Thursday, February 4, 2016

The General Assembly

Diclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest of the restaurant 

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In the past 6 months, my ways have rubbed off on my mum.

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She’s into Instagram. 

And it’s totally awesome. Being the great cook she is, she now finds great joy in getting a quick shot of what she’s made in the evening, or taking snaps of our silly dog and ever unruly garden and sharing them with her 10 followers. Her captions are super cute too. 

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I love that now when we go out together, we’re both busy taking pictures when our meal arrives, like when I took her with me to the General Assembly in the South Wharf precinct. 

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On a gorgeously balmy evening with appropriate drinks in hand, we enjoyed yellow fin tuna ceviche with watermelon, jalapeños and shallots, which was presented a little differently than I expected. Rather than chopped, our tuna was a thick and generous slice; not quite as light and delicate as I had expected but definitely a little more hearty!

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For mains we got into the grilled spatchcock, with panzanella salad and basil oil, which was gorgeously juicy and a serve of the 300 gram Black Angus Hanger steak, cooked in the Josper charcoal grill. The Josper charcoal oven is one of a few in Melbourne, combining the functions of a grill and an oven to lock in moisture and get a lovely charcoal flavour to the meet. My piece of steak was cooked beautifully, blushing pink, medium, just how I liked. 

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And because my mum is as lush as me when it comes to food (savoury food at least), we just had to order the truffle mac and cheese, dotted generously with truffle through all the macaroni. So creamy, so rich, so good. Clearly love of richness is in the genes.

The big flavours didn’t finish there!

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I absolutely couldn’t resist ordering the “S’mores” toasted marshmallow with chocolate biscuit. Although it didn’t look so beautiful, arriving looking a little molten, it was sweet, sticky and decadent. 

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We also tried the chocolate and cherry mousse, with what I think was a raspberry sorbet (but don’t quote me on it). I wasn’t in love with the chocolate mousse personally, it was lacking in the rich cocoa flavour I was looking for, but my mum and I both loved the sorbet, which was tangy, bright, full of berry flavour and so refreshing. 

Although not everything was a complete hit, on a whole, The General Assembly served up solid hearty fare, that’s perfect if you’re looking for something relaxed; especially while we might still have some nice weather hanging around! 

29 S Wharf Promenade
South Wharf VIC 3006 

The General Assembly Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Tokyo - Kyotei Daikokuya

When my dad told a good friend of his in Tokyo that Brad and I were going to be visiting in November last year, his friend asked if he could take us out to dinner to a soba restaurant that he also took my dad and brother to, which they had enjoyed immensely.

When we were trying to find a date that worked for us to meet, we could only agree on one night, the Monday night before we left, since he was travelling extensively prior to that.

We then found out that the soba restaurant is usually closed on a Monday, but because I was the daughter of my dad (who they had previously hosted) they insisted on opening…just for us.

Holy crap.

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If I had to choose a better way to end my Tokyo trip last year…I couldn’t have asked for anything better. This dinner was one of the most amazing experiences Brad and I had, for a whole multitude of reasons, and will stay as one of my most memorable meals for a long time to come.

So. What exactly is this place? 

Dinner was at Kyotei Daikokuya, hidden down the backstreets of Asakusa, the same neighbourhood as the immensely popular Sensoji temple. 

Kyotei Daikokuya, is all about the soba. The owners are a gorgeous old couple, who I could call my grandparents, and long time friends of my dad’s friend. They make everything, absolutely everything themselves; the owner grinds his own soba; some of which comes from soba fields he owns, and transforms it into noodles. 

This soba is so good; it used to be one of the young prince’s (forgot his name, but he was well loved and left the world too early) favourite soba restaurants, and the royal family would visit at least once a year. 

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But it’s not just about the noodles, there’s a whole meal to be enjoyed, and it’s not quite what you expect. Prior to arriving my dad’s friend warned us not to be too hungry, as they do serve quite slowly, since it is just the two of them with the husband in the kitchen and the wife, in her adorable white apron, clattering in and out on her wooden geta (slippers) to serve us. More often than not the group that we were with would all get up to help her serve. 

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Our night started (with a whole lot of sake, three glasses worth actually) and this wooden spoon of amazingness. It’s grilled miso paste, with toasted buckwheat kernels and walnuts throughout as well. Oh my goodness. I cannot begin to explain how delicious this was. Although our host said to eat this slowly, since it would be a while until we got our next dish, how can you stop yourself from picking at this umami deliciousness? Umami, with a salty punch, lightly grilled with a gorgeous char to the flavour, with crunchy kernels adding an earthiness and texture. 

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Dish two, well, was kind of insane. When I was told I was going to a soba restaurant, I was not expecting hotpot. Apparently the dishes that we were served, are served in a specific order, as the owner believes that this is the best way, to eventually, savour your buckwheat soba noodles the most. 

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Our hot included a bevy of gorgeous greens and root vegetables, yam, pumpkin, enoki mushrooms and the piece de resistance, wild duck meat (or that’s the closest translation we could get). Just look at the beautiful fattiness of that! I had not really had duck sliced like this before either, and in a gentle warm bath, it was all so very good. 

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Sushi? Not just any sushi, this was soba sushi. With the finest of fine soba noodles replacing the rice. This is apparently very difficult to make, and intensely time consuming, since you need to make the noodles first, then cut, then cook in vinegar (just like sushi rice) before carefully rolling it up, since it’s a different shape and doesn’t act like sushi rice. I mean, can you imagine, making every single piece of soba noodle line up neatly like our friend has done in this picture? Gorgeous. And delicious. Cool, refreshing, but so sweet as well. And so tender, the noodles, although they still had body, just gently melted into the mouth. Would easily eat this all the time.

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And on to noodles…udon noodles that is! Wait. What? Apparently this is what comes next in line, which we dip into a sauce and slurp up with vigour. The noodles are lovely and springy, but I’m really just excited about the next dish that comes out…

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Finally. Finally, we’re greeted with a plate of cold soba, served with all the usual condiments, dipping sauce, radish and a dash of wasabi. The noodles are in two neat piles, so fine, yet rustic, I love you can see the grain throughout, and boy, the are tasty as well. Aromatic, nutty, earthy, yet also refreshing when dipped in the sauce. I can safely say no soba has tasted the same after that (although I still enjoy it!). 

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Apparently the little guy hanging off our sauce cups is a child. Not totally convinced.

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Think we were done with the soba? Not in the slightest. To finish, our ‘dessert’, for lack of a better word, was a sticky buckwheat paste, not dissimilar to some kind of mochi, but with a much nuttier flavour. With spoonfuls of this, we would either pour soy sauce over it, to make it a little salty, or dip it in a bean curd powder (or I think that’s what it was), which made the whole thing taste like a peanut mochi for some reason, which I was totally in to. 

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At the end of the meal, with too much sake and very full bellies, we found ourselves popping our heads in and out of the tiny little kitchen (where on earth does he make all the food?!), where the owner kept his many treasured photos of the crown prince visiting the restaurant, and their pictures with him. There was also a volume of books produced that he showed us, after the passing of the crown prince, where their restaurant name is mentioned. 

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The hospitality of the Japanese is just incredible, although language barriers were abound aplenty, whilst for the most part our host helped translate, I could still get by with a little broken Japanese and a lot of laughter. The wife was the cutest person I had ever come across, smiling the whole night, and even giving me a little candy container with a squeaky toy at the top after I gave her some manuka honey. 

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And despite us just meeting, they brought out the green tea mill to show us how it worked, and insisted when we next visited that they do a tea ceremony for us. I for one, am definitely looking forward to it!

Kyotei Daikokuya
4-39-2 Asakua, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hawker Hall

As a Malaysian, I seem to get a lot of enquiries as to what I think about the newest addition to the Chris Lucas empire, Hawker Hall.

Rather than get overly complicated in my response, here are my main thoughts, that I tell pretty much everybody:

1. I think it’s awesome that Chris Lucas is giving Malaysian cuisine a contemporary platform; it’s always kinda been the very nice but much less cool sibling of the South East Asian cuisines. 

2. From what I’ve had, the flavours are definitely inspired, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s authentic; nor did I expect it to be. I always knew going in that I wasn’t getting mum and pop restaurant, but a well oiled entertainment machine where you’ll bring your friends for a night out when want to drink in  a great atmosphere, don’t feel like going to the club and want some tasty grub to go along with the booze. 

3. Malaysians looking for super authentic Malaysian food, don’t go here. You’re wasting your breath when you complain later.

4. Anyone looking for a good time, willing to eat off hours, or wait two to get in, it’s worth checking out. 

I myself opted for the eating ‘off hours’ when I found myself in the area for work on a Monday afternoon and head chef Damian Snell kindly reminded me that he was just down the road on Instagram when I shared a picture of another cafe I was at earlier in the day. 

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Even on a Monday lunch, the huge space is thumping, with a jovial throb of voices reverberating off the walls. The atmosphere did remind me a bit of a Malaysian hawker hall…just a lot cleaner, cooler and everyone looking a lot better dressed. 

Whilst most of the crowd were big silly season groups, the restaurant very comfortably caters for single diners like myself, with cute little tables that pop out of the wall, overlooking the huge hall and everyone else. Great people watching.

The menu is huge; with lots of hawker favourites (char kway teow hello), some lesser known dishes (such as otak otak) and some slightly more modern dishes. You really don’t need to order much if you’re on your own, a serve of satays and a salad is a nice little lunch. 

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The beef satays were a touch on the dry side of me, but the rich spices and flavours were very reminiscent for me and I enjoyed them thoroughly.

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I was surprised though how much more I enjoyed my salad, which was a five spiced shredded chicken salad with toasted coconut. It seems simple, but is so vibrant in flavour, I loved the mix of spice, sweetness of the coconut, and possibly some coconut milk through the dressing, which had a bit of a creamy texture to it. The crunchy beanshoots and a little hit of chilli. Would eat again, but might share next time, it’s quite a bit serve!

My only real complaint? No teh tarik. I mean c’mon. 

