MIFF Eats 2012: Electric Boogaloo

Melbourne International Film Festival time! The film nerd Christmas in August! The greatest time of the year! And a perfect way for me to say fie at my bank account and treat MIFF as a period for good films and good food. Knowing that I wasn’t going to get the chance for any overseas traveling jaunts this year, I said to myself “bugger it”, took leave from work for the entirety of MIFF and basically went on holiday, attempting to eat myself decadently silly where I could in between the 45 films I saw. What follows is the most illustrious of the vittles I sampled.

Hako

After watching Step Up to the Plate and consequentially becoming VERY hungry, Jen and I took a stroll down Flinders Lane and ended up at Hako. I remember way back in the days when I was first becoming aware of the Melbourne foodie scene that Hako was quite talked about around town. Things seem a touch quieter at Hako these days, and although we had a pleasant enough meal with nice service and liberal libations of plum wine, there’s only one dish out of the four or so we had that’s really worth reporting, and that’s the herb salada maki rolls. Studded on the outside with seeds and inwardly stuffed with a mix of herbs and greenery, these were deceptively full of flavour and certainly had a lot more depth to them than a lot of vegetarian sushi I’ve come across. Jen and I were tempted to order another round of them, but had already racked up a decent bill so decided to let it go. Should I return to Hako in the future though, it will be for a feast solely comprised of those rolls and plum wine.

310 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9620 1881 

www.hako.com.au

China Red

Okay, I think I’ve figured China Red out. You may remember from last year’s MIFF Eats post that I was well confused about the patchy nature of the food on offer here, with some of it being really great, and other dishes proving to be almost unforgivably lackluster. But given its convenience and the fact that the food comes out super quick (both very important when it comes to trying to fit in a filling meal between films) I hit it up a few times during MIFF, mainly for the bright green vegie dumplings. The skins are still a touch too thick but that’s the only negative I can come up with, the fillings are nice and varied and the entire concoction is properly tasty. I also partook of the spring onion pancake, which was nicely crispy and not too oily, and of course that fabulous mango, coconut cream and sago dessert that just kills me dead. With China Red do your research, figure out the dishes you like and stick to them like glue. The benefits of a fast dumpling cannot be denied.

Shop 6, 206 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9662 3688

www.china-red.com.au

Journal

Ahh, Ol’ Reliable. I went to Journal for two consecutive Sunday brunch visits during MIFF in order to prepare for an extended filmy afternoon and evening. The first contained a creamy celeriac soup, a decadent cherry danish, and a chai served with a generous pot of honey, which is my sole requirement for a good chai. The second visit yielded up a stupidly tasty tomato and basil bruschetta (another example of getting the simple things oh so right), and a flaky croissant served with the daily jam, which just happened to be rhubarb. Can we all band together and make rhubarb jam a thing, because oh man is rhubarb jam a tart-sweet bomb of sticky deliciousness! I ended up being very indelicate and used my knife to scoop up the remains that didn’t end up on my croissant and just slurped it on its own.

253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9650 4399

Little King

This little gem has easily become my favourite haunt in the city. Hidden behind St Paul’s Cathedral down the same cobblestone alleyway that features the Chapter House gallery space, it’s a tiny lace-curtained bolthole that has some of the tastiest treats and most gorgeous service about town. I have become fast addicted to the soft pumpkin, baby spinach and goats cheese baguette to the point that sometimes I’m blind to anything else that may be in the cabinet. The coffee’s damn nice, at least to a non-habitual coffee drinker like me (I think it the coffee may be done by Padre, take that for whatever it means to you coffee fiends). Best of all, there are always heaps of yummy vegan sweet treats to choose from, which you should totally be doing at all possible times. Especially the banana and dark chocolate muffin. Om nom nom.

Shop 4, 208 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9654 0030

littlekingcafe.com

Chin Chin

See, I wasn’t lying when I said I used this year’s MIFF as an excuse for decadent food treats! Before viewing the truly excellent I Wish, Jen, Em, Sohi and I managed to score a table at easily the most talked about joint in town (the magic time to go in order to avoid the queues, it seems, is late afternoon). Em has already blogged extensively about this visit over on her blog Enjoy Eat Watch (complete with photos!) so I’ll just do a quick rundown of what I sampled as part of the $65 per head ‘Feed Me’ option – which is OBSCENE value for money, by the way.

