The Crimean

351 Queensberry St (cnr Peel St), North Melbourne
Phone: 9329 3353

It’s been a while since I last posted, I know. A lot’s been going on, but the most prominent and exciting thing is that I have a new job! Huzzah!

In any case, here’s a tale of one of the last lunches I had while I was still working at my old job. It was a lazy Friday afternoon, and I took the opportunity of being in ‘What are they going to do, fire me?’ mode – after having given notice – to join my gainfully semi-employed friends for lunch.

The Crimean’s been around for a while, but doesn’t seem to get a lot of press. For a place with such a rare – if not unique – proposition, I find that a little surprising. The first time I visited, it was just for drinks, and let me tell you, the Eastern European wine selection is pretty eye-opening. I tried an interesting ‘dessert wine’ which was more like red wine’s answer to moscato than a port. There are also an interesting range of cocktails on the list, which will be expertly mixed for you by the King of Hipsters.

Anyway, onto lunch. We started off in the bar with a drink, then once we had all arrived, we were shown through to the dining room. I arrived at the table last, after pausing to take a photo of a poster with an otter on it, and being jovially chastised for my photo espionage.

Clearly, that didn’t stop me from continuing to take photos. After we ordered, we were presented with an amuse of borscht. It was quite full-bodied and flavoursome, which was a contrast to the rather watery, insipid borscht I’d last sampled at Borscht, Vodka and Tears.

imageOne of the failings of The Crimean, as opined by N, is that they don’t actually have a lunch menu. Given the hearty nature of Eastern European/Baltic food, this can make having lunch there something of a heavy affair. D started with the beef and pork pelmeni, which looked quite tasty. But then they look like Chinese jiaozi, so of course they look tasty…imageN had the Poor man’s caviar – beetroot, that is – served with some awesome thin rye bread crisps. Yes, of course I tried some when she offered!imageA and I forwent the starters, sort of, so let’s move onto mains. D had the ‘Bigos‘, described as ‘Polish hunter casserole of housemade pork sausage, smoked pork belly, braised pork neck, juniper, sauerkraut’. While it wasn’t quite as large as the name implied – yeah yeah, bigos probably doesn’t translate as big dish – it certainly looked hefty and rich. D said he enjoyed it.imageN had some sort of beef short rib, which has since been taken off the menu, but it certainly gave me meat envy. And Brussel sprout envy! I love Brussel sprouts, but I have a feeling that was because I wasn’t brought up eating them over-boiled.imageI had decided I couldn’t face a main course, so instead I had two starter dishes. It’s actually a good tactic, one which I picked up from my sister. Not only do you not get ridiculously full, but you get to try more stuff! I had the pierogi, which were beef, but have since been changed to duck and prune on the menu. Which would have been even better!imageThey were quite tasty, but the dough was little heavy and dry. Perhaps that’s the style, I’m not sure. I’m far from being an expert on the cuisines of the Black Sea.imageI also had the stuffed vine leaves, which were like a drier version of dolmades I guess. They were well spiced, and I remember feeling guilty not offering anyone a taste. They’re off the menu now as well. In some way, that’s a little frustrating, because it makes writing about it a little redundant, but it’s also quite heartening to see that they refresh their menu so often.imageA had little mini blinis, with salmon roe and house cured gravlax. She also didn’t feel like a big lunch, because she had an impending big dinner. Props for planning stomach space.imageA paired the blinis with a side ‘mountain salad’, which looked lovely, until she poured the accompanying lurid beetroot dressing all over it. Then it looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. But she said it tasted good, though.imageHaving chatted with a few other bloggers about the Crimean after my lunch there, there seems to be a sentiment that it’s ‘not all that’. I have to say I quite liked it – the decor and service are a little quirky, but in a fun way, and while the food isn’t particularly amazing, it’s good, and something a little out of the ordinary. It’s probably a better option for a hearty dinner destination than a light lunch spot.

