183 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
Phone: 9663 3316

Stalactites is an institution. For years, it’s been a go-to destination, usually at about 2am, and maybe it’s more of a stumble-to destination.

Mr D and I were wandering around the city looking for somewhere to eat, with the caveat of ‘not-Asian’. We were both hungry, and feeling indecisive, which often leads to bad decisions. Bad decisions which usually come about with Mr D making a half-joking suggestion of somewhere rather mediocre to eat, and me taking that as a challenge and heartily accepting. It’s like that episode of the Wonder Years where Mr and Mrs Arnold are picking out drapes. He picks something he likes, she picks something she likes, and then they settle on something nobody on earth could possibly like.

Not that nobody on earth could possibly like Stalactites. That would be a harsh and unfair assessment. There are plenty of things to like… the faux cave interior, the cramped tables, the brusque and desultory service, and the screaming children which come along with the territory of eating at a family-friendly tourist trap. Oh, wait, I’m still being harsh; my bad. But honestly, I think Stalactites is one of those places that does one thing well, which is serve up a good souvlaki.

This visit, I had the open lamb souvlaki. Which, when it arrived the first time, wasn’t open. I don’t know about you, but I feel a little odd ordering from a menu and getting a souvlaki in a paper bag on a plate. So I sent it back, and another one came out pretty quickly.

Like I said, Stalactites does one thing well, and that’s souvlaki. Juicy lamb, with plenty of those dark, charred, salty edges, and a good amount of salad and garlic sauce. If you’re on a date, you might want to avoid the garlic sauce. We thought things might be a bit meaty, so ordered a side of chicory.
Which was pretty disappointing. It had been boiled till it was soft and had lost any semblance of freshness. Even the addition of lemon juice wasn’t enough to bring it to life. Like I said: one thing done well. Chicory was not it.

So go to Stalactites if you must, but don’t go expecting anything more than a good souvlaki. I recommend the takeaway option.

Stalactites on Urbanspoon

Collins Kitchen – Afternoon Tea

123 Collins St (Grand Hyatt), Melbourne
Phone: 9653 4671

Some things are worth waiting for. High tea appears to be one of them. My cousin C and I had been planning a high tea get-together for about two years. First I ran off to Viet Nam, then she had another child while I was gone, and well, one thing after another kept popping up, so back in September, we booked it in our calendars for Nov 20th.

The day arrived, and we managed to rope in my sister and our other cousin T, so it was going to be a ladies’ day out (well, plus me). Cousin T had also brought her daughter T along, so there was much cooing and talk of child-rearing to be had. While she’s already adorable at 8 months, from all the stories I hear, I think my plan is to adopt a three year old, so I can skip the baby stuff and enjoy the toddler years. Am I being naive? Probably.

I’d been to Collins Kitchen before, so I knew it was a stylish and sleek atmosphere, and that the quality of the food was going to be good. I’d contemplated booking at the Langham or the Windsor, two places renowned for their high tea, but on weekends, their prices seem rather exhorbitant. Collins Kitchen offers ‘Afternoon Tea’ for $38 per head on weekends, with finger sandwiches, scones, waffles, and a buffet dessert bar.

The one thing I will say about traditional afternoon tea is don’t go unless you have something of a sweet tooth.

The finger sandwiches are the oasis of savoury respite in a sugary desert of, well, desserts! The sandwiches on offer were a smoked salmon and cucumber on rye, air-dried wagyu (bresaola?) with a touch of mustard on white, and a traditional egg salad with cress on multigrain. They were all a little lacklustre, to be honest.
The dessert buffet, on the other hand, was anything but lacklustre! The scones were good, and that berry compote – although a little unwieldy armed only with a butter knife – was delicious! The macarons, however, were something of a disappointment. There was a lack of chewy inside, and the ganaches and creams which held them together were altogether too runny. It seems I have become one of those macaron snobs.

