Saturday, 6 April 2013

Vegie Bar Fitzroy - I Like Carrots

There is no secret that I like to eat animal flesh often. A quantity of rare meat whenever I can source it placates me in the same way cocaine gives a high to an addict. If I wasn't trying to live outside of my comfort zone which is predicated by writing this blog, I really doubt that I would have turned up at Vegie Bar in Fitzroy for a meal. Fortunately for me this blog is indeed a vehicle for me to expand my appreciation for different things that others are passionate about and effectively gives me a reason to tell a good tale.

The cool underbelly of Fitzroy is on display at this eatery which is not only seemingly quite popular but has been an stalwart for around 20 years on Brunswick Street. High ceilings with fans, communal tables and a buzz that mimics the activity of Flinders Street Station certainly transports you into another world where the smell of garlic is as pungent as a few of the hipsters that were dining outside on the street. We were informed that a small freestanding table was available for us to eat at in the back courtyard and we could not refuse such a glorious offer being it was a perfect day weather-wise. It is a small leafy space that can hold about 15 people comfortably and is a virtual oasis away from the hive of activity inside.

Although beer was available for sale, I opted for the "Berry Blast" which is a freshly squeezed juice ($6.50) made up of raspberries, blackberries, banana and apple juice. This was a good tasty blend and did motivate me to visit the Queen Victoria Market soon so that I could purchase my own quantity of fruit and prepare a concoction like this at home. It would sure beat the poor coffee that I usually have but for the time being I was enjoying my fruit sensation however became sullen that I have become a bit lazy and depend on places like Vegie Bar to prepare modest quenchers like this for me.

The menu is very comprehensive and I was surprised at what was available. My eyes were drawn to the Chickpea Dahl ($7.90) which included a serving of Malaysian flat bread serviced with a lentil and potato dahl. This was really nice and the amount of flat bread that accompanied the dish was the perfect amount to wipe the cup of dahl dry. The lentils had a nice texture and I enjoyed scooping this up and effectively comparing and contrasting it with the dodgy option that I recently had at the takeaway Indian "restaurant" in Sydney but that is a story for another time.

Despite wanting to try my luck with the "Raw Taco" or the "Mexican Burrito", I ordered the "Raw Living Stack" ($13.50) as a main, mainly because of the name of the dish. This turned out to be a castle of crispness, where a marinated mushroom is effectively the foundation of a tower of brightly coloured cashew ricotta, avocado, basil pesto, baby spinach, grated carrot, squash, zucchini and a sliced tomato. A tomato and beetroot purée complimented this stack and the smattering of dehydrated herbed tomato, raw parmesan and kale chips provided a bit of a salty kick.

Service was playful and cheery. Various members of the team were happy to keep replacing the carafes of water (after walking fromt the southside I was very parched) and the only awkward moment was when the food was delivered and there were no utensils on the table for us to use. However this was just a minor hiccup that was quickly fixed. I probably had a more enjoyable time since I was able to languish in the courtyard like a snake on a warm rock as the restaurant itself seemed to be a tad on the loud side, especially around the communal tables. There is a bit of a queue to pay the bill but this can be avoided if you leave cash on the table. In the end I was pleasantly surprised by this healthy and fun place where I want to return just to select other dishes that are adorned with more cashew ricotta. What a great taste! It also helps that you are within crawling distance to Naked for Satan and Black Pearl, so there is additional motivation for me at least to visit the area again soon.

Vegie Bar, Fitzroy, Brunswick Street

Vegie Bar
380 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy VIC 3065
(03) 9417 6935
My Rating: 14/20
Service: 3.25/5
Ambiance: 3.50/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.25/5

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

At the time of this post, 87% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Vegie Bar.

Vegie Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, 5 April 2013

The Original Taco Truck - Get Your Kicks On City Road

When I saw on my Twitter feed  that the original taco truck was going to be parking in Southbank I was over the moon. Normally the truck can be found curiously around Fitzroy, North Carlton and at times in the Punt Road area from what I have seen on Twitter so you can imagine my excitement to find out it was making a rare appearance in Southbank. After recovering from the hangover experienced from the previous days frivolities, when the truck set up shop on City Road at 5:00 PM, I was the first eager and very hungry patron since I had neglected to eat previously in the day.

