Thursday, October 28, 2010

Super Cute Baked Treat Jewellery - Hikaria - Gastronomy Gal Giveaway

I was trawling through the gorgeous Ladybird's blog -  (Diary of a Ladybird) the other day, when I saw some food inspired jewellery and thought it was SUPER cute.  The felt brooches and other items were very interesting and the donuts looked yummy enough to munch into! I really wanted to get myself some!

Funnily enough, less than 48 hours later, I was wandering around the Wednesday markets at the University of Qld when some mini macarons caught my eye. Upon closer inspection, I realised the macarons were actually jewellery macarons, and that there were all sorts of other deliciously funky designs too! My first throught- the Food Bloggers would LOVE these!

Isn't it funny, how up until now, I haven't really seen these types of things before, but they have popped into my world twice in three days! It must be fate- I'm going to have to go on Etsy and bling myself up!

The Hikaria jewellery is particularly life-like, very cute,  and Tiff, the girl who makes all the jewels is a real sweetie.(ha. - Sorry, had to.)

Tiff is obviously really talented and became interested in making the jewellrey, explaining that she is a Japanophile and this kind of stuff is really popular in Japan. It's easy to see why. 

Tiff has phone straps, hair clips, necklaces, earrings and charms available and because I knew G.G. readers would love these as much as I do, I decided to buy some donut earrings and a cake necklace to giveaway to you!

Now quick- if you want some adorable donut earrings with half a bite out!!! (below) and a strawberry opera cake necklace (above)- leave me a comment letting me know why you would love to win these blingin bakery treats, before you have two half eaten donut earrings!! Make sureto leave contact deets.

If you aren't lucky enough to be the winner (sorry there can only be one) then don't be sad!You can purchase your own Hikaria jewellery through Tiff or maybe request some for Christmas.

P.S Just so you know, G.G. bought these treats to give to her readers- and is in no way affiliated with Tiff or Hikaria. I just stumbled across her store and thought it was tooooooooooo cute.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mamasita - Collins Street Melbourne

Melbourne really is an intoxicating city. I'm not sure I'd like to live there (Melbournites- your weather is CUhRAZY!) but there is just something so exciting about wandering up and down the alley ways discovering new places, or walking past an unassuming door,only to look up and see a queue with literally 30+ people packed into a staircase.... walking past, then realising said door is actually your destination!

Ha- This was actually my story a couple of weeks ago when I was in Melbs, searching for renowned Mexican Tacqueria, Mamasita. Might I add this line was at 6:45 p.m. on a Tuesday night. What the hell!? I waited in line for about 10 minutes when the guy eventually came down to tell me that a table for 3 (some of my colleagues were joining me) would not be ready until about 9:30 p.m. They don't accept bookings, so this was always a risk, and I decided to return another night a little earlier to try to get in! Oh - don't worry, we weren't left hungry - we manged to grab a few spots at Bar Lourinha just down the road, more on that another post.

Wednesday night arrived and I had arranged to meet up with G, one of my gorgeous friends from boarding school days. To avoid the same fate as the day before, I phoned her and changed the meeting time to about 5:45 p.m. so we could try and get into Mamasita then.  She didn't mind at all. She's has been plenty of times before and loves the fare so was happy to go with.

I walked up to the door, expecting to see a line, but was surprised. Moving straight to the top of the stairs, I checked back down again, to make sure I was at the right place. Sure enough 5:45 p.m. is more than early enough to beat the rush- by about 45 minutes, so we were able to grab two of the tall stools near the back of the restaurant. 

From the moment we stepped in, the service was incredibly attentive. They may be a casual styled joint, but they certainly don't act like it. The place is spacious and loud, but fills up really quickly. It has a pretty cool vibe. After ordering a mojito I settled in to take a look at the extensive, crazy tequila menu. I've never seen anything like it. They have seriously impressive selection of tequila on offer, and the staff are clued up on the info should you ask. Next time, I will make some room for a tequila or two, for sure.

The menu proudly lists authentic Mexican options. No hard shell tacos' here my friends. I actually wish one of my best pals, Irma, who is Mexican was in Australia to check it out. She'd love it. Especially the fact that it opens until 12 a.m. on weeknights and 2:00 a.m. on weekends. Late dining is true to Mexican style.

The menu is divided into sections; Primero, taco (again people- soft shelled tacos. In Mexico there are no tacos as we know them. I knew I never liked them for a reason- they aren't authentic!) quesadillas, ceviche, tostaditas, ensaladas, comia para la familia, acompanamientos, and postre and I found it seriously hard to narrow my choice down to a couple of dishes.

I knew I had to have the elotes callegeros - "street style" chargrilled corn with queso, chipolte mayonnaise and lime for $3.8 per piece. I'd read good things and seeing the girls beside me next to me made me want it even more.  Maybe I should have started yelling cliched Mexican phrases like 'Arriba Arriba', from the table tops, because damn, the corn was tasty. I wanted to steal G's before she had a chance to look at it and lick the seasoning right off. Juicy and sweet and smothered in an almost buttery mayo with plenty of spicy enough chipolte. This corn was so delicious, I wanted to hop on the next flight to Mexico city and spend my days trawling, around living like a Mexican, eating corn and all their other delicious street food. Luckily for my employers, the corn is available in Collins Street, Melbourne!

