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.

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.

MIFF Eats

Oh Melbourne International Film Festival time, you are my absolutely favourite time of year! And in order to soothe my soul that it is once again all over for another year (*sniff*), this post is dedicated to relieving some of the food adventures I had while scuttling around the city attempting to enjoy as many filmy delights as possible over 17 days (although my Werner Herzog/Gasometer adventure is to be saved for it’s own post, it was that epic).

Wagamama

When I was on holiday in the UK a few years ago I found it ridiculously hard to find any kind of East Asian food that wasn’t crap, or served with chips (ABOMINATION). When I discovered a Wagamama in Cardiff and had a bowl of vegie ramen that didn’t make want me to write a letter of apology to Japan, I was so happy I could have cried. But I hadn’t yet tried the Melbourne outlet until I discovered that it was a perfect halfway point between the Forum and Kino.

On my first visit I ordered a vegetarian bento box for $15 (only available at lunch) and it was pretty decent. The yasai katsu curry was delicious, with panko-crumbed pieces of eggplant, zucchini and sweet potato all slathered in this great not-too-spicy sauce, which I had great fun mopping up with my ball of rice. The vegie gyoza were not as successful, the filling was nice but the wrappers were a bit stiff and probably not steamed for long enough. The edamame were a little tough too, but still tasty. And I really enjoyed the fresh green salad augmented with red dashes of rubbery pickles, it was a good way to finish off the meal. It also came with miso soup, which is always a plus for me.

Unfortunately I had a dinner there later on in the festival which was frankly a bit nasty. I ordered a vegetarian soup which was basically just a giant bowl of soba noodles and bean shoots in a very average broth. There were a few token bits of zucchini and snow pea floating around, but all in all it was uninspiring and an outrage at around $18 for the bowl. I might return for another bento, but count me out for dinner.

83 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9671 4303

http://www.wagamama.com.au/

Hoboken

The blogsphere seems to have been suspiciously quiet about this place (or at least the blogs I follow have been, apart from Carla over at Easy as Vegan Pie who mentioned it in her one of her own MIFF posts). I hadn’t heard anything about it before stumbling over it when taking a short cut to the Forum via Hosiers Lane.

First thing that Hoboken taught me is that I can totally be won over by cafes that have pots of ornamental cabbages sitting outside their front doors. I LOVE cute pots of cabbages, it turns out. I also love cute barista boys who are all “Not sure what to eat? Here, have this giant roll filled with an omelette and coriander and peri-peri sauce, it is DELICIOUS,” to which I reply “You are correct, young sir, and also congratulations on your face” (okay, I only thought that last bit, I didn’t say it. But I thought it REALLY HARD, in the hopes that he might have had telekinetic powers). They also do a very hearty mocha, which I resorted to quite frequently during the festival. To have relied so heavily on caffeine as a crutch, how shameful for an avowed coffee dissenter like myself! But sometimes nothing else will see you through five films a day.

I am deeply intrigued by Hoboken, and hope to return for several more visits.

3 Hosier Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9078 2869

Journal

Ahh Journal, such an old stand by. Sure, sometimes the staff  hide behind that wall of a bar like it’s a medieval fortification designed to keep back the ravaging hordes of Genghis Khan, but the food is deceptively simple and oh so good. Where else could something as basic as avocado on toast be such a satisfying nibble? And they craft a good mocha as well, though enticing the staff out so you can get a second one sometimes proves difficult.

253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9650 4399

Chocolate Buddha

I first discovered Chocolate Buddha during last year’s MIFF, so it seemed appropriate to visit again this year. And I was hungering for some sushi, as earlier in the day I had watched the divine documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi (watch that trailer and weep), so nothing was going to stop me from chowing down on sushi dreams after that. Chocolate Buddha had a chargrilled tofu nigiri special on offer, so I figured that would suit my longings perfectly!

They sadly ended up just a tad bland (chargrilling clearly doesn’t do much for the flavour of tofu if you haven’t let it soak in the flavour of something else first), but there was enough tasty interest in the form of the accompanying pickled ginger and wasabi to jazz them up.

My main of the tofu ankake don was a much more complete prospect, with greens like choy sum, bok choy and wombok mingling with shiitake, silken tofu, ginger, carrot, bamboo shoots and shredded up nori sheets over white rice. If there’s anything more satisfying than a big fresh bowl of vegies and grains, I don’t want to know what it is.

Federation Square, Cnr Swanston and Flinders Streets, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9654 5688

http://www.chocolatebuddha.com.au/

ACMI Lounge

Did you know that ACMI Lounge does bang-up amazing soup for $11? I bet you didn’t! It’s damn huge, making it a really filling quick meal, especially when you’re a little pressed for time and have to do the film buff’s sprint to Greater Union. I ordered the potato and cauliflower soup one night, and while it was definitely stacked more on the starchy potato side of things in terms of overall flavour, it was delightfully creamy and warmingly pleasant. Best of all, it came with a piece of parmesan encrusted bread that was longer than the bowl itself. That’s how you win me over, with giant chunks of cheesy bread!

ACMI, Federation Square, Cnr Swanston and Flinders Streets, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 8663 2537

http://www.acmi.net.au/acmi_lounge.htm

China Red

I honestly don’t know how I feel about China Red. It’s in a terribly convenient location, especially during MIFF when it was just around the corner from Greater Union and made a perfect pre or post film dining spot with friends. It also retains its novelty value with the touchscreens that you use for ordering; my friends and I still haven’t lost that sense of glee in pressing buttons and then having food magically appear. I just wish the quality of the food wasn’t so damn inconsistent.

I mean, how can you go from the sublime example of one of the most deliciously perfect desserts I’ve ever encountered, which pairs coconut cream, mango puree and delicate white pearls of tapioca like they’ve been plucked from the very gardens of the gods themselves (I don’t know why the gods are growing tapioca in their gardens, just follow me for the sake of the metaphor), to charging $6 for a ‘vegetable soup’ that essentially was a few green strands and some tofu puffs floating in practically straight-up water? I have no idea.

It seems like it’s the sort of place where you have to search out for the good items and then stick with them. The brilliantly green vegetable dumplings are pretty good (although their skins are probably just a touch too thick for my tastes, although it is a reassuring sign that they are handmade), and on our last visit during MIFF Joe and I shared this incredible pumpkin dish where sticks of it had been somehow crumbed in egg yolk and fried. The riot this caused on our tastebuds was too glorious to be described.

But then for every great dish there’s one that’s just disappointingly average (vegie spring rolls, I’m looking at your generic curry tasting arses) or outrageously bad (I can’t get over that soup, I just can’t). Oh, China Red, you are confusing and I am honestly not certain how I feel about you at all.

Shop 6, 206 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9662 3688

http://www.china-red.com.au/

Oh food and film, will there ever be a more perfect combination? No, no there isn’t, that was a rhetorical question. And as for the festival itself, what made me catch my breathe, cheered me, or utterly changed my life the most out of the 41 films I ended up seeing? Well, including the above-mentioned Jiro, let’s just say that if you were loitering in a cinema foyer and caught sight that they were playing Submarine, Attenberg, The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Melancholia, Tiny Furniture, or Bobby Fischer Against the World, you’d be doing yourself a great service to immediately purchase a ticket and a choc top, settle down in the dark, and prepared to be entranced.

Flower Drum

Welcome to a fancypants edition of Ballroom Blintz! Yes, it’s time to dust off your tiaras and straighten your monocles, we’re going classy with a visit to one of Melbourne’s most venerable dining institutions, the Cantonese mainstay Flower Drum.

Of course, being that this is not the kind of dining that the Blintz household indulges in on a regular basis, we had a very good excuse for such extravagance. My pop was turning 90 and, well, people just don’t turn 90 every day, so we all considered this a fine excuse to treat him to a deluxe version of his favourite cuisine (well, I’m actually not sure if it’s his very favourite, he’s always been very fond of dim sims, yet highly distrustful of anything with a high vegetable content).

The question I was hoping to get an answer to was this: was Flower Drum to be an exciting adventure for a vegetarian? Or was it to be a letdown for those not prone to being carnivorous? Come, intrepid travelers, let us discover the truth!

After getting over the excitement of the fact that we had to go up an escorted elevator to reach the dining room, which prompted my siblings and I to discuss how awesome it would be to have a job where all you had to do was press an elevator button (we are lazy people), we were then wowed by the restaurant space itself. It’s tastefully decked out, as one would expect, where each table is situated in a way to make it feel like you’re sitting in your own private alcove (although the noise emanating from the table closest to us that seemed to be full of boxers and/or wrestlers went someway to disturbing this sense of privacy).

As I kind of secretly expected was going to be the case, there definitely wasn’t a wide range of vegetarian items to choose from. While the rest of my family ended up going with one of the banquet options, I ordered the fried stuffed eggplant as an entree, followed by the braised vegetable claypot for my main.

The fried stuffed eggplant rested on a nest of crisp fried noodles, surrounded with a scattering of diced red and green capsicums. As soon as my teeth bit into the crispy, crumbed crust I was in heaven. The eggplant was perfect (and we all know how fussy I am with eggplant), all delicious fried goodness, and the noodles and capsicum all combined to heightened the dish rather than just being empty carbs and garnishes. I was highly impressed.

Next, the claypot of braised vegetables. Every mushroom under the sun seemed to be in this huge pot: oyster, shiitake, clouds of black and white fungus, those tiny rubbery ones that I always want to call champignons even though I know they aren’t. Some snowpeas and Chinese cabbage floated around in the tasty sauce as well, but this was clearly a dish for mushroom lovers. While I had great fun eating the mushroomy goodness and then subsequently soaking up the sauce with a bowl of white rice, I can’t say that this dish was anywhere near the impressive level of the eggplant, and at around $35 it’s definitely leaning towards the “far too pricey for something that’s a pretty standard” end of the spectrum.

For dessert I went for a more traditionally Chinese option with the sweet red bean soup with black sesame dumplings. The rest of the table, assuming that I was insane, all went for the fried ice-cream (which I suppose is also traditional in its own way). The sweet soup was just the sort of lovely, light thing I needed to finish the meal off. The black sesame dumplings were softly gelatinous, almost melt-in-your-mouth-ish, and the red beans were flavoursome (I still kind of freak out excitedly at dishes where beans are used as part of a sweet. It’s like the world’s gone deliciously topsy-turvy!). I also manged quite a few bites of the fried ice cream, as my family members were quite dramatically full by this point, and I have to say that it may have been the High God King of all fried ice creams. Quality oozed out of it, I say! Topped off with a pot of chrysanthemum tea and I was quite content.

Here’s the big question though: despite my mostly positive experience, would I wholehearted recommend Flower Drum as a good venue for a vegie? I think it would really depend if you were dining with omnivores or solely vegetarians. Because you seem to get a more full experience as an omni: my family were rendered practically speechless by the quality of their dishes (as I had been told by those who had already experienced its apparent magnificence, the stuffed garfish is apparently a dish so divine that wars will probably one day by started over it). Every dish in the omni banquet was greeted with gasps of delight, and the fact that my pop said it was probably the best meal he’d ever had in 90 years speaks for itself (he still left anything suspiciously vegetable-looking alone, bless him).

If your enjoyment on a night out hinges on your compatriots having a delightful time, vegies can take their omni friends to Flower Drum safe in the knowledge that they’ll have a blast while you still have some nice dishes to experience. If, however, you’re an entirely vegie group looking for a fancy time who would probably baulk extremely at seeing a whole suckling pig wheeled over to another table (seriously, I need a warning before shit like that happens!), Melbourne has plenty of other more vegie-centric options that would probably serve you better.

Flower Drum

17 Market Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9662 3655

Le Traiteur

I’m sure you’ve had this feeling before. When you experience a place that’s just so damn good that you end up enraged that it’s not situated somewhere bang in the middle of your day to day doings, and end up stamping around shouting “Why is it so out of the way? Why can’t I just go there EVERY DAY?!” You may also start plotting to kidnap the chefs in order to ‘convince’ them to set up shop in your garage so you can stroll out in your pj’s every morning and get some decent coffee and eggs with no hassle. This is how I felt after visiting Le Traiteur for the first time. It is infinitely depressing that I’m ordinarily never over the Spencer end of the city, cos this place is damn special.

I dragged Muffin over to the legal district one Wednesday afternoon, gabbing (probably incoherently) about how I’d heard about this French-style cafe that was full of delicious breadstuffs. It’s an impressive set-up aesthetically: floor to ceiling windows, neutral shades on the walls, complimentary brown tiled floors and brown curved cane chairs, and it’s all dominated by the spick and span display cabinets filled to the brim with baguettes and pastries.

I couldn’t go past what seemed to be to be a highly refined yet simple lunch, the basil and tomato consomme with stilton agnolotti. Clear broth was absolutely swimming with basil leaves, cherry tomato halves, sprigs of fennel and tiny lengths of green beans. Three big, fat agnolotti floated on top – thin homemade pasta enclosing a generous filling of creamy, pungent stilton. The soup was served with three slices of chargrilled, sourdough bread, which was utterly fresh and palate engulfing; well, it was to be expected, seeing as Le Traiteur bakes all their bread on premises. All together it was a wholly refreshing meal, with the tiny bit of body provided by the agnolotti. It was really the most perfect light lunch.

