Donco, Geelong 08-2016

I didn't expect to eat Korean in Geelong. It was only through the recommendation of a work colleague that I tried - what would they know about Korean food? Anyway on a Monday where most of Geelong's dining closes down, Donco was pumping and full of a variety of diners enjoying themselves. The smells of food filled the kitchen. I could see regulars or VIPs being looked after with a few complementary dishes from the chef. Maybe I'll get there one day.

Modern Korean tapas is something I've probably only tried at Bistro K and less so Chimac.

- Tofu Kimchi Ball (with mushroom, coriander, caramelised ginger sauce) $10 - crispy balls of tofu with a much less tangy and tart kimchi and more savoury. Unusual and nice;
- Silky Tofu in sweet soy broth (with shimeji mushrooms, crunch noodles, shichimi) $12 - a lovely warming bowl of flavoursome agedashi tofu filled with mushrooms and noodles. It was topped with angel hair chilli. I couldn't detect much shichimi but it didn't need it (and I didn't bother to ask for it);
- Chilli deep fried calamari (with pomegranate dressing on seasonal leaves & roast capsicum mayo) $13 - nice dish balancing sweet, salty and tangy;
- Grilled Barramundi (with roasted pumpkin, gochujang sauce & yuzu kimchi) $31 - a good slab of well cooked fish, served on soft soft pumpkin and a minimally spicy gochujang cream sauce.

The steamed rice was unfortunately terrible. Thick and congealed and gluggy. The staff and food was otherwise lovely so I didn't complain, but it certainly did merit one.

I'll happily return next time to try other dishes, such as bibimbap or bo ssam. The food, flavour and atmosphere were fantastic.

Donco Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Jack & Jill Restaurant, Geelong 08-2016

There's a few dinner spots in Geelong on my list. Igni or Tulip will probably be reserved for a special occasion and the others are much more casual (Zigfrid's and Telegraph Hotel). Jack & Jill was one I wanted to try from my last trip, so I was surprised to call on a Monday night at 730pm to find they had closed their kitchen. Hmm.

Luckily a few nights later, business was more steady including what seemed like regulars and the concept of small dishes served together equating into a meal eventuated. It is a little expensive for a main, but I suppose you are getting 3 or 4 tapas on a plate.

Plate 1
- Grilled scallop served with cauliflower puree, crumb of bacon & peas
- Pumpkin risotto cake with red onion jam & soft blue cheese
- Steamed Japanese egg custard with tempura teriyaki chicken & a spring onion salad - I expected a chawanmushi, so was a little confused.

Plate 2
- Middle Eastern spiced lamb scotch egg with lemon & garlic yoghurt & pomegranate molasses - a good egg with lovely yogurt, although they definitely forgot the molasses;
- Southern fried quail with green beans, sweet corn, pickles & maple bacon - a crisp piece of quail with reasonably tender meat;
- Prawn & mussel chowder with leek & prawn dumplings - mild broth with 2 large dumplings full of prawn meat;
- Duck & wild mushroom terrine, orange & sweet potato puree with crispy rice paper - a warm terrine with more mushroom flavour than duck.

Dessert of miniature cones of passion fruit, Turkish delight, raspberry and burnt caramel & pear were fine but nothing exciting. The gelato are bought and not house made.

The food is quite nice and I like the concept although I still do think it's a bit expensive for the quality. There's plenty of choices to suit the plate to your desires considering the menu spans many cuisines, though I'd probably prefer the flavours at a specialty place for each individual cuisine.

Jack and Jill Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

The Hot Chicken Project, Geelong 08-2016

I do like Belle's Hot Chicken - quite a lot ( I've frequented the Brunswick Street establishment and recently discovered the Windsor branch. I was delighted to find Geelong had it's own version (although I'm not sure why they changed the name).

The premise is the same - chicken in a tray with a side. There are a few little differences such as the fries are not Old Bay (ie. there is no spice mix) and some of the cuts and specials are different too. Maybe it's catered toward a Geelong taste that I'm not familiar with.

A special entree of chicken skins was essentially crisp flattened battered skin with a sweet sauce on top. It was ok but nothing special, and after one skin it was probably enough.

The dark meat chicken is fresh and has a crisp coating as I expect. The spice mix here seems to be saltier and less spiced than Belle's. The Fish Sandwich is fish coated in the same spice mix topped with too much mustard which clearly overpowers the fish and spice mix. I thought the sandwich part would mean a burger, rather than served on a slice of white bread (which would make the other one a dark meat sandwich).

Overall the meal was fine but I couldn't help but feel disappointed expecting the full Belle's flavour extravaganza. I'll await my return to the mothership. Next time in the area I'd probably try Pistol Pete's Food n Blues.

The Hot Chicken Project Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Secret Society, Geelong 08-2016

After spending a few weekdays in Geelong, it was time to drive back to Melbourne. On a rainy miserable Friday morning, there weren't too many enticing cafe options. For some reason I thought there were loads in Geelong West from my look many months ago, but seemingly not the case. I did like Freckleduck but wasn't interested in driving into the city. On the magical Pakington Street, the best option looked to be Warren & Hutch. Unfortunately walking to the front and seeing newspaper boarding up the front didn't bode well. Although the Geelong Fine Foods across the road was nice to wander through.

Three Little Figs, King of the Castle and 63 Degrees seemed ok but the menus not overly interesting. Whilst aimlessly meandering, Secret Society showed up. I hadn't heard of it and finding out it is 4 months old is probably why there isn't much online for it.

It's a nice modern but cosy environment, full of natural light and a small speaker in the corner playing music that only those immediately around will hear. The Shai Chai was a quite nice served in a pot with a small side of soy on request. The food menu is quite basic.

- Corn & Haloumi Fritters $15 (with house-cured freshwater trout, 2 poached eggs & a petite rocket & Balsamic salad) - a small serve of fritters with corn expertly sliced off a cob, indiscernible haloumi but some very good fat slices of smoked trout;
- Herbivore Plate with 2 poached eggs $17 - oven roasted tomato, garlic sauteed spinach, some quality fat house beans, avocado and a little tub of mushrooms soaking in a butter based sauce. The Irrewarra sourdough was plain white but quite good.

The breakfast was nice and there were a few lunch specials for later in the day. I wouldn't mind going back but I'd probably be keen to try the other competitors in the area first.

400 Gradi, Melbourne 08-2016

When you win the best pizza in the world award, people will come and try and critique. I suppose it's difficult when you aren't the one actually cooking in the kitchen and your reputation relies on your subordinates to carry across the skill. Either way I'm sure business is fine. I've had plenty a good pizza in Melbourne, Italy, UK and USA in particular. I can't say I've eaten where the world's best is. He wasn't there during the evening I visited the mothership in Brunswick.

- Fiori di Zucca (zucchini flower stuffed with buffalo ricotta, spanner crab & chilli) $19 - very large flowers in a nice salty batter. The filling seemed to be plain ricotta without any detectable crab flavour nor chilli. It was disappointing for that;
- Margherita verace (San Marzano tomato, fior di latte, basil & EVOO) $22 - the specific world winner allowed the mildly chewy crust with some smoky flavour get cleanly sampled. The passata and cheese were ok but perhaps I prefer it a bit more seasoned. The basil added good contrast;
- Frutti di mare (San Marzano tomato, fior di latte, mussels, prawns, clams, scallops & rocket) $29 - this was a more seasoned version due to the topping of a good amount of quality seafood, exemplified most by some juicy crunchy prawns and two large soft scallops;
- Calzone with figs & mascarpone $11 - a dessert sleeper with a core of sweet rich hot fig and the cheese around the sides. I think the inside should have been mixed better but was still a good finish to the meal.

