Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen

27 Russell St, Melbourne CBD. Phone: (03) 9650 3708

Disclaimer: Guest reviewer Richard, a keen connoisseur of ramen, ate as a guest of Ikkoryu. 

Melbourne is experiencing a bit of a ramen boom at the moment. After enduring years, nay decades of extremely ordinary ramen, suddenly serious options are popping up, including Little Ramen Bar, Fukuryu, Hakata Gensuke and Mensousai Mugen.
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In the case of Gensuke and (I believe) Fukuryu, there is a providence link with an actual Japanese ramen shop or chain. This is also the case with Ikkoryu, which is opening properly in Melbourne from Wednesday 1 April and is a brand of the Yamagoya Ramen Group hailing from Fukuoka.

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Ramen is, like the indigenous Japanese religion Shinto, not monotheistic. There are dozens of types of ramen—reflecting prefectures of Japan (or even different parts of the same city)—and a good shop in Japan will generally stick to one, at most two types. The Melbourne scene is heavy on Fukuoka-style tonkotsu (pork-bone broth), and Ikkoryu does nothing to change that. I’d love to see more fish-and-pork mix broths and tsukemen (dipping noodles) which are big in Tokyo right now.

But anyway, Ikkoryu. The space is clean, open, modern & efficient. It is a bit chain-y and high-end-by-numbers which is not a bad thing. It doesn’t make you feel like you’re in a demi-basement. They’ve brought out a Japanese calligraphy artist to decorate the sliding doors that delineate the private tatami area. A pleasant place to slurp.

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We’re here on the soft opening and so we get to sample the yakimeshi (fried rice), karaage (Japanese friend chicken) and gyoza (dumplings) as mini-entrees.

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The karaage and gyoza are particularly good: the chicken is juicy and the dumplings have an appropriate level of filling. My co-conspirator James likes the yakimeshi but I am less certain… it lacks the simplicity and slight stickiness of the Japanese fried rice I love. (I wonder if yakimeshi is a style of Japanese fried rice I’m not familiar with… it is nearly always referred to as chahan where I eat in Tokyo.)

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The ramen is, of course, the main deal here. As at Gensuke, you have several options (flavour, strength of flavour, noodle chewiness etc) which you circle on the paper placemat in front of you.

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I opt for the standard normal-everything Original Tonkotsu. The theme is refinement. The soup is an elegant style: a creamy (but not thick) tonkotsu broth of pork bones only (no chicken) with a light flavour and little pungency. It’s a bit beige for my tastes but a great intro to this style of ramen.

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The men (noodles) are billed as hosomen (thin noodles). This is true but they are not super skinny, being a satisfying thickness and cooked to a slightly chewy perfection. The ajitama (flavoured soft-boiled egg) is really excellent, with a deliciously creamy yolk. The chashu (roast pork) is tasty and melty.

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James orders the miso tonkotsu and this really shines: a deeply satisfying and complex blend of white and red miso and some subtle spices take this ramen up a notch into special territory. It makes me enthusiastic to try their other flavour options which include garlic, spicy and yuzu (Japanese citron).

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Overall, this is perhaps Melbourne’s most refined ramen experience. The dining experience can also include premium sake options and a gamut of wine and beer. I always feel a bit weird eating ramen in upmarket environments and quasi-premium price points because it’s disconnected from the authentic Japanese experience: ramen in Japan is a kind of artisan junkfood, shamelessly delicious, unpretentious, often shabby and usually inexpensive. But turning it into fine dining probably reflects the economics of offering this food here. And we mustn’t discourage that!

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Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen on Urbanspoon

Eco City Burger at Lord of the Fries

Knox Lane, Melbourne Central shopping centre, Melbourne CBD

Disclaimer: I didn’t pay for this food. Lord of the Fries gave it to me for free. Or maybe I sold a little piece of my soul for it. You decide.

I’m a pretty rampant carnivore. Anyone who knows me reasonably well knows that I enjoy eating animals; probably more so than most people, and probably more than is healthy for me. So when Lord of the Fries (a vegetarian enterprise) sent me an email inviting me to test out their Eco City Burger, I was pretty skeptical, and instantly told twitter as much. To their credit, they responded in good humour, and well, that sort of won me over enough to agree to try the burger.

I remember the first time I had Lord of the Fries. I was drunk, it was well past midnight on Chapel St, and it seemed a better option than Pie Face. (I have an irrational hatred of the Pie Face chain, but that’s a story for another time.) I vaguely remember having fries and nuggets, and thinking to myself that the fries were underwhelming, because they’re a bit floppy – an opinion I stand by to this day – but the nuggets were surprisingly good, for nuggets which aren’t made (at least in part) from meat.

