A night of seafood

It was a at-least-one-bottle-of-wine kind of Friday, and the best part, it was so for my friends too. We plonked ourselves into a booth at Merchant, demanded a bottle of Pinot Noir and started a long overdue bitch about work and boys. The waiter, realising quickly that we were a bunch of suits celebrating our end-of-week liberation from our desk chains, ensured we received prompt service.

I can’t remember when Merchant became one of my favourite restaurants. It could have been when I discovered their delicious cookies (my favourite is their pistachio yo-yo cookie with chocolate sandwiched in between) and their perfectly al dente risottos that flirt with being a touch undercooked, or when I realised it never turns the hungry away (it it is one of the rare restaurants in the city that serves amazing food which doesn’t require advanced booking or waiting) or it could be because I’ve spent many a hang-out (be it coffee, lunch or dinner) there with my dear office pod peeps (we call ourselves AKBA). Actually who am I kidding, of course it is the last that tugs my sentimental heart and stomach back to that warm, bare bricked restaurant. The spatchcock, scotch fillet and fried potatoes are all time favourites of AKBA. Indeed, Merchant has taught me many things including the knock-your-socks-off strength of Italian coffee, the depth of friendship, love and some would say most importantly, that salumi is not a cross between haloumi cheese and salami.
For this particular Friday night, we ordered a dozen fresh oysters, a board of 4 types of salumi and the stewed octopus (also an AKBA favourite, this is a bowl of tender, melt in your mouth stewed octopus italian mama style – fresh af and with fresh tomatoes and capers).
We soon got to that time of the night (which most of us know all too well) when a decision had to be made about whether we wanted to venture and try to find greener pastures, or remain lounging and be rewarded with the within-reach second bottle of red (instant gratification is hard to resist).
We were brave that night, and armed with a designated driver, we headed on a night time adventure to… the Claypot Evening Star at the South Melbourne Market (mind you I only found out the establishment’s name weeks later when…I was more ….clear minded).
Don’t judge the Claypot Evening Star by its name. It is a casual, European gypsy back alley haven, with metal fold out chairs and wooden communal tables, live string music, and…seafood to die for. We couldn’t resist ordering another dozen oysters, which were fresh and plump and creamy and chilled to perfection. The chilli mussels served with char-grilled bread was steamed and swimming in a chilli sauce which I can only describe as spicy, tangy and silky and the best union between a crab bisque and spicy prawn oil. We also ordered the grilled octopus skewers, which was a little too chewy for my liking.
And the main event, a mixing bowl size of the Evening Star Classic Marinara Bianca. This is hands down the best Marinara Bianca I’ve ever had, including all the Marinaras I’ve tried in Italy. The pasta is somewhere between spagetti and angel hair pasta – the perfect thickness. The pasta under normal conditions I would have described as over cooked, but the mouth feel and ease of give with each bite complimented the delicate, pure seafood essence of the marinara bianca sauce (which I imagine would simply be a good white wine, garlic, parsley and the freshest of seafood). As full as I was, it was sliding down my trap with no resistance or guilt – the kind of clean eating that is just utter bliss.
It was truly a night filled laughter and wine and friendship and amazing seafood – till next time!

Hipster American

A close friend managed to lure me out on a week night for dinner. When she mentioned Fancy Hanks, I immediately replied yes! Fancy Hanks has been on my to-try list for almost a year, but you won’t believe how hard it is to find someone willing to go non-fast food American! Also my attempts to lure my drinking buddies to the rooftop bar at Fancy Hanks had been unsuccessful to date – not surprising since winter has been brutal this year. 

I showed up a touch late to find my friend perched on one of Fancy Hank’s high tables – quite a sight since the high tables stand tall on a raised part of the 1st floor and also because my friend is not at all vertically challenged (unlike me). I scrambled up as elegantly as I could onto the high stool and soaked in being able to turn my nose up at a few people (a rare experience). 

Considerate that I am not the biggest meat eater, my friend suggested that we order one main meat and a bunch of sides. I proclaimed I would be content with a buttermilk biscuit like the food network watcher that I am. I sipped on my golden IPA as we discussed whether biscuits are more scone or more cake. 

Probably sensing the hunger emanating from my dear friend worn down by the litigious antics of the day, service was quick and before we knew it we saw our dinner being skillfully slid across the table towards our greedy eyes.

Verdict: I can confirm biscuits are more scone like. Savoury and delicious in simplicity. I wouldn’t be surprise if biscuits were almost be a religion in the South. The fried cauliflower with ranch dressing and hot sauce was below average: the batter was a little thick, but I must admit the ranch dressing uplifting yet rich in flavour. The baked mac ‘n’ cheese was topped with a mound of cheetos dust, breaking away from tradition. It would have been better with a bit more mustard bite and…how I can say… gruyere. The boston styled baked beans with sour cream was a pleasant side, but hands down the earthest pooh bear tummy rubbing baked beans that I’ve tried to date is still the batch made by my fellow diner. Finally, the main event, the pulled pork shoulder was quite enjoyable. Tender, falling off the bone. 

Summary: The serving sizes were a bit small, but conducive if you want to taste variety. Great atmosphere, a chill, spacious diner/bar perfect for a casual yet intimate week night dinner. Worth one visit but no more. 


All I want for winter is (kimchi) soup

I had been asking Fran for months to have dinner with me at Warra Warra and she finally agreed this Friday after some guilt tripping. I first tried Warra Warra when my older sister was in town and our family friend recommended it for being an affordable, reliable Korean place in the city. It reappeared on my radar when a few colleagues of mine suggested it as a semi-late spot to satisfy our post-drinking hunger. 

It was the middle of winter (when post-drinking hunger can be at its height) and the only available table that could accommodate 8 mildly drunk people was Warra Warra’s weird half-in-half-out table. As the name suggests, the table is half indoors, half outdoors, separated literally by windows (which are raised during opening hours). Chivalry proved to be very much alive as the men took the seats on the out and the women (plus one bloke) took the seats on the in on the opposite side of the table. Stepping back, it didn’t look too dissimilar to a speed dating event, the men and women all paired up, sitting across the table and gazing at each other through the window of opportunity. But of course, if you looked a bit closer, you would have seen a few drunk idiots attempting to shotgun beers and failing miserably.  

And the rest is history. The subsequent times at Warra Warra were equally heartwarming, filled with memories of laughing and drinking and honest food. I might be biased and a little nostalgic (a beer goggle situation but because of the heart) but regardless, here’s my review: 

Warra Warra, a low key Korean joint in the heart of Melbourne CBD, has an extensive menu, complete with all the usual suspects. 

To date I’ve tried (in order of preference): 

– kimchi soup: the best kimchi tofu soup I’ve had outside Korea! (though I could be biased as it was bitterly cold the night I tried it which could have made it especially yummylicious)

– cheese chilli chicken: we ordered the mild version. It was wonderfully caramelised and sweet and rich and cheeeesy, served on a sizzling hot plate! We stuffed our faces and really suffered that night (but it was worth it!)

– the fried chicken: we ordered the original and sweet chilli – both decent

– Crispy rice seafood stew: This was the first time that I’ve seen this Korean dish on the menu. Fran was the adventurous one that night. The crispy rice became silky soft in the bubbling seafood stew, an interesting texture that has you going back for more. The soup was too thick and starchy for my liking though.  

– the beef bibimbab: This was pretty standard, can’t really go too wrong with bibimbab.

– scallop with seafood spring onion pancake: Not bad, the seafood was pretty fresh, but by a long shot the best I’ve ever had was at Mook Ji Bar.

– pork belly barbeque: I’m usually adverse to pork belly, so I’m definitely not fit to judge. But always love how social Korean BBQ is. 

A nice little cosy place conveniently located off Swanston Street if you need a quick Korean fix that won’t break the bank. 


*All photos are not our own because I (Fran) was hangry and forgot to take them. Yea, I really dropped the ball on this one.

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Hoochie mama

I had convinced Fran to come into city for Friday night dinner – not an easy feat as she tends to be extra slothy on Fridays (Saturday and Sunday are my sloth nights) She gave me two options – Hochi Mama or Rice Paper Sister (apparently the new Rice Paper Scissors). Having previously been traumatised by the long waiting times at RPS (and expected no less at RPS2), I quickly went with option number 1.

A bit behind the eight ball, I heard about Hochi Mama only a few months ago. Like most people, when I first heard the name, I did think strip joint. Apart from the red neon lights, HM is of course far from that. 

The place was packed when we arrived but to my delight, we were seated within 15 minutes. The cute piggy thangs we are, we went with “Dinner for 2”, a $59 feast consisting of 2 smaller plates, 2 mains and 1 side. Determined not to go with the easy dishes (green curry/red curry/pad thai/massaman beef), we chose: 

– Pho-plings: Steamed beef and pork mince Saigon style dumpling served with a special pho broth


–  Hochi Chicken Banh Bao: Hochi Signature Fried Chicken served with spicy pickled cabbage, fermented chilli beans in a soft steamed bun.


– North meets South steamed Barramundi: Two serves, sweet and sour broth from Hanoi and sweet soy dressing from Saigon


– Hanoi style crispy beef ribs:  Twice cooked fall off the bone crispy fried beef ribs, served with a zesty spicy salad & aromatic soft herbs.


– Hanoi seafood spring rolls

The service was speedy: I was two sips into my glass of red when the food came rollin in. The dumplings were as expected, average/slightly over cooked, but the soup was surprisingly quite tasty and light (just the way pho should be). The chicken bao was the best dish of the night for me. The chicken, crispy, and the kimchi had the perfect tang to cut through all that deep fried richness. The seafood spring rolls – we weren’t sure whether we were accidentally served the vegetarian spring rolls – yes, they were that ambiguous. 

As for the mains, the sweet and sour Barramundi was so spicy I couldn’t bring myself to take a second bite (I also did not want to waste more wine to extinguish that fiery spiciness). To Fran’s credit, she did take one for the team and, choking through the burning, she did manage to finish it. The sweet soy better half was nice and salty and sweet and garlicky, but the sauce was gluggy like something out of a bottle. Anything twice cooked usually isn’t worth the time (exception – the thrice cooked potatoes at Mr and Mrs Anderson), and the beef ribs dish was no exception. They were very dry and tasteless. The salad was fresh and light, but the chilli padi (better known here as bird’s eye chilli) sprinkled through the dish made me guzzle the rest of my precious wine down.  

Summary: I would wait the 45 minutes to get into RPS. Wait scratch that, I’d just head to a half decent place with a less than 15 minute waiting time.