Tidlom Thai Antique

Shop C1, 550 Lonsdale street (Healeys Lane), Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9606 0991

Remember two summers ago, when the buzz was all about ‘secret Thai’ on twitter? Turned out that ‘secret Thai’ was a little courtyard restaurant called Appetizer Kub Klam run by a couple of Thai restauranteurs, catering mostly for a small Thai migrant student population, serving up Singha in beer towers, and unapologetically spicy Thai food. Well, due to licensing issues – probably noise restrictions, as it was at the base of an apartment building complex – Appetizer Kub Klam has closed down (or changed hands, I’m not sure) and chef and owner Veeraschit ‘Top’ Piyapanee has opened a new restaurant called Tidlom Thai Antique.

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Antique is somewhat of a misnomer, or an inaccuracy, IMHO. The decor is plastered with retro Thai television and movie memorabilia, as well as a slightly ridiculous number of light fittings that, thankfully, aren’t all in operation. Nobody likes to be that well lit while they’re eating. Oh, and if you’re looking for the place and can’t find it from the address, it’s down the alleyway where Le Traiteur is on Lonsdale street. Conveniently close to Goldfingers, if you’re that way inclined.

One of the great things about Appetizer, and now Tidlom, is that you’ll fins items on the menu beyond the stir-fries and curries you get at most places. Top believes that ‘food should be served as the way we eat it in our country with no adaption’, which might prove challenging for some punters, but I think is an admirable ethos. It’s a great thing to try new dishes, and Tidlom’s certainly a place for you to do just that. For example, where else in Melbourne are you going to find entrees of ‘fried softened pork bone’ – it’s essentially fried bacon, with the cartilage-y bits, and it’s awesome – and crispy fried pork intestines?

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OK, well, you might find the fried pork intestines at a number of Sichuan restaurants around town, but you get my drift.

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Also, fried chicken joints! These are, I think, fried chicken’s feet. All three of these snacks would be great with beer, which is what we were drinking that night – Singhas by the long-neck. They also have Singha on tap, as well as the ubiquitous Carlton Draft. And yes, for those of you with the keen eyes, that IS sweet chilli sauce! I guess it’s ‘authentic’ after all.

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One dish that I loved at Appetizer, and insisted that we order, was the calamari with salted egg sauce. It’s actually salted egg yolk, and it makes a lusciously rich sauce that pretty much steals the show. So it wouldn’t really matter if you ordered the pork version instead. I’d like to note at this point that you’ll need to bring your glasses to read the menu if you’re at all short or long-sighted. The font is comically small, which was part of the reason we had to delay twice when the waitress came to take our order. Hopefully when they reprint their menus, they’ll increase the font size next time!

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But I digress. Next up was the soft-shell crab fried, with a yellow curry sauce. This was similarly amazing, with lots of textural contrast, between the soft flesh of the crab, the crunch of the fried shell, and the goopy curry sauce smothering the lot.

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We were a little worried about having too heavy a meal, so we ordered a salad. Only this was a bit of a missed step, because the fish floss ‘salad’ isn’t quite the light, refreshing dish that we were envisaging. It’s basically flaked, shredded fish – mackerel, I think? – deep-fried into a huge crunchy net, accompanied with a delicious ajar dressing, sweet and tangy, laden with red onion, chillies and cucumber. While I’d order this dish again, there are arguably more refreshing salads on the menu. I totally take responsibility for ordering just about everything that was deep-fried on that menu. I would advise that you perhaps not do the same thing.

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We did also had the pud moo gra pow (pork with Thai basil stir-fry), however. Nice chunky slices of pork belly, with ample heat from chilli, and loads of basil.

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In case you were wondering what we thought of Tidlom, here’s a photo of @thatjessho of Chin Chin fame. It pretty much encapsulates how happy we were with Tidlom. Get thee down to that seedy end of town, marvel at the oddly spelled ‘Corean House’ restaurant across the lane, and resist the temptation of Gami Beer and Chicken. Do yourself a favour, and have some delicious Thai food, the way Thai people want you to eat it. They’ve got 10% off dinner until the end of July, so if you get in before the middle of this week, you’ll save yourself enough to spend about two minutes in Goldfingers!

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Tidlom Thai Antique Restaurant on Urbanspoon

First taste

604 Station St, Box Hill
Phone: 9890 8788

It’s not often that my family goes out to eat together. More often than not, we’ll eat at my parents’ place because it’s easier, and because having been restauranteurs for over two decades, they’re understandably a bit picky about food. It’s something I’ve picked up from them, I think; my tendency to critique a meal as I’m eating it is almost a reflex action.

A while back, we went to First Taste in Box Hill. I was curious, as I’ve walked past the Footscray branch a few times, and been intrigued by the huge laminated photos and the quirky bamboo fence treatment in the front window. The Box Hill branch seems a little more of an upmarket affair, with the decor of a well-established 80s Chinese restaurant: octagonal windows, laminated newspaper write-ups, and a television mounted on the wall. Though actually, they also had pretty cool black and white photos of China on the wall.
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There was much consternation as Mum and Dad perused the menu, and they were a little thrown when the waitress only spoke Mandarin. They like to ask about things on the menu, and when we go to a Chinese restaurant – which is most of the time – they expect to be able to do so in Cantonese.
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Since First Taste is all about herbal soups and claypot dishes, that’s exactly what we ordered. We each got a different herbal soup, after Mum and my sister had a conversation assessing the suitability of each herbal soup for my father and I. Mum and Dad both Dad had a pretty classic chicken and ginseng soup.
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My sister had a watercress and chicken number.

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And I got this murky one.

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But, as with all Chinese soups, it’s not about looks. This was pork and some sort of medicinal root, I forget which, but my sister said it would be good as a chi tonic. And I don’t argue with her on that sort of thing, because she’s a qualified Chinese doctor. It also had some dried longans in it, so it was a nice salty-sweet flavour combination, not uncommon in Chinese soups. Red dates and dried longans are often used to balance the salted pork that forms the basis of many soups.

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Then we moved onto the claypot rice. We shared three between us, as none of us were particularly hungry. I’d had a late lunch that day, and Dad’s taken to snacking on sandwiches around 3pm in his retirement. I look forward to retirement.

The claypots came out with little heavy iron lids on top, which were ceremonially removed by the staff to reveal the steaming hot contents. This one was a braised beef brisket with daikon. The sauce was hearty and rich, perfectly made for spooning over your steamed rice.
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We also got a seafood combination claypot. And I don’t care if those ‘crab calls’ were full of seafood extender, they were still delicious and had a great springy texture.
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There was some other vegetable and tofu claypot, but I was too busy eating to take a photo by the time it arrived.
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All in all, I really quite liked First Taste. It’s unassuming traditional Cantonese family fare. Bryan has told me that the Footscray branch isn’t much chop, but with my mother chastising me for not making soup for myself often enough, this is probably an easy, nourishing cheat’s option!
First Taste on Urbanspoon

La Dolce Italia – giveaway!

Disclaimer: La Dolce Italia are giving me some free tickets to attend the festival.

I must admit, I was a little surprised when I got an email from La Dolce Italia festival. I mean I love Italian food, and I studied Italian for about 8 years throughout primary and secondary school – Dario e sempre in ritardo – but I wouldn’t have thought my blog was particularly Italiano. Maybe it’s because my ex is Italian, or my old housemate comes from Tuscany, or because I ride a Vespa. They certainly do their homework!

In any case, I’m pretty happy that they found me, because upon looking at program, I’m pretty excited about it. It’s billed as the ‘first and only authentic Italian lifestyle event’ in Australia. I don’t know what that means exactly, but I’m guessing it’s more about the food, fashion and fabulousness than a skyrocketing unemployment rate and floundering national economy.

At La Dolce Italia, there’s going to be a bunch of masterclasses about truffles, pastry, wine and well, more wine; there will also be an Italian fashion show or two, and for those of you bringing your mothers, there’s a decoupage exhibit. Oh, and even better, they’ve got a ‘bambini world’, so the kids can be sequestered in an orderly fashion (though organisers have asked me to add that their parents will still have to supervise them – it’s not a boozing creche) while adults eat, drink, and generally sample la vita bella.

Food and wine Fashionable legs Motorcycle

The Festival will be on at the Royal Exhibition Centre – one of my favourite venue spaces in Melbourne – on the weekend of August 10 – 12. In previous years, the festival has happened across various separate venues around Melbourne, but the organisers have pulled it all together to make things more convenient for punters. Che buono!

So anyway, you know you want to go, if only to sample the pizza and ogle the pretty Italian girls and guys. Let’s get to the giveaway bit.

In order to win yourself a double pass to La Dolce Italia, you’ll need to:

1. Like the Half-Eaten facebook page (if you haven’t already).

2. Tell me why you want to win the tickets, in a comment below, or on the facebook timeline.

There are 10 double passes up for grabs! Entries close at 5pm, Friday 3 August.

Oh, and if you don’t win, you can buy tickets and go in the draw to win a trip to Italy.

Apri la finestra e scappiamo a citta!

 

 

 

Kokoro ramen

157 Lonsdale St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9650 1215

I was pretty excited when I heard that there was a new ramen joint opening in the city. I was even more excited when I learned that they were serving tonkotsu broth. That collagenous pinnacle of soups made of melted pig joints is one of my favourite things in the world.

One of my other favourite things is pork belly, so when I went up to order and found that they were virtually giving the stuff away – it was an extra $1.50 for a side of braised pork – I was doubly excited.

But life is full of cruel disappointments, and Kokoro is the embodiment of one such disappointment for this humble ramen slurper.
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“But what?” I hear you say. What could possible have gone so wrong. That broth looks sufficiently opaque, and there’s a big chunk of pork belly, and look, the egg even has a reasonably gooey yolk! But all is not as it seems. The broth was decent, though lacking the luscious lip-coating feel that I wanted from a tonkotsu broth; it was well balanced – not too porky, nor too salty.

But dig a little deeper, and we uncover the main problem: HAKATA-STYLE NOODLES! When it comes to ramen, I’m devoutly anti-Hakata. I understand that it has a long and popular tradition in Japan, but I don’t care for it. It seem like under-cooked soba to me – unyielding adn leathery – and has none of that awesome springiness that the more common Tokyo-style ramen has. Ajisem ramen are the probably the most famous of the perpetrators of Hakata-style ramen; the first time I had ramen there, I thought it was a joke, and they were using spaghetti noodles.

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But the insult to injury here is the false economy of the braised pork. It turns out they must have been trying to get rid of a batch of pork that had gone wrong, because it was, like the Hakata-style noodles, tough and unyielding. Caveat emptor, I guess. I doubt I’ll be back, but if I do go back, I’ll definitely avoid any ‘specials’.

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Kokoro Ramen on Urbanspoon

The Footscray gentrification trap

I would like acknowledging the traditional owners of these lands, the ‘working class’ Westies of yore.

There have been a spate of cafes opening in Footscray and surrounds of late. There are some – myself included – who take a quiet pride in being ‘pioneers’ on the wild frontiers of the inner West, who are thankful and welcoming of such outposts of ‘civilisation’. However, there’s something a little disquieting about the process of gentrification, because gentrification inherently involves gains on some fronts, but also a certain amount of loss on others.

Wikipedia describes gentrification as the changes that occur when wealthier people buy or rent property in low income or working-class areas. To some, gentrification is a good thing; increasing property values, ‘better’ services and amenities, and more convenient access to things like cafes, bars and other venues that are signifiers of ‘culture’. In the context of Footscray and Melbourne, by culture I mean Western Anglo-centric culture. Sometimes I wonder what gentrification in non-Western settings looks like. Does a gentrifying suburb in Beijing become more ‘Chinese’ in some way? Or is the notion of modernisation so central to gentrification that it embeds a kernel of Western modernity into the very idea of what it means to be gentrified? But I digress.

What interests me is the mostly ignored flipside of the gentrification process. I say mostly, because there is some visible tension that this process creates. On my walk home from the station, I passed a SOLD sign in front of a house, plastered over a FOR SALE sign which spoke of subdividing and units. Someone had scrawled across the sign ‘GENTRIFICATION’. My first thought was, ‘Yes! And about bloody time! Where’s my neighbourhood wine bar?’ but in recent weeks, I’ve started to question my stance. What is it that we’re actually losing by watching as Footscray turns into a ‘Hawthorn of the West?

It’s a natural part of the market-driven system in which we live that businesses will seek to cater for their customers in the way which will generate the most patronage. So as people with higher incomes and the specific tastes and pretensions¬†that come along with that move into the area – again, I count myself as one of them – the nature of new businesses that open up, and the fortunes of existing businesses change. Except for the fortunes of the Olympic Doughnut van, because that’s just awesome.

Enter those cafes that I was talking about. Reading Room, West 48, Footscray Milking Station, and now Common Galaxia in Seddon. I haven’t been to all of them, but those I’ve visited have been thoroughly modern Millies – read communal tables, slightly quirky but warm yet sleek fit-outs, menus with idiosyncratic twists. (Lauren‘s my go-to girl when it comes to updates on that front, and she should be yours too.)

I love the fact these places have opened up, but I also love the fact that they’re at somewhat of a remove from downtown Footscray, which is still predominantly Vietnamese restaurants and hairdressers, with a sprinkling of various Sudanese, Eritrean and Ethiopian eateries, kebab joints and weave shops. There’s a charm and excitement about living in a part of Melbourne that is so unlike most other parts of Melbourne. In the ghetto? I’m not sure. While ghetto commonly is taken to mean poor, or crime ridden, its original meaning refers more to areas which are predominantly occupied by one social group. I’d argue that Footscray doesn’t really fit into that sort of pigeonhole, instead being a vibrant mix of Asian, African and Anglo-Saxon neighbours (and others!).

But as tides are wont to do, the tide of change has reached Footscray proper now: right in the middle of Nicholson Mall, Footscray’s getting a Noodle Box. Well, a Noodle-in-a-Box.

‘What’s the big deal?’ you might say. It’s just another Chinese food outlet. There are plenty of other Chinese restaurants in Footscray. And yes,¬†although it’s probably Chinese run, to me it heralds a dumbing down of cuisine in the area, much like the entrenchment of KFC, Subway or Nando’s in the area. How is there a market in an area as vibrant as Footscray for such a beige offering? I guess some of the demands of gentrification seems to be that life is easy, convenient, and familiar. In a sense, it’s about living in a place that is your comfort zone. Which, if you’ll excuse me, can be terribly boring. Yes, I’m one of those who lived in Brunswick more than a decade ago that now laments the closure of so many Turkish and Lebanese restaurants, yet still finds himself enjoying going out for a drink in the bars which have replaced those restaurants. It’s a problematic position, I know.

So I guess what I’m irked by is the bland edge of gentrification. Does gentrification always have to just be another word for homogenisation? Is there some way around the blandification which seems to accompany the installation of ‘comforts’? Or are the two actually the same thing?