Saturday, 23 February 2013

Purple Peanuts Japanese Cafe - Alternative Southern Cross

Expectations certainly led to ambiguity and disappointment after my visit to Purple Peanuts Japanese Cafe on Collins Street. There has been a fair amount of hype and positive press about this place in recent times. It is certainly popular as there is a queue out the door and every table, both inside and out was taken. I wasn't going to let that turn me off so I persevered.

After getting toward the front of the queue, I was shouted at by one of the staff who asked me to order. It was a vexed situation as I had reviewed the menu on the wall and nothing looked so exciting that I wanted to order it so I was waiting to see what they had on display in the glass case, where the queue terminated as sweaty legal tender was exchanged at the terminus for the food and beverage, in this "cash only" funky cafe.

Ultimately I ordered a few sushi rolls - two spicy tuna rolls and one Japanese lobster roll along with a small cup of potato salad. What I liked about the rolls is that the cafe doesn't try to deceive you. In a fair amount of cases you will see sushi rolls with a fair amount of fish sticking out on one side however after you purchase it, you are disappointed that the fish doesn't occupy the whole roll. This dodgy tactic isn't employed at this cafe. The tuna wasn't exactly spicy and I wouldn't consider the addition of a strip of red capiscum a qualifier for the title. The Japanese lobster roll was bland and just okay. It certainly wasn't worth waiting in the queue for. My highlight was the potato salad as there were fresh and crunchy vegetables in it and was generally worth the money.

Not discounting the food fully as there are some value for money items on the menu and there is a reason why the place is so popular that a queue forms down Collins Street to get in however my gripes with the place is that there is no air conditioning, it is loud and you have about the same chance as getting a table as you do winning the Lotto. In fact, I retreated to a food court north of the cafe just so a seat could be secured. I may have to strategically return to this place in the off hours (if there are any) so that the crowds that can be likened to those at Southern Cross station are off doing something else and a more positive experience can be had.

Purple Peanuts Japanese Cafe, Collins Street Melbourne

Purple Peanuts Japanese Cafe
Link to review
j20/620 Collins St  Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9620 9548
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, 93% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Purple Peanuts Japanese Cafe.

Purple Peanuts Japanese Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, 22 February 2013

Longrain Melbourne - Zeitgeist

Although I really enjoy Thai-inspired food, Longrain on Little Bourke Street managed to elude my custom until earlier in the week. Although I was given some apt inside advice to enjoy a few cocktails in the bar and wait for a seat in the section of the bar that serves food, which effectively allows you to avoid the communal table seating - something that I have never been to keen to do when not dining with a group in the evening, odd circumstances kept me from Longrain until recently.

When I presented myself at the restaurant with one other, the floor manager was happy to arrange a seat at the bar for a relaxing meal when one became available. In the meantime we were given a different seat at the bar so that we could enjoy tasty alcoholic beverages. It is curious that you are not permitted to order food on one side of the bar but you can on the opposite side. I am sure there is a good reason but I didn't bother asking since I was distracted by pleasant conversation and of course the speciality cocktails of the house.

Ultimately we were moved to new perches at the bar and were provided both the wine list and the dinner menu. The server was very keen to consult with us instead of just take our order. After spending a good three minutes with us talking about the menu, the various tastes that we were keen to experience and also the wine that we pondered matching with the forthcoming feast, we placed our order and I am confident that the ensuing positive experience was highlighted further by the time that he spent with us.

A green papaya salad with snake beans, peanuts and dried shrimp ($14.00) along with crispy son-in-law eggs ($14.00) made a refreshing and aromatic way to start the meal when matched with a very mild pinot noir from Oregon, USA. The produce was fresh and full of flavour and just as impressive when consumed with the red curry with seared duck breast, lychee, fresh bamboo and Siamese watercress ($38.50) and was especially tasty when the papaya salad was mixed up with the curry as an experiment. I was hell-bent on ordering this curry and I was not disappointed. The duck was tender and plentiful. There was some heat in the curry but it was nothing that would cause anyone discomfort. I am grateful that the server talked us out of ordering the jungle curry also as it would have overwhelmed the duck curry but it also gives me the opportunity to return to Longrain soon and try it out.

As the clock turned ticked, the dining room and the communal tables gradually filled up. Surprisingly there was not a lot of noise and the buzz simply made the experience more jovial. The seats at the bar are comfortable and service remained attentive and chatty.

This experience was the zeigeist of the last few weeks of dining. It was not only a pleasant surprise as cocktails, wine, food, service merged in an impressive way but there was also no bill shock when ultimately we left and took refuge at the Croft Institute. I am looking forward to returning to Longrain, either with a group to take advantage of the $65 p/p banquet that is on offer but certainly to experience the other unique editions on the wine menu that sommelier Sam Christie has devised.

Longrain received "one chefs hat" in The Age Good Food Guide.

Longrain, Little Bourke Street, Melbourne

Link to review
40-44 Little Bourke St  Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9671 3151
My Rating: 16.5/20
Service: 4.25/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 4.25/5

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

At the time of this post, 85% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Longrain.

Longrain Melbourne on Urbanspoon

Monday, 18 February 2013

Auction Rooms - Going, Going, Gone

The old WB Ellis auction house on Errol Street in North Melbourne has been converted into a very attractive restaurant and coffee merchant which is now known as the Auction Rooms.

A little foresight and a fair amount of planning has transformed the space into a very organised working area where floors are separated by tiers and there are virtual sections. Whether you demand a table outside, at the coffee bar, in the nook overlooking Errol Street, are a large group or even the wayward couple looking for a single origin blend of coffee that is also flogged in bags and for sale to the public, everyone seems to be seamlessly catered for.

There are sections of the warehouse ceilings that are exposed allowing for ample natural light to enter and you are transfixed by both the exposed brick and faux artwork mimicking chimes that hang from the ceiling in places which avert your eyes from the multiple ceiling fans. Despite it being a hot day, the warehouse restaurant was not overtly hot and remained comfortable for the lunch that I enjoyed because of the sliding windows that allowed from cross ventilation from the front to the back of the business. As the day progresses the menu evolves and instead of being focused on the all-day breakfast dishes and coffees, more substantial plates and alcohol are on offer as the restaurant will continue trading into the evening on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Unlike at St Ali, Three Bags Full and Dukes, you are not relegated to a communal table which I liked. There is a pleasant buzz and the service is very tuned and they all have specific roles and responsibilities which made the ultimate delivery of a long black and iced coffee a quick. The kitchen prepared my salmon rosti efficiently exercised some skill in presenting it. The long black single origin coffee was far from something to write home about but I enjoyed it despite the sour flavour. The poached egg that balanced on top of the salmon on my rosti was a bit overcooked but still very enjoyable.

Overall it was a pleasant experience. Afterwards I enjoyed exploring the neighbourhood and the architecture on display as it was an area that I was previously unfamiliar with. I would return for the quirkiness and chilled vibe, the easy street parking and the lack of pretension.

Auction Rooms, North Melbourne

Auction Rooms
Link to review
103-107 Errol St. North Melbourne VIC 3051
(03) 9326 7749
My Rating: 12.25/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 3.25/5
Quality: 3/5
Value For Money: 3/5

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

At the time of this post, 79% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like the Auction Rooms.

Auction Rooms on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 17 February 2013

D.O.C. Pizza and Mozzarella Bar - Controlled Designation of Origin

Just off Lygon Street and across from the Carlton Wine Room is the D.O.C. Pizza and Mozzarella Bar. People speculate what the initials D.O.C. stands for firstly. Sadly nothing easy to remember like "Department of Corrections" but instead is an abbreviation for Denominazione di origine controllata ("Controlled designation of origin") which is a quality assurance label for Italian food products, especially wines and various cheeses. An apt way to infer that the restaurant serves great produce.

When I was at the Prahran Market earlier in the week, I sourced some Australian scamorsa unsmoked mozzarella since the proper Italian buffalo mozzarella was sold out at the delicatessen. This left my being longing for some of what I couldn't have which is one of the reasons why I ended up at the D.O.C. Pizza and Mozzarella Bar. They technically have a "Mozzarella Bar" section on their menu where you can purchase each of the aforementioned cheeses and match it with pesto, sardines, air cured beef, lightly smoked proscuitto, cured meats or what we opted for - San Daniele Prosciutto from Italy. It was great to match the cheese from the water buffalo's milk and when washed down with a Peroni, it was even better.

More than a dozen pizzas and a calzone are available to order from the "Pizza Bar" and the same high quality produce is used. We ordered the Pizza Speck - with smoked prosciutto, fontina, wild mushrooms and thyme ($22.50) where you have the option of substituting the cheese on the pizza with buffalo mozzarella for an additional $5.50. The introduction of the fontina (cow's milk Italian cheese) was excellent and there was a strong smell of thyme. The thin-based pizza essentially was crispy and if it was possible, every time I wanted a pizza, I would turn up here.

You have the option of dining outside on the street, which is protected by a tree. The brick building holds the air conditioning in well but not the noise. I found it can get quite loud but this is not a fine-dining option by any means, so it really doesn't matter. There is a row of seating near the fireplace that lines the wall toward the bathroom that you probably would want to avoid as you will receive an endless flow of traffic skirting past you as the happy patrons traverse the aisle to relieve themselves. Service was relatively non-existent however I noticed that if you possess an Italian accent you will be entitled to a chat and some additional enthusiasm. Once we were asked if we wanted anything else and the server posed the question and never stopped walking. I ordered a Nutella calzonocino with vanilla bean ice cream ($10.90) and an additional beer whilst the server was doing something at another table. The place wasn't packed so I thought it was bizarre that he couldn't stop for a few seconds and attend to us. Did I mention that the Nutella in the calzone was just so good that I feel guilty typing this instead of languishing at the gym and sweating it out? The opportunity cost certainly was worth it.

D.O.C. Pizza and Mozzarella Bar, Carlton Melbourne

D.O.C. Pizza and Mozzarella Bar
Link to review
295 Drummond St., Carlton VIC 3053
(03) 9347 2998
My Rating: 12.75/20
Service: 2.5/5
Ambiance: 3.25/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3/5

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

At the time of this post, 85% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like D.O.C. Pizza and Mozzarella Bar.

D.O.C. Pizza and Mozzarella Bar on Urbanspoon