Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reminder: Sydney & Melbourne Food Bloggers ‘Mad Hatter’ Spring Picnic October 9th 2010 - Many Prizes, Even A KitchenAid

Hello again fellow Melbourne food bloggers. If you hadn't already heard, we're having a "Mad Hatter" spring picnic on October 9th. Not only will it be a great day where we can all meet up, discuss food and try each other's creations, you can even win some prizes. So register for the event, bring along a dish and join me for some mad picnicing (I know that's not a word).

For Melbourne food bloggers, REGISTER HERE for invite details.

* Overall Best Dish for both Sydney & Melbourne Food Bloggers Spring Picnic 2010
* Best Savoury (1st and 2nd runner up)
* Best Sweet (1st and 2nd runner up)
* Best Mad Hatters (2 x craziest hatters)
* Most Outrageous Blue Dishh

Prizes include a KitchenAid for the best dish in each state and various vouchers for other winning category entries.

What and How
1. All food bloggers are encouraged to cook/bake ONE DISH only, savoury or sweet, is up to you.
2. The dish has to be created by you, NOT your friend, store bought or pre-processed/cooked.
3. Only food bloggers are allowed to enter to win the prize. Family/friends are encouraged to help food bloggers with their cooking endeavours but not to partake.
4. You are welcomed to create the dish ties in with the 'Mad Hatter' theme, but not important.
5. You do not have to wait for the judges to come and taste your food before others do. Feel free to share with others and simply save us a small portion for judging will do.
6. There will be a lot of dishes to judge on that day, so please be patient and we will try to run the process as fast as we can.
7. Judges in Sydney - Billy Law @ A Table For Two, Karen @ Citrus and Candy, Sarah from Nuffnang. Judges in Melbourne - Michele @ Iron Chef Shellie, Penny @ Jeroxie, Thahn @ I Eat tTerefore I Am, Vanessa from Nuffnang.
8. Judges decisions are final.
9. Prizes are non transferable or refundable.
10. Most importantly, have fun!

Thanks to all our sponsors for making it all happen.

Major Sponsor

Sydney Sponsors
Chef's Armoury, Kingsley, Chophouse, Alio, MUMU, Aperitivo, Wasamedia, Bel Mondo, Balzac

Melbourne Sponsors
Chef's Armoury, Pan Asian, Chilli Padi, The French Brasserie, JORG, Make My Day, Harvey Publicity

Saturday, September 25, 2010

HuTong Dumpling Bar Prahran

161 Commercial Rd
Prahran 3181, VIC
Ph: (03) 9098 1188
Website: HuTong

When HuTong Dumpling Bar opened in the city location next to Flower Drum in Market Lane, it quickly caused a splash in the dining scene. Bloggers and food writers all had an opinion about it and it was one of the most discussed and writte about places, with disagreement about all aspects of it. Some, like myself, loved it and thought the Xiao Long Bao were the best in town, having good experiences on each visit. Many agreed with the view that the Xiao Long Bao were good, but the service definitely left a lot to be desired. Some didn't have such a good experience. Whatever people did think about it, the city restaurant was never short of patrons, being almost impossible to get a table at during the night. It was inevitable that HuTong would open another restaurant somewhere to cater for the huge crowds.

The second restaurant that has opened is HuTong Dumpling Bar Prahran. It's a much larger affair, and decorated in nice furnishings. The menu is the same, but obviously with different chefs making the food, there is room for differences in taste. A group of my friends and I decided to go there for an informal meal. Coincidentally, fellow food blogger Gem was also there that night. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to catch up, but from her post, it looks like we both had a good time.

With a large group of 11, we decided to go for the Peking Duck, which the chef rolled out to the restaurant and started expertly carving. The Peking Duck was good, but nothing special. I think I will stick to eating Peking Duck at home now, it's so much cheaper and about the same quality as at restaurants. It means that I can eat 15 pieces of it and get full on it instead of eating 2 pieces, such as at HuTong, and then crave more.

Obviously, it would be silly to go to HuTong and not eat the Xiao Long Baos. We got a massive 5 servings of this and happily sucked out all the soup and chomped on our dumplings with a hint of vinegar. The other must order as usual is the Shanghai Fried Noodles. I actually think this is the best Shanghai fried noodle in terms of texture and second in taste that I have tried in Melbourne. The best in terms of flavour I would give to Aunty's Dumplings in Carnegie.