Muffin had the artichoke and waldorf salad baguette: marinated artichokes, crisp cos lettuce, apple slices, celery, strong blue cheese, and what Muffin described as an amazingly creamy mayonnaise. She was also highly impressed with the wonderfully fresh taste of the bread.

We also shared a serving of pomme frites (because I cannot pass up potato, the will is not within me). These were deliciously savoury and crisp, sprinkled with big flecks of sea salt.

Over a pot of earl grey tea and a chai latte respectively, I shared with Muffin a small square of chocolate brownie. This was an absolute flavour bomb of chocolate decadence! It was so gooey, it melted as soon as it touched the tongue. I only wish we’d had more room in order to try some of the delicate pastries tempting us from the display cabinets (you could almost see a halo of butter shining out from the croissants, it was glorious) but, alas, we were full!

I’ve honestly been feeling through the writing of this post that even with my obvious effusiveness, I’m not getting across exactly how much I loved this place and how it may have ruined me for all other foodstuffs. Let’s put it this way: if I was placed into some kind of horrendous nightmare world where I was told by hideous overlords of space and time that I could only eat at one establishment for the rest of the universe’s existence, I’d reply with “Just hurry up and make with the Le Traiteur brownie, you jerks.”

Le Traiteur

552 Lonsdale Street

Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9670 0039

http://www.letraiteur.com.au/

Broadsheet Cafe

So today I was able to amble down to the temporary cafe that Broadsheet have set up in Crossley Street as a part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. I’d been hearing about the cafe for quite a while, seeing as Jess is a Broadsheet intern, and I even scored an invite to the opening night party, which I sadly had to decline as I couldn’t get out of work that night. Boo-urns!

The cafe is set up in a long, thin shop, with some tables and seating up front (including a bench made out of a long piece of blond-coloured wood stacked on about a billion copies of Broadsheet), with the imposing Synesso coffee machine glowering at you from up the back. The black walls inform you, through the white writing scritched on them, that the sandwiches are provided by EARL Canteen, the pastries by Baker D Chirico, and the macarons by LuxBite. Heading up this pretty fine looking list of contributors are a rotating range of coffee providers: Seven Seeds, Proud Mary, Market Lane, Dead Man Espresso, The Premises and Five Senses.

The usual suspects had presented themselves in order to investigate this temporary cafe venture – Jess, Emma, Claire and Bennett. The others had already scarfed down some sandwiches and were engaged in coffee and gossip by the time I shambled up, and one simply cannot face juicy workplace gossip on an empty stomach, so I went and got an EARL sandwich to fortify myself. I never quite got the full lowdown on what exactly was in it, but from what I could make out there was a lovely fat seam of egg salad, complimented with vibrant green baby spinach leaves and some delicately soft braised mushrooms. Being that Broadsheet Cafe are getting these sandwiches delivered by EARL and keep them in a fridge until you eat them, the quality is slightly less than you would get from a made-to-order one at EARL itself (the bread in particular seems to toughen up significantly from the cold of the fridge), but if you’re too far away from EARL to comfortably visit on your lunch break, this is an acceptable alternative in sampling some EARL goodness.

I also overcame my general distaste for coffee and actually ordered one – hey, I figured with all these fab coffee folks around even an avowed tea drinker like me would have to enjoy it! Also, I don’t think they were even offering any tea.

The coffee on offer was today provided by Market Lane. My mocha was definitely stacked fiercely on the side of coffee rather than chocolate; not being used to such a strong coffee I fairly gasped from the shock. But it grew on me a little by the end of the cup – a very earthy, almost harsh blend, but with a mellowing aftertaste. Still, don’t think I’m going to become a regular coffee drinker any time soon!

A delivery person arrived through the doorway with a giant pallet of macarons. Given the fact that Jess, Claire, Emma and my heads all swung simultaneously in order to follow the macarons’ path, it was collectively decided that us girls were going to have to sample them. Preceded by a brief crazy rant on my behalf on the differences in pronunciation between ‘macaron’ and ‘macaroon’ (“I used to get so angry when I’d hear goddamn food industry professionals say ‘macaROON’ on Masterchef, I’d end up throwing things at the TV. MACARON, people, dear god, is it so hard?!”), we had delivered to our table three creme brulee flavoured beauties, and a watermelon one.