Next, G and I decided to grab a couple of things to taste between us- 2 al pastor tacos for $5 each contained roasted pork with pineapple, coriander and white onion. These babies were super juicy. Literally, the red sauce coasted my fingers and was running down my arms by the time I had finished eating, but, I would have liked even more flavour. The pineapple and onion were fresh, but hit me with more flavoursome pork and I would eat possibly 300 of these. And then be 'so sleeepy.'

The beef taco ($5) was next on the list, and although this was actually G's, I snuck half, and I'm glad I did. This was delicious. The meat was tender and the seasoning was just perfect. The taco is beautifully fresh and jam  packed with taste bud teasing beef. For those who have had homemade tortillas or have been lucky enough to go to Mexico and sample some authentic Mexican food, you will know what I mean when I say the tacos are soft, but with incredible texture. There is no commercial equivalent available, or not one that I have found! I really think this makes a huge difference. The only problem with this taco was, that we didn't order two (or ten!)

To finish off, G also chose the de pollo quesadilla for $14. This reminded me of the beautiful food my Mexicano friend Irma used to knock up for me when she lived in Australia. The pico de gallo was particularly moresih and a little bit of mole on the side would have completed an already wonderful dish. Simple but delightful. Somehow the cheese is sparingly used, but still manages to bring the other ingredients alive. Oh how I love you cheese (even though you don't love me back).

As it was pretty early, neither of us were really hungry, so only ordered lightly. Next time, I will go in and order with a vengence, so I can sample the full menu! I seriously loved Mamasita, and am glad it is close to where I stay when I go to Melbs for work.

It's nice to see a place that is casual and relaxed but still provides good service and great authentic Mexican food. I don't think I have actually ever been anywhere where these two elements were combined. This tacqueria has style and flair and given the queue's, I'd say Melbourne has realised. They are obviously feeding the hordes who are hungry for some more Mexican than the usual old el paso or tex mex burrito. I think Australia is ready for the Mexican revolution and it has already started at Mamasita. Actually, can I please come and be a professional taste tester for you guys or something? If not I'll settle for getting together a group of friends and go back, so I can demolish the menu!! Look out Mamasita, here I come!

When to go: Whenever you want Mexican. Seriously, never eat those weird hard shell tacos again. I'd probably try to go early, or quite late, if you don't like to wait.

Tell me readers, Have you ever lined up for a ridiculous amount of time to eat? 

Level 1/11 Collins Street
03 9650 3821
Mamasita on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cumulus Inc - Flinders Lane, Month of Melbourne

There are definitely times when my friends love me being a food blogger. And  then there are all those other times, when I'm pretty sure they just want to tell me to shut the hell up and stop talking, living and breathing food. I do come in pretty handy when in a foreign city and needing to choose somewhere to eat, but when I get obsessed with finding that somewhere and  selecting somewhere that is almost impossible to get into, I probably get on their nerves a little! Sorry guys.

A couple of weekends ago, some friends joined me in Melbourne for the weekend. I already had a list of new places I wanted to go to, thanks to my foodie and twitter friends, as well as a couple of old favourites.
One places that KEPT on popping up, again and again when I asked for recommendations on twitter was Cumulus Inc. I had heard of Cumulus before this, but actually because one of my friends who is an Architect had been discussing it with me at length (Cumulus is set in an old gallery space apparently.) 

It's one of the many eateries tucked up Flinders Lane and has a BIG reputation, being particularly famous for their breakfasts. I knew it was a long shot, but on the Saturday morning, we trundled down there, what I thought was rather late. By 11 a.m., even the really popular breakfast haunts in Bris Vegas can usually seat you.

After taking AGES to get there, due to the stupid blue dot on google maps giving false readings (actually I think it's me, but I blamed it on the dot- damn you dot!) we walked into Cumulus, not knowing what lay ahead. The place was packed. With a waiting list. AND it would take an approximate 45 minutes before the 5 of us could get a table. Boo. We had places to be, so I sadly left behind determined to try again the next day. We ended up trundling down closer to the train station and eating somewhere there. I recommend you don't. There is a little strip with about five cafes, and the one we ate at was TERRIBLE. Anyway, that story is for another time.

We somehow, miraculously, managed to get ourselves organised by about 9:00 a.m., and I was surprised that the girls decided to join me again. Apparently they were intrigued enough to try (sans my poor friend Em who was sick in bed from self inflicted sources.) Arriving at about 9:30a.m. we expected to have to wait in line, and I was prepared, I was determined to even go-it-alone if the girls wanted to pike. The funniest thing was, there was no line. In fact, there were five or six free tables and we could take our pic. It seemed like a different place to the day before. It turns out, Melbournites don't turn up until REALLY late for breakfast on Sundays. i.e. 11 onwards so we were very lucky! Woo.

It was clear that the place was very cool, some of the staff looked like they could have been modelling in some indy magazine! After perusing the menu, all four of us came to the same conclusion. We wanted the toasted sandwich with double smoked istra ham, pyengana cheddar and tomato relish. How could this be? There were plenty of other lovely looking options like the watermelon salad with strawberry, vanilla yoghurt and mint for $12 (a bit too light for me on that day) The smoked salmon, 65/65 egg, sorrel, apple and dill also could have been interesting ($17) but my stomach didn't feel like coping with fish.

Perhaps it was the fact that we were all still feeling a little, um, (how shall I put this eloquently - um.... nope) seriously seedy, but the sandwich just held some serious allure. Jem (C's sister), at the last moment, decided on the slow poached egg, with beans and sausage (which I can't seem to find on the menu- so I can't confirm that or the price! Sorry!) 

It wasn't long before the sandwiches came out, shortly after the juices and coffees. The girls like their coffee but would have liked it a little hotter. My juice was out of a bottle, and even though it was fine, perhaps fresh juices would have been better.

After a bite in the sandwich, I opened up the middle and slapped on the  relish. I'm not sure how something so simple could be divine, but it was like the universe had stepped in and given me exactly what I needed after a night out, and a week eating out- essentially a simple, but lovely ham, cheese and  tomato toastie. I didn't need the optional avo, and really, just enjoyed chowing down on my sanga, sloth style. Thick crusty bread, smokey ham, bitey cheese and the sweet tomato relish ensured this was not your average cafe style sandwich, and I really really loved it. As did Bones and Loz. Jem had a nibble of my sandwich (in exchange for some of her brekky, of course!) and was also quite smitten. Just what the doctor ordered.

Jem's brekky (unknown name and price) was delish too. Although the beans could have used a little spicing up, the egg was perfectly, beautifully cooked and smooshed nicely through with the beans and sausage. Actually just found the recepit. $19.5.

Cumulus Inc is not fussy or over the top, but serves genuinely good food. It's super popular for very good reason. What also struck me, was the fact that the prices were really, really reasonable. Much more so than some of the really popular places in Brisbane that are charging $20 + and not doing 'it' quite as well as Cumulus Inc. 

Anyone can do a toasted cheese and ham sandwich- but it is really hard to transform it into something so lovely as Cumulus have managed to do. The menu choices are also inspired. There are, thank heavens, a lack of the old, tired, overdone options, but an abundance of wonderful, exciting alternatives.

The service did borderline on being a little too cool at times, but hey, if i had 45min+ wait times, I'd probably be feeling pretty cool too. 

When to go: Earlyish on a Sunday morning - be prepared to wait if you want to go any later than about 9:30a.m., by the time we left, things were starting to heat up. 

So tell me readers, are you a food blogger that your friends curse, or a friend that curses your food blogger mates?

Cumulus Inc
45 Flinders Lane
Melbourne  3000
03 9650 1445

Cumulus Inc. on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Gingerboy, Crossley Street, Melbourne

A funny little thing happened to me whilst I was minding my own business at work the other day. My phone rang, an unknown number, nothing too unusual about that. I answer the call and the voice on the phone explains that they are calling from Gingerboy, a restaurant in Melbourne that I dined at last week. 

This pretty much astounded me. In the hundreds of times (my arse indicates it is thousands) that I have eaten out and given my phone number to secure a reservation, there has never been any instance in which this has happened before. The restaurant had no idea that I was a food blogger, and according to the lady that phoned me, they were contacting everyone to see how their experience was. What a fantastic idea. I think people that had both a negative and a positive experience would feel happy to give their feedback. I ended up telling the lady that I was a food blogger and that the restaurant would be welcome to either a) ring me back at another time (I was busy at the time she called) or b) read my review- so hello to any Gingerboy staff that may be reading.

So, as you all know, I went to Melbourne a couple of weeks ago and spent the whole week there. Whilst I was there, I took the opportunity to eat at various places around the city - read this first blog post to check out the full details of the trip. 

Anyway... I wanted to catch up with one of my family friends from home, Sam. Sam just happens to be an up and coming chef in Melbs (who will be appearing in this blog soon!) so I thought I would leave the dinner options up to him. Sam came back to me with two options, Cutler and Co and Gingerboy, and asked me to choose between them. I was staying close to Gingerboy so decided that would be the best idea, as I had walked past a couple of times and wanted to check it out. Cutler and Co would have to wait. 

We managed to grab a last minute booking for 6:00 p.m. on Thursday night. In Melbourne terms, this is incredibly early, but as they had nothing else available until 9:30, I decided to take it whilst I could, and probably for the best too; I had lots of meetings to attend to the next day.  

Gingerboy spruiks itself as being a bar/restaurant with a South East Asian street food and hawker identity. The street kitchens and hawkers have clearly been a huge source of inspiration for Gingerboy. Quite fitting that it should be up a little ally.

When I trundled up the Crossley Lane, and into Gingerboy, Sam was already waiting for me with a drink at the bar. The kitchen and bar looked to be a lively place, and already the restaurant was starting to fill up. In true G.G. style, I decided to go for a 'Rising Sun' cocktail. The cocktail was made from house made rhubarb syrup (oh my how I love when places make their own syrups), orange bitters, agnostura bitters, pama pomegranate liqueur, johnnie walker black, orange and lemon juice and was priced at $17.0

I should explain that there are two sections to Gingerboy- the restaurant and bar downstairs, and the bar area upstairs. We were downstairs as I was there to eat, not just nibble! Before my cocktail arrived, we were taken through to our table and they promised me they would bring it in for me. The dining room is super cute, with a dark room dotted with beautiful fairy lights, which I'm guessing aim to look like the night sky. They bring a nice feeling to the room, although if they are trying to emulate South East Asian Skies, they should probably add some smog into the atmosphere too. Just kidding.. But on a more serious note, the red lampshade and depth of fabrics, combined with clear chairs, and a busy restaurant floor, mean this is an interesting place to be.

As the food is designed to share, they are fairly flexible with the serving sizes, so if there are only two of you, you can have two of each of the dumplings, and two spring rolls rather than three. This actually worked quite well, and the waitress suggested we have a combination of either four street food, and one of the larger dishes, or two smaller and two large. We had the first option and it turned to be a good amount of food. 

By this time, my cocktail had well and truly arrived (and I'd made some serious inroads to finishing it) and it was good. I liked the almost deep taste of the orange and rhubarb syrup, and the johnnie walker added a nice warming zing. 

The first of the street food we had ordered, the braised pork leg spring rolls with spiced plum and hoi sin sauce ($10 for 2) arrived within a reasonable amount of time, unfortunately looking like they had spent a little too long in the fryer. The edges were far too crisp, but we wasted no time in breaking them open, which revealed some sweet duck meat, complimented by the sultry plum and hoi sin sauce. These weren't by any means the most exciting or tasty spring rolls I have ever eaten, but they were a pleasant start to the meal, sans burnt edges.

 Next came the two serves of dumplings. Yes, that's right, we ordered one serve of each of the dumplings - just couldn't help ourselves! The chicken and chinese cabbage dumplings with mustard soy ($10 for 2) were nicely cooked, but a little lacking in flavour. The soy sauce with mustard seeds was an interesting condiment, and one that saved the day - it really made the cabbage and chicken combo go from ordinary to moreish. Obviously that is what the sauce is designed for, but I think the dumpling could have had more flavour to begin with.

The more aesthetically pleasing prawn and ginger dumplings with red vinegar came out at the same time. The pasty white pastry of the chicken and cabbage paled in comparison. Literally. The flavour of the chicken and cabbage also paled in comparison to the bitey, lovely and soft gingery and prawn insides of this dumpling. The traditional vinegar was also a nice touch.

Last and definitely least was the salt and pepper chicken ribs with green chilly soy. You all know what I am like with the whole chicken wing thing, and I thought this may just be a new extention of that craze. It's not going to be. This was just far too much deep friedness for me. Not enough chicken, too much batter. That is not the restaurants fault, and it's not Sam's either. I chose this one and take full responsibility for it. It just didn't do it for me. I was a little sad actually because there looked like there was some fantastic dishes going to other tables!! Next time I'll go for something unfried, maybe like the soy ocean cured trout, or the son in law eggs to balance it all out.

Sam decided that the large dish we ordered would be the red duck curry leg for $36.5. This however wasn't an easy dish for me to concede on. Also on offer were a delicious looking chargrilled eggplant rice noodle roll with vinegar and chilli ($31) and seductive whole fried baby snapper with hot and sour banana flower salad ($34). Both these dishes show that  Gingerboy is more than just a pretty face, and the chefs have a real understanding of the food served in South East Asia. It's a pity that we didn't have more people dining with so I could have tried more of the dishes. I  must say, the snapper looked quite spectac when served to the table opposite. 

That being said, I wasn't disappointed with his choice and decided to roll with it! He is the chef, after all- I'm just a food blogger! When the dish arrived onto the table, I immediately thanked Sam for the good choice. Even from looking at the curry, it was obviously a good choice. The sauce looked just the right consistency, with generous sized pieces of duck. My eyes didn't deceive and the curry was amazing. Thick but not gluggy, with an alluring, rich, sweet red curry flavour, that was in no way, underwhlemingly or overwhelming. Somehow, it struck the perfect balance. The only problem with the curry, was that the duck pieces were a little dry. The moist meat duck flavour would have created the perfect dish, but even without this, it was still a stunner. 

The service throughout the evening was pleasant and unobtrusive. It was clear that some of the staff were better versed on the menu than others, and it really showed. This being said, everyone was very pleasant. 

Now I don't know why I am going to use a cricket analogy to describe the food, but for some reason it just popped into my head, and it seems to make sense. (I don't even watch cricket). The food was reasonable. It made a few runs but didn't hit any sixes.  From their reputation I would have expected to be blown away, and whilst elements of the meal were pleasing, the experience as a whole wasn't outstanding.

I do however, commend the duck curry. I'm also really impressed that they phoned around for feedback, I think this is a fabulous idea. Friends and I have been speculating about whether the restaurant are having internal difficulties etc, but even if they are, actually phoning and speaking to people is a great way to sort stuff out.

I will probably go back to Gingerboy, mainly because I'm not sure if I ordered badly, and that reflected on my experience. There did look to be some other options, and upon reflection I really want to go back and eat them i.e. smashed green papaya salad or the steamed silken tofu. They also have a "street hawker style" menu on offer for $70 per person which seems reasonably priced and could give a more rounded glimpse into the whole menu. The fact that they called to ask for feedback is also enough to make me go back on principle.

Aside from having a good time catching up with Sam, it was good to know that when talking about the food, he echoed my sentiments. Perhaps I'm not some crazy girl ranting about food afterall! Surely 

When to go: If you are after street style food in Melbs, a cool cocktail or two in a cool place, give it a try- just don't make the same  mistakes we did and get too many fried options from the street menu.

So readers, Tell me... What do you think about Gingerboy phoning up to find out about my experience? Good or bad? Has this ever happened to you?

27-29 Crossley Street
03 9662 4200

Gingerboy on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Camy Shanghai Dumpling House - Tattersalls Lane, Chinatown Melbourne

The first question I asked when I knew I was going to be in Melbourne for a full week is (like the true fatty I am) 'Where am I going to eat?' This dining out in other cities is a serious business. I don't ever want to waste a dining opportunity so I like to plan to eat at places to make sure I make the most of the situation and don't end up walking into some mediocre joint just because I'm starving. Believe me, it's happened before. Too many times. 

I needed to take into consideration a number of factors including:
  • location: - staying in the city means that you are in walking distance to many great places, I wanted to make the most of that and minimise the car trips around;
  • dining advice: - some of the many pieces of dining advice I had been given by my lovely foodie friends had to be adhered to, after all the best recommendations come from other food obsessives.
  • price:- with a whole week of eating out ahead of me, I definitely had to consider price and couldn't imagine work would like to reimburse me for dinners at Vue de Monde, Grossi Florentino, Flowerdrum and Longrain consecutively. 
  • health:- often after I come back from a couple of weeks away, I just feel really sick, mostly because of lack of home cooked food. I now make sure I buy some fruit and nuts (thanks David Jones Food Hall) and try to have simple breakfasts and lunches so that I can indulge in dinner. Sometimes, this doesn't work, and on weekends it certainly doesn't but luckily there is a lovely sushi shop around the corner from where I work in Melbourne, so most days I have some sashimi for lunch with an apple and not much else, which does stop me from having to go into lockdown mode when I get home i.e. eat steamed vegies for three days straight. 
So when I arrived on Monday morning, I had meetings all afternoon and then decided to grab a late lunch on the way home. Staying quite near to chinatown, I was trundling up Little Bourke Street when I spotted Tattersalls Lane. A couple of people had also mentioned Tattersalls Lane to me, so I decided to venture up an give Camy Shanghai Dumpling house a go.

Because it was so late, the restaurant had only a few tables of lingering people eating lunch. This was in stark contrast to when we visited again later in the week on Saturday night when the place was PACKED to the brims, there was a huge line. More on that later.

The setup was pretty typical for a Chinese restaurant. Very simple decore. The menu was also fairly simple, but a couple of things caught my eye. Obviously I was there for the dumplings, and seeing there was only me, I thought I would get two different types just to try it out. 

Firstly I decided to order some lemonade. I'm not really sure why, but usually when I'm eating dumplings I'm in the mood for bo-lei tea and lemonade. When the waiter came back, he placed two cans of lemonade on my table- I was a little bemused but told him politely that I had only ordered one. He then proceeded to tell me that I had definitely ordered two. I calmly, once again, explained that there was only one of me, and I had only ordered one can of lemonade, to which I received incredulous looks, a barrage of mandarin as he took the other can away and wiped it off the bill. I actually found this rather funny and when I started to laugh, I think the waiter must have thought that I understood him in his native tongue, because then he was extremely embarrassed and polite and was smiling at me the whole afternoon, paying very close attention to my table. 

I must note, this place is extremely cheap. For  8 pieces of fried pork dumpling the cost is $5.50 but if you order the 15 pieces it is only $6.80 - so if you go with a few people, it's definitely worth getting the extra 7 dumplings for a meagre $1.30.

I decided on 8 pieces of the fried pork dumplings ($5.50) (hey, there was only one of me!) and 6 pieces of the steamed spinach dumplings for $4.50. 

The first serve of dumplings arrived in record time, probably about 2 minutes after I had placed my order. The pan fried pork dumplings were extremely crispy on the bottom, maybe even a little bit burnt, but except for the most burnt dumpling, this didn't really affect the flavour. The dumpling pastry was thick and soft like it should be, and the soupy insides burst into my mouth when taking a bite. The dumpling filling could have been more flavoursome, and this was a bit of a let down, as I would have liked the big flavours of pork, shallots and ginger to hit me a little more. This isn't to say I didn't enjoy them, as I did, and promptly finished off the whole plate after dousing with delicious vinegar. 

The steamed spinach dumplings were funny little things. I think they had not been steamed long enough but they were still pretty delightful. They were packed with delicious spinachy filling, which really tasted like nothing else- just spinach, exactly what I love. The outsides were soft, and after a quick vinegar dousing, they too went down a treat. I have to admit, I was feeling very full after my 14 dumplings, and perhaps a bit of a piggy, but I really didn't care. There is something about dumplings that make you feel quite contented. 

After my reasonably successful, eventful and very cheap lunch ($12.20), I left to go back to another meeting with a dumpling belly.

Fast forward to Friday Night. My friends had arrived from Brisbane for the weekend, we had been for a couple of drinks, and wanted something to eat. We were in the area, so I suggested the dumpling house. The girls were a little bit excited until we arrived at the door and found a huge line that didn't really seem to be moving AT ALL. It was at that point I was cursing Melbournites and their late eating habits- afterall it was 9:30 p.m. We waited in line for what seemed like an eternity. There were three of us in the line, whilst the other two detoured and were coming in about ten minutes after making a quick stop at the hotel. Big mistake. We realised that we weren't going to get seated without them, so rang them and told them to hurry up. By the time their slow selves arrived, my stomach was growling at me for the neglect, and luckily, we got a table pretty quickly, although it was a bit of a dilemma. 

The place was PACKED. I seriously don't think they could have fitted more people if they tried, every inch of the upstairs restaurant was taken over, by literally hundreds of people scoffing down dumplings. We realised there was a few issues when we were seated on the same table with another five people who started to wish us 'good luck' getting served when we sat down.

In actual fact, the whole evening turned out to be a chinese version of Fawlty Towers. We ordered a number of dishes, including more steamed spinach and fried pork dumplings, along with some fried beef dumplings (12 pce for $6.80), some steamed mushroom and vegetable dumplings (20 pieces for $6.80) some steamed pork and chicken dumplings (8 pces for $6.80) , a serve of fried rice (can't remember), two serves of chinese greens with oyster sauce, four beers (for the girls) and one lemonade (for me). 

A couple of things arrived slowly, and whilst we chatted with the table next door, we found out that they were extremely unsatisfied with their meals. IN actual fact, I'm putting it down to them being tightarses. They had gone for the 'all you can eat option' which contained about 6 different dishes, that you could obviously order more of if you wanted. We avoided this option as we were there to eat dumplings, not all the other offerings, and was glad we did when the complaining started. For heaven's sake- they were threatening not to pay their full bill, which I might add was $12 per head. They thought they had only received $10 value so would only pay that amount. Our table found this hilarious, as they had a MASSIVE amount of food on their table, but they insisted it was the principle. 

Things started to unravel for us pretty quickly, when the girls asked if their drinks were coming, they were told they had run out. Could they have the other type of beer on the menu? Yes they could. Could I have a lemonade? No I couldn't, I would have to have a lemon squash- which was fine for me. I really didn't mind, and I found the whole situation hilarious.

After getting our initial servings of dumplings, greens and rice, the waitress came over to clear our table. Alas, we had not received 4 serves of our dumplings. When asked about them, we were told that they had run out, so we couldn't have any. I did see them still serving other tables however. The waitress told us that they had run out for about an hour, and when I asked her why she didn't tell us when we ordered she just shook her head. She then promptly started to clear out table and asked us to leave- I sarcastically asked if we could 'just finish our drinks' expecting her to say 'that's fine' and she said 'No, finish them downstairs.' Ha ha ha ha ha. 

I replied to her 'I'm going to blog that', although I'm sure it was lost in translation. I at least asked her to take the dumplings that we didn't receive off the bill, and she obliged, but if I didn't ask, I'm quite sure we would have paid for the full lot. In actual fact, I'm not sure we didn't pay for them, as the bill was about $80 and although this is pretty damn cheap, I'm not sure the prices really added up to that, without the other dumplings. Oh well, whatever will be will be.

As I looked back towards our tightarse friends at the next table to wave, I caught a glimpse of the waitress trying to take a half finished plate of rice from the table, with one of the guys grabbing it back from her. Priceless.

We sauntered downstairs to pay the bill and were greeted with signs, 'Please do not take your alcohol outside' but upon walking out, it was obvious that other tables had been kicked out too, they were obviously trying to shut in a big hurry. The other diners were milling around the front door downing their drinks, and one guy pulled a dumpling out of his pocket and began to munch on it as he wondered up the lane. Obviously a seasoned diner. 

The whole evening had been pretty funny, but in all seriousness, I would have liked to try the other dumplings, and be treated with a little more respect than we were. If they couldn't seat us and serve us at 10:00 p.m., that is fine, but don't seat us then take our order in the first place. 

If I ever go back, which I might because I'm not sure where else to go for dumplings in Chinatown Melbourne, I won't go late, and I will probably have a few drinks to prepare myself for the evening. When I walk in the door, I will half expect to see our friends from the next table hugging the empty plates, with the waitress yelling at them, or maybe they'll even be serving, us. I'm sure there is some kind of punishment for refusing to pay the bill. 

When to go: If you want to have a hilarious, cheap evening, eat a few good dumplings and some delicious asian greens, but probably miss out on half your order. It's worth it just for the entertainment.

Tell me readers, have you had any dining experiences like this, and would you find it funny, or just be really, really annoyed? 

Camy Shanghai Dumpling House
25 Tattersalls Lane (Off Little Bourke Street)
Melbourne CBD
03 9663 8555

Camy Shanghai Dumpling on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Review: Lakehouse, Daylesford

For my day time job, as part of a small team, I am responsible for organising some of our conferences. Luckily, because things have been so busy, we were allowed to employ a short term comms staff member to help out with the logistics, because otherwise, my other work would have suffered greatly. The nice part about conferences though, is that we usually have an off site dinner and my boss lets me pick where we go, and organise the whole evening. When I found out our conference venue was within reasonable distance from Daylesford, I immediately rang the very well known Lakehouse to see if they could cater for the number of delegates we had, and find out the per head cost was to hold a function there. I waited for my email with baited breath but unfortunately, (which I already knew to begin with, but just hoped for some miracle) it was way too expensive for our budget at around $180 per head for the package I was keen on! 

I was sad and S, my boss picked up on it, telling me that just because everyone couldn't eat there, didn't mean that we couldn't find time to have a nice lunch there before the conference! I have to say, I was a little bit happier afterwards, but still wished that everyone else in the company could have had the opportunity to dine there too!

Fast forward three months, I was more excited for the lunch at Lakehouse than I was for the whole conference. Alla Wolf Tasker is definitely an inspiration, and I wanted to check out what all the fuss was about, and see if the restaurant lives up to their huge reputation. Lakehouse opened in 1984 so has a long history, and Wolf Tasker is credited with being one of the driving forces supporting and showcasing local and seasonal produce long before it was cool.

As soon as we arrived at the hotel, we ordered a cab to take us the 30 minute trip, telling the other people who had arrived with us that we were going for a site visit! Perhaps a bit sneaky, and I did feel bad. But... we couldn't ask everyone, and I had already asked most people who weren't really interested in paying for lunch when they could have it for free at the hotel. Obviously, they don't understand the drawing power of Lakehouse!!

It was slightly raining when we arrived, so although the lake didn't look as gorgeous as it would on a sunny day but the serene feeling was still there. It's hard to describe the atmosphere really, but definitely felt very familiar and relaxing, but relaxing in your lovely aunt's formal dining room, as opposed to putting your feet up on your ikea coffee table at your own house. 

We were offered drinks, and I went with a Gin and Tonic whilst the Boss went for a glass of something recommended by the sommelier (I can't remember!!). Now, I know I should have had a glass of wine, but here's the thing. I LOVE wine, but it doesn't really love me back. It makes me 1. Sleepless and 2. a little woozy as opposed to being just relaxed like spirits! Seeing I technically had to pull everything together in the incredibly short time we had left after lunch, I thought I needed to be on my A-game, and I can pretty much do that with 2 gin and tonics, but definitely not with 2 glasses of wine.

The Lakehouse menu is something to keep for the duration of the menu and read, because they have a list of their local suppliers in the back. It gives you a lot of perspective and feel for the restaurant and it's amazing to see the great produce they have available to them in regional Vic. For lunch, there are two options menu wise. You can have two courses for $68 or three course for $85. You don't have to specify before hand either, so if you get to the end of your main and are dying for an extra taste of Lakehouse, you can easily order dessert or some of the sweet indulgences available for $8. There are of course the eight course tasting menus - $130 with +$70 for matched wines or the vegetarian option for $115 plus $70 for matched wines. 

The entree menu proved to have some really good options, which of course made it  a difficult choice. The couple eating next to us, had obviously ordered the shared plate for two with house made charcuterie, jellied rare breed pork, duck liver parfait, terrine, duck rillettes and some other awesome looking things like proscuitto and sausage. Normally, I wouldn't go for something like this, but after seeing the finished product, I was seriously tempted! Until I saw the five tastes of the sea, obviously I can't pass up anything that includes oysters and scallops, even if it was for parfait and terrine. The five tastes from the sea included a smokey bay oyster with nam jim, kinkawooka mussels 'Mariniere', scallop and black bean ceviche, crystal bay prawns in tempura with chilli aioli and last, and probably should be noted is my nemesis, some tuna sashimi with pickle cucumber and Asian salad. 

What's that I hear you ask? Tuna- the nemesis? Yep. Hate the stuff. Particularly the tinned variety, the smell literally makes me dry heave. I am starting to tolerate tuna sashimi, but I really don't like any other type of tuna. Tuna mornay, tuna casserole, tuna on crackers, BBQ'd tuna steaks- all just yuk. I'm sorry, there aren't many ingredients I HATE, but this is one of them. EVERYONE always says, I can't believe you don't like tuna blah blah blah, but I don't and I probably won't and I'm fine with that fact. So please, if I come to your house, I will eat basically anything else (maybe not some offal) except tuna. Tuna, I will politely decline.  Anyway, rant over.

The boss chose the white asparagus, ragout of locally foraged morels, soft polenta, and poached duck egg, which was also one of my top three options.

 The five tastes of the sea arrived and I decided to tackle the nemesis head on, working with the motto of leaving the best till last. Ok- If I just squidge my nostrils together and close my eyes, I might not realise that I'm eating tuna....... In it goes... Ok yep, still tunaish, but no where near as bad as the cooked stuff. Actually the texture was fine, and the pickle cucumber and asian salad saved the dish from being too tunaish, and it was actually quite okay- for tuna.

Next onto the mussels, which were tender and delightful. The cream based sauce made a nice accompaniment, without being too heavy, which really worked in conjunction with the rest of the dishes. The scallop ceviche, which I obviously expected to be my favourite (as did you, admit it!) actually wasn't. The scallop was nice and tender, and the black bean was a different but welcome addition, but the whole thing just didn't 'pop' in my mouth. 

