Ramen at Ume Hana

398 Elizabeth St, Melbourne
Phone: 9663 1108

It’s been a while ramen fans, but the hunt is on again!  This time I headed to Ume Hana, because I had to swap over my Sennheiser iPhone headphones for the FOURTH time in a year… seriously, the sound quality on those things is awesome, but they break so easily. Thankfully there’s a two year warranty, so I can just swap them over when (not if) they go bung.

Anyway, Ume Hana is a pretty pedestrian feeling Japanese/Korean restaurant. It feels more like a cafe (which the place used to be) than a restaurant, actually. But this incongruous setting it totally countered by the fact the owners are actually Japanese, and if you drop in after the lunch-time rush, they’re all sitting around having their staff lunch, and the owner will actually serve you while everyone else continues eating. Sweet!

I decided to go for the Karaage ramen, because I wasn’t in the mood for seafood, and well, fried chicken. ‘Nuff said.

I was impressed when it came out, but unfortunately the first impression wasn’t followed up by the subsequent tasting.
The broth, a shoyu (soy) base, was flavourful, but I would characterise it as more salty than tasty. It was pretty one dimensional. The all important ramen noodles were rather soft – I would hazard a guess that they had been sitting in the piping hot broth waiting while the chicken was being fried. Sitting there too long. As for the toppings, the fried chicken was good, and the inclusion of a poached egg as opposed to a boiled egg was interesting, but looked like it was poached in a microwave. The yolk was cooked to a nice softness, however.

All in all, the ramen was on the poor to mediocre end of the scale.

Broth 2/5
Noodles 2/5
Toppings 3/5
Total 7/15

To see where it sits in the rankings, see my original ramen hunt post.

Ume Hana on Urbanspoon

China Red

Shop 6, 206 Bourke St, Melbourne
Phone: 9662 3688

Never one to miss joining in on a chorus, here’s my take on the recently(ish) opened China Red. Compare and contrast with that of Penny and Jess. Oh, and The Age. 1500 words due in at the end of the week.

A while ago, a colleague of mine told me how her husband had been to this place in Chinatown where you can order the food off touchscreens. I was immediately intrigued. She also said that he claimed they produced the best xiao long bao in the city. Doubly intrigued. So it took a little while, but I ventured down, and caught up with my old housemate La Singe for lunch one day. Before mid-afternoon karaoke. Because that’s how we roll.

We had some fun playing around with the touchscreens, and in the end, because we were both a little ill, we both chose soup noodles. Yes, we were ill, and karaoke was on. Because that’s how we roll.

I chose the venison noodle soup. It wasn’t that exciting, which is just was well, because bland food was what the doctor ordered. The venison was well cooked, though not particularly gamey – I like gamey, because that’s how I roll – which was a bit disappointing. The noodles were pretty good too, though I’m not sure if they were hand-pulled. Looking back at these photos, I’d have to say they don’t look it.

La Singe had the mushroom noodles – I think it was called something like ‘Eight Treasure’ mushroom noodles, but the flowery over-promising artistic licence is to be expected of a place which has a section on their touchscreen menu called ‘Melbourne-style Classics’. These classics include such gems as Sweet and Sour Pork, and Lemon Chicken. Yeah, Melbourne-style. If you live in Zone 2.
Anyway, La Singe really enjoyed her noodles, and the little bit of broth I tried seemed to be a lot more packed with umami than my own.

Next time I went back, it was with young Master Dumplings. Given it was the first time we met in person, I figured we should really have dumplings. So we tried the xiao long bao.

Penny’s right, and my colleague’s husband is, sadly, wrong. These are far from being the best in the city. HuTong‘s are streets ahead, and I think even Dumplings Plus‘ version are better. The main problem I had with China Red’s xlb was that there really wasn’t enough flavour. And there was a strangely consistent amount of cooked blood in each one. Not sure what was going on there, but texturally, it didn’t really belong.

The steamed dumplings were considerably better. While not stellar, if all your regular dumpling haunts are full, China Red isn’t a bad option. Again, the filling lacked flavour for my taste, but the skins were satisfyingly doughy.

