warmed by the hot pot food and for those that like spicy, the spicy side of the soup mix gives an added kick to everything. Just be careful to not go talking too quickly with food in your mouth as the chillies in the soup tend to make you start choking (like I did a couple of times yesterday night :-) ).

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Paprika Hussar

It was Kin's birthday so we decided to try something different. I suggested Paprika Hussar after reading a good review in The Age. Paprika Hussar is on Glenferrie Road and is a Hungarian restaurant.

On a very cold Saturday night, we entered into this warm restaurant with these plates and costumes hung on the wall. The restaurant is a narrow place, with a bar near the entrance and a staircase separating the front half of the restaurant from the back half. The front half is a lot brighter whereas the back half has softer lighting. Both areas are fairly noisy with people chatting. Upon going to the toilet, I go past the kitchen area, which is a tiny kitchen.

To start, were served these round bread with a spread that contained paprika and some other herbs. It tasted ok and tasted a bit like salmon dip from the supermarket. We got two entrees, the first was the Hortobagyi Pancakes, which was actually a crepe stuffed with chicken and in a sauce. The crepe was ok but I found it a bit bland. Jo did like the sauce though and finished it all.

The other entree was the Hungarian Tasting Platter, with the meats quite nice. The sour vegetables were very nice and to my liking. However, the meats did just taste like those from the supermarket and didn't seem to be worth the $11 for the dish.

We decided to get mains to share, with each person picking one. I chose the Venison Ragout, which was very tender. The sauce was like a gravy type thing but was a bit bland. The egg dumplings were these little drops of pasta type thing and the texture was good.

Kin chose the Fricasse of Transylvanian Tokany, which was strips of beef on top of polenta stacks. I don't like polenta and the mushy feel wasn't to my liking. The beef strips were full of flavour and was agreed by all as the best mains of the night.

Jo chose the Beef Goulash, which we were all eagerly awaiting. Jo once shared a house with a Hungarian fellow student who cooked the best goulash she said, so her expectations were high. The goulash was ok, with the meat tender but again lacking flavour.

Phuong chose the Chicken Paprika. This dish was the most boring of all. The meat again was tender, but the whole dish didn't have any flavour at all. It ended up not being fully eaten, with everyone pushing it around and Phuong trying to sell it as much as she could and telling everyone to eat some.

Paul chose the Barramundi Letcho, which tasted very much like fish with a sweet and sour sauce at a Chinese restaurant. It wasn't particularly to my liking as I'm not a fan of fish, and definitely not a fan of sweet and sour fish. It is very rare that I really like a fish dish, but it does occasionally happen, like the fish at Isthmus of Kra.

For side dishes, we got more Dill Gherkins and Capsicum stuffed with Cabbage. The gherkins were good but the cabbage in the capsicum was a bit too sour.

Dessert consisted of Cherry Strudel, which wasn't bad. The pastry was crispy and there was a lot of cherries in it.

The Hungarian Sponge Cake was supposedly like Tiramisu, with layers of sponge with a cream based thing in the middle. It was very good, with the sponge soft and the cream thing just the right sweetness.

My favourite dessert was the Pancakes with Rum, Raisins and Nuts, served flaming. It arrived spectacularly at the table all flaming, but I missed the shot since I had the flash on the camera. The nuttiness of the pancake went well with the Rum and chocolate sauce.

After dessert, Kin cut his cake that Fung (when Phuong went to buy the cake, the assistant asked her name, which she said and then he proceeded to mispell) had bought. We sang Happy Birthday to him and then stuffed ourselves some more with cake.

Thoughtout the night, we were drinking the Cabernet Sauvignon from Scotchmans Hill that I had bought from the Bellarine Peninsula trip and the Oakridge Chardonnay that Kin had bought from the Yarra Valley trip. Both wines were very good indeed. Then at the end of the meal, the waiter arrives with some house wine for free for us to try. The way he served it was great though, with this long tube thing where he poured the wine into glasses from a distance. And as he said "When there is a birthday boy, we don't use a glass for him and instead do this", which you can see in the photo below. The wine tasted really different and Jo thought that it contained asparagus. I thought that it had cabbage in it. Since we were curious, we asked the waiter, who explained it was just a Pinot Grigio grown in Hungary and that was all that was in it. However, due to the grapes growing near water, apparently the reflection of the sun off the water onto the grapes gives them a different flavour.

The service started off a bit rusty but got better throughout the night. It was probably because it was so busy when we got there at the start, but we were seated and despite clearly having wine, the waitress didn't offer an ice bucket or to help us pour it. However, as the night wore on, we were given ice water just as we needed it without asking. The plates were cleared efficiently without rushing us. The waiter was cordial and joked with us, telling me to prepare the camera for the pouring of the wine into Kin's mouth after I had missed the flaming pancakes despite his best efforts to relight it.

The atmosphere in there is good, with a cosy sense and conversation easily heard but still being a buzz around the place. The food is comforting food perfect for a cold wintery day, but did seem to lack flavour.

Overall Rating: 13/20, Food is comforting but needs more flavour. I gave an extra point for the service.

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.