The oyster was deliriously fresh, as was the nam jim. I could have ordered a dozen. The nam jim was simple and complex at the same time, with sweet and sour definitely coming through. I left the prawn until last, and I'm not sure why, because it was the only fried thing on the plate but it was amazing. The tempura was light, and the aioli was creamy, garlicky and chilli and pretty great. I almost licked the little container but remembered just in time, that I probably learn to refrain myself, particularly when I felt like some Aunty or older relative was just about to grab my cheek and teach me my manners! I know the Boss wouldn't have minded though, as she was looking at her finished entree bowl longingly too.

The boss loved her white asparagus and egg. The egg was perfectly poached and the asparagus was just on the beautiful cusp, between tender and too cooked. If I went back again, I would probably have the egg, because the way the yolk spilled into the polenta really made me want to steal the bowl and lick it clean too.

Choosing a main meal was also a debacle. We both spent time peering at other plates around the restaurant on a quest to see what looked best. Again there were three options that I really couldn't decide between, but when I saw the chicken come out to the table opposite, I decided I should go for it. The chicken was obviously free roaming, but came with a roast leg, breast and ballontine, served with spring vegetables, foie gras croquettes and morel sauce. 

This dish looked somehow homey without being too done. Perhaps it was the delicious morel sauce that made it look so inviting. The ballontine caught my attention first, after eating the just cooked spring vegetables and the foie gras croquettes. The croquettes were supposed to be little pieces of luxury, and I suppose they were, but to me, the ballontine was the real luxury. The meat was soft and delicious and the flavours exploded into my mouth. The morel sauce took the ballontine to the next level, and before I knew it, I was swishing the leftover pieces around on the plate, to gather up any and all of that mushroomy goodness. I didn't even want to spare a piece for the Boss, but decided that I had better. My expectations for the rest of the dish had been set high, and although the other two pieces didn't disappoint, they weren't as tender and delicious as the ballontine. The breast had some good flavours packed under the crispy skin and the roast leg was juicy and tender, with the little bone pulling straight out, but the ballontine was just amazing. If I go back, I'm going to ask for three on the plate. Or maybe ten.

The Boss decided against the five spiced duck, and instead went for the Pork, brined loin, crisped rolled belly and trotter croquette - finished with a light smoke. A side dish was provided too- spring braise of savoy caggabe and peas. 

The boss liked this dish and was taken by the trotter croquette, which she originally thought may be too much for her. The pork was tender, but in reality, it didn't live up to her entree! I didn't get to taste a bite, as I was too busy guzzling down the morel sauce and secretly trying out, once again, how to lick the bowl. Don't be put off though- she wasn't disappointed, it's just that she was jealous of my ballontine, even if she won't admit it!!

Knowing the week of eating ahead (conference food ... can be at times, well, horrid) we also ordered a side of broccolini for $8.5 so we could get some goodness into us!

After the chicken, I was well and truly content, but the boss was keen for something sweet to end with but didn't want a full dessert. She decided on the sweet indulgences, house made at Lakehouse which included spiced pop corn, melting marshmallows, Brownies, white chocolate fudge and Austrian shortbread. I snapped up a few pieces of the spiced pop corn, which were heavenly, and watched her eat the rest, which she thoroughly enjoyed, the shortbread being the stand out! Although I didn't want to leave, I knew it had come time. I was feeling very settled after my couple of gin and tonics  (they have a good selection of Gin). I thought I should pop down to the loo, because we had a half hour drive ahead of us. I should have gone earlier. No, not because I needed to, but because heading down to the toilet is actually a treat! On the way down you can sneak a peek at the wine cellar and the chef's table, which is quite a  lovely little area.
I wish I had more time to sticky beak around!

As we were leaving I got to see Alla in a meeting with all the chefs including head chef David Green. I tried to listen in, and almost had the courage to ask for an autograph, but didn't want to interrupt! I'm really not an autographs type person, but come on- It's Alla Wolf Tasker!! 

I thoroughly enjoyed my whole dining experience at Lakehouse. The food was divine, without being too finicky, the service was swift and efficient, the Gin was good, and I got to see Alla Wolf Tasker! I will make the effort to go back to Daylesford, simply because I want to go to Lakehouse. This time, I'd love to go for dinner and have the tasting menu to get a really great selection of the food, but I may just have to ask for a ballontine for dessert. And some to take away.

In a place like this, it's the little touches that count- the lovely artworks all around the restaurant and on the plates, which were done by Allan, Alla's husband, the taking of your coat, the nice chairs to sit on whilst you wait to be picked up, in conjunction with the food mean this really does live up to it's reputation and is a really divine place to visit.

When to go: Whenever you get the chance- seriously, doesn't matter the weather or the time of day or night, it was actually nice to sit there on a rainy sunday afternoon and just indulge. If you do go, can you bring me back a ballontine and Alla's autograph!?

P.S - this is the perfect time to tell you guys, I am going to be doing a 'Month of Melbourne' ! I have been eating out in Victoria lots lately and thought I could pay homeage to our friends in Victoria by reviewing some of their restaurants! 

Lake House on Urbanspoon
Blog Design by April Showers Design Studio