Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Bond Store - Skyfall

This is the first blog post where I am embedding a video made of photographs that I took of the respective venue. In this instance, when combined they form a short 29-second movie which will also be available on my YouTube channel. Over the next week or so, I will work to provide higher quality galleries in future reviews and also use a better camera where appropriate instead depending on the in-built camera on my Samsung Galaxy S3.

The Bond Store, which is located near Eureka Tower, behind the Southbank Promenade on Riverside Quay is named after the bluestone vaults of Customs House where back in the good old days, imported goods were historically held in bond until the customs duty had been paid. Now the old warehouse has been turned into a quality café that is popular meeting place for the corporate lemmings that work in Freshwater Place and the area in general. With the exposed brick walls and high wooden ceilings, the venue is a portal into the local history of the area in a bygone time where tourism, gambling and the ubiquitous McDonald's had not encroached on the serenity of the area in general.

I met my clever friend here for a morning catch-up knowing that if we convened before the clock struck twelve and concluded our business, we would not be tempted to get into either the alcohol supply on offer in the café or kick on to other places in the area and enjoy the liquid hospitality over a long and boozy lunch.

We started with the coffee which was decent. Although a breakfast menu is available until 11:30 AM, I waited until precisely that time so the lunch menu was released to order a Reuben sandwich. A good Reuben is hard to find in Melbourne so I was rather excited to find one on offer. Technically what the café was advertising was a bastardised Reuben as their concoction was described to have pastrami and dijon mustard, substituting for corned beef and thousand island dressing, which is what a tradional Rueben would have in between rye bread. Still, there was a good quantity of pastrami of average quality, which made it a good sandwich with a fair amount of rocket on the side.

Service was under pressure from the fair amount of patrons serving coffees and given that we were there during a transition period between menus where they were preparing for the lunch rush, I could understand why they were not as attentive as you would expect. Still once you caught their attention, the process kicked into overdrive.

Google May for The Bond Store, Riverside Quay, Southbank

The Bond Store
1 Riverside Quay, Southbank VIC 3006
(03) 9686 9007
no web site, no Twitter feed
My Rating: 12.5/20
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 3/5
Value For Money: 3/5

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

At the time of this post, 96% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like The Bond Store.

The Bond Store on Urbanspoon Rating: 3.1

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Misuzu's + Jocks Ice Cream, Albert Park - What $50 Can Buy

Continuing my recent trend of trying to find good value at unique venues on the outskirts of the Melbourne CBD, my travels took me to Misuzu's in Albert Park to first sample modest portions afforded by this quirky Japanese izakaya-style restaurant on Victoria Avenue. One of the rare times that I actively hunted out a dessert that was not part of a degustation menu was found near Misuzu's at Jocks Ice Cream afterwards.

Our challenge was to see how far $50 could be stretched between these two venues and I believe a fair amount of variety was enjoyed.

The menu at Misuzu's is actually quite large and you are spoiled for choice. Between the dishes from the izakaya, sushi and sashimi that is available from the small glass bar and the comprehensive sake and wine menu, I can understand why this place is popular. There is a fair amount of seating both outside on the footpath under the cover of trees, stools at the sushi bar and the usual tables that you would expect in the dining room. With the amount of traffic in the immediate area and children outside, we decided to sit inside in the air conditioned comfort.

Water and the aforementioned large menus were quickly presented and after walking from the CBD, the refreshments were vanquished immediately, refills were quickly attended to and Tiro Cola ($4) was provided as a substitute for Diet Coke. It was not articulated that a substitute would be provided but I certainly didn't mind the sugar despite the Tiro product tasting a bit strange. We decided on the large "Finger Food Non-Vegetarian Platter" ($32) which did not articulate anything further with respect to what was included. We were both not only intrigued but curious to take our chances, looking forward to a mini-banquet of Japanese-inspired finger food.

The platter appeared about fifteen minutes later and there was a moderate amount of food for two people to enjoy. There were three bowls of salad. One being a tasty tuna, corn and rice noodle concoction that I started to devour whilst my dining companion got stuck into the calamari and vegetable salad. The third salad was a more traditional light and fishy salad with olives and large chunks of our friends from the sea hidden between the leaves. 

Four "California" style rolls accompanied the salads. Two were vegetarian themed and two included a decent amount of smoked salmon. These were large rolls, and when I added some ginger and some wasabi to my allocated vegetarian offering, it provided the taste of horseradish that so I desperately wanted. The three remaining items were rather curious. There was a dumpling that looked like the all too familiar sausage roll but had a minced fish on the inside of the pastry. An odd looking pastry that looked like a small meat pie, turned out to be a dumpling from the izakaya containing amusingly enough, meat. Finally what looked like a deep fried egg turned out to be another dumpling but with some tasty prawn meat. Once everything was divided up with the wooden knife that was provided, it made for a perfect amount of food and we were satisfied. Although I liked the food and the salads as they were fresh, the platter is advertised as "Non-Vegetarian" however there were a fair amount of vegetarian-items, including 50% of the California Rolls. No big deal really but I would have liked to see animal flesh included in this option.

Service did not have much to do when they attended to us and everything was quite efficient. There are many bottles of sake on display, not only in the coolers but also around the perimeter of the restaurant along with the traditional Japanese Bobtail cat waving at you from various places. It was a quirky experience with an interesting menu. A place that I would return to via Tram #1 to South Melbourne Beach with the intention of getting stuck into the sake and a late night swim, which I would hope would not end up to be a one way trip to a premature demise in a watery grave.

Just a mere 350m wander from Misuzu's you will find Jocks Ice Cream on Victoria Avenue. What a cool (sic) little place. With around 30 flavours available in cones or cups along with a couple of coolers filled with tubs of specialty ice cream that you can purchase to take away, I would certainly return to this place in a heartbeat. The ice cream is some of the best that I ever have had and a double scoop cone ($5) is smartly designed to accommodate the two scoops of ice cream laterally. Jocks also sells small containers of fudge and interestingly enough chicken and beef stock. I wasn't expecting the stock to be sold in their proprietary customer containers along with ice cream and sorbet but I suppose if there is a market, more power to them.

So between $40 all up at Misuzu's and $10 for two double cones at Jocks, we found some diversity in Albert Park and certainly discovered two new interesting places that are worth returning to. 

Misuzu's, Victoria Avenue, Albert Park

3/7 Victoria Ave., Albert Park VIC 3206
(03) 9699 9022
My Rating: 13/20
Service: 3.25/5
Ambiance: 3.25/5
Quality: 3.25/5
Value For Money: 3.25/5

Jocks Ice Cream, Victoria Avenue, Albert Park

Jocks Ice Cream
83 Victoria Ave., Albert Park VIC 3206
(03) 9686 3838
no web site, no Twitter account
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, 88% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Misuzu's. A further 93% of the reviewers also like Jocks Ice Cream.

Misuzu's on Urbanspoon Jock's Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Don Don + Dead Man Espresso South Melbourne - Faraway So Close

Days are always much more interesting and seem to go quicker when meetings and "catch-ups" can be had over coffee at various lunch venues around the CBD. Besides having errands to do on Clarence Street in South Melbourne, I arranged so-called business gatherings at Don Don on Bank Street and Dead Man Espresso on Market Street in South Melbourne and was impressed with what I found.

Not to be confused with its smaller, warmer and more hectic sibling in the CBD, Don Don stands resolute on Bank Street in South Melbourne, just around the corner from the cheap and cheerful Taiwanese eatery, pekopeko. When I last visited Don Don in the CBD, it was a packed with the lunchtime rush and I didn't find the environment very accommodating. The polar-opposite is true at the South Melbourne location. Not only are there a few tables outside to eat at, service inside is quite organised and the overall process to get two orders of Chicken Teriyaki Don and two cans of Pepsi Max ($17 all up) was as simple as just blinking. You can see the busy kitchen staff off to the side grilling large quantities of meat in anticipation of placating the hungry masses on demand and they did not disappoint. The order was bowled-up fresh from the grill in about 30 seconds. Chili powder is available on the side to supplement the taste if you are that way inclined but what impressed me was the amount of sauce that accompanied the chicken and of course the rice. Nothing irks me like a mound of tasteless rice but on this occasion, every bite possessed a tasty and salty flavour. On a sunny and mild day, this place is a bit of a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the CBD and Southbank and is worth the brisk walk just knowing that you can bask in the sunlight at a clean table outside without too much commotion around you for a very reasonable price.