But on the flipside, I can’t wait tot come back to try the Milo Dinosaur sundae, that sucker’s got my name all over it! 

98 Chapel Street

Hawker Hall Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

400 Gradi Essendon

Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest of the restaurant 

I’m always reluctant to use the word ‘best’, especially when it comes to food. Perhaps it’s partially because I don’t have the confidence to claim I have enough knowledge about any one food in particular to lay that claim; but also, food is such a subjective thing as well. 

But when other people have the claim to fame, given to them by a third party authority, I’m always keen to suss it out and see what the fuss is all about.

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Despite 400 Gradi, Johnny di Francesco’s (world pizza champion) restaurants being open for a while, I had never made my way over to see what all the fuss was about, but when I was invited to check out the new store in Essendon, I was definitely keen. Was it really the best pizza in Melbourne? 

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The new store is located under a new residential development, and using the expertise of executive chef Harry who joined the 400 Gradi group shortly before the Essendon store opened, not only has a focus on pizzas (obviously), but also slow cooked meats, pastas and even a gelati bar (called Zero Gradi appropriately enough) that will be getting it’s own stall/kiosk in the near future as well.

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Brad and I started with the calamari fritti, dusted in semolina and fried, which were lovely and light, very tender too. The caprese salad, with the addition of capers and olives, was both refreshing and delightfully savoury too. I loved the thick generous cuts of tomato; it’s definitely not a delicate little dish! 

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I loved the big, pillowy and fluffy gnocchi, exactly how you would hope it to be, with generous shavings of taleggio (I think), deliciously buttery sauce and thick balsamic glaze. 

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 Most importantly though, how was the pizza? We opted for a less traditional option with pumpkin puree, goat sausage, sausage and a variety of cheeses topping it. Absolutely delicious. The thickness of the base was lovely, thin, but strong enough to support all the toppings and had a nice flavour to it. I loved the use of the pumpkin puree as the sauce and base for the toppings, it was so sweet and so creamy; the natural earthiness of the pumpkin complimenting the richness of the sausages. As mentioned, I’m always a little hesitant to say it, but I dare say this was definitely one of the best pizzas I had come across.

Brad did not that to be fair, we really should have gotten a margherita, or something we could compare directly, but based off what I had, I was pretty impressed! 

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To wrap up, I had to make a visit to the gelato bar, where I immediately got a scoop of pistachio, as it’s my go to, if the gelato is good. Safe to say, Zero Gradi’s got the goods. 

My only uncertainty point with 400 Gradi is that it is a little on the more expensive end, as far as pizzas go, with many of the dishes and pizzas being over $20. It would certainly add up by the time you get a couple of dishes. However, I was impressed with the food, especially the pizza, so I would be able to justify it (every now and again). 

Shop 1, 110 Keilor Road

400 Gradi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

India Gate

Sometimes not getting into the first restaurant of your choice can be a blessing. One evening while Brad and I were spending the weekend in Gembrook, we decided on a whim to pop out for dinner. 

My first choice was Elevation in Emerald, but being just before Christmas…it was naturally pretty busy and I wasn’t down to wait an hour for food!

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So we headed into Belgrave, and popped into my second choice of restaurant, India Gate, which I had read pretty good reviews about. It’s a little unusual, as you enter a big ‘gate’ wedged inconspicuously between a couple other shops, descend some stairs before entering the restaurant, which very much feels like you’re going into someone’s house. 

It’s so adorable. 

Brad commented that being in the restaurant felt like being in the house of one of his Indian friends from high school, which can only really be a good thing. 

The menu is pretty big, and it’s tough to narrow our decision down, but once the food starts coming out, I’m absolutely amazed at the flavour and the quality that we’re getting. 

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 Papadums have cumin scattered throughout, adding a really lovely aromatic spice to them, and are served with a sweet and thick chutney. 

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Onion pakora are a little on the softer side for me, I love mine super crunchy, but aren’t lacking in flavour, an intense golden colour from all the spices involved inside. 

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For our curries, we went with a mild butter chicken (but is there ever such thing as a hot one really?) and a chickpea masala. I absolutely loved both. The chickpea masala was another gorgeously aromatic bowl of food, with lots of bright spices and just a touch of heat, and the butter chicken gravy was smooth and creamy and terrible moreish; I just kept going back for more!

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We also decided to get some lemon rice, just to do something a little different, and I was thrilled with how textural the rice was, not overly citrus, or neon yellow, like I have seen in some places, but a lovely golden, with spices visibly peppered throughout. 

On a whole as well, Brad and I left not feeling heavy in the stomach, and I was quite pleased how clean and not oily the food was; it felt like food coming out of family friends kitchen. 

We had a spot next to the window through the evening, and loved the cosy environment, and the warm and friendly service throughout the evening. I was quite amused by the table of Indians that sat behind us, that would chit chat amongst themselves, go out of the restaurant and disappear to street level for a bit, jackets left on the chairs, before coming back to resume eating and gas bagging. Although it felt like a family friends place for me, for some, it obviously was a family friends place!

India Gate
3/1644 Burwood Highway
Belgrave, Melbourne VIC

India Gate Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato