Monday, 27 February 2012

Fortnightly round-up (27 February)

Playing doctors

I'll spare you the "Mexican wave" pun, but the fact is that Melbourne's appetite for new wave Mexican dining over the last two years remains insatiable. If Mamasita, the Newmarket, the Taco Truck, Paco's Tacos, Fonda, Gringo Vibes and Livin' Burrito Loca weren't enough, we've got two more trendy Mexican restaurants opening in Melbourne, both in the next month, both in the CBD.

I'm particularly excited about Señoritas: its co-founder Ricardo Amare, its head chef Hugo Reyes (formerly the head chef in several Mexican embassies) and their full cooking team are all Mexican, and "authenticity" appears to be their watchword. There's a whole page dedicated to authenticity on their website, and it promises dishes from regions like Oaxaca and Yucatan. After a somewhat lengthy gestation period the restaurant should be open in early March in Meyers Place, with the Waiters Club and Meyers Place bar on its left and San Telmo and Lily Blacks on its right. While its proximity to Mamasita suggests it may scoop up the overflow of those unwilling to wait for hours on a staircase, I'm willing to bet it'll become a star attraction in its own right.

The other one is called Touché Hombre and it'll be opening in a few weeks at the site on the corner of Lonsdale Street and Tattersalls Lane previously occupied by izakaya J-Pub Shogun. Less is known about this one but from the sounds of things, there'll be plenty of tacos, margaritas and street art. Watch this space.


I'm guest judging a baking competition at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival! A gang of bicycle belles known as the Rad Rebel Riders are organising the Bikefest Village Picnic and you're all invited. It's an optional gold coin donation on entry to the picnic, and it'll be held from 11am to 5pm on Saturday 10 March at the Mercator Lawn at Abbotsford Convent (conveniently, the Collingwood Childrens Farm Farmers Market is being held on the same day, so I'm planning to do both). More picnic and baking competition details:

A long feast table will encourage communal grazing, with the picnic concept of ‘bringing a plate to share’ extended to both friends and strangers.

The Rad Rebel Riders put your oven skills to the test with a cake-baking competition, winners taking home foodie prizes like dinner vouchers at the Italian restaurant Mister Bianco. Spread out on your picnic blanket and taste the delicous offerings of the Convent Bakery's gourmet sandwiches & Moritz's special shandies or kickstart with a short black from our Cargo Bike Coffee crew.

A face painter will get creative on kids and not so grown ups and there are Village Green style games to pick up while you’re listening to folklore-­gypsy sound by Susy Blue and friends to while away the afternoon. Time Out has some magazines up for grabs, as well as homemade cupcakes and freshly squeezed lemonade.

Your bike will also get a treat, with a free professional advice and service workshop provided by Abbotsford Cycles, and why not upgrade your food carrying capacity and find the right cargobike for you with free testing available on the Convent grounds. On top of that, the red & white crew of Roll Up Bicycle Valet parking will look after your pushy while you spoil yourself on the lawns.

Submit your baking entry from 11am – 12:30pm, judging will be at 1:30pm.

Bring family, friends, your Picnic and a plate to share!

And speaking of MFWF: this weekend (3rd/4th) the Festival has arranged for all of Melbourne's food trucks to be in the same place at the same time for Melbourne's first Food Truck Jam (see Festival website for details). When news of the event broke over Twitter last week, I was amazed to see that my tweet linking to the event page was retweeted and favourited so many times that @melbgastronome started trending in Melbourne. The take home message? PEOPLE *REALLY* LIKE FOOD TRUCKS.

BikefestRad Rebel Riders

Know this: the hot duck roll at Ora in Kew is SENSATIONAL. They add confit duck to a ciabatta roll, wrap it in foil and place it in the oven for ten minutes, then remove it and add Kewpie mayo, black sesame, spring onion and cucumber salad. $15.

Hot duck roll

A dazzling number of apple varieties on display at the Slow Food Market at Abbotsford Convent on Saturday. Brought to you by Peter the Permie from Telopea Mountain Permaculture Farm.

Apples apples apples!

Puchased at the Slow Food Market: tomatoes for Sunday night's Green Zebra Caprese, and tomatillos which I roasted for a salsa on Saturday night.

Green zebrasTomatillos, prior to roasting

I've written before about how good the "inauthentic" pizzas are at The Moor's Head. Last week I fell in love all over again with Omar Shariff, or rather, the $17.50 pide named after him: it's made with three cheeses (twisted halloumi, feta and ashawan), nigella, fresh mint and soused onions. Highly recommended!

Omar Sharif

Links of Note:

- Why do most cafe startups fail? Peter Baskerville answers.

- Melbourne's burger experts awarded Melbourne's Top 10 Burgers of 2011 on their blog The Burger Adventure.

- I haven't been to Sydney restaurant Barrio Chino, but I like that its interior shies away from the typical "Mexican aesthetic". Design blog yellowtrace interviewed their designer, who shared her original concept presentation boards for the fitout.

- Katie Quinn Davies, aka food blogger What Katie Ate, announced her new role as a regular contributor to Delicious magazine, doing an eight page feature every month featuring 5-7 themed recipes. Nice work Katie!

- Enjoying the cocktail blog Booze in Pretty Cups, written by two bartenders in Perth.

- Burch and Purchese posted a link on their blog to 80 pages of fascinating research from the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science.

- AFR journalist Rachel Lebihan writes a blog called The Food Sage. She recently wrote about her adventures perched up at the bar for dinner in three Melbourne restaurants.

- "I just don't want to be a Noma clone. It's everywhere. You see it in the way people plate, and it's nauseating." Eater interview with Manresa chef David Kinch.

- Also via Eater: Yes, the Food Blogging For Dummies Book Is a Real Thing. Apparently chapter 7 is "How to Write a Top Ten List" and chapter 12 is "Using Words Like Toque, Delish, and Drool-Worthy For Fun and Profit." *HEADDESK*

- I was interviewed by City Weekly and asked to name some of my favourite places in the city. Coming up with good answers for some of those questions was surprisingly hard - what would you have answered?

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Hanoi Hannah in Prahran: Melbourne's south side gets some Vietnamese

Hanoi Hannah
180 High Street, Prahran/Windsor (map)
9939 5181
Open 7 days, 11am-11pm (breakfast coming soon)
No bookings

Hanoi Hannah

Located in Prahran/Windsor on High Street just off Chapel Street, new casual Vietnamese restaurant Hanoi Hannah cheerfully plugs a gap in Melbourne's dining scene by giving south side residents in need of a phở fix a cheap and bustling option on their side of the river.

It opened a fortnight ago, and when I tried to pop in for lunch with Jackie a few days after opening, one of the owners had to ruefully tell me that they were unexpectedly closed for lunch that day because they'd run out of food (!). I made plans with Tom to try again and we went for dinner on Wednesday night: it was already buzzing with young trendies.

Fresh coconut juiceBa ba ba

Tom ordered a fresh coconut juice ($5) which came served in a branded coconut, in the manner of some of the cocktails the bartender was making. I was happy to see Halida beer from Hanoi on the menu (which I haven't had since I was in Hanoi six years ago), but our friendly waitress explained that their Halida supply was still in a boat on its way to Australia. I settled for a bottle of Ba Ba Ba Premium ($7) instead.

The bò lá lốt cigars ($8), served on skewers, were excellent: the vine leaves were crispy but the beef was succulent.


Seeing "pork belly sliders" on the menu nearly made me drop my monocle in surprise. Yes, very On-Trend Dude Food Melbourne ca 2012 (wouldn't they be more at home on the menu at The Smith across the road?), but not very Viet Nam, I'd've thought. But my curiosity was piqued, so I ordered them for us ($8 for two). And yes, they were very good - obligatory brioche bun, Sriracha Kewpie mayo and all.

Pork belly sliders

Tom reported back favourably on the vermicelli salad with grilled chicken ($10).

Vermicelli salad with grilled chicken

I had a bowl of the beef phở ($9). While it wasn't the best phở I've had in Melbourne (that would probably be a tie between Hùng Vương and Phở Tam, both in Footscray), it was a damn sight better than some of the phở I've had on Victoria Street. Good price, good noodles, good beef, reasonably rich broth - though a few different garnish herbs to play with would've been great.

Beef pho

It's easy to see why Hanoi Hannah is packed already. The booze list is short but savvy, with an eye for what the kids are drinking in Melbourne at the moment. Most dishes hover around the $8-$10 mark: a glass noodle salad with shredded duck is the most expensive option at $13. Bánh mì are available at lunchtime and as noted at the top of this post, they'll soon be open for breakfast. I'll be back!

Hanoi Hannah

If you can't get in, I've heard good things about bistro Franco Choo's across the road, plus cheapish Thai food (that I loved) at Colonel Tan's is only a short walk away. The [aforementioned] Smith if you're prepared to splash some cash.

Pssst, Hanoi Hannah: upload a higher res version of the image on your website, so that we can read all the writing!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Fortnightly round-up (13 February)


Last week was a big week for shock restaurant departures/closures: The Brix lost its head chef in addition to its sous chef and pastry chef (word on the street via Essjay is that they'll be reopening at the end of the month under new head chef Ashly Hicks from Brisbane's Buffalo Club), MoMo announced its 31 March closure in response to head chef Greg Malouf moving to London to head up Petersham Nurseries, and Sydney's Bird Cow Fish closed on the weekend with less than a week of warning. I've heard also that the closure of another fine dining restaurant in Melbourne is poised to be announced in the next week, once all staff have been notified. Ah, it's a tough business.

But of course, that doesn't seem to deter people from opening new places all the time. In the last fortnight we've seen some second venue openings from established Melbourne chefs (well, a seventh concurrent venue opening for George Calombaris if you count all the restaurants in the Made Establishment stable). Bishop of Ostia is the Pope Joan-adjacent bar opened last Thursday week by Matt Wilkinson and Ben Foster, and Marmalade & Soul is Ray Capaldi's new cafe/restaurant opened last week in former pub site The Recreation. I've been to both for preliminary visits (blog posts coming once they've had a chance to settle in!), and they're both very promising.

I'm yet to dine at the restaurant, but I attended the Mama Baba launch party the other week. Never before had I been to a restaurant launch where a celebrity hairdresser was working in the glass pasta room (just down from the $45,000 pasta extruder), fashioning wigs made out of pasta (!!!) for models to wear at the party...

Pasta extruderPasta hairdresser
Pasta hairDJ skillz

Neil Perry's Spice Temple is now serving yum cha for lunch every day of the week (the regular menu is now for dinners only). On Friday I attended a freebie media launch lunch hosted by NP himself introducing the yum cha menu. I left very impressed by his passion for what he does (sitting next to him I got to hear all about the interesting research trips and recipe testing involved in developing the yum cha menu), the high standard of the dishes (unlike at many yum cha restaurants in Melbourne, the quality and freshness of the ingredients - especially the seafood - really stood out) and the surprisingly reasonable prices (see menu here).

Favourite dishes: the tea smoked duck, the har gow, the steamed tripe with black bean and the egg tart.

Spice Temple yum cha
Har GowBraised lamb shoulder pot stickers
Steamed tripe with black beanEgg tart

Two things I have been enjoying over the last fortnight: coffees from Patricia Coffee Brewers and honey from Melbourne City Rooftop Honey (from a hive on a rooftop in Rankins Lane).