We also tried the kim chi fried rice, which on the touchscreen, was adorned with one (out of a possible three, I believe) chilli. It didn’t live up to the advertised spiciness. Thankfully, the chilli oil provided at China Red is pretty damn good – there’s some Sichuan pepper in the mix – so we just adjusted to our own needs.
China Red is an odd place. The touchscreens are fun, and the food is decent, if not that great. The service is a little too attentive – on account of the waiters not having to take orders? – and plate clearance will be requested by staff before you’re finished. All in all, I’d go there again, but I’m not sure I’d suggest it to others. There are too many other good options in the vicinity.

China Red on Urbanspoon

Al Albero

354 St Georges Road, North Fitzroy
Phone: 9486 3233

You know, when people say ‘good pizza’ to me these days, I immediately think of a thin crust, minimalist toppings, and hopefully there’s goat’s cheese somewhere in the mix. Al Albero is pretty much the antithesis of that (except for the goat’s cheese bit) and yet there’s no denying it’s good pizza. If not great pizza.

I was first taken there by @essjayeff for a quick dinner with half of the Phat Preston trivia team before heading to the Gastronomica quiz a few weeks ago. On that visit, I thought I’d abstain from documenting, because, well, sometimes it’s nice to take the night off. And also my spidey-senses warned me that fellow foodbloggers might get a little judgey judgey about my iPhoneography.

On my return visit, unfortunately the duck pizza – yep, you read correctly, DUCK PIZZA – had been taken off the menu. I was told that the removal was temporary, and a new menu should probably be in place by now. This return visit was another pizza date, and was very much the antithesis of the Papa Gino’s excursion. The pizza was good, and so was the conversation. And the fella. But again, digress much?

We ordered two pizzas – a medium lamb pizza, and a small of the Albero. We really should have ordered two smalls.

The lamb pizza is topped with meat that’s been stripped off slow-roasted lamb shanks, big hunks of tomato, goat’s cheese and fresh herbs. The base is much more doughy, like a foccacia, so expect to fill up quite quickly. Though the duck pizza is more exciting on paper, I think the lamb pizza is definitely my favourite here.

The Albero is a vegetarian option, with pumpkin, goat’s cheese, capsicum and a whole lot of fresh basil to top it off. It’s good, but I probably would’ve added lamb to it, if I had my way.

There are a lot of reviews on urbanspoon about this place, saying the service is slow and sucks, and the pizza is thick and soggy, but I personally haven’t had any bad experiences there. Both nights I went were quite quiet, but I imagine there would be quite a wait if the place were busy, as it’s only a one or two person operation, in a tiny kitchen, where everything is made from scratch. So you should factor that in, if you’re planning to go.

Al Albero on Urbanspoon

T&T Takeaway

Food Court, Footscray Market, Irving St, Footscray

After hauling my new washing machine 250 metres up Barkly St with my parents – they had parked the car in front of the wrong building, and unloaded the thing before letting me know they’d arrived – I wandered down to Footscray Market with them for some lunch and to do some grocery shopping.

Mum had a ‘hot tip’ from one of my aunts about a good place in the market to eat, so we sat down at one of the eateries in the food court. Interestingly T&T offers both Vietnamese and Filipino food. I’m not sure how that works with respect to the ‘authenticity’ stakes, but I imagine they might actually just be two proprietors sharing a kitchen space? Most of the Filipino stuff appeared to be pre-made, whereas a lot of the Vietnamese dishes on the board were made to order in the kitchen out the back.

Mum had the bun mang goi vit (apologies for the upside down photo) which came with the goi vit on the side.
Goi vit basically means duck salad.
I tried a little, and the bamboo wasn’t really up to scratch for me. It was neither pungently bamboo-ey nor was it braised in a tasty enough master stock. The duck was alright, but as it’s just braised/boiled, duck in this dish is never as stellar as a roast duck.

I ordered the bun mam, which is a rice vermicelli noodle soup made with fermented fish paste as the stock base. T&T’s bun mam broth was well balanced; strong without being overly fishy or salty. A squeeze of lemon helps to lift the flavour, which is otherwise quite intense. I thought i a little odd to be given chunks of roasted belly pork and large prawns, yet there was a lack of cha lua or any other processed pork. Still, when it arrived, the crackling on the pork was still crunchy, so I can’t complain too much!

Dad ordered the bun bo Hue. I sipped a little of his broth, and I have to say it was, well, weird. It was somehow sweet, and lacked the lemongrass,and even chilli characteristics that I associate with good bun bo Hue.
All in all, I think perhaps my aunt either chose better dishes, or just has different tastes to me. I wasn’t that impressed with T&T. There are better places in Footscray, also serving $8 bowls of noodle soup.

Cafe Isabella

Ground Floor, Royal Women’s Hospital, Parkville

Another month, another colleague’s birthday lunch. Not that I’m complaining, because it’s nice to have an excuse to leave the office for an hour or so. This time, we headed to the nearby Royal Women’s Hospital – I know, not a likely place for good food – to have lunch at Cafe Isabella.

Cafe Isabella is more like a cafe which happens to be in a hospital, than a hospital cafe. I imagine it’s something of a flagship outlet for its owners, the Zouki group, who also manage the food court offerings in the RWH/RMH building. The fit out is new and stylish, and the feel is definitely urbane. When we were there, the place wa s full of what I can only assume were hospital officials – it was all a little bit suity. Still, the service is exceedingly good, and the food is pretty good value, with meals ranging between $15-$25.

I had the chicken burger, because I felt like something with chips that day. My only complaint about this burger was that it was a bit too big. I had to chop it in two to manage it without spilling aioli and caramelised onions all over myself. The chips were nice and crispy, if a little on the luke side of warm. I love these wide, flat cut chips, though.

A couple of my colleagues had the stir-fried seafood, which apparently had a bit of spice to it. Both ladies reported that it was nice, but both were a bit perplexed by the lack of rice served with the dish. I’m not sure steamed rice is on the menu as a side, either, but I could be wrong.
Another couple of my colleagues had the Caesar salad, and both were quite happy with it.
Ms M had the fettuccine carbonara, and she was happy with it. The portion looked a little small when it arrived, but being quite a rich dish, it was still quite satisfying.
Ms L had the fish and chips, and was quite happy with it, despite it taking significantly longer to arrive at the table than the rest of our meals.
Ms S had the mushroom and pea risotto, with crispy pancetta. That fancy dark stuff around the edge was an aged balsamic glaze. Out of all the dishes, I thought this was the most impressive, not just because of the presentation, but the risotto looked perfectly cooked, too.
If you happen to be at the hospital, or near it, Isabella isn’t a bad option for a meal. Especially when you consider the other options nearby.

Thanh Nga 9

160 Victoria St, Richmond
Phone: 9427 7068

One of the greatest things about having a new home to set up is that it gives me an excuse to go to IKEA. I know, I know, IKEA is kind of evil, and I’m not going to completely surround myself with soul-less flat-packery. But it’s very useful when you need a wardrobe, or some stupidly large beer glasses. One of the greatest things (apart from the satisfaction of entering through the checkouts and being in and out in under half an hour – like a ninja!) is it’s a good excuse to hit the Vietnamese restaurants on Victoria St. Not that you really need an excuse, but…

Anyway, I had heard good things about Thanh Nga Nine on the twitters, and finally stopped in last week. Thanh Nga Nine is (to the best of my knowledge) not the ninth in a chain of restaurants. The menu is slightly different from most places in the strip; yes, it has all your favourites, but there’s also a definite nod to the owner’s Mekong delta origins, with specialties from the area clearly marked on the menu. Well, clearly if you know the names of delta towns.

My pathetIKEA friend Mr D (his words, not mine) came along, because he was in need of some flat-packery. For some reason, even though we’d arranged to meet for dinner, he’d already eaten beforehand, so he had the Soc Trang style fried rice cakes.

These are a southern take on the more the more ubiquitous banh beo, which are a traditional dish from central Viet Nam. Basically, the ‘cake’ is made from glutinous rice flour, which is steamed, then topped with mung bean paste, and ground minced prawns. In this version, the rice cake is deep fried before the toppings are added, giving it a nice crispy rim. The cake is also much thinner, with more mung bean, which I though was a good move, as the rice cake is somewhat dull, and the mung bean paste is much more satisfying. The cakes came with two dipping sauces – a nuoc cham which was a bit heavy on the sweet chilli to my liking, and a salted coconut milk. Which sounds weird, but is awesome.

Needing a more hearty feed, I chose the bun rieu cua mien tay (South Western style crab and tomato noodles). The broth was wonderfully rich and full of crab flavour, though there was definitely a big dose of MSG in there too. Not in a terribly bad way.

The ‘toppings’ included prawns, fish, tofu puffs, and to my delight, congealed blood (the brown cube on the right). The actual bun used was a thick rice vermicelli. A good selection of herbs and shredded vegetables which come with the dish added that freshness and lightness which is one of the things I love about Vietnamese food.
If these dishes are representative of the rest of the menu, I’m definitely going back. Even if the proprietress was a little overwhelmingly friendly. But that’s just more authenticity for you!

Thanh Nga Nine on Urbanspoon

Papa Gino’s

221 Lygon St, Carlton
Phone: 9347 5758

There’s a time and a place for everything in life, so they saying goes. I’m not sure who said it, but they’re a very forgiving soul. Because conversely, life’s too short to [insert something negative here]. My insert negative is [go on bad dates].

Recently single again, I’ve started picking up the pieces of my life and going through that strange process known as ‘moving on’. It’s strangely coincidental, but every time in my life that has marked the end of a significant relationship, has also been marked by my moving house. But I digress. I recently went on a date, which life was too short to have really happened. I won’t go into details, because you’re reading to find out about Papa Gino’s, not the travails of my dating adventures. That’s another blog entirely!

After a couple of beers, which impaired my judgment somewhat, I agreed to move on for dinner. Since I was a bit inebriated, I was quite happy when he suggested pizza. I’m a patient guy, so I thought I’d give the conversation a chance to improve. I also thought it might still be early enough for us to get a table at D.O.C.. Alas, I was wrong on both counts. So given my relative inexperience and lack of knowledge about pizza on Lygon St, we ended up going to Papa Gino’s.

I won’t lie and say I’ve never been there before – I used to go there very occasionally for work lunches – but I’ve never really liked the place. It’s a bit too bustle-y, the chairs are uncomfortable, the lighting is strangely bright, and well, the pizza is mediocre. The only saving grace is that when the place isn’t too busy, the waitstaff are charming. But in the evening, it’s usually busy.

This night, he ordered the quattro gustri. Out of these, I think the margherita was probably the best corner. I’m really not a fan of shredded ham on my pizza. It makes me think of McCain’s frozen pizza, and let me just say, as far as pizzas go, McCain never did it once, let alone again. The other mushroomy and olivey corners weren’t terrible, but weren’t much to write about either, so I won’t.

Always one for carb-on-carb action, I ordered the campania, which was topped with diced tomato, mozzarella cheese, potato, onion, prosciutto. It wasn’t a bad combination of ingredients, but the quality and the execution let it down, I think. The tomatoes, which while obviously fresh, were under-ripe, and therefore a bit bland and watery. The potato was sliced too thickly, and this made the pizza feel a lot heavier than it needed to be. Similarly, the onion was a bit too chunky, and could have been cooked a little longer, too. The prosciutto was fine, but it’s hard to stuff up prosciutto, right? I’m going to try to be positive here and say the herbs were a nice blend of oregano and rosemary.
I wouldn’t recommend Papa Gino’s – at least not for pizza, and not for a date. Perhaps if you’re wanting somewhere for a group of colleagues to go for lunch? Perhaps. Even then, I’d stay away from the pizza.

Papa Gino's on Urbanspoon

Dong Ba

133 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9689 0608

After weeks of living in limbo, house sitting for my sister while she was on her honeymoon, I’m finally ensconced in my new apartment in Footscray! So let the exploration of my new ‘hood begin in earnest!

The intrepid Ms D and I wandered the main drag of Hopkins St last Sunday, looking for some lunch. She was in the mood for bun bo Hue, so I suggested we try Dong Ba, because its signage mentions bun bo Hue, so it must specialise in it, right?

Dong Ba is a classic Vietnamese kitsch restaurant, with daggy furniture, colourful walls, and menus on the wall. There’s also a printed menu, with many more options, but Ms D and I went for two of their specialities. She had the bun bo Hue.

A ‘medium’, this was a hefty bowl of noodles. Filled with all the meat and offal goodness that befits a bun bo Hue, Ms D was very satisfied. She kindly let me sample some of the broth before tucking in, and I must say, it was just beautiful. Most people think bun bo Hue is a chilli beef noodle soup, which is probably due to the amount of orange chilli oil floating on the top. However, it’s actually supposed to be a lemongrass beef noodle soup , and Dong Ba’s version certainly hit the mark there. I’m definitely getting a bowl for myself next time I’m there!

This time, I opted for the bun mang vit (rice vermicelli with duck and bamboo shoot), one of my favourites from a stall near my work when I was living in Saigon.

For me, the make-or-break factor in a bun mang vit is the bamboo shoot. They should have been braised in in some sort of master stock, so they will both have a savoury taste to them, as well that their characteristic pungent bamboo shoot-iness. Dong Ba’s were pretty good, on this count. The broth, too, was clear and tasty, though there was some definite MSG action, it wasn’t heavy handed. The duck itself was a tad disappointing, being slightly overcooked and dry. But all in all, a great rendition.

Some of my friends are quite East or South-centric, and still perceive Footscray to be a hotbed of crime and not very safe. I don’t know about all of that just yet, but I do know that I’m so happy to be surrounded by quality soup noodles in my new neighbourhood!

Dong Ba on Urbanspoon

Taste of Melbourne 2010

Totally late to the party, I know, but here’s my Taste of Melbourne experience. Many thanks to Penny from jeroxie.com for my free ticket – yeah baby! – and to all whom I shared bits of my day with.

Caveat: I was a little under the weather that morning, so self-medicated double doses of echinacea and cough syrup. Therefore my taste buds may have been a little askew. Mmmm, cough syrup.

I started my day off with the braised pork cheek from Mezzo Bar and Grill. While I heard from almost all other people that tried this dish that it was meltingly tender, mine was disconcertingly tough. As in, the biodegradable knife would bend rather than cut through the pork. The flavours were nice, however. I guess I was just unlucky.

My string of bad luck – or bad choices – continued, when I tried the wagyu burger from Luke Mangan’s Palace Hotel. It was a rather unimpressive rissole, on even more unimpressive bread. Seriously, this is Taste of Melbourne, people. Surely a little more effort than that bread you get from Woolworths with the plasticky sheen is in order!
Things took a sharp turn for the better when I tried the wallaby tataki from Charcoal Lane. Surprisingly, the wallaby lacked the gamey flavour you get with kangaroo, and it was delicious. The dressing might have been a touch heavy with the soy, but all in all, it was a fantastic few bites.
I then moved on to dessert, because Ms S whom I was with at the time had something of a sweet tooth. I was a little stunned by the jaw-droppingly handsome waiter from Sarti who was manning the stand, but managed to pick up their pistachio panna cotta, with salted caramel popcorn. The pistachio wasn’t quite pronounced enough for me, but it was supremely creamy, and a good foil for the crunchy popcorn.
After hearing from others over twitter about the Stokehouse’s bombe, I continued my sweet sampling, and yes, it really was the bomb. A strawberry sorbet with vanilla ice cream slice, covered in toasted meringue, with a strawberry syrup, and some fresh strawberry for a little acid to cut the sweetness. It wasn’t so much my contagion as my greed that prevented me from sharing any of this with anyone else!
I then switched back to savoury, for some reason! I tried the Livornese seafood stew from the European. It was something of a disappointment. The seafood was overcooked, and the broth was exceedingly fishy. I guess if you’re going to order a seafood stew, you have to expect that. I’ll know better for next time.
At this point, I wandered off to get a cocktail from Long grain, which apparently was quite good, because my stream of photos ends here! The cocktail was a refreshing blend of muddled lychees and passionfruit, though I can’t remember whether it was rum, vodka or gin. See, good cocktail!

