Monday, December 28, 2009

Hakka Tea House

25 Railway Pde North
Glen Waverley, 3150 VIC
Ph: (03) 9802 2770

Hakka Tea House is located in the ever expanding Glen Waverley shopping strip of restaurants. It does Hakka food as the name suggests. It hasn't been opened long but word of mouth spreads very quickly and it is constantly packed out. People know good food and value when they see it.

The interior is decked out like a lot of other Chinese restaurants, no fuss single coloured walls with those typical coloured papers with the menu written in Chinese. If there's one place where you can get restaurant descrimination, it's at a Chinese restaurant as I have previously written about. If you're not Asian and can't read the specials, too bad, they won't bother explaining them to you.

Three visits to Hakka has resulted in a trial of a lot of the food and it's all pretty good. Previous dishes of Sticky rice duck and eggplant hotpot have been standouts. Half a roast duck is covered in sticky rice which is then baked again, served with a gravy type sauce. A hotpot of eggplant with mince is spicy and addictive. Other dishes of Black Pepper Steak, Braised Pork Belly and Honey Beef have also been good.

On this occasion, we had a Pork Belly Taro Hotpot, Szechuan Beef and Seafood Hotpot. The Pork Belly was my favourite, being gelatinous and soft. Layered alternately with the pork was slices of taro.

The Szechuan Beef was good in terms of flavour, but suffered the same fate as most beef dishes in Chinese restaurants. The beef had been soaked in way too much bicarb soda to soften it, giving it that strange taste that I can really notice. It was much more evident the next day when I ate the leftovers since the sauce had diluted and stench of the soda really shone through.

The Seafood hotpot was a nice mixture of prawns, calamari, scallops, fish over a tofu base. I like the touches of spicy chilli and the bamboo shoots.

Service here is what you expect, brisk and efficient. To non Asians it may seem rude, but I'm so used to it that it doesn't bother me. If you're unaccustomed, you may take it badly when in the middle of taking your order, the waiter turns around to talk to someone else. It is what it is.

The food as I mentioned earlier is fairly good. The prices are very good, with mains costing between $14-$22 for most. The servings are also very large. The ambience is typical of most Chinese restaurants, loud. People are talking loudly to each other, so don't come here if you want a quiet dinner.

Overall Rating: 14/20, Good Hakka food at great 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.

Hakka Tea House on Urbanspoon

Madame Sousou - Part 2

231 Brunswick St
Fitzroy 3065 VIC
Ph: (03) 9417 0400

When I got wind of a work dinner, even though I wasn't part of the team being rewarded, I asked to come along and use my entertainment card and make up the difference. Everyone agreed and put me in charge of selecting the location. After much discussion (this location was no good for some, this time was no good for others, I don't like Japanese, I don't like Greek) I finally found a place that everyone agreed to. Madame Sousou's do good French food as I found out from my last visit.

The interior is always intriguing, from the painting of naked ladies on the wall to the Poker card stuck up on the ceiling with it's own story. The restaurant is intimate and with the booth leather seating along one side, has a really warm feel.

At the last minute, Hien couldn't come to the dinner, so we all graciously had to use up her part of the allotted money and hence got entrees as well. Thanks Hien, my stomach thanks you for the terrine.

Oysters served natural was down Ross' throat before our entrees arrived. Others went for the Salt and Pepper Calamari, the Ocean Trout Gravalax and I went for the Chicken Terrine. The terrine was beautifully made with contrasting textures and flavours, served with some tangy pickled vegetables, which I love. Others gave their entrees the two thumbs up.

In between courses, TK kept me entertained all night with quizzes, jokes, anecdotes and his impression of Matt Preston with the cravat and the wine. No, I didn't let him drink the wine, how irresponsible do you think I am. No. Don't answer that. He managed to wear my cold affected body well and truly out with his energy, I feel for you Davina and Ross.

Davina went for the Swordfish, which she said was very tender and perfectly cooked.

Trung went for the hearty T-Bone steak, which was my initial choice. I should have stuck with it, as it's meaty juiciness was making me salivate all night.

Joe and Morena went for the Eye Fillet Steak with Hollandaise Sauce. Look how nice it was with those crunchy potatos.

Esther went with the Chicken wrapped in prosciutto and hearty vegetables. Again, looks yum right? She thought it was.

Now, so what did Lydia, Ross and myself get swayed by the waiter into ordering? Well, here was the waiters description of it, "Fresh yabbies imported over from WA today, freshly prepared by our chef with a mango salsa." That had me thinking of grilled yabbies over a bed of vegetables and conjured images of hot summer days spent in mud holes fishing for yabbies with a string and a piece of meat on the end of it. Then when we got our haul, we boiled all those suckers in a large pot and ate our way through it. What's the restaurant equivalent? Six limp yabbies, boiled, and place over rocket leaves. The flesh of the yabbies was terrible and they were stone cold. Six small yabbies may fill up a supermodel, but any normal person can not get full on it. It would have been ok as an entree, but not a mains. It was totally mis-described to us, and we had to order sides of potatos and fill up on that.

So I wasn't in the best of moods after the mains, but all was forgiven when desserts came out. Davina went for the Chocolate Mousse, which she kindly let me try. It was indeed a great dessert, with layers of mousse alternating with coffee creams. However, the rest of the table made the correct decision in choosing the Chocolate Fondant with Armagnac and Prune Ice Cream. The oozy centes of the fondants were so decadently addictive. It wasn't too bitter and I just kept going back for more. I loved the ice cream too, the Armagnac shining through. Even TK gave this chocolate dessert two thumbs up.

Service was serviceable. The waiter was slightly abrupt but otherwise everything went smoothly. The ambience stayed a nice buzz all night and it is really a comfortable setting. Besides the Yabbie issue, food here is still as good as I remember it.

Overall Rating: 15/20, Very good French food in a comfortable setting.

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.

Madame Sousou on Urbanspoon


568 North Rd
Ormond, Vic 3204
Ph: (03) 9578 8576

Remezzo is one of those rare restaurants in the 'burbs that actually do good food that's above your average take away type variety. It was no wonder that despite it being a Wednesday night, we still had to vacate the table at 8pm.

Remezzo is located in Ormond (or as I like to call it, Au-monde) near the train station. It would be hard to spot the restaurant if you didn't know about it, hence probably why I never really noticed it. It wasn't until John pointed out what a great place it was that we decided to go there for Esther's last meal. No, Esther is well and truly alive, just that she was leaving our current place of employment to go to greener pastures.

That's Esther on the left below, with her fellow technical writer Ross on the right. Our technical writing team has been decimated by 50%. I'll be harassing you from now on Ross about the technical documents that need to be completed.

Here a group shot outside the restaurant. See how happy we are AFTER work.

The interior of Remezzo is quite small. A long narrow restaurant is dominated on one side by the bar, which furthers adds to it's narrowness. It gets extremely loud due to the wooden floors. The noise level is a bit above what you would call a nice buzz.

They do a variety of meals at Remezzo as you can see from the online website. We decided to go the tapas route. The online menu only lists a portion of the tapas that are actually available. And those are further subsidised by daily specials as well. The serving sizes are really large. Seriously, about two tapas each is more than enough.

Below are a sample of some of the tapas available. I forgot to photograph all of them as I was too busy stuffing my face. Here's a description of some dishes.

The Goats Cheese Balls in the front are seriously divine. Melt in your mouth balls are bathed in a tomato based sauce. I lapped up 3 of these babies by myself. At the back, you have sweet potato balls, which were also good.

Some Chorizo simply grilled was spicy and fiery. Lamb cutlets also simply grilled were moist and juicy.

Lightly battered Calamari was tender and came with a really good aioli. Sanganaki was pretty good, and Meat Balls bathed in a slightly different tomato sauce were very good.

The dish that I thought would be the best were Seared Scallops above a potato mash. This turned out to be the worst dish actually. The scallops were tiny frozen ones with no taste. The mash potato wasn't very smooth. In the far far back you can just see Zucchini balls, again, really tasty.

Now, there was like 6 desserts that I wanted to try. But we were all so full that we managed to squeeze in 3 desserts. Loukamades with a drizzling of honey and nuts and good vanilla ice cream was addictively good.

Supersized churros with a chocolate dipping sauce were also quite good. The churros didn't look like the typical ones and didn't really taste like them either, but good nonetheless.

The Creme Brulee was also suprisingly good. A rich custard base was highlighted by a beautiful crackling sugared top. Creme Brulees are one of my favourite desserts and let me once again reiterate how I love to crack the tops of Creme Brulees with a spoon after watching Amelie. Pure joy, the movie and cracking creme brulees.

Service, both in terms of speed of food and the wait staff was very good. The staff looked happy and joked around with us. They kept replacing our water and made recommendations on food.

I love finding good restaurant in the burbs as it's not always possible to go to the city for a meal. The food here is really good and excellent value for money. I'll be frequenting this place many times more.

Overall Rating: 15/20, Good honest food at great prices. Service is good although restaurant is very loud.

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.

Remezzo on Urbanspoon

Maha Bar and Grill

21 Bond St
Melbourne VIC 3000
Ph: (03) 9629 5900

Maha Bar and Grill is yet another venture from the chef who is everywhere you look at the moment, George Calombaris. It's a modern middle eastern restaurant, which had me really intrigued as I'm always wanting to try new cuisines.

The restaurant is a sub basement space, which instantly adds an extra flair of coolness to it. The room is divided into two areas, a bar and a restaurant. Both areas are beautifully decked out in soft lighting and bright splashes of middle eastern colours adorn the walls. The room has a comfortable feel and the night starts out quiet but actually got quite rowdy when the space was full.

When the waiter comes to take our orders, he continues to push the soufra, a degustation of sorts. It's fine to suggest something, but it becomes a bit annoying to keep trying to sell it. I'm sure he's only doing as told so I don't blame him.

We only had the table till 8:30pm and by the time we ordered, it was 7pm already. Hence, we were prepared to eat fast and get out in time. However, that's where some problems arose. More on that later.

We decided to each order our own dishes, and the ordering got a bit chaotic and confusing. A few changes in decisions didn't help, but the waiter was all over the shop in taking our order. At first he didn't even write them, which helped to further confuse the situation. Eventually, it was all sorted.

Gleb, Yarlini and Ling ordered entrees while I decided to forgo. Gleb got an entree like a bruschetta type dish from memory. It was an assortment of vegetables atop some crispy bread. Yarlini got the Calamari I think (note to self, always take photos). Ling go the Seared Scallop atop the Saffron rice. Each said their entrees were good. I was surprised we weren't given any bread. I was sitting there expecting to be able to chew on some bread whilst the others had entrees but it never arrived.

For mains, I got the Spring Lamb stuffed with dates. The lamb itself was soft and very tender. The dates worked well with the lamb, however, it lacked a bit of seasoning to make it truly pop. It was a tad dull in flavour. The rice contained an asssortment of interesting flavours and textures with nuts, dried fruits and spices.

Ling's dish of Spatchcock with Vegetables looked really spectacular. The whole spatchcock was wrapped in those fine pastry threads that are used in middle eastern desserts. I don't know what they're called. Anyone can inform me? The spatchcock was also stuffed with a variety of rices, dried fruits and spices. I liked the taste of the dish but Ling did find boning it quite hard to do.

Gleb and Yarlini got the fish, which was Kingfish with these beautiful vegetable dumplings. Both said the dumplings were a highlight. The side dishes we got for accompanyment were also very good. A pine nut and almond rice was probably the plainest of the four. The crushed potatos with garlic were really soft and nice. A simple salad with these home made corn chips was good. But the highlight was an amazing Fried Cauliflower side that was absolutely addictive.

So back to the timing issue in terms of our meal. We knew that we needed to vacate our tables at 8:30pm. We were happy to accept that and hence take that booking. However, the timing of dishes was shocking. Entrees arrived very quickly, and we polished them off quite quickly. Between entrees and mains, we waited a good 45 minutes. We had to end up asking the waiter if our mains had been forgotten, only to be informed that he had just called in our order. What the? Even if we didn't need to vacate the table, this was extremely slow. When our mains finally did arrive, we ate them quickly just before the 8:30pm time. Hence, when we wanted dessert, we were told we would need to eat it outside in the open area as the table was needed. This rather annoyed me as it wasn't our fault that the timing of the food was so slow when it wasn't necessary.

We decided to just go for the one dessert to share as I wasn't really in the mood to eat my dessert while cramped on some bench seats outside. The "famous" filled doughnuts with turkish delight had intrigued me immediately, so we shared that. As interesting as it sounded, it tasted awful, seriously awful. The doughnut was a soggy gluggy doughy mess. And the turkish delight wasn't exactly oozing inside the doughnut. It was just like stuffing a piece of turkish delight in. I noticed that two other benches around us also left their doughnuts unfinished after tearing them apart.

The meal ended with some refreshing rose water hand wash and a free test tube of spies to take home, which I felt was a nice touch. Service was a bit confusing. The taking of our orders was chaotic, pushing the soufra on us was unnecessary, the timing of our meals so we had to end up eating desserts outside was not good.

