Gumshara

Eating World Food Court, Shop 209, 25-29 Dixon Street, Haymarket Sydney
Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am-8:30pm
Closed on Mondays

On my recent trip to Sydney, there were two goals I had – the first was to visit the Bourke St Bakery (post coming soon) and the other was to do some ramenhunting. I still remember the best ramen I’ve eaten in Australia, at Ryo’s in Crow’s Nest in Sydney. It was my introduction to the silky seductive joys of tonkotsu, and like a first love, it may be surpassed, but will never be forgotten.

Some quick online research and asking around led me to believe the place to go around the CBD was a little ramen stall in a food court, called Gumshara. Which happened to be just a few blocks from our hotel. Score! However, by the time we got down to the foodcourt on the Friday night, Gumshara was already closed.

The dream was put aside for awhile, and it wasn’t until Sunday afternoon, just before heading to the airport for our flight back to Melbourne which became and epic four hour stay at Sydney airport (thanks, Tiger), we stopped in on Sunday afternoon.

There are an array of ramen offerings at Gumshara. Of special interest is the pork spare rib, of which there are only 10 servings per day.
We managed to get two of them – I guess Sundays must be a little slow. This bad boy was mine. Of course, it comes with the sticky tonkotsu broth for which all good ramen pilgrims search.
My friends Miss J and Mr T shared one between them, with extra toppings of chashu and beautifully soft-boiled eggs.
Mr I went for the classic chashu ramen, again with tonkotsu. He had trouble finishing the bowl on his own. We swapped some chashu for some spare rib, and I have to say, the spare rib was good, but the chashu was better.
The ramen noodles were wonderfully springy to begin with, but they did fade somewhat as I worked my way through them. Still, they were a cut above most places I have tried in Melbourne.

The pork spare rib was a hefty chunk of meat, and I don’t think it’s really necessary, but things that are necessary are often boring. I did manage to get through it all, barely. It was a little too salty for my liking, to be honest.

There’s a sign at the stall, and the staff there mention it when they hand over the ramen; if the soup is too rich or salty, they are happy to adjust it for you. I didn’t think that was necessary. It certainly was rich, but that’s what I look for in a tonkotsu broth, no?

Apparently yes.

Gumshara is definitely worth the time to visit if you’re in Sydney and in need of ramen. And let’s face it, we’re all in need of ramen. All the time. Really.

Bucking the trend and taking advantage of the food court’s multitudinous offerings, Miss D and had a Singapore-style fried hokkien prawn mee, which she was extremely satisfied with. Apparently good prawn mee hard to get in Melbourne.

Gumshara Ramen on Urbanspoon

Fifi Foveaux’s

428 Crown St, Surry Hills
Phone: (02) 9380 6881

My cousin took me to this cute little cafe in Sydney last month. As we chatted away, realising that we had last caught up properly about 18 months ago, in Viet Nam, it was really heartening to see that my younger cousin had really found his feet in Sydney. It made me remember how much I love my awesome family, and that I should really try to spend more time with them. And maybe I that I should give Sydney a bit more of a chance, too. But I digress.

With vivid red walls, and seating spilling out onto the street, it was a buzzing little joint on a Sunday morning. And I was buzzing too, after my first sip of coffee; a coffee which confirmed for me that Melbourne is streets ahead in that department. Maybe I should only visit Sydney in the afternoon!

I ordered bacon and fried eggs, with rocket and avocado. It had some fun name, but I forget right now.

The eggs were a little overdone, and the sticks of toast were a bit dry. The bacon was nice and crispy, however, and the avocado provided the necessary lubrication for the whole dish. On the whole, it was on the acceptable side of mediocre. It definitely helped with the hangover which was fast developing, however!

My cousin ordered the omelette with Spanish onion and smoked salmon. Again the eggs looked a tad on the rubbery side, though the salmon looked fresh and he was very satisfied with it.

Overall, I’d have to say Fifi Foveaux was rather forgettable. It wasn’t bad, just not great. The service was rather slow, as well, though the waiters were friendly and efficient, once you could get their attention.

Fifi Foveaux's on Urbanspoon

Photopost: more from Chowhound

See my original post on Chowhound. I liked it so much I went back recently for brunch. Mr N had scrambled eggs. I had the laksa lemak (which was actually a bit TOO spicy for my liking). I can handle my spice, so people be warned!

Chowhound on Urbanspoon

Il Fornaio

2 Acland St, St Kilda
Phone: 9534 2922
http://www.ilfornaio.net.au/

After some morning shopping at the farmer’s market with Penny (@jeroxie) and her Mister, we stopped in at Il Fornaio for a late brunch. I was quite excited, because I still remember my dinner at Ondine many years ago – the oysters five ways in particular – and I was keen to see what Philippa Sibley’s take on a bakery cafe would be.

I’m going to start with the positives. The place was bustling when we arrived, and we luckily got a seat by the window. I ordered the blood sausage frittata.

Never having had blood sausage before, it was something of a revelation. The sausage in the frittata was tasty and dense. I could have dealt with more caramelised onions, and the egg was a little rubbery, however. Thankfully, the relish on the side held the dish together, which otherwise would have been pretty dry.

Penny, a black pudding veteran, ordered the black pudding with poached eggs, which looked delightfully gooey. I think the whole dish looked, again, like it lacked moisture, but Penny didn’t complain, so it must have been OK. It seems quite a rich and heavy brunch option to me. But she was nursing quite the hangover, so that was probably a good thing!

Penny’s Mister ordered the eggs Benedict, which he promptly demolished,so again, I’m assuming it also was satisfying.
Now, the negatives. The service was abominable. Our waitress was brusque to the point of being rude. Actually, no, let me amend that; she was rude. She was visibly pissed off when we asked for a couple of minutes more to decide what to have, and she was rather overbearing when she returned to take our order later. I understand that it’s a busy cafe, but I’m sorry, you work in hospitality. Be hospitable.

Here’s an open letter to our waitress that day:

Dear waitress,


I realise that you were very busy the afternoon we came to eat at Il Fornaio. Maybe you were understaffed because someone had called in sick. But life throws challenges at us, and we really should all try to rise to meet them. I’m sorry if your boyfriend had just broken up with you earlier that week, or your cat had died, or you just had an absolute blinder the night before and you were nursing a gargantuan hangover. But perhaps if you weren’t in a decent enough mood to at least fake being nice, you should have called in sick. Oh wait, someone else already did that.

What you shouldn’t have done, was treat us as if we were insufferable fools, who were testing your patience – which was apparently failing -and who you only tolerate because you have to pay your bills. When one of us ordered a pourover coffee, it was OK that it wasn’t available, even though it was on the menu, because you were short a barista.

When one of us tried to order the pink grapefruit juice, you told us that it was only available on some days, and that you thought it wasn’t available today. Oh no, please don’t bother offering to check. And while you’re at it, please don’t apologise at all when you spill water across the table and onto Mister’s lap. And yes, we’re very thankful for your going to get some napkins and a tea towel to clean it up. Not like it’s your job or your mess or anything.

I’m hoping for your employer’s sake that you were just having a bad day. Because I wouldn’t go back if I thought I would have to endure that sort of service again.

Regards,

Billy

In all honesty, the food at Il Fornaio was quite good. I think I might just go for the baked goods and take them away next time, though.

Il Fornaio on Urbanspoon

Hot Poppy

9 Errol St, North Melbourne
Phone: 9326 9299

A cute little cafe up the quieter end of Errol St, Hot Poppy has been around since my uni days. I remember a friend quite excitedly cheering “Hot Poppy!” with a Japanese accent, when asked about where to go for breakfast. And indeed, their breakfast is quite good. I imagine that these days, with places like Fandango and Auction Rooms in the area, it’s not quite so hard to get a table at Hot Poppy for a weekend breakfast, though I could be wrong.

On this occasion, I stopped in for a working lunch with Mr A, at his suggestion. It was a blustery Winter’s day outside, so I felt like some hearty soup. The soup of he day was a Moroccan chicken and lentil soup.

Served with some warm Turkish bread, it was just the hit of heartiness I was after. The spices were used subtly, and balanced well with the tomato base. I thought it could have dealt with a little more chilli heat, but that’s probably just me. I’m not sure Moroccan food is supposed to challenge you like other curry-style cuisines.

Mr A had a toasted roast vegetable pide. Which is another way of saying mini Turkish bread. It looked pretty tasty.

Don’t let this review fool you, however. Hot Poppy does more than simple soups and sandwiches – other people were having more complicated foods like risotto and stews all around us. The service was efficient and unobtrusive.

Hot Poppy on Urbanspoon

Bath Lane Cafe

13 Bath Lane, Bendigo
Phone: (03) 5441 5400

Stopping in for some late lunch in Bendigo, or so we had thought, Mr N and I thought we’d try one of the cafes along the Bath Lane strip, behind the controversial new Bendigo Bank building. The building is controversial because it’s big, glass, with bits of red and green. It wouldn’t look out of place on a suburban University campus, or maybe in the Docklands, but I can see why people in Bendigo though it was an eyesore. It definitely clashes with the surrounding heritage buildings. And Bendigo’s a lot about heritage.

Bath Lane Cafe is, if the Bendigo tourism site is to be believed, part of that heritage, as a “Bendigo breakfast tradition“. While the breakfast is available all day, we opted for some lunchier options. Mr N chose the chicken salad with a mango dressing.