I have read articles describing not only the popularity of the taco truck, but also the wait times. With this in mind, I was probably a bit more enthusiastic then I should have been as there is not much foot traffic around where it was parked, at Southbank Library. Most punters I suspect would not even know that there is a somewhat new library and community centre on City Road in Southbank but I digress.

We ordered a total of eight tacos at $6/each. I was especially looking forward to both the prawn and chicken tacos that were highly recommended by others but this truck (there are two of them) was only selling beef, fish and black bean tacos on this mild day.

A good fish taco is hard to find. I have consistently been impressed what is on offer at Senoritas on Meyers Lane and what the taco truck is vending, although not considered "authentic" Mexican by any means is very decent. It is smart that they use Rockling fish and lightly batter chunks of it before placing it in the soft taco shell with some cabbage and a light but tangy mayonnaise sauce. Given the limited facilities within the truck to prepare food, it was apt to choose this fish which is endemic to Australia (closely related to the Assfish and Codfish) which you would rarely see being sold whole from the fishmonger because it is so ugly and is coated in a layer of mucous. As it has but a few bones, it is a good fillet to serve in a taco as the probability of someone choking or ending up in duress is exceptionally low. Still, the fish had a mild flavour and because it isn't an oily fish, combined with the light batter made it a natural complement to the soft taco shell. I always remain skeptical of fish tacos because juicy or oily fish will destroy the taco shell and it seems silly to ultimately eat a taco, and in the case of what is flogged from the taco truck which is supposed to be street food, with a fork. It is certainly a different taste when you factor in the batter but I would happily order it again.

The black bean taco, once spruced up with green sauce (there are four bottles of El Yucateco sauce on offer, all with varied degrees of heat and I would suggest adding the additional flavour as a default) was tasty but not as exciting as the other options with flesh. One of the shells fell apart from the weight of the beans, but that is understandable so I did need to source a fork. The second bean taco that I enjoyed, remained intact and it was good enough. It makes a healthy alternative and would appeal to my limited vegetarian mates and was probably a bit better since I was able to eat it outside basking in the sun with the sweet smell of emissions from City Road nearby.

The beef tacos were my favourite by a country mile. The addition of extra tamarind not only added the kick but with the other elements, made for a really flavoursome and spicy experience. I happily had two of these, and although the tortillas were not the best quality that I have had in Melbourne, they did manage to stay intact. What impressed me was again the volume of product that the tortilla was earmarked to hold. Like with the fish, the taco truck isn't stingy with the fillings.

Although I didn't concern myself with the tortilla chips and guacamole, in the end I was happy with what I bought from the truck. I hope that it appears in Southbank or the surrounding area more often as I would certainly return. Would I walk/drive/tram to Fitzroy to hunt out a taco and experience the dreaded queues and notorious wait times? Probably not but it is still a cool concept. Follow the taco truck on Twitter (@tacotruckmelb) so you know where they are going to be at on any given day and get there when they first arrive.

Chingon (The Richmond-based Taqueria) also has a taco truck and should not be confused with the "original" two taco trucks.

Taco Truck Melbourne

Taco Truck
Various Places around Melbourne
(03) 8060 6664
Twitter: @tacotruckmelb
My Rating: n/a/20
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, 87% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like the Taco Truck.

Taco Truck on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Shanghai Street Dumpling + Patricia Coffee Brewers - Remains of the Day

I enjoyed a marathon-like experience effectively wandering around Melbourne yesterday where my mission seemed to be to drink as much beer and wine as possible. The journey concluded at Hungry Jacks on Swanston Street at 2:00 AM and I have both an empty can of Tecate beer and the Whopper wrapper to prove it. Where I sourced the can of Tecate though is anyone's guess however before I began the alcohol-fueled journey of Captain Cook, I enjoyed a sober lunch at Shanghai Street Dumpling on Little Bourke Street.

This cozy space which seats around 20 people, which is near the Elizabeth Street intersection can easily be found. Just look for the queue of smartly dressed corporate-types flowing out onto the footpath. There always seems to be a traffic jam of human beings waiting to get into this place, so is the product worth the wait?

Two people can easily be fed cheaply, and it our case yesterday, we had a total of 23 dumplings for $19.80. The Chicken and Prawn Xiao Long Bao were good enough for the price but they were nothing to rave about. There was certainly not enough broth, which is the differentiating factor between good and great Xiao Long Bao in my humble opinion. Man Tong Kitchen at Crown provides plenty of piping hot broth in their dumplings, as does its humble sister, HuTong Dumpling Bar in Chinatown. You rarely have to queue for the latter. The pork dumplings, despite being great value for money and having a great taste, seemed a bit on the soggy side.

Make sure to come armed with a pocket full of coins as this place doesn't accept credit cards and be prepared to be gazed at awkwardly by the hungry and impatient customers in the queue whilst you stuff your face with dumplings or slurp noodles. The staff will take your order whilst you wait in the queue so once are finally seated at either a table or one of the four stools up against the window (where you have a good view of the people in the queue) the food will arrive very quickly.

With the leftover cash in our pockets, and because service at Shanghai Street Dumpling never asked if we wanted any beverages, we wandered further along Little Bourke Street and had coffee sourced from Bolivia at Patricia Coffee Brewers. The entrance to this small place is via Little William Street and is in spitting distance to the NAB Plaza where EARL Canteen, Movida Aqui and Paco's Tacos are all located. This place is barely big enough to swing a cat in and when you add the staff who frantically brew coffee behind a bar that is nearly as big as the room, it is pretty much a hive of activity with patrons propped up against the wall along the perimeter reading the newspaper and gazing out the window on the laneway as it is. This is one of the venues that the Sydney tourists would define as "typical Melbourne" as whilst the efficient staff make your coffee, you can languish in the laneway alongside rubbish bins until your cup is brought outside and your name is called. Did I mention that the coffee is good? They do have the Seven Seeds brand on offer which never disappoints however I did enjoy the Bolivian product.

The empty coffee cups ultimately ended up in the bin at The Deanery on Bligh Place after being exchanged for wine however before my dance with the demon drink started, I can say that I enjoyed my trip down Little Bourke Street and if you have the time, search these places out for a quick and cheap bite or for your hourly caffeine fix. For me Patricia Coffee Brewers could placate my coffee addiction until the day that I drop dead, but how fun would that be.

Shanghai Street Dumpling, LIttle Bourke Street, Melbourne

Shanghai Street Dumpling
342 Little Bourke St., Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9600 2250
no web site
My Rating: 12/20
Service: 2.5/5
Ambiance: 2.5/5
Quality: 3/5
Value For Money: 4/5

Patricia Coffee Brewers, Little Bourke Street, Melbourne

Patricia Coffee Brewers
493-495 Little Bourke St., Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9642 2237
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, 90% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Shanghai Street Dumpling and a further 96% like Patricia Coffee Brewers.

Shanghai Street Dumpling on Urbanspoon Patricia Coffee Brewers on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

EARL Canteen - Corporate Lemmings

When I think of 500 Bourke Street, memories of the former NAB headquarters, Movida Aqui and Paco's Tacos are evoked all with different levels of emotion. The aforementioned culinary delights are accessed via the outdoor area on level one of the eponymous NAB plaza and for the most part I have neglected the shops and cafés on the ground floor with the one notable exception being EARL Canteen

Nestled next to Prime House and across from the Cafenatics franchise, this small but smartly designed café has a varied menu available for dine-in or takeaway for breakfast and lunch on weekdays along with a very limited alcohol menu. Should you be in a rush, which seemingly most of the patrons are when the corporate bell rings and they are allowed an allotted time to be fed from the trough, the display cabinet houses pre-made sandwiches, but in my experience, the bread has always been soft and the fillings a bit more on the premium side compared to other cafés in the area. On my last visit, a Corned Beef Wagyu Beef ($9.50) sandwich which had Moondarra Wagyu beef stood out along with an Egg and Watercress ($8) sandwich.

If you do have the time, take a table if you can secure one either outside in the plaza or inside at one of the few high communal perches. I have found service to be very efficient and friendly in depositing a bottle of water on your table and bringing menus. This time around I opted for the Chicken & Chips ($13) which is a roast free-range chicken, crushed peas, bacon marmalade and potato crisps. Don't be confused thinking that you are going to get a plate with piece of chicken, peas and crisps on the side, all of the elements are presented inside a soft and large bread roll including the crisps. Normally I am adverse to large pieces of bread, but not in the case of the EARL Canteen. I do enjoy the bread and the quality produce that they use to construct the sandwiches and this particular sandwich was really nice and ultimately satisfying with the bacon marmalade the most vexing and playful taste. Why else would I carry on about this place when normally I would type out so many words musing about the places upstairs? Simple. What EARL serves up, is just good.

Besides a couple of entries for piss and plonk on the drinks menu, there is also Hepburn Springs mineral water from the Daylesford area along with organic lemonade ($4) which I find really nice.

With so many places competing for my daytime dollars in the Melbourne CBD, I have always considered EARL a standout considering the produce that they use and the efficiency of the staff - not only in delivering your order to the table or on the rare occasion sorting out takeaway or processing your exit with a Paypass facility. The place just works well.

EARL Canteen, 500 Bourke Street, Melbourne
EARL Canteen
500 Bourke Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
*Enter the plaza via Little William Street, Grice Alley or Little Bourke Street
(03) 9600 1995
My Rating: 13.25/20
Service: 3.5/5
Ambiance: 3.25/5
Quality: 3.5/5
Value For Money: 3/5

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

At the time of this post, 83% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like EARL Canteen.

EARL Canteen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Bar Lourinhã - The Marraige of Wine and Chorizo

Up on the Paris-end of Little Collins Street with spectacular views of a car park and the Senoritas sign on Meyers Place, you will find an intriguing Iberian tapas-wine-cocktail bar called Bar Lourinhã. The place is seemingly named after "Lourinhã" which is a municipality in Portugal with a population of around 25,000.

We were escorted immediately upon entry to stools at the bar by an affable bloke called Hershy  who would ultimately take care of our wild and wanton eating and drinking needs for the whole of the afternoon. As usual, this visit was not going to be a quick dine and dash experience, we planned to get stuck into the short yet interesting menu and the intriguing wine list.

What first caught my eye was the 961 beer ($9) in the bar refrigerator. This craft beer hails from the only microbrewery in Lebanon which is quite a fair distance from the Iberian peninsula but it is a special beverage that you can not find in many places in Australia. This hydration and distraction gave us time to fully inspect the menus and decide to begin with Pimientos de Queensland of the Patron variety ($16) and a bottle of Flor de Crasto 2010 Douro ($43) which was a bold start and equally adventurous since it was very early in the afternoon. Don't be fooled that since these green peppers are sourced from Queensland, that they don't pack a punch. The smaller the pepper, the more concentrated the heat and the more of the fine Douro you ultimately skull.

Chorizo Pincho ($10) a Pintxo but presented on a skewer, followed. A simple and strong taste and overall good chorizo. The overarching flavour complimented the Douro and the sweet and mild chilies that accompanied the chorizo. To polish of the bottle of wine we tried the croquetas ($4/each) which were not only soft and warm but cleansed the palate in anticipation of the next bottle of wine.

