Saturday, 8 September 2012

Red Spice Road - The Holden Plant of McKillop Street

After I cleansing Alpha Ale at the Boatbuilders Yard at South Wharf, I went to The Pub at Crown to watch the Collingwood/Hawthorn game. We all know that the Magpies are not so mighty after their performance and really that is all that needs to be said. I was looking forward to watching the delayed broadcast of the Manly/Bulldogs NRL fixture on Channel Nine at around midnight though. I got home just in time, hopped in bed, put it on and was pleased to see the Manly Sea Eagles get a try and then ultimately lead at half time. They were on fire. My phone chirped. A new text message. It was after midnight so I thought it must be a drunkard. It was a mate in Sydney making a comment about someone that we know but he ended the next saying "At least the Bulldogs won so it was a good night" and I was gutted. What a waste of time. I put the game on mute and decided to put the phone to good use and watch Janoskians videos where they cause an uproar in various fast food outlets and in Federation Square. After the disappointing night all around with the sport, I needed a good laugh as I wasn't getting a root, but anyway...

It has been a varied week with respect to dining. I have travelled around the world in a way, first discovering some awesome yet delicate Japanese flavours at Izakaya Den followed by a great chicken parma at The Exchange Hotel and later delicious jamon croquettes and prawn pizza at Henry and the Fox. What I really wanted was some SE Asian flavours and a full frontal attack of spice so I took the advice of a mate and went to Red Spice Road on McKillop Street for lunch.

The first thing I noticed after being greeted by the attractive and friendly hostess is that this place is not really set up for tables of two or four and that there are a number of very long tables. Not so much a hippy communal set-up like you would find at Wagamama or even the one that I experienced when dining at Hardware Societe but they appeared to be set up for large group dining. I don't know about you, but when I am invited, or when I am forced to attend corporate lunches and need to sit at a long table with sixteen or so other colleagues, I always end up being sat next to a dickhead or someone that wants to talk about rubbish for the entire time. I dread those types of functions. As I looked around the restaurant, many groups were dining today so I wondered what the menu would be like to make it convenient for both the large groups and the kitchen.

The courtyard area seemed to be the only place to accommodate tables of two or four so I ended up out there away from the hustle and bustle of the main restaurant and the mindless chatter of the lemmings. I am told that you can also get the full menu at the bar, so that is always an option should you wish to dine alone or want prompt service.

I immediately ordered a bottle of Vietnamese beer, Bia Ha Noi which arrived about ten minutes later along with some tap water. The beer and the glass were placed in front of me. I suppose I looked like an expert when it comes to pouring beer so I served myself. About a minute later, my first course of betel leaf with chicken, crab, coconut, chilli and kaffir lime was placed in front of me. A few smelt eggs were added for colour. I picked up the leaves like tacos and ingested them one at a time. A good way to start. The coconut was pronounced and I liked the match with the crab and chicken. I did not taste any chilli though.

The food menu was rather limited. This shocked me a bit as I expected more options. It also led me to believe that the few items that they had on offer were being mass produced for the larger groups as they promote a banquet of sorts. I ordered the pork belly and sadly when it arrived, my fear was realised.

I can not say that I did not like the pork belly, but it certainly appeared that not much care was taken in preparing it. It is served with apple slaw, chilli caramel and a black vinegar which you are responsible for pouring on the pork belly yourself. I found the pork belly to be cooked inconsistently and in order to eat it you only have a fork and a spoon available to tear it apart awkwardly, I found the dish disappointing and frustrating. Again, there was no taste of chilli. Some of the belly had a good texture but soft skin. Other parts had a dry and weird texture and crispy skin. It smelled nice though.

Service was a bit lazy. Even after the beer and water was consumed, there was never an offer for any sort of replacement. When the dishes were cleared, there were some food scraps and other waste on the table as a result from the diner being sloppy but it was never cleaned up as you sat around looking at the walls with no food, drink at a messy table until you ask for the bill.

My biggest question is what happened to the chilli.

After some very good dining experiences earlier in the week where I paid a fair amount less for more pleasing food and more alcohol in the end, I was a bit disappointed when the bill needed to be settled. The only thing on my mind was that I should have just remained in my comfort zone and returned to Izakaya Den or Henry and the Fox.

Red Spice Road, McKillop Streeet Melbourne
Red Spice Road
Link to review
27 McKillop Street  Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9603 1601
My Rating: 10.5/20
Service: 2.5/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 2.5/5
Value For Money: 2/5
Comment: Good for large groups

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

When I posted this review, 87% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon liked this place. Perhaps people are interested in the large portions however if the large portions are simply average, I do not consider it good value for money or anything worth blowing your horn over. This is certainly the Holden Plant of McKillop Street, a mass producer of food set to a formula.

Red Spice Road on Urbanspoon

Friday, 7 September 2012

Henry and the Fox - Happiness

Last night I drank my supply of XXXX Bitter at home since I was determined to have a relaxing night after a particularly big one with my learned friend the previous night at The Local Taphouse in St Kilda. I did manage to escape the warmth of the pub and catch the last train back to the CBD amazingly this time around as before when I closed the pub, it was rather difficult getting a cab in the area and the brisk weather sadly sobered me up a bit. Even my credit card felt at home behind the bar at this place and it is very easy to whittle away five hours sitting in a large chair in front of the fire coming up with ways to solve the problems of the world.

My scheduled lunch yesterday kept being pushed back by silly people ringing me, wanting things and general banter. At around 4:00 PM, I toddled down to Little Collins Street and took a high chair at a communal table at Henry and the Fox. They did not have a time limit on their menu, so I was looking forward to ordering food at this awkward time as I was absolutely famished.

Walking past the comfortable outside dining and smoking area, I thought it would be a great place to hang out when it warms up (again) and looking around the dining room, it reminded me a bit of Bistro Guillaume with the combination of lime green, white and natural wood finishes being used. There were office workers camped out at various tables with their IT, eating and drinking and looking happy. Before the server approached me, which was extremely quick I might add, I was able to inspect the facial expressions of every customer at this place and the staff and everyone just looked remarkably happy. It immediately put me in a better mood.

As my lunch excursion was delayed so long, I ended up turning up just as happy hour started at 4:00 PM, which lasts until 6:00 PM in their aptly called "Bar Aperitivo" so I was able to enjoy a few complementary canapés, along with bread, whilst I waited for my first order of jamon and manchego croquettes and a bottle of Asahi. The croquettes were freshly made and I needed to let them cool down for a few minutes before putting the tasty morsels down my throat. A great way to start my very late lunch.

Service was very friendly and attentive. My water glass was re-filled as quickly as I was drinking the beer and after my Asahi was completely depleted, I decided to order Samuel Adams Boston Lager, which I hadn't drank since I was at the Shady Pines in Sydney last.

In my previous blog post today, I went outside of my comfort zone a bit and ordered a Chicken Parmigiana at the Exchange Hotel and really enjoyed it. Following in the tradition of ordering things I normally don't bother with, I requested a Prawn, Sweetcorn, Red Onion and Coriander Pizza. The restaurant seems to be well known for their pizzas so I was very intrigued and still very hungry. I haven't ordered a pizza from anywhere for over a year.

What was presented to me was a work of art. I did not want eat it as it just looked beautiful and also smelled wonderful. The coriander had a good strong fresh smell, the tomatoes were still very juicy, the prawns were cooked perfectly and the pizza base itself was fantastic. The kitchen certainly knows what they are doing. As chef Michael Fox was the 2011 The Age Young Chef of the year, I expected magic and it was delivered. If you subsribe to my Twitter feed, you would have seen a photo of the pizza, but if not and you are interested, check it out here.

