Nothing says “I love you, #fatty” like a burger cake

It’s @eatnik‘s birthday today. Happy birthday #fatty!!

For a few weeks, @jeroxie and I had been scheming and planning a birthday cake for her, as she’d been the kind purveyor of awesome birthday cakes for us both (a crazily rich milo cake upon my request, and an impressive Words with Friends cake for Penny) as well as a team effort with @meatnik to make a croquembouche – that shat all over any masterchef contestant’s – for @th0i3‘s 30th.

So whatever we came up with, it was going to have to be plucked from the clouds of awesome. Initially, we’d toyed with the idea of a rainbow cake. They seem to be a little en vogue of late, and the flavour possibilities seemed exciting. Then we though something a little more personalised might be a better idea. I floated the idea of a ‘pork belly’ cake, with layers of strawberry sponge meat and white chocolate mousse fat, topped with a bruleed layer of ‘crackling’. I still think I’ll get around to that one day. But when @eatnik announce last week that her birthday celebrations were going to be “burgers and beers” at Thousand Pound Bend, it was time for a cake rethink.

With a little research, and some very helpful advice given by professional cake decorator @sweet_libertine, the burger cake seemed feasible, and actually easier than the pork belly monstrosity we’d been dreaming up.

Now I didn’t take photos of the cake making process, but in essence, this is what the cake was composed of:

  • an orange chiffon cake (for the top of the bun) – from Poh’s recipe, with extra orange essence for a super-charged zing)
  • a chocolate pound cake (for the patty) – from a recipe sourced from @essjayeff, with added cocoa and Hershey’s chocolate syrup – props to @th0i3 for co-baking this with me!
  • another variation on Poh’s chiffon cake, without the orange, but with hazelnut meal added (for the base of the bun).

This was also my first attempt at working with – and making my own – fondant icing. It’s kind of fun, but gets a little messy! I used this recipe, but found I needed to add a lot more icing sugar than they had suggested, partly because I was using liquid food colouring instead of gel colour.

Anyway, to assemble it, I created a skirt of fondant icing for the burger base. Given the amount of icing I was going to be using for everything else, I only wanted it around the edges, for presentation. There’s only so much sugar in a cake that even I can stand! That gooey stuff seeping out is a sour cream frosting that I was using as glue for the fondant.imageA thicker layer of the sour cream frosting went over that, to form the mayo, and then some ruffled green fondant for the lettuce.imageOnce the lettuce layer was done, I added some atomic red fondant tomato slices. See that chocolate pound cake waiting patiently in the background? It’s up next!imageI shaved the top and parts of the edges off, so it woud be more of a patty shape.imageThen, following @sweet_libertine’s advice, I covered it all with ganache – made with Lindt dark Chilli Intense chocolate and sour cream – and glued bits of crumbled pound cake on top, to give it that rough burger mince look.imageThe patty goes on, and I start getting excited about how well it’s all turning out.imageOf course, there’s a reason ‘I can haz cheezburger’ is a meme, and ‘I can haz burger’ is not. I made the fondant cheese Swiss because, well, it looked more obviously like cheese. There’s nothing subtle about a novelty burger cake OK, people?imageThe trickiest part with the fondant was probably laying a huge sheet of it over the top of the bun. To do this, I rolled it out on a sheet of baking paper, then flipped it over onto the cake. Ad thankfully, it came off without a hitch! I don’t think I could really have tried it a second time without making more icing, because once it hits the frosting, the icing can’t really be moved or re-used. And yes, for those continuity geeks playing at home, yes, I did this bit before assembling the rest of the cake. It just seemed more logical to show you the process from bottom to top.imageThen I shaped some novelty sesame seeds out of white fondant, and glued them on using the sour cream frosting.
imagePlace the top on, and voila! Novelty burger cake success!
imageHere’s a shot of how the cake looked on the inside. Try as I might, I couldn’t make it look like anything other than the mess you dread to clean up, with a hangover, the next morning after a big party.imageHappy birthday #fatty!


74-76 Nicholson St, Footscray
Phone: 9687 4450

There’s been a lot of buzz about new restaurants opening in Melbourne lately. The Age had an article about a slew of new places opening, giving a bit of a guide to the ‘what’s hot’ darling venues of the Melbourne culinary scene. Places with hospitality rockstars at the helm, or at least bank-rolling them. I’ll admit I’m excited by this season of openings, as evidenced by my repeat visits to Chin Chin in particular. But there’s also a lot going on closer to home.