Of course, it being a buffet, and me being me, I went back for more. Cute little tarts (the apple one had a touch too much honey in it, the strawberry and pistachio one was much better) and creme brulee were next up!
The creme brulee had an excellend toffee lid, but the custard beneath was a bit too thick for my liking. All the ladies seemed to love it, however!

I finished the afternoon off with some pineapple and strawberries, and a decent caffe latte. It was a wonderful afternoon; refined, civilised and altogether sweet to catch up with family. We’ve decided that our next get-together will be a more traditional (for us, anyway) yum cha outing. Sweetness is great, but we’re all sweet enough anyway, so bring on the savoury! 😛

Collins Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wonton House

181 Russell St, Melbourne
Phone: 9662 9882

Ambiguity is an interesting thing. Sometimes, it works for you. Like when you’ve just had your tonsils out, and you you’re in too much of an oxycodone stupor to specify what sort of ice cream you want, so your mother buys three different tubs. And sometimes it works against you, like when you visit a food court in a small shopping centre, and there’s an ‘Asian’ outlet.

The menu at Wonton House suffers a little from the second kind of ambiguity. Makes you lose focus. And often leads to mediocrity. Walking into the restaurant, I expected your typical Hong Kong style Chinese restaurant. And while I understand that, like Melbourne, Hong Kong too has food trends, I should have been wary of the xiao long bao on the menu. But I couldn’t resist.

To be fair, they weren’t that bad. But they were mediocre, at best. The flavour was a little lacking, and the skins were too thick, even though they were beautifully pleated. But in hindsight, I should have just stuck to the more Hong Kong style dishes.

I was catching up with Mr C after not having seen him in years, so I’d forgotten that he had dietary restrictions. Nothing crazy, just no seafood. Anaphylactic shock style. So the calamari and the prawns were out. We settled on a couple of classics – of different definitions. First up, a dish from my childhood. For those of you who know me well, this doesn’t necessarily bode well. My family owned a Chinese restaurant in country Victoria while I was growing up, so I have a soft spot for what I lovingly referred to as ‘bastardised Chinese food’. The sort of food that was on the menu at our restaurant, which as a Chinese family, we never ate at home.

So we ordered the beef and vegetables with cashew nuts.

To be fair, this dish isn’t in the canon of bastardised Chinese food. Though chicken and vegetables with cashew nuts is, so we’re in the ball park. And again, it’s not really that bastardised, because there are certainly versions of it in China that I’ve seen, but it’s on the bland and safe side of what Chinese food can be. Spin doctors might say ‘restrained and subtle’, but let’s be honest, it’s less adventurous than what Margaret Fulton brought to the table decades ago.

Wonton House’s version is even less inspiring. The meat had quite obviously been tenderised with soda, a common practice in many Chinese restaurants (and why chicken with cashew nuts is a superior dish) and the whole dish was not only bland, but rather oily. I have no beef with oil – see what I did there? – but in a dish like this, it’s simply not necessary.

The other dish we shared was deep-fried chicken ribs with chilli and salt. Hard to mess this dish up, and Wonton House certainly delivered the goods on this one. A mountain of chicken ribs arrived at the table, wonderfully crispy, with MSG action that was noticeable, but not overwhelming, and the chillies were not too fiery. Fiery chillies are great in some dishes, but I prefer a milder chilli with this dish, because it’s good to be able to eat the slices along with the chicken.

All in all, I think Wonton House is a reliable option, but it’s more of a fall-back position than a go-to attraction. And stick to the Hong Kong style menu items.

Wonton House on Urbanspoon

Ramen at Ume Hana

398 Elizabeth St, Melbourne
Phone: 9663 1108

It’s been a while ramen fans, but the hunt is on again!  This time I headed to Ume Hana, because I had to swap over my Sennheiser iPhone headphones for the FOURTH time in a year… seriously, the sound quality on those things is awesome, but they break so easily. Thankfully there’s a two year warranty, so I can just swap them over when (not if) they go bung.