I spent two hours at this place relaxing, eating, drinking, observing and reading the news. There are many other things on the menu that I want to try so I look forward to returning. Sadly they are not open on weekends which is probably the only negative about this place but I suppose since I do not work on the weekends usually, I can't expect everyone else to.

Henry and the Fox, Little Collins Street Melbourne
Henry and the Fox
Link to review
525 Little Collins Street  Melbourne VIC 3000
(03)9614 3277
My Rating: 15/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5
Comment: Prawn pizza was amazing

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

When I posted this review, 85% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon agreed with me and like this place.

Henry and the Fox on Urbanspoon

The Exchange Hotel - Best Parma on the Southside

There was a fair amount of speculation the other day regarding where to find the best Parma on the Southside of Melbourne. I normally do not enjoy the mighty filthy piece of chicken in pubs, but not having enjoyed a decent one for a while, the banter made me curious so I walked to The Exchange Hotel on Bay Street in Port Melbourne to check out what was reported as being "the best" place south of the Yarra to purchase a Chicken Parmigiana.

I had never been in the Exchange Hotel before although I had walked past it multiple times. What I thought was a case of great timing was that the vendor that they use for chicken was double parked outside making a delivery.

Luckily, the Chicken Parma was on special as it was Wednesday so for $32, I was able to purchase it, two sides and a pint of beer. I took a seat at the high tables next to the fireplace, ATM machine, cigarette machine and near the televisions so I could be educated on the comings and goings of sport. I learned that we are indeed ranked #7 of 9 teams in international 20/20 cricket. Bangladesh is ahead of us in the rankings however we do have bragging rights that we are still ahead of the Irish.

The Parma was delivered about fifteen minutes after placing the order. It was huge. Dressed in ham, napoli sauce and cheese, it certainly complimented the Kosciuszko Pale Ale that I was drinking. The chicken was remarkably moist and cooked perfectly and matched with the coleslaw that I ordered as one of my two sides nicely. I opted for the "spicy" option and really did not taste any spice, but no matter because I really enjoyed this counter meal. Once again this blog and Twitter have encouraged me to go outside of my comfort zone and live life on the edge just a bit. If you subscribe to my Twitter feed, you would have seen a photo of the parma, but if you are interested in a picture, it can be found here.

Despite wanting to nap after gorging myself, I walked back to Southbank and braved the wind. Walking off lunch I thought was a good idea however that just led to dehydration and I ended up in the warm grasp of Merrywell for a pint of Carlton Draught.

The Exchange Hotel, Bay Street Port Melbourne
The Exchange Hotel
Link to review
39 Bay Street  Port Melbourne VIC 3207
(03) 9810 0058
My Rating: 12/20
Service: 1/5 (Bar service)
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 3.5/5
Value For Money: 4/5
Comment: Good value specials daily it seems

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

When I posted this review, 68% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon agreed with me and like this place. I am surprised that the figure is so low.

Exchange Hotel on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Izakaya Den - Seeker Lover Keeper

Yesterday was the best day for weather since I moved to Melbourne in April. At lunchtime I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the city without a jacket, taking in the sight of happy people enjoying takeaway food in the various green spaces, Federation Square and dining in laneways. Ladies were queued up for free things in the tent for Fashion Week on Swanson Street whilst the coppers patrolled the fence line making sure the unions did not disrupt happy activities at the Myer Grocon site. With the great weather, it seems a bit of an anti-climax that I ended up dining underground at Izakaya Den on Russell Street.

The journey to most of the places in Melbourne I find fun. Even the journey of the damned to the Matilda Bay Brewing Company in Port Melbourne left me with an amusing story and made the experience memorable. As I wasn't ever let in on the big secret as how to get to Izakaya Den, I depended on Google Maps to advise me that it is near the corner of Little Collins Street and Russell Street, in an area that I know well. Or at least I thought I did however once I found the secret staircase that appears to go down to a trendy clothing shop and turned left, I was in the bunker that is now known as the restaurant.

