Friday, 11 January 2013

The Duchess of Spotswood - Thoughtfully English

In my previous post about Guzman y Gomez, I insinuated that the only time I could be bothered to drive my motorcar was to visit them in the various Sydney suburbs. In Melbourne since they are happily located in the CBD, the only places that I seem to drive to is Costco in Docklands and to the airport. However I deviated from the serenity of our favourite discount warehouse and  sleepy Docklands and thought since I was in the general area that I would actually drive to The Duchess of Spotswood, which is located not far from Williamstown Road and the exit off of the Westgate Bridge.

The restaurant is not far from the station and the area is rather industrial. This is what makes the restaurant so intriguing as you would never think such a quaint and homely place would be located in this area. When I arrived the place was filled to capacity. A few people were waiting for takeaway coffee and it wasn't long until I secured a table. This place is renowned for its coffee, at least according to the word on the street, so despite not having enjoyed caffeine for two weeks (no, it isn't a resolution for the new year, it was simply because I was too wired from drinking too much of it) I couldn't say no to one of the iced variety. I was informed that one of the specials was a potato and fennel soup and with my interest piqued, I ordered that along with a slow roasted pork shoulder sandwich with apple and cabbage ($14.50) to follow.

The soup arrived with a large chunk of bread. I could smell the fennel and it also had a small island of the aromatic plant in the centre of the bowl. Combined with the potato, it was a perfect consistency and by the time I was done ripping apart the bread and cleaning every bit out of the bowl, one would never know there was soup in it. I really enjoyed this.

The atmosphere is not loud at all despite being at capacity and I attribute this to the old terrace architecture. An old chandelier acted as a focal point which gave the restaurant some charm and made the friendly staff all somewhat familiar even though our paths had not previously crossed.

The slow roasted pork shoulder sandwich followed and you can tell that the kitchen had put some consideration into its preparation. It wasn't thrown together, some thought was put into not only the combination of pork, apple of cabbage which worked very well but also the presentation was attractive.

The Duchess is only open for breakfast and lunch and it has a very intriguing menu that is certainly value for money. I may be presenting myself again in the short term before one of the ODI cricket matches that are coming up so that I can prepare myself for a day of revelry as their breakfast selection looks pretty awesome, for the lack of a better word.

I didn't even know Spotswood existed until I looked up where the restaurant was and I can assure you I will remember it as a happening destination thanks to the Duchess.

Duchess of Spotswood, Melbourne
The Duchess of Spotswood
87 Hudsons Rd., Spotswood VIC 3015
03 9391 6016
My Rating: 13.25/20
Service: 3.25/5
Ambiance: 3.25/5
Quality: 3.25/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5

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

At the time of this post, 86% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like The Duchess of Spotswood.

Duchess of Spotswood on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Guzman Y Gomez Retrospective - From Sydney to Brisbane to Melbourne

Most people in Melbourne hadn't heard of Guzman y Gomez when they launched their latest restaurant on Swanson Street (near Lonsdale Street) a month ago however they made a few fans when they celebrated the grand opening of their storefront in a converted Asian grocery with a mariachi band and free burritos for the punters who decided to be patient in the queue that flowed out onto the street. This is a signature move by Guzman y Gomez who has been handing out free burritos for as long as I remember when opening new locations. Clever.

It was with a bit of nostalgia that I think about when I was on a Virgin Blue flight from Melbourne to Sydney in 2006 when I was biding my time by reading the Virgin Velocity magazine. In it they profiled a new restaurant opening in Newtown (outside of Sydney) called Guzman y Gomez (GyG). It was described as a Mexican taqueria (street food) to which I scoffed and thought "if only!" but if the Virgin magazine was talking about it, I thought that it would have some promise as it just seemed so random. In 2006, Mexican food was as rare as hens with teeth in Sydney and "good" Mexican food just didn't exist unless you wanted a plate of cheese, beans and grease or even worse; one mob asking me if I wanted barbecue sauce on the "burrito" that I ordered before it was put in between a sandwich press. I am not surprised that place went out of business not long after that demonstration of street cooking. Sydney also had a Taco Bell for a while. That didn't survive long even though the Americans seems to live off  what they have on offer.

