Happy Lucky Dumpling Restaurant, Melbourne 06-2015

Funnily enough after living off and visiting Victoria Street so often, I'd never realised there was a dumpling restaurant there. Subtly hidden near the corner of Victoria and Nicholson Street, opposite the Hive and right near the CBA ATMs, it seems to have slipped past me over and over. It could be because I rarely walk on that part of the road, either crossing the road on the other side to go to Nhu Lan or Pho Hung Vuong 2 or not crossing the road at all and settling at Seoul Soul.

For a late lunch I decided to try this place for something a little different.

There's a good stream of customers buying uncooked/frozen dumplings home. They are all handmade inhouse by the proficient and expert older Chinese females. It gives the place a real family feeling about it.

- Fresh homemade noodles with spicy pork sauce $11.8 - they asked if I wanted it hot. I said yes, but not too hot. The serving was filled with cut fresh chilli. Luckily my fears subsided when I realised the chillies were large and thus not vey spicy (unlike those ridiculous Beijing ones). In fact I finished all the chilli pieces together with the thick irregular (ie. homemade!) noodles. Surprisingly good;
- Steamed lamb dumpling 6 for $11.8 - I opted for lamb as something to differ from my pork noodles and Northern Chinese tend to do lamb things well. The dumplings were thick and meaty, with salty liquid inside that balanced well with the table vinegar.

Altogether the meal was very nice and I'll happily come back for my China, chilli and dumpling fix along Victoria Street. 

Next time I would order either of those two dishes again, particularly the noodles with spicy pork sauce. I'll preferably come with more people next time to try extra dishes also - more dumplings include in hot & sour soup, wontons with chilli oil, mapo tofu, lamb with cumin and beef brisket noodle soup.

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Four Winds Vineyard, Canberra 04-2015

Canberra is known for its wine region. It isn't something I care about as I don't enjoy drinking wine (other than used in recipes, added to sangria, or mixed blasphemously with coke or lemonade when in Spain). However one particular place 40mins north enticed me with the promise of woodfired pizzas.

Both pizzas (rosemary, potato and chicken, Spanish onion I seem to recall) were covered in thick cheese and had nice crusts with mildly puffy edges. Satisfying for a cold day and maybe even with a glass of wine.

I won't say the pizzas are worth heading out there for, but if there then don't need to hesitate.

Monster Kitchen and Bar, Canberra 06-2015

It isn't often that you dine with a Jewish person and a Coeliac's person. The combined dietary limitations of no meat (not Kosher), limited seafood (needs fins and scales), no gluten, and just for fun no nuts and limited dairy impact dining options. My approach is to order what I want anyway otherwise I won't get to try the dishes that interest me.

Monster is a very stylish place housed in a modern hotel/cinema complex. The Monday night movie special of $10 (combined with the other local restaurants all being closed on Monday, other than Max Brenner) makes movie and Monster dinner Monday probably a common combination for Canberrans with money to spend. The Palace cinema complex with its cheeses, dips and wine also help to separate away the children and youth. It isn't a bad thing for a childless non-youth like me.

Considering Monster is one often features on Canberra's to-eat list, it's quite remarkable the Urbanspoon rating sat in the realm of approximately 58%.

- Yabby jaffle, horseradish, crème fraiche $19 - I assume yabby meat is expensive. Very expensive. Otherwise there should be a lot more of this nice flavoursome mixture in between cheap supermarket-style whitebread;
- Buttermilk fried quail, sriracha $8 - small half of quail, juicy meat and a thick coating. Not bad;
- Oven roasted trout, parsnip mash, capers and raisins - an evening special of exquisitely cooked fish with a touch of rare to the flesh and a seasoned crisp skin;
- Cauliflower, hazelnut, burnt butter, Reggiano, Sutton truffle $28 - expensive dish without any discernible truffle flavour or aroma (given it is truffle season also). The dish was fine but for the price I'd expect protein or more truffle;
- Roast beetroot, shankleesh, onion, almond, dill $19 - simple dish of beetroot and a few additives;
- Twice cooked pigs cheek, burnt eggplant, hoi sin, scallop floss, Sichuan vinaigrette $32 - I struggle to believe this was cheek and not belly. It had a crisp seasoned skin, a very thick >50% layer of fat, a thin layer of meat, and another thin layer of fat underneath. Cheeks should be meat nuggets with fat running through it and not attached to skin. It was confusing and the amount of edible meat for the price made it a bit difficult. The meat that was there was succulent and tasty. Burnt eggplant clumps were distinctive and the floss had nice flavour and texture. I couldn't detect any Sichuan heat or numbness;
- Poached apples, apple crisps, rhubarb, meringue and earl grey icecream $18 - a hybrid dessert for my gluten-free diner that had a nice combination of flavours and textures. Not bad at all.

The couple at the next door ordered a special that was 4 very large grilled king prawns. They blasphemously didn't eat any of the head and cut straight from the start of the head shell. Wasteful. But the dish looked appealing.

Overall the flavours were fine but the dishes didn't seem particularly special. For the prices, the delivery of actual product seemed to lack. I'd definitely give it another go (as I intend to go back to Palace Cinema sometime), but for now my meal at A. Baker another evening exceeds this one.

Next time I would order ideally without dietary restriction - 38-hour pork neck bao (although for $9??), Grazing beef tartare with miso, special dish of grilled prawns (if available), eggplant main and pulled lamb shoulder.

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Wild Duck, Canberra 06-2015

I've spent many days and evenings walking to/from the Kingston Foreshore past Wild Duck. On first impressions I didn't think it was the place for me. However as the months have past, after reading the menu online multiple times, I felt there was enough in there to entice me inside to finally try it out. Additionally the ratings on Urbanspoon were relatively high, which is unusual for Canberra.

On a quiet Monday evening, we sauntered in. The booths are probably the nicest places to sit but for some reason it wasn't offered to us. I don't particularly like sitting in the middle of a sparsely set room, but it isn't something I should really complain about.

I never quite understood how places charge for tea served in a pot at a per person rate. The same volume of tea (refills are hot water as we know) is used and yet in order to have a 2nd cup, you pay additional. It doesn't make sense to me. Yum cha places take note - it is ridiculous. Anyway, onto the food...

- Scallops with XO Conpoy Chilli (pan seared scallops each topped with a touch of our XO Conpoy chilli, with poached asparagus and salad) 3 for $18.9 - these were delicious small scallops, well cooked with a very non-chilli but flavoursome salted fish topping. $6 per scallop is a little excessive I felt;
- Shao Lin Tofu Puffs (lightly fried tofu puff, served with cinnamon caramelised tofu and fresh silky tofu) $15.9 - these were actually served cold and quite bland. The fresh tofu was probably the nicest for the textural element but not enough to make this dish desirable;
- Singapore Chilli Prawns (king prawns in our chef’s Singapore chilli sauce, served on rice noodle) $32.9 - these prawns were very small for king and $8 each was much too excessive. The prawns lacked the characteristic crunch of Chinese-style frying;
- Manhan Lamb Ribs (slow-cooked in ‘One Hundred’ spices, finished on the grill, served with roasted banana chilli, zucchini & eggplant) $33.9 - quite tasty and chewy, rather than fall-off-the-bone, which isn't a bad thing necessarily. They had a little bit of heat, but really minimal;
- Mixed seasonal vegetables $9.9 - simple vegetables to balance the meal;
- Fried Mantou Bread 2 for $3.5 - chose these over rice as the carbohydrate for the meal. Not as good as my only other occasion at Mao's restaurant in Melbourne but still ok;
- Black Sticky Rice (cinnamon-infused with salted coconut custard, vanilla meringue & Persian candy floss) $14 - a bit of a mish-mash of many different non-Asian dessert elements together with black sticky rice.

Overall I wasn't particularly enamoured with the meal. It was likely a combination that the flavours weren't as exciting as modern Asian can be all over the world (compared to Melbourne's Longrain or Ezard or Rice Papr Scrs, Canberra's Lilotang or Lanterne Rooms, London's immaculate HKK, SF's The Slanted Door etc.) and the price point seemed much too high for what was delivered. Dishes advertised as chilli didn't have any discernible heat (maybe catered exclusively to Western palate) and so overall left a bit wanting.

I think the fact they are in the Entertainment Book will bring me back someday to try it again.

Next time I would order Lamb Shank in Golden Sand, Xinjiang Lamb Skewers, Crispy Xiang Su Duck and Massaman Beef Cheek (Thai food? Maybe not the best choice but beef cheeks...). I don't think any of the dishes I have tried are worth me getting again, other than the mantou fried bread because that's not the easiest to find around town.

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Mifen, Guilin 01-2010

Using the Lonely Planet, there was one place in Guilin I really wanted to try. The book even warned me about the rickety bridge required to get there but my sense of adventure gave me the strength to cross (and take photos).

Once there it seemed apparent the restaurant was closed or finished or just not to be found. I struggled to find out where it was or what happened and in the end an elderly man shooed. Oh well, you can't win them all.

Back in town I walked past many young people eating breakfast noodles out of small takeaway containers. I mustered up the courage to ask a young male what it was, and he said "mifen" and directed me inside the corridor of a building. I came across a small noodle cafe. After watching them compile noodles in a silver bowel for other customers, I ordered one of the same. They compiled it for me and topped it with some kind of (likely MSG-happy) liquid for flavour.

The dish was delicious. Umami and textural with different ingredients.

I've since tried to find a recipe for it online with no luck. I've come across a restaurant in the USA that supposedly sells it and some kind of strange video of a guy stealing a menu from a mifen shop in China. I hope to one day eat this again.

Farmers Trading Market, Yangshuo 01-2010

*Warning: there is a photo of a dog stall. I've put the photo right at the end if you do not want to see it.*

The rural markets of China were always going to be interesting places. I had read you can buy everything there, from live or butchered animals, vegetables and all sorts of ready to eat things. Upon walking through the entrance, there is a big sign hanging up written in English advertising a dog restaurant upstairs. Each to their own.

Aside from the market staples of vegetables, fruit and meats, there is the added smell and noises of live animals in cages that isn't particularly different from many other poorer countries' markets. Also not unusual for some parts of Asia (I've only seen it here, but I know Vietnam has it also) is the dog stalls. Seeing live dogs in cages and eventually being hoisted up on hooks isn't the nicest. Welcome to the third world.

On happier news, there's nice food to be eaten too. Moon cakes and miscellaneous other sweets I didn't recognise, morning fresh mantou bread and a black sesame type hot thick liquid for the cold. I settled eventually in a local restaurant serving Li River snails with a claypot of rice.