Cumulus Inc.

45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9650 1445

Next in the series of posts known as “Melbourne institutions which I have shamefully only recently visited”, we have Cumulus Inc. Open for about two years now, Andrew McConnell’s ‘casual fine dining’ offering is still always busy, and with good reason, I recently found out. The atmosphere is usually buzzing – especially on a Friday night – and the food is pretty great!

When I say recently, I mean about two months ago, by the way. Which I mention in way of explaining why my recollection of the food that evening is a little patchy. Still, seeing as it’s such a highlight of Melbourne’s restaurant scene, it should be memorable, right? Well, we’ll see about that.

I was there with @jeroxie and a group of friends, who had all been to Cumulus before. Happy to go along for the ride, I deferred to their experience when ordering. We started with smoked eel with parsnip (or was it potato? nashi? anyone’s guess). This wasn’t particularly memorable, as you can see.

It’s always hard to go past a soft-shelled crab, and so we didn’t. This was quite good – the only problem with Cumulus’ soft-shelled crab is that it’s one of those ‘designed to share’ things. Given the choice, I wouldn’t share this with anyone!
We then had a (Broad bean? Artichoke?) soup with blue swimmer crab. I wasn’t a huge fan. It was rather bland, although there was a nice big chunk of crab meat in the bottom of the tumbler.
Then there was some cured meat. Kurobota Lomo I think. I’m gonna be honest here, and admit that these thinly sliced cured meats – the bresaola, the prosciutto, the lomo – don’t really do it for me. Yes, they’re tasty, but do I really need to be eating them on their own? I’m willing to be convinced, but it hasn’t happened yet.
In the spirit of eating the gratuitous, we followed that up with fois gras parfait, served with brioche toast. The little candied cumquats (cumquats? I think they were cumquats) were a nice sweet foil to the richness of the parfait. We were really annoying and asked for more brioche toast. The staff were most accommodating.
At this point, the multiple glasses of wine were starting to kick in. The next dish to arrive were clams of some description. I remember them being good, but I can’t remember exactly why. The value of this blog post is becoming exponentially smaller.
Thankfully, we’re almost there! Next up was a slow-roasted shoulder of lamb. The meat was meltingly tender, and lip-smackingly laced with the collagen which had broken down, releasing the flesh from the bone.
This was paired with a cracked wheat and freekeh salad. I had never heard of freekeh, and just assumed it was some sort of herb or spice. Turns out, it’s another grain. Or maybe I read the menu wrong, because it sounds like freekeh is cracked wheat…


Anyway, onto desserts! Wait, I really don’t remember what was going on here, apart from the part where I put too much rum on the rum baba… so maybe I’ll just leave it there.

In any case, a good night was had by all. Cumulus tends to get a bit crowded and then raucous, so it’s a place I suggest you go to enjoy good times with friends. Perhaps not so much a place to hit up for a date on the weekend. Though I’ve been told it’s a bit more sedate during the week.

Cumulus Inc. on Urbanspoon

Jumbo Seafood

East Coast Seafood Centre, 1206 East Coast Parkway, Singapore
Phone: +65 6442 3435

When I told my cousin I was going to visit on my way through to Hong Kong, he immediately asked me, “What do you want to eat?”. Family is such a great thing sometimes.

I of course replied with a list of things, the top of which was chilli crab, because I had not been able to try it last time I was in Singapore, due to a bout of gastro. He replied that would be pretty easy, and then asked me a much more exciting question; “But have you tried the salted duck egg crab?” The what!? I’d never heard of that dish, but I knew of the technique involved, as in Melbourne you can quite commonly get chicken ribs cooked the same way. The thought of crab done this way was a little mind-blowing, but of course, I had to try this cholesterol bomb! What better way to kick off my #fatty adventure?

We went to Jumbo Seafood, which I understand is a local chain of seafood restaurants – probably something of an authenticity fail, but hey, we seemed to be surrounded by lots of Singaporean families, so it can’t be that bad, right?

In fact, it was all pretty good. Not good for me, but definitely good eating. We started off with some deep fried baby octopus.
The little cephalopods were super-crispy, and coated in a salty-sweet glaze. This is one of those near-ultimate beer snack dishes. I could, though probably shouldn’t, eat these all day.

My cousin got rather excited when it came to the next dish: cereal prawns. Sounds weird, right?

Basically, it’s some butterflied deep fried (sensing a theme here yet?) prawns, heads and shells still intact, coated with warmed, slightly sweet cereal crumbs. I’m not sure exactly what cereal it was, but it tasted slightly malted. In any case, they were great, and when we ran out of room at the table, and the waitress went to transfer what was left of the prawns onto a smaller plate, my cousin insisted that ALL of the remaining cereal be transferred along with the few remaining prawns.

Onto the main event. The salted duck yolk crab arrived at the table, and you could completely see why the Chinese call this dish gum saa hai (golden sand crab). The yolk was glistening all over the pieces of crab, and it tasted every bit as rich as the Chinese name makes it sound. Served on a bed of crisply fried battered basil leaves, this dish was probably the highlight of my short stay in Singapore.

Because you have the option of ordering different sized crabs, we ordered two medium sized ones between the four of us, which meant I finally got to try chilli crab in Singapore too!

To be honest, I was expecting a bit more spice. And I also wasn’t expecting it to be slightly sweet. I’m not sure if it’s all done this way in Singapore, and I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure it’s the stuff of legend. I’m guessing perhaps there are better versions of it to be found.

The next revelation, though, was a much simpler thing. Fried mantou (steamed bread). So these mantou are steamed, then fried to give them a crunchy ‘crust’. Mantou are the same bread as used to make bao (Chinese steamed buns – you know the ones, with the roast pork in them), so they’re slightly sweet. In this case, their express purpose is to be used to mop up the various sauces of the other dishes. Crunchy and yet fluffy and sweet? A total winner.

There was also a dish of mushrooms and greens, but as you can see below (on the right) it didn’t really attract as much of our attention as the other dishes.

All in all, this was a great meal. Anything involving two crabs usually is, hey?

Sam Tor Noodles

1/F, 30 Pottinger St, Central

Team Fatty (that is, @eatnik and I) are off and running. Merely hours after @eatnik’s 4:30am arrival – I had arrived the previous day – we headed off for our first stop in what is shaping up to be a food journey of epic proportions. Listed by CNNGo’s guide to Hong Kong as having the best chilli oil in Hong Kong, it was pretty obvious that this place was going to be high on our list of places to visit.


We arrived at around 9:30am, and the place was bustling, but not too busy for us to get a table right away. We shared a table with a middle-aged HK lady, who seemed bemused by how excited we were about the chilli oil, tasting it on its own before mixing it in with our noodles.
To call this Hong Kong’s best is a pretty big call, and I’m not sure I entirely agree. Sure, it’s very good, but it wasn’t the crazy symphony of chilli flavours which CNNGo had me expecting.It was reminiscent of the crispy prawn chilli which @msbaklover had introduced me to recently. Salty but mildly shrimpy (this sounds weird, but trust me, it’s a good thing) at the same time.

I ordered the beef brisket noodle. I like that (for me) it was the perfect breakfast size. Hearty, and satisfying, but not overly filling. And at $HK28 (around $4AUD) it’s an absolute steal. But that’s a trend you’ll be seeing a lot more of in these Hong Kong #fattyposts.

The flavour of the brisket was spot on. A good amount of five spice, but not too much. It was a tad on the oily side, but hey, when you’re on holidays, who cares!? I also love the egg noodles here in Hong Kong. They’re so much finer than the ones we get back in Melbourne, which somehow makes them better.

@eatnik had the wonton noodles (also $HK28), which came with four plump little babies sitting atop her bowl of noodles. On top of which, of course, she heaped a big spoonful of chilli oil.

Having decided early on in the piece that she wasn’t going to try to match my eating prowess bowl for bowl, she was kind enough to give me one of her wontons. They were succulent and tasty, with whole prawns inside.
It may or may not be Hong Kong’s best chilli oil – our jury of two is still out on that one – but Sam Tor is definitely worth a visit. The noodles are awesome, as are their fatboy wontons.

FATTY

I’m currently at Melbourne Airport while I wait to board my flight. I’ll be hitting Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and Penang over the next two weeks, so look forward to some distinctly Asian posts; not that my posts don’t skew that way enough, right?

I’m not sure how much time I’ll have between meals and snacks to update, but I’ll try my best!

Capri Cafe

43 Bridge Mall, Ballarat
Phone: (03) 5331 2683

One of the bonuses of driving all the way to Dunkeld to dine at the Royal Mail Hotel was I got to visit Ballarat for the first time in my life. When I was in Year 7, my best friend moved to Ballarat. I was pretty sad about it, because he was, well, my best friend. In hindsight, I probably had something of a crush on him too, but I was a little too naive to know exactly how that works back then.

When he would tell me over the phone about Ballarat, how it was a lot colder there, and it the landscape was hilly, and the town was much bigger than Swan Hill, I somehow built up in my mind that it was something like the rolling hills somewhere in England, with pine forests and lots of owls. I think I was reading a lot of the Famous Five back then.

In any case, on our way back from Dunkeld on the Sunday afternoon, @eatnik, @meatnik and I stopped in Ballarat for lunch. It being a country town, a lot of places weren’t open. And us being a little hung over and indecisive, we wandered aimlessly around looking for somewhere to eat. At first, there was talk of regional (Victorian) Chinese food – something with which I have a lot of experience – but then as we wandered through the town, the town hall bells pealing at every turn, we settled on the idea of something even more pedestrian; @eatnik wanted a toasted tomato and cheese sandwich.


Not surprisingly, we headed downhill. In more ways than one. We wound up in the Bridge St Mall. You may not have been to Ballarat, but you know this mall. Every medium-to-large sized town in Australia has one. It has some rather unappealing shops, a bunch of ATMs, and it’s probably where you’ll find the local Medicare office. And it has cafes. The one we stopped in at was the Capri.

Once we were seated, we were promptly told that the grill had just been closed down (it was rather late in the afternoon) but that things like focaccias were still available. Which was fine by us. I was ‘feeling healthy’, so I ordered the roast vegetable focaccia. What I didn’t realise, because I was facing the wrong way, and not looking at the sandwich bar, was that regardless of what focaccia or sandwich I ordered, it was going to be laden with the plasticky margarine from a tub that can fairly be described as a bucket. That being said, the focaccia was not bad, though I it was also nothing special. It fit the cafe perfectly.


I was feeling healthy, but I was also feeling hungry. So I made the sorry mistake of ordering a bowl of chips, and watched with dread as the waitress excised the chips from the heated display case at the front of the cafe. Bad chips. But that didn’t stop the three of us from too many of them.


@eatnik got her wish – a toasted tomato and cheese sandwich on white bread. Complete with plastic margarine. She was satisfied. So much so that she took to telling the elderly locals on her way to the restroom that they weren’t bitches.


In the same vein, @meatnik had the ham and cheese toasted sandwich.


There’s nothing wrong with this place, if you take it for what it is – a pretty standard cafe in a country town.They might actually have produced some great food when their kitchen was open too, but I’m not sure I’ll be back in Ballarat any time soon to find out.

Royal Mail Hotel

98 Parker St, Dunkeld
Phone: (03) 5577 2241

When a country hotel is the recipient of two chef’s hats from The Age’s Good Food Guide, and named Gourmet Traveller’s Regional Restaurant of the year, you know that it’s no ordinary pub. Indeed, the Royal Mail is no pub at all. It’s a restaurant (and hotel) and one of the finest at which I’ve had the pleasure of dining. It is far and away my best dining experience of 2010.

The service is miraculously smooth, without being at all stuffy. Food magically appears at the table, and the waitstaff are remarkably unobtrusive, yet always seem to be there the second you might need something; which in our case, was quite frequently, as we quizzed them on the ingredients and techniques of just about every course!

While I may have complained about the three hour drive there, it was undoubtedly worth it, and I’d do it all again as soon as my wallet permits. Let’s face it, at $150 per head it’s not cheap, but it IS exceptionally good value. The menu changes seasonally, to reflect the (mostly local) produce which is at its best.

A lot has been written about the Royal Mail Hotel, so I’ve decided not to dissect each dish the way I normally do. Instead, I’m going to describe it to you in haiku. I figure that’s apt, given the subtle restraint and playfulness of Dan Hunter’s food.

sea salad, lemon and lychee

Venus
Born of the wild seas,
Garlands of sweet porcelain
Salt cling to her skin.

tomato on toast

Father
A weekend away
Ordered by joint custody;
Breakfast as dinner.

jerusalem artichoke, triple cream cheese and chive

Resistance
Hiding from the guns
He survived by wits alone.
Until the grenade.

egg yolk, toasted rye, legumes, yeast

Fallen
Until she returns
I lie on the forest floor.
The sky is my home.

john dory, burnt potato, mustard, nashi

Diver
Deep into night’s ink,
Icy water holds his prize.
Round white ball of light.

asparagus, kohlrabi, duck ham, summer blossoms

Lost love
Warm scent of the sun
Runs through my hair on the breeze;
I feel his hands still.

globe artichoke as pork, pea and parsley

Trap
Taut steel jaw spread wide
Waiting to embrace its prey.
Would you like some cheese?

lamb, eggplant in white miso, pine nut, chlorophyll

The Great Prince of the Forest
Snow gives way to grass.
“Faster!” she called out. “Faster!”
“… my son.” said the Stag.

rhubarb, licorice, almond, citrus

Searching
Methodically,
Thoroughly he searched in vain.
Was it really there?

banana in szechuan pepper, coconut and cocoa ice

Buried
Taphephobia:
It could happen to you, Sir.
Watch where you’re walking.

pistachio, hazelnut, honeycomb, chocolate

Nerd Scout
I tied knots and sang.
Then along came computers.
No more camps for me.

Thank you to all of the team at the Royal Mail Hotel for such an amazing experience.