The Crimean on Urbanspoon

Gurney Drive (forgotten food)

284 Victoria St, Melbourne CBD (it’s across from the Vic Markets)
Phone: 9329 6649

I don’t mean this post as a slight to the good people at Gurney Drive. I really enjoyed my meal there, it just happened to have been months ago, and I don’t remember the specifics. While having a conversation last night on twitter, a few foodbloggers and I were opining about the ‘burden’ of having an ever-increasing backlog of places to post about. And foodblogging shouldn’t be about that. We’re not being paid to write about food; we do it because we love it, and want to share our experiences.

But what happens when you consume more than you produce? I know, in another context, this is a much more potent question – about the ethics of consumption and production and poverty and sustainability. I’m not so knowledgeable about all of that, so if you’re interested in the more important questions, I suggest you take a look at Tammi and Essjay‘s blogs.

The result of last night’s twonversation is that a few of us will be looking to start up an amnesty site, where we can at least post the images of the food about which we no longer remember all of the specifics, or our impressions. A photoblog, basically, not unlike foodgawker.com. I know a large proportion of you are also foodbloggers, so let me know if you’d be interested in contributing to such a site, and any ideas you may have about how we should implement this.

Anyway, on to the (not-so-forgotten) food!

This was ju hu eng chai (cuttlefish and water spinach). It was a little on the sweet side, from memory.

Penang char kway teow. They used the right noodle! I don’t really remember if this was good, so it must have been at least passable?

Fish head curry. This was wonderful – and huge – but it was pretty mild. I would have preferred more heat!

 

Gurney Drive on Urbanspoon

Hotel Metropolitan

36-42 Courtney St, North Melbourne
Phone: 9328 4222

I like pubs which put the word ‘Hotel’ first in their name. There’s something vaguely Franco-phoney about it, and also, it reminds me of that karaoke classic Hotel California.

A few of my colleagues and I had a farewell lunch for Ms S late last year at the Hotel Metropolitan. I’d been there only once before, for a beer and to watch the Melbourne Cup. That’s a whole other story, but basically I knew the place was a relatively upscale pub. I’d only been in the bar side of it, however. I hadn’t seen that there’s also a large, airy, genteel dining room off to the side.

The walls are covered with inoffensive (read neutral) artwork and botany illustrations, and I could imagine sitting down to a Devonshire tea in the setting quite easily. Except there’s a lack of soft furnishings in the room, so it gets a little bit echo-ey. Anyway, the service definitely matches the setting – attentive, polite, and just a touch on the cool side of friendly. All in all, pretty good.

Ms S and I both ordered the chicken Parmigiana, and were a little taken aback when it arrived. It was massive! So big that they couldn’t avoid placing it on top of the bed of chips (it’s a pet peeve of mine when pubs do that, because it makes it hard to cut the parma without mushing the chips below, and so then I have to move everything around on the plate, and it all gets a bit OCD). The napoli was full of tomato-ey zing, and the cheese was just starting to go golden brown. Definitely one of the better parmas I’ve had in recent times.

Ms K got the fish and chips. She was very happy with it, and I’d just like to note the two different gauges of chips which the Metropolitan was serving up. I think that illustrates their attention to detail, and a devotion to the quality of their food. Most other pubs wouldn’t bother, serving the same chips up with a parma as they do with the fried fish. Points for the little things, I say!
Mr R had the burger, which again was pretty mammoth. I liked the look of the sunnyside egg – there’s not many things better in this world than a runny yolk-as-sauce.
Ms M had the bangers and mash, which she enjoyed a lot. I think I would’ve liked a bit more mash with it, but then I am a chronic carb-a-holic.

Hotel Metropolitan on Urbanspoon

Cafe Rubicon

50 Errol St, North Melbourne
Phone: 9329 3389

Right now I’m going to step back in time. With the flurry of eating, and the lack of posting, I have quite the backlog of photo-filled drafts waiting to be written. So I’m going to cast my mind back to December last year, when a group of us from the coal mine had our work Christmas lunch at Cafe Rubicon.