Cut forward to earlier this week, when my colleague Mr E and I wandered down to the Melbourne Central hole-in-the-wall Lord of the Fries in the midst of the stifling heat wave lured by the promise of free burgers. I, of course, had the Eco City Burger, and since I wasn’t paying and the PR lady told me I could, I ordered up a bit, adding some onion rings and one of the chilli cheese poppers to the order.

The Eco City Burger is the classic LotF vegie patty, with lettuce, beetroot relish, pickles and aioli. At first glance, I wasn’t particularly impressed. One little piece of advice i have for LotF is step up your bun game. Seriously, this was the sort of bun I’d expect to find in 12 packs on the bottom shelf of a supermarket bakery section. An unyielding plasticky exterior pretty much meant even though the actual bread was soft enough, you wouldn’t know it. Think about it: the bun is the first thing your mouth comes in contact with when you eat a burger. So come on guys, don’t fall down at the first hurdle!

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But let’s move on to the insides. All in all, it’s not bad. I’ll concede that for a vegie burger (though it’s more TVP than vegie?) this is pretty good. The texture of the patty is pretty meat-like; it falls apart like a meat burger would if it were just on the rare side of medium. My one issue with the patty is that it was too salty. It’s almost as if they were trying to compensate for the umami meat flavour by just adding more salt. Like a Christian apologist with something to hide. And it just doesn’t work that way, people.

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The beetroot relish was bright in colour and flavour, and a smart way to include it in the burger. I hate how I often have half a slice of beetroot hanging out the back end of the burger, clinging for dear life before it splats on the plate, spraying its life force all over my white t-shirt (of course it was white). The relish provided enough flavour without being so plentiful as to ooze ungraciously out the back end.

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Yep, that visual segue was intentional.

Onion rings! With the ‘Belgian’ mayonnaise – what I’m sure @thatjessho would call sperm sauce. These were pretty fantastic. If you’ve tried onion rings at Hungry Jack’s before, you haven’t tried real onion rings. The LotF ones are the real deal – actual rings of onion, crumbed and fried until golden and crispy. The sweetness of the onion and the crispiness of the crumb are tot- WAIT! THAT’S WHAT THE BURGER IS MISSING!

Time to mod the burger, to make it better. The sweetness of the onion balances out the massively salty patty, and the crumb makes the burger, well, not mushy.

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WINNING. The burger was actually great like this. So I recommend if you’re going to have a LotF burger, shell out the extra $5.95 (WHAT!?) for the onion rings.

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Burgers are kind of like gay sex: often messy afterwards. But worth it.

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Gyoza Douraku

147 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9650 5225

I really don’t spend enough time with my sister. And that’s not likely to change now that I’ve moved to Sydney, but I’m happy that I did get to spend an evening with her last year for her birthday.

Here are some photos.
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Then we went to the the amazing Meow Meow!
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Gyoza Douraku on Urbanspoon

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

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

Miss Chu

297 Exhibition St Shop 2, Melbourne
Phone: 9077 1097

I don’t want to dwell on the Melbourne/Sydney thing too much. Because apparently only Melbourne people do that, due to a chip on our collective shoulder about being the second largest, and probably not even the second most recognisable, city in Australia. It’s often said that Sydney has better Thai food, and better Japanese food, while Melbourne arguably has better Vietnamese food. I’m not sure whether that’s true, especially since food is such a subjective thing anyway, but if patterns of migration and migrant community populations are anything to go by, these assertions might be justified.

Which is why it seems a little strange that a Vietnamese restaurant from Sydney would open up a Melbourne outlet. Miss Chu opened early last year to some excitement, but probably just as much skepticism. Vietnamese food purveyors from Sydney? That’s almost like Hanoians setting up shop in Sai Gon. Which, for the record, has been quite successful in a number of cases. But I was definitely one of the skeptics when I first heard about it.

My preconceptions of the place weren’t helped by the buzz around Miss Chu serving wagyu pho. Seriously? That’s almost as nonsensical as Spice Temple’s wagyu brisket. Braised brisket is about slow cooking, releasing flavours from tough cuts of meat, and breaking down the flesh until it melts apart. To me, it seems like both a waste and a ruination of wagyu. Similarly, the beef in pho tai (rare beef pho) should have a certain springiness to it, something which is utterly lacking in (ironically) good wagyu. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Miss Chu touts herself as the ‘Queen of rice paper rolls’. And in this, I’m quite happy to agree. Well, she’s a high Lady in that arena, in any case. I have had better, but I lived in Viet Nam for a year, so you would expect that to be the case. Nonetheless, the rice paper rolls at Miss Chu were pretty special. I ordered the tiger prawn and green mango ones, which while pricey, were well worth the extra cost. The sauce bottle was cute, but not really that functional; a little dipping plate would have been useful. The sauce was a little overly sweet, too.

imageOnto the main event: the wagyu pho. A few things distressed me about this whole situation. First of all, the fresh basil and bean shoots were already applied for you by the kitchen. Which is a minor travesty, because it takes something integral away about the ritual of eating pho; the tearing of the basil leaves from the stalks, the topping of your owl with a mound of beanshoots, and the dunking and stirring of all the fresh ingredients through the steaming hot soup. These are all a part of the experience which I love about having pho, and this was denied to me at Miss Chu. So things weren’t off to a good start.

Another part of my ritual is to try the broth before adding anything (lemon, chilli) to it. Again, Miss Chu’s pho fell flat. The broth was on the bland side, with neither the ‘beefiness’ nor the warm spices which typify good pho broth coming through. I was a little hasty in pre-judging the use of wagyu, as the soup was served at a cool enough temperature that the beef didn’t fully cook. Which might leave some people screaming salmonella, but is fine by me. Wagyu – and any good cut of meat, really – should be eaten rare, in my book. In this case, it helped the beef retain a bit of chewiness, which pho needs, texturally.imageUnfortunately, things don’t get any better when it comes to the actual pho noodles. I’m not sure about this, but it seems like Miss Chu is using re-hydrated dried ride noodles instead of fresh pho noodles. The noodles were thin, totally slippery, and worst of all, broken and short. I ended up having to eat most of them with my spoon, rather than slurping them off my chopsticks. That’s another point deduction, experientially. Oh, who are we kidding, points? This dish was a monster fail. Of course, me being me, I still ate it all. imageAnd proceeded to order dessert. A custard bun. Which was yet another let-down. The custard inside was on the dry and crumbly side, and the dough was a bit heavy. imageI know I’m pretty spoilt when it comes to Vietnamese food; I live in Footscray, after all. For the most part, Miss Chu just wasn’t up to scratch for me. But perhaps that was to do with my selection. There are many good Vietnamese restaurants that serve pho – mediocre or bad pho – but that excel in other dishes. I think Miss Chu might be one of these. The rice vermicelli salads looked pretty good, and the rice paper rolls were excellent, too. I could probably be convinced to go back – the atmosphere is fun and bustling, and the service is brisk, but friendly –  I’d just avoid that woeful pho.

MissChu on Urbanspoon

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

Sung's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Flavour town

Level 1, 202 Bourke St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9663 1268

A few months ago, @eatnik’s pal @submelb gave us the scoop on a new hotpot joint. He was rather excited by it – to be fair, he’s a pretty excitable fellow, so that’s not necessarily saying much – and even though we’d all just eaten, implored that we all go and check it out. We wandered in, had a bit of a peer around, and resisted @submelb’s insistence that we had to check out the toilets, as they were ‘the best!’.

imageTo be honest, Flavour Town is a pretty impressive affair, as far as hotpot joints go. Decked out with comfortable booth seating, or round tables for larger groups, partially screened by beaded curtains, of the luxe rather than the tacky kind; think of opium dens, but shiny. The other neat-o thing at Flavour Town is – if you get in early, or you book – there is the option for individual soup pots. This takes away some of the communal eating experience I think, but it’s handy if someone’s got a cold, or if you’re a bit short-limbed and have trouble reaching the communal pot in the middle. Both times I went, alas, all the individual soup pot tables were full.

You can mix and match your soup bases – there’s chicken, pork bone and spicy. We went for the latter two, both times. For those of you who haven’t been to hotpot before, you order a whole lot of raw ingredients, and then proceed to cook them yourself at the table by dunking them in the boiling soup. It’s a lot of fun, but if you’ve got kids, you may need to exercise some supervision.

imageThe first time I went was with @thatjessho. We ordered a whole bunch of stuff – far too much for the two of us – so I’m only going to go through the highlights, ie. the things I would recommend. Above, the chrysanthemum leaves (tong o) which are, in my opinion, the best vegetable for hot pot. They have a very distinctive chlorophyll-y flavour, and work well in any soup. Next to that was the pig’s blood jelly. This stuff is already cooked, to some extent, but it actually gets better the longer you leave it in. As do the potato slices (below, left). The potato soaks up all of the flavours which the other ingredients have imparted into the soup, so drop the potato in early, and let it sit there until much later. You’ll be glad you did.

You’ll also be glad you ordered the ‘egg fish balls’, which are fish balls filled with a salty yellow fish roe. The texture and the vaguely salty-sweet flavour of the roe were an interesting surprise.

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See?

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Oh look, chicken hearts. YES! The dried bean curd skin on the right? Meh, it’s something of a filler for me. Jess was into it though.

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Being offal-coveting Asians, we of course ordered both kinds of tripe. Bryan would call them the reticulum (top) and the omasum (bottom), but I like to call them the Honeycomb and the Carwash. image

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Here’s some time lapse action of how our soup pot progressed throughout the meal.

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It got a little manky towards the end, and that’s even without us ordering any thin-sliced fatty beef or lamb!

The next time I returned was pretty much the same affair, only with less offal and more flesh. So I didn’t bother to take photos.

Oh, and last time I was there, Flavour Town was – lamentably – without a liquor licence.

Flavour Town Hot Pot 滋味堂 on Urbanspoon

Crazy wing

177 Russell St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9663 6555

There seems to be a proliferation of new Chinese barbecue places in the last few months: Chinese Spicy and Barbie Kitchen, Crazy Wing and a new Oriental BBQ joint in Footscray to name a few. They seem to be influenced by Northern Chinese cuisine, and the grilled goodies come out on skewers, usually rubbed with spice mixes that are heavy on the chilli and/or cumin. I’m all for them, because food is always better on a stick. Roasting a pig? Better on a spit.

@thatjessho, @eatnik, @eatnik’s cousin and I went to try out Crazy Wing recently, because not only is the place all about food on a stick, it’s about chicken wings on a stick. And if you don’t like chicken wings, there’s probably something wrong with you. Or you’re a vegetarian. Or both.

Crazy Wing runs similarly to a hotpot place. You’re presented with an order form at the table, on which you fill in the items you want. I’m fairly sure you can add to that later, but we were already a little greedy in our ordering, so there was no need to find out if that was an option.

We started off with some ‘blotch’ soup. That’s the other thing I love about these places. The translations are invariably hilarious. It was basically a vegetable and egg flower soup, with little lumps of dough in it. It sounds worse than it was. I wasn’t a huge fan – it tasted of nothing – but @eatnik quite liked it, and @thatjessho did not. It’s a pretty big bowl though – we syphoned it off into four little bowls – so it might actually be good for dousing flames. You’ll understand later.imageBecause we were all starving, we ordered some cold dishes, and true to expectation, they arrived at the table quickly. The cucumber with garlic was awesome. Very garlicky, but I think the sauce had been cooked and then cooled, because the garlic didn’t have an overly raw taste to it. Note to self: order more of this next time.imageWe hoed into the Chinese cabbage and chilli before I had a chance to take a photo, but that’s just a testament to how good it was. It’s essentially kim chi, but it was a bit sweeter, and had less of a vinegar flavour to it.imageThen the grilled stuff started to arrive. There’s a wooden tray in the middle of the table, and the waitresses walk around the restaurant clutching bundles of grilled stuff on skewers which they dump on the tray. It’s all very practical, and I’m sure it saves them a lot of washing up. The first items to hit the tray were tripe, chicken livers and enoki mushrooms wrapped in bean curd skin. Out of these, I’d go the chicken livers again, but the other two weren’t that great. Despite having had them at Chinese Spicy and Barbie Kitchen and here, I’m still not sold on grilled enoki mushrooms. I much prefer them in soup or a stir fry. I feel they just end up a bit stringy when you grill them.imageThen came the grilled pork intestines. These were a-MAZ-ingly good. If you like offal, run, don’t walk, people. I mean if there’s an offal-on-a-stick Holy Grail, this is most likely it. The intestines were well seasoned, and grilled so they were just cooked; they were soft rather than chewy, and had a nice char to the outside.imageChicken hearts and chicken gizzards were next, which were alright, but a little dry and overcooked, I thought. imageThen came some calamari, which tasted good, but was a little rubbery. I think perhaps a thicker part of the squid would have been better?imageThen came the onslaught of wings. It was a Tuesday night, so the 2-for-1 deal – there’s a different one every night – was the Honey Spicy Wing. So we ordered four. Our original intention was that by ordering four, they’d charge us for two. Of course, they interpreted this as us ordering four, and so we got eight serves. With two wingettes in a serve, that was sixteen Honey Spicy chicken wings. Lucky they’re pretty great! I could eat these things for days. Oh yeah, there’s some grilled capsicum under there, too. It was a bit raw, which is to say, kind of gross.imageOf course, we had to try the signature ‘Crazy Wing’. I’d read that they were intolerably spicy, but of course, that sort of talk just egged us on. We ordered two serves, so we could each try one wing.image@eatnik’s cousin and Jess gave up after a single taste, it was that insanely – crazily – spicy. Jess labelled it “offensive”, and claimed to have seen God. I found them stupidly, uncomfortably, and insultingly hot, but funnily enough, the only thing which seemed to make it tolerable, was to eat more. I had run out of soya bean drink by then, you see. So I finished my wing, but I don’t think I’d eat another one soon, unless someone dared me to for money. Because putting things in my mouth for money is how I roll, right?imageSome grilled Chinese leeks and scallops with garlic also helped with the residual heat… as did grilled bread. Unfortunately, this wasn’t as soft, or sweet, as I was expecting. imageI’d definitely go back to Crazy Wing, not the least because there’s what seems to be a secret upstairs BBQ buffet. We couldn’t figure out if it was just a staff dining room, or if there was a Crazy Wing club that you could be initiated into – presumably by eating multiple Crazy Wings – before you were allowed to grill your own stuff-on-a-stick.imageOh yeah, I almost forgot. Don’t bother about the eggplant. It’s worse than the capsicum.

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Appetizer Kub Klam

285 Spring St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9650 8838

The heart is a funny thing. If it comes from a chicken it’s pretty tasty when grilled, it’s arguably the least useful of the Planeteer powers, and if not physiologically, the heart in each of us is sentimentally responsible for the highs and lows we all experience in our lives. Not to get too philosophical on a food blog, but emotions have a large impact on our recollections of events and places. And food. Which is why dinner with D is always an interesting proposition.

To be blunt, D broke my heart about three years ago. The interceding years have taught me that, whether you view it as cliche or adage, it is true that time heals all wounds; but it’s also true that some wounds will always leave a scar. One of the bones of contention which always existed between us was who was more Asian. Which is patently ridiculous, because I’m a son of Vietnamese Chinese migrants, and his parents are Italian. But then, I did grow up in rural Victoria, and he has lived in South East Asia for four more years of his life than me. His Thai is arguably as fluent as my Mandarin, but I think I have the one up on him, because my Cantonese is even more fluent than that. And my eyes are slanty.

In any case, when D asked to catch up for dinner recently, I suggested Appetizer, because he hadn’t been before, and from all accounts – mine is apparently not to be trusted in these matters, according to D – it’s pretty authentically Thai. In that modern Bangkok way. Without the glitzy orientalist finery, but with some pumping Thai pop tunes. I had been once before with friends, having been introduced to it as that ‘secret Thai’ place which @jeroxie was keeping from the rest of Melbourne’s foodbloggers world for months.

I was in a particularly good mood, having just been offered a new job, so I was uncharacteristically nonplussed about what to order; D took the lead and surprised the waitress by ordering in Thai. Perhaps he does have a case to argue after all. He certainly does know his Thai food, too. Of course, we had the som tum Thai – green papaya salad – which was pretty fresh, but there was something a little off about the seasoning. It was a little too salty for me, and D thought there was something vaguely plasticky about the flavour. In hindsight, it might have been the inclusion of fried shallots? I’m not sure if there were fried shallots, really, but I’ve had experiences with Nhu Lan’s salad banh mi where the combination of fried shallots and fish sauce resulted in a strange, plasticky taste. The som tum also didn’t have any tomatoes. Maybe this was because it’s winter, and tomatoes are pricey, but som tum just isn’t right for me without tomato.
imageWe also had the tom yum goong – tom yum soup with prawns – because it was cold, and soup seemed appropriate. Funnily, D said it felt strange to be eating Thai food in Winter; I guess it’s a marked contrast to the humid warmth of Bangkok. One of the things I love about D is that he’s insightful in way that I’m not. We think in very different ways, but they’re in playfully complementary ways. In many ways, we had always balanced each other out, just as  the flavours in this tom yum soup did; a great balance of acidity, salt and umami. A touch on the spicy side, even for me, but I suspect that’s because D ordered in Thai. If you like your Thai food spicy, you won’t be disappointed at Appetizer.imageThe final dish we shared was squid with salted egg. I wasn’t sure what to make of this from the menu. I was kind of expecting dried, re-hydrated squid, like the Malaysian dish, and I thought it might be wedges of salted egg – maybe it was a salad? Nope. Thai food knowledge fail. It was much more subtle, being calamari in a salted egg yolk sauce. And it was delicious! The sauce had a touch of tamarind and chilli, and a nice whack of palm sugar. It was reminiscent of a satay sauce – minus the peanuts, if you can imagine it – in that it was creamy, rich, warm and earthy, and you just wanted more.imageSo three years on, D and I are still close friends. We always were, and I think we always will be. Because sometimes the heart matters less than the stomach and the head.

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