A Scallop and Eggplant Claypot is a bit salty, but otherwise very good, with plump scallops and soft eggplant. I really like their Fried Dumplings with the pot stickers. I found the Pork Dumplings and Chicken and Prawn Dumplings very tasty indeed.

As some of us really like spicy food, we got the Won Ton in Spicy Chilli Oil. I loved this dish, with the massive chilli kick from the oil really giving the won tons a zing. The Braised Pork Belly was unctuous indeed, but strangely didn't fly off the table as fast as everything else. I think due to it's heaviness and also that we had eaten so much else, it wasn't as well received as it normally would.

I'm not a fan of most Asian vegetables, but was pleasantly surprised when the Snow Pea Shoots were actually really good. The flavour was excellent and I even put up with the chewy texture of stringy vegetables that I hate. Finally, the Wine Chicken, a must order for me at any dumpling restaurant, was my biggest diasppointment of the night. Instead of having a strong wine infused flavour, this chicken tasted more like boiled chicken.

So, to the service. There is always a tonne of opinions on the service at HuTong. On this occasion, despite a couple of misunderstandings, the service on a whole was very good. We ordered multiples of every dish and there was a lot of plates, cups, cutlery and items that the service staff had to bring and clear in quick time. They managed to do this and bring us more drinks and tea when requested. As Gem also noted, we too got "booted" out at 8pm too. However, we knew that on arrival and they didn't rush us too much. We got a hint when they asked if we wanted desserts but by that time we were almost finished anyway.

The ambience in the Prahran restaurant is more relaxed I think. It's still got an excellent vibe and bustle of a full restaurant, but due to having a bit more space and tables being separated into different areas, it means you don't have to shuffle around people to get to the toilet or shout over other patrons.

From this experience, I would enthusiastically go to this HuTong as the food is as good as the city one, is easier to find parking, a bit more relaxed and you can actually get a table on short notice. The food is still excellent value and worked out to be about $28 each, which included a few bottles of wine. My only small complaint is charging for tea by the pot. Surely tea should be free, or at most a small fee per person per night, not by the pot. Otherwise, a great restaurant for small or large groups and the best Xiao Long Bao this side of the Indian Ocean.

Overall Rating: 16/20, Fantastic dumplings at excellent value and good 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.

HuTong Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 24, 2010

Photography Friday #9 - The Windy City 2

Following from my previous Photography Friday #8 - The Windy City, today I bring you some more mundane sights from Chicago in "The Windy City 2". I really did find Chicago to be a very beautiful clean city, with some amazing architecture. However, the place seem to lack a vibe that truly separates an ordinary city from one of the must visit destinations of the world.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


187 Flinders Lane
Melbourne 3000, VIC
Ph: (03) 9639 6811
Website: Ezard

Ezard has been an institution of Melbourne dining for many years now. Despite very little press on its head chef Teague Ezard, the restaurant has a constant stream of admirers both in the media and amongst food bloggers. I was excited to finally go and find out more about Ezard’s Asian influenced dishes when Ling organised a dinner there for her aunt’s birthday.

As it was a late-ish booking, about two weeks away (top Melbourne restaurants are just so popular now and so hard to get in), we could only score a pre-theatre booking. That means you have to vacate the table by 8pm, and this was reminded to us when we sat down, although the staff were pre-empting that we would stay over our allotted time and told us we have to vacate by 7:30pm.

The restaurant is very beautifully laid out, with a big full length bar along one side and tables set out in quite a regimented fashion on the other side. We scored a table with one side of booth seating. As I was about to comment that I liked the lights, they were all turned off. My biggest hate at restaurants is dark dark rooms. Nowhere is this appropriate in my opinion. Even for romantic mood lighting, you need adequate lighting to read a menu. If you can’t see a menu without switching on your iPhone flashlight app, that’s a fail in my view. The dark lighting did not put me in the best of moods. Combined with my headache, I don’t know if I got to experience the full Ezard effect. I would say that I still enjoyed the experience, but maybe not as much as others have. I must go back to reassess it.

We decided to order a la carte instead of the pre-theatre menu. Three of us, including myself, all went with a quartet of the famous Ezard Oyster Shooters for entrĂ©e. Ling’s aunt decided on the Open Wagyu Beef Burger with quail egg, onion jam, cresses, smoked tomato and truffle oil mayonnaise. The oysters were definitely delicious, slipping down the throat with a silky smoothness accompanied with soy and mirin jelly. The Wagyu Burger looked sensation, stacked to a gravity defying height. I was amazed how the waitress managed to bring it to the table in one piece. I managed to get a photo before London Bridge came tumbling down. I’m sure it didn’t affect the taste, but seeing it as a lump on the plate was a less appetising sight, again proving that we feast partially from the eyes. Ling’s aunt said the burger was good.