Royal Mail Hotel on Urbanspoon

Huu Thanh

Food Court, Footscray Market, Irving St, Footscray

A little while ago, Kenny alerted me to the fact that taking photos in Footscray Market is not allowed, which of course makes me want to do it all the more. So after my naive documentation of T&T Takeaway, I’m wilfully flouting the rules and working my way around the food court. Next stop, Huu Thanh.

What I like about both T&T and Huu Thanh is that they’re completely unpretentious. But that might have something to do with the fact  they face onto a food court, and the strains of market vendors spruiking their wares (what IS that “baile-baile-baile” phrase they yell!? is it “buy lah, buy lah, buy lah”?). I love the way that you can sit in the front of the stall, and watch the people go about their shopping. It reminds me a little of the food stands at Tan Dinh market where I used to have lunch in Sai Gon.

Anyway, my cousin had told me that my uncle’s favourite pho joint was in the food court at Footscray Market. I think it’s T&T Takeaway. After all, that was the place that his wife suggested to my mother that we eat at, and well, Huu Thanh doesn’t have pho on the menu. Anyway, T&T Takeaway was full that morning, and I was in need of some soup noodle healing, after a(nother) big night out on the booze. So I went next door to Huu Thanh, and ordered the next best thing for a hangover, the bun bo Hue.

It was a little disappointing. There was a complete lack of pork knuckle, and the beef was a bit on the bland side. The whole bowl seemed to be dominated by a massive slice of cha lua, which is probably my least favourite thing in the dish. The broth, while flavoursome in a non-specific way – there’s definitely more to it than MSG, but what that is, is hard to say – lacked the lemongrass hit for which I love the Dong Ba version.

I will say this: it’s a steal of a lunch meal at $7.50. That’s one thing you’ll find about both Huu Thanh and T&T. The prices are just marginally cheaper than already cheap Vietnamese restaurants in the area.

Huu Thanh has quite an extensive menu (well, about 12 items) of Vietnamese soup noodles. I’ll be back, but next time I’m going to try something else. Hopefully their other noodle soups are better. I’m thinking mi Quang might be the new bun bo Hue this year…

Yigit Pura’s Chocolate Soufflé

For those of you who don’t follow me on twitter, you might not know that I’m an avid viewer of Top Chef. Top Chef is the show that Masterchef should have been. It’s actual chefs, competing Next Top Model style, cooking through a series of themed challenges and being eliminated one by one until one is left standing – the Top Chef.

Recently, the show had a spin off – Top Chef Just Desserts [NB: spoiler in link]. Same format, only with pastry chefs and bakers. So of course I was going to watch – desserts! And pastry chefs! Hot. Gay. Pastry chefs. Well, one.

In any case, @jillianjtl and I spent the best part of three months swooning and mooning over Yigit, so when it came time to pop our respective soufflé cherries – as we were both soufflé virgins until recently – we knew we wanted to be in Yigit’s hands.

Now the recipe was a bit more involved than just the souffle, but the ice cream was a little beyond our reach at the time, so we just thought we’d tackle the souffle first.

As you can see, the little soufflés rose beautifully!We paired it with store-bought vanilla ice cream and passionfruit. I really liked how dark and bitter the chocolate was in the soufflé – it was interestingly rich and light at the same time. And paired beautifully with the sweetness of the ice cream and the tartness of the passionfruit.

om nom nom nom nom!

Technical difficulties: blogpress

So I’ve discovered a fatal flaw with my blogging process. I’m relying on a company whose website has appalling Engrish on their website to store and serve my images.

I currently use the blogpress app on my iPhone to publish my blog posts from my phone (well, the image portion of my posts, anyway). The blogpress servers have been down for about two days now, which means the vast majority of my posts are now without images. Apparently, they’re working on the problem, so hopefully they can resolve it soon. Otherwise I’m faced with the prospect of re-uploading images for well over 100 posts!

Anyway, I apologise for using the default setting on the app, which I have now changed (images will now be stored with blogger) and hopefully things will be back to normal soon.

Not that it was Blogger’s fault at all, but one more reason to move to WordPress? Maybe it’s time…

Coconut House Laksa Special

449 Elizabeth St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9329 6401

Yeah, I’m back for more. Last time I had the chicken rice, so this time I thought I’d try the laksa. The laksa special, that is. Ooh, and what a special laksa!

As you can see (from my upside-down photo) there’s your regular fishcake, prawn and tofu puffs, but then add to that a chicken drumstick, and a beautiful sunny side runny yolk fried egg! Total WIN.
The laksa soup itself was probably a touch heavy on the coconut, and even the fresh chillies didn’t deliver quite enough heat I thought, but what do you expect from a place called Coconut House, right?

Coconut House on Urbanspoon