Friday, 22 June 2007

Advice wanted: imminent brunch in Sydney!

Was wondering whether all you lovely people out there could give me a good recommendation for a sensational brunch venue in Sydney - I'll be up there next weekend. I had been thinking of trying bills, but after both mellie and adski had diappointing visits, would like to try somewhere else... any ideas?

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Nasi Lemak at Chilli Padi

Chilli padi
Menzies Alley, Melbourne Central (map)
9663 5688

Last Thursday it was lunchtime and work had meant that I was down near Melbourne Central, a place I'm not normally around much these days now that I work down near King and Bourke. Now, what was the name again of the place I'd noted in the latest Cheap Eats Guide near Melbourne Central that specialised in nasi lemak? (Sidenote: I became a big fan last year of the nasi lemak from Norsiah's Kitchen, a great little bain marie place up near Melbourne Uni - I'd found it by literally following my nose as I'd been standing at the tram stop... antirealmadrid has blogged about Norsiah's here)

I wasn't carrying my Cheap Eats Guide on my person (fatal mistake - a gal should never leave home without it!) and my friend DJ (who has his in his office - smart boy) was out to lunch when I tried to call him, so I did the next best thing: snuck into Borders and looked it up in one of their copies. It turned out it was called Changi Village Nasi Lemak and was just across Latrobe St. Imagine, dear reader, my disappointment and dismay when I crossed Latrobe and found that CVNL has since CLOSED! Apparently a Korean restaurant will be opening in its place, which ought to please mellie no end... :)

Well dammit I wasn't about to let a small thing like a closed restaurant stop me from having nasi lemak for lunch! So I recrossed Latrobe and wandered over to Chilli Padi to see what theirs is like.

Nasi Lemak at Chillipadi

As you can see, it was very elegantly presented, and I chose to get chicken curry rather than beef rendang. Fiery sambal, nicely crunchy ikan bilis (tiny dried anchovies) and tangy achar (pickled veggies), but while the chicken was fresh it wasn't as melt-in-the-mouth as I've had in the past. Still, overall it was very tasty.

Has anyone seen Chilli padi's groovy yet slightly unusual website? It's a bit like The Sims!

Monday, 11 June 2007

Dinner at Lau's Family Kitchen

Lau's Family Kitchen
4 Acland Street, St Kilda (map)
8598 9880

Every foodie worth her or his organically certified sea salt was thrilled last year to hear that the Lau family (of Flower Drum fame) was opening a more casual, more affordable restaurant in St Kilda. We don't venture thataway very often, but K and I decided recently that it was high time to head down to the seaside and sample the food at Lau's Family Kitchen.

Our repeated attempts over three successive weeks to get a Saturday night booking were a comedy of errors - finally the staff said it was JUST possible to squeeze us in at a table for two, provided we promised to vacate the premises by 8pm. As we sipped glasses of wine next door at Il Fornaio waiting for the clock to strike six, K muttered that the food had better be damn good to be worth all this bother...

Lau's Family Kitchen

Lau's is located at the Prince of Wales end of Acland St, sitting snugly between Il Fornaio and my old favourite, Chinta Blues (hooray for their Mee Goreng and Ayam Ria!). The vibe was pretty relaxed and the service was generally excellent. We were dismayed however to see the (endangered) Patagonian toothfish on the menu, and avoided ordering it.

Instead, we started with the eggplant stuffed with taro paste, and some siew mai dumplings.

Eggplant stuffed with taro paste at Lau's

The stuffed eggplant, battered and deep fried and drizzled with a garlicky, thickened reduction, was delicious - the taro paste had a starchy but not too gritty texture. The siew mai dumplings were also very good:

Siew mai dumplings at Lau's

I really wish I'd taken a shot of one of these half-eaten dumplings in cross-section, because they were so beautifully constructed: a juicy nugget of fresh prawn embedded within the pork and Chinese mushroom mixture, with the dumpling casing wrapped around the edges. Both cut fresh chillies and chilli paste were brought as a matter of course with the soy sauce.

For main course we chose to share the steamed wild barramundi and the Ma Po tofu.

Steamed wild barramundi at Lau's

The barra was also great: the simple, light soy sauce and fresh herbs accompanying it let the fresh delicate flavour of the moist fish speak for itself. The 2005 Darling Park Pinot Noir we were drinking was a nice match.

The final dish to arrive was the Schezwan Ma Po tofu with minced pork and steamed rice.

Schezwan tofu and minced pork at Lau's

I think this one was my favourite: the bean curd was wonderfully silky and the sauce was fiery. After all our grumbling about how hard it had been to get in, K and I were happily seduced by the Lau's experience and (apart from the Patagonian toothfish's presence on the menu) had no cause for complaint. Lau's may be the Drum's little sister, but seems to be doing just fine in her own right.

King / Bourke Quest Part 2: Noodles from Yen

Yen Sushi & Noodles
530 Little Collins St (map)

Part 2 of the quest to find decent food in the vicinity of King and Bourke streets in the CBD found me one lunchtime last week jonesing for some hawker noodles.

A few weeks previously I'd tried the only South East Asian restaurant in the area according to yourRestaurants, OzAsia, and had been rather underwhelmed with the results (though I will revisit it and review it sometime soon). The only viable alternative for me on a limited lunch hour was the dreaded Food Court Noodles.

I say dreaded because I'd tried the noodles in the food court at Bourke Place and they were pretty terrible - but then a friend told me about a miniature food court in Little Collins St, around behind the ASX building. I wandered down there with her to find that this food court housed a branch of Yen Sushi & Noodles, which (like Blufish) also has a CBD branch in Centre Place.

Chicken mee goreng with flat rice noodles from Yen

I ordered flat rice noodles (love the slimy texture) with chicken plus mee goreng sauce - a combination which could well have a hawker noodle purist rolling her/his eyes in horror!

The noodles at Yen are never going to set the world on fire, but as food court noodles go they're not bad at all. The vegetables are always fresh and plentiful, the mee goreng sauce has a good kick to it and the fact that their noodles come with a wedge of fresh lemon puts them ahead of the rest in my opinion!

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

King / Bourke Quest Part 1: Fisherman's Basket at Blufish

620 Collins St, shop G23 (map)
9614 1476

Ever since I started my new job three months ago, I have been whinging to friends about the lack of decent food in easy proximity to my building at the intersection of King and Bourke streets in the CBD. This is the first in a series of reviews recounting my valiant efforts to find delicious food in this neck of the woods - further suggestions for future venues are warmly encouraged.

Happily, both ElegantGourmand and adski had already given me a few tips. I started with a place both had recommended as the best bite to eat in the area, Blufish. Blufish is located in a teensy little alleyway off Collins St near Spencer St, and is reputedly the best fish and chipper in the CBD. I went there for lunch last week and decided getting fish and chips would be a good indicator of the quality of the place.

Blufish has stainless steel benches for diners and a friendly, bustling atmosphere, and has another CBD branch in Centre Place (the alleyway across Flinders Lane from Degraves St).

Fisherman's Basket at Blufish

This is the Fisherman's Basket, only without the basket.. :)

As you can see, it consisted of two fish 'bites' (choices that day were sea bass, blue eye and flake - I had the sea bass), two calamari rings, a seafood stick, a potato cake and chips.
The good: the fish bites and calamari rings were fresh, delicious and exquisitely tender (seriously, the calamari rings were melt-in-the-mouth perfect; I'm always amazed when people can get them that soft), with very good batter - plus the tartare sauce served in a scallop shell was a nice touch.
The bad: I'm not really a fan of seafood stick or potato cakes, plus the whole thing was deep fried overload! Not that this is exactly the fault of the good people at Blufish - perhaps I should've tried something else instead. The chips were good, but not great. I will definitely return, but next time will go for either the fish burger adski recommended, or get a few fish bites or calamari rings with a big serve of salad...