Ruby Slipper Cafe, New Orleans 07-2021

New Orleans was absolutely steaming. Temperatures in the 30s, humidity in the 90s - wow. Going outside the air conditioned room was little being hit in the face was a wet blanket. The old house turned hotel we were staying in was beautiful though, even if it had some musty humid air and rainforest insects would come in at any opportunity. Marigny was a pretty and colourful area to stay, seemed relatively safe, nearby jazz clubs and a short walk to the French Quarter for chaos and 4th of July celebrations (thanks Will Smith for funding these fireworks).

Our first meal there was brunch - Ruby Slipper was packed, with several waiting outside. There was no way we were getting a table, except that we were one of the few willing to sit outside (well we weren't prepared to wait for inside or try somewhere else). In the end it was fine, sitting under the shade of an umbrella and not moving too much to avoid sweating.

After seeing but not trying "biscuits" in Nashville, it was nice to see the opportunity to try a traditional Southern biscuit elsewhere.

- Southern Breakfast (2 eggs poached, stoneground grits, applewood smoked bacon, fried green tomato with a buttermilk biscuit) USD11.5;
- BBQ Shrimp & Grits (gulf shrimp sauteed with pork tasso, bell pepper, red onion, beer & rosemary-butter reduction, over creamy stoneground grits served with a buttermilk biscuit) USD 15.5.

Biscuit are like a scone-cake mix with lots of butter flavour (not surprising given it's buttermilk...). Mine in the shrimp & grits came with cane syrup butter, and strawberry and grape jam. Grits were thick and similar to polenta (not surprising since I discovered both are made from corn, just white corn vs. yellow corn). Nice prawns in tomato sauce too.

Good way to start the day and load calories just to sweat them out.

High On The Hog BBQ, Mississippi 07-2021

After visiting the Elvis Graceland museum (which was an expensive but probably should-see-once experience, albeit a little disappointing in that it didn't really explore deeply his personality or his demons), it was off to New Orleans. After the delight of Central BBQ, we didn't want to justify driving backwards and spending time getting more, and so found a well rated place along the way. It was off a road in a little town somewhere in Mississippi that really noone would expect two tourists to be on for any other reason.

People stood outside waiting for their takeaway from this red hut, that wasn't allowing any inside dining. Nonetheless it was pleasant enough using the outside table with some shade from the heat.

Bar B-Que Ribs plate (with corn, coleslaw and bread) USD11.75 had some thick big ribs which had some chew to them. Good but not Central BBQ in our opinion. I thought I'd try some local fried delicacy of catfish plate (with coleslaw, fries & hush puppies shrimp) USD8.4 which was soft fish with thin crisp coating but not seasoned. It was a massive serve that I couldn't finish. Hush puppies were like a fried dough ball, I didn't think it was anything special.

A nice break enroute.

Central BBQ, Memphis 07-2021

We couldn't decide if it was worth stopping somewhere between Nashville and New Orleans. Going direct would mean one helluva long drive that day, our first day of the car rental on a 10000km journey. It seemed reasonable to go easy to start with - then it came down to a stop in Memphis or Alabama. In the end the appeal of blues, ribs and (to a lesser degree) Elvis won out.

We stayed in the room of an Airbnb where our host confirmed my online reading that Central BBQ was the place to try, and he said particularly the midtown location. It was a little further away but still easily done, and maybe that location would be easier to park and have a shorter queue than the downtown one.

It was also a memorable day because Australia decided to half its international arrivals - meaning we ended up paying an extra USD12000 to upgrade our return flights to maximise the chances we would be able to get home. On the one hand going out to eat wasn't in the spirit of saving money; on the other hand as if some ribs would really make that much difference to our budget. And so in the end we drove out there and found an easy parking spot in their carpark in front of a large mural advertising meat and blues. For a Friday night, it was less busy than expected although there was a bunch of people at the counter in front, but only a 10min wait.

The reality is I wanted to try everything. But we knew American sizings are more than we can handle and we didn't want to get takeaway. Getting a full slab of pork ribs USD27 (with sides of bbq beans and green beans) was easy - I ordered half wet and half dry. I was keen to try a whole smoked wing and even though they came as 3 for USD9, the waitress was happy to give me 1 for USD3. She recommended wet over dry, and so wet it was.

What can I say about the food - these were simply the best pork ribs we've ever had. No exaggeration and no doubt. They were thick meaty ribs, fall off the bone tender. There was contrast between the salty dry rub with slight sweetness, and the more sweet wet version. Both were good with my preference probably being the wet. My single wing was also delicious, sweet and an excellent combo with blue cheese sauce.

My oh my. Then it was time to head to Beale Street for some music.

Payne's BBQ was the other option I had read about, but was only going to go if I couldn't get into Central. Maybe worth a visit next time.

Penne Pazze, Nashville 07-2021

On the hot Nashville days, after spending some days wandering and experiencing the honkytonks, we were up for a more casual afternoon. Of all things, the local new hip shopping mall L&L Market was a bus ride down the road and something to do whilst embracing air conditioning.

There were a few food options like Five Daughters Bakery or the enormous looking (American sized) sundaes at Gracie's Milkshake bar. But this highly rated Italian place drew us in.

It specialises in pinsa - a Roman bread that crosses pizza and foccacia. And the Pinsa pazza (tomato sauce, mozzarella, pesto, burrata) USD17 was a thicker denser chewy salty base with enough bready crispness to pick up without flopping and enjoy by hand. Lasagna (spinach pasta, ragu meat sauce, mozzarella) USD16 was a nice version with the green striking pasta burnt with flavour at the edges and topped with a thick bit of melted and dusted cheese.

A great and tasty lunch.

Firebird, Melbourne 01-2022

For the first modern Asian dining experience since returning to Melbourne, and also for the new year of 2022, a special occasion of a friend visiting from London and for a 40th birthday, meant I got to tick off one of my new list to try. Other than Firebird, there's also Anchovy and a few Indian/Sri Lankan ones on my list.

It was a quiet drive (considering peak hour although maybe everyone is away) down Church and Chapel Street. The area was quite dead (again maybe because of similar reasons) or that the cases around town are rising. Nonetheless it was exciting to walk in to the industrial fit out with it's thick concrete walls, and once unmasked at the table smell the smokiness in the air, and see a large wood (pizza) oven and a grill where all the magic happens.

Cockailts had a bit of Asian flair to them and for $20 each were ok. I expected some would have smoked ingredients in them, but our waitress said unfortunately none did.

- Grilled squid (with green papaya, hot mint, peanut) $25 - thick tender pieces of squid cut into 1cm slivers, charred to golden (maybe from a fish sauce marinade?) with a much milder flavour than I expected. Served with a green papaya salad and well balanced fish sauce glaze. Probably wasn't as much hot mint as I would like, but nice overall;
- Hot & sour broken rice claypot (mushroom, asparagus, eggplant) $26 - a nice dish with very strongly flavoured (aka salty) dark sauce, grilled vegetables and the broken rich had excellent crunchy base. The flavour got a bit too strong with the soaked liquid end parts and nicer once diluted with some normal rice;
- Extra rich grilled lamb rib curry (pickled baby cucumber) $30 - they say curry but it was really more like an excellent satay, with super soft lamb pulling from a bone and with a bit of pickle, chilli and coconut to add some different flavour/texture. Lovely;
- Fire tossed pipis "canh chua" reduction (charred tomato, pork oil, herbs & grilled chinese donuts) $34 - not quite the strong sour tamarind broth of a canh chua (although it is in "" and is a reduction) with more savoury fish sauce with a lighter citrus tang, that I was sipping spoonfuls of. The pipi meat was a little small for my liking and the Chinese donut didn't have that deepfried flavour of the normal ones;
- Duck l'orange (very slow roasted duck, grilled citrus, Firebird excellent sauce, pickled ginger) $41 for half duck - a beautifully presented dish served with what I think they described as a thick oyster sauce. The duck was good although the flesh didn't have the delicate juiciness that is important in duck. The layer of fat under the skin of the breast also hadn't been fully rendered and so it wasn't that crisp. But the skin on the leg and wing was dessicated and crisp although it meant the meat underneath was drier too. The citrus squeeze didn't seem to add much flavour but it diluted the heavy oyster sauce nicely;
- Wood roasted duck fat & potato gratin, caramelised nuoc mam $15 - a layered potato cube with crispy firm shell with a strong sweet fish sauce to soak in. Very good.

Overall a delicious meal and too much food for 3 of us. The desserts didn't sound too interesting or Asian and we passed on them. It was a meal for a special occasion and I'd go back again to have the lamb rib curry and gratin, could be persuaded for the duck, and also the other missed items of charred cabbage, charcoal chicken, or pork neck with kumquat relish.

Firebird Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Malaya Cuisine, Melbourne 12-2021

Victoria Street has never really been one to have any Malaysian food. It was refreshing to see that although sadly some classic restaurants had closed, that it had brought a little bit of new Malaysian blood to the area. Google named one called D'Lemongrass with excellent ratings, but it looks like that closed not long after opening sadly. Malaya is the other highly rated one (4.9 from 10 ratings currently) further toward Church Street.

Our first time there, the two of us ordered 2 dishes - seems quite normal. The Malaya curry fish head noodle soup $15 was delicious, and full of fish (not just bones) and huge serve. Malaya curry laksa $15 was also very good with a rich coconut broth and both vermicelli and thick egg noodles (a tick for that). It was too big to finish and we ended up leaving behind some noodles and broth.

I then brought my (discerning Malaysian-cuisine) parents here on Christmas day lunch. Luckily they were open and it was easy to get seated. They agreed about how generous the curry fish head noodle soup was, and much better than the offerings they get in the Asian east area around Doncaster. Golden egg yolk king prawns $31 were served with fried wonton skins and an item I've enjoyed since an excellent one in a Sichuan restaurant in Canberra, but have so often since been disappointed by either a lack of crispness or a lack of that rich feel and salty seasoning. This one was a huge flavour hit though and lit up all the taste buds simultaneously. Mee goreng $15 was also nice and a more Malay style.

Seals of approval all around and we'll all be back.

La Chanh, Melbourne 12-2021

Coming back to Victoria Street after a long absence, there's a noticeable reduction in Vietnamese restaurants. Some of the old ones have turned over, some are vacant and advertising for new owners, and of course some are still there with variable numbers of patrons. The long stayers have tended to be around the Nicholson Street area, maybe because it's the most frequented by foot traffic and closer to the main tramstops, train station and shopping complex. However the shops toward Church Street have (in my mind at least) always seemed a little bit nicer and newer? Additionally the central ones between Nicholson Street and the train station are (for better or worse) more full with non-Vietnamese people, whatever that implies.

Up toward Church are some new Vietnamese places. On this random December Tuesday, there were a few places open. Co Thu Quan which is supposedly Vietnamese street food was doing a good trade and a table for us would be about 20-30mins away. So we wandered onto the next one, which was the fancier named La Chanh (for some reason it sounded a bit more French to me).

Inside is a pretty standard restaurant, and the host lady was single-handedly managing the entire floor. It was unexpectedly busy for her so she apologised for the food taking a little while. But it was worth the wait.

The beef of bo luc lac with tomato rice $17.5 was sweeter than I'm used to but my favourite version so far. The meat was tender and lovely. Mekong prawn noodle soup $15 was also good and a more unusual dish to find. It had a clean soup boosted by the hot mint. Unfortunately the interesting sounding pho satay is no longer on the menu. 3 colour drink is also an exceptional version with high quality ingredients and ice shaved well rather than chunky bits.

We went again a couple of weeks later. Due to an unexpected busy day time, they had run out of pho and che. The bun thit nuong cha gio had delicious grilled pork and the nuoc mam was well balanced. Fish sauce chicken wings were expertly fried and coated in a sweet savoury sauce.

My favourite (granted the only one I've tried recently other than bun bo hue at Co Do) Vietnamese restaurant around.

La Chanh Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Robert's Western World, Nashville 07-2021

After chatting with a local girl at our hostel who was there managing bands in Nashville, we told her of our intent to his the honkytonk scene that evening. She said a lot of places in town catered toward the young groups of bachelorette parties and were far lss than traditional, playing all sorts of music. However her favourite and that of many locals was Robert's, which also came with the recommendation to try the fried bologna sandwich.

It was definitely a western-style venue that I had imagined, with a few ladies in cowboy hats enjoying the dancing. Not quite line dancing style but maybe that's a stereotype for another place. The music was a fun type, what I suppose would be traditional country music.

We found a seat upstairs and the trio sitting at the front of the balcony left soon after giving us full views of the venue and the band. I ordered the Recession Special $6 which included the infamous sandwich, bag of chips, moon pie and a drink. I also had a whiskey and coke for the local Tennessee experience.

What can I say about the fried bologna sandwich - it was effectively a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. I don't honestly think I can say it was more than that, and nothing particularly special. It may be that my American fast food taste isn't quite the same as theirs.

Nonetheless a fun few hours there and I would go back again.

Sand Stars Camp, Wadi Rum 06-2021

We decided to stay one night in Wadi Rum to see the red desert and think about Lawrence of Arabia. I was tempted to book with the bubble hotels and their private balcony spas, however the price and the reviews suggesting it was just a lot of rich loud people turned me off. Bedouin Village had very few reviews but all were good and it seemed nice to support a newer player.

Our host Suleman met us at the tourist info centre and we followed him eventually offroad through the desert. He told us that he had recently taken over the property and was in the process of upgrading things to welcome back visitors after a very quiet year. In particular a/c units had been installed - however he didn't yet have the power(?) to use them. Sadly this translated to a slaughterous afternoon in 35C desert sun trying to stay in the tent and even worse trying to sleep on a sweaty bed. Nonetheless we were the only guests that day and we appreciated the cheap accommodation, the trying times for hospitality, and his passion to bring his dream alive.

Lunch was nice potatoes, tomato salad and bread although the canned tuna seemed an odd thing to serve. It made me a little sceptical, but after a long tour through the afternoon desert and special sunset, dinner was upon us when we returned and made up for the lunch. It had been cooked in an oven made under the earth. Although I had secretly hoped for goat or lamb, instead we were served an enourmous plate of charred chicken, simple in flavour and still quite moist. The potatoes and vegetables had absorbed some of the meat flavour and smoke and it was all complemented by excellent pilaf, a tomato stew and some fresh salad. Of particular note was the outstanding smokey mutabal, truly the best eggplant dip I've ever tasted. 

After a warm night, breakfast before our camel ride had some good dips and a nice omelette.

A pleasant stay which would be nicer (if there is a next time) when the a/c works. However after 2 trips to Wadi Rum, I don't think this lifetime will see me making a 3rd.

Prince's Hot Chicken, Nashville 07-2021

After the joy of Hattie B's (, it was serendipidous that I found on Google maps that there was a branch of Prince's in the foodcourt off Broadway. I didn't want to make the trek all the way down south to the original Prince's, and even though the Google ratings of this branch aren't particularly great, I had to try for myself.

After a night in the honkytonks, a bit of fried chicken to wash down the alcohol seemed like a Nashville thing to do.

Prince's was located in the upstairs food court. It was a Wednesday night so not very busy but a short queue was at Prince's, and nowhere else in the foodcourt. I hoped it would be as good as the main branch and competitive to Hattie B's. The menu is quite limited and so I ordered wings hot (given my Hattie experience that hot level). It was slightly hot but it's very obvious that there was not much spicing at all. Also it was definitely not cooked fresh as the wing meat itself was only warm, far from a freshly fried piece. The fries were decent. But charging $2 for a tablespoon of coleslaw was disgraceful. 

I would suggest everyone join the line for Hattie around the corner instead. I would consider going to the original place if I'm ever in Nashville again, but that's a longshot maybe on many fronts