Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kotaraya, Oakleigh South

The signature Hainanese Chicken Rice (poached and roasted)... 

Special Thai Fish

Coconut Butter King Prawns (with shell)

Coconut Butter King Prawns (without shell)

Sizzling Egg Tofu with Mince

Sambal Squid

Yam Ring with Curry Pork

Sambal "3 in 1"
(i.e. long beans, okra and eggplant)

Banana Fritters

Pineapple Fritters

Sago Melaka
"Is the chicken silky?", I asked.

"Yeah, very silky..."

My friends, Grace and Ian, recently told me about Kotaraya when we spent the weekend with a group of friends at Mornington. They mentioned that this place does the best Hainanese Chicken Rice (HCR) in Melbourne.

Hold the phone. That's a pretty big call. 

Suspicion creeps my mind as annoying as this may sound, I've been so spoilt with incredible HCR growing up that my standards for them are nothing short of being through the roof (even when I'm back in Malaysia). Exactly why I have not found a single place that comes close to meeting my annoying expectations. It's all about the right breed of chicken, how it's cooked, the sauce, the chilli condiment, and the rice... 

Suspicious soon turned into curiosity, then excitement when we all decided to head over to Kotaraya on our way back from Mornington on Sunday. What a great decision that was. 

First, let me start off by saying I was completely impressed by the look of the HCR as soon as it hit the table... WOW. Just from the looks of it I could tell it was going to be good. And good, it was. Was my friend right when he said it was silky? YES, HE WAS. The poached chicken had that silky, smooth gelatinous skin with a slightly firm and chewy texture to the meat and the delectable sauce at the bottom to go with it. 

The roasted chicken tends to always be on the overcooked side but not this one. Plus, the skin was super thin and crisp too. Seriously delicious. I was very, very happy with the HCR here. Although, I must say that I was not too impressed with the rice. A bit rough and dry. I love when the rice has got nice, sharp grains, perfectly separated yet slightly coated in oil/fats and just bursting with flavour and fragrance. Not too much to ask for, I don't think. That said, still a REALLY delicious dish to eat. 

NOTE: You will need to call ahead in advance to pre-order the HCR and I think it is only available on weekends.

That aside, every other dish we had was simply superb. Nothing I could fault. Would definitely recommend the signature coconut butter king prawns too. Personally, I love it with the shell on and I eat the entire thing (shells, head, tails, et al) and leave no remnants of prawns whatsoever on my plate. Simply delicious. The yam ring was something that wasn't actually on the menu but I thought I'd try my luck and asked the waiter if they could make it or not anyway! Thankfully, they did! Although, I wasn't sure about the waiter's recommendation to have it with curry pork, still prefer mine with kongpao chicken or prawns. Still nostalgic and tasty to eat, though.

Finally, I would also recommend the sambal "3 in 1". The name really made me laugh as it's a trio of eggplant, long beans and okra -- all great veggies to fry with sambal. Very Malaysian. I was quite impressed by the depth of flavour from the sambal with a nicely roasted belachan (fermented shrimp paste) without being too overpowering. Suffice to say all 11 of us were incredibly happy with our meal here that afternoon.

It's no wonder that this is my friends' favourite place to eat, and their families' as well whenever they're in town. And I can totally see why. Even though I've only been once, but I thought the food was really authentic, had high standards and downright tasty. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to find myself here soon with other people and adding it to my list of favourite places to eat around Melbourne. 

My thoughts on finally finding a great HCR in Melbourne? Let's just say I am so impressed, satisfied, thankful and equally relieved at the same time. Definitely one place to check out if you haven't been/heard of it. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Kotaraya Oakleigh South on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Kenji Japanese Dining, Camberwell

Don't you just love it when you see sushi chefs in action?

Crab Cream Croquette - $6.50

Soft Shell Crab Roll - $10.50
Crispy soft shell crab, avocado, spicy creamy sauce, sesame seeds

Tuna Tataki - $10.50
Lightly grilled freshly sliced tuna served with ponzu onion sauce

Beef Hamburg Steak (Spicy) - $13.00
Japanese style beef patty with Teriyaki sauce

Gourmet Sushi and Sashimi Set (on a boat) - $38.00

Matcha Cheesecake - $6.50
Japanese style homemade green tea cheesecake

Matcha Creme Brulee - $6.50

If you met my Dad, you'd be able to tell right away that he's a simple man. A man of few words and humble desires. His entire life revolves around simple pleasures, his family and nothing more. And I mean this literally. Dad always says to me that he hasn't found a single thing that makes him happier than hearing the laughter of his grandson. NO interest in luxurious holidays, expensive restaurants, material things whatsoever, not my Dad. Never have, never will. Very different to Mum, who does enjoy the finer things from time to time. But only because she had a very long, highly successful but mind you, EXTREMELY stressful job for 30 years and is finally reaping the fruits of her labour after all this time. I really do hope I have a career that is even half as successful as hers.

In fact for Dad, a few years ago we realised that his car was getting so worn out it was costing him so much to take it to the mechanic every couple of weeks. We as a family begged him to finally get himself a new car. It took him a really, really long time to come around to the idea. Even after then, he missed his old car so much that he stopped driving the new one completely and went back to his old one. That's Dad.

Whenever Dad visits Melbourne, he's more than happy to cook and eat in every meal of the day, every day of the week, with the exception of one trip to Pacific House Richmond for his roast duck fix. To him, there's so much great produce that gets him excited at the market and he finds cooking at home much more satisfying than any meal we get outside. Here, Dad has the luxury of time to spend as much time as he wishes to relax and do just that.

Dad loves to experiment and you should see how Dad hums to himself as he cooks in the kitchen. That, my friends, is the sight of someone who is truly enjoying his time in the kitchen and it is really endearing to see. I guess, in many ways, you can tell I am very much my parents' son as I inherit a lot of their traits, especially when it comes to their interests and philosophy on food.


There I go, getting sidetracked again. This is what happens whenever I start thinking about my family. I wanted to write an intro to this post by simply saying we came here one Friday night when Dad was in town because he wanted something simple and Japanese (but I got carried away). We came here one Friday night after work after hearing about this place from my friend PJ =)

The setting was rather humble, low key and felt very inviting to us. We started off with the croquettes. We realised that the inside was still fridge cold when we bit into it so we spoke to the waiter, who was extremely apologetic and brought us out a fresh plate in no time. Very grateful for that. We must say it was a winner second time around. Piping hot and crunchy on the outside, super creamy and gooey in the middle almost like melted cheese. Delicious.

The soft shell crab roll was slightly on the salty side but still crunchy and juicy in the middle, very enjoyable to eat. The tataki was slightly average, I must say. Not much torched flavour and no variance in flavour for dressing except for being salty, a rather one dimensional dish. It would have made a fair difference if they had introduced some citrus in the soy sauce or even little drizzles of sesame oil.

Next, we had the hamburg steak, which is something you normally find at these kind of casual Japanese dining establishments and also something I order often when I get the chance. It was bang full of flavour, incredibly tasty and everyone's favourite dish of the night. The meat was super beefy in flavour and the mince was so soft, moist and tender. The spicy kick was great too. We honestly loved this very much and could not get enough of it.

Before we knew it, they brought out the highlight of the evening, the sushi boat. I love sushi boats. This one was definitely more unique than many other ones because of the variety it offered. There were assorted fish (kingfish, tuna, salmon), prawns, scallop, squid, calamari, cuttlefish, sardine, sea urchin and even a few variety of sea conchs/clams. You rarely see these being served in restaurants here (especially the conchs and sardine) but they were my favourite part about the sashimi boat. So, so delicious. The fish themselves weren't the freshest but it is actually quite acceptable still. I'm just being a bit more nitpicky than I should, it's actually alright.

As for desserts, wouldn't say it was great as the cheesecake was quite dense and slightly burnt on the outside. Brulee could've been slightly under too as it began to taste a bit eggy and lacked the smooth texture. Still, what I liked about the desserts is that they actually served it with a yamamomo berry (aka mountain peach), which is actually really, really Japanese ingredient and another thing I haven't seen around Melbourne. Such a surprise to see and it definitely says a lot about how authentically Japanese they are.

Overall, Kenji is a quaint little Japanese establishment that is perfect for a casual and affordable meal. Oh, and they serve free Japanese green and barley tea too! The service is great and even though it may not be the most refined of quality, there are many places people could go for that sort of thing anyway. Sometimes, all you want is a place that's fuss free and comforting, which is exactly what Kenji is. We weren't looking for a place to spend excessive amount of money on Japanese fine dining that evening. A satisfying meal was had here and a great place to unwind on a Friday night after a hectic week too, if I may add.

Being in the same category of cheap, humble but tasty Japanese food in Melbourne, I would definitely keep this place in mind but still recommend Shyun in Carnegie and Aoba in Malvern too. Oh, you can forget about Samurai in Hawthorn. Would definitely come back here!

Kenji Japanese Dining on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mr Big Stuff, CBD

Disclaimer: Winston and family dined as guests of Mr Big Stuff. All opinions are honest and based on own personal experience at the time.

In house DJ on a Saturday night... Loved the tunes that night

Triple Awesome Grape - $12.50
Martell VSOP Cognac, Cold Pressed Grape Juice, Fresh Lemon Juice & Soda

Mr Tea - $18.50
Martell VSOP Cognac, Cold Brew Peach Sencha Green Tea & Fresh Lemonade

Wicked Watermelon - $12.50
Ketel One Vodka, Cold Pressed Watermelon, Fresh Lemon Juice & Soda

Sweetbread Nuggets - $9
Lamb sweetbreads, honey & thyme glaze

Buttermilk Caesar - $12
Crispy bacon, white anchovy, buttermilk dressing

Jerk Chicken Wings - $15
Grilled, jerk marinade

Spring Bay Mussels - $30
Okra, bacon, coriander, tomato

Roasted Bone Marrow - $12
Pickles, smoked salt, sourdough

Pork Ribs - $28
Slow, bourbon BBQ sauce

Mac & Cheese (V) - $12
Three cheeses

Apple Pie - $10
Cinnamon, spiced rum

Mr Big Stuff is a new restaurant that's just opened up in the CBD serving up Southern American or Soul food. I was contacted by the team there to come in to try out the food. Having seen some photos of the food before I went, I was quite excited to try this new form of American dining experience. Dad was in town at the time too so I am glad I got to take both him and my sister with me.

The restaurant was rather busy when we arrived. There was an in house DJ playing some classic jam, which really set the mood for a casual, relaxed evening. The cocktail menu looked really good. The drinks we had tasted as good as it sounded on the menu and priced quite fairly too IMO.

I've only had good experiences with sweetbreads in the past, which was why I was happy to see it on the menu. Sad to say, the sweetbread nuggets didn't really live up to our expectations. It was crunchy, yes. But there was a bit too much glaze on the outside which made it too sweet and the sweetbread was slightly smelly. We liked the idea behind the caesar salad but did find it to be way too salty too. Although, it did have great crunch and texture to it, which we enjoyed.

Was quite excited to try their signature jerk chicken wings too, but did feel a bit let down by how tiny the wings were. It had great spice and smokiness in the marinade but that too, was on the salty side. Again, we weren't sure about the portions of the mussels as we were quite used to getting a big pot of them, which was sort of what you'd expect for $30. That aside, the mussels were rather unfresh and stinky that evening too, borderline undercooked and slimy. It was odd, we've never had this sort of experience with mussels in the past. Always enjoying them for the plump, juiciness of the succulent flesh.

After what seemed like an underwhelming start to the meal, I am very happy to report that the second half of our meal really redeemed the evening. The marrow dish we ordered was dish of the night for me. Rich, gelatinous and melt in your mouth. It worked so well with the crusty bread, sour pickles and light scattering of salt. It was absolute perfection.

Next, the pork ribs were very, very good too. It was downright tender and falling off the bone with great bourbon flavour in the sauce, just fantastic. Although, we did find the coleslaw to be on the salty side (again). That said, it was my sister's favourite dish of the night. We placed a last minute order for the Mac & Cheese as we were still feeling a bit hungry (portions not the biggest here) and we were so glad we did. The Mac & Cheese was awesome. Clusters of crunchy topping, rich and smooth sauce, firm and el dente pasta, it put a big smile on Dad's face when he ate it. Suffice to say that this was his favourite dish of the evening. So good to eat with the housemade hot sauce too.

To finish, we had the apple pie. I liked the fact that it came in fried parcels. The pastry was light, puffy, crunchy and the cinnamon sugar was delicious. Although, we did come to a unanimous conclusion that it would've tasted so much better if there was a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream on the side. 