A few days after reading the article in Velocity, I actually drove my car out of the Sydney CBD and over to Newtown. I must have been motivated at the time to pique my senses to actually get my car out and drive somewhere, let alone to Newtown where it is nearly impossible to park legally. The Newtown location was the first GyG location to open in a small corner shop on King Street. There were a few stools against the wall giving patrons a small eating area with a view of the road and a large communal table where the Newtown hipsters happily ate their burritos. I remember being greeted in Spanish and ordering a "Chicken Guerrero" burrito and "Pork Chipotle" tacos (3) and really fearing that if the Newtown hipsters liked this place, I didn't know what I was in for. My first bite would lead to a seven year addiction and ultimately this retrospective blog post as I was hooked. Char-grilled chicken, rice, black beans, onions, coriander and a taste of spice immortalised in the green habanero (or red) sauce, depending on what you order, proper corn tortillas and fresh salsas. Over the next many months, I would get the car out and drive to Newtown to get takeaway GyG since their small dining room was always packed with hipsters and frankly the restaurant was pretty warm in the summer. I even found a good place to park next to the Imperial Hotel that would have yielded me a ticket if a ranger spotted my motorcar. That is how much I liked GYG and the lengths I would go to to get my mouth on one of their burritos.

The success of the Newtown location led to GyG opening in both Kings Cross and Bondi Junction next. This was really exciting as this meant I no longer had to drive to Newtown and dice with death with the rangers, as both the Kings Cross and Bondi Junction locations were in close proximity to the train stations. Working in Martin Place at the time made this convenient as it was only one stop to Kings Cross and three stops to Bondi Junction, which I would visit on occasion as this is where the Bondi Junction Westfields is located. I would frequently walk to the GyG Kings Cross. I liked this location as there was a fair amount of room to dine and the staff would kindly bring your order to your table. Later they would get an alcohol license and flog beer. When you think of interesting places to go people watching, I can't think of a better place than Kings Cross. It was also easier for me to drive to this location (and park illegally in the laneway nearby ironically) as it was closer than Newtown, however despite the extra space to dine, the transients, hookers and other rogues would start grating at your nerves when you are quizzed through the window with a burrito in hand for spare coins.

I started taking the train three stops to Bondi Junction. Like with Newtown, the restaurant is rather small and the 324 bus stops right outside of the place. For those that are familiar with the buses in Sydney, there are the newer buses that run on natural gas that have air conditioning that are rather loud and they compete on the roads with the older vintage 1930's-era buses that look like a rectangle that are extremely noisy. During the time of the seemingly never-ending state Labor government, not all buses were upgraded and the one that was traversing the 324 line stopped outside of the GyG frequently. The bus seemed to always be there; roaring to life and squealing to a stop every ten minutes so it was never a relaxing experience dining at this location sadly. For the most part during this epoch I visited the Kings Cross GYG and dealt with the external elements all in the name of this great food. Note: there is a GyG at Westfield Bondi Junction, which I never have had a chance to visit, I am referring to the GyG on Bronte Rd in this article.

When I learned that GYG was opening restaurants in the Sydney CBD I was really excited. Being I only ever took the train or drove to go to GyG, my walks effectively were cut to minutes when they spawned new locations at Australia Square, MLC Centre and later Westfield Sydney (Pitt Street Mall) all of which I had many positive experiences at. Australia Square became my favourite as they were only open for lunch and wasn't usually as crowded as the other CBD locations. I found that this location would be the most generous with the meat in the tacos and burritos and with the substantial seating available in the food court in and around the shops, including outside dining in the plaza near Ryan's Bar it was just all too convenient, besides it was the closest to where I lived. The GyG in Martin Place was a welcome addition at the MLC Centre but it was located in the food court. The self important people always jostled for position in the queue for lunch thinking they were all respectively the CEO of Westpac or Commonwealth Bank, asking the busy staff if they can only make their taco's "a little hot" or want some sort of silly substitution if they even knew what a taco was, so this shop wasn't frequented as often as the others despite it being the closest to my place of employment for a year or so. Later a GyG would open on Level 5 of the renovated Westfield Sydney (Pitt Street Mall) food court and I always found that location very efficient. The benefit of this restaurant is if you want or need a GyG fix in the evening, they are open unlike the Australia Square and MLC locations. The drawback is that at lunch the Westfield Sydney location gets both extremely busy and noisy. If you are lucky enough to manage to secure a seat anywhere you should really consider purchasing a lotto ticket since you are a winner.

