Pidapipo, Melbourne 04-2016

The other night I found myself at Readings on Lygon Street, then braving the masses at Brunetti. As I walked out I was directed toward the more orderly queue of people across the road. This was the new gelato place started by a producer of Lavazza coffee who had apparently learnt gelato trade in Italy (as most seem to do these days). Unfortunately I was sweeted out for the evening and thought nothing more of it.

A few days later I was near the south end of Chapel Street and unexpectedly came across another Pidapipo. Far away from the crowds due to location and day of the week, the icecream in shiny metal containers (the way it is supposed to be kept for maximal quality as the expense of minimal wow/colour factor) beckoned.

Pistachio was a light shade of beautiful brown, with a good nutty flavour but a little too sweet for my preference. Kudos nonetheless. This was balanced with an excellent coconut dotted with flesh along the way.

Perhaps not my favourite place ever but an excellent quality one.

Pidapipo Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Akachochin, Melbourne 04-2016

After Dimmi arrived on the scene in an attempt to unify some restaurant bookings, I've been lucky enough to use 2 of their $50 vouchers. The first was at Soju Girl in Canberra and the second at Akachochin. There's only a few decent restaurants in each city that accept it and in Melbourne the pick to me seems to be this, Woodland House, The Roving Marrow, Circa and Newmarket Hotel.

After visiting Japan so many times in the past (and eventually just buying my own sashimi to cut at home from fishmongers), it has been a long time since I ate out at a non-Japan place for sushi/sashimi. There is the exception of one sushi train in Canberra on a whim, but otherwise the quality and price at restaurants doesn't seem worth it sometimes.

Nonetheless since my last Japan trip was early 2012, the sashimi cravings hit and so the booking to Akachochin was made. I haven't spent a lot of time (first real visit and second at all) along South Wharf so it was quite nice to explore somewhere new for me. It's a quiet area (on a Wednesday night) and I wonder if it exceeds to failed expectations of the Docklands as a nightlife area. I hope so.

Akachochin is misrepresented on Google Maps but it didn't take long to find. The outdoor covered area overlooking the moonlight and water is very pleasant and the overhead heaters look primed and ready to allow this during winter.

The mocktail of hot green tea with honey yuzu was a nice warming blend, heavy on the yuzu (which is good) and light on the tea.

- Hiramasa Namerou (signature Kingfish tartare with wasabi stem & moromi miso & served with rice crackers) $16 - thin crackers to place little chunks of fish flavoured with miso;
- Sashimi Moriawase $33 - 9 pieces of sashimi (3 salmon, 2 tuna, 2 kingfish, 2 snapper) served with crumbly and tempestuous wasabi and your choice on the table of tamari or standard soy. Overall I felt a bit disappointed by the price and expected perhaps toro (if lucky), more distinctive flavoured kingfish and crunchier textured snapper;
- Special of Calamari Tempura $15 - good quality seafood and tempura that had no salt in the batter. Dipping it in the dashi and then sweeping it along the salt crystals scattered around the plate made it delicious;
- Zucchini Mustard Yaki (deep-fried chunks of zucchini with seeded mustard & saikyo miso gratin) $12 - nice charred vegetable with a very strong mustard flavour with seeds for texture. The gratin looked like cheese but tasted/textured more like mayo;
- Akachochin Gourmet Chawan Mushi (steamed egg custard studded with prawn, scallops, fish, chicken, ginko nuts & kikuna) $22 - perhaps the word studded gave me visions of lots of ingredients, but there was only 1 of each. It is a largish bowl, the flavour is nice and texture is softer than the firmer versions I'm used to.

Overall the flavours of the dishes were good. I think the moriawase wasn't great value and I'd stick to their other specialties (which take more cooking/preparation). I do think I need to revisit the fish market and recreate my own chirashi.

Akachochin Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Brunetti, Melbourne 04-2016

When did Brunetti become so insanely busy? My last experience (several years ago admittedly) was around the corner off Lygon Street. Now it occupies a huge space in the Nova building and spilling out onto the street.

The cakes and desserts are all upon entry - this means the arduous task of navigating through the horde to pick a number ticket, then stand around trying to look at the casings before ordering eventually. They do ask you not to take a ticket until you know what to order, but on a busy day you'll have time to look.

I had the pistachio biscotti (lovely icecream and nuts with an average crumb) and a new light dessert essentially made from pear.

Further down the way is a pasta section, a coffee section, a bakery (which I bought a really excellent seeded rye loaf $6) and a pizza station.

Across the road happens to be Pidapipo gelato as an alternative more orderly queue.

Brunetti Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

The Gem Bar, Melbourne 04-2016

For my mother's birthday I wanted to pick something a cuisine she wouldn't usually go for. In fact the last time I took her to something similar was the incredible Pitt Cue Co in London ( Fast forward 3.5 years later and it was a good time to take her for more American-style BBQ. I read that there was live music that evening and I did have some reservations of loud music and the inability to hear each other. This was confirmed walking through the front door but abated when heading through to the more dedicated dining section at the back.

Unfortunately it seems the BBQ jackfruit on the online menu was not available anymore (or seasonal - that may mean they use fresh rather than canned fruit which is great?) so had to make do without it.

- Trio dips $10 - lovely tortilla chips with a tangy spicy salsa fresca, plain unadulterated guacamole & thick cheesy cerveza con queso;
- Texas Fries (chopped jalapenos, melted cheese, spring onion, chipotle aioli, pit chilli beans) $16 - heavy seasoned but delicious combination of fries and chilli. I'd usually expect some beef mince but this was fine without it;
- Southern Fish Stew (crispy skin barramundi, tiger prawns, local pipis & potatoes) $30 - a slightly lighter dish of excellent fish and a few seafood and other garnishes in nice thick sauce/broth;
- Sunday Roast (beer brine roast poussin, celeriac puree, braised Brussel sprouts, heritage carrots, Americana popover) $25 - a tender bird with some very fine caramelised Brussel sprouts. The popover (assuming that is the equivalent of an English Yorkshire pudding) was quite disappointing though being chewy and not that useful other than a vessel for some sauces;
- BBQ Beef Brisket $20 - exceptionally tender meat which went well alone or with the chilli sauce;
- BBQ Lamb Ribs $15 - the meat was good however the thick slabs of fat surrounding it meant picking for morsels;
- BBQ sides - chipotle coleslaw $4 (standard), German-style potato salad $4 (a bit plain), smoked mac & cheese with bacon crumb $5 (nice and slightly heavy).

Unfortunately the pulled lamb was sold out that evening, but I'd select that over the lamb ribs next time. I'm interested to try the pork ribs too as I think The Gem would handle them very well. Otherwise anything else they serve I'll be happy to eat.

Upon leaving the live band had started kicking off and some swing dancing was happening. A lovely scene.

The Gem Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

House of Hoi An, Melbourne 04-2016

In an area I'm not used to visiting, this electric coloured building and decor serves delicious Vietnamese food. The price point is a bit high (perhaps reflective of the location off Chapel Street) but I had no issues with the flavours. At 630pm on Tuesday the place had lots of spare tables and a smattering filled up closer toward 730-8.

The lemongrass and ginger hot tea served on arrival was refreshing, cleansing and healing.
Roll your own BBQ pork (thit nuong) served with peanut sauce ($4 per roll) was a bit small but tasted good.
Pomelo salad was sensational with some prawns and nuoc mam.
Rockling with dill and caramelised pork belly were also fine dishes (rockling with dill seemed more unique for Vietnamese cuisine to me).
Special of Eggplant claypot had nice flavour with a tangy sauce.

All dishes we had were served with some kind of carbohydrate (rice, rice paper, noodles) and some salad with herbs and dipping/pouring sauce.

Paid $45 for food (+ tea) which seemed very reasonable overall.
No photos this time.

House of Hoi An Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Huyen Anh, Hue 01-2011

During the lunch intermission of a private Hue city tour, the driver took us to a restaurant. After sitting down I saw the table of mature-aged German tourists wowing over an ornate food sculpture being brought out. Hmm... it looked slightly familiar. The menu seemed very tourist orientated and we decided to leave. Upon walking outside, a horde of many tour buses stopped and the swarms began. I'm glad we left. I then recalled my booking at Tien Gia Vien for the next day which is the better reputed version of that restaurant we departed.

In any case the tour driver and guide seem perplexed by us leaving. What did we want to eat for lunch then? I asked them to take us to somewhere they eat for lunch. Off we went.

Huyen Anh was located in a hidden location behind a petrol station. There were inside and outside seating areas and I was the only non-Vietnamese person there. They specialise in thit nuong - the grilled meat that makes the dish bun thit nuong so phenomenal. The meat at this place was charred and flavoured to an exceptional level. After tasting it in a dish, I had to order more of the grilled meat on its own (served with salad and sauce anyway).

What luck to find such a place.

Nina's Cafe, Hue 01-2011

In a quiet street close to the hotel, Nina's was the choice for a slightly smaller dinner. The food is lovely home-style served that evening by one of the daughters of the house. The cooking and flavour is lovely and a great dining choice for any time of day.

- Nina's Special Soup;
- Khoai Pancake (shrimp, pork, bean sprouts served with a peanut sauce) - similar to banh xeo;
- Fried Fish cooked traditionally (similar to spring rolls) - fried rice paper rolls rather than the typical coating.

Bun Bo Hue, Hue 01-2011

Once getting off the bus from Hoi An to Hue, the afternoon leg stretch included a search for the more potent Vietnamese soup noodles. The hotel reception recommended a place which was a decent walk along some quiet roads and to a neighbourhood place.

I can't honestly remember the name of this place, so if anyone recognises it please let me know!

Boudin at Bakers Hall, San Francisco 10-2011

It's been a long time since I actually visited Boudin. In researching my food venues for the trip, Boudin and their chowder in sourdough was extremely highly regarded. The first Boudin I walked past was at Fisherman's Wharf, complete with the artistic and impressive animal designs in the shop window.

I was enroute to dinner at Ferry Plaza so didn't stop in, but managed to sample Boudin's fare the next day (at a location that I can't precisely recall).

The sourdough revolution hit Melbourne around the time of extreme brunch cafe culture circa 2009 and I was there to embrace it. It was a farcry from the supermarket sourdough I was made to eat back in the early 90s when my mum tried to take wheat out of my diet (N.B I'm aware now that sourdough is still wheat based). Of all the types I've tried around various cafes and bakeries in Australia, none has yet surpassed my experience at Boudin - the crusty bowl exterior, the soft spongy bread and the unmistakable tangy sour taste that I search for. Other than the bread, the chowder isn't bad either.

A fantastic dish and one I look forward to revisiting. Next time I'll be sure to take some bread home too. My sourdough journey continues.

Boudin Bakery  Cafe Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Los Latinos, Melbourne 03-2016

I've only heard of Maidstone previously when I met a girl who lived there. This was all the way back in 1998 and the only reasons I remember this (and her name) is because she was exceptionally cute and we happened to be in the same Chemistry class at The School for Excellence. Sadly that was the only time I saw her but life moves on 18 years later.

With great enthusiasm I found myself heading to this mysterious suburb in search of a South American restaurant. It's located on a small strip of shops and there is nothing else there to go for (in the evenings at least). The hosts are from El Salvador (I think I recall) and the food seems to represent the Central and South American continent. The mural photos on the walls are particularly interesting to look at and make a trip to South America the highest travel priority (as it has been for a few years).

My favourite a Latin drink in horchata started things off. After trying it first in the Mission districts of San Francisco ( and then the mothership of Valencia ( I imagine this one was made with rice milk and cinnamon (although I've read El Salvador use morro seeds, whatever they are) and less likely the tigernuts that I saw in Valencia. In any case the drink is nice, refreshing and not syrupy at all. There is a bit of textural grit to it (which I don't mind) suggesting perhaps it is ground seeds? The guava smoothie was also very nice and seemed freshly made also and not poured from some bottle. It wasn't overly sweet either which is always good.

- Platanos Fritos (madura plantains served with refried beans & sour cream) $8.5 - London introduced me to fried plantains at the Saturday Upmarket in Shoreditch and since then I've wanted them every opportunity I get. Although quite expensive for the amount of actual plantain, they were delicious and sweet. The beans and sour cream are unnecessary in my mind and just detract from the main star;
- Parrillada Pa'Dos (sizzling plate of asado beef with chicken ribs, spanish chorizo, prawns, quail & vegetables served with chimichurri salad) $40 - a big plate of meat which could've used extra chimichurri given the volume. In order of favourites, the beef asado was an exceptional cut of 2 beef shortribs, tender, flavoured and outstanding. The chicken wings were similarly nicely seasoned and grilled. The prawns, quail and two little chorizos were all ok but not nearly as memorable as the other two (particularly the rib).

I got a $2 side of tortillas which made it more fun to eat the meat in a wrapped form.

There's a few dishes that sound good for next time. I'd probably lean towards a main with the beef shortribs (if available, the Guanacos Carne Asada seems closest but not the same) or the chicken (porcion de pollo).

Los Latinos Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato