Mesa Verde

There are FAR TOO MANY STAIRS to get up to Mesa Verde. It’s right at the top of Curtain House, basically hovering just next to Rooftop Bar, and I was very pooped and very thirsty by the time I reached the seventh dang floor. “Why didn’t you just take the lift Hayley.” DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE TRYING TO GET INTO THE LIFT?! Impatience won out over laziness, at least I slightly worked for my tacos.

Yes, tacos! Mesa Verde is, like basically everywhere in Melbourne, devoted to Mexican food. Now, I’m at a point where I’m pretty suspicious of the Mex-food bandwagon, a lot of it is very samey from venue to venue, and the feeling I often have is that there’s not a lot of thought gone into it and most of the time it just tastes like variations of Chipotle. But Mesa Verde’s iteration seems thoughtful, and enthusiastic, and most importantly everything tastes pretty darn great.

Tacos! There’s two vegetarian options, firstly the grilled house-made queso with pumpkin and zucchini, and second the black beans with toasted pepita salsa and cotija cheese. Firstly, they feel properly filling and decadent enough to warrant their $7-8 price tags (which very few Melb tacos do), and are fancy enough in terms of ingredients to not come across as basic, but also don’t feel like they’re reinventing the wheel for the sake of it.

Chilaquiles, which the menu describes as “just like nachos”, are comprise of salsa verde, beans and mozzarella on top of corn chips. They pretty much are nachos! I’m not quite certain why they need the name change particularly since traditional chilaquiles, after a google, appear to be far more about having your tortilla chips or fried strips swim in a big pool of salsas or mole with egg, pulled chicken or refried beans. This seems a smidge like being a little pretentious for the sake of it. They’re great nachos, call them nachos!

I was also witness to seeing one of the varieties of queso fundido brought to the table, which was a LITERAL dish of melted, gooey cheese, served with little rounds of warm tortillas. It was stretchy cheesey glory that was a wonder to witness. Sadly, it was not vegetarian-friendly (although everyone got VERY EXCITED about the fact it also contained chorizo and tequila, very “what a time to be alive” for meat-eaters I imagine), but the other two options available are apparently vegetarian! I am intrigued by the one that involves nopales (cactus) and pickled mushrooms, because GOODNESS. Enough for a return visit alone food-wise, clearly.

Yet while the food at Mesa Verde is pretty solidly delicious, it takes a firm backseat to the cocktail menu. This is a place worthy of going to just to DRINK.

I knew I was going to order the Cheat Bureau as soon as I clocked its ingredients – Lapsang tea-infused bourbon, pear Calvados, with date and maple syrup – because SERIOUSLY look at that combination, like I wasn’t going to want to discover what that tasted like. And it all, somewhat surprisingly, works extraordinarily well – the honeyed fruit of the Calvados holds most sway, but the Lapsang adds a smoky tenor to things, while the sweetness of the date and maple floats along the top of your mouthful. Very complimentary, very very clever.

The Costa is one of four negronis available at Mesa Verde, and is composed of Le Venenosa Raicilla, Campari, sweet vermouth and an orange twist, served in a heavy whisky glass with one round ice block keeping everything chill. Like all good negronis the alcohol hits you like an aromatic truck – it’s a hefty drink, all swirling with citric notes, and is enough to get heady and lost in. A proper lingering beverage to savour.

Lastly, I had a Neill’s Julep – Whitley Neil gin, rhubarb bitters, mint with a plum pisco float – because I do get this strange rush of nostalgia when it comes to mint juleps as their crushed ice base makes me think of slushies. This one wasn’t as hedonistically overwhelming a drink as the other two, which arrested all senses, but was an enjoyable one nevertheless – I particularly enjoyed the tartness of the rhubarb rubbing up against the gin.

Sure, the cocktail menu at Mesa Verde may take the slight overenthusiastic pretension present in their food menu and ramp it up to the nth degree, and you may pay handsomely for it, but for me it mostly worked to provide an extremely happy time. I honestly can’t wait for the next chance to drag friends who haven’t been there before – I need to see the looks on their faces upon first sip of a Costa.

Mesa Verde

Level 6, Curtain House

252 Swanston Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9654 4417

www.mesaverde.net.au

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Thaiger

I have to interrupt my own traveling foodie reminiscences to tell you all about Thaiger. It is VERY IMPORTANT.

You may remember me visiting Huxtaburger not too long ago and being very disappointed with their vegie burger option. I even went back a couple of weeks after writing that review to give them another go in the fear that I’d been too harsh, but no, it’s still a highly uninspiring tofu slab. But as Cindy mentioned in the comments of that piece, a tofu burger doesn’t necessarily have to be boring and can be done awfully well. Thaiger is a very compelling example of such.

Thaiger, as you may have noticed from the puntastic name, is a Thai-inspired take away burger restaurant. Tucked down the Walk Arcade next to the sushi place that always has the obscenely long queue, it’s a very neat and attractive set-up. There’s 14 different burgers to choose, although only one is vegetarian, so if you like your meats you are in for a fun time (someone go try the pou-nim black burger and come back to tell me all about it because it sounds FASCINATING).

What about this singular veggie burger? Well, it consists of a slab of panfried tofu, crisp around the edges and gelatinous within, topped not only with smoky softened enoki mushrooms but also with a crunchy corn fritter. Keeping it all together is a generous squeeze of sesame soy mayo and a shiny, squishy bun, with some nicely frilled lettuce for good measure. As you would imagine, the combination of smoky enoki, corn fritter, and soft hot tofu was pretty epic in terms of the amount of flavour hurtling about, quickly quashing any suspicion that a tofu burger can’t be delicious. It just all depends on what you team it with.

I also got a cup of sweet potato chips (you can get regular potato chips too), which were hot and as crispy as one can get a sweet potato wedge. I wish I’d been together enough to realise that Thaiger of course had a bunch of sauces that I could have had with my chips, and it shall not be a mistake I make again.

Thaiger is one of those places where it comes across that everything in the business has been devised with great care. From the way the burgers are wrapped and placed in their take-away wrappers and sleeves so that you can eat them in the easiest, least messy way possible, to the design of the space itself, and the care that has clearly gone into creating the menu itself. There are a lot of burger joints across Melbourne now, most peddling the same types of burger fillings and snacks with a slightly depressing homogeneity, so Thaiger feels refreshingly unique. And more importantly than that, it’s properly delicious.

Thaiger

Shop 16, The Walk Arcade, 8 Causeway Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9663 8558

www.thaiger.com.au

Huxtaburger

In continuing ‘Hayley is finally visiting places that the blogosphere was losing their minds about three years ago’ news, I finally made a visit to Huxtaburger.

There was a time, young readers, when you couldn’t move for folks posting rave reviews about Huxtable’s various endeavours, especially their burger offshoot Huxtaburger. The first one, situated across the road from Huxtable base camp on Smith Street in Collingwood, always had an enormous line spilling out the front of it. Everyone, it seemed, was rapacious for American diner style burgers that were simple, filling, and provided avenues for a lot of Bill Cosby sweater jokes while you were waiting for them.

I, and many other vegetarians, were silent on the Huxtaburger score, however, as for a long time (I think two years? More careful foodie historians will be able to correct me) Huxtaburger simply did not have a vegetarian burger option. Which seemed slightly mad in veg*n-obsessed Melbourne, but the official line given forth was that the burger boffins simply didn’t want to offer a vegetarian burger that wasn’t as good as the meaty ones that were sending Melbourne collectively mad, and were going to keep quietly developing until one cut the mustard. Fair enough, I suppose, although in that time waiting my interest in visiting Huxtaburger waned into non-existence.

Indeed, it took Mel and I coming into possession of some Huxtaburger vouchers for me to remember that indeed they actually had vegie options now. To the CBD outpost we went!

The shop itself is very clean and a fusion between a diner and a slicker version of your standard chain burger restaurant. The staff were ENORMOUSLY friendly, and certainly made the customer service level of things far more enjoyable than I’m used to expecting in similar establishments.

The vegie burger is called the Sondra (all the burgers are named after Cosby Show characters) and consists of a slab of grilled tofu, tomato slices, lettuce, and sesame-soy mayo sandwiched in a brioche-style bun. The bun wasn’t too sweet, thankfully, which I often find is the standard fault of the brioche burger bun, but instead was very well balanced in flavour while also being structurally sound in keeping the burger together. The Sondra was actually the least messy burger I’ve encountered in a long time, a pleasing antidote to the types of burgers that stuff far too many toppings in that collapse out all over you as soon as you take a bite.

The tofu itself, being a cohesive slab, also stayed together nicely, but the one big problem with the burger as a whole is that the tofu itself just isn’t that flavourful. It had possibly been marinated in some kind of soy concoction before being put on the grill, but contrasted with the mild mayo it didn’t pack any kind of punch and was rather dull. Like eating a geography teacher.

What did pack punch, however, was the side order of chipotle fries. A colourful cup of crinkly chips that had been liberally sprinkled with chipotle seasoning, I actually needed to go a little mad in squirting tomato sauce on them so that my mouth didn’t end up on fire. They were a needed dose of fun!

The real question here is, would I go back to Huxtaburger without the dangled carrot of a voucher, and would I encourage you all to do the same? Honestly, I am not sure that I would. The pros that it is cheap and quick is overshadowed by the reality that the vegetarian option is simply not that exciting. The fact that within walking distance of the CBD Huxtaburger I could go to three different Lord of the Fries outlets and gorge myself on plentiful vegetarian burger options is probably damning enough.

There was a time, young readers, when if a food place didn’t have terribly good vegie options, veg*n diners would just sadly shrug and muddle through. But considering that Melbourne now boasts such an extremely veg*n-friendly food scene, whenever I now come across seemingly tokenistic vegetarian options my reaction tends to be “why did you even bother?” Because there are so many options now that we don’t have to put up with it. So while Huxtaburger may be one of the grand burger poobahs for meat eaters, vegetarians might want to seek out other alternatives. And that’s okay, because now we can.

Huxtaburger

Rear 357 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD (also locations in Collingwood and Prahran)

www.huxtaburger.com.au

Shanghai Dragon Dumpling House

When you work in the one area for an extended period of time, sometimes your eat out lunches fall into a repetitive rut. I’d certainly got to the point in late December where any day where I accidentally forgot to bring along my prepared lunch resulted in sad trundlings around the streets surrounding the office, attempting to find sustenance that wasn’t comprised of 7/11 items (don’t pretend you also don’t succumb occasionally to sad 7/11 lunches, I see through your HOUSE OF LIES).

Luckily my workmate and keen foodie Kate had been keeping her eyes peeled, and stumbled across a brand new place in which to get everyone’s favourite meal, ENDLESS DUMPLINGS. Shanghai Dragon Dumpling House is in a slim shop on Russell Street and, like most of the cheap and cheerful dumpling places that this city is so fortunately endowed with, decor is basic but everything is clean and shiny. The menu isn’t overly burdened with vegetarian options, but on this day all I was after was a vegetable dumpling soup, and this was easily attainable.

The soup comes not only with dumplings but with handmade strands of thick, white noodles, which are smooth and soft with the teeniest bite to them. The soup broth isn’t terribly flavoured, but there’s many a condiment set out on each table so that you may create you own broth flavour explosion. I swirled about a lot of soy sauce, vinegar and a teeny spoonful of chilli oil and that did nicely for me. The dumplings themselves were fat and almost spherical, and once you bit into them they were bursting with lots of spinachy greenery, little diced cubes of carrot and other unidentifiable vegetables, and plentiful mushrooms. Very solid and pleasing dumplings indeed.

I was quickly able to back up this visit with a take-out order the following week with some film programming buds of mine. We ordered vegetarian dumplings in both their steamed and fried versions, and they were as fat and vegie-filled as ever. The steamed ones did get a little stodgy after a few, but the fried ones were piping hot and deliciously crunchy, as most fried things are.

I’m certainly never going to turn my nose up at another agreeable place to enjoy dumplings at. What I am really curious about, though, is the fact that the menu at Shanghai Dragon lists vegetarian xiao long bao. Holy of holies! Whether this just means that these are veg-filled dumplings containing the standard gelatinous pork broth of the traditional xiao long bao, or whether it is indeed a vegetarian rendering of the most popular dumpling in town is something that I will be investigating most keenly on my next visit.

Shanghai Dragon Dumpling House

163 Russell Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9078 7637

Touche Hombre

I’m starting to feel like if I decided to eat Mexican every night for a year, I would not run out of new places to go to each night, such is Melbourne’s love affair with everything you can put in a tortilla. I managed to tick off another major player in the Mexican scene in the company of Jen and Zoe, as we tackled the neon auspices of the very popular Touche Hombre.

To start with, a serving of guacamole is essentially mandatory. Touche’s version is rather fancy, not only being augmented by frilled coriander leaves, but also whisper-thin slices of radish and pearls of pomegranate. It certainly created a bit more excitement to ladle onto a tortilla chip that usual.

I have rhapsodised here before about my unending excitement for ‘corn-onna-stick’, which Jen also knows about only too well and backed me up in my desire to have the elotes callejeros, which consisted of entire corn cobs slathered in butter, grilled and then covered in pecorino cheese and tajin. While the sticks used are in no way structurally load-bearing, and I would recommend that Touche Hombre get in someone with engineering nous to design a more sturdy stick, the corn itself is in no way flawed, all chargrilled smoky, buttery goodness with the drifts of cheese giving a good proper salty tang to proceedings.

The serious business at Touche Hombre is centred around their $5 tacos, of which there are about ten or so varieties, two of which are vegetarian so in the name of science I ordered both of those. The taco de tofu was filled with a slab of chargrilled tofu with chimmi churri mayo, shredded carrot and radish curls and coriander. Everything was fresh, the chimmi churri does the heavy lifting of making sure that there’s a good whack of spiace and flavour involved, which is often the downfall of a tofu-based taco, so this was very satisfactory indeed.

The taco de batata contained cubes of caramelised sweet potato, creamed corn, spring onion and mint. I actually didn’t realise there was creamed corn in it until after looking up the description post-meal, so that’s interesting.  This one wasn’t quite as pleasing as the tofu one, but still interestingly put together and, most importantly, packed with complimentary flavours.

Despite initially thinking that a $5 taco ran the risk of being tiny and not terribly flavourful, Touche’s versions were, while compact, bursting with ingredients that don’t run into cliches of Mexican cooking. My one quibble is that neither the tofu or the sweet potato fillings were very hot – each taco was lukewarm at best, so if you’re looking for a warming taco you might be a bit disappointing (considering summer is here, it’s a thought to file away until autumn anyway).

Alongside the tacos I had a cool glass of horchata with 1800 coconut tequila. I’m not normally one for milky-looking alcoholic beverages, but given that horchata is made of ground almonds and sesame seeds it was delightfully nutty, and avoids the bloaty feeling you may get with boozy dairy drinks.

Despite having already tucked into an impressive array of food, it ain’t dinner unless you finish with dessert. Zoe and mine’s eyes lit up at the sight of the choc-chilli peanut ice-cream sanga that was delivered to a neighbouring table. A fat disc of vegan peanut ice cream is sandwiched between chocolate biscuits (a bit similar to the texture of yo-yo’s), and dusted in chocolate-chilli powder that actually has a reasonable kick to it, unlike many chilli-utilising desserts. The peanut ice cream was just ridiculous – rich and creamy, it was hard not to end up squawking over it like a vulture going “MINE MINE MINE” in order to snatch all of it for myself. Zoe and I managed not to come to blows over it, just.

We also ordered a coconut rice pudding with blackberry chutney. Ordinarily I love rice pudding over most other things, its such a wonderfully comforting dish for me, but everything had paled in the face of the peanut ice cream sanga. Just order the sanga. In fact, waive entree and main meal and just order three sangas. Is that going too far? But it’s SO GOOD.

I was a little worried initially that Touche Hombre might be prove to be one of those places that is all about the image without much substance beneath, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the food has some serious chops. It’s definitely taken it’s place as my preferred venue for Mexican in the CBD, so take that glowing recommendation and get there now, scoot!

Touche Hombre

233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9663 0811

www.touchehombre.com.au

Shebeen

Tucked away in Manchester Lane, Shebeen has quietly become one of my favourite city hangouts in the past few months. This has a lot to do with the fact that Speakeasy Cinema is held there, and there’s been nothing nicer than to book in to see some Xavier Dolan and munch away on dinner treats that are not only pretty delicious, but have a social conscious to them as well.

See, one hundred percent of Shebeen’s profits go to projects in the developing world. There’s tons and TONS of info on their website that goes into extreme detail as to where all the money goes, how they source their products such as beer, wine, cider, etc, from and how they’re making sure that producers receive proper payment and support that helps their businesses thrive. So that’s rather nice. I’m not quite sure how they’re managing to make such a model sustainable in the long term (where does rent money come from?), but since Shebeen recently celebrated it’s first birthday, clearly it’s working.

Anyway, my most recent visit was in the company of a posse of old uni friends for a long overdue catch up. We started on some nibbly snacks, because nibbly snacks are always a good idea. The wasabi broad beans had a good whack of heat to them, but I was especially keen on the spicy crunchy corn, which I would like to see become a standard bar snack at all my favourite watering holes, please thank you very much.

Maddie and I went with the smoked tofu bahn mi with crispy noodles, peanut-pineapple sauce and fresh coriander. It comes inna giant bun! A bun that is enormously stuffed full of sweet-sauced tofu, which with the addition of generous fronds of coriander manages to trick you into thinking the whole deal is a touch lighter than it really is. I’m meant to be avoiding eating too many yeast products at the moment, but lordy, the tofu bahn mi is going to be a wicked temptation every time I pop into Shebeen.

Cass had the Mexican organic quinoa salad with cherry tomato salsa and blue corn chips. Vegan and gluten-free! Hoorah! And damn good it looked too, all healthy and hearty and whatnot. I really want to use blue corn chips as dip scooping implements for everything now.

Ellie had the black bean noodle salad with miso lime dressing and slivered almonds. I’ve had this dish on another, aforementioned Speakeasy occasion, and texturally it’s really interesting, what with the unusual weight of the black bean noodles contrasted against the almonds. It’s a deceptively hefty dish too, so will fill you up nicely, though I did eventually find it a bit samey towards the end of my scoffing. But another vegan and gluten-free dish is not to be sniffed at!

Jacinta had the pork belly bahn mi with bulldog sauce. Equally giant bun! The bahn mi are definitely the business for those looking for a substantial dinner option.

I would be intrigued to try some of the vegan ice creams on offer – I was particularly keen on the idea of a choco-coconut icy pole – but got distracted by some of the more fruity cocktails and got a pineapple mojito for dessert instead (TOTALLY COUNTS AS DESSERT, THERE WERE PINEAPPLE SLICES AND EVERYTHING). The drinks menu is very interestingly varied, so if an evening of pure drinking was on the cards you could actually have a very entertaining time working through it.

Shebeen is a really darn nice place to hang out and get some good, reasonably healthy food on the cheap, even without the pleasing social consciousness angle. It’s low-key and, somewhat surprisingly, not at all as hipstery as the mismatched furniture and mustachio’d waitstaff implies. I’ve happily added it to my (rather small, it must be admitted) list of CBD hangouts guaranteed to be cruisey and coming forth with deliciousness. Go and see if it fits the criteria for your own list, I insist.

Shebeen

36 Manchester Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9560 6931

www.shebeen.com.au

Blog Amnesty: The Beaufort, Baby, and ShanDong MaMa

As you may have noticed, posts have been thin on the ground here at Ballroom Blintz lately, as my life has been comprehensively taken over by my day job (speaking of my day job, EVERYONE COME SEE ALL THE FILMS AT MIFF!). Despairing slightly at my backlog of posts, I decided to take a leaf out of Claire from Melbourne Gastronome’s book and declare blog amnesty and do a few quick round ups of places I’ve recently visited before they completely slip out of my mind.

THE BEAUFORT

I’ve been wanting to visit The Beaufort for basically forever since hearing about it’s American-inspired pub food and the high level of friendly service from it’s staff. I popped along with a large group of friends (we were able to book a table, which is always nice these days), and we were all pretty impressed with the nautical fit out, and the fact that a place that had all the hallmarks of too-cool-for-schoolness was actually enormously welcoming.

Drinks-wise, there’s a lot of cocktails and mixes that are a bit of fun and won’t burn holes through your pockets in terms of price. I enjoyed both my Jerry ‘n’ cherry – Sailor Jerry with cherry coke and a slice of lime – and my Perfect Storm – Sailor Jerry with ginger beer and lime (honestly, name a drink after a film and I will order it every time no matter what’s in it).

For savoury I had the portobello mushroom burger, which I remember as being slightly a bit too sloppy for my liking due to the chefs going to town on the sauces, but otherwise it was enormously tasty, very American diner reminiscent. It’s also worth noting that The Beaufort do a lot of vegie and vegan dishes, so no one has to miss out on deep-fried treats.

Now here’s the really impressive part of the evening – the service. I am always interested to see what a venue’s staff do when things go wrong; I always figure it’s the best indication of a place’s real worth. So when we all initially ordered our dinners everything came out very promptly, except Schaefer’s meal (who incidentally spent the whole evening saying increasingly outrageous things in the hopes of getting quoted on this here blog. I AM NOT REPEATING ANY OF THE TERRIBLE THINGS YOU SAID, YOUNG MAN, I CARE TOO MUCH ABOUT YOUR FUTURE EMPLOYABILITY VIA GOOGLE SEARCHES!). Once staff were made aware that a meal was missing, the dish swiftly made it to the table, no dramas. Then we ordered dessert. I initially went with the ice cream sandwich. Soon enough, the same staff member who’d helped us retrieve Schaefer’s meal approached me wearing a facial expression that, as a table of seasoned hospitality workers, we all knew too well: “ohh shit something’s already gone wrong with this table and I don’t want to have to tell them something else is wrong!” They had unfortunately run out of ice cream sandwiches. I wasn’t unduly fussed, and asked if I could have the rhubarb and apple crumble instead. The enormously apologetic staff member wouldn’t even take the extra few dollars difference in price from me, and the crumble was such a deliciously comforting expanse of spicy stewed fruit and oaty topping that I was well pleased.

And then the staff brought us all a round of free tequila shots.

Yep, we’ll all be back.

The Beaufort

421 Rathdowne Street, Carlton

Ph: 9347 8171

thebeaufort.com.au

BABY

For some reason I was unduly prejudiced against Baby since it launched. Not even the connection with my beloved Chin Chin could shake from me the impression that it all sounded a bit wanky – it probably had to do with hearing about the genitalia-shaped neon signs decorating the restaurant (SERIOUSLY JUST DEAR GOD WHY).

While I still stand by the opinion that wang lights are wanky as all get out, luckily the food was amazing enough to turn my doubting Thomas frown upside down. This had a lot of to with the fact that they have a PAN-FRIED PIZZA!

Seriously, don’t even bother looking any further past the buttata pan-fried with fiore di latte and cherry tomato quarters, this needs to be the very first thing you order. As it is pan-fried the dough ends up having this smoky, charred tang to it that ticked all my tastebud fancies. Throw in tons of oozing fiore di latte and this results in a happily moaning Hayley passed out under the table with a food coma.

In non-fried goodness, I also sampled the funghi pizza, which could have used a little more funghi to be honest, it was a bit sparse for my mushroom-loving liking, but otherwise thin, crispy and cheesy. I also insisted on a side of the green beans with tomato sauce as a vegetable-leavener, and ended up reveling in the fact that they were basically delicious tomato crack. Seriously, if you can even look past pizza when you go here, order the beans. Sweet, tomato-laden goodness.

Baby

631-633 Church Street, Richmond

Ph: 9421 4599

www.babypizza.com.au

SHANDONG MAMA

If you are expecting a dumplings gush-fest right now, well, that’s sort of what you’re going to get. As while I really like the vegan dumplings on offer here, it’s a very different dish that has actually stolen my heart.

Everyone across town seems to adore ShangDong MaMa, and after a couple of visits now I’m certainly in the camp of having quite a bit of affection for this wee, unpretentious dumpling house hidden away down a Chinatown arcade. The vegan zucchini steamed dumplings are the only vegie dumplings on offer, but they are definitely well worth sampling, filled to bursting with shreds of zucchini and herbs. Mix your own dipping sauce from the pots of soy, vinegar and chilli on the tables and get dumpling dunking.

I’ve had a couple of other vegetarian dishes, too, with varying levels of success. The garlic broccoli, as I was warned by a waiter, does indeed come out “European style”, with little boiled florets covered in minced garlic. Nice if you like your greens with garlic (which I do), but very basic. The sesame noodles were similarly quite rustic, with soft, handmade noodles served with shredded zucchini and carrot, and topped with a sesame paste that you mix through to coat the noodles and vegetables. Quite tasty and nicely unusual, but definitely the sort of thing that is best to share, as it gets a bit samey when tackled by yourself.

But the dish that now haunts my dreams is the scallion pancake. The name is a bit of a misnomer, as it is less a pancake than two bulky pyramids of potato strands twisted together with splashes of spring onion rounds dotted through it. The strands are crisp on the outside, and as you pull at them (this is very much a fingers dish, good table manners be damned), you uncover the soft centre where the hot potato literally melts in your mouth. It’s a textural wonderland, and deceptively flavour-packed, and if it was a person I would marry it and be contently entranced with its simple, home-crafted charms.

ShanDong MaMa

Midcity Arcade, Shop 7, 200 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9650 3818

www.facebook.com/shandongmama