Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Joe's Bar and Diner - Excellent Smokey Ribs and Buffalo Wings

I've visited Acland street a number times for dining, but always in the South end, and never in the North end past Carlisle Street. However, when I was invited to visit Joe's Bar and Diner, I knew I had to pay a visit to the other end of Acland street as the menu was full of wonderful looking American dishes. I had tasted a lot of awesome American food on my holiday in the US and wanted to taste more of it here in Melbourne. Unfortunately, most American style diners in Melbourne serve rather sub-standard food that they wouldn't get away with serving in the States.

Joe's Bar and Diner is part bar, part diner. Funny that. A big bar area dominates the room while tables to one side of the room serves as the diner. Big open windows lets through the sunlight and funky (think Pulp Fiction soundtrack) music fill the room at just the right loudness. Hipster staff take a relaxed attitude when serving, which is good, although at times a bit of urgency doesn't hurt.

I attended the dinner with my work mates Ross, David and Joe. We ordered (or more accurately they left me to order) a selection of food that we shared. For starters we tried the Southern Fried Chicken, Carnitas (pork taco), Arrachera (beef taco), Fried Calamari and Buffalo Wings. The fried chicken was pretty good, not dry and had pretty good flavours. However, it was all chicken breast pieces, which I always find a bit boring. The pork tacos was really good, while the steak one was ok. The fried calamari was really nice, crispy yet still succulent. Squeezed with some lime, it was zingy and addictive. Lastly, the buffalo wings was awesome. It was already good by itself, but combined with the Creole mayo, it was freaking amazing. Joe really loved the Creole mayo and ate it with every other item on the table, and swears that it works with everything. I believe him.

Next we got to the main event of BBQ Pork Ribs, which we had with Sweet Potato Fries and Poutine (curly fries with gravy and cheese). The BBQ pork ribs were so crazy delicious. The sauce was so good and the ribs were juicy and had this beautiful smokey flavour. Everyone loved the ribs, and it went really well with the sweet potato fries for me. The other liked the sweet potato fries, but loved the poutine. The poutine (see above right photo) sounds and looks so wrong, but tastes oh so right. David loved it the most and finished about half of it himself. The salty cheese works so well with the fries and the gravy.

We were so full by the time we got to desserts but I convinced everyone to have some dessert as I really wanted to try the Beignets. Unfortunately they were not available so we tried the Chocolate Waffles and Pecan Pie. The pecan pie was ok but nothing like I tasted in New York. The chocolate waffles were rather bad as the waffles tasted like dry pancakes. The sauce was quite good but didn't really help to cover the bad waffles.

After dinner, Rob the owner came over to talk to us. We were chatting and talked about how great the ribs tasted and what a great authentic flavour they had. He then told us they had a proper smoker out the back, which he was happy to show us. Being engineers, everyone eagerly jumped at the invitation. When we got to the back and he showed us the smoke, we all went "oooh, so sexy". Then when he opened it, the smelled that wafted towards us was what I imagine Heaven to smell like. Smokey, meaty goodness. I learned that some places "smoke" their meat in electric smokers and then they're left there to be steamed just before serving. This gives the meat this soppy texture where it falls off the bone so easily. Also, the smokey flavour disappears rather quickly. They may also use artificial smoke liquids to amp up the smokey flavour temporarily. But it was surprising how we could all taste the difference in this properly smoked meat and commented how much nicer it was. Nothing beats doing it properly, using different woods to create different flavor profiles and time to ensure the meat is tender but still retains some texture.

Overall it was a really good meal and I'll definitely go back again. The two highlights were the amazing buffalo wings and the BBQ pork ribs. I'd love to try the beef ribs next time as I'm sure they'll be excellent as well given it's cooked properly in the smoker. Price wise, I think it's good value as you will get far inferior food for the same price. There's also a good beer and wine menu and the setting is very nice. Highly recommended.

All food was covered by Joe's Bar and Diner. Drinks were covered by ourselves.

Joe's Bar and Dining Hall on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Lee Ho Fook - Excellent Chinese Food

Fook you.

No, fook you.

Ok, if you insist, I'll go to Lee Ho Fook.

If you're not on the floor rolling in laughter, clearly you don't fall for bad jokes based upon bad Chinglish. That's probably a good thing. Bad jokes aside, the dinner at Lee Ho Fook was excellent and I'd happily go back any day. Usually, I wouldn't choose to go out to eat Chinese food. Given I eat so much of it at home, and the majority of it is done so badly, it's not an obvious choice for me. However, the famous people at Luxbite , Bernard and Yen, kept raving about Lee Ho Fook so we all decided to go and try it out. The equally famous I-Hua helped organised the dinner and the infamous Agnes came along as well, with Mama Spork in tow. We studied the menu long and hard and decided that the banquet for $48 provided the best selection of food for value of money. As we're gluts, we also ordered a couple of extra dishes to try.

Lee Ho Fook's fitout is rather funky and I loved the use of the occy straps for the lighting setup. It seems like you can't go to any restaurant nowadays with half a hipster vibe that doesn't have some funky light or other. As with my usual complaint, whilst the lights look good, at most places, including Lee Ho Fook, the lighting is too dark for my liking. With that small quibble aside, the setup at Lee Ho Fook does feel really comfortable and is a good environment for casual dining. The wait staff were friendly, efficient and knowledgeable, which is great as I hate style before substance.

The banquet started off with a selection of entrees, a Pork Bun and Prawn Toast with Foie Gras Butter. The pork buns had a dried pork type filling which was really great. The prawn toast had good flavour but was far too salty for my liking.

Next up, we ate what I thought was the best dish of the night. The Yee Sang of Ocean Trout with Jellyfish Salad was just pure brilliance. The flavours and textures bounced off my tongue and I kept wanting more of it. This dish was followed by the two dishes we ordered a la carte. The Salt Duck was a marinated duck and served with some beautiful red cabbage. It was pretty good. The Pork Belly with Pickles and Chili Sauce was stunning, mainly due to the chili sauce. Oh man, that sauce had me more than Tom Cruise had Renee Zellweger at hello. It was pure spicy goodness and combined with the pork belly and pickles, was an awesome dish.

Back to the banquet dishes, there was Steamed Barramundi with Ginger and Spring Onions, Crispy Skin Shangdong Chicken and Crispy Eggplant with Red Vinegar. The barramundi surprised me as of all the dishes it was the most "normal" Chinese dish that other restaurants serve but it was different enough to make it really stand out. The crispy chicken was beautifully done with a crispy skin and tender meat. Lastly, the crispy eggplant was brilliant. I love the texture and flavour of that dish and it definitely makes me want to eat more eggplant.

Finally for dessert, there was an Almond Jelly and a Jasmine Tea Creme Brulee. The jelly was nice, but boy oh boy, that brulee was sensational. The jasmine tea worked a treat in it. Gimme another one now. We also got a free dessert from the kitchen of Coconut Textures with Sake. It was refreshing but I won't say I loved it as it felt a bit disjointed.

As I said at the beginning, this is a Chinese restaurant that I'd definitely come back to and recommend for others to try. Would I recommend it to my mum, unfortunately no. She would still dislike it as it wasn't Chinese enough and still too expensive haha. It also didn't get Mama Spork's approval. But for anyone else who's not hung up on Chinese food only having to be traditional and cheap, this is a must try place.

Lee Ho Fook on Urbanspoon