Overall, I must say that I do like the concept behind Mr Big Stuff. It definitely is serving food that is different to everywhere else, in a relaxed and casual setting. I can definitely see myself hanging out here with friends at the end of the week over some drinks and music. Foodwise, we were off to a rough start and the portions weren't really big enough for us but hey, I must say they did make some incredible dishes too. After all, they're still a new restaurant and I completely understand if they are still experiencing some teething problems as they've just started out. I do believe that they have potential as the last few dishes we ordered were just fantastic. Starting a new restaurant is not easy and people do need to try and remember to be patient with businesses at the start. 

Thanks again to the team at Mr Big Stuff, I do know how passionate you are and it does show in your food.  All the best to you on as you continue to learn, find your ground in this tricky business and serve great food for people to enjoy. Cheering you on.

Mr Big Stuff on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Two Little Pigs, Brunswick

The aftermath of a gorgeous cup of short black...

Pork Belly Waldorf Salad - $16.90
Roast pork belly, celery, royal gala, granny smith, walnuts, egg yolk mayo, preserved lemon


Confit Chicken Salad - $16.90
Pickled artichoke, persian feta, shallot, alfafa sprouts, red wine vinaigrette

Disappointingly difficult to finish, unforch...

Roasted Pork Belly Roll - $12.90
Crispy skin pork belly, coleslaw, tarragon mustard aioli

Charcuterie (small) - $18.90
Chef selection of cold sliced meats, house made pate, rilettes and terrine, pickled and marinated vegetables, bread and house made sauces and relish to accompany

Just such a great and complete selection... Simply fantastic

Hello, hello...

How's everybody doing? I must say that last week was one of the oddest weeks I've experienced. I was off crook half the week and mentally/physically wasn't feeling like myself at all. I came down with a pretty high fever one night, just hot and cold the entire night. Woke up at least 10 times just to get a drink of water because my body was burning up. Then out of nowhere, my body did a pretty intense purge for next few days as if it were reacting to some sort of a bug or infection. Could. Not. Function. 

I only ate a few bites of food each day and even that was quite forced, happy to have gone without. The rest of the time I just felt absolutely nauseous and any smell of food almost set me off. It was so weird... Then, I went to my company's annual dinner and the amount of delicious food around me that night was astounding. But, I only had a glass of water in my hand and a clean, empty, untouched plate most of the evening while everyone ate away happily. It was so odd to just sit around while everyone else ate. Then, we had Friday lunch the next day and everyone ordered yummy burgers while I sat out once again. It wasn't the fact that I wasn't joining in, but the idea of being completely turned off by something I love so much. Was not myself at all. BUT, thankfully, I have finally recovered and slowly finding the will to eat again... Hoorah

My friends and I came here for a relaxed, Sunday brunch not too long ago... It's nice to come to an area not as frequently visited on the weekend. It was a quiet street but this was packed. Thankfully, there was no line and we were shown to a table right away. 

It was a bit of a wet and chilly morning, so a nice, hot cup of espresso would do it for me. And do it for me, it did.  Okay that makes no sense. Anyhoo, it was delicious. We scanned the menu and everyone but me ordered something with pork belly whilst I decided to go against every instinct in my being and order the salad as I was trying to be healthy....... Right.

Whilst everyone was happily tucking into their crispy, crunchy roast pork belly... I was quite disappointed by my dish. I thought the dish was way too creamy and oily. Just felt overbearingly greasy. Sure, the chicken was cooked in oil but felt like there was way too much residual oil on my plate. Plus, it was incredibly salty for some reason (could've been the cheese or something else). I kind of wish they had added some crunch to the dish as well. Was hard to get past the oiliness and saltiness to try and finish this dish.

On the other hand, I had a taste of my friends' pork belly and it tasted great, gave me food envy. Crispy crackling with juicy meat, as it should be. No complaints from them, that's for sure. Finally, the charcuterie was just fantastic. It had a good variety of meats, olives, pickles, bread and homemade sauces. Absolutely delicious and fun to go round in circles trying the different things on the board as we continued to sit there comfortably and chatting away. So generous and good value for money too, can't believe that big platter was a small.

Overall, I like Two Little Pigs and think it's got something different to offer. It's a brunch place, but specialising in meats. A great place to come if you're looking for another pork belly dish to try (because we all know there's never enough of that) with good coffee too. Plus, you have to order their charcuterie board, definitely a specialty of the cafe. Enjoyed the food here (with the exception of my oily, salty salad) and would definitely recommend this place to others to try too.