Anyway, Ume Hana is a pretty pedestrian feeling Japanese/Korean restaurant. It feels more like a cafe (which the place used to be) than a restaurant, actually. But this incongruous setting it totally countered by the fact the owners are actually Japanese, and if you drop in after the lunch-time rush, they’re all sitting around having their staff lunch, and the owner will actually serve you while everyone else continues eating. Sweet!

I decided to go for the Karaage ramen, because I wasn’t in the mood for seafood, and well, fried chicken. ‘Nuff said.

I was impressed when it came out, but unfortunately the first impression wasn’t followed up by the subsequent tasting.
The broth, a shoyu (soy) base, was flavourful, but I would characterise it as more salty than tasty. It was pretty one dimensional. The all important ramen noodles were rather soft – I would hazard a guess that they had been sitting in the piping hot broth waiting while the chicken was being fried. Sitting there too long. As for the toppings, the fried chicken was good, and the inclusion of a poached egg as opposed to a boiled egg was interesting, but looked like it was poached in a microwave. The yolk was cooked to a nice softness, however.

All in all, the ramen was on the poor to mediocre end of the scale.

Broth 2/5
Noodles 2/5
Toppings 3/5
Total 7/15

To see where it sits in the rankings, see my original ramen hunt post.

Ume Hana on Urbanspoon

China Red

Shop 6, 206 Bourke St, Melbourne
Phone: 9662 3688

Never one to miss joining in on a chorus, here’s my take on the recently(ish) opened China Red. Compare and contrast with that of Penny and Jess. Oh, and The Age. 1500 words due in at the end of the week.

A while ago, a colleague of mine told me how her husband had been to this place in Chinatown where you can order the food off touchscreens. I was immediately intrigued. She also said that he claimed they produced the best xiao long bao in the city. Doubly intrigued. So it took a little while, but I ventured down, and caught up with my old housemate La Singe for lunch one day. Before mid-afternoon karaoke. Because that’s how we roll.

We had some fun playing around with the touchscreens, and in the end, because we were both a little ill, we both chose soup noodles. Yes, we were ill, and karaoke was on. Because that’s how we roll.

I chose the venison noodle soup. It wasn’t that exciting, which is just was well, because bland food was what the doctor ordered. The venison was well cooked, though not particularly gamey – I like gamey, because that’s how I roll – which was a bit disappointing. The noodles were pretty good too, though I’m not sure if they were hand-pulled. Looking back at these photos, I’d have to say they don’t look it.

La Singe had the mushroom noodles – I think it was called something like ‘Eight Treasure’ mushroom noodles, but the flowery over-promising artistic licence is to be expected of a place which has a section on their touchscreen menu called ‘Melbourne-style Classics’. These classics include such gems as Sweet and Sour Pork, and Lemon Chicken. Yeah, Melbourne-style. If you live in Zone 2.
Anyway, La Singe really enjoyed her noodles, and the little bit of broth I tried seemed to be a lot more packed with umami than my own.

Next time I went back, it was with young Master Dumplings. Given it was the first time we met in person, I figured we should really have dumplings. So we tried the xiao long bao.

Penny’s right, and my colleague’s husband is, sadly, wrong. These are far from being the best in the city. HuTong‘s are streets ahead, and I think even Dumplings Plus‘ version are better. The main problem I had with China Red’s xlb was that there really wasn’t enough flavour. And there was a strangely consistent amount of cooked blood in each one. Not sure what was going on there, but texturally, it didn’t really belong.

The steamed dumplings were considerably better. While not stellar, if all your regular dumpling haunts are full, China Red isn’t a bad option. Again, the filling lacked flavour for my taste, but the skins were satisfyingly doughy.

