Friday, November 19, 2010

MoVida Aqui

Physical: 500 Bourke Street (enter on Little Bourke), Melbourne CBD

The MoVida team have done it again. Another (well, another one and a half, if you consider Terraza as being distinct from Aqui) wonderful MoVida restaurant. Better, I'd argue, than the original and the first child. MoVida Aqui is more spacious than the other restaurants. This space has been taken advantage of: they now cook a lot of dishes, including the Spanish classic paella, over coals. The menu is larger. The daily specials, even, is a long list. The focus is less on tapas, more on grilled stuff. The lighting is fairly bright--more akin to Next Door than the mothership. The bar seating area, too, is further away from the regular dining area than it was MoVida or MoVida Next Door.

I liked the two dishes I had. A grilled piece of pork loin was large, juicy, attractive and tasty. The accompanying tomato and coriander sauces were light and, when the pork was gone, worked equally well with the beautiful house-made bread--good bread, of course, has always been one of MoVida's strengths.

The crispy school prawns were lovely, too. Small prawns--head on, still in the shell and everything--crumbed lightly in semolina and served with a very rich aioli, intended to be eaten whole. A messy but lovely dish.

Must go back sooner rather than later.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Physical: 11 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD

Mamasita is pretty much impossible to get into at night. They won't take bookings unless you're in a group of a certain size and then, of course, then you're obligated to go for some set menu. For everyone else it's a case of having to line up on the narrow staircase, giving your number to someone and waiting for a call some time in the next, oh, two or three hours.

Getting in at lunchtime is a lot easier assuming you go early. When you get in, it's easy to see why there is such a long wait at night: the dining room is fairly small. Thankfully, though, it's not cramped.

Mamasita is everything a reasonable person would expect and want it to be. The menu provides a much fairer representation of what Mexican food is about than, say, Taco Bill or any of its equally nasty competitors. The service is friendly and speedy. You order whatever and, before you know it, it's sitting on your table. The food looks nice and tastes nice. The braised pork dishes--the both of them, the tacos and the sandwich-like things, with shredded, seasoned pork sitting between a thin corn chip and a thick slice of jalapeno--are both very nice. There's reasonable cider on tap (Coldstream Brewery) that goes for five bucks a pot. The housemade corn chips, which I bought for the kids at work, are nice and plentiful. Overall, Mamasita is excellent for what it is.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

vue de monde

Physical: 430 Little Collins Street, Melbourne

I finished my last assignment (ever, probably) yesterday. My last assignment after seven years of university. This called for something nice. Something nice came in the form of a lunch at Vue de Monde.

At lunch, Vue de Monde offers numerous options. The standard tasting menu, at $100 per head. The 'chef's menu', more expensive still ($250 at nighttime--not sure about during the day). And, too, the lunch special: $55 for 2 courses and $70 for 3. Both specials are inclusive of a glass of wine, appetisers, a palate cleanser and two sides. $70 is a lot to pay for lunch but, let's face it, you're getting plenty of food (I came out full) at Melbourne's only three hat restaurant. They throw in a glass of okay wine. The service is fucking amazing.
Pretentious, yes. Everything is 'excellent, sir' and 'wonderful choice, sir' and your glass of water is never allowed to be less than 3/4 full. But yes, it's amazing. The deal is pretty good.

The appetisers were simple but nice: house-made potato chips with sour cream that'd been laced with caviar and, too, some olives.

The entree involved four of my favourite things: baby squid, duck tongues (actually, I'd never had duck tongues before, but I love duck), leek and bone marrow. Everything was beautifully cooked and presented. I was sitting near the kitchen and was in awe seeing how long it took the kitchen team to present even a single dish. Every little detail mattered. Was fussed over. I've eaten in nice restaurants and had nicely presented plates of food before--Embrasse's medley of vegetables, for example--but this, man, this was something else. The duck tongues, now, the duck tongues were my favourite element of the dish. They confit them and then, I believe, roast them. They come out crunchy. I could eat massive quantities of them while drinking beer and be very, very, very happy.

The palate cleanser was a nice touch: a celery sorbet. I liked it.

The main was truly special. I'd never had marrons before--another first--but I liked these. The pairing with the richest braised beef cheek I've ever had--which was so tender you could eat it with a spoon--was clever. A nod to the classic surf and turf paring of steak and lobster or prawns. The accompanying wild flowers added attractive flashes of colour to what would've otherwise been a two tone plate.

Included with the lunch special are two sides: a very simple salad with a mixture of sweet and bitter (radicchio) leaves and a--as in singular--rather impressive chip of a size you could use, if you really wanted, to construct houses. The chip was lovely. Very crisp on the outside, due to double frying, and fluffy and awesome on the inside. The recipe is, I think, in one or maybe both of Shannon Bennett's recipe books and would easily, even with your standard $2/kilo suprmarket potatoes, be worth reproducing at home.

The dessert was light and refreshing and, really, everything I like in dessert: some pieces of fresh pineapple, a quenelle of mango puree and a fluffy coconut souffle.

For $70, Vue de Monde offered an amazing experience. It got everything right, from the big things--the entree, main, dessert and service--to the little things like providing somewhere you can spit your olive pits (always an awkward moment, when nothing appropriate is provided, which is far too common). Just really, truly, totally fucking flawless. I can't wait to come back here for the degustation at some point.

Too, on a side note, the French butter--and yeah, I've had French butter before, but this was epic--made me understand, on some level, why Escoffier and Larousse put butter in everything at least twice.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Physical: 109 Elgin Street, Carlton

Abla's Lebanese restaurant is just over 30 years old. Abla, the owner, still works in the kitchen and makes the time to float around the place and say hi to customers. She's a nice lady in what is, essentially, an especially long-lived and popular variant of the surburban family-run ethnic restaurant. The menu is a list of traditional classics. The place is loud and cramped but I don't consider that a problem. If you want quiet and romantic, go somewhere else. All those mezze platters and everything, the whole idea is about sharing good food with friends and such.

Abla's has, for a few years now, earned the praise and etc of the people behind The Age Good Food Guide. It's one of three Middle Eastern places--Momo and Rumi being the other two--that's on the list of places I have to get to before Food Guide 12 hits the newsagents.

How is Abla's, actually, though? We ordered a banquet so we had the chance to sample a helluva lot of the menu.

The good:

  • Hummous: made on site, light and refreshing
  • Baba Ghannooj: a smoky, slightly hot eggplant dip--this stuff I could eat all day
  • Chicken wings: chicken wings, I'll have you know, are one of my very favourite things. Abla's chicken wings presumably come from a decent butcher as they have a nice chickeny flavour. Not overseasoned, either.
  • Makaneek: tiny tiny tiny lamb and beef sausages. Would be awesome with beer.
  • Silverbeet rolls: look a lot like dolmades, loaded up with spices, rice, chickpeas and tomatoes. Could eat a lot of these.
  • Green beans: cooked until soft and floppy, which is normally a Bad Thing, but these weren't bad at all. In fact they were really good. The dressing had some real guts.'
  • Baklava: sweet but not too sweet. The best I've had.

The okay:

  • Labnee: yoghurt dip served with the other two dips--it was okay but served as a nice counterpoint to the heavily seasoned chickpea and eggplant dips
  • Ladyfingers: like a lot of the lamb dishes, the ladyfingers were a bit dry
  • Tabbouleh: dressed with a little more olive oil and served, perhaps, after or alongside the lamb skewers, this would've maybe crept into the 'good'
  • Turkish delight: less icing sugar and we'd be in business. Can get better from the local Greek deli tho'

The bad:

  • Felafel: dry
  • Kibbee: sadly, the lamb dishes were all dry. The crispy coating on the kibbee should have contained wonderful juicy meat--I wanted it to--and instantly, instantly gone straight up to one of my all time and forever favourites, but inside it was just like an overcooked rissole
  • Lamb skewers: lamb, again, overcooked and dry. Would've been elevated to okay with some sort of dipping sauce. 
  • Chicken and rice: slivers of almond provided a nice flavour and, again, the chicken tasted nice, but the chicken was dry--really dry--and that just didn't work for me at all
The interesting:

  • Coffee loaded up with fucking mint
Overall I think Abla's was okay and, at the price point, offered nothing worthy of complaint. Honestly, though, Dandenong's Afghan Pamir Kebab place, if you're prepared to travel that far out of town, offers an all-round superior banquet for less money.

Monday, November 8, 2010

last night -- pork, again, this time with feeling

Pad kra pao is just the sort of thing I like to cook when it's hot outside and I'm tired and I'm lucky enough to have beer or cider or both just sitting there in the fridge. This is simple food. Comfort food for the warmer months. You fry up some meat. You season the shit out of it. Done.

Heat some oil in a wok. When the oil is hot (doesn't need to be smoking--smoking is bad bad bad) add 500 grams of pork mince, some minced garlic and grated ginger. Stir and fry--stir fry--for two or three minutes before adding 100 g chopped snake beans (in a pinch, I guess, there's nothing stopping you from using green beans), some diced shallots (3-4 should do), as much sambal oelek (if you can get the roasted version, use this in preference) as you like and cook for another couple of minutes. Now add 50 mL each soy sauce and fish sauce (or more or less, depending on your taste for this sort of product) and a good sprinkling of brown sugar. Cook for another three or four minutes or until the pork is cooked through. Stir through a handful of Thai basil leaves. Serve with rice and, because it's always a good idea for this sort of thing, a fried egg (fried in a little bit of butter, as eggs fried in butter taste and look much better than eggs fried in copious amounts of vegetable and etc oils).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

kao gaeng hot pot & shabu

Place: Kao Gaeng
Physical: Shop 13/14, 22-38 Queen's Avenue, Springvale (next to Walrus)

Kao Gaeng offers everything I could ever want from a cheap and cheerful restaurant in Springvale: it's clean, it's not too cramped, the staff don't rush you through your meal, the food is good and, most of all, there's a lot of pork on the menu. From slow-braised leg meat (which, sadly, had run out when I went) to stir fries to curry. There is pork in many forms. I partook in a plate of grilled pork neck, which was served with rice and a salty and sour sauce.

Was it the best pork I'd had in my life? No. But I like this place. I want to go back. To me, it checks all the boxes for a restaurant at this price point.

Friday, November 5, 2010

walrus, springvale

Place: Walrus
Physical: 20/28 Queens Avenue, Springvale (across the road from the railway line)

Walrus has an awesome name and is, despite its shitty location, very popular. What you see from the train, going past, looks kind of grotty, but inside it's not too bad: a bit dated but clean. The service is polite and efficient. A bonus at this price point.

Walrus has, at least at lunchtime, its price factor as a major plus. Most dishes on the menu--and obviously we're not talking about the live seafood or barbecued suckling pig or whatever here--come in at less than ten bucks a pop, at least at lunchtime. And, too, they throw in some compilimentary soup (assorted vegetables and stock bones in a salty broth). The soup is medicore but, really, fuck, it's free.

I was promised that Walrus' pork was among the best in Melbourne. The person who promised me that is not to be trusted again. It's just not that good. It's not bad. For the eight dollar asking price, again, yes--eight dollars--I was happy with my salty, juicy, but not too greasy, barbecued pork. It was okay. But, and maybe this is because I had such a good experience yesterday with pork, it just didn't taste like pig. Maybe it's the cooking method and maybe it's, too, the marinade and all the salt, but it didn't taste piggy enough to qualify, in my books, as pork. Pork tastes like pork, always. But good pork is pork that tastes piggy. Piggy taste is beautiful. Piggy taste doesn't necessarily require expensive-as-all-fuck black pig--it can be attained, by a skilled cook, from decent quality standard stuff. But no, Walrus' barbecue pork didn't rate, in my books.

At the same time, though, there's that little thing about the eight dollar price tag. Let's face it, what can you get for eight dollars? A meal at KFC or McDonald's and that's about all. You can't buy even a burger at Grill'd. A lot of places in Springvale, even, will give you a mediocre 'rice meal' or some mediocre dumplings floating in, depending on your wont, either salty, starch-laden water or grease or, if you're especially lucky, both. So. Yeah. If you have eight bucks in your pocket and you're in Springvale and you're hungry and it's lunchtime, you could do worse. Too, Walrus has a fucking cool name.