Thursday, 20 September 2012

HuTong Dumpling Bar - Hot Hot Heat!

What started off as a sane lunch at HuTong Dumpling Bar on Market Lane evolved into a hedonistic tour de force around Fitzroy where I had the pleasure of not only returning to Naked for Satan but trying Mana Bar and Black Pearl for the first time. It was truly a great day that all started over some innocuous dumplings on the border of Chinatown and ended late in the evening.

As I approached HuTong Dumpling Bar, which is across the lane from Flower Drum, I noticed a group of Caucasians milling around outside and after quizzing them, they were waiting for a table. At first I was hesitant as I thought that if the restaurant was filled with Caucasians and not Chinese, that this could be an overpriced trap. I always assume that if a Chinese establishment is actually frequented by the Chinese, it must be good. I entered and nearly all of the tables on the ground floor were taken by Chinese including a long table in the centre of the restaurant where a large group of Chinese were obviously happy, drinking Corona beer and seemingly pleased with the multiple offerings that were being delivered to their table.

My wait for a table for two wasn't long and and we were shown to our table within ten minutes near the kitchen and the aforementioned long table of happy Chinese patrons. The kitchen is enclosed in glass so I was able to keep an eye on the dumpling production line by observing the activity in the fish bowl. I did notice a microwave in the kitchen and I kept one eye on it throughout my culinary journey and I was happy that I never saw it be used. I did find some amusement in watching the assembly line of humans making dumplings by hand, the resulting steaming process and the hive of activity in general.

The server came promptly to take our order. I thought it was interesting that she did not write down that we wanted xiao long bao, wantons with hot chilli sauce, dry chicken in hot chilli, rice, a bottle of Asahi and a vodka bitters. I was impressed when the order was filled and the items that we ordered were delivered, one at a time.

The first dish that came out was the wantons with hot chilli sauce. Simply brilliant is all I can say. It was actually nice to taste some spice and this recipe was about as authentic as I have found. It was easily my favourite dish. Once these wantons were devoured, the xiao long bao was delivered. After adding some chilli which is conveniently available at your table, these dumplings were also very good. I could eat them all day, and substitute them for Doritos at home quite easily. The dry chicken in hot chilli was the last dish to come out. At $20, I thought it was great value for money and resembled a dish that I enjoyed at The Spice Temple recently. The chicken was a bit dry, however it was still very good and I would order it again. Unlike my trips to The Spice Temple, the food left a chilli flavour lingering in my mouth that the Asahi was not able to extinguish, but it was exactly what I expected and what I wanted.

Two people were able to eat and drink for $58, which I thought was good value for money. Although there are other places in China Town with cheaper prices, the quality and service at HuTong makes it a place worth trying again and returning to. I know I am looking forward to my next visit.

HuTong Dumpling Bar, Market Lane, Melbourne
HuTong Dumpling Bar
Link to review
14-16 Market Lane  Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9650 8128
My Rating: 13.5/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5
Comment: Great wantons with hot chilli sauce

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

At the time of this blog post, 82% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Hutong Dumpling Bar.

HuTong Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

World Restaurant & Bar - Atlas Shrugged

Sadly yesterday work commitments got in the way of finishing this post and I was also selfish and decided to get some exercise. Life as the Epicurean of Southbank will lead me down the path of obesity and death if I do not make the positive decision for action to get away from the laptop or off the bar stool on occasion.

Continuing a trend over the past week, I wanted to reflect on my experiences at World Restaurant & Bar, which is located on the Southbank Promenade. at around 5:00 PM on weekdays, the corporate suits like to use this as a place to celebrate beer o'clock and at other times it is frequented by tourists, shoppers and other rogues of the night. Besides for late Friday afternoons when the bar is overrun by people, normally I find the place reasonably relaxed where you can enjoy table service.

Most of the time as soon as you enter the property and are on the outside deck, you will be greeted by staff and asked if you want to sit inside or outside. It isn't as simple usually as rocking up, ordering a few drinks from the barman unencumbered by service as in the end they do want to push food on you. On occasion, I have avoided the gatekeeper and done just what I described though. The bar is not really set up as a place it would seem for the customer to congregate at and I really do not think that they like you ordering from the barman directly, but I do it anyway. Not to be a prick, but because normally when I venture into this funky establishment and wander past the "stage" that is used for live music in the corner, my intention is a few pints and perhaps some bar food. World Restaurant & Bar does have a full dinner menu which I have ordered from in the past but considering what else is on offer in the neighbourhood, I can't say that I froth at the mouth in anticipation for the food from this place.