The dressing was a good mix of sweet and tangy, and all the ingredients were wonderfully fresh. Despite not having eaten since an early breakfast, as we were aware that we were due at the Dispensary in a few hours, Mr N didn’t finish the salad. And well, if he didn’t finish a salad, I really had no chance. I didn’t know what I was doing…
… ordering the burger. Touted on the menu as the best burger in town, I really couldn’t go past it. It came served on a bed of chips, which were crispy on the outside, but soft and fluffy on the inside, the way good pub-style chips should be. There was probably about a fish and chip shop ‘minimum chips’ amount, as you can see, on the plate; ie. a lot. Then there was the burger itself.
A monster of a beef patty, with crispy bacon, caramelised onions, a fried egg, tomato and lettuce. I sound like I’m writing a McDonald’s commercial here, but trust me, this was a world away from the cardboard meat of fast food. The burger was actually cooked to a medium, which might have put some people off, but I love all my meat on the rare side. You can really taste it properly. I think the only thing missing from this beast was some beetroot, to make it real a Aussie classic. I had to slice it in half to eat it, and I’m glad I don’t have a small mouth, because it was a challenge to fit it in as it was! So yes, I also didn’t manage to finish my lunch.
Which meant we couldn’t get one of these… so sad, because they not only looked amazing, but they were only $4.50!

Bath Lane Cafe on Urbanspoon

Le Traiteur

552 Lonsdale St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9670 0039
http://www.letraiteur.com.au/

I like to think I’m a morning person. Years of a nine to five job have made me almost unable to sleep in on weekends, and the skylight in my bedroom currently doesn’t help that. So when @jeroxie and the @eatdrinkstagger crew suggested an early morning breakfast at Le Traiteur – run by the people who brought you Libertine – I was quick to agree.

For some bizarre reason, I wasn’t able to sleep the night before, so I was up while it was still dark; it wasn’t the skylight’s fault this time. This turned out to be quite lucky, because it meant I was able to catch the tail end of a World Cup semi-final match! The day was looking good, and the sun wasn’t even up yet!

Braving the Winter morning, I rode into the city on my trusty bike, a little unnerved when I realised that where I was headed was half a block down from Goldfingers. Thankfully, it wasn’t SO early that the stragglers would have been leaving. The first one there, I settled myself at the big communal table, and took advantage of it to sprawl The Age out while waiting for the others.

I also had myself a coffee. Which was quite good. Please remember, peoples, that I don’t know anything about coffee, but I know what I like. It’s like my relationship with art.
It’s not a fern or a heart, but it looks sort of like a guernsey cow! A few minutes later, the others arrived, and breakfast was on like Donkey Kong!!! (Can you sense that I had finished my coffee by this stage? No, seriously, can you? I was quite excited, really. Really.)
I ordered the Croque Madame. It’s like a Croque Monsieur – ham and cheese toasted sandwich, sometimes (as here) with bechamel sauce – but with a fried egg on top. It was a bit tricky to eat, but full of oozy caloric goodness Mmmmm, bechamel. Next time I’d just go the Monsieur, as the egg wasn’t spectacular, and that might be easier to handle. I had a bit of a tough time figuring out whether to use a knife and fork, or go in with hands. For future reference, hands was the better option.

Penny (@jeroxie) had the confit egg with cured ocean trout and fromage frais on seed loaf. I snuck a quick bite of her toast with the fromage frais, which was pretty awesome – nice seed loaf – but we couldn’t really figure out how you’d get crispy edges on a confit egg if the oil doesn’t reach boiling point… perhaps there was a bit of a fry at the end?

Gem had the semolina porridge with poached fruit. It looked wonderfully smooth, and Gem was driven to wax lyrical by the poached cumquats, they evoked such strong childhood memories. Food is wonderful like that sometimes, huh?
When Tris’ pikelet stack with Calvados apples and creme fraiche arrived at the table, we all ooh-ed and ahh-ed. They looked mightily impressive. I’m sure they were too, though he didn’t say much… you’ll want to check out the Eat Drink Stagger post for more details.

I think I might have to get into the city for breakfast more often…

Penny’s take on Le Traiteur (jeroxie – consuming and addictive)
Gem’s account of breakfast (eat, drink, stagger)

Le Traiteur on Urbanspoon

Chowhound

235 High St, Northcote
Phone: 9486 5885

Life is serendipitous sometimes. More so than facebook.

You know how you add your old high school or primary school friends on facebook, and then stalk them a bit, looking at their photos, maybe send them a message or two, and comment on a few of their status updates? Then you pretty much ignore them until they post a link to an interesting looking video. Then you ignore them again. Probably for good.

Life is a little more in your face, like when you run into your old best friend from primary school at the banquet of one of your close friends from uni’s sister’s wedding. You know how it is, right? Right. So I ran into Mr D at said banquet, and we promised that we’d catch up soon. It was another month or two in the making, and was of course facilitated by facebook messaging, but nonetheless we caught up. At Chowhound, a little gem of a place in Northcote, one of quite a few which seem to have sprung up in the last couple of years, since I used to live there.