South Melbourne has a reputation of being a world away from the CBD and Southbank. Given that it borders Albert Park, I would agree that for most of the happy workers in the area, it would be a bit of a trek by foot or tram however in the case of Dead Man Espresso, it is a mere five minute walk from the rear of Crown Casino on the corner of Clark and Market Street. Situated in a smart building that architecturally is very nice to look at from the outside and is even more intriguing when inside, options abound at this cafe that wears multiple hats. Not only a very visually striking interior but also a balcony that overlooks the street and further outdoor seating on the footpath. Given this place is just off of Clarendon Street in more of an industrialised area the motorcar traffic is limited and it is a rather peaceful location that certainly is able to take advantage of the afternoon sun. What I first noticed was the bottles of Hawthorn and Hargreaves lines of beer on display high on the wall and that Seven Seeds coffee was being sold which has always been a favourite of mine, I was immediately hooked. I opted for the sweeter long black blend and it was served up with a smile. The menu was intriguing and considering the close proximity to the CBD and the relaxed locale, I am going to adopt this as a new venue where I do "catch-ups" weekly. I just really liked the design and fit-out combined with the multiple options for seating where you never feel that you are intruding on the space of others where you still had room not only to spread out but also have important confidential conversations.

Although South Melbourne seems ages away, in reality adding a few extra steps to my daily regime can only help my expanding waistline and once again I am impressed by venues seemingly off the beaten path. I think you will be too if you put on your walking shoes.

Don Don, Bank Street, South Melbourne

Don Don South Melbourne
5 Bank Street, South Melbourne VIC 3205
(03) 9696 6682
No web site or Twitter feed.
My Rating: N/A
Service: N/A
Ambiance: N/A
Quality: N/A
Value For Money: N/A

Dead Man Espresso, Market Street, South Melbourne

Dead Man Espresso
35 Market St., South Melbourne VIC 3205
(03) 9686 2255
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 Don Don South Melbourne. A further 80% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Dead Man Espresso.

Don Don on Urbanspoon Dead Man Espresso on Urbanspoon

Monday, 8 April 2013

Piqueos - Of This Burning Heart

It seemed fitting to visit a restaurant in Carlton before going to the MCG to see the hapless Blues clash with the mighty Magpies. Although I was effectively in the territory of the enemy, Piqueos on Rathdowne Street opened their doors to four rowdy and enthusiastic blokes who demanded some alcohol but more importantly the literal translation of the restaurants name, small bites of food but with a huge amount of taste influenced by the cuisine from South America.

Whilst the various warm bodies arrived on their own time, bottles of the locally produced 3 Ravens ($9) quenched our thirst as we conveniently languished in between the front corner of the bar and the table nearest the window and told tall tales. When we finally were all together and seated like gentlemen, service was happy to explain the menu, which interestingly also includes a degustation option for $60 for ten items. Being mindful that we really only had two hours to enjoy the hospitality of this eatery, we instead quickly moved from beer to the 2009 Terrazas de los Andes Cabernet Sauvignon ($69), a bold red that hails from the shadows of the Andes mountains in the Mendoza wine region of Argentina.

Before the red arrived, we finished our beer by complimenting it with two orders of Piqueos (small things) being the Viera - grilled scallop with aji rocoto ($5.50/each) and Tiradito - locally caught Kingfish with lime, red onion and aji amarillo ($7.00/each) both items being full of flavour and soothing to the palate. The scallops were plump and with the addition of the rocoto, a South American red pepper that grows on the slopes of the Andes, certainly made for a great taste sensation and pairing. Sourcing the amarillo, a yellow pepper that also is from the Andes, and adding it in moderation to the Kingfish gave it a kick and certainly another welcome explosion of flavour.