Above: Amuse Bouche
Left:Open Wagyu Beef Burger with quail egg, onion jam, cresses, smoked tomato and truffle oil mayonnaise.
Right: Oyster Shooters

For mains, I went for the Roast Duck with green chilli and shallot sauce, stir fried garlic shoots, silkmelon and coconut rice, another Ezard “classic”. Ling and one of her aunts went for the Roasted Coral Trout with moreton bay bug ravioli and spicy coconut laksa, while the birthday lady went for Pan Fried Local John Dory with seared scallop, roasted jerusalem artichoke, broad beans, caviar and chive oil. My Roast Duck was sensational. I thought I had tasted enough Chinese roast duck to not be surprised anymore, but here was a dish that was familiar, yet different. The duck meat was so tender and the combination of flavours with the chilli really worked for me. I love that kick in the roast duck, why hasn’t any Chinese restaurant combined those two flavours as they are standard Chinese flavours. I also really liked the silkmelon, with the coconut just tying the whole dish together. If there was a small note, I did find it a tad salty. Ling and her aunt both liked their Coral Trout, especially the coconut laksa part, where they were drinking up the sauce. Finally, Ling’s other aunt also liked the John Dory, with the fish tasting fresh and matched well with the other ingredients.

Above: Roast Duck with green chilli and shallot sauce, stir fried garlic shoots, silkmelon and coconut rice.
Left: Pan Fried Local John Dory with seared scallop, roasted jerusalem artichoke, broad beans, caviar and chive oil.
Right: Roasted Coral Trout with moreton bay bug ravioli and spicy coconut laksa.

For desserts, I decided to have the Caramel Parfait, salted popcorn, confit apple and passionfruit sauce, after tasting the most sublime Salted Caramel Parfait with Caramelised Popcorn the week before at The Point. Unfortunately, it may have been due to feeling quite unwell by this stage, but I didn’t like most of the desserts. In fact, I’d go as far as saying I disliked some of them. My Caramel Parfait was rock hard, and didn’t really taste of much. The centre contained chocolate, but again, I didn’t really find the flavours that good. Then when I tried it with the popcorn, it made it worse. The popcorn was super salty, and tasted bad with the parfait. Unlike the dessert at The Point, where the popcorn was covered in a beautiful caramel crunch and gave a hint of saltiness when eaten with the other elements, making a magical combination, I wasn’t getting those same results with this dish.

Ling and her aunts went for the dessert tasting plate to share, which consisted of all the dessersts. What I did thoroughly enjoy was the Ezard classic dessert of Five Spice Honeycrunch Ice Cream. That pairing with the toasted gingerbread and delicate sugar swirl sculpture was perfect, giving many distinctive notes around the tongue. The rest of the tasting plate, I wasn’t particularly fond of. I thought the Chocolate Tart was all wrong, with way too many things going on that confused my palate. I like quince, a lot, but didn’t like it with the pannacotta strangely. Finally, the Pistachio Frangipane was quite good, but didn’t work with all the flavours combined. As I said, I was feeling less well by this point, so must go back to taste again to be sure.

Clockwise from Ice Cream: Five spiced honeycrunch ice cream, toasted gingerbread and sugar swirl.
Five spice pannacotta, poached quince, palm sugar syrup and vanilla fairy floss.
Pistachio frangipane, lemongrass glazed pineapple, fromage frais sorbet, sesame wafers and saffron syrup.
Caramel parfait, salted popcorn, confit apple and passionfruit sauce.
Warm chocolate tart, raspberry chilli caramel, mint sorbet and chocolate croquant. Mascarpone and frangelico mille feuille, pressed paw paw, vanilla ice cream and almond crumble.

The service throughout the meal was really good, with the staff sounding knowledgeable and our three different waiter/waitresses being very friendly and likeable. However, one small note was that since it was Ling’s aunts birthday and she wanted to send a photo to her other niece, the gentleman at the next table offered to help us take a group photo. Since the restaurant is so dark, I set the camera to have the flash on since he had to be quite far away and even my low F1.8 lens couldn’t handle no external lighting. He took one photo and gave me back the camera, in which time a staff wearing a suit walked over to me and told me that they don’t allow flash photography in the restaurant as it disturbs other patrons. I wasn’t upset, but more perplexed. Surely the other patrons around us could handle one flash photo for the sake of an old lady’s birthday. Besides that small incident, the ambience in the room was quite good. As the night wore on and more and more patrons occupied the space, it did fill out better and there was a small buzz.

Overall, I would say that I still liked the meal, but a few aspects (such as dark lighting, desserts not mind blowingly good and the camera incident) made it a good meal but not a great meal. I’ll definitely be going back to assess it again as I’ve heard such great things about it.

Overall Rating: 15/20, Some delicious items but some that failed to delight. Must go back to reassess.

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.

Ezard on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 17, 2010

Photography Friday #8 - The Windy City

Following from my previous Photography Friday #7 - Smile At The Camera, today I bring you sights from Chicago "The Windy City". If you're in the know, you will realise that Chicago is not called the windy city because of the wind, in fact there are 30 states with stronger average wind speeds than Chicago. Chicago is known as the windy city due to the politicians talking a lot of nonsense, especially when they were bidding for the 1897 World Fair. It was actually the first city to have skyscrapers, and the buildings here are indeed extremely beautiful. These following photos, are not of those beautiful buildings, instead I wanted to capture a few different sites around Chicago that your average tourist may not necessarily deem beautiful.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Point - A Near Perfect Dining Experience

Aquatic Drive, Albert Park Lake
Albert Park 3206, Victoria
Ph: (03) 9682 5566
Website: The Point

It's not often that you get a perfect meal. I can say that to date, I would only consider one meal at a restaurant as being perfect, and that was my first meal at Vue de Monde. There have been other meals that have come close, from my second visit to Vue de Monde Part 2, Rockpool, Cutler and Co and Attica. For a perfect meal to occur, not only does the food have to be sensational, but a lot of other elements that cannot be controlled by a restaurant has to align. You need to feel really happy that night, you need to enjoy the company, and just little details like the toilet soap they use needs to please you. Looking back at my own posts, I think I scored Rockpool way too high, and was influenced by the absolutely fantastic service and the Wagyu steak that I overlooked quite a few things. For me though, the gold standard is still Vue de Monde. Even my three Michelin star meal at Pierre Gagnaire didn't match the two meals I had at Vue de Monde.

Recently, I went back to The Point after having visited the first time as a guest of Executive Chef Scott Pickett for the Beast on a Block event that he held for food bloggers. This time, before I went, I made sure I contacted Scott to see if he could arrange the spring lamb dish again. He obliged and said he would try his best to source a spring lamb just for my dining group. I guess having a head chef specifically source an ingredient for you does tend to bias your judgement, but as with all reviews, it's all about what I think anyway and I make no apologies for that.

So a group of 8 of us from work went to The Point for a celebratory team dinner. From the moment that we stepped into the door, I knew it was going to be good as I could sense the excitement amongst everyone already. Maitre d' Frank came and welcomed myself warmly and helped seat everyone. We were offered drinks menus and water while browsing the menu. Scott then came to greet us at the table and explain the Spring Lamb dish. Everyone was sold, with 7 out of 8 people going for that.

I was instantly relaxed from the warm comforting environment, Frank's ease, and the insanely beautiful view of the lake and city. We were first presented an amuse bouche of the most soothing and rich lobster bisque with truffles. It put me into such a comforting mood already. For entrees, there were choices of fish, game consomme with jamon, octopus and the Charcuterie board that a couple of us got. I tried the octopus and that was sensational. Those with the fish entree also loved it. The game consomme I didn't try but my work mate said it was ok, a bit too exotic for him. With my pick, I don't know every element in my Charcuterie board but it is the best I've had in Melbourne. It could be a meal all by itself. There were pates, cured hams, salamis, mousses, pickles, jams, dips and even a quail egg. I just absolutely loved every element on that board, which is a big deal considering how many elements were on that board. I shared almost every element on that board with two work mates and we were just "mmmmm" the whole time, no words spoken.

Look how much Jordan is enjoying his Charcuterie Board. He wouldn't share a single item with anyone.