We also tried the kim chi fried rice, which on the touchscreen, was adorned with one (out of a possible three, I believe) chilli. It didn’t live up to the advertised spiciness. Thankfully, the chilli oil provided at China Red is pretty damn good – there’s some Sichuan pepper in the mix – so we just adjusted to our own needs.
China Red is an odd place. The touchscreens are fun, and the food is decent, if not that great. The service is a little too attentive – on account of the waiters not having to take orders? – and plate clearance will be requested by staff before you’re finished. All in all, I’d go there again, but I’m not sure I’d suggest it to others. There are too many other good options in the vicinity.

China Red on Urbanspoon

Izakaya Den

114 Russell St, Melbourne
Phone: 9654 2977

Sometimes life deals you some heavy blows. Your world comes crashing down around you, and everything seems a little surreal. It’s at those times that you remember the great people you have around you, who are there for you not because they have to be, but because they want to be.

I’ve been going through one of those times in recent weeks, and because my sister and brother-in-law are such absolute champions, they’ve been keeping me busy, and my mind off things I shouldn’t be dwelling on for now. One such outing was to Izakaya Den.

Since it opened in late 2009, Izakaya Den’s been on my list of places to visit. It took me long enough, but now that I’ve been, I can gladly say I was not disappointed, and were it not for my impending mortgage-ownership, I’d be a frequent visitor. There’s very little not to like about this place, unless of course, you have an aversion to sleek, modern interpretations of Japanese cuisine, or a sizeable mortgage to finance. This is your warning, people: be careful of your credit card here.

That being said, let’s talk about the food. Because the food is so worth walking about! We started off with some Japanese pickles. Daikon, cucumber, garlic shoots, and one other thing I can’t quite remember. They were all interesting, but not really a highlight. A nice way to start, though.

Then came the duck breast, peppered with pomegranate arils, resting on a little bed of cracked wheat. This dish was exceptional.
Swiftly thereafter, arrived the lamb short ribs. A deliciously sweet, sticky sauce, we ordered two serves of this in the end, because my sister missed out on the first one (they come in threes).
One of the things I love about izakaya dining is that you order a few dishes, drink some beer, sake or shochu, and then gauge where you’re at. At this point, we were all still wanting more food. Next came the quail.
Quail is always a winner for me, though I’m kind of used to the Chinese roasted/fried style. These were perfectly grilled, with sansho (Sichuan) pepper and the same pickled garlic shoots from before.
Beetroot with mushrooms. Not a typical Japanese dish, in my experience, but one that worked beautifully. The sweetness of the beetroot mingled in with the intense umami of the mushrooms; the whole thing just sings!
I had read about the tuna tataki over at Melbourne gastronome, so at Claire’s behest, I insisted that we order it. The dish has changed since she tried it. It was no longer a garlicky soy, but rather chilli (on the left) and wasabi (on the right) mayonnaise dressings. While this dish was nice, I think there were definitely better items on the menu.

One of them being the dengaku. This isn’t your ordinary nasu dengaku, because mixed in with the eggplant were chunks of sweet potato, and some amazingly textured substance which had us guessing and debating for quite a while. The texture was close to that of braised tendon, though it lacked the quality of being an animal product. In the end, I concluded that it was most probably a very stiff agar-based jelly. Anyone else tried this dish and care to enlighten me?

We had some grilled octopus next – by this stage we were a few drinks in, and still in need of food – which was amazingly tender, and laced with a delicate smokiness. This was better than even Greek grilled octopus, in my opinion. And nobody grills octopus like the Greeks. Except for the Japanese, apparently.
Tofu balls. These were a bit meh, for me, though my sister loved them. I found the texture a bit off-putting, as it was that cooked-then-broken-then-cooked-again tofu. The bonito shavings on the top did a merry dance for us as they arrived at the table, however.
Miso soup with pippies. This was a nice way to round out the savoury dishes, though there were an annoyingly large number of barely and semi-opened pippies.
After all of this, we decided that yes, we did still want desserts. Though the idea was floated that we head elsewhere for roast duck noodles, for about the same price, and fill our bellies. But the sweet siren song of dessert won out.

