Category Archives: Around Oz
If you haven’t heard about Hot-Star Large Fried Chicken then you must be living under a rock – or in Far North Queensland. I do understand we are a little sheltered up here in our beautiful part of the world. Heck, the Mexican food fad that took over our southern states about 3 years ago hasn’t even reached us up in Cairns yet (and no Cactus Jacks doesn’t count). In fact I am pretty sure we are still in the midst of the frozen yogurt phase that is so, like, totally 2012. Being an avid reader of Gourmet Traveller and Delicious magazines thanks to my monthly subscriptions (friends and family know the way to my heart for birthday’s and Christmas) I like to think (hope) that I am pretty up to date on the food trends. Along with Mexican food there has been cupcakes, macarons, hot dogs, anything Vietnamese, dumplings, gelato, burgers, Korean food and god knows what else! But now it’s the Taiwanese’ turn with Hot Star Large Fried Chicken. A chicken franchise brought in by some savvy travellers which has taken the cities of Sydney and Melbourne by storm, one deep-fried chicken breast at a time.
People are lining up down the street for these Taiwanese street food inspired protein pockets. It’s pretty basic to say the least but at Hot Star Chicken they take a whole chicken breast on the bone and smash it flat, marinated it for 2 hours, coat it in tapioca flour and then deep fry it in Cottonseed Oil till it’s crunchy on the outside and deliciously moist on the inside. Having recently travelled to Sydney with my family Hot Star wasn’t really somewhere that I was hell-bent on seeking out but more hoping to stumble upon. It certainly didn’t take long to spot a small crowd of people (mostly young Asian’s) huddled on the street waiting for the latest batch of chicken to be deep-fried. Before I knew it my whole family with MS in tow was lining up to try Hot Star Large Fried Chicken.
It’s a CASH ONLY kind of gig and for a mere AU$7.90 a hit, it’s a pretty good deal, especially when it’s cooked to order – that way you know it’s fresh – freshly fried anyway. The guy at the counter asked if we wanted Original or Spicy to which MS and I decided that we wanted ‘spicy’. He gave us a small plastic bag and a ticket with a number and we stepped aside, laying in wait for our ‘afternoon snack’. We waited about 10 minutes until with expert precision the guy working the deep fryer began to pull each chicken breast from the bubbling hot cottonseed oil, bag them up and call the individuals numbers of the hungry chicken lovers waiting curb side. MS and I spotted a couple of breasts that were basted in some sticky brownish sauce and then coated in sesame seeds. We had no idea what they were (possibly the lemon chicken?) but we both wished we had gotten that one – the grass is always greener.
Additions of deep-fried mushrooms and sweet potato chips on the menu at Hot Star also rate very high on the culinary Richter scale according to various reports on social media and other online reviews. Those deep-fried goodies would have to wait till the next time I crossed paths with a Hot Star Chicken joint because I had to save room for dinner – even if this was classed as ‘research’.
A couple of minutes later the ‘spicy’ coating was sprinkled onto our piece and our number was called. The pictures of it in MS’ hand just doesn’t do it justice. This thing is seriously about a foot long and with the breast itself weighing on average 250 grams. MS and I shared one but I could have easily polished one-off on my own despite it’s size. I refrained because technically we had just eaten a late lunch including BBQ pork puns and Deep Fried Sesame Balls with Red Bean Paste. Seriously those things are the best damn sweets ever invented!!!
The Hot Star Large Fried Chicken is kind of like a big chicken schnitzel crossed with KFC I guess. It was tongue searing-ly hot having just been pulled from the deep fryer seconds before but a perfect way to warm you from the inside out on what was a ridiculously cold and windy afternoon in the city of Sydney. The spice was spicy but nothing major. Hey, if MS can eat it without many complaints then it’s definitely not very spicy – he is a total pussy when it comes to spice after all. The batter was thick and crunchy and although the whole thing was encased in a little paper bag it didn’t seem overly oily.
There’s really not a whole lot for me to say about it especially considering that Hot Star Large Fried Chicken has been blogged about and reviewed to death since it opened in Australia about six months ago by people far more in the know than me. At the end of the day although tasty, succulent and a sh*tload better than a 5 piece feed from KFC (much kinder on the wallet too), it’s really just a big deep-fried chicken breast. Typically, MS was more smitten with the $4 slice of greasy Meatlover’s pizza that he bought from the pizza place directly next door while we waited for our chicken. In his own words that was his ‘culinary highlight’ of our trip to Sydney. Ah such a typical male.
Hot Star Chicken
96 Liverpool St, Sydney NSW 2000
429 Elizabeth St, Melbourne VIC 3000
231 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Opening Hours: 11am – 11pm 7 days
Anyone that regularly reads my blog – or at least ‘likes’ my Facebook page (that’s all of you right?) might recall that I have a bucketlist of food experiences that I keep in my phone consisting mostly of restaurants that I want to dine at around the world. Some of the restaurants listed are fine dining (Tetsuya’s, Las Bravas and Ultraviolet), some aren’t (Tim Ho Wan, The Salt Lick, Pimenti’s) and some are simply food experiences that I want to tick off (eating oysters at Coffin Bay, fish and chips on Bronte Beach, lobster rolls in Maine). There are only a few restaurants within Australia that I have listed and the first one that I was able to tick off last month was Vue De Monde in Melbourne.
Late last year MS tried desperately to get us a reservation whilst down in Melbourne for our birthday weekend in December but to no avail. VDM is so popular that it can be booked out months in advance. It just so happened that we planned another Melbourne trip for the Fitness Expo in March and lucky enough this time around MS was able to secure a booking on a Friday night for the two of us. MS knows the way to my heart – through food. The guy on the other end of the phone at VDM took a deposit after asking MS “You do know how much this restaurant costs right?” – ahem yes thank you very much! Yes it wasn’t going to be a cheap night out that’s for sure but not something we do very often (if ever).
Now I’m not going to go into logistics or fancy words in my ‘review’ of VDM because this restaurant has been reviewed countless times by much more qualified and ‘in the know’ people than this Vixen however I thought I would give my take on the whole experience…
After setting off from our holiday apartment in St Kilda with ample time to arrive at our destination – the Rialto only 6km away – we ended up getting stuck in crazy afternoon traffic on St Kilda Rd and arrived 20 minutes late for our 6pm booking (we left at 5pm!!!) There is nothing that gets me more wild than being late for something and I managed to keep my cool for the entire time, only losing it in the last 10 minutes. So then of course ultra cool, calm and collective MS lost it totally as well. Great start to our romantic evening together. FML.
We finally arrived and leaving the car with the valet we made our way to reception where we were met by a friendly lady that took us to VDM personal elevator. Less than a minute later we were 55 storeys up and being greeted at the elevator door by a male host. He led us past the bar and to a large tinted glass door to which he opened to the restaurant.
As the door opened we were greeted with a breathtaking 180 degree view of Melbourne – hence the name Vue De Monde. The dining room with its 20 or so tables each with a candle flickering, polished black floors and enormous windows looking out onto the twilight was nearly equally as impressive. The host led us to our table for the evening where we were seated and left momentarily until we were again greeted by our host for the evening.
Since we were seated slightly back from the windows with an empty table directly in front of us he asked if we would like to move closer to the window to which we happily obliged. He then explained the course of the evening to us – basically they bring out 7 courses and then you decide if you want to continue (are you still hungry?) or if you have had enough. Directly behind us the busy kitchen was a hive of activity with no less than 20 chefs cooking up a storm at various cooking stations. It was actually quite theatrical to watch and as the sun went down the reflection of the kitchen behind us provided a beautiful backdrop for our prime position overlooking Melbourne. Damn I’m poetic.
The host left us momentarily whilst the sommelier came over and introduced himself. He handed the two of us the wine ‘bible’ which I reluctantly took drawing in a deep breath as I opened the first page. I mean I don’t want to sound cheap but I know how much the wines cost at these kind of restaurants. I’m happy to spend a few hundred dollars on dinner once in a blue moon (don’t think I’m a toff because I’m really not) but I sure as hell won’t spend $80 on a glass of wine.
The sommelier asked me what kind of wine I liked – I’m a white wine kind of girl – and directed me towards some ridiculously expensive wines. To an uneducated wine drinker like myself the difference in taste between a $200 bottle of wine and a $20 bottle is negligable (ha who am I kidding – I’ve never had a $200 bottle of wine). In the end I tastefully directed the guy towards a cheap(er) glass that he recommended (AU$38), although I did feel a bit of pressure to go more expensive, something that made me mildly uncomfortable and I did feel a little judged by Mr Sommelier. Pfft. He then moved onto MS who asked him what wine he preferred. MS is no wine drinker – this man barely drinks at all – so he ordered a cider and after getting the shock of his life when the sommelier recommended an AU$80 bottle of cider (for 330ml!!!!) he chose the cheapest one on the menu (AU$18). Although I can’t remember for the life of me what we ordered, both the wine and the cider tasted pretty darn good.
And so the meal began. First off we were given some salt and vinegar crisps with hazelnut cream pate to entice our taste buds. Someone must have secretly called ahead and told the kitchen about mine and MS massive penchant for anything Salt and Vinegar – my favourite flavour. It used to be Atomic Tomato until I got really drunk a few years ago, ate an entire large packet to myself and then threw it up again. Yeah, you know what? A post about Vue De Monde probably isn’t the right place to talk about that story. And so the meal progressed from there.
In the middle of our table was a collection of, well they can only be described as rocks, but nice smooth ones of all different shapes and sizes. Through the course of the evening our waitress overturned them to reveal various grooves for holding the ornate cutlery and hidden reserves of salt and pepper. It was quite cool as I initially thought they were just for decoration.
Following our salt and vinegar ‘chips’ a selection of grilled meats on skewers were brought out. We ate eel, oysters, rock wallaby, sea urchin, ducks tongue and lambs hearts. And although neither of us would normally eat some of the things (namely the lambs heart and duck tongue) that were laid out in front of us we both respected the prestigious restaurant that we (I) had chosen to dine in – and as they say ‘when in Rome…’
We even had some tea…
Each dish was presented by a different chef, sometimes in a very theatrical way that even sometimes required diner participation – we used a pestle to grind up our own mortar of wood sorrel that had been frozen with liquid nitrogen. After crushing the wood sorrel the waitress added a small scoop of refreshingly different cucumber sorbet. Unfortunately the photo below was post grinding and sorbet. The presentation of each dish, as one would expect, was flawless and each presented in its own creative way.
About 4 dishes in our waitress brought out a large basket of ‘butter’ with freshly baked sour dough bread. Both MS and I were in awe of the enormous amount of hand churned butter that she presented in front of us and I can honestly say this ‘bread and butter’ was one of the highlights of our meal. Yes, it’s true. We were dining at one of Australia’s premier restaurants and we were loving the bread and butter. To say that I slathered that butter on thick was an understatement. It was TO. DIE. FOR.
Later on our host for the evening came over for a chat and asked what our favourite dish had been so far. Old Cadbury ‘one glass of wine goes straight to my head’ me couldn’t for the life of me remember any of the dishes that had come out off the top of my head other than the bread and butter. I think he was a little taken a-back that that’s what I came up with but he did bring us another serve since we liked it so much. High fives all around!
Earlier I said that although MS and I don’t normally eat adventurous things like duck tongue and lambs hearts but we try to go with the flow at a place like VDM. MS was doing surprisingly well, that was until the duck yolk came out. He just has a thing about runny yolk and not even dining at VDM was going to make him eat it. I however thought the velvety duck yolk was absolutely delicious especially paired with the pear and truffle that it was served alongside. The egg was cooked sous vide at 64 degrees resulting in a rich, creamy and delightful egg yolk. Wow it was just so damn decadent that I ate MS’ as well. Yes I may have to change my name to fatvixen soon.
And yet there was more! (In no particular order – not that I could remember anyway).
The desserts followed not long after our parade of meals. First up was the Chocolate Souffle. Now I don’t know about you but I tend to get disappointed with souffles. They look so damn delicious and then you stick your spoon in and it’s mostly air. I’m a lover of dense and moist desserts but the souffle was sweet and decadent, nonetheless.
Our final dish for the evening was a selection of petit fours… (I forgot to take a photo of the Eucalyptus Ice Cream)
Lastly our host asked us if we would like anything else, to which MS replied that he would love some tea. Uh oh. Big mistake. The tea sommelier ensued with his book of teas from around the world. I think the cheapest tea in the book was AU$33, and that was for only one person. After receiving the rundown of all the teas that were available and where they had come from – some so damn expensive you would think they were grown in a hydroponic setup on Mars! MS was ever so forthcoming when he asked if he could just have ‘normal’ English Breakfast tea. The tea guy did his very best to hide his disgust but I saw it flit across his face ever so gently. In the end we got some whizz bang flash tea that was a little higher in price than we expected but still very reasonable compared to what was on offer.
When we finished up there was an awkward period of not knowing if all the meals were finished or still coming and how we actually paid the bill and left. Do you just raise your hand and click your fingers in a fancy restaurant or is that only in the movies? In the end we figured it out and upon leaving we were given a foodie gift bag filled with tasty sweets as well as all the ingredients for an impromptu Vue De Monde breakfast ‘for the morning after’. Inside the bag was cookies, tea, a freshly baked loaf of brioche, honey, muesli and a book of restaurants around the world. The cookies were gone before we even made it back to our apartment – MS didn’t want his so I ate them both (oops fatvixen strikes again). It was a lovely surprise to receive upon leaving and certainly not something I expected. It really topped off what was a fantastic and memorable evening for both MS and I.
In conclusion (my long drawn out one): I thought that the food was exemplary at Vue De Monde but it didn’t blow my mind. We tried some things but that we would never have eaten had we not have been at a very fancy restaurant. Still, the beef tongue, lambs hearts and duck tongues were actually kind of tasty. Hmmm, ok well you can have the duck tongues, the texture was just too weird for me.
The only drawback(s) from our fantastic dinner at Vue De Monde was, for both MS and I, the wine guy and the tea guy. Although we only saw the tea guy once, right at the end of our meal, unlike the wine guy who came to our table fairly regularly, they both made us feel uneasy. Maybe it was because I felt that the wine guy was (secretly) hell-bent on trying to sell us a $200 glass of wine and that made me feel pretty uncomfortable and almost obligated to buy expensive alcohol. It’s hard for me to convey in this post – without sounding like a complete twit or even worse ‘stingy’ – why I think that spending $200 on a glass of wine is unreasonable especially considering how much dinner had cost us.
Anyhow it was the experience of a once in a lifetime meal with the love of my life that really made it for me, as cliché as that sounds. It certainly wasn’t to sample the extensive wine list that was so carefully chosen by Vue De Monde’s team of sommelier’s over many months. And then again I don’t want to take away from the exemplary job that both the tea and wine sommelier were doing but I guess wine and tea isn’t really something that I have learnt to appreciate – certainly no where near as much as food anyway. Again I think I sound like an idiot attempting to explain myself and my amateur review but I guess that’s just it. I’m an amateur blogger that does restaurant reviews in her spare time as a hobby. My regular posts consist of things like ‘where does one find the best fish and chips in Cairns?’ and where I think the best Som Tum is. I don’t review restaurants like Vue De Monde on a regular basis but it’s nice to get all fancy and posh once in a while whilst taking in the views of the Melbourne skyline from the 55th floor of the Rialto and gushing about just how amazing their bread and butter is.
PS: And just for the record, the next day MS and I went to Nando’s for lunch.
PPS: The total bill at Vue De Monde for anyone that would like to know came to $579… That was for 2 degustations, a glass of wine and 2 ciders.
Vue De Monde
Level 55 Rialto 525 Collins St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Ph: (03) 9691 3888
Gelato places seem to be all the rage these days but one that’s causing quite a stir in Melbourne for it’s quirky spin on the common ice cream scoop is N2 Extreme Gelato. MS and I weren’t actually planning on going to N2 Extreme Gelato. We were driving down Brunswick Street in Fitzroy when I spotted a large queue of people out of a shop door and recognising the name (N2 Extreme Gelato) I demanded MS pull over – pretty please pull over? – so we (I) could see what all the rage was about.
So just what IS all the fuss about I hear you ask? Well, at N2 they freeze their gelato on the spot with liquid nitrogen before they serve it to you. Here’s an excerpt that I pulled straight from the N2 page explaining why they use liquid nitrogen to make their gelato… “The use of liquid nitrogen at N2 Extreme Gelato plays on the strength of a phenomenon called nucleation-dominated ice crystallisation, it forms a large number of microscopic ice crystals in seconds, resulting in exceptionally smooth textures”. It’s pretty much recreating the fresh flavour that ice cream has when it comes fresh off the churn. Interesting huh? After doing a bit of online research it seems N2 also has a shop in Sydney (the original one) and there are a couple of similar concepts popping up around Australia – such as the one in Noosa that fellow blogger Baking Myself Happy told me about, Nitrogenie.
Anyway, after seeing the lineup and considering we were still ridiculously full from brunch MS and I decided sharing our scoop of N2 Gelato was the best bet. We chose one of the flavours off the wall… the Ferrero Reveal – Hazlenut and Nutella Gelato, Rice Bubble Milk Choc Top and a Warm Milk Chocolate Ganache (the menu changes weekly). It’s cash only – typical of many places in Melbourne – and at between $6 and $8 a pop these guys are making an absolute mint. The system was pretty disorganised and erratic with names being taken from a sea of people wanting gelato within a sea of people waiting for theirs.
I went up to the side of the counter to take some photos and have a look-sie at what goes on with the whole gelato ‘making’ process. There was a hell of a lot of Kitchen Aid type mixing appliance with plenty of cold mist rising out of them and workers completely run off their feet trying to pump out individual ‘made to order’ scoops. It was all pretty theatrical I guess and cool to see – kind of reminded me of the whole ‘double bubble toil and trouble’ thing from Macbeth or at least the one that SS, HT and I did for our grade 10 English assignment with Miss Bagnall.
20 minutes later my name was called… “Foodvixen?” Haha just kidding. MS and I shared our melting mess of gelato and rice bubbles with it’s novelty idea of a syringe full of ganache that I guess you are supposed to inject into it. That just didn’t work for me – the idea of the syringe I mean. Here’s an idea… You leave the syringe out of my gelato and we will make it $6 all up? Sweet.
Personally I didn’t think the gelato at N2 was anything to write home about and neither did MS. I also think that the whole liquid nitrogen thing is just a fad that will fade with time, just like frozen yogurt (something I still go crazy for). Firstly, at N2 there’s the waiting over 20 minutes in a shop that’s shoulder to shoulder with people each waiting for their own gelato to be ‘made’. I know the ‘show’ is all part of the experience but a five minute show is enough for me. Secondly, well, the true gelato lovers are probably going to hate me for saying this but it’s just ice cream with a higher price tag (AU$8????!!! You’re frigin kidding me right?). And thirdly, the stuff is near damn completely melted by the time you get your hands on it. I know the whole liquid nitrogen thing is part of the freezing process but they need to freeze that sh*t for longer man.
Yeah the flavours are wacky, they use full cream milk and fresh cream from local dairies, real fruit and herbs and the list goes on but surely that’s a prerequisite for any good gelato place these days? Cool concept, shitty waiting times and for me I think they aren’t really making particularly great gelato but just jazzing it up with some dry ice and plastic syringes. If you want amazing gelato without all the BS – apart from the lineup – then head a few blocks over to Gelato Messina on Smith Street – hands down the gelato shop of all gelato shops (IMO).
N2 Extreme Gelato
329 Brunswick St, Fitzroy VIC 3065
Opening Hours: 1pm- 11pm 7 days
Yeah I am really dragging this whole Melbourne thing out I know. Especially considering that MS and I went to Melbourne in December! But, the memories of the fantastic food we ate are still as raw as ever which is why we are heading back again this month. Day 3 in Melbourne wasn’t a particularly big food day for the two of us although it was MS’ birthday. We ended up at a bakery out near the motorbike raceway out at Broadford getting pies for breakfast since we were on the road early.
MS had shouted himself a Champion’s Race Day for his birthday which included a full day of racing around a track on a motorbike and yeah some other guy stuff. I wasn’t particularly interested but I did have to drop him out there and drive all the way back into the city to catch up with a friend for lunch. EG told me that I could choose anywhere for lunch – something I had already planned on doing anyways – so after a legs workout at some random community gym in Footscray that I found on Google maps and then a quick stopover at a random clothing alterations place to get a dress taken up (I couldn’t look any less than smoking hot for MS’ at his birthday day dinner) we headed to the much hyped and hip burger joint Huxtaburger on Smith Street.
I’m not sure if I had heard about it in one of the foodie magazines that I read (Delicious, Gourmet Traveller and Feast) or whilst trawling through Melbourne cafes and restaurants on Urbanspoon (or all of the above) but it seems that everyone in Melbourne has been going crazy (especially those crazy vegetarians) for Huxtaburger. And yeah I might be a little slow on the uptake (any Melbourne foodie reading this is probably like “der that was so 12 months ago”) but this was MY first experience at Huxtaburger.
At first I was like “How good can a burger really be?” I was reading reviews from people saying things as simple as “best burgers in Melbourne” to the more profound reviews like it was “life changing” or “an out of body experience”. Sh*t yeah these burgers must be good! I must admit I still hold fond memories of the ‘Macca Burger’ at the JCU Refectory that my study buddies and I used to mung out on during my uni days as a Science student.
Upon entering Huxtaburger with my friend I had a strong feeling that the JCU’s signature burger that tied me over between my Statistics lecture and my second year Zoology lecture was not going to rate too highly on the ‘best burger in Melbourne’ scale. My friend and I went to the flagship store on Smith Street but there is also one in the city and one in Prahran.
I had heard stories about people queuing down the street for their own Huxtaburger and I was expecting no less for our lunchtime burger experience so you can imagine my surprise when we walked straight in and straight to the counter to order. The small list of only 6 burgers sounded bloody good especially the Denise (original Huxtaburger with jalapeno and Sriracha mayo) but I figured I should go with the original, that way I had a baseline to work with. EG and I took up a couple of seats in a little cramped area of tables and chairs out the front on the footpath and waited for our burgers.
Within about 10 minutes out two Huxtaburgers had arrived, each served on a small silver platter. Each looked like the perfect burger – almost like a cartoon burger. I’m not going to go into a big speel about how good these burgers were/are because frankly, Melbourne reviewers have already blogged the sh*t out of Huxtaburger and I don’t really need to add my two cents into the mix but for my Cairns readers… These burgers are the bees knees. From the juicy beef patty to the soft but toasted and slightly sweet brioche bun. Like I said, I didn’t understand how good a burger could really be… Until I went to Huxtaburger, and then I understood. RIP Macca Burger. I was going to have to bring MS back for his own Huxtaburger before we left Melbourne.
The next couple of hours involved catchups and flatwhites followed by me dropping my friend back to her place in Footscray, picking up my altered and smoking hot dinner dress and then driving an hour to pick MS up in Broadford. By the time I arrived at the track I was so damn hungry that I think I ate my weights worth in Arnott’s Family Assorted sweet biscuits next to the tea and instant coffee which were there for the race day goers. Although my Huxtaburger was out of this world tasty it was a little on the small side (put it this way, I could have easily eaten two).
Fast forward a couple of hours and MS had a great time and we were on our way in a taxi to Lygon St for MS’ birthday dinner – just the two of us. There really isn’t too much to say about where we went for dinner nor is it worth mentioning (just another Lygon Street Italian restaurant) but the highlight of the evening for us was spotting Chestbrah walking along Lygon St – looking like a total douche in a black skivvy, black pedal pushers and white sneakers. MS wanted to get a photo with him purely as a piss take but then he didn’t want to give Chestbrah the satisfaction. (For those of you who don’t know who Chestbrah is, google him. He’s basically a Melbourne pretty boy/body building personality that takes lots of photos of himself with no shirt on at music festivals – I follow him on Instagram for a laugh and I’m still unsure if he takes himself seriously or not).
So after our dinner and 3/4 of a bottle of wine for me (MS had the other 1/4) – I stopped after that otherwise MS would have had to carry me home. Not something he wanted to do on his birthday! There was a club in the city that I had heard about a few years ago that I wanted to check out – only because it sounded cool. We found The Croft Institute hidden down an alley way in Chinatown and paid something like AU$20 entry – why the hell didn’t pull the birthday card?! The Croft Institute is 3 storeys – the ground floor resembled an old school science lab with shelves of odd shaped glassware, beakers and other Chemistry looking things that you’d think I could remember with all the Chemistry I did at uni.
The lighting was pretty dim in inside but not quite dim enough to see that it was a bit of a sausage fest in there (aka not many women) so we headed upstairs for a bathroom stop on the 1st floor. The bathrooms (well I can’t speak for the men’s room) were probably the coolest part of the place. The was even a hospital bed in there.
The whole atmosphere was pretty spooky and kind of like an old asylum – reminded me of that movie Gothika with Halle Berry.
Upstairs from there was another bar with a DJ playing… I can’t remember much from up there, only that it wasn’t as cool as the two previous floors and that everyone seemed to be completely off their head.
We went back down to the ground floor and ordered a couple of drinks. After watching the first season of Ray Donovan whilst out at sea I had become obsessed with tasting Cognac because that’s all they seem to drink on that show and they make it look so damn tasty. MS had tried to warn me that I wouldn’t like it but I am pretty stubborn like that so you can imagine my delight when I saw Cognac on the menu at The Croft Institute. We ordered a Cognac on the rocks and a Tequila and Orange Juice which came served with a syringe. Another quirky feature of this crazy hidden club.
So it turns out that Cognac wasn’t everything I imagined it to be. In fact it tasted pretty sh*thouse really. How the hell do they drink that crap so easily on TV?! Wasting nearly $15 on a glass of Cognac that we barely had two sips of out was soon forgotten when we found a $50 note on the floor next to some unsuspecting hipsters. It was a cool club and fun place to visit but not somewhere that I (we) would want to spend any longer than the 30 or so minutes that we did. MS and I finished off the night with a Cadbury Marvellous chocolate bar from the 7/11, a stroll back to the apartment and then me becoming good friends with the toilet bowl. White wine + cognac + tequila + chocolate = me being sick. That and I’m a lightweight on the turps. Oops. Happy Birthday baby!
106 Smith St, Collingwood VIC 3066
Rear 357 Collins St, Melbourne VIC 3000
208 High St, Prahran VIC 3181
Check out the website for the different opening hours: www.huxtaburger.com.au
The Croft Institute
21 Croft Alley, Melbourne VIC 3000
Ph: (03) 9671 4399
Opening Hours: Mon – Thurs 5pm – 1am, Sat & Sun 5pm – 3am
A couple of weeks ago I was on a roll with my posts, putting up 2 in 2 weeks (a hell of a lot better than I have managed to achieve in the last 6 months) but alas it was to be short lived for my Toshiba Ultrabook had other plans and decided to shit itself for the third time in a year and a half. Yes, I have had to replace the hard drive on three separate occasions in this time period (it’s still under warranty) and apparently it has to die one more time before they (JB Hifi’s Extended Warranty Service) will replace it. Fml. But how ridiculous is that?! 4 frigin times?!!!! So I apologise but without a laptop I’m pretty much useless as my handwriting has never been the same since it died a slow and painful death in my uni lecture days. What’s that you say? Get a Mac? No thanks. I’ll be damned if I ever get a Mac. PC for life! Moving on.
So, finally… Day Two of our adventures in Melbourne were meticulously planned by moi. It was MS’ 30th birthday the following day and I had a few things in store for the birthday boy. Firstly after doing some reading on Urbanspoon for the best places to head for breakfast we headed to Manchester Press. Initially I really wanted to go to the Hardware Societe but they were closed down over that period due to significant fire damage from the tenancy next door (they are unfortunately still closed). Never-the-less Manchester Press was supposed to be good too.
Manchester Press is another one of those places hidden down the laneway that Melbourne is renowned for. The only reason that you really even know there is something down there is because you see a random person holding a takeaway coffee cup emerge from what you thought was a deserted laneway. We found it no problem thanks to an amazing thing called ‘the internet’. Inside was a large warehouse type café bustling with early morning breakfast goers and the clinking of plates and coffee cups in the kitchen. We sat down at a communal table – something that seems all the rage in Melbourne and something I wish was more the rage in Cairns while the waitress brought us some water and menus.
As I said I had already researched Manchester Press so I knew what kind of food we were in for but MS was most disappointed when he realised that the menu was pretty much made up of bagels. No giant sized man breakfast or pancakes with bacon, much to his dismay. I pretended that I had no idea that that’s all they served but secretly I knew full well because I came here for the Bagel with thick sliced pastrami, sliced tomato, sauerkraut, swiss cheese and thousand island dressing (pretty much a Reuben for all those MVF lovers out there). Guess the cats out of the bag now, well maybe not since MS never reads my posts anyway… Ahem.
MS who had decided on the BLAT (Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado, Tomato) topped with Cranberry and Chilli Plum Relish got his back up even more about only having bagels for breakfast when he asked the waitress if he could add an egg and her response was ‘I’m sorry, no’. Apparently you can’t make any changes to the bagels at Manchester Press. All good. Our coffee’s arrived and they were excellent – although I’m no coffee connoisseur. Manchester Press is one of those cafés vying for the best coffee in Melbourne but then again I’m pretty sure every café in Melbourne has the best coffee. The only drawback to the coffee at MP is I am pretty sure they only had take away coffee cups, no mugs. I could be wrong though. Not long after our coffees arrived had our bagels arrived.
My bagel was crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. The sauerkraut, thousand island dressing, pastrami and swiss cheese are easily a combo made in heaven. It was a good bagel, and an even better choice on my behalf, although it still didn’t live up to my ‘fresh bagels in Manhattan for breakfast experience’ a few years ago. I don’t think anything other than the real thing will ever top that but this ‘Australian version’ would more than suffice in the meantime.
MS’ BLAT had a generous serving of avocado and bacon on it and he soon forgot his hang-ups about not having a ‘man-sized’ breakfast and the lack of egg. He later said that it was nice not being ridiculously full after breakfast for once. Lucky for him because we still had lots of eating to do.
After breakfast we headed off towards Elizabeth Street with MS having no idea where we were going. Soon enough we miraculously ended up at a strip of motorbike shops that MS decided he wanted to go and have a look inside. No, that was not part of my plan at all. He soon realised that was exactly where I was taking him and he spent the rest of the morning choosing a motorbike helmet and gloves as my early birthday present to him.
Three hours later we were still in there and lucky for me there was a chair for me to sit on and Instagram my little heart away – at least for the first hour and a half anyway. Then I started to get impatient and in the end I gave MS a time limit or I would be walking out without him (Hey! It wasn’t his birthday yet). Shopping with MS is extremely painful – you should see him try to choose a pair of runners at Rebel Sport! FFS… We finally left and headed to the next stop on our food journey – the one place that I had so eagerly awaited/anticipated/salivated ever since I read about it in The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar’s blog – Wonderbao.
It was a little hard to find but we found it tucked away at the end of an alley way. On Urbanspoon someone said to look for the green milk crates. Yeah well we found those and then still had no bloody idea where the hell it was. We looked down the alley way and all we saw was some scaffolding and builders. Then, low and behold, we saw someone scurry out of a doorway down the end with a takeaway coffee cup. Bingo! Inside it was like what my dreams are made of – bamboo steamers stacked high with baos! We ordered two Braised Pork Belly Gua Bao with Pickled Mustard Coriander and Crushed Peanuts (AU$4.20 each), two Roast Pork Belly Gua Bao with Cucumber, Pickled Carrots, Daikon and Hoisin Sauce (also AU$4.20 each) and a hot homemade organic soya milk (AU$3) to wash it all down.
Wonderbao is only a very small place with a limited number of seats (about 6) and there was already about 3 people sitting down. We politely asked some people to move along so we could sit down as well and waited patiently for our bao’s to arrive. When they did, it was everything I had been dreaming about. MS really had no idea what he was in for but lets just say he was more than pleasantly surprised with was placed in front him. One of my favourite things to eat in the whole world (although I don’t eat them nearly as much as I would like) is Steamed Pork Buns but Wonderbao took it to a whole new ‘cloud-like’ level. The photo below still makes me drool.
MS’ personal favourite was the Roast Pork Belly with Cucumber and Pickled Carrots and after polishing off both of them he complained that he ate ‘the best one first’. I honestly couldn’t choose a favourite – they were both absolutely out-of-this-world delicious.
The bao’s were a decent serving and good value for only AU$4.20 each and to be honest I don’t think I could have eaten any more than two. The fatty pork belly makes them extremely rich but that might just be me. I breathed a sigh of relief in knowing that the place I had lusted/drooled after for the last two years (and that we had been searching for the last 40 minutes) was as good – if not better – than I imagined it to be.
So on we went with plans to head to Chadstone for some shopping a little later in the afternoon but before that we had to fit in some Xiao Long Bao from Shanghai Street Dumpling – another place that I had heard so much about. The owners are originally from Shanghai and after spending some of October in Shanghai I have developed quite a penchant for these little soup filled dumplings of goodness but most of all I wanted MS to try them. Yes, I know it sounds like we were being massive fatties but that was in fact our plan for Melbourne. Instead of getting shitfaced for the weekend to celebrate our birthdays we were going to eat instead. Oh golly and eating we were! We lined up outside Shanghai Street Dumpling – the tiny restaurant was already packed to the brim.
I ordered some takeaway Xiao Long Bao (about AU$10 for 8) and we sat out the front of the MYER centre on the steps and watched a busker playing some electro beats (hey I’m no DJ but that sounds close enough). MS thought it was one of the coolest things he had ever seen – “Why don’t people do cool shit like this in Cairns?” he asked. Meh. I was more interested in the dumplings. MS thought they were good but nothing to rave about, I on the other hand was more than impressed. They were pretty much as good as the ones I had been having in Shanghai every morning – when I say pretty much, well they weren’t ‘as good’ because we weren’t in Shanghai of course. Food is all about the experience!
We made the drive out to Chadstone and realised that despite how I remembered it – the last time I went there was in 2004 – it was just another big shopping centre. We stopped in at Coles in the elusive search for one of Heston’s Hidden Orange Christmas Puddings but alas seems Australia had pretty much sold out of them weeks ago. WTF Coles? Why advertise this shit when you are just going to run out anyway? I refused to buy one off e-bay because that seems to be where they all went. I’m coming for you Hidden Orange! Until next Christmas! BTW Baking Myself Happy you never gave me a rundown of your Hidden Orange experience? Worth it?
On the way home – even though it was a little too early for dinner we figured that we had a pretty big day ahead of us the following day with it officially being MS’ 30th birthday and he was going to do a motorcycle track day all day. We headed to a place that had been recommended to me by a friend who shared my passion for Man Vs Food and was with me when I watched all 3 seasons of it back to back in November. Apparently Big Boy BBQ was ‘the go’ providing Melbourne’s first dedicated ‘low and slow’ cooked meat experience. There was a couple of them in Melbourne we figured that the one in Caulfield South was the closest to where we were – Chadstone. So off to Big Boy BBQ we headed arriving there at about 5.30 in the afternoon – before the rush so it seemed and on reflection, way too early for dinner.
Another claim to fame for Big Boy BBQ is that they aim to give you the best ribs in Melbourne. That was a big call. Not that I had eaten any ribs in Melbourne but I do consider myself a rib connoisseur as you may remember. If anyone was to be a good judge, it was this little vixen. After reading over the menu multiple times MS and I decided on the ‘Little Boy’ for AU$49 which includes Pulled Lamb Shoulder, Saucy Beef Brisket, 1/2 rack of lamb ribs (we changed them to pork ribs) and two regular sides (we ordered crunchy chips and smoked beef chilli with brisket burnt end and beans) as well as a Pipsqueak Cider for me and a Root Beer for MS (yuck I hate sarsaparilla).
The motto of the folks at Big Boy BBQ is ‘slow food… fast’ and that’s exactly what it was. No sooner had MS and I had sat down, had a couple of sips of our drinks and tasted the array of sauces supplied at our booth than our ‘Little Boy’ platter had arrived. At first we just sat back and admired it in all it’s entirety – trust me it was way bigger than it looks below.
It was something that I had could only have imagined during my morning long marathons of Man Vs Food. I was wishing that we had something like this in Cairns – actually no, maybe not. It may result in me putting on more than a couple of kg’s. Enough about my preconceived notions of BBB it was time to dig in.
The wings – they were bigger than expected, yummy none-the less but not really anything to write home about. The smoked chilli beef – yeah it just tasted like ground beef to me with some beans in it. The ribs were great but were they the best in Melbourne? Yeah, no. Not at all. My favourite part was actually probably the fries – they went down a treat with the BBQ sauce on the table and I also really enjoyed the pulled lamb shoulder.
We barely got halfway through it before MS and I threw up the white flag. Amateurs you reckon? Not at all, I can guarantee that I could eat you under the table but not when it comes to rich fatty meat. That kind of thing fills me right up to pussy’s bow (that’s a dad saying) before too long. I do feel that a lot of the food – because we arrived so early in the evening was actually leftovers from the day before. Some of the meat did have a sort of reheated texture and I think it would have tasted 10 x better if it was fresh. Having said that the food at BBB was good enough for me to consider re-visiting the place next time MS and I are in Melbourne. Maybe best to go about 7.30pm after the initial post work/takeaway crowd has been through.
So there you are, that’s Day 2 of our foodie adventures in Melbourne where we really did eat ourselves stupid. After that we went back to our apartment and lay on our backs, groaning with our food baby’s for the rest of the evening. Ah Melbourne so much food so little time..
8 Rankin Lane, Melbourne VIC
Opening Hours: Mon – Fri 7am – 5pm, Sat & Sun 9am – 5pm
Melbourne City – Literature Lane (off Little Latrobe Street) – Cash only
Opening Hours: Mon – Fri 8am – 6pm, Sat 11am – 4pm, Closed on Sunday
Shanghai Street Dumpling
342 Little Bourke St, Melbourne VIC
Opening Hours: Mon – Sat 11.30am – 8.30pm
Big Boy BBQ
764 Glenhuntly Rd, Caulfield South, VIC
Opening Hours: Sun – Wed 12pm – 8pm, Thurs – Sat 12pm – 9pm
Shop 2, 27 – 31 Hardware Lane, Melbourne, VIC
Opening Hours: Sun – Wed 12pm – 9pm, Thurs – Sat 12pm – 10pm
Yes, you heard me. That’s what I’ve titled this post and I am sticking with it because it’s the most accurate description of what MS and I did when we went to Melbourne for 5 days during December. As the story goes… Our birthdays are only two days apart and for the last two birthdays (2011 and 2012) that we have been together we have done the “let’s get retarded and drink shots with our friends and random strangers” thing so this year we decided to do something different. I was at out at sea and MS emailed me asking if I wanted to go to Melbourne and eat instead of organise the pool party that we had originally planned, which involved lots of drinking no doubt. I was like ‘does a bear sh*t in the woods’? Hell yeah I would rather do that! He knows me so well and before I knew it our flights were booked for our little eating vacation to Melbourne.
Now as some of you may know and as I have hinted in previous posts, I haven’t exactly been able to eat a whole lot of the food that I wanted this year. Most of my diet has been somewhat restricted and whilst I am still watching what I eat now, let’s just say I wasn’t going to be watching anything other than my pants get tighter down in Melbourne. We had originally planned a trip to Melbourne in November but then had to cancel it because I got called to go to sea. In the lead up to that I had researched my little butt off of all the places I wanted to go – and yes the majority were cafe’s, restaurants and ice cream shops – for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and dessert.
So we took off on our adventure flying down with Tiger Airways (first time I had ever flown with them) even after all the bad stuff we had heard. I must say our experience with them was nothing like many others – the airfares were cheap and it was on time. No complaints from me, except for the cabin crew’s hideous uniforms. Who designed those monstrosities?! We rented a car and drove to a studio apartment that we rented just off Flinders Street on a website called Airbnb. That website is absolute gold. In fact I doubt I will ever use wotif again. Our lovely host Linton met us, gave us the rundown and left us to our own devices. Here is a link for the place that we stayed – such a great little spot. If you are heading down to Melbourne and need somewhere to stay I can’t recommend this place enough! It’s in the perfect location to explore Melbourne! Just as long as it’s free when we go to stay there next ok?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, enough about my life story hey. Just get to the food you say! Since we got in a little late in the afternoon we pretty much hung around in our room for a bit *wink wink* and then went straight out for dinner. For our first dinner out in Melbourne I had chosen the Newmarket Hotel on the outskirts of St Kilda. We both planned to have a couple of drinks so we left the car behind and caught a tram there. Turns out neither of us are good at figuring out public transport (I never had this much trouble in China!) and after much f*cking around we finally got on a tram which took us about 20 minutes to go only 6 km and then we had to walk 800m with MS complaining about his shoes. I was the one in heels FFS.
As we walked towards the Newmarket Hotel I thought ‘jeez what kind of a sh*thole is this?’ From the outside it was a very unassuming brick building that didn’t look very speccy. On the inside it was super modern restaurant/bar that was packed to the rafters with people having drinks and/or dinner. Lucky for the both of us I had called up and made a booking a couple of days prior so we had a couple of drinks whilst waiting for our table. The lovely female waitress that led us to our table for two was a gem and looked after us from the get go. At our table we ordered a pitcher of ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico’ – Blanco Tequila, Ginger Liqueur, Raspberry Puree, Lemon, Sugar and Ginger Beer for AU$38 and for our food we ordered the ‘So Cal Spread’ for AU$55 per person because the Californian/Mexican menu was so bloody good that we just couldn’t choose. And a bit of everything we did.
Our pitcher of tequila arrived and it was just what the doctor ordered but the best part about it was that they had rimmed the glass (is that what you call it?) with sugar, kind of like jelly crystals. It was a nice surprise from the usual salty rim and had MS and I declaring that we were definitely going to do it next time we had tequila cocktails at home (yeah that’s never). The Newmarket Hotel was da (the) bomb!
First up was the Soft Shell Crab Tacos, Guacamole, Shaved Fennel, Spicy Corn and Tomatillo Salsa. What an awesome start to the meal! These were super flavoursome – so much so that my non seafood loving boyfriend forgot that he was eating soft shell crab. Something he would normally never eat. He gobbled it up and so did I.
Our second course on the ‘So Cal Spread’ was the BBQ corn on the cob with chilli and queso freso. Again, MS doesn’t particularly like corn. In fact I have never seen him eat it. I am starting to see a trend here because like me he loved the corn. It was probably the best damn corn I have ever tasted. The queso freso was like a creamy cheesy sauce over the top and holy crap it was good! MS ate the lot once again.
We didn’t wait long for our next two dishes arrived – Wood BBQ chorizo with pears, violet artichokes and seasonal pickles and . My word, each dish was better than the last so far! This was outstanding and probably my second best dish of the night, after dessert of course, but MS declared it his favourite. Who would have thought to pair pears with chorizo? What a magnificent ‘pearing’! I would love to get the recipe to recreate this one at a BBQ of my own.
The second dish was a selection of more soft tacos – one of them with prawns and the other I could have sworn the waitress said scallop but I can’t see anything resembling a scallop on their online menu. Let’s just say there were excellent, albeit a little spicy for MS. The prawn ones were definitely my favourite with fragrant herbs and jicama slaw.
That was our entree’s done – sheesh how was I gonna fit the mains and dessert in? I was gonna give it my best shot that’s for sure. I ordered a glass of wine since our pitcher had run out and our two mains arrived. In the middle the waitress placed the Newmarket Wood Roasted Chicken – Organic Milawa chook with smoked bacon, sweet corn, spring vegetables and buttermilk and the XL St Louis style pork ribs, Newmarket Hotel’s BBQ sauce and apple slaw.
Okay, okay, I lied when I said that the dessert was my favourite and then the chorizo second. Let’s just put the dessert in a whole category by itself because this stuff is savoury and that is sweet. The Wood Roasted Chicken was my favourite dish. It was so creamy and so so so tender and… oh wow. I had some of the pork ribs, which were delicious btw, but this chicken in buttermilk was the business. I ate every last piece of corn in that dish and even considered gnawing the chicken off the bone but looked around at the Newmarket crowd which included lots of men wearing cardigans around their neck and figured that I probably shouldn’t. Dammit.
By that point we were pretty much stuffed but I was really looking forward to that dessert. It was Valrhona single origin chocolate cazuela with pears, salted caramel and vanilla ice cream. What’s the hell is that you ask? Well think of it as like a big fudgey, chocolatey, caramely brownie baked in a clay pot with pears. It. Was. Heaven. And again, here I go, one of the best desserts I have ever tasted. Okay so it may have been the cocktail, the pitcher of tequila and the wine talking by that stage but considering the amount of food we had I think that overtook the alcohol I had consumed. It was super chocolately and fudgy and went oh so well with the sweet pears.
After that would you believe that MS wanted another dessert. The waitress said that was no problem and after some umming and ahhing whilst viewing the menu to choose which one we wanted – I wanted the Peruvian quinoa pudding with cinnamon, pineapple and coconut (everything tastes better with cinnamon in it) but MS claimed that he didn’t like quinoa (FFS!) and in the end he let the waitress steer him towards the Tres leche cake with drunken fruits and rhubard. He won’t eat quinoa but he will eat rhubarb?!!! So I forgot to get a photo of this one and neither of us particularly liked it. I thought it tasted like 3 pieces of white bread sandwiched together drenched in some sort of sweet milk. We’ve been jipped! On doing a little bit of research while writing this post it just so happens that ‘tres leche cake’ means ‘three milks bread’. Who would have thought?! It was ok but it had nothing on the amazing dessert that we had just eaten before it.
So there you go… that was our first dinner out on our food tour of Melbourne and it was a hit for both of us. I gave myself a secret pat on the back for finding it as MS still thinks that was one of the best meals that we had whilst in Melbourne. I think the best part is definitely in ordering the ‘So Cal Spread’ and not knowing what is coming out next. Food excitement is the best kind of excitement! Stay tuned for my next ‘Eating ourselves stupid in Melbourne post’….
A friend of mine recommended Betty Blue and The Lemon Tart for breakfast while in Townsville over the weekend and I have to say ‘holy crap what an awesome place!’ The table surfaces were blackboards and each table had a selection of coloured chalk to keep you amused while you waited for your breakfast.
The menu was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G! I really wanted to order the Waffles with Ice Cream, Chocolate Sauce and Lollies but I restrained myself and had the Corn, Cheddar and Spring Onion Fritters with Soy Soaked Bacon, Avocado, Capsicum Jam and Sour Cream for AU$21. The prices are a little steep (maybe that’s normal for Townsville) but it was totally worth it. I wish we had somewhere like this in Cairns – now I just have to justify the 350 odd km drive back to Townsville for those bloody waffles!
Betty Blue and The Lemon Tart
Unit 8 No.95 Denham St, Townsville Qld 4810
Ph: (07) 4724 2554
It was a cold night in Bris-Vegas and I had a craving for sour cream and guacamole. My friend MD, that I was staying with in Newmarket, claimed there was a great little Mexican joint just down the road from her place. And so it was decided, we were to go to Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant. Getting a table there was a different story, particularly since it was a Saturday night and we only called up to make a booking that afternoon. The earliest that we could get into Pepe’s was 8pm that night. Although I was starving, as were the rest of the group we were going with (most of us had just competed in the Spartan Race earlier that day), we figured we had no other ideas for dinner so 8pm would have to do. At about 7.15pm that night MD got a phone call from one of the Pepe’s staff saying that our table was ready. We got organised and headed down arriving at about 7.45pm.
We went in and asked for our table but it turned out that there was some sort of mix up and our table wasn’t ready after all. Anyway during the slight kerfuffle whereby MD and her two housemates sorted shit out at the bar I took the time to look over the large range of ‘Hot Sauce’ in the cabinet near the counter as well as numerous bottles of Tequila. I have no idea which ones were the good ones or not but I do know from my high school days that Coyote Tequila is probably the cheapest and nastiest. Heads up for my readers: do not be irresponsible and go to the Cairns Show after having a shot competition with your friends. (Disclaimer: despite my misgivings as a teenager and my inappropriate use of tequila I think I turned out pretty good so don’t judge me too harshly. Like most people my age I did go through the typical teenage binge drinking stage not that I condone it). These days if I do ever shot tequila, something that only happens very rarely, I tend to go for the Patron Coffee Liquer Tequila. Premium stuff that won’t strip your teeth of their enamel and it actually tastes gooooooood.
So anyway about 5 minutes later the staff organised our table (I have no idea what the problem was because I never asked) and we took a seat. The restaurant was super busy and what I thought was just a tiny little restaurant from the outside turned out to be far bigger than I had originally perceived. The restaurant seated probably about 120 people, but that guess is probably way off. The waitress handed out our menus and my friend MD and her housemate SB decided that they wanted to have a shot of tequila. After having a look over tequila menu and having no idea which one to order they asked the waitress for a shot around the AU$10 mark (Patron was too expensive) and off she went. About 10 minutes later another staff member returned with their tequila shots as well as a small ‘dish’ each of some sort of Mexican tomato sauce and a slice of lime. He gave them a quick rundown of the process and off he went again. The deal was they were to shot the tequila, shot the tomato sauce (it was kind of like a chaser) and then suck on the lime. Shot glasses clinked, cheers were made and shots were downed. Both MD and SB agreed that it was unique but pleasant way to have a shot of tequila.
Over in my corner I was having a bit of a tussle with myself over just what to order from the menu. MD had told me that Pepe’s also had really yummy breakfasts and after reading over the breakfast menu I had my heart set on the El Rancheros Grande but unfortunately it was a breakfast dish and only available at breakfast of course (sometimes I just feel like breakfast food for dinner). Again I made a mental note to return to Pepe’s for breakfast, granted the dinner was a hit. The table had already agreed to order an entree of Jalapeno Poppers – Jalapenos crumbed, stuffed with cream cheese and served with delicious jalapeno jelly AU$14.90 to share around. Down the end MD ordered the Burrito – Flour tortilla filled with chicken, beef, beans or chilli con carne then baked and topped with chilli sauce lettuce and cheese, served with rice or beans $16.50 while across from me SB and MD shared the Double Enchilada – Corn tortilla filled with cheese, your choice of beans, chicken or beef then baked with a rich tomato based enchilada style chilli sauce (a different style of chilli normally served with burritos) served with rice and beans for AU$22. And next to me TM ordered the Taquitos – Two corn tortillas rolled up with beef or chicken, fried and topped with chilli sauce, lettuce and cheese, served with Mexican rice for AU$14.50.
For me it was a bit touch and go between the Pulled Pork Tamales – Slow Cooked BBQ pulled pork and corn polenta, steamed in banana leaf parcels, served with Chilli Con Carne and Mexican Salad for AU$24.50 and the Chimichanga – Flour tortilla filled with cheese, your choice of beans, beef or chicken, deep fried and topped with chilli sauce, lettuce and cheese, served with rice or beans for AU$16.50. In the end MD’s boyfriend PS and I simply couldn’t go past the deep fried goodness of the Chimichanga.
We didn’t have to wait long after ordering until our Jalapeno Poppers arrived. There was six each so we would have gotten one each but there was a couple of sooks at the table that couldn’t handle the chilli so I ended up getting 1.5 Jalapeno Poppers. Winning! They must have only been pulled out of the deep fryer literally 30 seconds before being whacked onto a plate and delivered to our table because they were almost too hot to enjoy. You know like when you’re eating a tinned spaghetti jaffle (the best kind) and you want to eat it fast because it tastes good but instead you end up nearly burning your taste buds off? Yeah well that’s what these Poppers were like. They were yummy and spicy but they still had nothing on those good old Chilli Releno’s from El Mundo in Edge Hill. Ah the memories. The Jalapeno Jelly however was delicious and sweet and also helped soothe the temperature of the Jalapeno’s.
Before we ordered I asked the waitress how long Pepe’s had been open for to which she replied that she didn’t know and she would find out. Guess she forgot because she never came back and told me the answer. It’s not that I really care, I just like to test the staff’s knowledge on certain things. Taking home a takeaway menu for blog research I did find that Pepe’s was established in 1972 and is actually Brisbane’s first Mexican restaurant. I found it a little odd that the waitress actually had no idea. Maybe she’s wasn’t from Brisbane or something. Another 10 minutes later and our mains had arrived looking delectably cheesy.
MD said that she usually ordered the Burrito and although she kept saying how good it was she struggled to finish it off. Must have been all that tequila in her belly. SB and MD made a light meal of their enormous Double Enchiladas that they shared but they were more than satisfied in the end. TM raved about her Taquito’s and I actually thought they were really good value for AU$14.50 although probably a little bit too small for my liking. PS must have enjoyed his Chimichanga because he demolished the whole thing and then eyed off MD’s leftover Burrito.
I ordered the Beef Chimichanga because with the amount of chicken that I have been eating lately I’ll be happy if the only breasts I ever see again are my own. I certainly won’t order it by choice that’s for sure. I also ordered some extra guacamole (sml AU$2.50) and some extra sour cream (sml AU$1.50). My Chimichanga looked like a big fat deep fried pillow that made me weak at the knees with delight (lucky I was already sitting down). When I cut it open I was happy to find that the beef wasn’t mince like I was expecting but it was actually shredded. The beef mixed with the cheese inside and the crunchy tortilla on the outside was like heaven to my deprived taste buds – I knew I had made the right choice in ordering the Chimichanga in all it’s deep fried glory. And with the fresh guacamole and sour cream on the side it ticked all my boxes.
The atmosphere at Pepe’s was loud and colourful – as you would expect for a Mexican restaurant. I was really impressed with the range of hot sauces and was super excited to find a Tabasco Brand Buffalo Hot Sauce that I had never seen before. I am a bit of a Tabasco Sauce nut with my Tabasco sauce t-shirt and boxer shorts that MS has now claimed as his own. It was a bit steep at AU$12 a bottle but I guess you can expect that since the rest of the Tabasco sauce range certainly isn’t cheap anymore. The food at Pepe’s was also pretty good and by pretty good I mean it wasn’t fantastic. I don’t think that you can ever say that Mexican food is particularly outstanding because really it’s all much the same – cheese and tomato. Having said that I have had some terrible Mexican food in Cairns before and Pepe’s definitely ranks as some of the better Mexican restaurants I’ve been to. My Chimichanga hit the spot and the empty plates of my fellow diners was a pretty good sign that the food went down a treat. They might not have Stand and Stuff Taco’s on the menu at Pepe’s but they do stock one of the largest ranges of Mexican beer and Tequila in Australia. Arriba!
Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant
184 Enoggera Rd, Newmarket QLD
Ph: 3856 0966
Opening Hours: Mon 4pm – 10pm, Tues – Sun 11am – 10pm, Breakfast Sat & Sun 6.30am – 12pm
I have been back on dry land for just under a week now but haven’t had a chance to put up a post until now. MS and I flew down to Sydney the day after I got back from sea for my cousins wedding on the Central Coast. I think I mentioned in my previous post that we have both started a meal plan with me looking towards a particular, but as yet unmentioned, goal come September and basically MS just wanting to be bigger and leaner. That does have certain implications for me and eating out unfortunately since we can only have one ‘cheat’ meal a week, a far cry from the three meals a day that we used to do. But after over 5 weeks eating ‘clean’ we decided to go all out and eat whatever the hell we wanted for the 4 days that we were there. We had buffet breakfasts with all the trimmings, fish and chips, pizza, wedding cake, a plethora of canapes, waffles from the Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe, Panna Cotta from the Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe and even Hot Chocolate from the Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe. But what trip to Sydney isn’t complete without a stopover to China Town?
I had spotted BBQ King a couple of years ago when I was in Sydney for work. A crew mate took my crew and I to some pub across the road that apparently had the best Laksa she had ever eaten. Stubborn old me didn’t order the Laksa since I was a little skeptical ordering it at a pub but hey it looked good. Laksa just wouldn’t do and I longed for the ducks and large bits of pork crackling hanging in the window across the road at BBQ King. Not long after that I read about it on a Perth food blog that was my inspiration to start foodvixen in the first place. The Food Pornographer and her many photos of Suckling Pig and Roast Duck had me at ‘hello’ so I vowed that next time I went to Sydney I would go to BBQ King. So with MS in tow we made our way down to Haymarket from our hotel on Pitt Street.
I must admit both MS and I have developed a bit of a penchant for Roast Pork and Duck of late but the only place that we can really go to satisfy it in Cairns is Cafe China on Spence Street or the one at the Casino (for a quick feed anyway). Cafe China on Spence Street is really nothing special, the food is pretty ordinary and I also question the hygiene of the place but we continue to go back there for some reason. I guess because it’s cheap and you can pretty much always rely on it to be open. We arrived to a half full restaurant at about 6.30pm and were ushered to a table by one of the many Chinese wait staff. The restaurant is very dated with yellow stained walls, drapes and old framed Chinese ‘artworks’ but it works and I actually felt like I was in one of those old school Kung-Fu movies with the really bad dubbing. Going to a flash, new Chinese Restaurant just wouldn’t feel right to me. Cheesy decor and yellow fluorescent lighting is all part of the experience surely. In the corner was a large Chinese family tucking into a banquet, some Police that were by all accounts still on duty next to them, a couple of seedy guys that looked like they were doing some Underbelly type business deals and then a couple seated next to us. MS and I overheard a little bit of their conversation… Not because we were listening but more because they were so damn close we couldn’t really help it. The crux of the conversation came to a head when the woman asked the man if he was only interested in her to live in Australia or he actually liked her for being her. Awkward.
The waiter fetched us a pot of Chinese tea and some little cups as well as a couple of menus to look over. The menu was extensive with lots of soup, rice dishes, various types of meat and even Marinated Pork Uteri. Err, maybe next time? MS and I drooled over the Whole Suckling Pig for $480 but you had to give 24 hours notice. Dammit. One day I will have loads of money to spend on Whole Suckling Pigs (notice the plural there) but until that day we stuck to the more reasonably priced part of the menu. MS was considering ordering soup for an entrée but I convinced him that if we were at a place called BBQ King then soup just wouldn’t cut it, even if it was only for the entrée. In the end we (I) chose Peking Duck for the entrée for AU$14, since MS had never had Peking Duck before and I often wondered how I could ever live without it after tasting it for the first time in Beijing about 8 years ago. Well it is the National Dish of China (thanks Wikipedia). For mains we decided we would share a couple of dishes and after much sulking from me because MS didn’t want to the order the Roast Duck because it ‘has too many bones in it’, we chose the Barbeque Pork and the Lemon Chicken (both AU$22.80), much to my dismay. But ‘apparently’ I always have to get my way so I was attempting to be a little less pushy and more open to other suggestions, even if that ultimately meant I didn’t get everything what I wanted i.e. Roast Duck.
We waited about 5 minutes until our entrée of Peking Duck arrived. On top of each of our steamed pancakes was a big, juicy piece of duck breast with crispy golden skin. The waiter placed a small bundle of shallots on top of the duck held together by a ring of fresh chilli, drizzled the sweet sauce over the top and placed each of the plates down in front of us. I nearly fell off my chair I was so excited and after a couple of happy snaps we both dug in. The fattiness of the duck, the crunchiness of the shallots, the sweet taste of the sauce and the oh so soft pancake, was just, oh god, it was amazing! I really think that it was one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth. Food wise anyway. Ha. I was expecting gratitude, amazement, surprise or at least a bit of excitement on MS’ face but all he said was ‘that wasn’t that great’ and ‘it just tasted like sauce’. Way to ruin the moment. Had we just eaten the same thing?!
Onto the mains… It didn’t take long till our table was adorned with plates of Barbeque Pork and Lemon Chicken. We dug into the Barbeque Pork first and I have to say that it was absolutely delicious and easily won the accolade of Best Barbeque Pork I have ever had. The most recent one that I can remember was at Taste of China on Abbott Street where the tough pork was drizzled in a thick molasses type sauce that completely overpowered the entire dish whereas at BBQ King the pork did the talking and not the sauce. The light and sweet sauce soaked into the ridiculously tender pieces of pork made my tastebuds do a little dance with every mouthful. In the end, although it was fantastic, we couldn’t finish it all due to the large serving size.
The Lemon Chicken was also delicious! The bite sized pieces of Chicken were lightly battered and deep-fried till they were just crispy and lightly smothered in a lovely tangy Lemon Sauce. Not too tangy though. Too many times I have been disappointed with crappy Lemon Chicken where the sauce just doesn’t taste right or the chicken is way too battered. This was in fact the second best Lemon Chicken I have ever had with the best being Kin Wah on Florence Street of course! Still it was a pretty good Lemon Chicken to come close to that one I reckon! By the end of it we were both pretty full and MS questioned why I was filling up on rice when there was all this other yummy food on the table. Well, because the best part of eating Chinese (in my opinion) is soaking up all the sauce in your steaming hot bowl of rice.
Well that was it. My anticipated trip to BBQ King in Sydney was over. But was it everything I thought it would be? Hell yeah! The service was swift, to the point and a little sterile, as you would expect at a Chinese Restaurant. On paying at the counter the owner (I think he was the owner) was more than happy to have a chat with us warning us to keep a lookout for counterfeit $50 bills that were getting around and even imitating what a crayfish looks like when it eats a prawn. Don’t ask. As mentioned the decor was a little dated and I was expecting Jackie Chan to jump out at any second but the food was fantastic and I will most certainly be returning on my next trip to Sydney. The place is hugely popular with Sydney-siders and has been for over 30 years and for good reason. I really wish we had a BBQ King in Cairns but then again maybe it wouldn’t be such a great thing because I honestly don’t think MS or myself would be able to stay away from the place, especially considering it’s open till 2am. We would be Platinum Members in no time and that meal plan would be out the window before you could say ‘Whole Suckling Pig(s)’.
18 Goulburn Street, Haymarket NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 9267 2586
Opening Hours: 7 days 11.30am – 2am
JUST A LITTLE RANT: I have been following the food trends down south via the Qantas Magazine, Delicious Magazine, Gourmet Traveller Magazine and a witty Melbourne food blog I discovered about six months ago called The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar. By all accounts from these four sources it seems that there are quite a few food trends that Cairns is missing out on. Well, lets see there is the hotdog one, the Mexican one (no I don’t mean Montezuma’s and Cactus Jack’s) and now the Dim Sum one? I don’t now what food trend Cairns is stuck on but I am pretty sure we are still stuck back at the Macaron or the Cupcake somewhere. I recently read about a place in Melbourne called Wonderbao that has people queued out the door for these things called ‘Baos’, which I am pretty sure are the same thing as a Steamed Pork Bun. Since reading about Wonderbao and it’s wonderous ‘Baos’ I have made it my life’s mission to go to Melbourne and eat a Roasted Pork Belly Bao. I don’t just want one, I need it. Apparently this Bao trend is not only a Melbourne thing as I recently found during a work trip to Brisbane.
Upon researching just where and what to eat in the city of Brisbane I stumbled across a review of a place not too far from where I was staying in the city called Steamed. After reading up on it a little more I was overjoyed to see that Steamed not only had Bao’s but it also had dumplings on the menu. A combination? Well roll me in dim sims and call me Mrs Chang! So the next day after knocking off early (who am I kidding we knock off early every day) I hurried my little feet down to Turbot Street and found myself at Steamed. It was a sparse but busy little place with office workers strolling in and out carrying armfuls of dumplings and Bao’s no doubt to take back to the office. There was even a woman sitting off to the side making fresh dumplings with a large ‘vat’ of mixture and a stereo, not just any old woman, she worked there.
On the menu they had three different flavours of dumplings to choose from and Pork Cloud, aka Bao, aka Steamed Pork Bun. Whatever it was, I wanted it! I had been for a run that morning and I deserved it (at least that is what my friend TW would say as she shovels a cupcake into her mouth). I chose a sample of the three types of dumplings and a Pork Cloud for around the $10 mark and took my seat at the bench to devour my freshly steamed delights. A man sat down across from me and started talking to me about my dumplings and my Cloud. I shot him a ‘You are ruining my oriental experience here goddammit’ look and politely told him that I wasn’t from Brisbane. I think he got the picture. Since when were Brisbane-ites so damn friendly anyway. I figured none of them since not one person had said good morning to me on my run (damn rude city people) and I nearly got hit by a bike rider – I swear that guy came out of nowhere! Sheesh.
Anyway back to my dumplings and Cloud. The dumplings flavours were: the Harbin Pork with Chives, ground Pork and diced Ginger; the Lovabull with Red Onion, Ginger, ground Beef and spices; and the Zen with Shitake Mushrooms, Chinese Cabbage and seasoned Tofu. I have to say that I didn’t particularly like the Lovabull flavour. The Red Onion just tasted nasty and I think that I make better dumplings at home. I did however really like the vegetarian one with the Tofu in it. It was super yummy and I kinda wished that I had more of those ones instead of the other two flavours. I wasn’t too impressed.
My Cloud however was fluffy and delicious. It didn’t have Roasted Pork Belly in it like I had been dreaming about but a rather tasty mixture of Pork, Ginger and Shallots. It was good but still didn’t satisfying my yearning for Wonderbao. At least I had come just that little bit closer. Yeah I know, I know we have Golden Boat where they have those Yum Cha trolley’s they drag around and you get to choose what want off of it. They have Steamed Pork Buns there I know but it’s the novelty of having a whole shop dedicated to steamed goodies with meat in them! Oh god!
In my Foot Falcon searches of Brisbane City and the Valley for the perfect cute dress I spied many a bustling Mexican eatery, two in particular Mad Mex and Guzman Y Gomez. I was already well aware of the Mexican food fad that had swept through Melbourne. (MS if you are reading this, please take me to Mamasita one day… I’ll be your best friend?) Apparently it’s sweeping through Brisbane now and while getting my hair done at Toni and Guy the entire salon gushed about how amazing Mexican chain eatery Guzman Y Gomez was and how they ate there nearly every day. I thought to myself ‘Holy sh*t I need to get to this damn Mexican place and fast!’ But alas, I already had a stomach full of dumplings and Cloud, no matter how far I had run that morning I did not deserve to eat Mexican as well as a Cloud. The girls claimed that the place is queued out the door most days and it has taken the city by storm. I was most upset that I wasn’t going to get to try one of these amazing burritos before I flew back to Cairns the next day since I already had dinner plans and I wasn’t eating a burrito for breakfast. And again, I know, I know we already have Mexican eateries in town, the likes of which I mentioned earlier but um ‘Hello’? Do you see anyone queuing out the door to go to these places? Never. I am really surprised that Montezuma’s is even still open because there is never anyone there. So if I am hearing about people regularly queuing out the doors to get their hands on a Quesadilla and hairdressers gushing about this so called gourmet Mexican food at Guzman Y Gomez then it must be good right? To tell you truth I think I was more upset that I didn’t get to see just what all the fuss was about rather than not getting to try a burrito. Now I have also made eating at one of these Mexican eateries my other mission in life. Yep, I’m certainly driven to succeed.
I have to admit it I love a good food trend and I guess I probably enjoy the novelty of it more than anything else but what upsets me is the fact that all these food trends happen everywhere but Cairns? Any why does it take us so damn long to catch up? I mean I know Townsville is still back in the stone age, they only just got a Myer for Pete’s sake so at least that makes me feel a little better but if they get a Mad Mex or a Guzman Y Gomez before we do then I am gonna lose my sh*t. For real yo. Do I really have to fly all the way down to Melbourne or wait for my next work trip to a capital city just to enjoy some decent Mexican food or visit an eatery made up entirely of dumplings and clouds? I am waiting with baited breath hoping that one day, just one day they might make their way up to little old Cairns and I can have my Bao and eat it too.
95 Turbot St, Brisbane QLD
Ph: 0432 933 423
Opening Hours: Mon – Fri 10.30am – 3pm