With sadness, despite having six GyG locations to choose from in Sydney I moved to Brisbane for a while. Brisbane isn't the epicurean wasteland that some would think. There were a few (two) decent places that served Mexican-inspired food at the time, one of which was run by a bloke from California and I fondly remember the awesome barramundi burritos, a staple item that GyG would end up selling, at least at the Swanston Street location in Melbourne that I noticed recently. Still, there was a big void in my life because GyG had not come to Queensland at this point of my evolution however they continued to open up new restaurants in and around Sydney. Months passed and it was finally announced that a new GyG would open in the "better side" of Fortitude Valley outside of Brisbane in the Emporium complex and my tears ceased. GyG gave away burritos on the day they opened and I turned up the next day to avoid the mad crush. Sadly, they are located about 10 minute walk from the dirty Fortitude Valley Station (think Kings Cross station in Sydney) but despite the inconvenience I was happy that they finally arrived. The Fortitude Valley location is by far the largest one that I have seen and has the most relaxed setting under cover outside. Margaritas and alcohol were served. Queues were long but staff were very efficient. Punters were happy. I could park my motorcar at the car dealership across the street at night and on the weekends (ongoing theme about my parking?) which made visiting the restaurant convenient. When I moved from Brisbane and back to Sydney, I was sad to see the Fortitude Valley GyG become a memory as it was my favourite of the seven restaurants that I had come across at that point.

Before moving to Melbourne last year, I would revisit all of the GyG locations mentioned earlier with the exception of Newtown. They all remained rather consistent with my previous observations and Australia Square would continue to be my favourite.

Moving to Melbourne I was sullen because GyG had not yet arrived. Fortunately for me there was a burgeoning Mexican scene and Senoritas, Mamasita, Fonda and Pacos Tacos would entertain me. Some would say that you can not compare GyG to these fine restaurants, which you really can't, but GyG is supposed to personify quick and easy (and cheap) street food. They win easily in the value for money category.

A few months ago GyG announced that they would be opening a location at Highpoint Shopping Centre in Melbourne but I suppose it was because of the raft of alternatives in the CBD I didn't feel the need to invest more in public transport or a cab (or shock horror actually drive) to Highpoint so when I walked past the construction site for the new GyG on Swanston Street en route to Melbourne Central the other month, I was excited. Being a subscriber to the GyG twitter feed (@guzmanygomez) I knew they were opening in the CBD at some point so seeing the site made me happy. What a convenient location. (Update on 18/02/13: I visited the GyG at Highpoint Shopping Centre in Maribyrnong. Compared to the other locations, this one is remarkably calm. It is located near the Hoyts Cinema and there is a small dining area off of the pedestrian thoroughfare. I was shocked to see only one person preparing the food and only one person attending the counter. After all of the other locations being a hive of activity, I started to wonder if this was an appropriate venue for a GyG. Still, the food was the same quality as the other locations and I thoroughly enjoyed by burrito, the table service and the condiments on offer. Alcohol is also available) 

The Swanson Street location, since it is located in what was formerly Asian grocery is the largest GyG I have seen that is constrained by walls. Not only do they have windows that open toward Swanson Street so you can people watch (people almost as interesting as those that you would find in Kings Cross) but there is air conditioning. Not being forced into a food court is novel, not being relegated to communal tables is welcome and on a warm Melbourne day, it was certainly nice to be greeted by air conditioning first and then by a smile at the counter second. There was no queue when I visited and all of the tables were clean. One of the team members was at the door offering passers-by samples of chips and guacamole and after I ordered my burrito and tacos it was quickly delivered whilst I caught up on my Twitter feed. As soon as your food has been exhausted other team members will happily remove your rubbish and clean your table. It is the cleanest GyG that I have seen. Most however are in and around food courts, so it was refreshing to have inexpensive food that didn't appear "cheap" and yet another location that is adhering to the consistent GyG formula.

All I know is that my Gomex GyG frequent diner card is going to get a workout and I am still dirty that they opened two locations in the Brisbane CBD almost immediately after I moved. Perhaps they didn't forecast the demand would decrease without me in the capital of Queensland.

So hundreds of burritos and tacos later, I can say that I am a fan, if not addicted. Give it a try, you will not be sorry. Judging by the feedback that users of Urbanspoon leave, all the locations are seemingly created equal and satisfy people equally judging from the ratings below.

Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taqueria

Locations described in this retrospective:
  1. 175 King St., Newtown NSW
  2. Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taqueria Newtown on Urbanspoon
  3. Bayswater Rd/Penny Lane, Kings Cross NSW
  4. Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taqueria Kings Cross on Urbanspoon
  5. 1A Bronte Rd., Bondi Junction NSW
  6. Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taqueria Bondi Junction on Urbanspoon
  7. 264 George St., Australia Square, Sydney NSW
  8. Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taqueria Australia Square on Urbanspoon
  9. MLC Centre Food Court, Martin Place, Sydney NSW
  10. Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taqueria MLC on Urbanspoon
  11. 188 Pitt St., Westfield Sydney Pitt Street Mall, Sydney NSW
  12. Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taqueria Westfield Sydney on Urbanspoon
  13. Emporium, 1000 Ann St., Fortitude Valley, QLD
  14. Guzman y Gomez Mexican Taqueria Fortitude Valley on Urbanspoon
  15. 289-299 Swanston St., Melbourne, VIC
  16. Guzman Y Gomez Mexican Taqueria Swanston Street on Urbanspoon
  17. Highpoint Shopping Centre, Maribyrnong, VIC
  18. Guzman Y Gomez Mexican Taqueria Highpoint on Urbanspoon

Conservatory - Crown Buffet Sunroom

I first came across Conservatory when I was traversing the first level of Crown Casino looking for Koko. It looked so clean, bright and organised, I really did not think that I was in the bowels of the Crown, but instead something like the Surfers Paradise Marriott on the Gold Coast where the buffet is a fabled event much like the one that I observed in the Mecca of pokies, blackjack and sin.

Earlier this week I returned to Conservatory with one other as we were both extremely hungry. I had completely recovered from the hangover that I had leftover from my visit to Sydney after a marathon party which commenced at Spice Temple, this being the first occasion that I felt that my stomach could handle anything and everything without revolting.

We turned up at 11:50 AM. A mob had gathered outside of the entrance to the restaurant. I was half expecting to see One Direction in the place with the volume of children in the wings however the demographic was just not limited to the pre-pubescent, but also the aged, willing and unwilling visitors to the casino. Everyone was gathered waiting to be first past the barrier as the restaurant states that lunch commences at high noon - 12:00 PM sharp and they enforce it. Nobody is let in even a minute before which I thought was just a process for the sake of having a process. Surely the mob of people would have been happier having a seat, placing a drink order and commencing their culinary gorge without having to look through the windows and allow their saliva to drip on the worn Crown carpet outside of the restaurant in anticipation of the clock striking noon. Rules are rules though.

Regardless, when the morning evolved to noon officially, the gates were open and the warm bodies raced inside. It reminded me of the Emirates Melbourne Cup the way punters charged over the white parquet floors, bumped into the perfectly set tables and claimed the various tables of food for their own. Some larger groups had some sort of arrangement for tables next to the large windows which in turn gave them good views over Southbank Promenade out toward the Melbourne Aquarium. It was a beautiful day in Melbourne however these patrons I believe were not there for the view, but for the endless supply of food and the most extensive dessert bar that I have ever seen.

We secured a table that some would say would have been the worst in the house, in the corner near the bar but it was away from the action. I wasn't there for the view either but we were also civil enough to enjoy our seat and wait for service to order a beverage before taking on the buffet.

I found myself in the seafood area first. I hate working for my food so I never get prawns that require being deshelled. All of the tables have bowls for prawn shells but also one filled with water and lemon for your messy fingers. It would seem that others that normally frequent this place do not mind working for their food. I saw a fair amount of shucked oysters available, but I passed on those also. Instead I opted for salmon and tuna sashimi, kippler potatoes, intentionally cold beetroot quail and what I would find a very tasty watermelon-lamb-feta shooter.

When I returned to my table, our drinks arrived. The food was consumed. Everything was rather bland except the shooter. My second trip to the battlefield was to the area that had the curries. I wanted to sample them as I was interested in some spice. There were five available, along with some tandoori chicken. There were many meats and vegetables available at the carvery and it was a very popular area but I normally do not go out to eat things that I can easily make at home. I would later find the curries bland also however the second round of watermelon-lamb-feta shooters were the highlight once more.

Exhausting my two main forks and knives, I wandered over to the very extensive dessert bar. I kept thinking that I want to actually lose weight this month so I took it easy however everything I selected was both rich and perfectly presented on display. This was one of the few times I wanted to act like a tourist and take a photo because it was a beautiful and symmetric setup.

Service was quick to turn up to remove the used plates when we were at the various buffets. They were also quick to return to ask if we wanted more drinks but other than that service did not have much to do. I liked the design of the waterglasses and how they matched the paper straws that you are given should you order a carbonated beverage. It was a nice and whimsical touch. For $48 for lunch ($61 on Saturday and $75 on Sunday ($98 if you want to match it with unlimited cheap champagne)) I thought it was a reasonably priced deal since you could sit and graze for 2.5 hours if you were keen. We lasted about an hour but it looked like the hungry mob was only going to be dislodged from the place when the cow bells rang at 2:30 PM when lunch ended.

An interesting place with a beautiful set-up. With the view and the good selection of food and desserts especially on offer you could impress visitors to our fair city easily but more importantly go if you want some medium-quality food in endless supply.

Conservatory at Crown
8 Whiteman St., Southbank VIC 3006
(03) 9292 5777
My Rating: 13.5/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 4.5/5
Quality: 3/5
Value For Money: 3/5

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

At the time of this post, 72% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Conservatory.

Conservatory on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Spice Temple (Sydney) - I'll Leave You Numb, Part One

The dishes mentioned in this article are also available at Spice Temple Melbourne at the Crown Casino. Part two of this article will be the review of the Melbourne property and I will attempt describe the subtle differences (mainly in ambiance) between the Sydney and Melbourne locations but generally speaking the menus are nearly identical.

I have been meaning to return to the Spice Temple at Crown Casino for many moons just to experience the Yum Cha menu, which is constrained to the Melbourne location for lunch (at least at the time of this writing) but also reflect on the restaurant as a whole. After visiting a favourite haunt of mine, Spice Temple in Sydney last week, I though the forthcoming second part of this post would be best to reflect on the subtle differences between the two restaurants and try to ascertain why the Sydney location has been awarded two hats by the SMH and its Melbourne sister was awarded only one coveted hat by The Age. It is important stuff in the world of this epicurean, especially since I love spice, fire and generally speaking everything that Neil Perry and the Rockpool empire are creating these days.

When I lived in Sydney, I used to visit Spice Temple all of the time and used to use it as an effective vehicle for the long and relaxed boozy lunch. This is one of the very few restaurants in Sydney that is hard to find. Much like the Gin Palace and the near hidden door that you must find on Russell Place to gain entry, Spice Temple has an unmarked door at 10 Bligh Street that leads you down a sinister staircase under the old insurance building that interestingly enough cost Neil Perry $35M to transform it into Rockpool Bar and Grill - in my opinion, the most beautiful restaurant in Sydney. This is something that both restaurants have in common with its Melbourne siblings, they are right next to one another, or in the case of Sydney, on top of one another.

Upon alighting into the depths of Spice Temple you will find a modest bar and friendly humans that will greet you and if your party has arrived, you will be shown to your table in the dining room. If you are waiting for people or even require "one for the road" later, there are full bar facilities available. This experience for me was a bit sombre as I was celebrating, or more appropriately having a farewell lunch with a mate who decided that Sydney is no longer for him and his family and is relocating his brood to Hong Kong. It seemed a fitting to return to Spice Temple as when we were last here together he quite enjoyed it and also the flavours inherent in the dishes on offer.

The holy combination of wine and water was ordered and we quickly decided to resurrect an old favourite from the menu - Kung Pao chicken with Sichuan pepper corns, heaven facing chillies and cashews ($38) which always gives me a red face. You simply would go mad if you ate all of the chillies that accompany this dish and the chicken in turn tastes like the traditional Chinese dish. Hoping to let the burn subside in my mouth was ameliorated as I found respite in the seemingly continuous flow of 2009 Domaine Bois de Boursan GSM, Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Rhone Valley, France) a slow flame flickered ultimately but for a spice lover like for me and my mate, the burn was so worth it.

Hot and numbing crispy duck ($42) followed. The "numbing" theme is available in the wagyu beef and pork dishes however if you want prawns, they will only tingle if you trust the menu. Besides the requisite spice, this dish, and the others mentioned, will actually numb your tongue and your lips as Sichuan pepper has been added. The pepper is what is responsible for the numbing sensation which is caused by its 3% hydroxy alpha sanshool that sets the foundations for the spice. It is a strange feeling and it worth trying as it does make the dining experience unique. Did I forget to mention the duck? It was cooked to perfection and you certainly are able to taste it fully and pair it with the wine before the Sichuan pepper takes over for a short amount of time.

The sommelier was finding us amusing as I requested a bottle of 2003 E. Knoll ‘Loibner Smaragd’ Riesling (Wachau, Austria) to follow and thought that we would be intrigued if not challenged by the fire within the Sichuan style Wagyu beef hotpot with wild bamboo pit and tofu ($45) as the final main course so we took him up on the challenge. Although the beef was soft and a delight when combined with the other components of the hotpot, this dish did not have the intensity of the previous two. Perhaps our senses were bastardised by the abuse of spice and the wine, but I did not consider it spicy at all. Others may disagree with me.

The dark subterranean room is illuminated by strategically placed lights so that you feel that you are in a dark place but you really are not. Matched with the service which was flexible and always attentive to our inherent needs for water and wine along with the fact that we were not in a rush made not only the 3.5 hour lunch but this farewell experience for my mate a success.

Spice Temple, Bligh Street, Sydney
Spice Temple
10 Bligh Street, Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 8078 1888
My Rating: 16/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 4/5

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

At the time of this post, 84% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Spice Temple.

Spice Temple on Urbanspoon

Stokehouse Cafe - Nouveau Riche Defined

There was a certain amount of buzz when Leonardo DiCaprio was in Sydney enjoying the company of the local lovely ladies and of course filming The Great Gatsby which is supposed to be a triumph (sic) of Hollywood film-making. Much like Leo's visit was highly anticipated in Sydney and like some are looking forward to this movie, I was anticipating the opening of the newly renovated Stokehouse Cafe on Jacka Boulevard, downstairs from the original Stokehouse, for many long months whilst I watched the construction evolve.

Putting both the "upstairs" and "downstairs" of the Stokehouse in perspective is like pondering the overarching themes in The Great Gatsby. The "Upstairs" formal restaurant at the Stokehouse, like in East Egg in the Gatsby world is the fashionable, high-status, conservative, old money crowd where characters like Tom and Daisy from the book would be prone to dine. The "downstairs" cafe, like in the West Egg of the Gatsby world, is less fashionable and less moneyed - "nouveau riche" by definition.

The Stokehouse Cafe is a great place to "people-watch" both outside on the St Kilda esplanade if you are one of the fortunate ones to get one of the few tables that are seemingly occupied by the same people for hours at a time drinking their same glass of water, but also inside as it is a virtual rogues gallery of locals, holiday-makers and desperate housewives to say the least.

When I presented myself to the kiosk with one other and requested a table, we decided to sit at the bar as it gave us some views of Port Phillip Bay which are not commanding when sitting on the floor considering inevitably one person would have their back to the view. It also gave me an opportunity to observe the kitchen which in retrospect was more fascinating compared to the bay and the people roaming around on the esplanade from afar. The kitchen really has their act together and manage a huge amount of orders in short period of time. The food rarely backed up and I observed an attention to detail that is not usually afforded to the customer in a cafe, however since this one carries the Stokehouse name, I expected nothing less really.

Two cuttlefish skewers with lemon, chilli and parsley ($12) were ordered to share as a starter. Given that the kitchen at any given time had around 25 active tickets, I was surprised to see this starter come out in a reasonable time. In fact I was impressed. The cuttlefish was good however I would have liked to have seen more chilli, but that is just a personal preference. Given the high volume of food that this place produces and the heavy seasonal and transient crowd, I am not surprised that the spice factor is kept very low.