Like most gourmet pizzerias in Melbourne the quality is definitely there. It wasn't my favourite pizza place in the world but the chef that evening wasn't the winner, so I guess that wouldn't be expected either. Nonetheless the food is still worthy of pizza night out.

400 Gradi Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Molto, Canberra 07-2016

Even with the expansion of the Foreshore, I must admit there aren't that many exciting places to eat for dinner. Morks is great, the traditional Thai places are ok, the Chinese places I have never seen anyone inside, C Dine is ok but expensive and then there are the pubs. Meat & Wine is yet to open and will be a big event. Up until that point, there's Molto. I didn't know anything about it but it was the only place at 9pm on a Thursday night that was open and serving and looked like a good feed.

I'd heard the bistecca Fiorentina is a specialty (although I found it in Florence to be huge but not that impressive), but maybe next time if I'm with a bunch of carnivores.

- Millefoglie (eggplant & buffalo mozzarella with basil oil & salted ricotta) $17 - an excellent stack of grilled vegetables that reminded me of how good Remy's ratatouille must have been;
- Special of Spaghetti (cooked in a cheese and butter sauce, topped with a quail egg and slices of black truffle) - it reminds me of tajarin al tartufo blanco I had in Alba (, albeit with cheese and a different truffle. The truffle had a mild but distinct flavour, better than my previous year's experience of the local Canberra black truffle. The cheese and butter sauce was thick and congealed on the plate quickly. It didn't look so appetising at that point but still tasted good;
- Special of Suckling Lamb (with slaw & apple sauce) - this was a beautiful piece of meat that simply tasted like quality lamb. What was more impressive was the crisp thin coating of skin that crackled around my teeth and was rich with flavour. Delicious.

The food is good, the setting is nice and the staff on this evening were very friendly. Not a bad addition to the Foreshore.

Molto Italian Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Local Press, Canberra 07-2016

I had to take advantage of a short visit to Canberra to visit my old favourite cafe ( It's a close call between Local Press and Cupping Room, but the convenient location of Local Press during the daytime makes it easier. The foreshore has opened up a whole new section but I doubt anywhere will be challenging for the brunch mantle in the area soon.

I wonder if the management has changed - I don't recognise any of the staff there currently. And the usual staple of the Green Breaky Plate no longer exists. Maybe just a sign of progression. What hasn't changed is the beautiful colours and presentation, not only of the food but the loosely nautical themed decor.

- LP's Fried Rice (with black & brown rice, brussel sprouts, cavolo nero, purple potato, avo, egg, cashew cream & pumpkin seeds) $22 - if Vegie Bar created a modern fried rice that had no ties to Asia, then this could be it. Although they probably wouldn't do it as well (and wouldn't charge as much). Overall it was a nice savoury flavour with firm rice and a multitude of textures and flavours, not the least some charred brussel sprouts;
- Wild Mushrooms (sauteed in garlic, thyme & sage oil with fried chestnuts, Meredith Chevre, seasonal greens & a poached egg on artisan sourdough) $19 - I happened to order this with kale & almonds (paying homage to the kale in the Green Breaky Plate for an extra $3.5 although they definitely forgot the almonds) and they also gave me feta (extra $2) which I didn't order. The feta in particular wasn't needed as the chevre smeared on the sourdough added a lovely rich tangy flavour, soaking in the oil and mushroom juices. The kale was also very nice and do think without it the dish would have been a bit plain. I'm not sure I found any fried chestnuts either...

The flavours and presentation are still great although there were a few possible mishaps in my mushroom dish. Nonetheless it is still an (expensive &) excellent place for breakfast topped off by soy chai in a large teapot with sweater or a vibrant mango & carrot smoothie.

Local Press Cafe Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Little Advi, Melbourne 08-2016

Advieh has been on my mind recently, firstly because I keep reading the ingredient in some of my cookbooks (mainly The Jewelled Kitchen) and also a highly rated Middle Eastern venture in Seddon. I was surprised pleasantly to find a little offshoot a little way down the road in the next suburb of Yarraville. I haven't (yet) been to Advieh, but after this testing of Little Advi, I can't wait to.

The concept is similar to Kastner & Ovens in Spitalfields or my visit to the original Ottolenghi, in that there's a bunch of delicious salads to pick from and you can also choose a main to complement it. Of course there's some full meal options to keep things more standard. The soy chai pot had a solid 4 serves in it ($6.5) with some nice spice and cardamom aftertaste and not too sweet.

- Homemade baked beans (with cumin & coriander, sprinkle of dukka & finished with a dollop of Tzatziki & sourdough) $13.5 - a wonderful warm and savoury set of beans lifted by the tzatziki, fresh coriander and dill. One of the best renditions of breakfast beans I've had anywhere;
- Falafel Plate (with 3 salads & hummous) $16.5 - warm slightly crisp (could have been more so) falafels with a grainy palpable texture, the best hummous I've had with a deep, savoury and exceptional flavour, a delicious barley salad (very similar to Hellenic Republic's), tabbouleh (using whole parsley leaves rather than chopped and well balanced) and a chickpea salad with eggplant (and a bit too much cumin I think).

I wanted the Moroccan meatballs initially but they were sold out. I'm not sad though as the falafel plate exceeded my expectations. The food was very good. I'll certainly be back (or to try Advieh first).

Little Advi Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Jack B. Nimble, Melbourne 08-2016

Ready to compete with the local cafe sprouts in Footscray, Seddon and Yarraville, Maidstone seems to finally have arrived. Not that there aren't ones already there, but a friend who lives there tells me that up until now there weren't any good ones. JBN seems to have been a welcome arrival and after my first visit, I tend to agree and can now have an option up north of Footscray rather than always south (or east to North Melbourne).

A warming matcha latte (with soy for me) was a nice slightly thicker and sweet version with the green tea flavour unmistakable. It was well balanced and didn't need any additional sugar. They advertise a chai from leaves and spices which I'll have to test next time.

- Omelette (with smoked king prawns, leeks, spiced tomato broth, lemongrass & prawn oil, chilli, lime, Vietnamese mint & crispy tofu puffs) $19 - wet egg folded over and housing some creamy and delicious prawn chunks and surrounded by an unexpectedly nice and savoury tomato soup to soak into the bread. From the salad there was an occasional hit of mint that I could have used more of;
- Roasted Cauliflower (with chickpeas, hommus, kale, sumac-spiced yoghurt, tamarind, cucumber, fresh coriander, pomegranate & crispy quinoa) $16 - a healthy dream of ingredients headed by warmly spiced cauliflower with unexpected crunchy (fried?) chickpeas.

The food and flavours were very good and the other menu options of black pudding and cotechino (whatever that is...) mean I'll definitely be back.

Jack B Nimble Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato

Nora, Melbourne 07-2016

I hadn't heard of Nora until a friend linked their Facebook post being humbled to be listed as one of the best Melbourne restaurants by Timeout ( To keep company with Attica, Brae and Dinner is a remarkable achievable. I read their story about Thai origins and their online menu which gives away absolutely nothing and so immediately made a booking for a few weeks later.

It's a cosy little place and the full glass windows meant I walked straight past it initially trying to look for it. Inside is reasonably heated for winter and there's the choice of private tables, the voyeuristic counter and a communal table where couples avoid looking at the other couples.

The menu is set and only differed to cater for food intolerances. What is interesting is that when each dish is serve, there is no effort to explain what it is. I'm not sure if that's intentional to make our palates discover for ourselves or just an error from the wait staff, but it's certainly different considering each dish's name is cryptic.

Luckily the wait staff are happy to answer questions when asked at the end of each dish and a menu is even emailed afterwards for sentimentality and reminiscing.

what goes up must come down
- a seafood flavoured little snack with great savoury flavour. I could eat these by the handful. Reminded me of either the Chinese prawn chips or the flavour of the grilled dried squid;

beneath the ground
sardine - dirt, root, coriander root, tasty powder
- under the green revealed the fossils of a sardine with bones crisp and chewy. The dirt was a remarkably flavoursome salted chewy bit that was wonderful. I could sprinkle that onto any dish;

tagliatelle of oyster not oyster
chicken heart - onion, shallot
sadao, pomelo, sweet fish sauce
- beautifully sat above non-edible oyster shells was a little non-oyster cupped in a crisp mini non-oyster shell. Simple chewy and nice;

silver lining
silver fish - blue mackerel broth, young coconut, lovage
- a lovely fish ceviche minced and housed within a leaf, followed by a fish broth that I thought lacked impact. Maybe I'm used to the much stronger Thai soups (tom yum/tom kha);

too many italians & only one asian
papaya - sator, cashew, fermented garlic, school prawn
- green papaya salad meets pesto. Interesting to see a new way of Vegeti-style-pasta concepts;

daft punk is playing in my mouth
blue mackerel - chewy watermelon
capsicum annuum, black sesame
- I'm not really sure where the Daft Punk reference comes from (I was going through a mental list of their songs trying to figure it out). Perhaps it is Around the World because the flavours and textures vary from a firm fish sashimi, a tangy watermelon, a chilli sour granita and a strong black sesame past;

childhood bread
freshly milled toasted red rice bread sourdough style
fermented shrimp butter
- how can the simplest homely bread be so good? A warm smoky mist exudes from the claypot and the delectable and unique bread lies within. There's a firm (not crisp) crust and soft medium density interior on which to spread the butter (some thought it was blue cheese spread at the time);

duck and hide
aged air dried roast duck on the bone
fermented lady finger banana & purple kauliflr
- my duck looked quite unimpressive. Others received a piece of much thicker meat. I think this inconsistency is a little rude. Luckily the duck has a crisp skin and nice warm flavour. The banana is very sweet (thought it might be a plantain) but the rice seemed a bit too firm and slightly undercooked;

crying tiger
fermented glutinous rice, red ant eggs
sawtooth coriander, olive oil
- this palate cleanser was odd. There was a shaved ice texture, a gummy half-al-dente rice texture and tasted tart (as cleansers should) but not in a clean way;

12am in the fridge
pumpkin - egg, shrimp, mushroom
- very mixed reactions to this strange slice of firm slightly sweet, slightly savoury pumpkin. Perhaps a more standard fruit with its natural sweetness would complement better?

thai cupcake wanting to become western
king edward potato - chive
- a baked potato disassembled and reassembled to look like a baked potato. The inside of a soft mash potato and chive (couldn't taste the chive) is housed in a delicious crisp potato skin;

the study of perspective
tripe - coconut, kaffir lime
- petit four of ox tripe sweetened and crispened to sweep up the coconut yoghurt dusted with lime (I hoped initially it might be green tea powder).

The food concept is interesting and they've done well to design unusual dishes. I think the experience was good but overall the flavours weren't what I was looking for, and fixed signature menu mean that I don't think I'll come back again (at least not for a while until the menu changes). Perhaps I have a certain concept of bold Thai/SE Asian flavours associated with the cuisine and that I thought these may be parcelled in prettier, skilful and more refined ways. Nora certainly has the pretty, the skill and refinement but not my desired flavour palate (other than that seafood snack and mackerel skeleton).

In any case it's worth trying for yourself especially if you like neo gastronomy.

The wall around the toilet door is a design board of food. I'm not sure the significance of it but I assume it is as cryptic as the menu. I washed my meal down with an elixir of housemade chrysanthenum, lemongrass, corella pear, seaweed. It was an odd tasting drink with all the flavours discernible but not necessary a harmony to me. Perhaps the seaweed added a bit too much salt to a drink I hoped was more sweet. The one with tamarind, star anise and coriander may be more my liking next time.

Nora Menu Reviews Photos Location and Info - Zomato