Details are a bit hazy, but overall, everyone enjoyed their lunch, and the office Kris Kringle played out to everyone’s satisfaction, too!

I ordered the chilli prawns. The menu at Rubicon is a little strange, in that it specifies exactly how many prawns are in the dish. I guess that’s good, in that you know what to expect, but really? Do I need to know that I’m getting twelve prawns in the dish before I order it?

I think it might be a ploy, because I didn’t receive twelve prawns – I got thirteen! Customer relationship management rule #17: lower expectations, then exceed them! The sauce itself was pretty tasty, if a touch on the sweet side, and lacking any real chilli punch.

From left to right: Chicken salad, Risotto di mare, Linguini marinara (the latter two topped with a fried soft-shelled crab!).

Saffron prawn risotto (with an unspecified number of prawns!).

Left: a rather mammoth Chicken burger. Right: Chicken Parmigiana.
Rubicon is a pretty standard cafe. None of the dishes are particularly innovative or out-of-the-ordinary, but it’s all of a respectable standard. It’s a good place to go when you have a group of people who feel like eating different things, and they’re very accommodating with special dietary requests. I found the service a little over-bearing, but at least they were attentive!

Oh, and the cakes and pies are a winner.
Rubicon Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Limerick Castle Hotel

161 Errol St, North Melbourne
Phone: 9329 6454

There seems to be a trend of closing pubs around my work. The Redback closed last year, and more recently, Naughton’s closed. While this is plainly terrible to the college students who rely on the pub for readily accessible booze, it also shrinks the number of places to go for a quick and easy work lunch around Parkville.

The building manager Mr N likes to head down to the Limerick Castle for lunch, and sometimes an afternoon beer. I wish I were a building manager sometimes. So when we had to find a venue for a colleague’s farewell lunch recently, we took Mr N’s suggestion and went over to his local.

First thing I’d like to note about the Limerick Castle is that the prices are super cheap. I mean like pub prices you would have expected to see five or ten years ago. The service is also friendly, and there’s a bistro bit out the back, as well as a beer garden, should you feel the need to escape the screens silently displaying the racing results. Yes, this is a TAB pub.

And seeing as I’d never tried it before, I ordered the Lamb’s fry. A steal at $10. I know, it’s offal, and offal is cheap, but still, $10 seemed a bargain for this huge serve.

The liver (because that’s what lamb’s fry is, you see) was just a touch on the over-cooked side, but still it wasn’t dry or tough. That iron-y liver taste was well paired with bacon and grilled tomato, all of this being held together by an onion gravy and soft, creamy mashed potato. Soul-warming stuff.

A couple of my workmates had the chilli con carne. It comes with rice and is surrounded by corn chips. They both said it was good.

A few of the ladies had the emperor fish and chips (I think it’s a lot like snapper?) which apparently had a nice spice and herb crumb to it.

However about half of the table went for the ‘Chicken Sanga’. It looked like a heft sandwich, with the only complaint being there might have been a bit too much mayo, which made it a bit messy to eat.
So if you’re after a hearty pub lunch in North Melbourne, you’ll probably enjoy the Limerick Castle. It’s not fancy, but it’s got a lot of heart. And liver.

Limerick Castle Hotel on Urbanspoon

Hot Poppy

9 Errol St, North Melbourne
Phone: 9326 9299

A cute little cafe up the quieter end of Errol St, Hot Poppy has been around since my uni days. I remember a friend quite excitedly cheering “Hot Poppy!” with a Japanese accent, when asked about where to go for breakfast. And indeed, their breakfast is quite good. I imagine that these days, with places like Fandango and Auction Rooms in the area, it’s not quite so hard to get a table at Hot Poppy for a weekend breakfast, though I could be wrong.

On this occasion, I stopped in for a working lunch with Mr A, at his suggestion. It was a blustery Winter’s day outside, so I felt like some hearty soup. The soup of he day was a Moroccan chicken and lentil soup.

