Hu Tong Dumpling Bar

14-16 Market Lane, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9650 8128

So at the risk of becoming more of a dumpling blogger than a foodblogger, here is my long-overdue post about the dumpling munching that occurred for Mr E’s birthday. There was a massive table of twelve, hence an epic amount of food was ordered – for future reference, there are both positives and negatives for letting one person order for twelve. On this occasion, the positives were that the person in question knew her way around the Hu Tong menu, and clearly knew what she was doing; the negative being that we all ate until we could barely move. Oh wait, that’s just another positive! Anyway, on to the food. We started out with some snow pea sprouts with garlic.

Always a winner. Did leave me open to the trap of eating rice, however. My mother labels people like me ‘rice buckets’ (faan toong). I love my rice. A word to the wise: don’t waste your time with rice at Hu Tong.

Next came the state dumplings with brisket. This dish was my request, as I had tried it before, on my last visit to Hu Tong. If you’re in a small group, I think it’s a great dish to order, because you get dumplings, but also beef brisket in the one dish. WIN! The brisket is tender, well flavoured, and the dumplings get the chance to soak up some of the flavour from the brisket sauce/soup.

Some sort of vegetarian noodle dish. I didn’t bother trying that one, because by this stage, I had been made aware of what was to come. It didn’t look particularly exciting, anyway. Are you ready? We’re about to take off.

First up, wontons with chilli oil. Probably the dish of the night. I couldn’t stop going back for more, which was fine, because aforementioned person-in-charge-of-ordering (PICOO) had ordered SEVEN dishes of this. The wontons themselves were perfectly cooked, and plump with flavour, and chilli oil was probably the perfect accompaniment. Well played PICOO, well played.

The pan-fried dumplings arrived at our table, and people started digging in, before PICOO said, “hey, I didn’t order those!” “Oh well, too late.” They’re one of the stand-outs on the Hu Tong menu anyway, in my opinion. I love how they’re all joined by that slightly burnt pan-crust, like a bit dumpling crepe.

I believe these were spinach or vegetable dumplings. I don’t believe they’re vegetarian, but I could be wrong. I only had one of these – as you can see though, there were quite a few at the table:

Things had to be shuffled and removed from the lazy susan not long after, for the arrival of the king of Hu Tong specialties, the xiao long bao. A steamed pork dumpling with soup inside, this is probably the dish that sets Hu Tong apart from the rest of its dumpling competitors. I’m fairly sure you won’t find a better example of it in a Melbourne restaurant, though I would be somewhat ecstatic to be proven wrong.

Again, PICOO ordered SEVEN serves. Which in hindsight, wasn’t such a smart thing, as they started getting cold before we could skarf them all. And a good xiao long bao is a hot xiao long bao.

Now while dumplings are the main reason you go to Hu Tong, there are other gems on the menu. Though I’m fairly sure it’s more Sichuan than Shanghainese, this chilli chicken was awesome, regardless of its geographical cultural origins.

Unlike my first encounter with this style of chilli chicken many years ago at the original Dainty Sichuan in Smith St Collingwood, there was a generous amount of chicken on the plate – Dainty Sichuan’s version used to be about two thirds dried chilli – and was beautifully spiced. This would be up there as a perfect beer snack. Well, beer meal. It was a mammoth plate of chicken.

Ma po doufu. A classic dish – I defy anyone who doesn’t like tofu to try this dish and still refuse to eat tofu. Hu Tong’s version was good, but probably not the best version I’ve ever had, though I am partial to my mother’s. That sort of goes without saying.

Just another shot of the ensemble of food, so you get an idea of how much there truly was.

Finally, out came the Sichuan chilli fish soup.

Yes, they’re all dried chillies floating in that soup. It’s also full of Sichuan pepper, which has that wonderful eucalypt-meets-sour tang to it, and starts numbing your tongue after a couple of mouthfuls. I couldn’t handle too much of this soup – apart from already being full by the time it arrived at the table – but luckily there were some true chilli fiends at the table.

All in all, a fantastic night, despite having to wait for about fifteen minutes for a table, even though we had booked ahead. Definitely going back for more!

Hutong Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Dumpling Sisters

229 Exhibition St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9663 1888

I was excited when I first came across Dumpling Sisters. I was walking home after going to the gym, and upon seeing the cutesy logo, I was ruing the fact I’d already stopped off for dinner right after my workout. I started tweeting about the place, assuring @jeroxie that it actually existed, and wasn’t a mirage of oily goodness in the wilds of Exhibition St. Well I finally got around to visiting it post-gym last week.

While I’m all for simple and unassuming decor, I think I would really have enjoyed eating at Dumpling Sisters more if it weren’t for the unrelenting fluorescent lighting. Combined with freshly painted white walls, it’s confronting in the same way an industrial factory cafeteria would be, I imagine. Or the way eating in a 7-11 would be. The service, however, was attentive and exceedingly smiley. Such a far cry from the surly demeanour of the staff of the-dumpling-place-that-must-not-be-named. I’m not sure if there’s a self-service station I wasn’t aware of, but I had to ask for a bowl for my dipping sauce. It came with sincere apologies and mild embarrassment on the part of the waitress.

I’m thankful it was a post-gym visit, because then I didn’t feel quite so guilty about ordering the pan-fried pork dumplings (12 for $7.80).

They were pretty good, but not the best I’ve had – probably in the league of Chinatown Dumpling, but not quite Shanghai Village, Dumplings Plus or Hu Tong. And I have to say, for pan-fried dumplings, there certainly was someting of a deep-fried quality to these dumplings. Which made me feel a little guilty, so I ordered a side dish of celery and peanuts ($3).

These are cold, and the salt is offset by the sweetness of the celery and carrot. Don’t be scared by the chilli flakes; it’s really not spicy at all. It was quite moreish, actually.

I didn’t find my first visit to the Dumpling Sisters (and yes, I think the owners are two middle-aged Chinese sisters) all that stellar, but it’s not a bad place, if you can get past the lighting.

Dumpling Sisters on Urbanspoon

Noodle Kingdom

175 Russell St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9654 2828

This was a meal I ate last year, but Gem and Tris’ recent tweets about Noodle Kingdom (albeit in Preston) over the weekend reminded me that I had it in my photo archives. So the news is not current, but I assume very little has changed in the last 6 months. Except I no longer work in the CBD, so it’s only now and then that I get to lunch in the city. Woe is me, for the noodle lunch options in Parkville are pretty poor. And noodle lunch, how much doth I love thee!?

One of the things that sets Noodle Kingdom apart from its competitors is that there’s a chef in the front window hand-making noodles. I scarcely think I need to recommend this place further. I’ll just see you there!

On this occasion, I had the hand-made soup noodles with beef brisket, and because that gargantuan bowl of goodness wasn’t enough – say what!? – I ordered the leek puffs, too. They were a little disappointing, really. A bit oily, and the filling wasn’t at all interesting. I took to dipping it in my brisket soup, which tuned out to be a good idea!

This isn’t a place where you go for the service, or really the ambience either. Neither is fantastic, but neither is bad. You go for the noodles, and you stay for the chance that the range of Shanghainese style cold dishes will be available. I’d say the odds on any given day are 60-40 in your favour.

Noodle Kingdom on Urbanspoon

Dumplings Plus

269 Swanston St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9663 8181

Melbourne has no shortage of Shanghainese dumpling resturants. The infamous Camy’s, stalwarts Shanghai Village and Shanghai Dumpling Restaurant, as well as relative newcomers Chinatown Dumpling, North East China Family and Hu Tong Dumpling Bar. Dumplings plus fits into this latter cohort of Johnny-come-lately dumpling joints, which on the whole, are quite good at taking on the incumbent restaurants at their own game. Hu Tong in particular, but that post is on its way. Dumplings Plus also definitely holds its own.

Though the specialty of any Shanghai dumpling specialist is the xiao long bao – steamed soup dumpling – in my opinion, the staple is the pan-fried pork dumpling. Dumplings Plus scores high on this dish. Not too oily, and with the slightly thicker, chewy skin that denotes handmade wrappers, these dumplings were a joy. My one criticism was that the filling was a touch bland. But hey, that’s what the black vinegar and chilli are for.

One of our group was particularly eager to try the Shangahinese pork buns, which were interesting. They’re a lot like the steamed buns – bao – that you get at yum cha, only they’ve been par-steamed and finished off with a pan-fry. The filling had more flavour than the dumpling counterparts, though I found the dough a little heavy. Still, an amazingly filling entree, and great value at 2 for $4.50.

Next up were my favourite dish of the evening. The steamed pork dumplings with chilli oil sauce.The pork dumplings were similar to the pan-fried ones, though the steaming made the skins softer and more yielding. I was expecting something of an intense chilli hit with the sauce, but it was on the milder side of hot. Cleverly, the soy and chilli have been balanced with a fair dose of honey, which made the sweet-savoury-spicy dumplings incredibly moreish, and a quick dip in the sour vinegar dipping sauce made it a perfectly balanced mouthful.