B-i-L and his friend shared the chocolate and yuzu fondue. It came with little mochi-like gelatinous balls to dip in the yuzu-flavoured chocolate. I tried one, and it wasn’t that inspired, to be honest.

Sis and I decided to split two desserts – the white sesame mousse with tapioca,and a ginger creme brulee.
Both were amazing! The white sesame mousse was much more delicately flavoured than most black sesame desserts you find at Asian restaurants, and there was a red bean surprise in the centre.
The ginger creme brulee was a cut above any creme brulee I’ve ever tasted. But I’m biased, because I’m a huge fan of ginger. So beyond the delightful crack of the bruleed top, and the delicate smooth creaminess of the custard, what I loved about this dessert was the absolutely uncompromising sharpness of the ginger. I can only assume that fresh ginger juice had been added at the last minute to the custard before it was set, because the zing was unlike anything you can achieve once you heat and cook ginger through. Anyway, enough gushing, it was sublime.

Izakaya Den on Urbanspoon

Grossi Florentino (Cellar Bar)

80 Bourke St, Melbourne
Phone: 9662 1811

Sometimes writing a food blog is a great thing. You get to try lots of new places, occasionally you get invited to events and get stuff for free, and you get to meet lots of other like-minded people. But sometimes it’s also a curse. You can fall into the trap of constantly seeking out the next experience, trying the brand new place, and you sometimes instinctively opt for the unknown purely because you haven’t blogged about it yet.

But then some days, you think, “Forget it. I’m just going to eat at this place because I like the food there. I know it, and it’s comforting.” I met up with Alex of the MSG for dinner the other night, and funnily, as two food bloggers, we were a little unsure where to go. The last time this happened, we ended up at Ca de Vin, which was underwhelming. So this time, I suggested we go to the Cellar Bar at Grossi Florentino, as I’ve been there in the past, and had always enjoyed myself there.

The Cellar Bar is the cosy little annex which hangs off the main Grill and Upstairs parts of the Grossi Florentino restaurant. It’s by far the most casual of the three – I don’t believe they take bookings, and tables are small and close together – and they serve up what I think is pretty traditional trattoria fare. The atmosphere is warm and convivial, and the seasoned waiters treat you with a relaxed familiarity which I find charming. Even though the unspoken assumption that we both wanted Parmesan on our dishes was a little bit unexpected.

This visit, I finally tried a dish on the menu that I’d been eyeballing for years – the Trippa alla Fiorentina, or Florentine Tripe.

The tripe almost acts as a pasta in this dish. A delicious, soft-yet-springy, decidedly meaty pasta. It should come to no surprise to the reader that I am a fan of most things offal, and I’m not sure I would recommend this dish to those who don’t like the idea of eating parts of the animal other than the flesh. The tripe was beautifully cooked, and worked well with a bright and fresh tomato sauce. Carrots and some raisins brought some sweetness to the dish, which offset the acid of the tomato brilliantly.

Alex had the parpadelle, with duck livers and mushroom.

The pasta was cooked to perfection – just al dente – and there was a good amount of mushroom there, but Alex felt that it was a little lacking in the duck liver department. And the sauce seemed a little on the runny side. I felt a little bad, because I had mistakenly recommended the dish. I think last time I was there, it was parpadelle with a duck ragu.

Oh, and I promised Alex I’d mention the lack of cracked pepper at Cellar Bar, which I too thought was a little odd.

All in all, Cellar Bar is a nice informal place, probably a good second or third date venue, but have a fall-back, because it gets very busy on weekends! I haven’t been to the Grill or the famous Upstairs Fine Dining, but I hope to soon. Well, the Grill part, at least. Not sure my budget will be ready for the Upstairs any time soon.

Grossi Florentino on Urbanspoon

Izakaya Chuji

165 Lonsdale St, Melbourne
Phone: 9663 8118You know a place is an ‘institution’ when they’re selling branded merchandise (read t-shirts) at the cash register. Izakaya Chuji is one of those places. One of the first izakayas in Melbourne, if not the first, Chuji – as my friends and I refer to it – has been around since 1989! I first started going there during my uni days. Back in the heady days at the turn of the millennium, when all things Japanese were cool, Chuji was our favourite Japanese restaurant. The food was good, the prices low, and we were far too busy playing out the dramas of our young adult lives to care if the service was not so great.

Not a lot has changed in the interceding decade. Chuji still serves up goof Japanese food, specialising in sushi, bento and the smaller snack-plates (I loathe the term ‘Japanese tapas’) which are the essence of izakaya-style restaurants. They also have yakiniku grills upstairs. Suitably, Chuji also has a good selection of Japanese beers. I still have yet to visit the sister sake bar which popped up next door a couple of years back, but one of these days…

Last time I went to Chuji, it was a catch up with Mr I. We’ve known each other since the uni days, so Chuji’s one of our fall-back places when we catch up.

I ordered the agedashi tofu to start.

Agedashi tofu is a favourite dish of mine, and Chuji puts out a good version, though I think the decision to thicken the dashi sauce – which has happened somewhere in the last couple of years – is a bad one. I don’t like the fact that so much sauce clings to the fried tofu. Also, the choice of carrot as a garnish instead of bonito flakes is a little disappointing. The tofu, however, is fried well, and manages to reach the table still crispy.

I also ordered the mixed kim chee, because I thought I might need some vegetables. See mum, I DO eat vegetables!

These weren’t great – the various vegetables had a very similar flavour, except the chinese cabbage kim chee, which had some more chilli to it. Anyway, it was altogether too sweet. I guess that’ll learn me to order kim chee at a Japanese restaurant, and not a Korean restaurant.

Mr I had the cheese gyoza from the specials board. They’ve been on the specials board for months, by the way. We saw them there last time, but no-one was quite brave enough to order them.

They were actually pretty good, however. The switch from soy sauce to mayo was a good move, and the fact they’re deep-fried is also wise. Pan-fried ones would have had an oily, soggy texture, I think.

Mr I also had the yakisoba. I personally don’t like yakisoba – I think it’s probably my least favourite of the various Asian stir-fried noodles. But it’s not the first  time he’s had it at Chuji, so I assume he likes it.

I was in the mood for some more fried goodness, so I had the curry katsudon. The pork was a little on the dry side, but the curry was delightfully rich, even if Japanese curries are the biggest wimps of all curries.
Izakaya Chuji is a reliable stalwart, serving decent Japanese food at very reasonable prices. It’s not pretentious, but it’s similarly not impressive. A good relaxed place to eat and hang out with friends.

Izakaya Chuji on Urbanspoon


St Paul’s Court, Federation Square (Flinders St edge)
Phone: 0425 058 724

Sponsored by Nuffnang

I’m not in the city during daylight hours much in Winter, so it was a surprise to me to hear that STREAT had been operating in Federation Square since March this year. STREAT is a social enterprise which both serves a diverse range of grab-and-go street food and trains homeless young people, providing with a pathway to a career in hospitality. The organisation is very much in the same mould as more high-profile ventures such KOTO in Hanoi, and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurants. STREAT takes over 40 young people each year, and puts them through a six month training program, while also supporting them in other aspects of their lives. The trainees are then transitioned into jobs in hospitality.

In more concrete sense, STREAT is a food cart that sets up its wares each morning (Tues-Sat) on the Flinders St edge of Fed Square. In the tradition of all great street food, the STREAT cart quite a compact set up, with food prep being carried out in a commercial kitchen off-site, the little cart, adorned with dried chillies and herbs, manages to pack in just enough kitchen to produce some great food. The menu changes daily, inspired by street food carts from around the world. One day it might be som tum (a Thai green papaya salad), the next you might find them serving chicken satay on rice, or Seekh lamb kebabs.

The day I visited I decided to try the Jamaican jerk chicken and pineapple salsa wrap ($9).

It was tasty, with a nice balance of sweetness and acid. The chicken was tender, and the pineapple lent a nice texture to the wrap. I did feel that it would have benefited with a little lettuce, or maybe even some rice, to trap the sauce, as the wrap started to drip not long after my first bite. Still, great food isn’t always neat, right?

Ms A just missed the last chickpea and lentil wrap – all sold out! – so instead, she had the sweet potato, leek and lentil soup. $7 for a large serve, it came with a warm multi-grain roll.

She was kind enough to let me try a little, and on a chilly day as it was, I certainly appreciated how hearty it was. There was a nice use of spices, and just a little kick of chilli, too!
There’s not much seating at STREAT, but it’s right near the sloping steps leading into Fed Square, so weather permitting, it’s not a bad idea to park yourself there with you meal. There’s often some entertaining busker putting on a show for your entertainment. Last time, I saw a guy balancing on a pole, cracking a flaming whip!

So go check it out, especially you office workers nearby! They have a loyalty card where if you have nine meals there, the tenth goes to a homeless person! You get to feed your belly as well as someone else’s who needs it.

Foursquare users, if you check in at STREAT anytime this August, you can get a meal with a bottle of water for only $10. And for more details about things going on in and around Fed Square, iPhone users can download the Fed Square app.

Competition: The kind folk at STREAT have provided a meal for two for me to giveaway to my readers. So leave a comment below, telling me what your favourite street food is – and where you found it – by 5pm on the 10th of August, and you’ll go into the draw to win! Winners will be announced on this blog.

Streat on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Nuffnang and Federation Square, and Ms A and I chowed down as the guest of STREAT. I like to think my account was unbiased, but you may not agree. For a completely unbiased take on the STREAT experience, you can also see Penny’s review at She takes better pictures than me, too!

Ca de Vin

Melbourne GPO, Postal Lane (off Bourke St Mall)
Phone: 9654 3639

Meeting up with Alex from the MSG for dinner on Friday night, both of us were (surprisingly) at a bit of a loss for where we should eat. That shouldn’t happen to foodbloggers, right? I blame a long and busy week at work. When Alex suggested we go to Grill’d, I knew we were in trouble.So I countered with Ca de Vin. I’ve walked past, and indeed through, Ca de Vin numerous times – on my way to Ramen Ya, you see – and always thought it looked quite appealing. Though the incongruous French name and Italian menu is a little strange.

Set inside a covered laneway, the warm lighting and candles give it a charming, romantic atmosphere. Not that I’m suggesting anything was going on between Alex and I! I like the fact that there’s pretty much an open kitchen, with an informal bar area where you can perch and watch the chefs cook if you’re just having a drink.

It was a busy Friday night – they were turning people without reservations away not long after we were seated – and I’m hoping this was the reason the service was so brusque. It wasn’t offensive, just coolly efficient. I would have expected a little more character and personality, given the decor.

I ordered the marinated lamb backstrap, which came served on a spinach and wild mushroom risotto with crispy sweet potato chips and a red wine jus.

The waitress took the trouble to ask me how I would like my lamb. I, of course, replied, “Rare.” It came out exceedingly well done. Alex suggested I should send it back, but I was hungry and didn’t want to wait, so ate it anyway. The flavour wasn’t bad, but nothing amazing. The risotto was cooked well, but lacked any real mushroom flavour, which was a disappointment.

Being a sucker for a risotto, Alex ordered the oxtail risotto with slow roasted tomatoes and crispy cauliflower florets finished with spring onions and fresh parmesan.

I had a taste, and while it was alright, it was far from spectacular. He said it tasted like tomatoes. For the price (it was $26) the serving was rather small, but its saving grace was that there was a good amount of oxtail.

When talking to friends later, I was told that the pizza is the way to go if you dine at Ca de Vin. Oh well, I guess I know now, for next time.

Ca de Vin on Urbanspoon