The bat is back

Arlechin had been in my sights for months ever since broadsheet wrote an article about Grossi’s new late night snack bar. For me, after a night of drinking, cheap dirty dumplings are most ideal and a bank breaking meal is least preferred. But I knew Arlechin had a place in my life, likely on an indulgent night following a few hours of nursing a bottle of red (or two).
It was a Tuesday evening when I finally tried Arlechin. I had been feeling festive and letting them purse strings carpe diem since Christmas seemed to be screaming towards me even though it was only the start of November (and no matter how light that coin bag already was).
I was apprehensive as my foodie colleague nudged me into a shady back alley. But it was short lived and we were immediately transported into Grossi’s luxurious, swanky, bat cave when we swung open Arlechin’s door. And Grossi did not let us down. The food was excellent, bar sized but substantial enough so that we could have variety and also fit a couple of drinks in. We ordered:
– the Prawn Sesame Paprika: These were deep fried battered prawns. It looked fresh and crunchy and all things good. My foodie friend had two out of the three!
– Jaffle Bolognese: This was the best Jaffle I’ve ever had. I haven’t had too many in my life time, but the crust was superior, the seal air tight and the tomato meat filling perfectly balanced. This was a particularly nostalgic experience for me as my dear mama used to make us toast topped with bolognese as a snack when we were kids (plus melted cheese if she was feeling particularly generous!). My dear mum’s bolognese is still one of the best bolognese’s I’ve ever had.
– Grilled Cos, whipped Ricotta and egg: The Cos was served as rustic halves. Oh so crunchy, fresh, with what seemed like a 2cm thick smear of whipped Ricotta topped with a poached egg.
– midnight Spaghetti: This spaghetti, so simple, but again, there is often serious deliciousness in simplicity. I can only imagine the tomatoes were slowly braised in top quality olive oil, garlic and a hint of acidity (it almost tastes like preserved olives) with a sprinkle of fresh italian herbs.
Would go back. Highly recommended for a low key mid week sneaky. Not sure what the crowd is like later in the week, but imagine it would be nice for a late night sneaky too (after all the late night crowd is their target audience!)

Kisume is not the boss of me

Kisume – there has been a lot of hype about this new restaurant, but I’m sorry to say you may be disappointed. OK, I am being a bit of a hater, but at least an honest one!

Kisume first came onto my radar when my manager (who is insistent he is not a foodie) asked me if I had tried it yet. The photos online looked really impressive, the restaurant decor looked classy and appealing and it looked like a place our older sister would really enjoy. Side bar: Unfortunately because Kisume does not take reservations other than for large groups, we weren’t able to take her there when she visited Melbourne recently.

I finally made it to Kisume one Tuesday night for a quick dinner with a couple of girlfriends to catch up and to celebrate one of my girlfriend’s recent engagement (how exciting!) We ordered:

  • Edamame, chargrilled, sea salt, shiso flower with garlic oil
  • Miso Lime Wagyu Beef tartare with shiso and quail egg
  • Assorted sashimi
  • Crab dumplings topped with quail egg
  • Miso salmon with pickled burdock root

The best dish was honestly the Edamame. It was salty and had that earthy charred taste. The wagyu beef was nice, but three spoonfuls and it was gone. The assorted sashimi was standard – not the freshest I’ve tried by a long shot. The crab dumplings were extremely overpriced (like $25 for 4 dumplings?!) and truly not a big deal on the palate. The quail egg yolk was showy and unnecessary. The miso salmon was very disappointing – the miso taste was non-existent, the salmon was dry and the burdock root didn’t add anything to the dish.

Perhaps we ordered the wrong dishes. But I left hungry, with a large hole in my pocket and very unsatisfied. Good ambiance. But I would not go back unless someone else in my trust circle makes a good case for Kisume…or unless someone else is paying.

It pains me to post mouthwatering photos of the food below. Indeed, we do eat with our eyes and our mouth. But don’t let the gorgeous photos fool you! I stand by my post above.

britt

My kind of French

French food not your thing? Not really mine either. When I think French food, I think rich food in exasperatingly small portions. I think of Croissants so flaky you loose half the pastry to flakes, soggy crepes, sickeningly rich cheese fondue, gamey duck confit, utterly inhumane foie gras and …certain rude Parisians I encountered in my adult life.

Yes I am exaggerating a little, but…not really. French food is definitely low on my type of cuisine list. But it was a Friday night and I had been dreaming of sipping on the wine/magaritas at Los Hermanos ever since my close friend suggested going there the day before. Unsurprisingly, it was a 50 minute wait. I know right! Isn’t there something inherently hypocritical about long waiting lines at hipster places like that?

Anyway, we weren’t prepared to wait 50 minutes and this hummingbird was looking for some honey suckle. My friend suggested the Small French Bar, a cute little French place tucked away in Footscray which she has always wanted to try and was guaranteed to serve a good red.

We arrived at about 815 and the place was still buzzin. We put on our best puppy dog look and asked if they had a table for two. To our relief, they sent us to the bar and said they would have a table cleared in a couple of minutes. The (not too shabby lookin) wait staff promptly served us a couple of glasses of grenache (well actually one and a half glasses since my friend was the designated driver) which really hit the spot and two sips in we were seated at the bar.

The bar in our opinion, was the best seat in the house! We had a good view of the quaint little casual dining area which was refreshingly not white-table-cloth-stuffy, and the open kitchen, which impressively didn’t consist of much other than a good oven, a very powerful blow torch (for the Creme Brulee) and a fantastically boisterous head chef (who is both full of life and full in figure).

We ordered the Charcuterie and Fromage (Mixte), a board of cured meats, cheese, duck liver pate, gerkins, crackers and warm bread on the side. Though not usually fans of duck liver pate, we both dipped into that earthy perfectly chilled, silky smooth pate like no tomorrow and the wait staff were right there to meet our bread bowl needs (i.e. refilling). Also, though not particularly a fan of cheese, I did really enjoy one of the hard cheeses, and my dear friend took care off the rest. The portions were very generous – good value for a Mixte board and I would highly recommend it.

Our mains slid across the bar counter just as we finished the Mixte board and when I had finished my first glass of red. I had ordered the Tartare (Raw beef, lemon juice, pickles, spices, raw egg yolk and salad) and my friend ordered the Fillet Roossignol (eye fillet, duck liver parfait, roasted potatoes, salad). The dishes looked like homey, no frills, country style French cooking – definitely food I could get on board with. I had watched the head chef lovingly prepare my steak tartare just minutes ago, skillfully chopping the meat up by hand and sprinkling a generous amount of pickle pieces over the dish. He really brought out the cannibal in me and as I broke the yolk, I thought to myself the dish couldn’t get any fresher, and it tasted so – Fresh, textured, with the right amount of spice and acidity. Definitely one of the best steak tartares I’ve had, including the ones I had in France. I looked over at my friend’s plate and it had been polished off, even the duck liver pate which she initially wanted my help with. Second glass down.

The Fondant Au Chocolat had been teasing my friend over the course of the night. From what we could tell, many had been ordered, served and enjoyed and despite how full we were, we weren’t about to miss out. We both let out simultaneous ‘Mmmmmm’s the first spoonful in and licked our spoons clean before going in for another bite. Not a typical molten cake (which has a delicate thin casing and a runny lava centre), the cake gave sufficient resistance but still gave a generous chocolate sauce. Not overly dark or sweet, just good quality chocolate done right. My only criticism would be that although I know it is well accepted technique to refrigerate the batter in the ramekins for a few hours before baking, the center of the chocolate cake was still a little cold when served to us.

