Saturday, 6 July 2013

Misty's Diner - Not Jack Rabbit Slim's

There were a few choices in and around Melbourne that had a perceived "American" theme which needed to be pursued on the Fourth of July, which was the day the American's celebrate independence of sorts. I thought it would be appropriate to give Misty's Diner on High Street in Prahran a try as it was also possible to get your motorcar washed next door in the adjoining facility.

When you enter this diner, it is like stepping back into time onto the set of Happy Days but on steroids. I was joking with a mate at the Collingwood-Carlton match last night that the Hungry Jack's at Wynyard station in Sydney has been decorated with 50's memorabilia, photos of Elvis, Marilyn, old American license plates: a supposed reference to a more innocent and bygone era where us human beings were not attached to smartphones, Facebook and R&B. Given that I did not see a patron in Misty's Diner, let alone ever in that Hungry Jack's that has lived through the 50's and 60's, we are left to romanticise this era and relive it in brightly coloured booths with a menu of pure comfort food that can easily be used as an answer as to why there is an obesity problem not only here but in the United States.

After entering the diner, I immediately noticed the volume of rubbish left behind on tables that had previously been vacated. It was lunch time service and it looked rather busy however a fair amount of the tables were dirty which was off-putting  We were greeted with "how can I help you?" by the server in costume. A vexing question to be asked in the diner. Was I there to deposit a cheque like I did at the bank some days past? No. Was I there to discuss why my power bill went up by $500 this quarter? I think not. What did we want to achieve here? Oh, I remember now... lunch. So I asked for a table for two and we were taken past the warzone of filthy tables and around the corner next to the kitchen and seated in a corridor of sorts that provided access to the car wash.

We were left to our own devices for about twenty minutes to read the indulgent menus and fortunately for me, I was able to watch a replay of the Andy Murray match at Wimbledon as the television was within eyesight. When service finally came around to take our orders, I thought an "Alabama Slamma" alcoholic beverage would be a good way to start, along with some buffalo wings with a side of bleu cheese dressing. The Philly Cheesesteak also spoke to me as I had not had one in years, and it certainly wasn't anything close to being authentic back in the day so I was excited knowing that one was on offer.

Whilst waiting for food, a few other patrons were seated in the corridor next to us and after being ignored for a while, they got up and left. It would seem they were not interested in pleasant conversation like we were and of course the tennis so given the wait not only for service but also food, which was confirmed by the waitress later as she didn't actually write down our order when she originally took it.

When the access door to the car wash began to open and close repeatedly and strangely the people would move from the car wash to the kitchen via the thoroughfare that we were sitting in, we would be hit by a blast of air but it would be forewarned because of the squeaky door. An early warning alarm in a way.

The "Alabama Slamma" was pretty much pure tomato juice and fortunately I ordered a side of salsa which I used to liven this drink up. Yes, I put salsa in my drink. I didn't taste any vodka. I am not saying that there wasn't any in this specialty drink but the tomato juice certainly disguised the meager shot, if that, which was added. The buffalo wings were in fact very small chicken wings with little meat on them. Certainly not the huge wings that you can purchase at Costco, and I reflected that I could prepare something much better (and cheaper) at home. There was nothing special about the bleu cheese dressing and appeared to be mass produced.

Although the Philly Cheesesteak was decent enough, it did not "wow!" me. The side of chilli fries was bland and I needed to use the side of salsa that I was using to liven up my alcoholic drink to add some zing to the American style chilli. I had high expectations for big tastes considering the carbohydrates that I was consuming and I was left feeling that I just ate for the sake of eating. Although the ambiance is amusing and the theme, like visiting the Dracula cabaret needs to be experienced at least once in your life, I will remain haunted by the characters of Happy Days that star on the wall that I was forced to look at when my eyes did not find my food, dining companion or tennis that exciting. These are images that would scare children. Richie, Potsie, Ralph and the Fonz all look like they survived a dose of radiation after a nuclear attack and not even the confectionery on display by the till could get me to stick around long after it was decided that drinks and conversation should be enjoyed elsewhere.

The scene from Pulp Fiction comes to mind when Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace are both eating at Jack Rabbit Slims when the discussion turns to the quality of a $5 shake. You will not find anything that cheap at Misty's Diner and despite the comfort food and costumes, you will be left with a laugh or two along with a memorable experience, however for me, they will be for all of the wrong reasons.

Misty's Diner, High Street, Prahran

Misty's Diner
103-105 High St., Prahran VIC 3181
(03) 9510 1959
My Rating: 11/20
Service: 2/5
Ambiance: 3.25/5
Quality: 2.75/5
Value For Money: 3/5

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

When I made this post originally, 71% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon liked Misty's Diner.

 Misty's Diner on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Hell Of The North - Fitzroy Freezing Over

What originally intrigued me about Hell of the North was the name of this restaurant and bar in Fitzroy. I was originally sucked into the grasp of this well designed space by the name and the name alone. I originally thought the name made some sort of bizarre reference to hell because the venue was a challenge to get to by road being located on Greeves Street with "No Entry" signs posted both on one entrance on Smith Street and also from the other direction on Gore Street. An enigma as such that fortunately Google Maps and the driver were able to decrypt and I reckon if the Apple Maps application was being used we would have ended up in hell itself - Docklands. It was during my first visit when we sat at the bar and drank Charlie Sheen inspired cocktails. It was when I quizzed the affable lady behind the bar as to what the name of the premises was all about as surely everything that is found behind the stately yellow door that you open bares no resemblance to hell but actually quite the opposite. I was advised that this place shares its name with a bicycle race that is held on Easter Sunday in France which is famous for its cobblestones and treacherous terrain. So not only did I become educated whilst knocking back cocktails but I gained a new found appreciation for bicycle racing and I didn't have to spend days watching it on the television. I can continue to devote my time to criticising our national cricket team instead.

My second visit to Hell Of The North was a planned systematic affront on what I considered some of my favourite places to go in Fitzroy as I was entertaining a blue-blooded cockney that was visiting from Sydney. His missus was at a conference and being the true mate that I am committed my afternoon and evening to not only show him some of the out of the way places in the area but to also get him pissed. Nice guy I am. Knowing that the menu would suit this gentleman, I once again threw open the yellow door with the intention to eat but also knowing that the restaurant and bar would impress.

Although we considered the "Let Us Feed You" option ($65 p/p) we decided to pick and choose from the menu. The cold day demanded that a French Onion soup ($12) would start us off. This was not only hearty but rich and full of flavour which was complemented by a perfect amount of cheese that was in turn part of every spoonful that entered my mouth. There was a great balance of onion and cheese which made this one of the better soups that I have had in a while. Beef Tartare ($17) was the next starter of sorts to follow. The raw meat was not bastardised by any bizarre spices or an unholy trinity of interpretation but instead it was a basic yet brilliant serve that ultimately highlighted the professionalism of the staff who noticed we were running out of bread and brought another round without having to be asked. We were left to drink beer, eat like false prophets and converse in this very attractive space that also includes an outside terrace for dining and drinking.

Along with a quantity of alcohol that even Charlie Sheen would be jealous of, we both ordered the Ox Cheek ($26) with Pommes Puree and a Bordelaise sauce. The highly concentrated and rich sauce was a natural pair with the cheek, which was so tender that it could be cut with not only the back of the knife, which is always a good test, but also your fork. The cockney gentleman that I was with is highly critical of cheek and I had a certain amount of satisfaction in the end that he enjoyed it also. We pondered the intriguing wine list but remained faithful to beer given the early hour.

On both occasions that I found myself at Hell of the North I was impressed by the service and the relaxed but professional attitude. On the first visit I got the opportunity to inspect the sommelier's wine book, enscribed with a pencil and is timeless as the wind. The stories that can be told if those pages could only talk just adds to the allure of this place.

Although you will not find ice cubes in hell or Fitzroy freezing over any time soon, this place is a great escape from the mortal world where you can be excused from being lead from light into darkness.

Hell of the North, Fitzroy, Melbourne
Hell of the North
135 Greeves St., Fitzroy VIC 3065
(03) 9417 6660
My Rating: 15.25/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 3.75/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5

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

When I made this post originally, 93% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Hell of the North.

Hell of the North on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Dainty Sichuan + Ganache Chocolate, South Yarra - Oil Spill

I fondly remember reading Epicure in The Age a few months ago. There was a rambling yet detailed article describing the restaurants in and around Melbourne that are perceived to prepare and sell spicy food. Combined with this knowledge and the fact that a few people have suggested that Dainty Sichuan in South Yarra is the place to be, I organised a meeting there with the hope that I would shed tears and be overwhelmed by the flow of phlegm from my orifices.

Heavy wooden tables with a hot plate built into the centre welcome you after you are taken into the dining room. I immediately thought of turning the hot plate on since the control was near my left hand and frying the phone that was placed on the plate but I thought better of it, even though it would have amused me. We had a table that was near the window so I could not only keep an eye out for the parking ranger (there is a one hour parking limit) but also spy on the pedestrians on the footpath on Toorak Road when the conversation became tedious. Service is quick to deliver not only a small list of "specials" but also a photo-menu that could be confused with Go the F*** to Sleep by Adam Mansbach. Neither one of us particularly liked looking at the photos of the dishes being flogged as they were not works of art in any sense of the word and I really think that the photos themselves distract from the experience. Trying to segregate the bias we had for no doubt the ugly dishes in the photos, we decided on a three prong attack that would attempt to best judge the chilli flavour.

Wontons in Chicken Soup ($11.80) was first delivered. Huge bowls of soup that contained upward of twenty wontons each made for a substantial first course of sorts. There was no hint of chilli in the soup and this was intended because this soup was meant to short-circuit the chilli inherent in the other two dishes that were ordered. Kong Pao Prawns ($12.80) and Chongqing Chilli Chicken ($27.80) rounded out our order. There were six small prawns bathed in a bed of chilli, onions, peanuts and Sichuan pepper. This had a "two chilli" rating which meant it should have been moderately hot and spicy but it just didn't affect me in any way. The prawns are quickly consumed and you are left to pick at the peanuts and the onions with your chopsticks. There is a substantial amount of chilli oil that does provide some flavour but I expected more. The Chongqing Chilli Chicken was avertised as a "Chef's Choice" and it was served on a large plate in a bed of dry chillis. The chicken was served as small morsels, think KFC's popcorn chicken just with two bones running through the meat. This dish had a "three chilli" rating which indicated it was going to be as hot as hell - or as hot as it could possibly get however once again, I didn't find a substantial amount of heat. In fact, I found the chicken as dry as the chilli pods and after a while it became tedious to bother removing the chicken from the small bones. The Chicken Wonton Soup provided a needed distraction and although there was nothing complex about it, a void was filled and a sense of balance was achieved between the mildly hot dish and parity.

Despite my disappointment with my senses not being irradiated, I want to return and try some of the other dishes, like one of the hot pots, just because they have more of a potential to carry more spice. Their "Spicy Soup" along with some of the other venues in the area that can be frequented as an aside makes the journey to Dainty Sichuan worth it.

Needing to cleanse my palate I walked about 100m toward Chapel Street and gave Ganache Chocolate my custom next. Although they do not have a substantial selection of desserts, chocolate and of course macarons as say Burch & Purchese or Luxbite, which are both in the area, I can't resist their raspberry chocolate mousse. When I am in the area, I  go out of my way to get one of these lush and soft indulgences, that or enjoy a hot chocolate in either their small yet comfortable dining room or even more secluded parlour room at the rear of the building. I have been known to drive an hour out of Melbourne to the Chocolate Mill north of Daylesford to get a hot chocolate as the one on offer there is about as perfect as you will find however Ganache Chocolate does come close and ultimately saves some petrol and time in the process.

Dainty Sichuan
176 Toorak Rd  South Yarra VIC 3141
(03) 9078 1686
no web site
My Rating: 12.5/5
Service: 2.75/5
Ambiance: 3.25/5
Quality: 3/5
Value For Money: 3.5/5
Comment: One hour parking on the street so beware of the parking ranger. 1% surcharge on cards however there is an ATM in the restaurant.

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

When I made this post originally, 86% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Dainty Sichuan. A further 84% like Ganache Chocolate located at 250 Toorak Road, South Yarra.

Dainty Sichuan on Urbanspoon Ganache Chocolate on Urbanspoon

Monday, 1 July 2013

Harbour Town Hotel + Costco - The Shadow of the Wheel

It was with a sense of disbelief that I saw the Southern Star "Wheel of Misfortune" turn the other day at Docklands. Not because it is back in operation, but for other insidious reasons no doubt. I am surprised that it did not just decide to roll down the Tullamarine Freeway just because it is tired of being inactive. It casts a shadow over the Harbour Town Hotel in the Docklands Harbour Town precinct and is supposed to be a draw card to not only this area in general, but also to this pub. It will be interesting to observe what happens when it ultimately goes back into service and whether or not the public will flock to this much maligned area.

Before taking on Costco which is next door, I called into the Harbour Town Hotel with the hope of getting a pub lunch and a pint of beer. Upon entry, you are affronted by a sign that says "please wait to be seated" in this pub that reminded me of a RSL just without any pokies in sight. Service escorted me to a table near the window, which is where the other patrons had been seated. One thing that irks me about service in general is when they assume a diner is interested in a view, in this case the outlook was to a construction site and gantries constructed over the walkway near the merry-go-round at the base of the Southern Star wheel. It isn't exactly the view from Lui Bar or Vue de Monde at Rialto Tower so I don't understand why exactly everyone was being wrangled into this area. As 90% of the dining room was vacant, I simply just moved my tired and thirsty old bones elsewhere. I was a bit annoyed that despite the bar area being long, you couldn't sit at it and were instead forced to dine with a perceived sense of civility at a table. Despite being taken to a seat, the patron still needs to get up and order food and drinks at the bar. Ultimately the food is brought to you however it just seems like a process from hell.

After consulting the list of daily specials and other things that were being displayed on the LED televisions, I ordered a chicken parma. There was a substantial amount of breaded chicken and in the end I did not finish it all just because it was so excessive. Unlike the beautiful chicken that I received at Porgie + Mr Jones recently, this was a bit dry and there was only a small amount of sauce however most would be satisfied with the size of this dish and the accompanying salad.

Besides the Nandos and the Coffee Club, there really is not much dining choice in this area. Normally I would just have a hot dog and drink ($2.50 with as many drink refills that you want) from the Costco membership warehouse however on this trip to do my monthly shopping, I wanted something a bit more substantial. The truth be told, there were some value-for-money lunch "deals" at the Harbour View Hotel and it may be a popular place in the evening to watch the footy on the weekend however would I go out of my way to visit this place if I was not intending to provide custom to Costco? I certainly would not.

Costco Docklands
Bulk buying is addictive at Costco Docklands
It also amazes me still that there are so many people that do not know what Costco is. It is a membership-only warehouse where you can buy items in bulk to put it simply. Individual membership costs $60/year and after the first time you shop there you will have saved that amount of money - I know that I did. I purchase a fair amount of liquor, non-alcoholic drinks (just picked up a slab of Cherry Coke for $9.99) and even white goods from the warehouse. The Hoover that I purchased broke down after six months and Costco was happy to take it back after I wheeled it into the warehouse dirty, without a box or a receipt and issued me with a store credit - no questions asked. The return policy is very American and is truly amazing. There is also a substantial meat and produce section where not only prime cuts of beef (think Waygu) and whole ducks that are on offer but also freshly made cakes, bread and fresh seafood. You can't go wrong with twelve freshly shucked coffin bay oysters for $11 either. Besides my love-affair with Costco (sometimes I will walk there from Southbank just to get a duck) there is a cafeteria of sorts that sells pizza, churros, salads and of course the aforementioned $2.50 hot dog with all you can drink soda. That has to be one of the best value-for-money quick and easy lunches in Melbourne and it is usually what I have before taking on the hordes of shoppers in the warehouse.

You can get a"guest pass" at Costco on Monday-Thursday if you want to check out the warehouse. Be aware that Costco checks membership cards if you try to park in their parking structure on Friday-Sunday.

Harbour Town Hotel, Docklands
Harbour Town Hotel
9/12 Star Circus, Docklands VIC 3008
(03) 8080 9800
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

When I made this post originally, 64% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Harbour Town Hotel. A further 90% like the cafeteria inside Costco.

Harbour Town Hotel on Urbanspoon Costco on Urbanspoon