– vegetarian wraps with crispy tofu, that come out on a DIY platter. Piles and piles of vegies to choose from in stuffing your wraps, and the peanut satay sauce that comes with it was whizz-bang wonderful.

– crispy corn fritters served with Vietnamese mint, chilli jam, slices of fresh ginger and lettuce leaves. I have to concur with Em and agree that this was the only dish that we sampled that didn’t quite work. All these little fried babies needed was the excellently spicy chilli jam, everything else was extraneous and conflicted texturally.

– a plate of green with the lightly steamed pea and bean shoots with soy honey sauce. I’m a big fan of greens done simply with a good sauce, and this hit the spot perfectly.

– vegetarian fried rice. While nothing will ever compare to my dad’s fried rice, this was still a very satisfying version, with a good proper level of salty soy and a variety of vegie bits and bobs (you always want your fried rice to have a good amount of bits and bobs).

– extreme dessert quartet of sweet destruction: honeycomb parfait with ginger sorbet, banana roti with condensed milk sauce, corn ice cream with caramel coconut rice, and a creamy, coconutty Thai-inspired trifle. While all of these caught my interest in some way, the one that would have me going back in a second would be the honeycomb parfait. Smooth, rich, creamy parfait undercut by the sharp tang of the ginger sorbet: utter bliss.

Needless to say, I am now among the multitudes that found Chin Chin to be utterly worth the hype.

125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

chinchinrestaurant.com.au

Cumulus Inc

I hadn’t tried Cumulus before, mainly due to the fact that I had never really heard of them rated as a good dinner joint for vegos. Indeed, once I was sat at the bar and started perusing the menu, I was dismayed that it seemed to be totally dominated by listings of oysters and charcuterie items. But within the salads and comestibles section I found succour with the cauliflower, chard and taleggio gratin dotted with delicate fronds of black truffle. This is the kind of dish that was so good that I wanted to lift it above my head into the light and declare it the high god king of all that the sun touched, but you know, I would have burnt myself on the hot skillet if I’d done so, so I didn’t.

What is also good about the salad and sides selection is that all bar the gratin can be downsized into half serves. I got myself a wee bowl of the cracked wheat and freekeh salad (I was eyeing off the roasted potatoes with sage and garlic but figured it wouldn’t be advisable to then sit through two films on a tummy filled with double stodge). This was an agreeably nutty side that definitely leavened the going with my cheesy gratin, and certainly felt healthy enough that my cheese guilt lessened considerably.

It’s also worth mentioning that Cumulus was a great experience as a solo diner. Sitting up at the bar you peer directly into the kitchen and can watch the chefs at work, and they all seem more than happy to chat with you while they’re putting together desserts, or cleaning oysters with tiny paintbrushes.

45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9650 1445

cumulusinc.com.au

Should you be particularly interested in my filmy MIFF musings, you can head on over to 240films.com, where Jen and I are still very slowly going through our reactions to all the films we saw. By the rate we post at, we should have them all done by Christmas.

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Gingerboy

Yet another milestone for the Blintz family rolled around, and you know what that means: we go out and eat ourselves stupid to celebrate. For my sister Megan’s 21st we all rolled up for a modern Thai banquet at Gingerboy. How did you come to the decision to dine at Gingerboy, Megan? “I googled ‘good Asian restaurant in Melbourne’ and it was the first result.” Stirling.

Now, as there were quite a few of us we ended up going with the banquet option, which meant a mountain of food ended up coming out, and I got a touch overwhelmed in keeping track of everything. But like too much food has ever stopped me before.

I was very well catered to as a vegetarian, and the kitchen made me several special veggie versions of their standard menu dishes, starting with a mushroom san choi bow. It was pretty typical, warm mushroom pieces cradled in a crisp lettuce leaf, quite juicy, all in all a good starter dish.

Then there was the son-in-law egg, a crumbled coated soft-boiled egg sitting in a generous blob of chilli jam. The rest of my meal could have consisted of forty more of these little babies and I would have been ecstatic. I just really like a good tasty egg and this gooey example ticked all the boxes.

A veggie spring roll followed, it was all dressed up with garnishes and seasonings sprinkled all over, kicking it up a notch from your standard springy.

A wee salad then came out filled with cucumber, coriander, mint and other green things, which was very much welcomed as a refreshing palate cleanser.

Then time for a main-sized dish, where I was brought a big slab of steamed silken tofu with Asian mushrooms and XO sauce, served with these crunchy flakes that I think may have been some kind of vegetable that had been flash-fried, which I had to beat Megan off with a stick to stop her pinching them. This was such a filling dish, the tofu beguilingly soft, with all the accompaniments providing both complimentary flavours and textures.

I thought the tofu was going to be the sole vegie main meal, but no sooner had I filled myself to near bursting with it than another came out, this one a braised eggplant served with a nest of crispy noodles. I feel bad, I should have eaten a lot more of this because it was lovely, the eggplant all soft and and intriguingly flavoured and it melted in the mouth, but I was getting so full, and the last thing I wanted was to not have enough room for the dessert platter (priorities), so I only ended up having a little nibble of the eggplant, and otherwise picked at the crispy noodles.

And now for the coup de grace, the DESSERT PLATTER OF AMAZING DOOM: aloe vera and young coconut tapioca with pineapple sorbet; espresso tofu cheesecake with milk jelly and chocolate coffee beans; spiced apple and rhubarb cashew crumble with vanilla ice cream; coconut and chilli chocolate splice with candied chilli and lotus root; and banana fritters with yellow rock sugar and pandan ice cream. I manged a taste of everything, and they were all intriguingly different (though I’m pretty sure the espresso cheesecake had gelatine, so be careful vegies). The banana fritters with their bright green spheres of pandan ice cream were delightful (although I’ll say that about anything involving pandan), the spiced crumble the perfect thing for a cold wet evening, but my favourite was the aloe vera and coconut tapioca, because I love tapioca like Loki loves big gaudy horned hats (Avengers reference brought to you by OH MY GOD, GUYS, BEST MOVIE EVER OR BEST MOVIE EVERRRRRRRRRRRR).

The cocktail list is also worth a look if you like your alcoholic drinking to be a bit fancy. I had a Peach Lilly Possum Blossom, all gin, peach liqueur, lillet blanc, lemon juice and cinnamon and ginger syrup, alternately tart and sweet and very refreshing.

The only quibble I have with Gingerboy is that it really is not a friendly space for anyone with accessibility issues. There are lots of tight walkways and steps, tables are placed really quite close together and navigating the floor can be tricky, and as for the bathrooms, they are located up a VERY steep flight of stairs, which turned a bathroom visit by my 90 year old grandfather who walks with a stick into an Everest expedition.

But the food was all over very satisfactory, and for this level of dining was also reasonably affordable, especially given the obscene variety of dishes that were brought out (I haven’t even touched on the meaty dishes, but my family were very well pleased with pretty much all of them). If we were to go into a head-to-head modern Thai battle royale between Gingerboy and Longrain (as my family immediately started discussing on the ride home, because we are combative people), I’d still come down on the side of Longrain. But those son-in-law eggs, oh my. You gotta try those.

Gingerboy

27-29 Crossley Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9662 4200

http://www.gingerboy.com.au/

Longrain

My mother and I’s birthdays are separated by a mere few days, so this year we decided that family celebrations for the two events should be compressed together into a single dinner of awesome. I was entrusted with the choice of venue and was quite overwhelmed with the task, especially as since my sister Carly’s new beau is a chef who very conveniently seems to know everyone in the Melbourne food scene, it means that booking swanko places that are generally hard to get into for family dinners has suddenly become very easy* (seriously guys, get onto getting yourselves your own chef BF, the whole family benefits!).

Luckily Muffin had recently gone to Longrain with her own family and sent the longest and most amazing text message in the world detailing the fabulousness of her meal, and since I trust Muffin with my life I figured that I would trust her with restaurant recommendations. To Longrain, loved ones, let’s go!

The restaurant is in a gorgeous space, as you would expect, all greens and mahogany browns, and lordy, if you’re in a bigger group, make sure you get booked into one of the big, circular tables that are made of heavy dark timber. The entirety of the middle of these tables are beautiful stone lazy susans! Seriously, why don’t all tables come with a built-in lazy susan, we are living in the 21st century, we should be on top of this.

The table began with a round of the betel leaf starter, of which I got a special veggie version (once you let your waiter know that you’re a veggie, all of a sudden they let you know that there’s a ton of veggie versions of most dishes secretly available to you!). I was neglectful of taking note of exactly what was in it, but it was a fresh and juicy burst of veggies and herbs that was a very pleasing palate-preparer.

My entree proper was a veggie version of the eggnet salad filled with beansprouts, slivered chili, peanuts, all doused in mild, sweet vinegars, and with an amazing cucumber relish that my other sister Megan promptly stole from me. This was another burst of veggie freshness (everything at Longrain is permeated with clean, crisp, fresh flavours and textures), and I want to know how to create that eggnet, except that I’m afraid that my mother might one day come home to find me entangled in spools of egg. That would be awkward.

While the rest of the table ordered a round of about seven dishes between them to share (let me warn you that the serving sizes here are very large, you don’t need many dishes to fill you, but in my family we don’t do things by halves and insist on ordering half the menu), for my main I selected the salt and pepper silken tofu. Being one of my favourite dishes to order out, I had very high hopes that this dish would be a transcendent version. Expectations met! Silky smooth insides with a swoon-inducing crispy coating. There was definitely something interesting going on in the outer layer’s spicing that was a bit more complex than just plain salt and pepper, perhaps some five-spice power or some equally lip-puckering mix. The Chef BF attempted to get Carly to try some (“It’s good tofu, you’ll like it!”), only to be met by a shriek once she took a mouthful. “It’s burning, oh god it’s melting and burning, you’re trying to kill me!” Death by tofu, a noble end for vegetarians, evidently an embarrassing one for omnivores.

To counteract the fried nature of the tofu, I also ordered the Chinese broccoli with chilli and garlic. Seems unassuming, but good golly this was stupidly delicious. Not only was the broccoli itself good and crisp, the garlic and chilli sauce was all kinds of tasty goodness. I ended up pouring the excess sauce onto my brown rice and chomping away happily on it. Yet another dish that I had to beat Megan away from, she was intent on consuming ALL OF IT, which is very unusual considering it was a plate of vegetables.

Dessert time! Vanilla tapioca with jackfruit and a globe of deliciously soft watermelon sorbet on the side. This was a gentle way to finish the meal, the light sorbet releasing a refreshing taste of watermelon across the tongue, with the tapioca pudding providing possibly the freshest, lightest stodge food imaginable.

As for beverages, I had recently come off medication that had prevented me from drinking alcohol for a few weeks, and to get back on the tipsy train I broke my fast with a Manhattan, which is a long time favourite of mine and the drink I use to judge a cocktail maker’s metal. This one was pretty damn good, nice and strong (the first sip of a good Manhattan should make you gasp at least slightly), although I think it may have been shaken rather than stirred, which has a tendency to make the whole a touch too watery, but honestly that’s just my personal preference and in this case didn’t affect my enjoyment of it.

The Chef BF also chose a beautiful bottle of KT Melva Watervale riesling (I was negligent in noting the year I’m afraid, sorry wine aficionados) that he shared with the table. I’m a fan of riesling over any other wine variety to begin with, but this in particular was a fine specimen, with bubbling citrus topnotes and a smooth finish that leaves a very agreeable taste on the palate, it was a brilliant complementary accompaniment to the flavours of the food.

So in conclusion, Longrain is spectacularly badass, we all rolled out of there with our stuffed bellies feeling enormously pleased and contented with ourselves. While our very gluttonous experience may not be the best way for everyone to approach the place (you didn’t see the bill, OY VEY. Delicious but expensive times), but I’m very much looking forward to going back to sit at the bar and languorously throw back some more cocktails over a smaller selection of dishes.

Longrain

44 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9671 3151

http://www.longrain.com.au/

*Disclaimer, yo: Just because the Chef BF helped to get the Blintz family a date with Longrain does not mean that we received any freebies or discounts, nor were staff aware that I was a blogger. We paid our way, and my opinion is not for sale. Just putting it out there, seeing as this has been a sensitive issue ’round the foodie blogosphere of late.