I also finished off my day with the scallops from the Stokehouse, which were probably my pick for the day. Perfectly cooked, with an awesome gazpacho dressing, and crispy lardo chips on top. So. Freaking. Good. Ooh, I found a photo from Ms I-Hua.

Nyala

113 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9419 9128

You know, sometimes you meet people in your life and they will forever be tied to a certain place in your mind, and certain meals that you share. For a group of my friends, who all went to Viet Nam as Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYADs) that place was Viet Nam, and well, that food is Vietnamese. Even though we’ve been back for over a year, every time we catch up, it seems to be at a Vietnamese restaurant. Until recently, when Ms J came over from Adelaide, and made the pointed remark that she was ‘over Vina’. So Mr D and I set about looking for an interesting alternative. We settled on African.

The request from Ms J was that it be close to East Melbourne, where she was staying, so we opted for Nyala African restaurant, on Brunswick St. In the lead up, another of our group had said her colleague was Ethiopian, and didn’t find the food very authentic, but we reasoned that it was an ‘African’ restaurant, not an Ethiopian restaurant, so that’s OK.

Though I’ve been to a few African restaurants now, yet I still haven’t moved past the “I don’t know much about this cuisine, let’s just get the banquet” stage. So we got the banquet.

First up, we got a trio of dips, with a stack of thin ‘mountain bread’. There was a spicy sweet potato, a smoky eggplant, and I can’t remember what the beige one was, so let’s just call it hummus? They were good way to sate the hunger, anyhow, because by the time they arrived, most of us were starving.

Next up were the entrees. A chunk of fried cauliflower (think pakora) and a tasty beef mince mixture, with raisins and flaked almonds.
The two worked together quite nicely, as the cauliflower was a little on the bland side, and the mince was full of punchy flavours. I’m not sure I would recommend either item on its own.

Then the real feast began. First out came the basis of the meal – couscous, some salad, and the all important injera. Unlike Cafe Lalibela or The Abyssinian, the injera here is kind of small, and doesn’t come as the base of the meal on which the rest of the dishes are plonked. There’s still an element of communal eating, in that you’re sharing the food, but it’s not as intimate, because you’re not all ripping at the injera in the middle with your hands. Instead, you portion food onto your place Western style, which is probably more hygienic, but definitely not as much fun!

First up was a beef stew/curry. This was not bad, but not that exciting. Somehow, despite it being a ‘curry’, it was a bit bland.
This was the other beef dish, with a pepper sauce, which was significantly tastier. I think this might have actually been pepper as in capsicum, but it was good either way, despite the Americanism.
Chickenn curry. Tasty, but again, not that memorable. This was one of the dishes which we didn’t end up finishing. There was a lot of food, but this wasn’t such a big dish, so it really should have been polished off. If you’re ordering a la carte, I’d give it a miss.
Then came a sizzling lamb dish. This was by far my favourite. Thinking back, maybe it was goat. That might explain why I liked it so much. In any case, the spice rub had just the right amount of chilli-heat, and I kept going back for more, even after I had proclaimed that I was full. And done. And finished. Oh OK, one more bit of lamb/goat, then.
The second chicken dish had a similar spice rub to the lamb, only there was a tomato-ey sauce to it. It was also a great dish, and if I went back, I’d have the chicken and the lamb/goat.
There was also another vegetable dish, but it was served a little late in the game, so I didn’t have any, and I forgot to take a picture. Food coma was setting in.

All in all, Nyala is a reasonably good place to eat, though I would characterise it as a slightly adulterated African food experience, which is good if you’re looking for an easy introduction to the cuisine.
Nyala African on Urbanspoon