Kimurakan Café

238 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9650 2038

I love @thatjessho. Because she’s an enabler. And if we’ve learned anything at all from foodblogging, it’s that enablers are gold. Even when they’re not foodbloggers themselves. I’m looking at you, @eatnik.Only where @eatnik is a duck-enabler, @thatjessho is a booze enabler. It’s really hard to decide which is better, so I’m not going to.

Anyway, one Thursday not so long ago, I’d had coffee – for those of you who aren’t regular readers, coffee is like meth-amphetamine for me – so I was in need of some alcohol to calm my heart palpitations after work. Enter the booze-enabler. After a few drinks at the Cumulus bar, we headed off to find some food, because it wasn’t Friday, so eating wasn’t cheating.

Jess suggested Kimurakan, and I agreed, not really knowing what I was agreeing to. Of course, I’d been to Kimurakan before – quite a few times in my uni days – but I’d never actually bothered to learn its name. It was just the Japanese place, next to the (then) Taiwanese place (now Sambal Kampung) on Little Bourke, a couple of doors down from the canned abalone, Ugg boot and lanolin cream emporium.

Kimurakan is a pretty no-frills place, as far as looks go. Some might say run down. I say humble and unpretentious. But they serve pretty consistently decent food, and it’s cheap. Which is a winning combination in my books.

So I was couple of drinks in – yes, I am an utter lightweight, but apparently a fun drunkard – of course I ordered the mose deep-fried laden thing on the menu. The Kimurakan bento. To make things easier to read, I’m going to use bullet points here. The following things were not deep fried:

  • oysters
  • prawns
  • pippies
  • salad
  • rice.

The following things were:

  • mini-tonkatsu (pork cutlet)
  • kara-age (chicken)
  • croquettes x 2
  • fish
  • takoyaki
  • spring roll
  • tofu
  • a crab claw (I think? It was the little puffy thing in the middle).

imageI have to say I wasn’t the most discerning customer at that point in time, but just about everything tasted great. I did wish the oysters weren’t steamed, but rather fresh, or crumbed and fried, and the pippies and prawns were a bit of a let down. That’s probably just because they weren’t fried. They should have fried the salad too, and you can fry rice, right? Oh wait, they’re Japanese, not Chinese. Anyway, it was all pretty good, and a heaving amount of food for a ridiculously low price. From memory, it was somewhere near $15?

Jess had a hankering for udon, and ordered the nabeyaki udon. It was also a pretty large serving, with quite a bit of (hidden) seafood. Into which she proceeded to dump a mountain of shichimi togarashi (that’s the Japanese chilli/pepper powder). Scroll up fo a second. See that white pepper shaker? That’s the togarashi. Which totally doesn’t come out through those weeny holes. Be a pro like Jess, and take the lid off before sprinkling/pouring/dumping. Oh, and I love a restaurant that serves up a noodle soup with a ladle instead of a spoon. (Yes, I know, it’s a Japanese thing.)imageOf course, that wasn’t enough food, so we ordered a little entree of takoyaki to share. To be honest,  they were a little disappointing. Doughy, a touch bland, and not quite hot enough to make the bonito flakes dance the mystical bonito flake dance.imageAnd yeah, I did eat all of that bento, in case you were wondering.image

Kimurakan 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


Level 1, 217 Russell Street, Melbourne
Phone: 9654 4885

I came upon this place by accident. I’d just finished dinner with Mr J at Meshiya, and was craving a little dessert. I thought we’d head over to Dessert House, because I was in the mood for some sago loving. Then as we walked along Russell Street, I almost walked into a sandwich-board sign. It doesn’t get more literal than that, right? We took a look at the menu at the door, I giggled a bit about the name of the place, and we headed upstairs.

From the huge bouquets of flowers, you can tell the place had just opened. Walking in, I was impressed with the place – it’s partitioned off into little spaces, but only by frames, not screens, so it still feels quite bright and airy.