For those of you who don’t visit Footscray often, you probably don’t know that it’s one of those suburbs going through something of a makeover. Hopefully nothing too extreme, but there are medium density apartment buildings popping up everywhere, and we’ve now got a big patch of lawn – albeit surrounded by temporary cyclone fencing – in front of the train station! Within a week, Footscray saw three new restaurants opening for business. The rather unimaginatively named “Footscray Asian Buffet Restaurant” and cumbersomely named “Nha Hang Cong Tu Bac Lieu” both opened for business in the newly built Westville Central building opposite Little Saigon market last week. Half a block away, Sen has just opened. Sort of.

‘Sen: the hidden taste’, a tagline which is so tantalisingly ripe for lewd or derogatory jokes, is the re-incarnation of the veteran Ha Long restaurant. I’ll admit I had avoided Ha Long since I moved to Footscray, largely because i didn’t like the food at the Richmond branch. Turns out I was being unfair, because the new owner of Sen is the old chef of Ha Long, having bought out the previous owners. And the food is pretty good. Just goes to show you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.imageThough then again, Sen does have quite an attractive ‘cover’ now. Sleek, modern branding, comfortable stylish chairs and not a TV in sight, you get the sense that Sen is pitching quite squarely at the Sapa Hills market. A look at their menu will indicate the same, with Northern Vietnamese dishes like bun cha Ha Noi, and the same ‘family-style dishes’ section. But hey, originality isn’t exactly a hallmark of Vietnamese restaurants.

My first visit to Sen was on their second day of business. The huge bouquets of flowers – customary gifts from family and friends of the owners to wish them good luck in their new business – were proudly on display, and they had yet to add any fish to the tanks. Signage was still being stuck onto the doors, and the place buzzed with energy and excitement.

Sen has quite a large menu, stretching from a selection of noodle and rice dishes for the single diner, to an array of main dishes to share, with all the requisite starters you’d expect on a Vietnamese menu. So how do you benchmark a restaurant with such a wide selection? I like to just go for my favourites. I started out with a bun bo Hue, eschewing the pho because I’m usually wary of full-menu restaurants’ renditions of pho.imageI’m really glad I chose bun bo Hue that first visit. The bowl was heaving with beef flank, cha (processed pork loaf) as well as the customary cube of congealed blood. Yeah, not for the meek. Or maybe the meek should man up and eat some blood, and they’ll become less meek. Anyway, the super surprise was the inclusion of a chunk of pork hock. So often omitted, the pork hock is one of my favourite parts of a good bun bo Hue. Ironic, because it’s usually billed as a ‘chilli beef noodle’. The broth here is fragrant and punchy, but I still prefer Dong Ba‘s broth, even if they’re not as generous as Sen with the animal parts.image

Check out that pork hock action!imageIl coinqulino – aka my housemate – chose the Singapore noodles. Yes, I was dubious. And yes, I cringed: because who the hell orders a Singapore noodles at a Vietnamese restaurant? But hey, he’s from Italy, and that was what he felt like eating, so who am I to judge? Turns out it was a good choice, even if it’s not particularly Vietnamese. The serving was massive, and full of goodies. I tried a little, and my only quibble was that it needed more spice. Which is to say, it was masterfully cooked; not too oily like so many Singapore noodles I’ve eaten elsewhere.imageAs il coinquilino had never heard of custard apple, let alone tried it, I suggested that he try the custard apple smoothie – it’s called a cocktail on the menu – while I had the jackfruit one. Custard apples are in season, so there was a lot of “Wow, this is delicious!” – sluuuuuurp – “Argh! Brainfreeze!”. Rinse and repeat.imageMy second visit was a solo one, so I thought I’d try another of my favourite dishes, bun cha gio thit nuong (rice vermicelli with spring rolls and grilled pork). I’m going to put an ambit claim out there now: best bun thit nuong I’ve had in Footscray. The pork was smoky and beautifully charred, yet succulent; the spring rolls were crisp and tasty, and I was a little put off initially by the chunky lettuce and pickles, but they add a great textural contrast to the noodles.imageMy next visit was with the @eatdrinkstagger kids, Lauren from Footscray Food Blog, and @fatbooo. The intention was some #phosmash-ing, and true to form I had the pho bo dac biet. Gem and Tris arrived late, and by that stage I’d already started eating the pho. It’s telling that I recommended that they skip it. There’s nothing offensively bad about it, but the broth is a little too sweet, and heavy-handed with the MSG. As I said, I tend to avoid pho at places which don’t specialise in it, and Sen is pretty much a case in point. I don’t mean this as a slur, but they do other dishes so much better, and frankly, standards for pho in Footscray are understandably high.imageA little more adventurous on the day than I, Lauren and Boo shared a bun moc, which was rice vermicelli with meat balls and cha. I’ve never tried it myself, but both said it was good, remarking on the interesting flavour of the meatballs.imageThey also shared the bun cha Ha Noi, which looked mighty tasty. Again, the pork is grilled beautifully, as you can see.imageI didn’t manage to get a photo of it, but the bo la lot (beef wrapped in vine leaves) at Sen is great, too. The beef is seasoned better than at most other places.

We decided to finish off with a round of dessert drinks, partly because Lauren had her daughters with her, and partly because we’re all big kids too! Everyone else had custard apple smoothies, but having seen another table order it, I was taken by the che ba mau (three colour drink). Though really, it’s a four colour drink, because they’ve got the mung bean puree in there too! It’s a total winner, and when I gave it to one of Lauren’s daughter to try, I had a tough time getting it back!imageSo yeah, if you haven’t been, and are looking for a good all-rounder in the area, definitely give Sen a try. You shouldn’t have too much trouble getting a table, even though it’s new, because they really know how to cram the tables in!imageCustard apple smoothies are badass.

Sen on Urbanspoon

Sun Kee

352-354 Chapel Street, South Yarra
Phone: 9827 7110

My grandfather turned 93 this year. Ever since his 90th birthday, which I missed because I was in Viet Nam, but was apparently quite the to-do, each birthday celebration has become a big occasion. Which is fair enough, because who knows how many of them he has left, right? Not to be too morbid, but 93 is a pretty good run, by anyone’s standards. These birthday dinners usually involve the entire extended family, spanning four generations now that my cousins have kids, and this year, the added complexity of a pre-arrange seating plan – which was promptly abandoned when my generation decided we were re-instating the kid’s table, instead of sitting with our parents – and I kid you not, HALF AN HOUR of photos with Grandpa before sitting down to eat. I was starving and flash-blind by the time I sat down to eat.

Not to be disrespectful, but perhaps Grandpa should have chosen more wisely for his 93rd birthday. I doubt the family will be back to Sun Kee anytime soon. The food was passable, but not exciting, and the service was patchy and not very attentive. To be fair, our group was rather large – three tables of 10 – so perhaps they were a little under-staffed. Odd, seeing as it was a Saturday night, and wed booked ahead, but stranger things have happened. A little more disconcerting was the fact that the maitre d tried to serve us port which had been brought as a gift for Grandpa, at the start of the meal, as though it were red wine.

Of course, this is another in the series of ‘family dinner Cantonese banquet’ posts. For other versions, see my earlier posts about Vessel and Fu Long. I’d also like to caveat here: I’m probably being a bit harsh, but I’ve been to so many different Chinese restaurants in my life that serve this type of Cantonese food, that my standards are pretty high. Not unreasonably high, I would say, but perhaps I’m pickier than most when it comes to this type of food.

We started off with a soup. Seafood soup, with tofu and feathered egg. A reasonably standard soup, though not executed that well. There was very little seafood in there, and the corn-starch thickened broth in which it was swimming was flavoured with little else other than MSG.

imageThen came the crab. This wasn’t bad, but for some bizarre reason, the usual accompanying egg noodles were missing. I’m not a huge fan of crab – it’s too fiddly for my liking – but I am a huge fan of the egg noodles that come soaked in the ginger and spring onion crab gravy. Alas, not tonight. A theme of disappointment was setting in.imageOn to the main course parade. First up was a simple dish of scallops with sugar snap peas and carrot. This was not bad. The main problem was that we had to wait another five minutes for the waiters to bring the rice out, by which time the dish had gotten cold. Which wasn’t too pleasant, given the amount of oil coating everything. A shame, because the scallops were nice and sweet, as were the peas.imageFried whole prawns in salt and pepper arrived next, which are always a winner. That rule stood firm here, and these were probably my favourite dish of the night. Not too oily, and super crunchy, I enjoyed eating these things whole. Yes, I’m an itinerant prawn head eater, and poo-poo all of you who don’t at least suck the brains out. There’s a reason tha prawn heads are used to make a good bisque; that’s where all the flavour is!imageContinuing the fried theme, there was crispy duck with taro next. This is a roast duck breast which has been pressed onto a layer of taro, and then battered and deep fried. Yeah, it sounds sinfully awesome, huh? And usually it is, but the duck was dry and over-cooked here, and the dish was a little lukewarm when it arrived at the table. The accompanying sauce wasn’t particularly inspiring either; an insipid soy sauce gravy.imageShiitake mushrooms with bok choy and carrot brought about an end to the reign of deep fried supremacy. Again, another standard dish, which was done reasonably well. imageAfter that quick breather, like the short reign of a usurper with no heir, the deep fried dynasty was quickly re-instated. With another classic, though of slightly more dubious reputation. Sweet and sour pork. Now I’m not going to malign it because of its association with bastardised Margaret Fulton Chinese cooking, or because it’s a massive hit of a calorie bomb: fat AND sugar!? It’s just not that common that you will see this dish served in a Chinese banquet like this. I think it’s a little bit ballsy, in fact, and I commend them for it. And you know what? It was good. The problem with most sweet and sour pork dishes is that they’re too sweet, and not sour enough. And often the salty element is lacking, too. Not so at Sun Kee. The pork was well seasoned, and well cooked; the sauce was a good balance of sweet and sour. imageIt’s a shame that this moment of brilliance was quickly eclipsed by the next dish. Sliced fish – I think it was rockling – had been battered and deep fried, then smothered in a corn and egg gravy. This was just bland and gross.imageAs were the ‘seafood noodles’, which didn’t really have much seafood, and felt like a bookend with the disappointing soup opener. I have a feeling that this might actually be the intended concept, but when you execute both dishes this poorly, why bother having that concept in the first place?imageOh yeah, I skipped out before they served Grandpa’s favourite durian sponge cake with layers of fake cream, but I did manage to get a quick snap of these awesome crazy agar jellies my aunt made!imageSunkee BBQ Seafood House on Urbanspoon

Yum Cha at Dai Duong

Shop 5/64 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9689 9899

Regular readers of this blog will know that I, as a child of Chinese migrants, and as a thoroughly modern Melburnian, love yum cha. This Chinese version of brunch/lunch/morning tea is partly so awesome because you usually end up eating as much as you would if you were to combine all three meals. But also, it’s a great experience socially, with the ebb and flow of food punctuating the tea-lubricated gossiping that inevitable happens when you get together with old friends.

While I’ve heard lukewarm things about Master Restaurant and Golden Harvest’s yum cha services, and I’ve sampled Yummie Yum Cha’s moderately over-priced fare, until now, I haven’t really considered anywhere in Footscray as a decent yum cha destination. I would always either head in to the city, or out to Gold Leaf in Sunshine. But that might be about to change, as Dai Duong offers a close-by, lazy alternative.imageDai Duong has been in in the shadow of the iconic Franco Cozzo store at the city end of Hopkins St for years, and I think it has intermittently been offering yum cha. @jeroxie and I tried to go earlier in the year, only to find that they didn’t actually serve yum cha! But since March this year, they’ve started serving it. Daily, as you can see from the rather loud signage. Don’t be deceived by the address, either. Despite sharing a street number with a number of other shops, this is a pretty large restaurant, replete with dance floor (for countless Chinese/Vietnamese wedding banquets no doubt) and karaoke! I’m yet to find out if the karaoke is in private dining rooms – like they had in Sai Gon – or if you’re expected to sing for the entire restaurant… but I digress.

The place was pretty empty on a Sunday afternoon when we wandered in. It was probably a little after the traditional late Sunday morning family crowd, but there were still a few large groups enjoying themselves into the afternoon. Some rather friendly waitresses with steaming trolleys wandered past a couple of times, offering us their wares, while we waited for Ms D to arrive. Then the eating – and the gossip – began in earnest. We started off with some char siu buns, but not the steamed ones, the baked ones.imageThese were a little sweet, and thoroughly disappointing after having tried the ‘pineapple bun’ version of them at Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong. That’s not to say they were bad per se, they just weren’t great.

Next up, some tripe and a prawn-stuffed tofu topped with scallops. The tripe was nicely braised, though the flavour was a little boring. The tofu was wonderfully soft, and the twin seafood pleasures of prawn and scallop were both strong, and yet remained distinct from one another.imageThe loh baak gao (daikon cake) was a touch on the soft side, and I would’ve preferred a little more daikon in the mix. Still, it had a nice crust, and wasn’t too oily.imageOf course, we had to have the fried taro dumplings. I tried making a version of these on the weekend, and though they tasted pretty good, they were an utter failure in terms of getting the taro to puff and feather like these. I have new-found respect for yum cha fry chefs. The ones at Dai Duong clearly know what they’re doing. These were great, but it’s not often that fried taro dumplings are not, really.imageSteamed crab dumplings came next, and they were a little disappointing. I couldn’t really taste the crab. It was more like prawn, which is to say, it was more like a lot of other versions of a prawn dumpling that you’ll often see at yum cha. Not bad, just not what it should have been. The skins were nice and light, though.imageOne of my favourite dumplings at yum cha is the chive dumpling. Chives are such a perfect flavour match to prawns. A winner, every time. imageThen we had the classic siu mai. Probably the modern Aussie dim sim’s closes ancestor, the siu mai is the porkiest of yum cha dumplings. The siu mai at Dai Duong were big, plump and succulent.imageIl coinquilino hadn’t tried cheong fun (steamed rice paper/noodle) before, so I decided to order the zha leong, which is a Chinese donut and some Chinese broccoli wrapped in steamed rice paper. When it’s done well, like here in Macau, it’s pretty amazing. Unfortunately, Dai Duong’s version didn’t quite live up to that. The rice paper was a little thick, and therefore felt a bit claggy in the mouth. A good cheong fun should be light and ribbon-like. The donut was also a little cold, which made the dish even less pleasant. A bit of a miss there.imageFinally, for dessert, we had the egg custard buns. A perennial favourite, it’s a good option if you want to skip the cold dessert cart.imageThe steamed bread portion of this was excellent: light, fluffy, with just the right amount of sweetness. The custard, however, was a bit of a miss. It was rather grainy, and definitely over-cooked for my liking, being a bit crumbly, instead of like a thick jam.imageAll in all, I wouldn’t say yum cha at Dai Duong is great, but it’s definitely passable, and a good option for Footscray locals. And at around $15 a head between three of us, it’s excellent value. They’ve also got some pretty cheap crab specials on at the moment; it being crab season and all!

Dai Duong Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Chin Chin

125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 8663 2000

Full disclosure: @thatjessho works at Chin Chin, and she’s a good friend of mine.

It might just be because of the makeup of my tweetstream, but twitter seems to be abuzz about Chin Chin. And why not? It’s just plain awesome.

Chin Chin serves modern Thai food – executed exceedingly well by Andrew Gimber and his kitchen – in a comfortable, casual space. Think of it as Cumulus Inc., with a South East Asian twist, and less atttude. In fact, all of the staff have been friendly and great, and I’ve been in three times now. I daresay if I lived in the city, this would be my new local.

imageMy first visit there, Jess was telling me about the fitout, which I love, and how the place used to be the infamous Icon bar. Where the bar was often set alight, and all sorts of code violations happened on a regular basis, until they were shut down late last year. Take an impressive long marble bar, a theatrette commercial kitchen, and smartly re-configurable seating, and add a small modicum of quirky but warm finishes; you have a winning combination. Not really surprising, given the pedigree of Projects of Imagination (Cumulus, Golden Fields, Coda). And yes, they did remember to add hooks for the bar-stool seating areas. You’ll find them under the bar.

imageMore importantly, the relaxed but sophisticated feel of the place is not so much a facade, but a reflection of the menu. The first thing I tried was a Tamarind cocktail. Sort of like a less slushy margarita, the Sichuan pepper salt rim is the kicker which takes this cocktail out of the ordinary. I would have liked a touch more tamarind, but I like my sour cocktails really sour. I think it comes from eating warheads candies as a kid.

imageThe menu is broken up quite logically into starters, soups, salads, curries, bigger dishes, and desserts. You can work your way through it – I know I’m trying to – or you have the option of just saying “Feed me!” and the kitchen will send out a procession seven different items for $66 per head. Which is a good way to go, if you’re not adept at balancing a Thai menu. It was much like my experience at bo.lan in Bangkok, whose chefs, like Andrew Gimber, had also trained under David Thompson.

We started off with the Kingfish sashimi. Laced with coconut cream, lime and Thai basil, this is a deceptively simple dish, and probably a contender for the least spicy thing on the menu. The fish itself was wonderfully fresh – both times I tried it – and the flavour combination of the adornments works beautifully, especially the thin strips of kaffir lime garnish.

imageFried school prawns with nam prik pla gapi, basil, lemon and crudites. First of all, let’s clear one thing up. Crudite is just fancy French for raw vegetables. Which are a good foil for the deep fried prawns and the salt and spice in the nam prik, a Thai dipping sauce made of chilli, lemon, palm sugar and fermented shrimp paste. Especially the little witlof leaves, which are useful for making a little scoop and loading up a few of these little puppies for a mouthful of BAM, as Jess would say. I liked this dish, but I have to say, personally, I prefer my school prawns just a little bit larger, because that usually means they have bigger heads, which is where the flavour is!

imageNext, we had the spicy eggnet omelette rolls, filled with spanner crab and chilli jam. The spanner crab was wonderfully delicate, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the eggnet. This might have been an expectation thing, because when they arrived at the table, I expected them to be crunchy, but they were much softer, and a little bit chewy. Pro tip: they have enough structural integrity for you to pick them up and eat them like a spring roll. Don’t make the mistake I did of attacking it with a spoon and fork. It gets messy.

imageGrilled roti madtarbak. I thought this was more of a Malaysian dish than a Thai one, but there’s a lot of over-the-border cross-pollination between the two cuisines, I guess. These were filled with a tasty beef mince, and accompanied by a sweet and tangy cucumber relish. The roti itself was well made, with a super crispy top layer, that was super flaky.
imageInterlude: our entrees last night. We were seated in a slightly more dim part of the restaurant, hence the noticeably dodgier photography. But hey, we both know you don’t read this blog for the photos. We started with the oyster omelette.  Topped with a crispier version of the eggnet, this oyster omelette was fine, but I still prefer the super-crispy one at Four seasons in Hong Kong. The chilli sauce that came with it, however, was wicked!

imageSpicy corn and coriander fritters. Sorry, they look like little fried turds. But they were super tasty little fried turds! Eaten lettuce-wrap style, I quickly became a big fan of these. I could see myself polishing off a whole dish as a beer ‘snack’.

Anyway, back to my original visit, and on to mains. Ordinarily, I don’t get excited by curry dishes in Thai restaurants, unless it’s a red duck curry. I have a soft spot for that one. But this green rockling curry has changed all of that. It’s quite simply the best Thai curry I’ve had in Melbourne. The flavours are balanced expertly, so that you’re not overwhelmed by any one flavour when you first taste it. Indeed, I was a little worried at my first bite that I wasn’t going to like this – it seemed somewhat timid in terms of the level of spiciness. However, ten seconds later, and the flavours have somehow miraculously developed in my mouth – a clever slow burn, rounded out by the rich sweetness of the coconut, while still tasting fresh and zingy thanks to the lemongrass, galangal and shredded kaffir lime leaf. The rockling was also an astute choice for this dish; present but not too fishy, and practically melting in your mouth. Also, big ups for including pea eggplants. Little semi-bitter nuggets of joy!

imageSoy marinated crispy quail, dusted with Sichuan salt. Served with a lemon wedge and Sriracha, this was a perfectly good rendition of a classic dish. The quail was juicy and plump, and it was well seasoned. Somehow, it just didn’t wow me, and I think it might be better as an starter than as a bigger dish. That’s a fair bit of quail to commit to if you’re eating on your own, or as a couple. As a shared dish, it was ok. But then again, I wouldn’t recommend eating quail on a date anyway. It’s fiddly and can easily get stuck between your teeth.

imageSteamed chicken with Chinese broccoli and Miss Michelle’s XO sauce. A take on khao man gai without the khao (rice). The house XO sauce here was a winner, but unfortunately, it was let down by the chicken, which was a little over-cooked for my liking.

imageSalad of crispy barramundi, pork belly and green apple. I maintain to this day that the first time I ate at Chat Thai in Sydney, they served me a ‘green mango’ salad that had substituted granny smith apple for green mango. I lived in Viet Nam for a year, I know what green mango tastes like. But I digress. I like the fact Chin Chin’s making no pretensions about their ingredients. Because when it comes down to it, the green apple works really well in this salad. As instructed by Jess, it’s important to balance each mouthful of this salad, making sure you get a little pork and a little barramundi. The barramundi is quite salty, and the pork belly is sweet and luxuriously rich. Both texturally and flavour-wise, the two are an amazing match. Definitely try this dish – you won’t be disappointed. Winner.

imageInterlude II: last night we tried the tripe salad, a special on the menu at the moment. The tricky thing about ‘the specials’ is that they’re not marked on the menu at all, and as the menus/placemats are printed daily (I think) dishes have a potential to come and go pretty quickly. Let’s hope this one doesn’t go anywhere anytime soon! Essentially, this is larb, but take out the minced chicken or pork, and substitute some soft-yet-springy tripe. If you’re at all into offal, as I am, or even just as long as you’re not put off by tripe, you’re going to love this dish. A hefty whack of chilli and toasted ground rice sealed the deal for me, and @eatnik pronounced it better than the tripe at Chinese Spicy Barbie Kitchen, which is a big call, but she’s right. To be fair, they are serving different parts of the anatomy, but let’s not get into the specifics of omasums.

imageWe also had a Massaman beef curry, which was a little too sweet, and heavy on the cinnamon, but I didn’t manage to get a shot of that one. The beef was wonderfully tender, it was just the style of curry wasn’t quite to my liking. I did manage to get a picture of the wild boar, stir-fried in red curry paste with snake beans. But as you can see below, it wasn’t really a good picture!

imageWhich is a shame, because the dish is superb. A good level of spice, and yet the flavour of the boar still manages to shine through. You can tell it’s not just pork. It’s somehow more flavoursome, and has a touch of a gamey flavour to it.

Anyway, back to my first visit, and onto desserts. Ms S decided on the three colour pudding, a re-interpretation of the Vietnamese che ba mau or Malaysian cendol. For me, this was a bit too sweet.

imageOn Jess’ recommendation, I ordered the ‘floating gem’ dessert. And it was A-MAZ-ING. An island of mango granita is surrounded by a sea of jasmine syrup, which has judiciously been lightly salted, and around it float the gems of lychees, lime segments and toddy palm. The toddy palm was something new to me; it’s a sort of jelly, not unlike a soft agar. What I loved about this dessert was that it wasn’t too sweet. There was a potential for that – granita, syrup, fruit, jelly – but the salt in the syrup, and the little chunks of lime, make it interesting, tasty and refreshing. There’s another part of me, the wanky part, that likes the concept behind this dessert, because it’s something of a metaphor for a tropical island! Anyway, I highly recommend this dessert.

imageSo my impression of Chin Chin overall? Destined to be one of my favourite places in Melbourne. Aside from the problem I have with kerning in some of the branding – is it Chin Chin, or is it chinchin? – the food is amazing, the service is good (and handsome), and I feel comfortable eating there. They’re already packed out almost every night, and they don’t take bookings generally, unless you’ve got a group of more than eight, so RUN DON’T WALK people.

Chin Chin on Urbanspoon

Dainty Sichuan

176 Toorak Road, South Yarra
Phone: 9078 1686

It’s been a long time between visits. The first – and until recently, the latest – time I visited Dainty Sichuan Food was in its first incarnation on Smith Street, in Collingwood. I still remember that night; it was the first  time I’d tried Sichuan food, and it was something of a revelation. We had ordered the Chongqing Chilli Chicken, and upon finding that is was a bed of dried chillies interspersed with miniscule chunks of chicken, we’d been a little disappointed. Though Dr D had the wisdom to take the left-over dried chillies home with him, and a couple of nights later made a fiery chilli soup which was a testament to just how much firepower those chillies contained.

Cut to about seven years later, and Dainty Sichuan is now Southside – a large contributing factor to my not having visited sooner – and about four times the size of the original shopfront. It’s gained a cult following, and the menu has expanded to match the new expansive restaurant. And yet it’s still hard to get a table on weekends! Luckily we’d booked, and we moseyed on down with our two bottles of sparkling – gotta love a BYO restaurant – from nearby drinks.

Normally I don’t comment too much about my dining companions’ chilli tolerances, but it’s relevant here. I like to think I can handle my chilli. I’m no lightweight, but nor am I a chilli fiend. My dining companions this night were otherwise. Mr I is something of a lightweight. I think it’s because he’s tall and lanky, like one of those sweet yellow peppers you can munch on as if it were a banana. Ms D, on the other hand, is a bonafide chilli hound. She’s little and fiery, like a Thai birdseye chilli. We like to joke – though it’s not a stretch of the imagination – that she likes to have yum cha because dumplings are a good accompaniment to the chilli oil. So in deference to Mr I’s delicate palate, we opted for some less challenging dishes.