Then came the xiao long bao. While not as good as Hu Tong’s, these certainly impressed the uninitiated at the table. I like that Dumplings Plus gives you the flexibility of ordering a serve of four or six buns, so you can tuck into them even if you’re eating alone.

We rounded out the meal with some fried rice, which was decent, if not all that memorable, and stir-fried rice vermicelli with chicken and (loads of – yum!) lemongrass.

All in all, Dumplings Plus is a winner in my book. While not as ludicrously cheap as Shanghai Village or Chinatown Dumpling, it’s still great value – five of us walked away stuffed, with drinks, for under $70. Some may call the seating a bit cramped, but ironically, I’m sure those same people don’t mind the communal dining thing which a lot of trendy restaurants deal in these days. Personally, I think the lack of personal space in a Chinese restaurant adds to its authenticity? Certainly that’s how they roll in China!

Also, one final note: the service, while a bit patchy at times, was lightning quick when it came to serving food. I believe the food started arriving at the table within 10 minutes of ordering. So it’s a good place to go if you’re in a hurry.

Dumplings Plus on Urbanspoon

Meiji Japanese Cafe

105 Little Bourke Street
Phone: 9662 2899

The ramen hunt continues. I’ll keep updating the table with results as new ones come in. I stopped in here on my own to keep the dream alive.The place was pretty quiet, as it was early; pre 6pm in fact! I forgot to pack my gym shorts that morning, so went to eat instead. The irony was not lost on me. As it was so quiet, service was impeccable, if a little too attentive. And the solitary dining experience was buffered by a television up one end of the restuarant. If that wasn’t a giveaway of Chinese ownership, the staff speaking both Mandarin and Cantonese surely was! Now Chinese ownership of Japanese restaurants isn’t always a bad thing – it’s certainly rife in Melbourne – but there’s a certain un-authenticity that grates a little.

I was hungry, so I started with a mini entree of takoyaki (octopus croquette) which I have to say, surprisingly, was the best example of it I’ve tasted in Melbourne. Crispy on the outside, melty-gooey on the inside, and the right amount of sweet sauce and eerily-moving bonito flakes on top. It looks like an extremely small serve, yes, but then it’s only $3.90.

On to the main event. I had the Meiji ramen, which came with chashu, half a tea-egg, bamboo shoot, gingko nuts, snow peas and a little slice of the spirally fish cake.

The broth was good, for shoyu. Tasty, with well-rounded flavours, and complex enough to keep me going back for more. That might have been the MSG, but there wasn’t the slightly metallic twang, and I wasn’t left thirsty, so I would judge it as judicious use. The noodles themselves were pleasantly springy, and there sure were plenty of them! I think what let the dish down was the toppings. The chashu was a little on the tough side (they should have used fattier meat), and the rest of the toppings were likewise rather forgettable.

All in all, Meiji serves up a pretty decent bowl of ramen.

Broth 4
Noodle 3
Toppings 3
Total 10 / 15

Meiji Japanese Cafe on Urbanspoon

Ramen hunt

On Easter Monday 2010, a group of intrepid ramen hunters (myself included) set out to find the best ramen in the Melbourne CBD. While our search was probably not exhaustive, it was pretty exhausting. A total of nineteen bowls of ramen were (mostly) consumed by nine of us, across a total of seven restaurants. Scores out of five were given to each restaurant for the quality of the ramen noodle, the broth, and the toppings. We had considered scoring for decor and service, but decided to be ramen purists and ignore the periphery (everything that wasn’t in the bowl).

I added one more visit on a later date to Meshiya, which had somehow “sold out” of ramen on the day, for completeness. I’ll probably continue the hunt for good ramen around the city in weeks to come, too. Anyway, let’s watch the hunting unfold..

Our first stop was Menya Ramen, a tiny little hole-in-the-wall place in a laneway entrance to the Melbourne Central shopping centre, run by the O-Bento Group, who mainly manage Japanese stalls in shopping centre food courts. Despite this, Menya has always enjoyed a pretty good reputation in Melbourne for having good ramen. There is also a second Menya outlet now, on Elizabeth St, between A’Beckett and Franklin Sts.

Menya Ramen
Shop 146a 211 Latrobe St Knox Lane, Melbourne Central (CBD)
Phone: 9639 3383
Menya on Urbanspoon

The ramen here was OK. Not great, in my opinion, but not bad, either. It was a good choice on @jeroxie‘s part as the benchmark restaurant. We tried the Menya Ramen and the Sapporo Ramen, both with a shoyu broth, as they were out of miso broth that day.