Served with some warm Turkish bread, it was just the hit of heartiness I was after. The spices were used subtly, and balanced well with the tomato base. I thought it could have dealt with a little more chilli heat, but that’s probably just me. I’m not sure Moroccan food is supposed to challenge you like other curry-style cuisines.

Mr A had a toasted roast vegetable pide. Which is another way of saying mini Turkish bread. It looked pretty tasty.

Don’t let this review fool you, however. Hot Poppy does more than simple soups and sandwiches – other people were having more complicated foods like risotto and stews all around us. The service was efficient and unobtrusive.

Hot Poppy on Urbanspoon

KL Bunga Raya

34 Errol Street, North Melbourne
Phone: 9329 1762

Always on the search for good places for lunch, my colleagues and I wandered up to Errol St, North Melbourne. Unsure of exactly where to go, but with the idea that Asian food was the order of the day, we stopped at KL Bunga Raya, an unassuming little Malaysian restaurant. Having been to Nasi Lemak House the day before, I wasn’t super enthusiastic, but the smells upon walking in soon changed my mind.


I ordered the Curry Laksa, a pretty safe bet – laksa is like pizza and sex: bad laksa is still laksa – and also a good benchmarking dish for any Malaysian Restaurant, I think. This laksa delivered flavour in spades, with loads of curry flavour, as well as the sweetness and richness that indicates a heft amount of coconut milk and palm sugar. It lacked something in the way of heat, I felt, but then I do like my Malaysian food reasonably spicy. The amount of chicken and seafood was generous, but for me the standout ingredient was the eggplant; soft and richly smoky, melding with the laksa soup so beautifully. The overall size of the dish was also quite generous, and I would have been happy to have this for dinner, let alone lunch.

Mr R also had the laksa, but he opted for the Seafood Curry Laksa, which has no chicken, but calamari and mussels.

Ms S had the Char Kway Teow, which looked and smelled good – not too dark or oily, and with a decent amount of char and wok hei (wok air/breath – a certain smokiness which is one of the intangibles of good stir-fry cooking).

I liked KL Bunga Raya. It’s simple, classic Malaysian food, at the expected cheap prices (most rice or noodle dishes are under $10).

KL Bunga Raya on Urbanspoon

Char Siu House

37 Errol St, North Melbourne
Phone: 9328 2812

Char Siu House is little Chinese restaurant, of the primarily Hong Kong BBQ ilk, in Errol St, North Melbourne. I used to live around the corner from here in 1996 when I first moved to Melbourne, and it was a bakery back then, I believe. But the times they a-change, and bread is replaced by pork. And chicken. And duck. So who’s complaining, really? Interestingly, Fungs Asian Food and Sushi Bar, the local Chinese takeaway joint in 1996, is still open and doing remarkably well. I remember their food being pretty horrible, but it’s been over a decade, so perhaps things changed there, too.

I stopped in at Char Siu House for lunch a while back. The ladies who run the place are lovely, even if there’s a bit of a Fawlty Towers-style feel to the way they yell things out to one another. But that adds to the charm of the place for me. It helps that I can speak Cantonese, too, I think. I don’t worry about what they’re saying, because I know it’s pertaining to the couple on the next table’s char kway teow. This time around, I sampled the BBQ hanging in the glass case at the front of the restaurant.

Roast duck and roast pork (not char siu, but the other kind, the belly pork with the salty, crispy crackling) on rice.The duck was nice and gamey, though a touch on t he salty side. The crackling on that pork was wonderfully crunchy, and the pork was fatty enough to make me feel a tad guilty. Then I got over and shoveled in the next mouthful. The servings are generous, though it seemed a little stingy on the cursory bok choy (underneath the mounds of meat in that photo). Chinese tea is free, as in all good Hong Kong BBQ joints.

While this place isn’t up to City BBQ or Rose Garden standards, it’s decent, and sometimes you just need a hit of meat with animal skin on it.