From what I can gather, Monga Sweet Cafe is a new branch of two other Mongas, in Box Hill and Glen Waverley. Geographically speaking, a pretty good pedigree for what is basically a Hong Kong style cafe. They serve some light cafe fare, like toasted sandwiches, but the main focus of the place is the array of Hong Kong style dessert. I had high hopes that I’d found a local version of Hui Lau Shan – one of my Hong Kong meccas.

I ordered the mango sago with mango and pomelo. To be frank, it was disappointing. But then, Hui Lau Shan standards are pretty high, and it was the start of Autumn, so good fresh mango is hard to come by in Australia, unlike Hong Kong, where close proximity to tropical countries pretty much ensures a year-round supply of quality mangoes. And well, I think I’ve only seen pomelos once in Melbourne, so it’s not that surprising that was a little lacklustre too. But the main problem was actually that the whole thing was just too sweet.

Mr J had the sago with coconut and mango. I think he was similarly underwhelmed.

I’m curious to see how their toasted sandwiches are. I’m hoping in true Hong Kong style, the bread is thinly sliced and white, and the ham is bordering spam-like processed-ness.  It’s a nice spot to hang out, so hopefully there are some redeeming items on the menu.

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 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

Secret Recipe

Level 3, Melbourne Central, CBD
Phone: 9639 8884

I think I’ve blogged about my tendency towards indecision when choosing places to eat on the spot. It’s very rare that I’ll have specific cravings, so when I meet up with someone for dinner and we don’t have a destination in mind, I tend to be more useful as a reference guide than an executive decision maker. I understand that this can be frustrating, and sometimes frustration leads to rash decisions. That’s how Mr R and I ended up eating at Secret Recipe, in Melbourne Central.

I wasn’t aware at the time – though I had my suspicions – that Secret Recipe is a franchise operation. It’s a chain of ‘fusion’ cafes which originated in Malaysia. The rather mass-produced looking menus, replete with stock photography blandly inoffensive fonts kind of gave it away. Alarm bells? Perhaps.

One thing the place has going for it was there’s a rather long pour on the wine.

Also, the chips were quite crisp, although I had ordered them as a side to my meal; in a combination which obviously perplexed the waitress, as she served them as an entree. We soon worked out that neither of our meals would be forthcoming until we’d polished off the chips and the waitress had taken the empty plate away. So I ended up eating more chips than I had intended…

… before my char kway teow arrived. I know, I know, CKT with chips? Weird. I take back not craving specific things. I clearly crave FAT. The char kway teow wasn’t offensive, but it was pretty timid, even with the optional sambal served on the side. There  was a lack of the smoky wok hei which typifies a good CKT, but that wasn’t really too much of a surprise given the modern, sterile feel of the Secret Recipe operation. Though I would have thought that a Malaysian franchise would get CKT right.

Mr R went the pasta option. Some sort of agnolotti (pumpkin?) with a cream sauce. One of us was clearly going to fare better than the other; it’s rare to find a restaurant which can do both pasta and Malaysian food well. He seemed to really enjoy it, so perhaps despite its Malaysian roots, the Secret Recipe of the place is in its mastery of Western food. Which wouldn’t be surprising, given that would be its selling point back in Malaysia.

If there are any secret recipes to this place, beyond taking common Malaysian and Western dishes, putting them on a menu together, adding some comfortable seating and executing food at a passable but mediocre standard, I certainly didn’t catch on.

Secret Recipe - Melbourne Central on Urbanspoon

J Cafe (Sushi Burger)

167 Exhibition Street, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9650 9877

Ever since @alexlobov told me about this place last year, I had been curious to try it. Sushi in the shape of a burger? What’s not to like!? It’s a marriage of Japanese flavours with Western form and function. It’s a type of fusion that instantly works, unlike some forms of culinary fusion, where different flavours are mashed together in a strained combination that is intriguing, not not always successful.

I met up with Mr D for dinner, and as is our trademark routine – mostly caused by my indecision, and enabled by his easy-going passivity – we wandered around the city looking for somewhere to eat. When he suggested J Cafe, which he referred to as ‘that sushi burger place’, and which I think should be named Sushi Burger anyway, I agreed. I’m so glad he knows me well enough to have a backup plan in mind.