Entrance to Izakaya Den, Russell Street, Melbourne
Entrance to Izakaya Den, Russell Street
I was immediately greeted and shown to a high seat at the long service bar. The first thing I noticed was just how organised and clean things were. One would expect a restaurant to be "clean" as per the meaning of the word, but I found the place sterile. Given that I was going to consume raw fish at some point, I thought it was a great first impression.

A scroll was presented to me and when I rolled it out, a drink list appeared. Impressively detailing the various sake on offer, plum wines along with Japanese beer, I was spoiled for choice and the house notes. Knowing that if I start with sake that I will turn drink a bottle of it, I opted for Ichiban Sakura Orion since they were out of the 500ml cans of Kirin.

The two set menu options were being beamed onto the wall behind me. I was intrigued by the futuristic font that they chose just as much as I was excited to try the spicy tuna or the quail as the headline dish that is served with the set lunch for $28. I rarely say no to spicy tuna, so I made it so knowing that I can get quail elsewhere but still it provides an impetus to return.

Fresh tofu is presented to you as a starter in a bowl. I am allergic to soy however my body tolerates small does. The last time I visted a vegan restaurant with a militant vegan mate during my impressionable Uni years, I was talked into trying the fake chicken, not knowing that it was made out of tofu. That was not the wisest decision of my life and I have not made the mistake since.

However the notion of "fresh" tofu and the presentation I found hard to resist. I was feeling 100%, so I didn't think that the small amount of what looked like Spongebob Squarepants would kill me. As I rarely say "no" I began to eat it. Slowly I consumed this soft and light morsel and enjoyed every taste. The servers and staff probably thought I was crazy as I was staring down the dish like Barnaby Joyce would a Green in the Senate as I ate it. I was ready to face the consequences also from the Speaker.

A delicate green salad, pickles and yellow fin tuna sashimi was then served. Eating items slowly as I was really enjoying the various tastes, even in the salad, I relaxed by tuning into the background music which was fitting and was a good supporting act to the ambiance. I powered through the Ichiban Sakura and ordered another. My justification is that I did not want any lingering bits of tofu in my mouth or throat. At least that is the story I tell.

Before I had even had a taste of the yellow fin tuna, the spicy tuna was placed in front of me along with a cup of miso and a bowl of rice. Like Barnaby seeing another target, I eyed the miso in the very attractive cup. I watched the steam escape and knew that I was just going to have to have it. Normally I do drink my miso and enjoy a good miso, but having an exacta of both tofu and miso during this experience I assumed was going to play havoc with me, so I stopped reading my twitter feed and decided to get on with lunch.

The spicy tuna, served as eight morsels of tuna on a small cloud of wasabi mayo was certainly impressive. The rice, pickles and miso complemented every bite. I even used the small pepper that was included with the pickles to transport the remaining mayo into my mouth as it was just so good.

By this time my nose started running a bit but that was the worst symptom that I experienced so I was pleased that I took the risk with the tofu. I would certainly have it again.

I really want to return and try this place for dinner and the idea has been bumped up on my list of things to do. I suspect that it would be a bit more noisy during dinner service but you would have the benefit of more options including delicacies from the grill however I truly enjoyed this lunch time experience. I was so relaxed and happy that when I was asked to part with $50 for the pleasure, I was not stunned or disappointed at all. It was worth every dollar. 

Izakaya Den, Russell Street Melbourne
Izakaya Den
Link to review
114 Russell Street  Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9654 2977
My Rating: 14.5/20
Service: 3.5/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3/5
Comment: No bookings taken

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

When I posted this review, 88% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon agreed with me and like this place.

Izakaya Den on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Nuevo37 - A Questionable Formula

After watching Clint Eastwood speak at the Republican National Convention, I was driven to drink, well at least that is what I am claiming. Afternoon beer in the sun at World Bar got a bit out of control. Seven... maybe eight pints later of Kosciuszko Pale Ale, a rather poor "Wagyu" hamburger led me to entertain at my unit, drink a fair amount of Graeme Miller's Dixons Creek Estate 2007 Quatrain and make a noble attempt at cooking. The levity distracted me from finishing this post, which I am sure that everyone is just sitting on the edge of their seat for.