The ramen (noodle) itself was tolerable, but a bit too soft. I found the broth tasty, but a little too tasty – it was heavily flavoured with MSG. The toppings were quite generous, the difference between the two being the Menya ramen had more seafood, whereas the Sapporo was just chashu, seafood extender, bamboo shoot and the obligatory nori and spring onion garnish. The chashu itself, which would come to be a large determiner in the toppings scores, was a little tough, and lacking the melty fat which makes good chashu a luscious joy.

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

QV Square, 210 Lonsdale St, Melbourne CBD

This was actually an impromptu stop, as none of us actually knew Hanaichi existed. In the old wagamama premises on QV Square, Hanaichi definitely has a fast food/food court feel, replete with a McDonalds-esque photo menu. Expectations were low, and it would be fair to say that some of the hunters were filled with apprehension, if not dread!

The first cause for that dread may have been the menu itself – it read: Ramen (egg noodle). For those of you who aren’t as ramen-obsessed as I am, ramen has no egg in it. The distinct yellow colour is a result of the chemical reaction of the kansui (sodium & potassium carbonates) with the wheat flour. So a place which purports to sell ‘Japanese fine food’ describing ramen as egg noodle is a worry.

Then the ramen itself came out. In disposable paper bowls. But in the name of research, we went ahead and ate it anyway. The noodles, surprisingly, weren’t actually that bad! They were better than Menya’s (on the day) though still too soft for my liking. The toppings were rather meagre – a few slices of unimpressive chashu, a sheet of nori, and some spring onions – though for $6.90, it’s hard to complain too much. The broth was, again, unimpressive. There was definite MSG action, but my main problem with it was that is lacked any real flavour beyond being salty.

Broth 1/5
Noodles 3/5
Toppings 1/5
Total 5/15

138 Russell St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9654 7358
Edoya Japanese on Urbanspoon

Another unplanned stop. We were sadly informed by Meshiya that they were out of ramen, so headed towards Ito and Ajisen. At that point, someone came up with the genius idea that Edoya would probably have ramen, and that they did, though only one variant – a Sapporo style ramen, in a shoyu broth. We ordered two bowls for the table, but given that this was the first real restaurant – as opposed to a noodle joint – we also succumbed and ordered a few other dishes. It was lunch time, alright!?

The ramen here reminded me of Izakaya Chuji’s ramen – ramen made by a place that doesn’t specialise in it – OK, but unremarkable. The broth was a little overpowering, but not with MSG, which is a nice change. The noodles were, again, too soft for my liking. Are we sensing a pattern here? The toppings were quite generous, but I was put off a little by seafood extender again. If you’re going to put reconstituted fish on my ramen, at least make it that sliced fish cake with the cute pink squiggle in the middle! Also, the two bowls we ordered had varying quality chashu – one bowl was gifted with tender, tasty pork, and the other had chashu which was a bit on the dry and tough side. Oh, also, the service here was great – though funnily the waitress who works here told us she also works at Ajisen Ramen!

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

Ito Noodle Cafe
122 Bourke St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9663 2788
Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe on Urbanspoon

I’d been to Ito Noodle Cafe before, and this repeat visit confirmed in my opinion that it is definitely one of he better options for ramen in the CBD. A semi-open kitchen layout allowed us to spy on our ramen as it was being assembled. Just as well, as the service was a little slow.

There’s a reasonable selection of ramen on offer at Ito, though the tonkotsu which is on the menu never seems to be available. They’re tonkotsu teases! This time, we decided to have the tonKATsu (crumbed pork cutlet, not dreamy pork bone broth) ramen, the tori kara (fried chicken) and of course, the classic chashu ramen. We tried both shoyu and miso broths.

This was the first point in the day where I was close to being satisfied. Both broths were well flavoured, and the use of MSG was well balanced with other ingredients. I usually prefer miso to shoyu, but Ito’s shoyu has a wonderful complexity of flavour. The ramen noodles at Ito were wonderfully toothsome, having the slight al dente springiness that ramen should. The toppings were also impressive. I particularly liked the tori kara, which remained crispy on the outside, but moist and tender inside, even when sitting in a bowl of broth for five minutes.

Faults? The bamboo shoots were universally decried as being too overpowering, and the egg was quite solidly over-cooked. But then none of the places we tried which served egg with the ramen managed to master the elusive soft-boiled egg. I guess boiling eggs to order would only be feasible if you’re a dedicated ramen joint with rapid turnover. Menya got close, in this regard.

Broth 3/5
Noodles 4/5
Toppings 4/5
Total 11/15

Ajisen Ramen
130 Bourke St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9662 1100
Ajisen Ramen on Urbanspoon

Let me just say this at the outset: I’m not a fan of Ajisen. I’ve only been a couple of times, and each time has been somewhat of a let-down. I will admit I hadn’t tried the more adventurous items on the menu, which we did on this visit. We sampled three different ramen: the chashu ramen (shoyu), the chargrilled beef ramen (shoyu) and the spicy miso ramen.

Let’s start with the positives. The toppings for each ramen were pretty good. The standout is clearly the chargrilled beef. They asked us how we’d like it done (a good sign) and requested medium rare. On my own, I would probably get this rare, as the beef keeps cooking in the broth after it arrives at your table. The chashu was reasonably tender, though it lacked flavour, I thought. The servings certainly were generous, though. The spicy miso ramen came with the spicy pork mince on the side, though it wasn’t particularly crazy-spicy, so I’m not sure why the waitress suggested we do this. The broth was pretty good, though the MSG was palpable in the shoyu broth.

Where Ajisen falls down is in the all-important noodle category. First of all, the noodles are round. Ramen is traditionally square in (cross-sectional) shape, because it is traditionally hand cut. I understand that virtually no restaurant would hand cut ramen these days, but there was something distastefully spaghetti-ish about Ajisen’s round noodles. Ajisen also has regular or ‘softer’ options for their noodles. The softer option is available upon request. We didn’t request it, though I have tried it in the past. I prefer the standard noodle, which I still find too soft to begin with! I wouldn’t recommend Ajisen to anyone unless Ito Noodle Cafe is full or closed. Or you were looking to eat something other than ramen. Some of the side dishes looked quite tasty.

Broth 2/5
Noodles 1/5
Toppings 4/5
Total 7/15

Ramen Ya
Shop 25G Melbourne GPO 350 Bourke St
Phone: 9654 5838
Ramen Ya on Urbanspoon

Ramen Ya was always the favourite, coming into this enterprise, and let’s not beat about the bush, its consistent quality did not waver on the day, and it came out a clear winner. In a way, it seems a little unfair, as Ramen Ya was the only place offering the elusively delicious tonkotsu broth. Tonkotsu aside, however, I think Ramen Ya is still a few steps ahead of most of its competitors. This day, we sampled two chashu ramen (one with tonkotsu broth, one with shoyu) and the tsukune (minced chicken) ramen with a miso broth.

All three broths were flavoursome, with some MSG detectable, but not overly so. The shoyu was a little too salty for my liking, so choose the miso if the spectacular tonkotsu isn’t available. The noodle was pretty spot-on, being al dente and springy, and supremely slurpable. The toppings, though not quite as plentiful as some other restaurants, were of a very high standard. The chashu was melt-in-the-mouth tender, and the bamboo shoot was pleasant, and not too overpowering. The chicken mince was nice, but I’d take the chashu option any day.

Broth 4/5
Noodles 5/5
Toppings 4/5
Total 13/15

Chocolate Buddha
Federation Square, Swanston St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9654 5688

Chocolate Buddha on Urbanspoon

Chocolate Buddha was always going to be facing an uphill battle. Previous visits to the restaurant have cemented the notion that the place is rather overpriced – the ramen we tried this day were about double the price ($20ish) of most other restaurants –  and it was also our final stop of the day, so our bellies weren’t craving more noodle, nor were our tongues crazy for an MSG umami hit.

Working in its favour were the brilliant Autumn afternoon, an outdoor seat overlooking Fed Square, and an extensive drinks list, which we all took advantage of at the end of an arduous hunting expedition. We ordered two of the three ramen in the menu; the gyu ramen (with beef – and dumplings! – in a shoyu broth) and the tori miso ramen (chicken). We all decided we’d skip the seafood version – I think it was salmon?

Overall, the ramen was pretty good. The servings were certainly large enough! The broth was tasty, though oddly sweet. I’d recommend the gyu ramen over the tori miso. The noodles were a disappointment, especially after Ramen Ya’s noodles. They were far too soft. I wonder if our scores would have been a little kinder if we’d hit Chocolate Buddha earlier in the day? The toppings were great – the beef came on the rare side of medium (just) and the chicken was tender and succulent. An odd choice of some sort of lettuce green (or are they baby chard leaves?) and bok choi respectively certainly was a twist on the traditional, but they added a freshness and a textural crunch to both dishes. All in all, respectable dishes – or bowls – but certainly not good value, considering what else is on offer in the city.

Broth 3/5
Noodles 2/5
Toppings 4/5
Total 9/15

200 Lonsdale St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9654 6242
Meshiya on Urbanspoon

I’m one for completeness, and there was a gap in my dance card, so to speak. So a week or so later, I stopped in at Meshiya to try their ramen. I tried the buta kakuni ramen; they had no chashu ramen, but who am I to argue with slabs of belly pork?

The ramen came out pretty quickly, and piping hot! The noodles were reasonably good; a little springy, though again, slightly over-cooked, as most places in Melbourne seem to serve. The broth was somewhat of a let-down. Quite a bit of MSG, and a touch too salty overall. I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of sesame seeds floating around the bowl, and the rest of the toppings weren’t that special, but the pork. Oh, the pork! The pork belly was heavenly, but belly pork often is. Meshiya’s is melty and well-infused with flavour, which is a little heavy-handed in ramen, but makes sense as you can also order the buta kakuni as an entree on its own!

Broth 2/5
Noodles 3/5
Toppings 4/5
Total 9/15
Overall Results

Clearly, the winner on the day was Ramen Ya. Respectable showings from Ito Noodle Cafe, as well as Meshiya and Chocolate Buddha. I’d recommend the first three, though not Chocolate Buddha on account of the cost factor. Good ramen, but not good value.

My scores

Broth (/5) Noodle (/5) Toppings (/5) Total (/15)
Ramen Ya 4 5 4 13
Ito Noodle Cafe 3 4 4 11
Meiji Japanese Cafe 4 3 3 10
Kenzan@GPO 3 3 3 9
Meshiya 2 3 4 9
Chocolate Buddha 3 2 4 9
Ume Sushi House
Menya Ramen
Sushi Deli 3 2 2 7
Ume Hana 2 2 3 7
Ajisen Ramen 2 1 4 7
Edoya 2 2 3 7
Hanaichi 1 3 1 5

Red entries: Places which I reviewed solo, on other occasions.

Ramen hunter team scores

Total (/105)
Ramen Ya 89.5
Ito Noodle Cafe 82
Chocolate Buddha 70
Ajisen Ramen 63
Menya Ramen 58
Edoya 51
Hanaichi 45
Meshiya N/A

The ramen hunters

Penny & Mister @Th0i3 –; Flickr album
Agnes & partner –  Off the Spork
Maria & partner – The Gourmet Challenge
Adrian – Food Rehab
Me and my friend Debbie.
Alex and Jess over at MSG: The Melbourne Social Guide have also been testing out Melbourne’s ramen joints. Check out their findings.

The hunt goes on! I’ve already scouted out a few more places to try in the city, so look forward to more ramen posts! Obsessed much?

Old Town Kopitiam Mamak

QV Square (210 Lonsdale St), Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9654 2682

I’ve been meaning to visit this place for ages now, and with Ms N having a hankering for some Indo goodness after a Sunday afternoon movie at ACMI, this was the perfect opportunity. Old Town Kopitiam Mamak has been blogged widely as being a place to go for roti, which I am still yet to try there, but it’s also a great option if you’re after a cheap and quick nasi campur/kandar meal.

Ms N had the stewed beef and spiced cabbage with turmeric. The beef was a little sweet, but there was more than enough rice to temper that. I chose the curry chicken and the belachan eggplant. The eggplane was great, though I would have liked a little more sauce with the chicken. All in all, solid – especially for bain-marie food – but not amazing. Still, two dishes with rice and a pappadum for $8, you can’t really complain! I’ll be back to try the roti, for sure.

Old Town Kopitiam Mamak (QV Square) on Urbanspoon

Red Spice Road

27 McKillop Street, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9603 1601

I’ve heard a lot about this place since my return from Viet Nam, but it’s taken a year to finally visit it. A restaurant serving a South-East Asian inspired menu, with an adjoining bar which serves cocktail jugs? Yes, please. The place has a great, stylish feel to it, and the service is impeccable. I finally met up with some friends for a few post-work drinks, and bar snacks. I look forward to going back and having a proper meal there.

We sipped our way through a few cocktail jugs (the Fruit Jungle is better than the Red Spice Road Mojito), and we decided it was time for some snacks, before going our separate ways for dinner. We ordered the betel leaf with salmon, lemongrass, chilli and kaffir lime. It was tasty, and all gone too soon. The salmon roe on top were a nice touch. We also ordered the corn and chive fritters, which were a little ugly, and to be honest, rather forgettable.

Red Spice Road on Urbanspoon

$15 express lunch at Fifteen

115 – 117 Collins Street, Melbourne –
Phone: 1300 799 415

I’ve been holding off from writing this review for a while, because I was a little conflicted – while I don’t always write positive reviews, it’s rare that I’ll be flat-out negative. Unfortunately, this lunch was pretty bad. @jetsettingjoyce seems to agree. I’m thinking, hoping, wishing, praying that it was just a bad day at the restaurant, but with head chef Tobie Puttock actually in the kitchen that day, I’m not so sure. I do really like the ethics behind the restaurant – they train up disadvantaged youth to get careers in hospitality – but it seems there are other places doing the same thing, with better results. Charcoal Lane comes to mind.

The misadventure started off with a broccoli and potato soup. It was extremely oversalted, and full of woody pieces of broccoli stalk. Now I’m not of the opinion you should be using the florets only – far from it, I eat the stalk all the time – but there’s a reason you painstakingly peel the thicker parts of broccoli stalks. They don’t just look like little trees for nothing.

I was hoping for redemption by pasta, but was sorely disappointed. The orrechiette with veal ragu was similarly underwhelming. The serves were minuscule, and while the pasta itself was quite good, it came out on the luke side of warm, which meant the fat in the veal mince had started to solidify, producing an unpleasant, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth feel.

I sampled some of Joyce’s vegetarian option – gnocchi with a spicy capsicum sauce. Conversely to the orrechiette, the sauce was good, but the gnocchi was overcooked and mushy. Again, the serving size was tiny.

I have had some friends who have been to Fifteen for dinner, and loved the experience, but I’d have to say I’m not inspired by my visit there. I understand that a $15 express lunch is pretty cheap for this type of restaurant, but cheap shouldn’t equate to nasty. I honestly hope it was just an aberrant lunch service, but I’m not really game to spend the money to try my luck again. Sorry Tobie.

Fifteen Melbourne on Urbanspoon

Collins Kitchen – Nuffnang Foodbloggers Dinner

Collins Kitchen @ The Grand Hyatt, 123 Collins St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9653 4831

I was the guest of Nuffnang and Collins Kitchen.

Last week, the good folk at nuffnang worked with the generous people at the Grand Hyatt put on an event for Melbourne foodbloggers. I was lucky enough to score an invitation (although it still feels a bit funny to think of myself as a bona fide foodblogger).

After a quick drink in the adjoining RU-CO bar – which is a hidden gem for those of us who prefer a bar on Friday evenings that isn’t fully packed, and you can almost always find a seat – we were given a tour of the kitchen from which we were about to sample food by Chef Jason Camillo.

The Hyatt’s Collins Kitchen restaurant is powered by an open kitchen, roughly broken up into five specialty stations. There’s a sushi and sashimi section, where all the fish looked amazingly fresh, and the sushi chef adeptly worked his craft as we were told about the restaurant’s ethic of sourcing, wherever possible, local produce. Everyone got rather excited when the fresh wasabi from Tasmania was spotted. Apparently it’ll only set you back $180 a kilo!

Next, there were grill and deli sections, the grill with an impressive ‘crustacean bowl’, and the deli with a good array of cured meats – to be honest, I got a little distracted by the sushi chef working and fell behind the group at this point in the tour. Hence I have no pictures of the meats, and just a quick snap of some yabbies.

Then we moved around to the ‘wok’ section of the kitchen, which was a pretty standard (if somewhat immaculately clean) Chinese kitchen set up. Woks, steamers and noodle pots, all fired by turbo gas burners which roared like jet engines when cranked up to full power. There were also the requisite roasted meats (ducks, chicken and pork) hanging on racks, ready to be carved up on demand.

Finally, there is a patisserie/desserts section, but at this stage of the tour, I also neglected to take photos. Don’t worry though, plenty of dessert photos to come below!

The Feasting
Once the tour was complete, we sat down and were promptly presented with freshly baked sourdough rolls, which were closely followed by an amazing sushi and sashimi platter, an equally impressive antipasto plate, and a freshly baked foccacia-style pizza, simply topped with tomato, basil and mozzarella. The speed of the service was dulled a little, however, because with a table full of foodbloggers, there was a longer than usual pause for photography before we could dig in!

Everyone was excited to sample the freshly grated wasabi, to the point where impromptu fusion occurred on the plate – the liverwurst from the antipasto was adventurously paired with the fresh wasabi, with pleasing results!

For me, the highlight of this course would be the lightly seared scallops on the sashimi platter – so sweet and fresh! – and I was also a big fan of the liverwurst. The tricky thing about foods like sashimi and antipasto – essentially raw (or cured) dishes, is the quality of the produce is immediately apparent. It was immediately apparent all of the produce in front of us was exceptionally good.

Next on the menu was a Cantonese style BBQ platter – roast belly pork, soya chicken, roast duck, and char siu (I secretly sniggered inside when the waiter pronounced it “char shui” but that’s just me being a bilingual elitist – shame on me!). The platter was presented with pretty traditional dipping sauces – plum sauce, sambal, and my favourite since I was a child, a ginger and spring onion oil. It was also accompanied by choy sum and fried rice.

Now I will happily admit to being somewhat of a snob when it comes to Cantonese cuisine. So please take what I say here with a grain of salt, because this course was still a cut above most restaurants. That being said, most restaurants would probably charge about a third of what Collins Kitchen would for this fare. Still, I wasn’t paying, so that didn’t necessarily factor in my appraisal.

The roast duck was beautifully succulent, and the skin was remarkably crisp, though I found it a touch on the salty side. I really like to taste the gaminess of duck when I eat it. The roast pork was again perfectly cooked, though the crackling was a little chewy, and not quite crunchy enough on the slice I had. The soya chicken was stunning. Beautifully tender, and a nicely balanced soy marinade which had just penetrated the unbelievably thin chicken skin – this was a quality chook! I was a little disappointed with the choy sum and fried rice, both were a bit pedestrian, and suffered from too much oil. The rice was interesting in that it was a medium grain, instead of the usual long grain jasmine rice.

Next up was a grilled fruits de mer (seafood) platter, and a gargantuan grilled porterhouse for two (weighing in at 900gm on the bone). Luckily this was being shared between five of us. These came with a inspired side of sauteed mushrooms with hazelnuts, wilted broccolini and a deliciously creamy potato mash.

The seafood was all spectacular – again, scallops were a standout for me – I think I may be biased – and the salmon was cooked to perfection. The tuna, however, was a bit of a mystery. It was cooked all the way through, which seems something of a cruel way to treat tuna. We had to ask twice what fish it was! We thought it might be swordfish? Because surely a restaurant like Collin Kitchen wouldn’t serve tuna this way.

The porterhouse was beautifully juicy, though leaning on the medium-rare edge for me (I prefer my steak blue-rare). It came with a choice of green peppercorn sauce or a red wine jus. The peppercorn sauce was better, in my opinion.

And then there was dessert. Or should I say, desserts. A sharing platter of five desserts came out, much to the delight (and yet trepidation) of us all.

In order of tasting, there was a selection of mixed sorbets and ice cream (the pistachio was clearly the stand-out for me); a banana mille feuille (wonderfully delicate pastry, and I love cooked bananas in anything); a devilishly rich and gooey chocolate fondant; a strawberry and rhubarb crumble (I’m not a fan of rhubarb, but I WAS a fan of the crumble – I think almond meal was the special ingredient? – that tasted somewhat like the fresh almond cookies you get in the streets of Macau); and finally an apricot melba which was incorrectly identified as a pannacotta, and then roundly criticised as so, until we checked against the menu what the dessert actually was! It was actually quite nice though, just not a pannacotta. But then it never claimed to be a pannacotta!

Props must be given to Adrian of Food Rehab for ‘taking one for the team’ and polishing off the desserts after everyone had tasted to their satisfaction.

Thanks go out to nuffnang and Collins Kitchen for organising the event, a great way to get a better insight into one of these ritzy restaurants, and to meet up with more like-minded foodbloggers.
Here’s a list of the other foodbloggers who were there on the night:

Penny from Jeroxie
Joyce from Jetsetting Joyce
Suzanne from EssJay Eats
Adrian from Food Rehab
Melissa and Danny from Tummy Rumbles
Maria from The Gourmet Challenge
Shellie from Iron Chef Shellie
from Off the Spork
Sarah from Sarah Cooks
Thanh from I Eat Therefore I Am
Neil from At My Table

There were more, but I didn’t get to meet everyone, and I don’t have everybody’s blog URLs. *sadface*

And Nuffnang’s post about the night.

Collins Kitchen on Urbanspoon