J Cafe is one of those cute little Japanese places, where the tables are closely packed, there’s a lot of warm blonde wooden furniture, and exceedingly polite Japanese waitresses repeat your order back to you while nodding and adding a questioning ‘yes?’ after reading each item, seeking your confirmation. It’s all very charming, I think.

We both decided to go for the Sushi Burger Box, which comprised of a sushi burger, another dish, and miso soup. For $17, it’s not bad, but there are definitely places nearby where you can get more bang for your buck.

The burgers come wrapped up in paper, a cute touch. This place is all about the kawaii factor, it seems.

I ordered the spicy raw salmon burger. It’s kind of like a round onigiri, with a nori taco wrapped around it. When it comes down to it, it tastes like a fresh hand roll, only the nori is still a bit crispy, which I like.
Mr D had the teriyaki salmon burger, which he was very happy with. I can always tell when Mr D likes what he’s eating, because he eats it rather rapidly, and makes something of a mess.
One little thing that irked me about the sushi burger meal was the fact the second dish was served after the burger, as though the burger was the entree. When the second dish arrived, without any rice accompaniment, it felt a little strange. Especially since I ordered the Tatsuta Age – yep, the fried chicken. I love fried chicken, but it needs a carb-based accompaniment (for full obesity-inducing impact).
This chicken was tasty and juicy, and the mayo drizzled across the top certainly didn’t harm its performance in the deliciousness stakes. I just wish it had come at the same time as the sushi burger.

Mr D had the Kani Croquette (fried mashed potato croquettes with crab meat). Again with the speedy eating and the bit of a mess. To be honest, I think he was much more excited about  the croquettes than the sushi burger.

J Cafe also serves up your standard Japanese bento dishes and sushi, but I think when I go back next time, I’m definitely having another sushi burger.

J Café Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Kedai Satay

186 King St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9640 0371

Disclosure: I ate as the guest of Kedai Satay on my first visit. But not on my second visit! I paid for that one.

Edit: I recently went back to Kedai Satay to make a booking with a ‘zoupon’, which they refused to honour, claiming they were ‘fully booked’ for the night in question. As the promotion was ending soon, I was unable to redeem my voucher, which I’d paid $20 for. Poor form, guys. You may make good food, but that’s a pretty inconsiderate way to treat your customers.

I was lucky enough to be invited along to a food blogger get-together at Kedai Satay by @euniceseow, who serendipitously became friends with the owner of Kedai on a skiing trip, if memory serves me correctly. Look at me, digressing already. Anyway, that night we sampled our way through the menu.

This all happened about three months ago, so forgive me if the details are a bit hazy. We started off with some fried wontons (I don’t think they’re actually called that on the menu, but come on, look at them and tell me they’re not fried wontons!). In any case, they were quite good, sitting in a little pool of dark, sweet, sticky soy (kecap manis?).

Next up were some crab and squid fingers. Like fish fingers, but lighter, more springy, and very more-ish.

Then came the meats. Kedai specialises in Indonesian satay and grilled meats. And they certainly do it well.

We were presented with a mountain of chicken and lamb satay, as well as two heaving plates of beef and lamb ribs. The satay had a great smoky flavour, and the sauce was a nice match – on the sweeter end of the satay scale, but it worked with the well-charred flavour of the meat. The ribs were basted in a sweet and sticky marinade, and the meat was tender and falling off the bone, for the most part. I think the lamb ribs were slightly better than the beef, but I’m always that way inclined. Beef is a bit of a nothing meat, in my book.

We also tried some sort of chicken dish, I think it was the tropical chicken? Anyway, it was pretty good, if a little sweet. Are we sensing a trend here? Regardless, check out that egg!

I had a wonderful evening that night – the staff were attentive and friendly, and everything was just great.


Which is why I was a little shocked at my second visit. In hindsight, I guess it was a little naive of me to expect the same experience, as just looking at the prices on the menu (which are pretty insanely cheap) I should have known that it’s not really so much of a fine dining experience; it’s probably closer to a pub bistro or pho joint style eatery. The food comes out quickly, you order at the counter, and there’s a self-serve water and cutlery philosophy. Which is all fine and good, it just wasn’t what I was expecting, after being looked after so well the previous visit.

Another irksome detail was the fact that we had gone to the bother of calling ahead and booking a table for five, and then no table was clearly set aside for us. It was fine, as they weren’t super busy, so we were seated without a problem, but still, if you’re going to take bookings, you should be reserving a table for the booking. And it should be a decent table, instead of directing me to the empty and unlit upstairs section. Just saying.

Those hiccoughs aside, the food was once again enjoyable, and the bustling atmosphere – I insisted that we be seated downstairs – was a fun, convivial place to catch up with friends. So much so that I forgot to take photos! This time, we also tried the gado gado – pretty good, but lacking tempeh – and the soto betawi (a beef soup), which was nicely flavoured, but a bit difficult to share, as it’s a spoon and fork plate type of place, not a bowl and chopsticks type of place.

So yeah, it’s a great, casual place, serving up some good grilled meats and other Indonesian fare, and I’d definitely go back, now that my expectations have been readjusted. I guess this is one of those instances where being a food blogger can actually distort your view of things without you noticing!


Here’s what a couple of other foodbloggers  around town thought of Kedai:
Off the spork

City Wine Shop

159 Spring Street, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9654 6657

In case you haven’t noticed, I tend to eat mostly Asian food, whether it be Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese or Japanese. I think it has something to do with the sorts of flavours that I crave, and let’s be honest, the price is something of a factor, as well. It still confuses me sometimes how a Chinese restaurant can serve up a whole roast duck for less than you would pay for a single duck breast in a French restaurant. Still, it’s probably something to do with sourcing quality produce and paying staff higher wages, and so on. Let’s not get into the politics of it all just now.

The other thing I like about most Asian restaurants, is there’s a casual feel, and I feel comfortable eating in my jeans and t-shirt; let’s face it, I rarely wear anything more formal. For this reason, there’s a lot of restaurants in Melbourne which I haven’t visited. In a sense, I’m a little intimidated, but also a little put off, by their formality. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised by City Wine Shop. Here’s a place that does casual dining right, in my opinion. Even places like Cumulus Inc., Andrew McConnell’s erstwhile ‘casual dining proposition’, felt like it had too much of an attitude for my liking. Not so, the City Wine Shop.

It helps that it actually is a wine shop. A wall of wines – which you can also enjoy when dining in, for a $15 surcharge – with a pretty formidable selection. Maybe the prices on the wall remind me of those specials, printed on fluorescent A4 sheets of paper, in Chinese characters that look like Times New Roman, blu-tacked to the walls of so many Chinese restaurants. Similarly, the lack of a formal printed menu (beyond the drinks list and bar snacks) sets me at ease, with the menu board on the wall, like a pub, or indeed a pho joint. The decor is at once classic, and relaxed. Lots of dark wood panelling, but also cartons of mineral water stacked along the wall in plain sight. And the service was friendly, knowledgeable and attentive, both times I’ve been.

Anyway, let’s talk about the food. My first visit there was after seeing Black Swan – which, by the way, you should totally go and see if you haven’t seen it already – so it was something of a late dinner. That being said, we were all starving. Except @ribenaberry, who had snagged some sushi before the movie.

I ordered the seared tuna Nicoise. I was expecting something of a salad, which in a sense is what I got, only deconstructed.

This was probably the best piece of cooked tuna I have eaten in a long, long time. Sashimi is a whole other ball game, but I think the fact that the tuna had been so lightly seared was a big factor in my love for it.
Everything else on this plate was close to perfection, too. The soft-boiled egg, topped with two white anchovies, perfectly cooked beans, and the potatoes – THE POTATOES! So crisp and salty on the outside, and fluffy on the inside. If you can’t tell, I love this dish. Get thee to the City Wine Shop and try it, before it’s off the menu, as the menu changes from time to time.

@eatnik couldn’t go past the black pudding salad on the menu, and rightly so.

I had a little sample of the black pudding, and it was moist and rich, not too salty, yet quite intense in flavour. It was well balanced with a whole host of other salad ingredients, which @eatnik diligently identified and noted for future reference. I’m hoping I get an invite when she gets around to recreating this salad. Sadly, this salad is no longer on the menu.

Despite not being that hungry, @ribenaberry ordered the gnocchi, which had been pan-fried with some sort of wild mushrooms, I believe. I had a bite; the gnocchi was pillowy and soft, and the mushrooms were quite strong with umami. The lettuce on top was a good idea to lighten what would otherwise have been quite a rich dish, I think.

My return visit happened a couple of weeks later, when I met up with Mr J for an early dinner. Though the way things worked out, a few glasses of wine later, and it wasn’t so early. We started off with some pork crackling to munch on.
Super crunchy, though also very salty, this was a great way to stimulate our appetites. The slaw which came with it was a pleasant relief from the salt.

Mr J, on my recommendation, had the tuna Nicoise, and seeing as the black pudding salad was no longer on the menu, I ordered the braised lamb shoulder with quinoa salad. There was a pork belly dish on the menu, but given I’d just scoffed down so much crackling, I thought that might be overkill.

The lamb was well cooked and tender, though a touch on the dry side. Thankfully, there’s plenty of sauce, and the quinoa was also generously dressed. Again, pretty straight-forward food, which just works.

We did consider dessert for a second, but decided to opt for some dessert wines instead. Ask for the extended port and tokay list, because therein you will find PX by the glass.

City Wine Shop on Urbanspoon

Cumulus Inc.

45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9650 1445

Next in the series of posts known as “Melbourne institutions which I have shamefully only recently visited”, we have Cumulus Inc. Open for about two years now, Andrew McConnell’s ‘casual fine dining’ offering is still always busy, and with good reason, I recently found out. The atmosphere is usually buzzing – especially on a Friday night – and the food is pretty great!

When I say recently, I mean about two months ago, by the way. Which I mention in way of explaining why my recollection of the food that evening is a little patchy. Still, seeing as it’s such a highlight of Melbourne’s restaurant scene, it should be memorable, right? Well, we’ll see about that.

I was there with @jeroxie and a group of friends, who had all been to Cumulus before. Happy to go along for the ride, I deferred to their experience when ordering. We started with smoked eel with parsnip (or was it potato? nashi? anyone’s guess). This wasn’t particularly memorable, as you can see.

It’s always hard to go past a soft-shelled crab, and so we didn’t. This was quite good – the only problem with Cumulus’ soft-shelled crab is that it’s one of those ‘designed to share’ things. Given the choice, I wouldn’t share this with anyone!
We then had a (Broad bean? Artichoke?) soup with blue swimmer crab. I wasn’t a huge fan. It was rather bland, although there was a nice big chunk of crab meat in the bottom of the tumbler.
Then there was some cured meat. Kurobota Lomo I think. I’m gonna be honest here, and admit that these thinly sliced cured meats – the bresaola, the prosciutto, the lomo – don’t really do it for me. Yes, they’re tasty, but do I really need to be eating them on their own? I’m willing to be convinced, but it hasn’t happened yet.
In the spirit of eating the gratuitous, we followed that up with fois gras parfait, served with brioche toast. The little candied cumquats (cumquats? I think they were cumquats) were a nice sweet foil to the richness of the parfait. We were really annoying and asked for more brioche toast. The staff were most accommodating.
At this point, the multiple glasses of wine were starting to kick in. The next dish to arrive were clams of some description. I remember them being good, but I can’t remember exactly why. The value of this blog post is becoming exponentially smaller.
Thankfully, we’re almost there! Next up was a slow-roasted shoulder of lamb. The meat was meltingly tender, and lip-smackingly laced with the collagen which had broken down, releasing the flesh from the bone.
This was paired with a cracked wheat and freekeh salad. I had never heard of freekeh, and just assumed it was some sort of herb or spice. Turns out, it’s another grain. Or maybe I read the menu wrong, because it sounds like freekeh is cracked wheat…

Anyway, onto desserts! Wait, I really don’t remember what was going on here, apart from the part where I put too much rum on the rum baba… so maybe I’ll just leave it there.