First up was the kung pao chicken. This came in a massive metal dish, and when it arrived, we started to worry about the fact we’d ordered three dishes between the three of us.

I much prefer this dish to the signature Chongqing Chilli Chicken, largely because it’s not drowned in a sea of dried chillies, and the fresh green chillies are a much tastier option, IMHO. Also, you get much better chicken! Little chunks of thigh fillet, as opposed to the chopped up wing bits in the CQ Chilli Chicken. Finally, the peanuts in this are awesome, and come into their own when you hit that point where you’ve all ‘finished eating’ but all continue to pick at bits off the plate for the simple reason that food is still sitting in front of you. Peanuts rock in this situation! The dish overall had a nice balance of heat and saltiness, though – like most dishes in Sichuan food, I find – was heavily dependent on the steamed rice as a foil. I guess that’s the way the style of cuisine has been designed.

Having read enough blog posts about Dainty, I knew the one dish I had to try was the spicy eggplant. Though I’m a little disappointed with it, to be honest. I think I had a notion that they were going to be like eggplant chips. And they were, mostly. But the insides weren’t soft and gooey, and the glaze had a touch too much vinegar for my liking. Still, perhaps it’s just me, because the eggplant seems to garner universally glowing reviews.

The other dish we had was sliced pork belly, with bamboo shoot. This dish was a winner! The pork belly (winning here) was lightly salt-cured like bacon (winning there) and then stir-fried with bamboo shoot, garlic chives, leek and chilli (everywhere is winning).

As you can see, we had a lot of food.

We got through most of it, and even Mr I liked it. See? (That was on our way out.)

Dainty Sichuan on Urbanspoon

The Napier – a Bogan Burger misfire

210 Napier St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9419 4240

It was an event which had been months in the making. It started last year, even. There was talk of smashing and burger domination. It was scheduled, then re-scheduled, then re-scheduled again. @thatjessho and I were down for some major bogan bashing. Bogan burger bashing, that is. So somehow with the Christmas feasting season, and then the following #fatty adventures, it turned out to be March by the time we got around to hitting up the Napier for the Bogan Burger challenge.

Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with the bogan burger, it’s a burger comprised of a steak, a chicken schnitzel, a potato cake, bacon and egg, and then a bit of vegetable matter to round it out. Here’s a couple of photos. The reason I don’t have photos of my own is because of Jesus.

It was Lent. And while I’m no Christian, I like novelty activities, and giving up red meat for Lent seemed pretty novel at the time. Now, I had counted on the gaping hole in my soul caused by denying myself pho for the 40 days… wait, so Lent causes a gaping hole in my soul, ready for the Devil to enter??? What I hadn’t really counted on was the fact that the Napier has a strict No Substitutions policy when it comes to their Bogan Burger. Gotta hand it to them for protecting the integrity or their product.

So we spent the afternoon basking in the wan Autumnal sun, sinking pints of cider and shooting the breeze. The Napier’s beer garden is good for that. Eventually, we thought we should probably eat something, though with that much liquid in our bellies, I’m ashamed to say we both baulked at the thought of the Bogan Burger that day. My excuse was my Lenten abstinence from red meat. Jess? Well, let’s just say she abstained in solidarity. Sort of. She ordered the regular beef burger.

… with crinkle cut fries! How much do we love crinkle cut? Nothing bespeaks true pub louder. Well, except maybe beer on tap. But it’s a close call.

As you can see, it’s a sizeable hunk of a patty. Smothered in melted, nay grilled, cheese, tomato sauce, and all that vegetable matter again.

I went for the chicken burger. Now I liked this, it was tasty, the chicken was well cooked, and there was a hefty whack of Caesar sauce/mayo. And I love the fact that the Napier serves their burgers with chips and coleslaw, not that insipid green salad that is difficult to stab with your fork and shove in your mouth. But just once, I’d like a place to do a chicken burger that’s actually a burger. You know, minced, with spices and stuff. A patty. A BURGER.

So no, we didn’t manage to get to the Bogan Burger. Apparently as bogans, we fail.

But as burger smashers, we totally still win.

Napier Hotel on Urbanspoon