Recently I met a mate here on one of the rare days that it was sunny and warm outside. We enjoyed the Koscioszko pale ale that was on tap and decided to just order the waygu burger "special" that was being advertised. Although the chips were nice, in comparison to what you would be served at Huxtaburger it was just pathetic. I did not finish mine. I am not saying that it was terrible, but I just personally did not like the taste. It is a bit like other things that I have had on the menu. I felt like I am eating just because it is expected of me and there is nothing really to rave about food wise.

The venue though is pretty cool. They have live music on occasion and it is relaxing to enjoy a beer outside in the off-peak hours when service is able to be attentive. Sometimes their "Happy Hour" deals are reasonable and you can't pass up the "Pizza and Pint" for $20 that is available from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM on weekdays. That is why I continue to enjoy this place. I do not ask for much so therefore my expectations are always met and I am never disappointed.

World Restaurant & Bar, Southbank Promenade
World Restaurant & Bar
Link to review
4/2 Riverside Quay  Southbank VIC 3006
(03) 9690 6999
My Rating: 11.5/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Quality: 2.5/5
Value For Money: 3/5
Comment: Good happy hour deals

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

When I posted this, 71% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon liked World Restaurant & Bar.

World Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Bar Americano - Do Not Spit!

Bar Americano has been around for over a year now and is tucked away on Presgrave Place off of Little Collins Street in the Melbourne CBD. It was conceived by Matthew Bax of Der Raum fame. The first time I went on the hunt for this small bar, I had intentions to purchase coffee. When I finally found the establishment, it was closed however since the abandoned first visit, Bar Americano has started trading daily, not only opening at the crack of dawn for coffee (with a tipple if you desire) and staying open late to satisfy those who crave the best spirits available.

The entrance to Bar Americano - Look for the sign!
On one particularly boozy yet relaxing Saturday afternoon, after frequenting the Hairy Canary I presented myself at Bar Americano with one other with the intention to drink cocktails with impunity. This venue is the smallest bar that I have ever been fortunate enough to enter and that is an understatement. To say that fifteen drinkers would be comfortable in this place at any given time is a reach. At its peak on this visit, there were eight people in this small room yet it was comfortable and buzzing with great music being played but not at a level which distracts you from the ambiance and more importantly, conversation. Being confined, customers converge around the bar and actually do something that is a bit odd - strangers speak with one another in a civilised way. After living in Sydney for the majority of my adult life, you are not used to such a practice when normally you are drinking in institutions blaring doof-doof and noise so loud that you can not speak without shouting. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and remind myself that I am in Melbourne and not Sydney where the notion of pleasant conversation is not something that is frowned upon.

There is a single bar person on duty at a given time. Considering both the facilities available and the space that service is constrained to, the professionalism consistently shines through. The talent that it takes to mix cocktails (whilst juggling the demands for random orders of coffee and conversing with guests) in such small confines is always impressive. There is an amusing sign on the wall that suggests not to order a latte after 2:00 PM (although I notice that it appears and disappears randomly) as the refusal of service often offends. This is an apt sign however lattes were still prepared after this milestone once but it never impacted the production of alcohol-based pleasures or the conversation with the bartender. True class.

The walls are tiled to mimic Flinders Street Station from a bygone era when Do Not Spit was emblazoned for all to see. Given that the venue attracts some wayward characters like the piano player from one of the local brothels, investment bankers and tourists perhaps the reminder is apt.

On my visits to this back lane boozer, I have always instructed the bartender to make whatever they feel like and I have not been disappointed. I hate to recommend this place as I want it to be one of the hidden secrets that I can attend without a mob of people but as I have found, with the exception of bars on Chapel and King Streets, I really do not have to worry because everyone that I have met in this classy boozer has been fun, interesting and worth getting to know.

Bar Americano frequently puts on special cocktail evenings with guest bartenders. It is worth contacting Der Raum and becoming a member in order to receive a discount on these special and infrequent nights if you want attend one of these sought after events.

On recent weekends of debauchery where I needed to entertain out of town guests, Bar Americano was a featured destination where the bar impressed. It featured in one of my "best of" hedonistic drinking staggers around Melbourne and also was a destination of choice to follow-up a recent experience at Movida Aqui, along of course with Der Raum.

Bar Americano, Presgrave Place, Melbourne
Bar Americano
Link to review
20 Presgrave Place  Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9428 0055
My Rating: 17.5/20
Service: 5/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 4.5/5
Comment: Smallest bar I have ever seen, $ only

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

When I updated this blog post on 14/09/12, 92% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Bar Americano. You will too.

 Bar Americano on Urbanspoon