Last night the hatted restaurants and individual winners were announced for the forthcoming Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2013 at The Establishment in Sydney. The complete list of winners can be found here. If you are looking for the complete list of 2013 winners for The Age Good Food Guide 2013, it can be found here.

There are two restaurants at the Hilton South Wharf next to the Convention Centre. The "Modern Australian" themed eatery is called Nuevo37. Things have changed a bit since their Spanish executive chef Ramon Freixa left and was replaced by Philippe Perrey, but that was a few years ago, and I really can not reference any remarkable difference. I stayed at the Hilton South Wharf on and off since it was built before moving to Melbourne so I can safely say that I have had decent experiences in their facilities consistently.

I have always enjoyed the fit out of this restaurant, that and the neighbouring tapas restaurant, Sotano. They are joined by a long hotel bar and relaxing lounge where you can enjoy friendly and efficient table service from the Hilton floor staff. Strangely I found myself in this bar for ten hours on Anzac day not only watching the mighty Magpies win in a thriller but also enjoying the hospitality, pints of beer and ultimately I was scared sober by the large bill. It is pretty amazing how much beer one can drink when it is brought to you over ten hours how much of a bill you can rack up between two people.

My recent trip to Nuevo37 nearly went to plan. I eluded in other blog posts that my ordering style is a bit erratic and unconventional because when I arrive at restaurants, it is usually to meet mates or do some business, so I tend to talk a fair amount after I sit down. This means that I do not review the menu in a timely manner and frequently only know that I want to start with sparking water. As this restaurant is attached to the hotel, there is a formula for service; not one that I intentionally attempt to disrupt, but unintentionally allow to demonstrate the strengths of the restaurant.

The water came out. The wine then came out. The server then asked if we were ready to order. I said "no" as I hadn't even looked at the menu as I was feeling quite loquacious that day. About fifteen minutes later the server returned after I made eye contact and took my order - pork belly to start. She then asked what we wanted for our mains. As I said the main should be matched with a different wine and frankly I hadn't reviewed the short list of mains either, I asked her to return later.

The pork belly was cooked a bit more than it should have been. It was matched with a mango salad. It tasted fine, but I didn't think they complemented one another well.

I made eye contact with the server again and she came to take our order for the mains and of course more wine. She then asked if we would like dessert. Given we were ordering the mains, I was a bit shocked but like a robot pre-programmed, I spewed out the obvious fact that we will have to consider the dessert option later and in reality, I hadn't reviewed the short list. The server was sticking to the robotic formula for service.

My main came out in a timely manner. It was the chicken and chorizo paella. It seemed like the best option since I did not want to choose anything from the grill and knowing there was some sort of infused sort of service going on between neighbouring Sotano and Nuevo37, I thought it was a safe option. I wasn't disappointed because my standard was not set high but I found it to be tasty. A bit salty but still tasty.

The same server returned to ask us if we wanted dessert again, but we declined as conversation was proving to be our dessert. Another member of staff then quizzed us if we wanted dessert but we declined. Our water glasses were noticeably empty and our bottle of water had also been vanquished but we were never asked if we wanted another expensive bottle of rehydrating liquid. After my salt intake for the day, I was thirsty and would have happily have paid the equivalent of a new kidney for another bottle of water but instead we finished off the wine and made our exit. I always find it interesting when the bottle of water is ignored especially since they are such money-makers for the restaurant.

Hospitality at hotel restaurants seems to always operate to a sort of formula. The concept of "relaxing lunch" or being able to take verbal cues do not always compute. It is a relaxing restaurant though to visit. I like the fact that you are not crammed into a corner with all of the other guests and you do not hear what others are talking about. Previously I mentioned the fit out and that is the draw card, along with the wine on display, views of South Wharf, high ceilings and of course the formula for service if you want to adhere to it.

Link to review
2 Convention Centre Place  South Wharf VIC 3006
(03) 9027 2000
My Rating: 12.5/20
Service: 2.5/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Quality: 3/5
Value For Money: 3/5
Comment: Great fit out

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, only 58% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Nuevo37. Perhaps they are expecting too much.

Nuevo 37 on Urbanspoon

Monday, 3 September 2012

The SMH Good Food Guide Award Winners 2013 from The Establishment, Sydney

This is the complete list of hatted restaurants and individual winners from the 2013 SMH Good Food Guide announced at The Establishment in Sydney on 03/09/12

Restaurant of the Year: Quay

Sydney Three Hat Winners

est., Rockpool on George, Quay, Sepia, Marque, Momfuku Seiobo

NSW Regional Three Hat Winners


Sydney Two Hat Winners

Spice Temple, Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, Aria, Ormeggio at The Spit, The Bridge Room, Four in Hand Dining Room, Gastro Park, Porteno, Guillaume at Bennelong, Longrain, Pilu at Freshwater, Claude's, Rockpool Bar & Grill, Tetsuya's, Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Universal, Buon Ricordo

NSW Regional Two Hat Winners

Aubergine (Griffith) No. 2 Oak Street (Bellingen) Biota Dining (Bowral)

Sydney One Hat Winners

Jonah's Restaurant, A tavola, China Doll, The Devonshire, Aki's, The Apollo, Clareville Kiosk, Arras, Sean's Panorama, Flying Fish, Balla, Foveaux, Bar H, The Ortolan on Bayswater, The Bather's Pavilion, Billy Kwong, Lucio's, Bistro Moncur, 4Fourteen, Bistrode CBD, Xanthi, The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay, Black by Ezard, Fish Face, buxo trattoria, Cafe Sopra, Three Blue Ducks, Chiswick, Glass Brasserie, Ms G's, Oscillate Wildly, Uccello, Pendolino, Sake Restaurant & Bar, Otto Ristorante, sixpenny, Assiette, Tomislav, Catalina, Ume

NSW Regional One Hat Winners

Restaurant Mason, Bistro Molines, Muse, Courgette, Zest Restaurant, Darley's, Bacchus, Eschalot, Lolli Redini, Fins, Zanzibar Cafe, Italian and Sons, Lanterne Rooms, Manfredi at Bells, Neila, Flooded Gums, Muse Kitchen, Ottoman Cuisine, Racine, Caveau, Restaurant Como, Vulcans, Restaurant Deux, Subo, Town

Duke, Felix, Koi, Sails on Lavendar Bay, Vini and The Cooks Garden are the restaurants that have lost a hat.

Citibank Chef(s) of the Year Award 2013: Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz from Porteno 

Plumm Wine Glassware Best New Restaurant: Momfuku Seiobo

Samsung Diners Choice Award: Tetsuya's

Regional Restaurant of the Year Award: Aubergine (Griffith)

Brown Brothers Wine List of the Year: Ash St Cellar

Louis Roderer Sommelier of the Year: Rodney Setter from Sepia

Best Regional Wine List:  Aubergine (Griffith)

Silver Service Award: Piers Ursell from Guillaume at Bennelong

The Citibank Best Short Wine List: Spice Temple

Dan Murphy's BYO Restaurant of the Year: Il Baretto (Surry Hills)

The Good Living Sustainability Award: Biota Dining (Bowral)

Sydney Morning Herald Award for Innovation: City of Sydney for the Sydney Food Trucks

Professional Excellence Award: Justin Hemmes

Josephine Pignolet Best Young Chef Award: Nick Gardner, Tetsuya's

The Best Bar with Food Award: 121BC (Surry Hills)

Vittoria Legend Award: Leo Schofield