Chowhound was set up by some of the former owners of Nudel Bar in the city, with a similar mish-mash of Asian and European dishes on their menu. The interiors are warm and relaxed, and I love a place that has booths along the wall. There’s a cute little courtyard out the back too, but it was too cold that day to entertain that notion. Service was very friendly, as well as prompt and unobtrusive.

I had the Spaetzli noodles, tossed with caraway seeds, with lamb goulash. It was such a perfectly hearty dish, which was just what I was after. The caraway seeds were a clever touch too, giving the Spaetzli a touch of fancy, making them more than just the accompaniment to the rich, lusty paprika-driven stew.

Mr D was in the mood for a lighter option, and had the green tea noodles with salmon and avocado. He said it’s one of his favourite dishes on the menu. The serve may look a little small, but it is from the ‘dishes to share’ section of the menu, so that’s to be expected. I’m not quite sure how easy noodles would be to share, however.
All in all, chowhound is a pretty laid back and unpretentious place, but it still serves up some fine and interesting food. I’d recommend taking your family there – there certainly were lots of them there that afternoon – the menu is quite diverse, so there should be something for everyone. Prices are mid-range. Expect to pay between $15-25 for a main.

Chowhound on Urbanspoon

Independence Day Party

Earlier this week, we celebrated Independence Day at work (one of our colleagues is a Kalamazoo, MI native). I’m not sure I’ve had such an unhealthy lunch in a while. Oh wait, who am I kidding, I went to McDonald’s for lunch a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, it was July the 5th, but it would still have been July the 4th somewhere in the USA.

My BBQ pork ribs. I did a test batch earlier in the week, but this one turned out much better. 5 hours at 120C in the oven will do that.
And the divine Miss M’s peanut butter cupcakes. Yup, that’s a wedge of Reese’s Pieces on top. And there was a whole one on the base of the cupcake. *droooool*

Tonkotsu ramen at Kenzan GPO

GPO Building, Rear 350 Bourke St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9663 7767

I’m not often one to take suggestions from a cat, though I probably should, if Murakami is to be believed, but I was happy to be pointed in the direction of Kenzan@GPO by chocopaws after the initial ramenhunt. The first time I went there, I was sadly informed that they weren’t serving the ramen. But recently, I stopped in the city for lunch on an errand, and was heartened to find “Winter Special” signs up.

Not only was there ramen, but there was the king of all ramen – tonkotsu! At a hefty $15 a bowl – it sells for about $10 at Ramen Ya next door – expectations were high. Would the higher-end neighbour be able to knock Ramen Ya off their perch as the purveyors of the finest ramen in the Melbourne CBD?

Ooh, semi-soft-boiled egg. A good start! A generous serve of chashu, as well as the traditional bamboo shoots and two types of seaweed. Pickled ginger and spring onion garnishes round out what was a thoroughly impressive looking bowl.
The noodles were of a decent texture – a little past al dente but still holding enough requisite springiness. And it was a hefty serve of noodles, too.Unfortunately, that’s where the praise ends.

The broth was far too salty, and it was just as well the pickled ginger was there to offset the intensity of the broth. Yet, for its intensity of flavour, the broth lacked the lip smacking collagen hit that Ramen Ya’s broth carries. Which is the point of tonkotsu, really, if you ask me.

My other major disappointment with Kenzan’s ramen was the chashu. Yes, there was quite a lot of it. And yes, it was quite meltingly tender, as good chashu should be. But this was largely due to the fact that it was mostly fat. Now I’m not one to shy away from pork fat. Indeed, I think pork fat is one of the things the gods bestowed upon humankind, to make life on Earth bearable. But this was pork fat overkill.

To add insult to injury, when I took my first bite of chashu, it was COLD. Really!? Really, Kenzan? We both know you can do better than that. Yes, it was busy, but no, that’s not an excuse to serve cold pork fat. Perhaps I should have followed the teachings of Tampopo and caressed my chashu and stared longingly at it for a while longer, while the broth did its work to soften the fat, but I like to have some pork at the same time as I have the ramen noodle, which I can’t delay the consumption of for fear it will soften  further. Oh the painful paradox! Which could have been avoided had you only warmed the pork a little before placing it in the broth. Le sigh.

I really wanted to love the Kenzan ramen. And in the final analysis, it was much better than other versions being served around town, but it fell far short of my expectations. Especially given the price. I’ll head next door to Ramen Ya next time instead.

Broth 3/5
Noodles 3/5
Toppings 3/5
Total 9/15

The lesson here: Never listen to cats.

Kenzan @ GPO on Urbanspoon

For a comparison against other ramen in the CBD, see my original ramenhunt post.