Two Little Pigs Charcuterie and Grind on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lemon & Herb Seared Chicken with Porcini Cream Pappardelle

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. Winston received a box of mushrooms to cook with from the Australian Mushroom Growers as part of the #MushroomMania2014 campaign

Some weeks... Going the extra mile for something definitely feels rewarding. I know it's dumb, but I've always raised my hands to be put in situations that tries, challenges or stretches me. Feeling even more motivated to want to overcome an obstacle in the face of adversity, then growing and learning from each passing experience. 

Then, there are weeks when no matter which way you turn, what method you try, you just feel like you're letting people down, including yourself. I think it's easy to feel complacent with what you do or are given with. Whether it's work, relationships, anything at all. To sit back, cruise along and just take the easy road. After all, there's no reason why it can't get you by anyway. It sure saves you a hell lot of worries.

Why feel so invested into something anyway? Why bother, why try? 

It's because I care. 

Over the weekend, my friends told me that people of my star sign are passionate, emotional and deep thinkers. Personally, I'm not one to believe in this sort of thing but thinking back, I can't say I disagree. I do analyse very often about what I'm doing and why. There's not a single thing in my life right now that I can think of that I'm doing because I have to. Truth is, I do them because I want to. A person with many interests. Many passions. I love it all. But, I'll be lying if I say that I don't often feel mentally or physically drained.

Then there are instances when you realise that being passionate has really helped someone or even achieved something exciting, which makes it all worth it again. It's such a constant cycle. Has its ups and downs. But would I have it any other way? Definitely not.

What I have learned in moments of trial or demanding pressures:
- Take a moment to stop. Reset your mind. There may be chaos all around you but the world's not going to stop if you took this moment to breathe
- A lot can change in just a short amount of time
- Give yourself credit. You've worked hard and probably done better than you think
- Count your blessings. Remember your roots. Being grateful definitely puts situations into perspective in the grander scheme of things


Back to the recipe. This was a creation I made on Sunday for a meal I shared with Dad on his last night before he flew back to Malaysia. It was good. I thought the flavours worked well too. 

The chicken was seared until it was crusty and crispy on the outside, but still remained incredibly juice on the inside. The zest of lemon looked so delicate on the plate, with its subtle but refreshing flavour to cut through the richness of the sauce. The sauce was generously reduced until the flavours had developed fully and thickened so that it coated the pasta perfectly. I can't stand watery or runny pasta sauces.

Overall, it was actually a really quick and tasty dish to make. Dad and I enjoyed it very much and I do hope you give it a go too. 

Lemon & Herb Seared Chicken with Porcini Cream Pappardelle

(an original recipe, serves 2)

Click here to print the recipe


250g pappardelle *
20g dried porcini mushrooms
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic (diced)
2 tbsp butter
250g mushrooms of choice (sliced)
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup dry white wine
300ml cream
Salt and pepper

* May be substituted with linguine or fettuccine 

For the chicken:
1 chicken breast
Salt and pepper
Dried mixed herbs
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil

To garnish:
Flat leaf parsley (chopped)
2 lemons (to zest)



1. Place a pot of salted water on the boil. Cook pasta as per packet instructions and drain.

2. Rehydrate dried porcini mushrooms by placing it in a bowl with hot water for 10 minutes. Drain and squeeze out liquid. Set aside.

3. Heat up a pan on the stove and add the olive oil and minced garlic. Fry until fragrant. 

4. Add in the porcini, butter and mushrooms and fry for about 5 minutes until cooked. Add in the salt and fry for another minute. 

5. Add in dry white wine and cream to the pan and simmer on the stove for 15 - 20 minutes or until the sauce is thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cooked pasta.

6. Flatten the chicken breast with a meat mallet until about 1cm thick. Pat dry with paper towel and season both sides with salt, pepper and dried herbs. 

7. Heat up a separate pan and add the olive oil. Once hot, add in the chicken breast and sear for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until cooked and golden on both sides. Set aside and allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting to 1cm slices.

8. To serve, place the pasta and sauce on a plate. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Place the sliced chicken breast on the pasta. Zest the lemon over the chicken.