The hero dish, Spring Lamb Assiette, was similar to when I was at the Beast on a Block event. There was an assortment of stunning cuts of spring lamb done differently. There was the most tender lamb cutlet you'll taste in your life, a back saddle cut, a tenderloin, a cigar filled with lamb, wonderful potatoes, some vegetables beautifully cooked and sauces and herbs to tie it all together. We all polished off the lamb so quickly and mopped up every last bit of juice with bread. Truly an amazing dish. Lamb will never taste the same to me again. I want spring lamb at every meal now. The one work mate who got a Steak said it was sensational, perfectly cooked, tender and flavoursome. But I think he missed out with the lamb, big time.

So how do you follow up a truly stunning main dish, with a dessert that two work mates said were "the best dessert I've ever eaten". I have to agree that it was truly amazing, and I can't think of too many other desserts as good off the top of my head, maybe the Cutler and Co violet dessert as I totally adore violet, or the Vue de Monde pistachio souffle hiding a lava of chocolate inside and swimming in a silky custard. But let me say, this Salted Peanut Caramel Parfait with chocolate, caramelised banana, caramelised popcorn and ice cream is stunning, Jennifer Hawkins and Miranda Kerr stunning. From the first bite of that perfectly textured parfait that has crunch from the nuts and chocolate, saltiness from the parfait itself, aromatic sweetness from the banana, more texture from the caramelised parts of the banana and popcorn, more saltiness from the popcorn, to that final hit of cold ice cream, perfection. Some may compare it to Philippa Sibley's famous Snickers, and yes there are definitely similarities. But I think this dessert has the edge because for me, the caramelised banana and popcorn just give it that extra punch. There will be long drawn out arguments amongst food lovers I'm sure, but I think you can't go wrong with either.

The other two desserts were very good and ok respectively, and simply no match for the Salted Peanut Caramel Parfait. The Marshmallow Souffle was very good, paired with chocolate ice cream, marshmallow and a donut. The Quince was a bit overspiced for me, but the biscuits and ice cream were good.

Not every dish was perfect, but those that I chose were. So for me, this dining experience ranks way up there. The drinks we had throughout the night was expertly served by our sommelier, and Frank came round to check on us a few times. The service was very efficient and totally unnoticed. The room had a great feel to it, relaxed and just full of happy diners I felt. It doesn't hurt that the view is so magnificent, such that whenever you felt a bit bored, you could turn your gaze outside and just get drawn to the lights of the city.

For me, those three outstanding dishes of the Charcuterie Board, Spring Lamb Assiette and Salted Peanut Caramel Parfait will live in my memory for a long time. And anytime even one dish can do that, I think the restaurant is really good already, so when there's three, I would say its near perfection. I know that some of you will moan when I say why I'm deducting a half point from my score, but I really dislike dark restaurants, and the corner of the room that we were in had one section of table that was quite dim, and it did annoy me a bit. Otherwise, a super dining experience which has been backed up by The Point being elevated to two chefs hats in this year's The Age Good Food Guide awards announced about two weeks after I had this meal.

Overall Rating: 19.5/20, An amazing dining experience with some ultra memorable dishes. If only I knew the head chef at every restaurant I dined at, maybe all meals would be this 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.

The Point Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sydney & Melbourne Food Bloggers ‘Mad Hatter’ Spring Picnic - October 9th 2010

Fellow Melbournian food bloggers, come and join me for a picnic that will be run simultaneously with our Sydney cousins.

Michele, Penny and I will be organising the Melbourne event, while Billy and Karen would be hard at work organising the Sydney event.

What Is It About?
Basically bring a plate of food, your fanciest hat to match the theme, an empty stomach and a sense of fun and come and meet other food bloggers from Melbourne. We will be simultaneously hosting it with our fellow Sydney food bloggers for even more fun.

When Is It?
The picni will be held on Saturday October 9th, so keep you calendar free.

Can I Come?
If you have a food blog, please come along and share tips on food whilst tasting some delights from your fellow bloggers.

For Melbourne food bloggers, REGISTER HERE for invite details.

Hope to see you all at the picnic. I'll be the one wearing a big hat.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I'm Late, I'm Late, For A Very Important Date

What's this important date that I am late for you ask? Well, don't worry, you're invited too. Just set October 9th free and stay tuned for more details.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Photography Friday #7 - Smile At The Camera

Following from my previous Photography Friday #6 - Light Up My Life, today I bring you my favourite series so far "Smile At The Camera". Being able to capture a candid photo of people really brings a photo to life. Making the photos black and white actually adds to the emotions and adds depth to the photo, which seems counter intuitive. I personally love all four photos, each giving a sense into what the subject was thinking. I didn't take the photo of myself, and must thank Dennis for capturing such a great candid shot of me.