Vadio Bairrada D.O.C. 2007 ($59) was the next bottle to be sacrificed. Bairrada is a Portuguese wine region located in the Beira province. The region has Portugal's highest wine classification as a Denominação de Origem Controlada - thus the D.O.C. classification. Another order of Chorizo Pincho and two additional croquetas were ordered before enjoying this earthy wine with the special duck ($32) and pork ($18) which matched well with the wine. My initial apprehensions of matching the delicate duck with the earthy wine were silly and everything worked well. It certainly gave us cause to sit, relax and enjoy pleasant conversation whilst the masses wandered past on Little Collins Street. I was pleased that I was not one of the herd on this relaxing and sunny afternoon.

There are a few lounges bordering the perimeter of the restaurant which would be useful not only for a quick nap after knocking back a few bottles of red at the bar, but to enjoy cocktails or sangria at. The decorations and art give off the vibe of a place that you would find on the Iberian peninsula and although the aficionados would complain that tapas that you would find in Portugal or Spain would be much cheaper, and no doubt point you in the direction of Movida should you want to pay higher prices, I found what you eat and drink to be both reasonably priced and tasty compared to other alternatives in Melbourne. There are only a few places that I have found where you want to build your food experience around the wine but also in the end wasn't concerned that the bill would be out of control because of an afternoon of excess. In fact I was not only pleasantly surprised to pay my share and thought it was good value for money despite being a bit under the influence of said good wine as I walked out.

Bar Lourinha, Little Collins Street, Melbourne
Bar Lourinhã
37 Little Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9663 7890
My Rating: 14.75/20
Service: 3.75/5
Ambiance: 3.25/5
Quality: 3.75/5
Value For Money: 4/5

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

At the time of this post, 91% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Bar Lourinhã.

Bar Lourinhã on Urbanspoon

Monday, 1 April 2013

Gasolina South Wharf - Decepticon

I never got into the Michael Bay-Transformers remake money train. The last time I went out on an IT-related group movie function though was to screen Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and I can appreciate why people rate the special effects and also why such a move would appeal to geeks, children and generally those that like escapism.

It was a particularly warm day and I walked to a meeting in South Melbourne. Despite it being late in the afternoon, the notion of eating and drinking all day had escaped me and feeling especially parched, when I walked past Gasolina on South Wharf, not only was I a tad surprised as I did not even know that something had opened up in the vacant shed space but it also looked somewhat cool and inviting. Of course the sign advertising a pizza and beer for $19 on the pedestrian walkway is what sealed the deal.

The open space has its bar as the focal point in the centre of the property. Some lounges and tables are scattered near one of the windows where other more conventional bar-like tables dot the place and incidentally there is a considerable amount of space between the tables which I found novel. As there is direct access to the garage next to Gasolina which houses custom motorcycles and a few automobiles, the motoring theme spills over into the restaurant and bar. Besides the chopper with custom paint that was parked in between tables, most curiously were the addition of "Transformers" forms of art. Yes, you guessed it, replicas from the latest Michael Bay movie(s) where one stands in the corner staring at the guests and I spotted another smaller one outside. Very novel and amusing and they certainly lead to a bit of conversation in between pints of the wonderful Victorian 2 Brothers Kung Foo beer. This hydration was enjoyed after trying the "meat pizza" that was on offer along with a pot of Carlton Draught for $19. The taste of the pizza itself could have been enhanced with more meat but the crust was just fine and for the hungry and thirsty patron like myself that was looking for something cheap and cheerful, which evolved into a few pints after the fact enjoying the surrounds had his expectations met.

Although the venue doesn't have "water views" like its brothers and sisters on the other side of the footpath, for a bar that has a comprehensive menu it makes for an intriguing alternative to the Melbourne Public which is spitting distance away or any of the other properties within the South Wharf precinct where you may want a substitute for a "formal" experience. Live music which is scheduled on occasion is a welcome addition to the Wharf precinct and is worth a visit.

Gasolina, South Wharf, Melbourne

25 Dukes Walk, South Wharf VIC 3006
(03) 9696 1169
My Rating: 12.50/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 3.25/5
Quality: 3.25/5
Value For Money: 3/5

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

At the time of this post, 90% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Gasolina.

Gasolina Melbourne on Urbanspoon