The food on the whole was very interesting and good. A lot of the flavours were new to me and I liked a lot of them. That fried cauliflower is seriously good. The doughnuts were seriously bad. I think I would come back to try more dishes but I hope that the service is better next time. It really annoyed me that we had to eat our desserts outside due to a massive stuff up on their part. They reminded us when we were first seated that we needed to leave at 8:30pm. So why the unnecessary long wait between our entrees and mains.

Overall Rating: 14/20, Food had some very interesting flavours but let down by 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.

Maha Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Is DON, Is Cake?

As I wrote in my previous post, the DON's ultimate gourmet challenge was closing soon at 9am on Monday 21 December. I had written two normal uses for DON's Hot Hungarian Salami in another post, and had jokingly said I would do another dish with salami and ice cream. Well, a friend asked me if I was going to do it, and after being inspired by a Chocolate Bacon Cake House, I gave it a go.

So here's my entry for the DON's ultimate gourmet challenge, a Christmas Salami Cake with Ice Cream.

So you take some Christmas cake and top it with a Kraft Single Cheese slice and some DON's Hot Hungarian Salami.

You repeat to build another layer, and top it off with some Double Brie Cheese to look like the icing on a regular Christmas Cake.

I put on a little green star using my beloved cornichons.

Finally, it's all served with some vanilla ice cream.

And the taste verdict?

It's actually not too bad. The dominant flavour is from the cake and ice cream, with the saltiness of the salami coming through quite well. The cheeses provide an occasional hint of flavour. The cornichons give a really nice crunch and that vinegary flavour that cuts through the cake. All in all, not as bad as I was expecting, and interesting and fun to both make and taste. If Heston Blumenthal can make meat fruit, surely I can make meat Christmas cake? Any takers for some?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reminder About DON's Competition

Just a reminder that the The DON's ultimate gourmet challenge is closing soon at 9am on Monday 21 December. Submit your entries at the official competition page.

Winners will be announced on Wednesday 23 December. The five most creative entries will be awarded a restaurant dining voucher worth $200 at a top restaurant in Melbourne. I hope my submission of ice cream and hot salami wins an award for combining mains and dessert into one meal. :-)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cumulus Inc

45 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
Ph: (03) 9650 1445

I had tried to go to Andrew McConnell's Cumulus Inc before, but with their no booking policy, I wasn't able to get in. But after reading some rave reviews from Claire here and here, I made sure I got there really early to grab a table. Even by 6:30pm, the room was completely full.

The restaurant is quite a strange space I feel. On one side you have the bar area which is actually used for eating. A small area at the back is used for customers who are waiting, and if that fills up, people literally are standing around the door area such is the popularity of the restaurant. The other side of the room consits of the kitchen, which has bar seating so you can watch what the chefs are doing. Next time I'm making sure I get one of those seats. In between the two bar seating are tables of varying heights scattered around. We were seated at a small wooden table right in the middle of the room. The lighting is low, but with spotlights centred on each table, it gave both the sense of mood lighting whilst also allowing you to actually read your menu.

We started off our meal with some oysters. Cumulus has a huge range of oysters, as Claire explained at the oyster shucking course. We settled on the Clair de lune bouton, Moonlight en surface and Moulting Bay oysters. The Clair de lune was quite nice, sort of like a Pacific Oyster with a less creamy texture and milder flavour. The Moonlight was a bit rusty in flavour in the back palate. I didn't really like it. The Moulting Bay oyster was my favourite. It was ultra creamy and had a slight saltiness, like an amped up Coffin Bay oyster.

A special of the night was Kingfish Sashimi with Caviar on a Crisp. It was really delicious, with the caviar adding a slight pop of saltiness.

The Kitchen Charcuterie Selection was a generous plate of Sicilian Salami, Proscuitto, Chicken Terrine and Wagyu Bresaola. Everything was really good, but the Wagyu Bresaola was a hightlight.

The "mains" we got of Pork Strap, Poached Lemon and Cabbage Salad was divine. The pork was so tender and had the thinnest crispiest skin I've ever seen. A salad of Rocket, Radicchio, Ricotta and Candied Walnuts worked really well. I love the bits of candied walnuts that gave the whole salad a lift.

A dessert of Stout Parfait, Valrhona Chocolate and Blackcurrant Sorbet was really to my liking. You could taste the stout and I thought it gave the parfait a really fragrant flavour.

We had the Petit Fours, which were Hazelnut Chocolate, Salted Caramel and Thyme and Honey Jelly. The salted caramel was the hightlight from the three. The other two were ok. A must order though is the Lemon Curd Madeleines. They are cooked to order so there's a 15 minute wait, but it's worth it. These madeleines were so moist and soft and the lemon curd was sensational. I really don't like lemon type desserts, but this one totally won me over.

The ambience in the room is really good. It's a bit weird to sit on the small tables as you feel dwarfed by the bars and higher tables around you. But you soon forget that and enjoy the buzz in the room. It actually got quite loud later and we had to talk quite loudly to be heard.

Service was really good. Our waitress was very efficient and friendly and had everything covered. I thought that with the number of patrons, the service would be quite bad, but it was very good. One of the dishes we ordered was forgotten but when we pointed this out, they removed it from the bill.

I can see why people would queue up to eat here despite a no booking policy. There were people waiting all night and the queue was quite long when we left. It's billed as casual dining but it's by no means cheap. I don't mind paying those prices as I think it's worth it, but others may think it's quite expensive. With drinks, our meal was about $60 each, by no means cheap.

Overall Rating: 16/20, Delicious innovative food in a buzzing restaurant.

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.

Cumulus Inc. on Urbanspoon

South Australian Trip 2009

So after last year's trip to South Australia specifically timed to coincide with Noon Winery's once a year opening was such a success, we decided to do it again. So Dennis and I took Friday off and went up there for a weekend to buy more wines.

We went to the Coonawarra region on the first day. As most of the wineries weren't open till at least 10am, we drove to Mount Gambier for some sightseeing. We ticked off all 5 of Mount Gambier's top tourist attraction. The best was the blue lake, which was extremely blue indeed and very beautiful. This beauty was surpassed by the Sinkhole, which was this volcanic hole where plants had been planted and created this sunken lush spread lost garden feel.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate had three really distinctive buildings that is used in their label.

Rymill Winery had the most spectacular view from their third story. The two iconic horses statue outside also features on their label.

I was also extremely impressed with Rymill winery's testing lab for wine. How cool is that, wine making is a science. So when I'm drinking my wine, I'm actually conducting an experiment.

For dinner, this year we made sure we went to Alphutte. Dan from Tummy Rumbles had recommended it for our trip last year, but Alphutte must be the weirdest restaurant in the world in terms of opening hours because they are actually shut on the weekends. So last year we didn't get to go, but this time we made sure we went on Friday night.

The food is Swiss food, and it was actually very good. The Seafood Entree consisting of juicy pieces of lobster, prawns and scallops covered in a puff pastry and sauce was delicious.

The steaks were cooked well in a simple pepper sauce and steamed vegetables. The Swiss Potato side that we got was really good. It was slivers of potato cooked like a fritata.

The Brandy Basket with fruit and ice cream was refreshing.

Saturday saw us visiting Noon to buy our wines. We were all ready for a massive queue this year and got there really early at 8am, only to find no queue. Bad weather meant Noon didn't make any of their wines this year except for the Eclipse. So we got our maximum allotment of 6 Eclipse.

Whilst in the McClaren Vale region, we also visited Kay Brothers Amery as Dennis wanted to pick up his Block 6 wines. Colin Kay was generous enough to speak with us for half an hour about the state of his wines, the weather effects (we were there during the 40 deg plus week in South Australia) and the general state of wines in South Australia.

A visit to South Australia would be incomplete without a visit to Penfolds. This time we visited the MacGill Estate Penfolds. This was the original Penfolds location I think, and they still grow vines here for their MacGill Estate wines. It was really strange to see this block of vines smack bang in the middle of the city.

We made sure we stayed at Glenelg this year, and it was brilliant. We were literally a stone's throw away from the beach and marina and made full use of that. Having a beer and some coffin bay oysters freshly shucked along the marina with the wind gently blowing into your face is as close to heaven as you can get I think.

Finally, on the last day, we visited Hahndorf, the "German town" as it's known. I don't know how authentic German it was. Bakeries had vanilla slices instead of German cakes. It was all a bit gimmicky, but still fun to walk through all the shops.

And there ends three fun days in South Australia. I think the Noon Winery trip could become a yearly pilgrimage now, if only to have an excuse to enjoy a few fun days in South Australia and drinking good wines.