For the mains, for the lack of a better word, but I would refer to them as a continuation, a chilli dog - made of spicy pork sausage, manchego, and jalapeno mayonnaise ($8) was ordered along with the "special" Rangers valley rump steak "from the pit" with chermoula ($28) along with a side of a reasonably priced ($8) Sicilian potato salad. I simply tasted the jalapeno mayonnaise and found it both creamy with once again not much heat, but I was told that it complimented the sausage well. I was surprised to see a chermoula complimenting a rump steak from their "pit" as the flavour of the Moroccan paste overwhelmed the flavours that the fire pit would have given the steak. As a bonus, you do receive a fair amount of steak, in my case, three pieces however my preference would for the cafe to increase the quality of the steak and decrease the portion size.

A chocolate, peanut butter and jelly ice cream sandwich ($10) along with a baked cherry cheesecake ($9) finished us off. Good summer desserts. The staff were very attentive and were always happy to provide drink refills without being asked. Given the high volume of people, there is well proportioned amount of staff, all of them very busy and professional.

The Stokehouse Cafe is not meant to be a fine dining location. It is supposed to be a casual place to dine, relax, meet friends and have simple yet decent food. Besides the steak, I did not find the portion sizes huge but what you do not get in quantity, you are compensated with quality. This is beach-front dining on the St Kilda esplanade and not Qualia on Hamilton Island so you are going to see tourists with prams, people wandering in with their shirt off and in different states of undress and all sorts of nonsense that you would never see upstairs, but does that matter? If you keep your perspective, a good time will be had and your will enjoy yourself like I did.

Stokehouse Cafe, St Kilda
Stokehouse Cafe
30 Jacka Blvd., St Kilda VIC 3182
(03) 9421 4599
My Rating: 13/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 3.25/5
Quality: 3.25/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5

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

At the time of this post, 57% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Stokehouse Cafe however with 38 votes at the time of this writing, it is a small sample.

Stokehouse Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Don Don Swanson Street - Cheap Monday

After paying my credit card bill for the previous month of debauchery, I thought it would be appropriate if not necessary to visit a few smaller and cheaper places and find a few winners around Melbourne before the weekend comes (or I lose interest in this phase) and I continue my epicurean journey through The Age Good Food Guide winners and of course drink at some new bars just for fun since I haven't done a rambling review of a drinking hole in a while.

It was with only a few pink notes and coins on my person I went out yesterday looking for "cheap eats" which are not really fun to write about as not much has to be involved in the decision making process to buy something cheap and cheerful and go on your merry way. If you find it disgusting or delightful, you really don't take the time to tell your friends because what did you lose in the end? A $10 note? Surely nobody wants to read about such a tale on here. I suppose I will find out.

So I meandered to Don Don on the corner of Swanston Street and Little Lonsdale Street. It is known seemingly as a popular Japanese teppanyaki takeaway and on this occasion, the queue for service was spilled out on to the street. Still being in a relaxed holiday mode, I had nowhere else to be so I happily joined the queue to see what all the fuss was about.

This is a small venue and doesn't accommodate many seats for the ravenous diners. By the time I got to the counter and placed an order for a Teriyaki Chicken ($7) sweat was dripping down my back and through other crevasses throughout my body. It was hot in this place and with two queues; one for service and one to pick up food, I can't say it would have been very comfortable for the handful of people that choose to eat in the amazon rainforest-like conditions.

After ordering, I joined the other queue to pick up my order, I was amazed at how efficient the staff were in getting punters out of there and filling orders. As there are a few tables outside and of course the green grass outside of the State Library across the street, there are other relaxed facilities to eat what incidentally I found find to be tasty takeaway. Cheap and cheerful indeed which beats the flavour of anything that you would get at Melbourne Central. I found very little cartilage attached to the chicken, which was freshly grilled. It is really good value for money in the area and you don't mind having a good sweat it is worth a visit.

Top it off with a $1 large frozen coke from Hungry Jack's and a $7 ticket to see "Quartet" at the Palace Kino cinema and I was able to occupy myself and be satisfied for $15 all up for the afternoon. Now that is a cheap Monday worth writing and talking about.

Don Don Swanston Street, Melbourne
Don Don
321 Swanston Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9662 3377
no web site
My Rating:N/A
Service: n/a
Ambiance: n/a
Quality: n/a
Value For Money: n/a

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

At the time of this post, 92% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Don Don Swanston Street.

Don Don on Urbanspoon