Patricia Coffee BrewersRooftop honey

So THAT'S what an entire lobster in tempura looks like. Served along with a whole lot of sashimi - including lobster sashimi - at a Japanese dinner I attended during the week at an underground restaurant out in the suburbs (the person who invited me asked me to not mention the name or location of the venue on the blog, as they weren't sure whether or not the local council approves). So how was the food? Better than Zingara Cucina... ;)

Lobster tempuraLobster sashimi
Sashimi boat

Food trucks/vans in Melbourne will soon no longer be confined to the cities of Darebin and Moreland: a Melbourne Times Weekly article (memorably titled 'Hipsters happy as the man lifts food van ban') confirmed that the Yarra City Council has agreed to overturn the ban on "mobile food vehicles" in the City of Yarra. The adopted guidelines that will operate in the City of Yarra can be found here.

The fly in the ointment is that we have to wait until the Council has decided on a fee structure for the permits (they say they expect the fee structure to be decided by mid-2012) before Beatbox Kitchen, Taco Truck, Le Sausage, Gumbo Kitchen and their like will be allowed to roll into the hood.

Taco Truck

Links of Note:

- Speaking of food trucks, last month the City of Sydney announced the 10 winning food trucks that will be allowed to trade in Sydney for a twelve month trial period. The list of the chosen operators (yeah, Melbourne's Taco Truck is one of them) plus a nifty video showing the judging process is on the City of Sydney's website.

- Hot on the heels of his recent victory over 'pink slime' hamburgers, Jamie Oliver is coming to Melbourne and will be giving a talk on 6 March about promoting food education in the community - tickets went on sale today and can be purchased via The Wheeler Centre's website.

- Food is the New Rock: the blog where music and food collide.

- Broadsheet's article Decoded - What's in a Cafe Name?, explaining the origin stories of the names of several Melbourne cafes.

- Delightful Sydney-based Mexican food blog De La Tierra.

- Matt Rodbard from Food Republic (the food blog for men, because "men are underserved in today's conversation about food") writes about The 9 Best Things [He] Ate in Melbourne. Seven of the nine are from just three restaurants, and one of the other nine is a cappuccino. *cough*

- Lauren from Footscray Food Blog discovered a workday cafe in North Melbourne called Crouton that serves Mauritian food at Saturday lunchtime.

- I keep including foodie links from The Design Files in these fortnightly round-ups, but at the risk of sounding repetitive I'm including this interview with James Brown from graphic design studio Mash.

- Restaurant reviews on blogs as videos? Kate Gibbs makes a video about her visit to Surry Hills' El Capo on her blog The Kitchen Inc (I wrote about El Capo here).

- Mondrian, Duchamp, O'Keefe, Pollock, Klimt: famous artworks interpreted in sandwich form.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Attica: Tuesday Night Chef's Table

74 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea (map)
9530 0111


I'd been lucky enough to dine at Attica twice before - but never on a Tuesday night, when the regular degustation menu is replaced by the Chef's Table five course degustation of dishes that head chef Ben Shewry and his team are testing and developing. The experimental Chef's Table menu is cheaper than the regular degustation, at $95 per head (or $150 per head including matching wines).

I'd been meaning to go on a Tuesday for aeons, and one day late last year something snapped and I made an impulsive reservation for four people on the next available Tuesday night after my trip to Japan. I reasoned to myself (correctly) that I'd surely be able to muster up some dining companions by then who were as keen as I was.


We went along two weeks ago, on the 24th. All of us, bar our designated driver, selected the $150 option with matching wines. As we drank our aperitifs (I had a Lighthouse and tonic), dining companion Matt confessed to us that he had been DREAMING of the smooth, creamy olive oil emulsion served with bread at Attica.

I don't blame him. It's to die for.

Olive oil emulsion

The meal started with a course that wasn't listed on the menu: two plump Sea Bounty Blue mussels from Port Phillip Bay, sitting in a modest quantity of simple shitake, bonito and soy broth. Umami KAPOW.

Shitake broth

"Leeks and green sauce" was all the menu said about the next course. It turned out to be tiny leek stems standing upright amongst dollops of outrageously fresh fromage blanc (that the kitchen staff had made just that afternoon) and a pesto-like combination of purslane, lovage and dandelion. The leek stems were topped with dabs of macadamia nut oil and sprinkled mountain pepper, and the dish was finished off with a few foraged purslane and lemon thyme leaves. Matched with the Sutton Grange 2009 Fiano, a Southern Italian varietal increasingly grown in Australia.

This course and the next one were my two favourites: intricately composed without feeling muddled, and showcasing really top-notch produce.

Leeks and green sauce

By way of introducing the next course, our waiter explained that Ben is playing with the idea of taking the iconic Snow Crab dish (recipe - in Spanish - on the Madrid Fusion website) off the regular menu, and this is one of his alternative ideas.

It starts with a generous scrape of labne, then a layer of bell horn pepper. Add smoked black sesame seeds, spiced hazelnuts, scooped pulps of black russian tomatoes, black cherry tomatoes and juicy shreds of snow crab. Top it with tiny basil leaves from ELEVEN different varieties of basil, and you have one very special dish.

Upon reading the dish description I'd been curious about how the acidity of the tomatoes and the strong basil flavours would work with the delicacy of the snow crab but to my surprise they married perfectly, underscored by the creaminess of the labne. Matching it with a glass of savoury La Goya Manzanilla was a great addition too. I'm practically drooling at the memory of it: I've had the regular Snow Crab dish at Attica twice before, but I'd swap it for this one in a heartbeat.

Eleven kinds of basil

It was at this point in our meal that our table was invited to tour the kitchen garden. A private tour by Ben Shewry of Attica's kitchen garden? My dining companions and I, all food nerds, leapt at the opportunity and we were led through the tiny, orderly kitchen in the middle of service to the back garden (formerly the car park). Ben showed us around and chatted amiably with us about what he's growing, both in the planter boxes on-site and in the 300sq metre plot leased from the National Trust at the nearby historic Rippon Lea Estate.

At the former site it's mainly herbs, including TWELVE varieties of basil and a mushroom plant from Papua New Guinea whose leaves - bizarrely - really do taste like a button mushroom.

Kitchen garden

We returned to our table for our next course, and couldn't help but smile at the ballsy simplicity of the "Fried King George Whiting". No micro-tweezers required to assemble this dish! Just a fillet in potato and wheat starch, fried for a minute and 20 seconds at 200 degrees and served with a minimalist cheek of lemon. It came with a glass of the 2010 Sato Riesling 'Petillant Naturel', a fascinating natural wine made by a Japanese former investment banker turned winemaker in Central Otago. He adds no sulfur during the wine-making process until just before bottling, which stops oxidation but not the ferment - giving the finished product a slight fizz. We loved it.

Fried Whiting

The meat course was beef tongue that had been poached then hot smoked. It was served with a mirepoix, tomato, white wine and beef jus, little strips of dehyrated wagyu and a couple of bitter leaves. This course didn't resonate with me as much as the others did, though I loved the matching of Best's 2010 Dolcetto.


The dessert was described simply as "Lemon Honey", but turned out to be a whole lot more than that (much like Attica's long-departed, fondly-remembered "Terroir" dessert). The base was a lemon honey cream, covered with shards of blackcurrant meringue, fresh raspberries and a green ice that looked too light to be made from sorrel (and turned out to be made from lemon thyme and fennel). All this was hidden under a thin plasticky sheet of pumpkin, which had been compressed in honey syrup. And as if that wasn't enough, the pumpkin was covered by freeze dried braeburn apples, powdered and arranged in honeycomb-like formations.

A real treat of a dish: like the Terroir, you could play around with the different flavour combinations, textures and temperatures. Served with the stonkingly good Oakridge Late Harvest Viognier 2009, an ice wine Viognier made from overripe grapes that were frozen after harvest.

Lemon Honey

It almost goes without saying that the service from the front of house team was exemplary. We loved too that we were seated directly in front of the test kitchen, where we could see sheets of what appeared to be the compressed pumpkin being prepared. Many thanks in particular to Ben for taking the time to show us around the garden.

All in all, it was a sublime meal. I can't wait to go back again.

Test Kitchen