In any case, a good night was had by all. Cumulus tends to get a bit crowded and then raucous, so it’s a place I suggest you go to enjoy good times with friends. Perhaps not so much a place to hit up for a date on the weekend. Though I’ve been told it’s a bit more sedate during the week.

Cumulus Inc. on Urbanspoon

MoVida Aqui

500 Bourke St, Level 1, Melbourne
Phone: 9663 3038

I’ve lived in Melbourne (on and off) for about fourteen years. MoVida has been open for about half of that time. You would think that seven years would be ample time to arrange a visit to what is consistently deemed one of Melbourne’s culinary highlights, right? Apparently not. Up until late last year, I had remained a MoVida virgin.

My awesome housemates Messrs J and N had given me a gift voucher for MoVida for my birthday last year, which I hadn’t gotten around to using, so when Mr J’s birthday rolled around, I thought it was apt to finally pop my MoVida cherry with him.

I called a week ahead, but the original MoVida was fully booked – on a Monday night! – so I booked at MoVida Aqui instead. I was a little apprehensive, because often the original is best when a restaurant becomes a chain. But I was reassured by a few friends who had been to both restaurants that the food and the experience at the much larger Aqui was just as good as at the original MoVida.

I kicked off with a tromba margarita; an interesting twist on a margarita – the addition of honey to the lime and the use of smoked salt really took this cocktail to another level. Mr J had the Pisco sour to start.

Then the tapas started arriving. There were certain items I knew I had to try, the first of them being the anchoa. This tiny little item packed so much complexity – in textures, flavours, and even temperature. The smoked tomato sorbet was an amazingly bright contrast to the beautifully salty anchovy. I love anchovies, and these were superb.
I was ordered, by just about everyone whom I talked to about MoVida, to try the bocadillo de calamares, a little calamari burger. The calamari was cooked to perfection, and though I would’ve preferred a touch more mayonnaise, I could definitely eat these all day.
We were tempted by the bomba of course, but Mr J wisely suggested we order the croquetas off the specials menu, as the bomba are a classic staple of MoVida, and I should always try them next time. He was also wise enough to know that of course there would be a next time, too!

The croquetas were composed of a sweet, sticky pork mixture – there was collagen a-plenty going on there – and a light crumb.

We moved on to the raciones (larger dishes) then, both of which we chose from the specials menu. First up, was a whole grilled baby snapper, with tomatoes and peas. The snapper was, again, grilled to perfection. The fish almost melted in my mouth, and the vibrancy of the tomatoes and fresh peas and the sauce, while simple, deftly balanced out the light smoky char and saltiness of the fish.
Time for more cocktails! This time around, I had the Sangre y Arena – Scotch Whiskey, Cherry Brandy, Italian Vermouth, Orange.
Wonderfully bitter the the way you would expect from those ingredients, it actually paired beautifully with our last savoury dish of the night, also off the specials menu; a blood sausage with slow poached egg and capsicum on toasted brioche.
This was amazingly good. The salty intensity of the sausage mixed perfectly with the richness of the poached egg. It’s a shame this isn’t on the regular menu, because I’d go back for more, without a doubt!

Now surprisingly, given the amount of food I normally consume, and the relative – I stress relative – small servings here, I was completely satisfied at this point. But Mr J has quite the sweet tooth, and I’m not one to shy away from desserts, so we shared the Sopa Inglesa. A trifle with PX-soaked sponge, rhubarb jelly and candied almonds, this was possibly the best trifle I’ve ever eaten. And I don’t even like rhubarb! I think the menu has since changed from rhubarb to quince.

The whole night, the service was unfailingly good. The waiters had a great knowledge of the menu, and were able to make recommendations as to which dishes would work well with others. For me, fine dining is a bit of a love/hate thing. I enjoy the interesting food, but I don’t really like the stuffy, restrained atmosphere sometimes. I think MoVida Aqui has struck the perfect balance between fine and casual dining. I’ll definitely be back soon!
MoVida Aqui and Terraza on Urbanspoon