I ended donating half my macaron to Bennett, who had somehow missed out on ordering one and was resorting to being a giant mooch. Breaking it in half meant that I kind of mooshed all the texture out of it, but flavour-wise it was quite lovely. I was particularly pleased that you could discern vanilla bean flecks in the ganache. Emma’s watermelon one was gorgeous, with one half being red, the other green. I’m very intrigued as to how watermelon would translate in macaron form… I’m going to have to go back and try one, aren’t I?

So all in all, a very interesting operation and well worth a visit. Be quick, though; Broadsheet Cafe will only be operating until next Monday the 14th of March. After that, you’ll just have to visit all these cafe superstars separately!

Broadsheet Cafe

24 Crossley Street, Melbourne CBD

http://www.broadsheet.com.au/melbourne/food-and-drink/article/broadsheet-cafe-opens-friday

Horse Bazaar

It was a day where I was showering Muffin with a cavalcade of treats, as it was the first time I had seen her since her birthday. Earlier we had done post-birthday Brunetti’s coffee and cake, followed by post-birthday movie date (we saw Cairo Time at Nova – a heart burstingly gorgeous film, might show up on my end-of-year best of list if 2010’s movie crop doesn’t perk up considerably), and now it was time for post-birthday lunch!

I’d originally thought to take Muffin to Hardware Societe, but we arrived right in the middle of the lunch hour rush and there was not a free spot to be had. So instead we rambled around the corner to try out Horse Bazaar, on my behalf quite excitedly, as I’d read Easy As (Vegan) Pie’s effusive posts with great interest and was keen to try some super vegie noodles.

It’s quite an interesting space, I think the phrase Muffin and I came up to describe it was something akin to ‘stylishly unfinished’, and for one in the afternoon, it was criminally empty. I say criminally, because I think Horse Bazaar offers one of the most filling and fresh lunch options in the city.

We ended up ordering the noodles, the okonomiyaki and the vegetarian gyoza. I’ve been lucky to sample some pretty awesome okonomiyaki lately, what with this and Disco Beans’ examples. Horse Bazaar’s version is a much more traditional version that Disco’s Beans’ grain-filled ones, but where it really rises above the pack is the utter freshness of it. You can tell both by the vivid bright colours of the vegies and the amazing fresh smell that the vegetables had been grated up mere minutes before it appeared on the table in front of you. Absolutely lovely.

To the vegetarian gyoza. These are great and fresh as well, and absolutely loaded with ginger,which well pleased such unashamed ginger fanatics as Muffin and myself, but might be a tad too strong for those who are ginger leery. The sesame soy dipping sauce that accompanies them quite frankly drives me wild, I would probably chug it down by itself but for the fact that such behaviour tends to make one a dining pariah.

The vegie noodles is a pretty hefty and varied dish. It’s comprised of thick hokkien noodles, broccoli, carrot, beans, walnuts, a teriyaki-ish sauce, and what looked suspiciously like raisins until closer inspection revealed them to be tiny black beans. My relief at such a revelation caused this exchange:

“Thank goodness they’re beans! I can’t handle raisins in savory things, it’s too weird.”

“But what about savoury foods that traditionally have raisins in them, like Moroccan couscous?”

“I know it’s authentic, but it’s still too weird.”

Muffin responded with a raised eyebrow, which honestly I don’t blame her for it the slightest.

Like everything else we sampled, the noodles were fresh, very generously portioned, and just really damn good. All of my subsequent lunch visits have been equally as enjoyable, and I’d love to go back of an evening and see  how the venue is as an evening reveling spot. I honestly don’t know what else to say other than get on your pony and go!

Horse Bazaar

397 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9670 2329

http://horsebazaar.com.au/

Von Haus

This particular entry finds us celebrating Jen’s birthday. Hoorah! This meant only one thing: time to me to gift FOOD PRESENTS. In the form of a lunch at Von Haus!

I asked Jen to meet me on the steps of the State Parliament building. I had kept secret where we were going, resulting in a Jen who was a-bubble with excitement. “Where are we going, what’s over this side of town? Are we going to the European? Or maybe…”

“Hush, do not guess, you might hit on it and then ruin the surprise!”

Luckily Jen was very happily surprised once we arrived at Von Haus. It’s a beautiful little space, lots of dark wood tables and paneling, an exquisite fireplace lined with blue and white tiles, acres of wine bottles racked up all over the place. I think there might also be a courtyard out the back, but we didn’t venture out so I’m not sure how big it is. The best spot to sit inside, however, is right by the window so you can people-watch all the suits trotting up and down Crossley Street while sipping a nice red. Which is exactly what Jen and I did, accompanied by the dishes described as follows.

I had the pumpkin, cumin and sweet corn soup. The corn kernels had been left whole, which gave the soup an exciting texture, and also allowed it to avoid being too sweet, which I feel it would have been had the corn been blended through. It was like the soup was full of presents! Corn presents. It came with some lovely sourdough bread as well, and a thick slice of creamy butter. I think that’s why I love soup so much, it’s just a crafty excuse for bread.

Jen had the confit (I think confit is the right word, I’m not great with terms that pertain to meats) of duck, which was a crispy duck leg served with kifler potatoes, apple salad and a tangy vinaigrette. The duck was apparently quite nice, but what Jen waxed lyrical about were the potatoes, which looked ever so crispy, and went well with the vinaigrette (which I think was cider-based? Jen will let me know if I’m wrong).

Good food, good wine, comfortable setting, and sterling company. If you like all those things (well, you’ll have to bring your own sterling company, Jen is mine!), then you’ll adore Von Haus. I did.

Von Haus

1 Crossley Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9662 2756

Chocolate Buddha

Way back in August when the Melbourne International Film Festival was in full swing, I was struck down with illness right in the middle of my festival-attending schedule. To call it ‘illness’ doesn’t really express the gravity of what befell me. I was a mess: coughing, sneezing, shaking, flushing hot then cold, bleary brain fog and muscle fatigue. A whole lot of not pretty.

But I couldn’t retire to bed and bid the world ‘fie!’ for  few days in order to recover. No, I had booked festival movies! Four movies in one day in fact, and another the day after, and I love movies even more than food, so I wasn’t going to let being near death stop me from seeing them. So I hobbled around, feeling as though my head were stuffed with the many tissues that my nose was flying through, and with such a ravaged throat that I was actually rendered mute. But hey, the films were great, so it was worth it? *health-conscious peanut gallery shakes heads grimly in unison*

On my second day of debilitating muteness, I met up with Jen and Zoe after seeing my lone scheduled film. Upon hearing me squeak and wheeze pathetically, they each grabbed an arm and frogmarched me to Federation Square. “We are getting you some soup.” said Jen grimly.

“Fortifying soup!” said Zoe.

” ‘O’p.” I croaked.

We ended up at Chocolate Buddha, which I hadn’t been to in YEARS. Bowing to my friends’ insistence that I have soup, I went with the Yasai Soba: soba noodles and deep fried silken tofu with snow peas, wakame, baby corn, spring onion, and menma in a vegetable stock with ginger, sesame and chilli oil. I had neglected to explain the fact that my illness had completely nullified my sense of taste, and was glumly anticipating not being able to actually taste my soup.

However, what actually occurred was that the soup was the first thing that succeeded in breaching the sickness blockade. A growing sensation of chilli broke through to spread over my tongue; I could have cried it made me so happy. And while I didn’t get too much taste other than the chilli seeping through, it allowed me to focus on appreciating the texture of everything in the soup instead. The silken tofu, which with its thin, crisp fried coating looked as if it had been transplanted from a bowl of agedashi tofu, was delectably smooth and melted gloriously in my mouth (the sign of truly great silken tofu!). There’s a nice balance between all the vegies and the noodles, too.

I wandered back to Chocolate Buddha a few weeks later in order to re-sample the Yasai Soba in a nose-clear, taste-reinvigorated state. The remembrance of the soup I’d had while sick had achieved near mythical levels of appreciation in my mind, and I wanted to ensure that it wasn’t just a product of being illness addled. Turns out sickly me hadn’t been far wrong – I couldn’t detect as much chilli as I had while sick, but a fully functioning palate revealed that the stock also has pleasing sesame overtones, and that tofu is just DIVINE. Truly one of the best uses of silken tofu that I’ve come across in a while.

Chocolate Buddha, as well as doing a nice soup, really is a lovely space to enjoy a meal in, and it seems that a lot of people are remembering that, it seems to be picking up again in popularity after a few years out of the spotlight. Being in Fed Square, it’s not cheap (my soba comes in at just under $20; to be fair it’s a damn big soup), but if you’re in the area and stumped for somewhere to fill you with something good and comforting, Chocolate Buddha should serve you well.

Chocolate Buddha

Federation Square (next to ACMI), Cnr Flinders and Swanston Streets, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9654 5688

http://www.chocolatebuddha.com.au/