Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Mad Mex Fresh Mexican Grill - Melbourne - Level 2, Dining Hall, Melbourne Central

Looking for a quick bite to eat at lunch with lots happening on the plate, then Mad Mex is for you.

It is a bit fast food but reasonably tasty nonetheless.

You build up the menu as you please starting with a taco or burrito or naked burrito (rice and black bean base), then build on some meat (pork was good) then add some sauces, cheese, avocado and sour cream - is your stomach starting to curdle yet?

Thank goodness I have an iron gut and could eat all of that in a space of about 5 minutes.

Cost is around $15.

Not bad and will be back with the boys at lunch.

6/10
Mad Mex - Fresh Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon
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Script - Melbourne - 140 Southbank Boulevard, Melbourne

The thing with a lot of pre-theatre restaurants is that they are all a bit average.

Script is no exception.

We wanted a quicky before watching some Shakespeare and ventured to this popular joint.

The service is great and prompt but the seafood spaghatinni was tasteless and the calamari had some weird  greens going on.

Overall it was just alright.

Interesting discussion though on tipping.  One of our party said she "highly objects to tipping and find it highly offensive. I should not be charged with calculating what your waiting staff are worth."

Thoughts anyone?

Script Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon 4/10

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Sunday, 16 September 2012

Pappa Goose - Melbourne - 91-93 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Out with Diane (refer to Lygon Charcoal Grill review for the history of Diane) and a few friends desperate to get into Cumulus Inc.

But we rocked up on a Wednesday night and they said a 25 minute wait and we said see ya later.  Not that desperate obviously. Been there many times and will be many more.

But it was raining and we did become desperate to eat somewhere so we tried Pappa Goose which did not look too full.

The waiter directed us upstairs for a drink and a wait for 10-15 minutes.

25 minutes later, by the time we got our menu and thinking we could have been at Cumulus, my friend reminded me that we could have gone to Il Bacaro at these prices.

The atmosphere is a bit bland and remains that way throughout the whole night.

Pappa Goose has modern British fare. My friend noted that none of the mains jumped out and said grab me. I think she feels that way about Brits generally.

Diane suggested some entrees.  Good suggestion Diane.

As a taster we got a free little tea cup of pumpkin soup with roasted pine nuts. "A nice contrast" noted Diane.

There was a long wait for entrees but they were very good. Kingfish ceviche with calamari and a smudge of squid ink and some peas and pea puree dotted around was artistic and tasty. Diane was not sure on the peas (not the puree just the peas) but I thought they were a nice touch. The duck parfait with brioche and fruit compote was also excellent.

There was conjecture on the difference between pate and parfait and bread and brioche.  We thought brioche had more butter and cream and the waiter confirmed this view.

As for pates and parfaits, Diane commented that parfait is a lot lighter and by the way "chicken liver is a poor man's pate".

Ok - well I actually quite like the good old brandy port and sage pate made of chicken liver but it appears that I am more simple than Diane.

Another long wait before mains, in fact the wait was too long.  This place was not burgeoning with customers but maybe the intricacies and complexity of the cooking really slows things down - more chefs ploise.

In between, one of the waiters really encouraged us to order some sides - why?

A friend and I order the lamb stew which was excellent but just way too small for $38 - that is why. Some pieces were stewed for 12 hours but they were literally the size of a 1 cent coin. Thank god I loaded up on bread during the long waits.

Diane ordered pork with apple and radish which he thought worked very well together. There was much discussion about Diane's home life. He still lives at home with his parents, treating the house like a hotel and rating his mum's meal every night. In fact Diane forgot to tell his parents that he was not going to be home for dinner. No problem though "I can go for round two at home" he said.

There is no doubt that the produce and the cooking here are very good.

But my friend who ordered the steak summed up the present and future of Pappa Goose very well " I don't like to be told that I need to order sides when I order a $44 steak".

6.5/10

Papa Goose on Urbanspoon
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Yu-U - Melbourne - 137 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

I am showing my age here but I do remember when Yu-U first opened.

It was one of those trully Melbourne Japanese gems at the foot of a cobbled pathway, in a basement of a dodgy door which barely opens properly.

I recall eating set lunches for around $15 including miso, sushi and soba noodles - I think this is the first place I tried soba. We are talking around gosh I don't know 13 years ago maybe.

I recall getting in once for dinner but have not been back for so long. This is not a place where you can just walk in and get a table, you do have to book in advance.

Had a friend coming into town and luckily I managed to score a special dining room for 6 people 3 weeks in advance. I felt like I had won the lotto.

The first thing that smacks you in the face at Yu-U is the impeccable service and presentation of everything. From the delicate poise of the hand of the waitress as she directs you to the room, to the perfectly placed plates and placemats, to the efficiency and rate at which food is delivered to the table without hearing a footstep on arrival.

Everything here is so quiet and feels so distant from the Western world.  The waitress even failed to understand what gluten free means for my friend who can't eat soy - I love that.

Yu-U has a big menu and we tried to eat our way through as much as we could.

The kingfish and tuna sashimi is delicate and probably the best around town.

The squid with asparagus in ginger sauce cooked to perfection and my favourite dish of the night.

I could even eat the agedashi tofu which I normally hate, but this was lightly crisp on the outside and quite edible.

The snapper in dashi broth, prawn dumplings, wagyu filled with spring onions, wagyu skewers, chicken terriyaki skewers, sashimi with avocado and soba noodles - all food treated with a lot of care, delicate and not too oversauced but interesting enough to make you want more.

My friend also told me to make note that the Elderton Shiraz is a two thumbs up and really the whole wine list is good, a bit too good for a Tuesday night.

So what are you going to write asked my friend - that everything tastes so good?

What I will say is this - I had a great time because I was in a room in another world with a bunch of great old-time work colleagues covering just about every topic imagineable - politics, how glad we feel to have left our last mutual employer, Jessica Alba versus Drew Barrymore (women like Drew, men prefer Jessica), the mark of a good God Parent is how well they gift, people we know who have punched above their waistline and how one of my friends would only ever have children so she can have a topic of conversation to discuss with clients. In a nutshell, friends who keep everything and everyone honest and real.

8/10
Yu-U on Urbanspoon
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MoVida Aqui - Melbourne - Lvl 1 500 Bourke Street, Melbourne

A nice Spring day in Melbourne, blue skies, sunshine - there is no better way to spend an hour during the working day than out on the terrace at Movida Aqui.

Sure it is only an hour but it does makes the afternoon more palatable than scoffing down a sandwich at your desk or, for others like me, in the office kitchen.

Movida Aqui is a Spanish tapas bar.  This place has a buzzy vibe about it and a feel of cool well-to-dos.

We started with the anchovie on a crouton with a smoked tomatoe sorbet which was tasty but did not blow me away.

The remaining dishes were all meaty as one of my friends doesn't do seafood. So between three of us we shared the slow braised beef with perdo ximenex on a cauliflower puree, quail with a duck liver parfait and pork belly with chickpeas.

Overall everything was cooked very well but I did find the dishes a bit too rich for lunch personally.

Perhaps if we tried the seafood options, it may have felt different - I don't know.

But this is nowhere near as good as Movida Next Door which to me has the best tapas in Melbourne - hands down below zero.

I will try this place again for dinner with seafood.

$35 each with no wine (work policy)

7/10

MoVida Aqui  on Urbanspoon
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Saturday, 8 September 2012

Easy Tiger - Melbourne - 96 Smith Street, Collingwood

The purpose of dinner tonight was to have an easy dinner with my easy (going) friend.

But as best friends and being girls with lots going on in our lives, the conversation is not always easy.

I feel very sorry for people who do not have a best friend who they can talk to about anything. I think mine is the best in the world really.

We share pretty much everything . Mine challenges me all the time and is there any time any day as I am for her.

We are lucky to share great meals together and Easy Tiger was one of them.

I have been here a couple of times before. The first time, we had a seafood banquet and the next time the regular banquet.  The banquet costs around $65 per head excluding alcohol and is very good value for money. Vegetarian banquets are also on offer.

Everything is designed to share - having said that I now share every meal at every restaurant I go to.

This time no banquet, we ordered as we pleased.

You get a green tea on arrival and from that point you realise that the service here is a bit special - attentive, excited by what they serve and engaging.

The atmosphere is dark and walls lined with colourful glasses and bottles.

The starters are very experimental and work well.  Ma Hor which is a prawn, pork and chicken mince on a bed of watermelon is excellent.

For me the best dish on the menu is the chicken, coconut and galangal soup served in a glass and super tasty.

Next was kingfish sashimi with pomelo, fried fish skin and coriander. Different textures and simple fresh flavours.

Other dishes have more explosive flavours, like the calamari with squid ink noodles and a nice touch of celery. It was buttery and very rich yet I could not stop eating it.

The coconut braised wagyu and the papaya salad were for me ok but not outstanding.

I typically don't like Asian desserts but there are some decent desserts on this menu - like caramelised coconut custard with black rice.

At the end of the night you get a lolly which is meant to represent the flavours of the night - it is salty, sweet and spicy. Quite weird actually. I told the waiter it was like a Willy Wonka lolly and overheard him introducing as that to other patrons thereafter.

Cost is around $75 including a glass of wine each.

7.5/10
Easy Tiger on Urbanspoon
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Kenzan - Melbourne - 45 Collins Street, Melbourne

I am questioning whether I am living true to my values. I see myself as a Socialist soul with a Capitlast lifestyle.

One of my friend's said that I was definitely a Capitalist with a Capital C to the Core.

Do you think eating out for dinner 3 times a week rings of Capitalism?

Speaking of Capitalism, Kenzan is the all time Japanese lunch place for suits. It is a bit 80s in decor and with its Riedel glasses probably errs on the Liberal side of the political spectrum.

Who cares? The food is excellent and never fails.

The menu has not changed in 10 years because it doesn't need to. The fish is always very fresh and the food is always perfectly cooked.

Speaking of Liberals, the first time I was introduced to Kenzan was at lunch time by my boss upon a promotion along with my colleague about 12 years ago. The lunch menu is more limited than dinner but my boss was important enough to be granted the dinner menu without needing to ask.

He introduced us to Chawan Mushi. A delicate custard with a bit of prawn, mushroom and crab. An outstanding dish and one of the most emotional food exchanges in my life. Next was unagi (eel) sushi, juicy and basted in a sweet sauce and ika (squid) sushi which just melts in your mouth.

We also tried the prawn dumplings as well as a selection of amazing sushi and sashimi. The ox tongue is also a special treat and the teriyaki beef is as tender as you will ever get.

He gave us his words of wisdom and enlightened us on how to be succesful while educating us on how to drink a good bottle of wine.

The career advice was a bit lost on us at 25 years of age but my colleague and I will never forget that lunch.

And I order the same food every time; unless of course others are put off by ox tongue - "it tastes like delicate beef" I tell them but rarely win that battle.

My friends this time tried the unagi and ika sushi for the first time and were not big fans. They prefer more Western Japanese but that is ok too and I will never give up on selling Chawan Mushi at Kenzan.

The service is delightful and very precise, even allocation of the invoice between credit cards is mapped out in writing before executing the charge.

Price is around $80 per head with a bottle of wine but really depends on how much you order.

One of the best and most reliable Japanese restaurants around town.

8/10
Kenzan Japanese on Urbanspoon
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Thirty-Eight Chairs - Melbourne - 4A Bond Street, South Yarra

I have been wanting to come here for a while cos dad said it was good.

It is very modern rustic, very communal and very full of Italians. It is a small narrow room and everyone is on top of everyone else - just how I like it.

I feel I am going to love the food already even though I am sitting on a stool, which I question is included in the 38 chairs particularly as the front door mildly scrapes my arm as people come in and out; but it is all ok when the very cute and very young fresh Italian waiters put their arm around your shoulder just to say hello, just to give you bread and just as they pour water in your glass.

We started with entrees and antipasto. The peppered tuna carpaccio was outstanding as was the squid with zucchini and eggplant. The cured meats were good and it was nice to see some mortadella but overall the platter was a bit standard. Not the house made wonders of Osteria La Passione from last week.

The pappardelle duck ragu was the stand out. "A lovely sweetness to it" says my ever so profound sister.

The pork sausage pasta was well cooked but could have done with a touch more salt; the same goes for the quail.

The slow cook veal was just as you want in, melt in your mouth with a nice wine sauce.

The food here is very simple and home made and one that you will come back to any night of the week.

The special ricotta lemon tart was sensational but $13.50 for a child size piece, we felt a tad ripped off.
The wine list is also very good, we had sone great bottles from Piedmonte.  In fact the wine was so good, I did have a mild heart attack when I was breathealysed on the way home and my reading kept on going up and up and up, thank god it did not reach 0.05 - phew. My lesson is to only have one drink and drive. My dad's take of the story, on the other hand, was "well you weren't over so what's the problem?"

In the background the Grease soundtrack was playing - retro for some of us on the table but real time reminiscing for others.

Price was around $85 per head which we were happy with.

7.5/10
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Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Hihou - Melbourne, Lvl 1, 1 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Hi How are You? The makers of Izakaya Den bring to you Hihou. 

We walked around the block around 3 times before realising you have to ring in on the intercom to get in. Sounds a bit too exclusive but really anyone is allowed to enter except perhaps those drunken skanks.

It is a sake bar but really is also a fantastic cocktail place. The waiters and the cocktail guy with his suspenders and bow tie are all made in Japan. It is funny how Japanese men can be cute, daggy and endearing all at the same time.

We came for a quick sake but soon learned there was bar food on offer so we settled in for dinner.

The waiter told us exactly what was good. Scallop shu mai with ponzu and chilli sauce, tuna and ginger cigars, roll it yourself lobster sushi and kingfish sashimi.  Everything was very good.

The roof is concrete, the shelves are purposefully staggered and adorned with glasses and bottles of different shapes and designs. Everything from the juice blender to the little vase holding the tamarillos are purposefully placed, quirky and immaculate.

What made this night even better is that we had 'the date next door'. What number was it? Two or three? The conversation was intriguing. He was introducing all of these exotic wonders to his little blonde. "this is like lobster he explained."

"It is lobster you dense head" mouthed my friend. "And she does not even know how to roll, what an f? wit."

Loved this place and have already planned my next Saturday night out with the parents. Cocktails and canap├ęs at Hihou followed by sake and dinner at Izakaya Den then Sauterne with pannacotta at Il Bacaro. Good o

7.5/10
Hihou on Urbanspoon
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Lyon Charcoal Grill & Steakhouse - Melbourne - 120 Lygon Street, Carlton

Why would you order steak Diane?

That is the question!

Lygon Charcoal Grill is a place for steak, so much of the conversation was about meat in many forms and combinations.

I chose T-Bone which was the choice cut of the 80s and is now back with a vengeance.  This one was cooked perfectly medium rare, rarely well done that way for this cut of meat.

Others enjoyed their eye fillet although to me this is not a real steak, it is for lean-eaters only.

Simple vegies on the side, sausage and kebab entrees and the quality of the meat and the method of cooking were all very good.

Then we come to the losers on the table:
Number one: the one who ordered scotch fillet - it never re-emerged from the 80s.
Number two: everyone who ordered their steak drenched in sauce. Anyone serious about steak should only ask for mustard.
Number three: the biggest loser of them all, the one ordered Steak Diane. A bit Fountaingate my friends. Like a conoisseur, he said "the meat lacks a certain smokiness", but how can we really take this guy seriously.

This same guy also thinks that blue cheese sauce on steak is terrific. Better still, "you get so much sauce there is enough left to dip your chips into". The Pom and the Aussie Battler whole-heartedly agreed in unison with Diane - I think they were in the loser number two basket.

This place is an odd sort in terms of atmosphere. The tables have white cloths and are dressed with wine glasses yet there is a massive plasma TV playing One Direction. Even though there was a slight bogan feeling in the air, the service was very friendly and efficient.

The strawberry crepes for dessert were a bit try-hard Vlados and not as refined but they were tasty and we did manage to wolf them down.

Steak Diane ordered pannacotta. Once again poor choice, dense as all hell and drowned in berries. I told Diane that only 2 out of 10 pannacottas are good and this place was not going to fall into the 2. Diane doesn't pay attention.

The apple strudel was as big as the steak. It is hard to eat dessert after a big steak and too much BYO red wine.

Overall a good meal.

Prices were around $75 each excluding wine.

7/10

Lygon Charcoal Grill & Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Crouching Tiger Grazing Panda (my name for the night)