Max’s Cafe and Wine Bar

1-3 Leake St, Essendon
Phone: 9374 2632

You can tell a lot about a person from the places they choose to take you on a date. When I’m in charge of choosing the place, you can tell that I’m indecisive and often disorganised. I’ll most likely suggest to meet somewhere in the vicinity of a few good options, then make us traipse around seemingly aimlessly, dismissing options out of hand because they’re too busy, not busy enough, or because I’ve heard something bad about it from friends. But I’d like to think that more often than not, I come up with the goods. That’s one good thing about being a food blogger, having other food bloggers as friends; you have a pretty good idea of where the good places to eat are.

Anyway, when I went out on a second date with Mr D – the first was just drinks at a bar – and we were in his ‘hood, naturally I decided to let him choose. The first alarm bell rang when he declared that he didn’t really like Asian food. I really should have said, “Well, it’s been nice knowing you.” then and there. But I thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt, and so we ended up at Max’s.

Upon walking in, we were summarily ignored by the three waitstaff who were managing three other tables between them. The place looked like a reputable establishment, so we approached one of the waitresses and asked to be seated. We were told to “just sit anywhere”, so we did, and waited for about five minutes before another waiter came over to us to ask if we needed anything. Yeah, menus might be useful. Well, they would have been, had they not been filled with the most banal of cafe/pub dishes. I can’t even remember what was on there – it’s that forgettable – but I’m fairly sure there was probably something like a tandoori chicken salad, some sort of steak, and two or three bland-sounding pasta dishes. So when in doubt, benchmark the place. We both ordered the chicken parma, with chips and vegetables.

Now I know my photography isn’t great – something I’m ironically proud of, actually – but the food was actually that insipid looking. To be fair, the chips were OK. The parma itself was pretty big, but the chicken was dry and bland; I have a suspicion it was one of those terracotta chicken tiles you can buy at the supermarket deli. But the most distressing thing about the whole affair were the ‘roast vegetables’. Yes, they had been roasted, but probably not that day. And that certainly wasn’t the last cooking process which had been applied to them. Ah, the uneven heat distribution that can only be produced by a microwave. Some pieces were still cold, while others almost burned my tongue. Interestingly, conversation over the course of the meal also ran hot and cold. We had a few things in common, but I found myself having to think hard for the next conversation topic, which is never a good sign. But I digress.

The fact that I am an insatiable glutton is well known to you regular readers. It’s a rare occasion that I don’t finish a parma, because I very rarely order one unless I’m actually hungry. As a result, the act of leaving chicken on a plate is a form of silent protest for me. I protested at Max’s. Sadly, I doubt any of the staff noticed.

I’m not going back. Nor were there any subsequent dates with Mr D.

 

The Hungarian

362 Bridge Road, Richmond
Phone: 0421 993 132

Let me say first off that I’m glad I wasn’t wearing my red gingham shirt to this place. Because there’s so much of it in the window and on the tables as to almost give me a kitsch aneurysm.

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I like this place. It has a sense of humour. Take their menu, for instance. Everybody loves a good pun. Although, at what point does Calibri become the new Arial or Times New Roman, inspiring disdain for the lack of imagination and effort in font selection? It hasn’t quite reached the tipping point yet, but I predict that day is nigh.

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It also serves a ‘Monsterschnitzel’.

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Although I wasn’t up for a monsterschnitzel that night, so I opted for the goulash, which comes with noki, a knubbly spaetzle/gnocchi type of noodle. I’d asked for it hot, which basically led to the waitress bringing out a jar of ‘pista‘ (a Hungarian type of paprika/chilli sauce) which is just as well, because the goulash itself had very little chilli heat to it. It was a pretty big serve, though, and came with a little side dish of red cabbage slaw.

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Mr D had mushroom and potato crepes, with a little garden salad. He was quite happy with them, and I took a bit of one; the crepe was nice and light, and the mushroom filling was pretty tasty.

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The service was charming, if a little harried; most of the tables were full, and it appeared there was one person in the kitchen, and one lady working the front of house. She did apologise for the delay profusely, even though given the circumstances, there wasn’t really that much of a delay.

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I’d go back again, because it was fun, and interesting to try something slightly unusual as far as restaurants in Melbourne go. Oh, and they have this special on some night – I think it’s Tuesdays? – where you get a percentage discount based on your age. I’m taking my parents.

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A Thousand Blessings

251 Highett St, Richmond
Phone: apparently they don’t have one?

I don’t remember much about this place, apart from the fact there was absolutely no chilli in my omelette, despite it being a listed ingredient in the menu. Hence this is basically a post where the photos do the talking. I remember the place was busy – it was a Sunday afternoon – and the fitout is a little kitschy-cute. Firemen from the nearby station frequent the place, if that sways you at all. I’m looking at you, Bryan.

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Footscray’s best buns

One of the great things about writing a foodblog is it can justify some pretty insane eating activities, like doing a ramen crawl around the city, or blind testing mince pies and banh mi.

Recently, I decided it might be time to embark on another (slightly ridiculous) experiment: it was time to find the best BBQ pork buns in Footscray. Now I should just clarify here that when I talk about BBQ pork buns, I’m talking about the Chinese char siu bao – you know, the fluffy white buns filled with sweet and salty red pork filling that you get at yum cha – and not the Vietnamese style grilled pork banh mi rolls.

This came about when I was looking over the search terms for the blog. Someone had searched for “Footscray pork buns”, which in hindsight was probably referring to banh mi, but it got me thinking that with the number of local yum cha and bakery joints in Footscray where you can get a quick char siu bao fix, it was about time I found out which one was the best.

It would be a pretty tricky thing to try to ascertain on your own, but with a bunch of eager bun-eating friends, it’s not so arduous (yeah OK, arduous is a bit of a stretch). So six of us gathered at Lauren‘s place, and between us we amassed between us an array of pork buns from eight different sources.

imageFor those of you playing at home, yes, there were a few frozen and refrigerated buns from local Asian grocers, as well as a pack of buns from Costco! Docklands is right next to Footscray, so I figured it would be OK to include them…

imageThe clearly-not-char-siu-bao yellow buns in the mix are some lau sa bao (flowing sand buns) from Yummie Yum Cha, which I brought along because the others hadn’t tried them before. They’re filled with an egg custard which is made using the yolk of salted eggs. If you haven’t tried them before, do yourself a favour next time you’re at yum cha. Not all places have them, but Gold Leaf and Shark Fin outlets usually do.

imageAfter some convoluted randomising and cross-marking of the buns, the first batch of buns went into the steamer.

imageTen minutes later, the gorging taste-testng began. On average, we had half a bun of each variant tested, though there were a few buns which were bigger than others, so some cleaver action was necessary. We decided on three criteria against which we would judge each bun.

First, the dough, or bun, itself. It should be light and fluffy,a little sweet, and my personal preference is to be able to peel the thin skin away from the outside of the bun. It’s a childhood habit playing with my food that I never gave up.

Next, the filling. The flavour of the pork should be present, along with a balanced sweet and savoury sauce.

Finally, we judged the overall balance between the two elements. A bun that’s all bread and no pork is no fun; but similarly a bun with too much filling will feel a little too sickly rich and heavy.

imageOne of the better buns: check out the fluffy white bun, and the solid chunks of pork filling.

imageAnd one of the day’s less impressive specimens: a heavy, doughy bun, and overly sweet filling. The atomic red hue of the filling was a little alarming, too!

imageSo without further ado, here are my final results. I should note that we weren’t all unanimous in our scores, but 5 out of 6 agreed that the buns from Master Restaurant were our favourites, and the foul, offensive vegetarian ‘BBQ pork’ buns from the Vincent vegetarian Asian grocer were voted unanimously the worst buns of the day.

Cost per bun Bun (dough) Filling Ratio Total
Yummie Yum Cha $1.20 7 5 7 19
Seng Hork (from Asian grocer) $0.93 6 7 7 20
Victoria Bakehouse $1.60 6 5 4 15
To’s Bakery $3.00 4 3 5 12
Master Restaurant $2.00 8 7 7 22
Sun Wong Kee in Little Saigon $1.80 7 6 7 20
Yum Cha at Home (from Costco) $0.95 5 6 6 17
Vegetarian BBQ Pork Buns from Vincent Vegetarian Grocer $0.94 5 1 6 12

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Sung’s Kitchen

118 Franklin St, West Melbourne
Phone: 9329 2636

When four of my bestest buddies moved interstate last year, I was a little worried that I would be lonely. Who was going to come with me to restaurants and trust me to order twice as much food for the table as was necessary? Was I going to be able to find others who would join me in unflinchingly eating ‘challenging’ offal dishes every time they appeared on a menu? I felt a little abandoned.

But this is the way life works; people come into your life, and people go. And while I still miss my friends in far off places, my separation anxiety didn’t last that long. Because I live in Melbourne, and in Melbourne you don’t have to look to hard to find kindred souls if your passion is adventuring through food. And let’s be honest: there’s not really any better way to make new friends than to share food.

New friends bring new experiences, and I was excited when one of them suggested that we go to Sung’s Kitchen. I hadn’t heard of the place before, though a little research revealed that it’s been around for a while.

As Ms E and Ms I have been there before, they took care of the ordering while the other Ms E and I gossiped about our love lives. It got so Sex and the City so quickly…

First up was this cold chicken and glass noodle salad. Interesting texturally, with the strips of celery and cucumber, I found it a touch on the bland side. But then again I’m not a huge fan of Taiwanese Dan Dan noodles, which have a similar peanut/sesame dressing.image

The dumplings which arrived at the table next didn’t really do it for me either. The skins were somewhere in that no-man’s land between delicate and light, and substantial and chewy. The filling was also a little forgettable.image

Art this point, I was starting to wonder if I should have asserted myself a little more during the ordering process, rather than ranting about how there are no good single men in this city. For those of you playing at home, I’m Miranda. Minus the need to wear a suit at work. My faith in I&E was redeemed when the next dish came to the table. Fried: tick. Sauced: tick tick. Visible chillies: tick tick tick. The ‘Ministry Chicken Ribs’ were incredibly moreish, and I think everyone was just being polite when we were down to the last one; we all wanted that last rib.image

I was recovering from a cold at the time, so I requested that I&E order a soupy dish. This pork, seafood and tofu number really hit the spot. Well seasoned, so it crossed the bland/clean flavours line – which is one way to judge if a chef really knows what they’re doing when it comes to Southern Chinese (read Cantonese) food – the pork was reasonably tender, and the wo ngaa baak (that’s what we call wombok in Canto) still had a hint of crispness about it.image

The last dish was also a winner, though it sounds strange and unappetising on the menu. “Shanghai scrambled egg white”; what, am I having breakfast at a cafe next to a gym? But no, it was actually great. The egg white was chiffon-y and delicate, and it was riddled with little slivers of crab meat. I’d definitely order this again.image

So anyway, as you can see, even though my old partners in crime have moved away, things will always remain half- mostly eaten.image

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