Empanadas (baked pastries) arrived with the 2009 Terrazas. There were three different types (all $4.50/each) on offer and we sampled the whole gamut. The Pollo - chicken and char-grilled corn was perhaps my favourite, but that is not to discount the flavours in the Queso - cheese potato and char-grilled onion or the Carne - beef, olive and egg which matched very nicely with the wine.

Raciones (a form of tapas) followed. I had earmarked the wine to be matched with the Mollejas ($15) being char-grilled beef sweetbreads and the Anticucho de Corizon ($15) the bold grilled beef heart with red onion and aji rocoto mayonnaise. Why people are not more adventurous with cuisine is beyond me and once one mate overcame his fear of eating the heart, he agreed with me that it was brilliant. A suitable match for the wine, as were the sweetbreads although I was left with the lion share of these tasty morsels of organ meat as the texture is not something that agrees with everyone. Personally, I loved them.

Two menu items were ordered from the Parrilla (grill) which is also curiously translated as a method of torture. I was experiencing a self-imposed period of flagellation as my dining comrades greedily ate the Pescado ($27) - the locally caught fresh fish with chimmichurri and lime. I was not left with any since I enjoyed the bulk of the sweetbreads. Thanks guys.

The Cordero ($25) - 250g of Poon Boon lamb rump, I did have the opportunity to enjoy though. It was very nicely grilled on the outside and suitably red in the middle which once again went well with the wine and was another one of the highlights of this eclectic meal. The Ensalada (salad) de Quinoa ($14) - red and black quinoa, pomegranate and radicchio accompanied the lamb and provided a suitable yet tasty filler to finalise our journey around South America.

Throughout our two hour adventure, service remained cheery and attentive. Presenting a South American Churrasqueria-like ambiance where strangely the lights leave the biggest impression on the overall design, the place is relaxed and given the professionalism of the staff, time absolutely flew and despite getting a taxi on the street almost immediately after leaving, we were a few minutes late to the big game. Sacrificing a few minutes of live sport for Piqueos is certainly a worth-while trade off and overall this was a memorable experience for all of the right reasons.

Piqueos, Carlton, Melbourne

298 Rathdowne St., Carlton North VIC 3054
(03) 9349 2777
My Rating: 14.5/20
Service: 3.75/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.25/5

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

At the time of this post, 91% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Piqueos.

Piqueos on Urbanspoon Rating: 3.6

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Melba Buffet Langham Hotel Southbank - Lord of the Flies

Buffets always seem to disappoint me. I would prefer to have a chef's degustation experience or at the minimum a few courses of memorable beautiful food as a smorgasbord tends to lead to more disappointing enduring thoughts for all of posterity. Melba at the Langham Hotel like with other buffets has positive aspects but also negative ones, the latter sadly shining through more prominently.

After dining at the Crown Casino's Conservatory a few months ago, I was excited in a bizarre way to compare and contrast that experience with what Melba had in store. The Conservatory is a beautiful space and when you enjoy the buffet, there is a semblance of service however all of the food in general was not very exciting although they should be crowned the King of desserts. To refresh your memory with my thoughts on Conservatory, here is the review.

You are given a professional and enthusiastic greeting when you present yourself at the kiosk of the restaurant. After verifying that I had a booking, I was asked if this was my first visit to Melbourne. I would have thought petty conversation would have included a query as to whether or not I am staying in the hotel so I was a bit amused. The dining room is accessed by walking a phalanx of seafood, including a small sushi bar and is bordered by glass so that the views of the beautiful (sic) Yarra River and CBD are on display. The hungry patrons seem to be herded all near the window as they assume that everyone wants a view but also to effectively make it a bit easier on the service staff to provide you some courtesy however the close proximity of so many people just makes the environment a bit loud.

When you are seated, drink orders are taken and a little too much attention is given by the staff to sell wine. "No" means NO and asking the customer "are you sure?" if you really do not want wine was a bit pushy and rude. Not long after disappointing the restaurant because you don't order wine, a large empty ceramic bowl is placed on your table along with a small finger bowl with water and lemon as the restaurant presumes that you will be making a beeline for the alter of prawns, yabbies and swimmer crab and require the use of, in our case, a chipped bowl, to hold the discarded exoskeletons. I know I wasn't going to work for my food and de-shell prawns at a $84.90/head buffet and my amused mate certainly had no interest either. Given the prices of fresh seafood at the Prahran and Queen Victoria Markets, it seemed silly to pick apart swimmer crab in an inauspicious way with so many other items on offer. After toddling up to the buffet tables for the first time the sparkling water and beer did arrive though.

One of the highlights of this buffet that differentiated it from others is that there is a small sushi bar with a chef ready to cut various slabs of fish into sashimi for you. I found the chef extremely bored and the kingfish, salmon and tuna sashimi that I tried over two separate trips to be as exciting as the chef and previously frozen. This is when I noticed a couple of flies circling the area. The chef didn't seem to care. There is a vat of miso available and I must of looked like a performer in Cirque du Soleil as I attempted to fill a bowl with a ladle and also swat at flies at the same time as I did not one to actually get into the vat.

A further trip to the food area yielded some Indian-inspired fare. This was the highlight of my experience. The Chicken Tikka which was prepared on skewers actually had some spice, were  both soft and moist and were generally just awesome. When added to the handmade cheese and garlic naan bread that is made to order, the two matched were simply divine.

Returning to the flies and the heavily worn chairs in the dining room, one of the plates placated my desire to sample each of the cuts of meat on offer. Five-spice duck was the highlight however it was presented very lazily. The cartilage and meat were both cut up in chunks together, obviously quickly plated up so the hungry masses would be satisfied. I did learn that you could have the duck served in pancakes which encouraged the server to take more care and not serve you cartilage. The pork belly, beef and chicken were all rather dry. There were two beautiful roast chickens on display however like with the duck, the one that was being served was sloppily cut so that a chunk of white meat from the breast also included the breastbone. There was a bowl of steamed vegetables on display but no potatoes (mashed or otherwise) so I added some cherry tomatoes and mayonnaise-style dressing along with some small pork buns, which despite being small were full of flavour fortunately to accompany my dry and boring meat.

I gave up hoping that the server would come and ask if I wanted to order another beer when the original one was vacated. Thinking proactively, it was one of the reasons why I ordered the large bottle of sparkling water for the table figuring that service might be challenged to provide  as they scramble about removing dirty plates from the tables. Perhaps this was the restaurant's revenge for not ordering a bottle of wine.

The refrigerated dessert case is not impressive at all. It also includes some fruit and is next to a cheese table. After making five trips to the buffet tables (including two to the sushi bar) I did not reserve much room for dessert and I was feeling rather lethargic however I did find the chilled chocolate cake and a shot glass filled with some orange concoction to cleanse my palate along with some watermelon in anticipation of paying the bill satisfying.

The lack of service and the tired surrounds combined with the volume of flies both near the food and the dining area of a five-star hotel was disappointing. The restaurant is not close to the entrance of the hotel, which itself is protected by two doors, so in my humble opinion there is no excuse for the  place to be home to so many flies. The dining room needs a good renovation. Paint is peeling from the walls, the wooden chairs are excessively scratched and in general the ambiance is a bit tired. The positive is that there are selections of the buffet that taste pretty good - most notably the Indian section but then again at $84.90/head you can go to some high-end Indian restaurants in Melbourne and eat like President Pranab Mukherjee and have plenty of money left over even after buying the wine that is on offer.

The ARIA lounge bar is only a few steps away from the buffet and serves as a good outpost to relax and reflect on all things epicurean. Although I found a few tasty items at Melba, I would return to Conservatory the next time I need to host and placate the dietary ambiguity of a fair amount of people or there is a need to be a glutton. It is as simple as that.

Melba Restaurant Buffet, Langham Hotel, Southbank Melbourne

Melba Restaurant at the Langham Hotel
1 Southbank Ave., Southbank VIC 3006
(800) 641 107
My Rating: 10/20
Service: 2/5
Ambiance: 2.75/5
Quality: 2.75/5
Value For Money: 2.5/5

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

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

Melba Brasserie on Urbanspoon