We had barely broken into the Fondant Au Chocolat when the head chef, with a straight face (in true French humor) told us they had accidentally made one Creme Brulee too many and pleaded for us to help solve his predicament. We could have played along a bit better but we couldn’t put on a hesitant expression and hide our enthusiasm – it just looked too good! And it turned out to be one of the creamiest Creme Brulees I’ve ever had. Again, not too sweet and without even a hint of gelatin. Trust me, when my friend delves enthusiastically into a dessert, you know it’s good since she doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth.

We ended the night with me taking one for the team and finishing off the final piece of the puzzle (the last half glass of wine). We rolled all the way home in blissful contentment, ready for a great weekend ahead!

Would definitely go back. A must try if you like no frills country French food.

 

britt

Dogs and brunch

This is a tribute to amazing dog shelters around Victoria…to name a few:

…and about brunch.

Today is Sunday, the last day of the Grand Final long weekend and I put pen to paper (or rather fingers to keyboard) with the slight chance that a literary outlet lifts my spirits…

The long weekend started on Friday. Fran and I woke up early to visit The Lost Dogs’ Home in North Melbourne in hopes that we would find a furry friend to call our beloved. We had been dying to get a dog for the longest time. Fran finally blurted out on Wednesday that she was a hair away from getting a dog, and I immediately jumped on that bandwagon, ready for a new chapter in my life and for someone to shower with love. We arrived mid morning, with Fran eager eyed and me clutching my intertwined fingers and palms against my chest to contain my swelling affection and excitement. The staff there were gentle and knowledgeable and clearly took good care of the dogs, which made it bearable to see the canines enclosed in their cages. There were alot of ‘awwww’s and ‘what a cutie!!!’ but to our dismay most of the dogs were active dogs thus unsuitable for apartment living and those that were smaller or less active had anxiety issues. 

Afterwards, we found ourselves at Fandango, one of my brunch favourites. Mat ordered my Fandango favourite, the Curried Eggs which are fried eggs, Indian spiced chickpeas, brinjal pickle, minty yogurt labne and warm roti .The curried eggs were as good as I remember, the ultimate comfort brunch dish. Fran convinced me to order one of the specials, the Raspberry and Ricotta Croissant French Toast with ice cream. The dish was delicious with interesting textures and wasn’t overwhelmingly rich either. Re-engerised by the food fuel, we discussed next steps. We would visit Lort Smith as well as RSPCA the next day. 

On Grand Final day (Saturday) we drove past Tigerland (go Tigers!) and stopped in Malvern for a quick bite at St James Cafe (a place on Fran’s must-try list). It was pretty sleepy, I imagine because most were planted eagerly in front of their telly. Although the cafe seemed worlds apart from the roars of the Tiger fans, if you listened closely you could hear the cafe patrons talking about the match that was set to start in a few hours, and the cafe even had a Grand Final dish, the tiger pancakes which were stripped peanut butter and chocolate pancakes! Fran ordered the Soba Noodle Salad with asian slaw and a spicy hoisin sauce. The noodles were a little over cooked, but the sauce accompanied the poached chicken and vegetables well – a refreshing and filling dish. I couldn’t resist ordering the Chilli Scrambled Eggs which were served with house cured ocean trout, sambal, crispy shallots, fresh coriander and lime. The scrambled eggs were perfectly creamy and runny, the cured ocean trout was silky soft. The sambal was the alpha dog of the dish – it was freshly pounded, knock-your-socks off spicy Sambal oelek (rather than Sambal Balachan). I desperately squeezed the fresh lime over the dish to neutralise the burn between mouthfuls (yes, my fork kept going back for more!)

A skip and a hop and a Chai Latte later, we arrived at RSPCA. What an institution! The building was so modern we felt like we were walking into a science centre. The pooches there also looked well looked after. The heelers, staffies and grey hounds were as gorgeous as the last. Two dogs, Tui, an 11 year old small Keplie cross, and a large, gentle eyed border collie called Magpie caught our eye. But Tui, despite her age, was still energetic with the Kelpie blood coursing through her veins, and Magpie required a backyard to stretch her majestic long legs. 

Lort Smith, a much smaller shelter, only had three dogs up for adoption, none of which would be suited for apartment living. In a quiet voice, I asked Fran whether we should go back to A Dogs’ Home to have another look. She agreed since we could make it there before they closed for the day. To our amazement and delight, most of the dogs (about three quarters) had been adopted!! Definitely a proud, proud Melbourne moment (dog lovers unite!). The two dogs we were interested in the day before however, were still in their cages, with longing and hopeful eyes. Piggle, a mini fox terrier cross, as excitable and cute as he was, would be a little too energetic for us to handle. I returned to Ziggy, the labrador cross that took my heart the moment I read about him right at the start of our search, was sitting quietly on his bed. He came to us when Fran called out his name, wagging his tail, and melted our heart with his beautiful soul and brown eyes. We stroked and patted his silky shiny blank coat, played paw and rubbed his belly. In that half an hour the world fell away and even the metal grill couldn’t stand in our way. We looked into each others eyes and I felt like Ziggy knew how much I already loved him. We discussed his anxiety issues again with the staff there, who worried he would not deal with an apartment building of dogs and encountering dogs at the park and on the street in our neighbourhood. Torn between selfishness (wanting to love Ziggy) and wanting to provide the best for Ziggy, we decided to sleep on the decision. 

Day light savings hit us the next day, and at noon, we awoke, realising it might be too late to visit Ziggy. The only thing that held me back from grabbing the car keys and rushing down to see Ziggy was Fran’s plea to give Ziggy a chance to find another family that might be a better fit for him. She insisted we persevere and visit the dog shelter in Glen Iris rather than pining after Ziggy. I reluctantly agreed. We headed to Glover’s Station for sustenance with Mat (the voice of reason) in tow. Mat concluded that Ziggy could be difficult and was a risk, but I exclaimed that there could be a big reward if Ziggy really takes to us – Against everything I learned from Caesar Millian (who consistently preaches that a strong, calm pack leader is required to calm an anxious dog), the romantic in me hoped that our love would be enough to moderate Ziggy’s anxiety and that my lack of pack leader characteristics would not cause Ziggy to regress.

As if the Gods felt our tortured hearts, we were seated next to the most well manner maltese ever. We stroke and patted the little bundle of fur, our love for dogs welling over and our motivation to find a four legged friend of our own refreshed slightly. Mat ordered The Benedict, a dish consisting of ham hock, poached eggs, pork scratching tomato and chorizo fondue and smoked paprika. In Mat’s words, one of the best eggs benedicts ever and it only cost 18 dollars. It was inhaled within a couple of minutes. Fran ordered the Poached Ocean Trout, picked fennel, avocado puree and poached egg. It was quite a deja vu moment as both Mat and Fran had ordered exactly the same dish the last time we were at Glovers Station (although it took Fran scrolling through her instagram photos to admit to this). I on the other hand ordered the French toast instead of the house baked beans (fyi it was above average, but the corn bread was definitely off). The French Toast was made with sourdough fruit bread, a unique choice of bread indeed instead of the usual french brioche, served with berry compote and vanilla yogurt. Unfortunately I am not a fan of sourdough fruit bread, but Mat and Fran happily polished off the rest of the dish while I eyed some of the lusciously bearded waiters. 

Mat split to go to work while we headed to Save the Dog. Save the Dog is located right next to the City of Stonnington’s waste transfer station (I had been to the waste station once before to help a particuar vegan and environmentalist friend recycle some of her items). Save the Dog felt alot more like a pound, but again, we were relieved to see the staff were loving and kind just like the staff at the other shelters we had visited that weekend. There were so many dogs that were looking for a home,and our hearts went out to them. We saw a couple of staffies, which we were told were high energy (no surprise). And a couple of other smaller dogs, but again we were told none suitable for apartment living. 

I sit here emotionally drained, yes. But we are not giving up. We are continuing our search online and with Ziggy still in our hearts. 

britt

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!
britt

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. 

britt

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. 

britt

*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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