Char Siu House on Urbanspoon

Mr Price’s Food Store

502 Queensberry St, North Melbourne
Phone: 9326 8062

Last year I was placed in charge of organising the office Christmas lunch. This place was high on the shortlist, because of (and also in spite of) Joyce’s review. Unfortunately, because a few of the ladies in the office have rather specific dietary requirements and preferences, the lack of a menu meant I had to strike it from the list. It took me four months to get around to visiting it myself. It was certainly worth the wait.

From the street, the place looks like more of an antique or curio store than a restaurant…


… and that feel is certainly carried through to the interior. But instead of feeling shabby, the place has a warm, homely feel to it, with mismatched table settings, and interesting items adorning the walls and bookshelves. I’m guessing when it’s busy, these things make for good distractions while waiting for the food?


I was lucky enough to stumble in on a day when it wasn’t too busy – in fact there were only two other tables occupied – and Mr Price (Gary, should you feel informal) was milling around in the kitchen when I entered. He presented me with a hand-written menu – the menu changes each day depending on what produce Mr Price deems fresh and seasonal at the nearby Vic Markets – and I took a seat at a table by the window.

I’ve been on a bit of a soup kick lately, I’m not sure why, because the weather hasn’t really turned autumnal, but nonetheless, I opted for the cauliflower soup. Sound a little boring? That’s because I forgot to mention it was spiced cauliflower soup accented with duck fat. Mmmm, duck fat…. It was served with two chunks of fresh bread, and the salt and pepper which was presented were not touched. Also on offer that day were a couscous with lamb ragout, and a salad of some description with salmon.

The soup was velvety and smooth, the flavour of the cauliflower more highlighted than masked by the subtle use of spices, and the duck fat was present, but not too overpowering.

I’m not averse to dining alone – I often have lunch on my own – but I do get a little bored. Especially on a slow news day, when the ABC news app isn’t delivering interesting stories. This totally wasn’t a problem at Mr Price’s Food Store, as the shelves (and indeed my table) were loaded with interesting books; from best-sellers and Booker prize winners, to the wealth of cookbooks. I took to reading about how to prepare veloute with my soup.


I’ve heard mixed reviews about Mr Price’s Food Store, but I can honestly say I found it one of the most charming restaurants in Melbourne. I’ll definitely be back on a regular basis.

Mr Price’s Food Store is open for lunch Monday to Saturday, from 12pm, and dinners on Friday night. Bookings are advised, and I believe it’s cash only.

Mr Price's Food Store on Urbanspoon

Woo-Ga

270 Victoria St, North Melbourne
Phone: 9328 1221

For those of you who are regular readers, you’ll know how much I love a Korean BBQ. So this will be the first of a series of three reviews of the North Melbourne Victoria Street mini-Seoul Korean BBQ restaurants.

I went to Woo-Ga recently with a friend, who is by my books an expert on Japanese food and culture, but surprisingly had never had Korean BBQ before! I mean surely the rules of geographic proximity mean you sample cuisines which exist near your object of cultural obsession, right? Anyway, I digress in a rather verbose way. More about the food!


We ordered the Combo Set A (which serves 2-3) and includes a big beef rib, scotch fillet, a spicy kim chi and tofu soup.

It also came with the obligatory kim chi side dishes, and rice, but the rice wasn’t mentioned in the set, so we foolishly also ordered the ‘healthy mixed rice’. This was pretty much a bi bim bap only with a less fatty cut of meat, I guess. Oh, and it was in a stainless steel bowl, instead of a stone one. I wonder if that makes it healthier? In any case, it was still tasty.

Woo-Ga’s pretty great value – especially if you order one of the combo sets – and any place where you cook at the table is going to be fun. I’ll definitely be going back, after I try its more popular neighbour Hallah, and revisit the cousin down the street, Toodouri. Penny from jeroxie.com also enjoyed her visit – see here for much better photos!

Wooga Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon