Monday, July 6, 2015

Roasted Grape Sauce Recipe

So a few months ago, I had the most AMAZING weekend away in Daylesford when I attended a food photography workshop hosted by the ever amazing Ewen Bell and Iron Chef Shellie. I have long been a fan of Ewen's photos on Instagram and Shellie is without a doubt the most talented food blogger I know. Could not help but feel absolutely inspired the whole weekend. Best time.

#dattart !!!

Oh and suffice to say, a LOT of good food was had that weekend including this ABSO-FRICKIN-LUTELY DELICIOUS Roasted Grape, Goat's Cheese & Parmesan Crust Tart. Wow... Just WOW. Such an incredible creation by Shellie and I cannot wait to bake it myself soon because I miss it so much. 

Anyway, I learned from Ewen and Shellie that roasting grapes is one of the most clever cooking idea I've come across in a long time. Having grapes on their own can be one dimensional because all you can taste is sweetness. But once roasted, it sort of reduces and replaces some of the sweetness with a much deeper, earthy flavour. And suddenly, these grapes actually go really well with savoury dishes. Too good. The flesh also has a soft, mushy centre which I enjoy. Plus, I just think that the blistered look of the grape skin is just so stunning.

Ewen was the one that suggesting roasting the grapes because it goes really well with roast pork and he was so right. Similar to having apple sauce with pork but roasted grapes are so much more interesting. It was seriously delicious and I highly recommend it too so please give this one a go. Trust me, you won't regret it.

I also highly recommend my Easy Roast Pork with Crackling recipe: HERE. Total crowd pleaser and 100% success rate by me and anyone who's tried it!

Have I mentioned how much I love brussel sprouts too?

Roasted Grape Sauce Recipe

(inspired by Iron Chef Shellie and Ewen Bell)

Click here to print the recipe


1 vine of red grapes (seedless)


1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place the grapes on a single layer on a metal plate/tray and roast for 15 - 20 minutes or until the grapes look blistered.

2. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Crush all the grapes with a fork and knife to squeeze out the juices. Mix together and set aside until ready for use. Best served warm with roast pork!

The most incredible Sunday roast dinner! There was:
- Roasted grape sauce
- Crispy brussel sprouts in coconut oil and chilli
- Roasted garlic and mushroom mashed potato

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Seared Venison with Braised Red Cabbage, Pancetta Crisps & Red Wine Jus


I can't help but feel compelled to begin each blog post these days with an apology for the lack of updates. Most nights I'd try to sit in front of the laptop to write up new post but often just  end up giving in because of how tired I felt at the time. I'm quite the social media fanatic so would be great if you got connected with me on my Instagram (@winceeee) and Facebook page (The Hungry Excavator) too!

It's such a lame and overused excuse but work really has been quite busy for me. I guess in many ways I feel like I've reached a milestone in my career sooner than I expected and it's definitely kept my plate full but at the same time, fuelled me to want to keep going even further/harder. It's because of the pressing nature of my work that makes me so grateful to have a blog or blogging related activities to look forward to after I clock off to unwind. Anyway, I've got lots of recipes lined up in my backlog that I can't wait to share with you guys so please stay tuned.

Righto, back to the recipe. A friend of mine went hunting one weekend and managed to shoot two deers that time. I haven't been hunting myself but I do know that deers are not easy to hunt at all. Most of the time, people would come back empty handed so for him to have shot not one, but two deers was very impressive.

I was definitely happy for my friend because it was his first time successfully hunting one down but if I'm being honest, I was even happier about the fact that he shared them with me too! I feel very grateful when people think of me and specifically share their food with me (maybe because I think people know that I always appreciate it). I heart people!

As soon as I got these beautiful venison backstraps, I flipped through an old cookbook I got from a good friend a few years ago for my 21st in search of some inspiration. Came across a couple in there that looked really good so decided to combine and modify them a bit to suit my liking. The final result was very delicious. I don't normally cook many recipes like these but it's actually quite simple and at the end of the day, it's always great to try something different in the kitchen. Every element actually worked and enhanced the other so I am definitely a fan of this combination. 

This plate of food was definitely delicious to eat and actually very simple to make. There's lots of things you could substitute the venison backstrap for if you haven't got it available. I think veal or lamb backstraps would work beautifully too or even liver instead of meat too! Something that's lean or quick to sear.

Hope you give this a go and that you have a fantastic week ahead!

So difficult to not sneak a piece... Or five as soon as they came out of the oven (!!)

Seared Venison with Braised Red Cabbage, Pancetta Crisps & Red Wine Jus

(recipe adapted from the cookbook "Must Eat" by Russell Blaikie)

Click here to print the recipe


For the braised cabbage:
1/4 red cabbage
4 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic (minced)
1 brown onion (chopped finely)
150ml red wine vinegar
150g sugar
Cracked salt and pepper

For the red wine jus:
125ml red wine
50ml port wine
1 litre beef stock
50g unsalted butter
Cracked salt and pepper

200g venison backstrap (cut to thin strips) *
12 slices pancetta
Olive oil
Fresh sage leaves
Cracked salt and pepper
60g unsalted butter

* may be substituted with veal, lamb or even liver instead of backstrap


For the braised cabbage:
1. Remove the core of the cabbage and slice it finely. Heat up the oil in a pot. Add the garlic and onions and cook until soft and fragrant. 

2. Add the vinegar and sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add in the cabbage and place the lid on to simmer on low heat for 25 - 30 minutes (or until cabbage is tender), stirring occasionally.

3. Season with cracked salt and pepper and cook with the lid off for a further 15 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside until ready for use. Can be stored in refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.

For the red wine jus:
1. Pour the red wine and port into a saucepan and reduce on high heat until about 60ml or quarter of a cup liquid left.

2. Add the beef stock and boil on high heat (and skimming regularly) until the sauce has reduced to about three quarters of the volume left. Stock should be a little thick, viscous and glossy.

3. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until well combined. Season with cracked salt and pepper to taste.

For the remainder of the dish:
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line the pancetta slices on a wire rack and bake in the oven for 8 - 10 minutes or until  the pancetta is golden brown and crisp. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature on the wire rack. Refrain with every ounce of your being from nibbling away on these lip smackingly good pancetta crisps. 

2. Heat a little olive oil in a pan until hot and add in the fresh sage leaves to cook for about 10 - 15 seconds or until crisp. Remove and drain excess oil on kitchen towel.

3. Season the venison/veal/lamb backstrap on both sides with cracked salt and pepper. Heat the pan with a little more olive oil until hot. Place the backstrap into the pan and sear or cook for about 30 seconds per side (depending on thickness of cut). The meat should still have a little blood still when slicing into it (you don't want it overcooked).

4. Add the butter into the pan and allow it to foam and brown slightly. Coat the backstraps in the butter and remove from heat.

5. To serve, place the braised red cabbage on a plate and the seared meat on top. Scatter with crisp sage leaves and top with pancetta crisps. Drizzle some red wine jus around the plate. Enjoy.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Almond & Cashew Nut Butter Recipe

Hey guys!

So sorry for the lack of updates recently. Work has been extremely busy the past few weeks and weekends have been filled with lots of catch up. I try my best to update as often as I can here but sometimes it's just easier said than done, I guess.

Although, if you are on Instagram, don't forget to follow me (@winceeee) because I am quite active on there and post something almost every day =)

Anyway, I've got another big week ahead so I thought I'd share a quick recipe with you guys before bed. This recipe is seriously easy to make and delicious to eat. I have become quite addicted to this homemade nut butter that I've started having it every day. Too bad, I didn't make enough and went through the whole jar in no time =(

This homemade version is definitely much healthier as it doesn't have the preservatives or as much oil and sugar as what you get from the store bought stuff. Plus, I actually enjoy the taste of homemade ones better. It's a little more subtle and has a lingering aftertaste, which I enjoy.

I've shared 2 versions of this recipe: one using a normal food processor and another using a Tefal Cuisine Companion if you have one. I think it's nice to actually cook it a little bit in the Cuisine Companion after it's made as it helps bring out the flavour a little bit but no biggie if you don't have one. Still tastes good.

Orites, think it's past my bedtime. Will try and upload another blog post sometime soon. Have a good one everyone!

Almond & Cashew Nut Butter Recipe

(an original recipe)


1 1/2 cups raw almonds
1 1/2 cups raw cashews 
1 - 2 tbsp olive oil

Method (Normal version)

1. Place all the nuts in a food processor and add a few dashes/pinches of salt. 

2. Start the food processor and pulse until all the nuts are pulverised. 

3. While the machine is running, slowly drip in the oil into the bowl until the mixture starts to bind together.

4. Turn off the food processor and transfer into a jar and allow to cool. Keep refrigerated.

Method (Tefal Cuisine Companion version)

1. Place all the nuts in the bowl with the ultra blade fitting. Add a few dashes/pinches of salt. 

2. Start the Cuisine Companion on speed 12 for 3 minutes until the nuts are all pulverised.

3. After 1 1/2 minute while the machine is still running, slowly drip in the oil into the bowl until the mixture starts to bind together

4. Run the Cuisine Companion on speed 3, 100°C for 8 minutes. Once done, transfer into a jar and allow to cool. Keep refrigerated.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Mama's Buoi, Melbourne CBD

Disclaimer: Winston dined as a guest of Mama's Buoi. All opinions are honest and based on my own experience at the time.

A.K. Sour
Freshly bruleed passionfruit, frangelico, vodka, lime, sugar & passionfruit

First of many cocktails consumed that evening *hic*

Chicken and Pork Liver Pate with Sesame Crackers

Rice Noodles Stuffed with Pork, Mushroom & Fried Shallots

Shell on School Prawns with Salt, Pepper & Citrus

Steak Roll Vietnamese Salad Wrap with Citrus & Green Chilli Dressing

Reconstructed Can Chua (sour soup) with Fried Noodles, Mussels, Calamari & Prwan

Ginger Chicken Stir Fry with Bok Choi

Steamed Barramundi Wrapped in Bamboo with Lemongrass, Chilli & Citrus Dressing

Caramelised Pork Belly Hot Pot with Boiled Egg

Reconstructed Three Colour Drink with Black Jelly, Pandan Jelly, Rum & Mung Bean Puree, Basil Seeds, Jackfruit and Coconut Milk


I first came to Mama's Buoi a couple of months ago on a random night and my friends and I found ourselves unanimously enjoying our meal there that time. Every dish that we had was exciting, delicious and we found that it to be quite good value for money too. I liked it so much that I started recommending this place to friends when they would ask me to suggest a place to eat in the city (but never got around to posting a photo of it or blogging about my meal that time).

So, I was quite excited when I got the invite to come to Mama's Buoi as I was keen to come back and try more stuff from the menu. 

We started off our evening with cocktails in hand whilst the owner introduced himself and his restaurant at the start. As the night progressed, I found myself having quite a number of their cocktails (can you blame me?), which I absolutely loved. One particular cocktail stuck out to me from the rest, which was the Pho Cocktail (not pictured). I know what you're thinking... Chicken/beef noodle soups in the form of a cold drink? I had my reservations too but to be honest, it turned out to be pretty damn good. The flavour and fragrance of the makings of a pho was really unmistakeable in the drink it was quite peculiar, in a good way. Actually tastes exactly like a pho... But it wasn't! It was a cocktail. I liked this. I love it even more when my tastebuds are challenged like that. It was delicious, exciting and definitely memorable. I still think about that cocktail till today.

Back to the food... And let's just say, there was a lot of it. Highlights for the entree for me was the liver pate, which was smooth and delectable. So delicious to have with the crispy sesame crackers. Besides that, I really enjoyed the school prawns too. The dipping sauce was simple and straight forward: freshly squeezed lime with a bit of salt and pepper. Utterly delicious. There were a number of other entrees which was served too but I didn't get a chance to photograph. All I can say is they each had its own unique flavour but what was consistent throughout each of them was how much liveliness there was in terms of flavour and texture as each of them had an abundance of fresh, raw, crunchy herbs/vegetables... Something that I feel is so synonymous to Vietnamese cuisine.

The mains were definitely cooked well and had a strong homecooked feel. It was a little less inventive and modern than the entrees, but more straight forward and felt like from the heart. It was incredibly tasty and comforting. The dishes made me feel like I was eating at a home cooked by a loved one, rather than a restaurant. Truthfully, there hasn't been a lot of restaurants that's made me feel this way. I like it. I appreciated it.

If I had to pick the dish of the night, for me, it would have to be the Can Chua (sour soup) with crispy noodles and seafood. It looked really simple but was FANTASTIC. The soup base had a complexity to it, which I did not expect. At first, your senses are awakened by the (not overly sharp) sourness. But soon after, you get a wave of savoury, umami that just rounds up the taste in your mouth. It was really, really good. The bonus was the salty crunch from the noodles and the sweetness from the seafood. It was a very good dish and I loved every drop of it. Funnily enough, this dish was done for us as a trial but not actually from the menu! I kept telling the owner that evening how good of a job they've done with that dish and truly hope that they will put in on their menu permanently. 

Overall, it was another great meal at Mama's Buoi -- I'm so glad I came again. If I had to pin point to the dishes that I thought could've been improved, it would probably be the steak roll (quite tough), crispy pork belly (bit on the dry side) and the dessert (too much going on). That said, there were so many other parts of the evening that I could praise and commend them for their efforts. 

This place really proves to be a great restaurant option in the city, especially if you're in the mood for Modern Asian (which, for me is most days). It almost doesn't matter what you order because food is consistent and delicious. Location is extremely convenient (right next to the H&M building on Bourke St!) which I really like too. Price point is fair and and and they do great cocktails too -- which is always a plus in my books! Coming here again (even though my second visit was paid for) didn't change my opinion of this place. It is for all these reasons that I was recommending people to come here to try back then, and why I am recommending people to try now.

Mama's Buoi on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Roasted Banana Bread Recipe

The glorious roasted banana bread....
Oh, how I could have a thick slice of it everyday

Food photography to me can be quite stressful sometimes. I don't mind the editing process at the end but the plating, styling and snapping process at the start really it mentally consuming. I'd spend quite a lot of time to think about how I want the food to look. To me, it's more about presenting the food in a way that really whets my appetite whilst preserving the essence of how it's meant to be made and consumed. For instance, I won't put a garnish on the dish (even if it may make it prettier) unless it actually is an ingredient of the dish, meant to be eaten with the dish or say something about what we're eating. Slightly part of the reason why I have never put edible flowers or microherbs as a garnish in my cooking because that's not how I would eat a dish at home or serve it to my family. Plus, I don't think it actually has a flavour that complements what I cooked anyway. That said, I do admire it when other people do it because it does look incredible. I'm just saying that when I do it, it just doesn't feel like me.

Based on my short amount of experience, I must say that the end result is always better when I style it the way I want it to look rather than trying to imitate a magazine or website. Even though I do admire those professional images from magazines/websites, I know that my skill is completely not on par so every time I do attempt to recreate a certain style, it always ends up looking worse.

To me, the biggest gripe I have about food photos that I see is when they come across too "try hard", which is something I am very often guilty of myself. At least, I think so anyway. Sure, most of them look "okay" in general, but it is very rare for me to be truly and completely happy with a photo that I've taken. It's very rare. They're not horrible, but I always feel like there's so many things about the photos that can be improved but not sure how. I guess it's absolutely true when they say that you are your harshest critic.

As much as it sounds like I am struggling with food photography, it's exactly why I love it. I love being challenged and I love learning from my mistakes and growing from them. It's a great passion that I have and a craft that I really hope to improve on each day. I am definitely a firm believer that you never stop learning. Applies to any area of my life.

Why am I going on about food photography so much? Well, it's because I'm actually going to a food photography workshop organised by the seriously talented Ewen Bell and Iron Chef Shellie! The two of them have been a huge inspiration to me for the longest time so I am so excited about going away this weekend to just learn and be inspired. I tossed and turned about whether or not I should go (because of the cost and also annual leave I'll have to use) but you know what? I am so glad I bit the bullet and signed up! I have no doubt in my mind that it's going to be an incredible weekend and will love every minute of it. EXCITEEEEEEE. 

OKOKOK back to this recipe. Sharing my second recipe made with my trusty Tefal Cuisine Companion. Wanted to share this roasted banana recipe because 1) it's damn tasty and 2) it shows how much quicker and easier it is to make with the Cuisine Companion. I really love this machine and honestly cannot stop using it.

I know I know that almost everyone has got their favourite banana recipe already but what I personally like to do is roast the bananas first (because it actually helps intensify the flavour and fragrance even if you're using a super ripe banana) and also find that adding a hint of maple syrup in the batter doesn't just add sweetness but also a different dimension of flavour the bread. It gives a deep, dark, rich undertone which complements the roasted banana extremely well. 

So, yes. This is how I like to make my banana bread. It's not exactly conventional but that's why I love cooking. You can always experiment and change it up so that you make food the way YOU like to eat it.

I really, really like this recipe and I do hope you give it a try too! If you do, don't forget to share a photo and tag me on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram because nothing makes me happier than seeing others try out a recipe I've shared.

Hope you're all having a great (early) start to the weekend!

Because I have now partnered with Tefal Australia, they are also giving a bunch of seasonal ingredients to cook with so I can continue to enjoy and experiment with my Cuisine Companion... Yay!

Can't wait to dig in!

Love freezing leftover slices of banana bread so I can just toast myself a piece whenever I feel like one down the track. Freezes/reheats really well!


Want me my roasted banana bread

Roasted Banana Bread Recipe

(a recipe adapted from the former Almost Bourdain)

Click here to print the recipe


1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (approx. 2 large ones)

2 cups plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup caster or brown sugar
125g unsalted butter (softened)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/4 cup milk
1 cup or 100g walnuts (chopped)

To finish: 1 banana (sliced in half)

Method (Normal version)

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a loaf pan with butter. Line the bottom with a sheet of baking paper and lightly dust the sides with flour.

2. Place the banana in a metal plate and roast in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. 

3. Mix the flour with the baking powder. Set aside.

4. Cream the sugar, butter and vanilla extract with an electric mixer until the mixture is light and pale.

5. Add 1 egg at a time. Beat with low speed until well mixed.

6. Stir in the roasted mashed banana, maple syrup and chopped nuts. 

7. Alternately beat in the flour mixture and the milk in 2 batches (flour, milk, flour, milk) into the egg mixture, mixing until just blended.

8. Pour the mixture into the grease pan and place the sliced bananas on top of the batter. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Increase the temperature to 200°C and bake for a further 5 - 10 minutes to make it extra crusty.

9. Let it cool in the tin for 5 minutes. Turn the banana bread out and let cool on a wire rack.

10. Slice the banana bread into thick slices and serve warm. 

Method (Tefal Cuisine Companion version)

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a loaf pan with butter. Line the bottom with a sheet of baking paper and lightly dust the sides with flour.

2. Place the banana in a metal plate and roast in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. 

3. Place all the ingredients except the roasted mashed banana, chopped nuts and sliced banana into the bowl fitted with the kneading/crushing blade. Launch the P3 pastry program.

4. At the end of the program, add the roasted mashed banana and chopped nuts, then mix at speed 6 for 40seconds.

5. Pour the mixture into the grease pan and place the sliced bananas on top of the batter. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Increase the temperature to 200°C and bake for a further 5 - 10 minutes to make it extra crusty.

6. Let it cool in the tin for 5 minutes. Turn the banana bread out and let cool on a wire rack.

7. Slice the banana bread into thick slices and serve warm. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Mabrown (CBD), New Shanghai & Providence Cafe

Disclaimer: Winston dined as a guest of Mabrown, New Shanghai and Providence Cafe. All opinions are honest and based on my own experience at the time.

1) Mabrown (CBD)

Mabrown Signature Quails

Shan Dong Chicken Salad

Drunken Chicken

Owner's Granddad's Pork and Yam Dish

XO Prawns on Egg Noodles

Turmeric Fish

Peking Beef

Durian Ice Cream

A while ago, I got an email from the owner of Mabrown that really cracked me up. It was quite lovely and really caught my attention as it was a nice refreshing change from the usual, generic and less personal emails I tend to get (not that I have anything against those, they are what they are). He started off his email by saying, "Hello there Mr. Young Man Wince....." (LOL!!) before going on to say that he's read my review of his Balwyn store etc etc and would like to invite me and some friends over to try out the food at their CBD store in the most friendly and lovely tone. To end, he signed off his email by calling himself "Si Fu Peter" (which means "Master Peter"). Cute. We had a few email exchanges back and forth and of course I was more than happy to come in.

The location was just off Bourke Street, which was actually very easy to get to. We sat down and was met with Peter's son, Melvin, who was in his mid 20s and pretty much my age too. It was very nice speaking with him as he was telling me all about how he's grown up around the kitchen his whole life as both his Dad and Granddad were chefs too. It was because of this strong love of food that he's decided to leave Engineering and finally become a chef himself. Amazing. I'm sure Si Fu Peter (or any parent for that matter) would be chuffed to have their kids follow in their footsteps. I respected this very much. Not a lot of people would take on their family business like that, especially in the food industry because it's a lot of hard work. Good on you, Melvin.

Anyway, I sat down with my friends and we were ready to eat. I've been to the Balwyn store before numerous times in the past (which you can read about: here) and was excited to have my two favourite dishes: the signature Mabrown quail and also the XO prawns on egg noodles, which did not disappoint. Feels just like being back at the Balwyn store -- lip smackingly delicious. The chicken salad we had was sweet yet tangy and crunchy chicken on anything is always a good idea. The drunken chicken was actually my favourite dish of the night. The chicken was smooth and silky and the broth was absolutely divine. I really liked adding the broth to my rice topped with a small amount of chillies from the quails. Highly recommend this combination! 

The pork and taro dish was very interesting and wasn't actually on the menu but it was a family recipe from his granddad that Melvin really wanted to share with us. The sauce was so addictive I could have it for days. As for the beef, I did find it to be slightly overcooked. The fish had a great crunchy batter but sauce was a little too sour for my liking. I went back the other night and had the fish but with black bean sauce and it was great. I do like the fact that you've got quite a selection of sauces for your fish to choose from. To top it off, we got to have the Durian ice cream too -- so Malaysian!

Overall, we definitely enjoyed our meal here at Mabrown and I am personally very happy to hear that they've now got a branch in the city because it's more convenient for me to get to. The menu here was quite different to their Balwyn store, which gives you something to enjoy at both stores. This place really is a good option if you're looking for a place for some good Malaysian food in the city at night (I know I definitely have those days myself and this place definitely hits the spot). Plus, it's not too crowded, which makes it easy to get a table and at a convenient location too! In fact, I just came here again over the weekend with a group of 10 and we all enjoyed our food here very much. Just can't go wrong with those quails...

Anyway, thanks again for hosting us the other evening, Melvin. So nice to see an enthusiastic young chef like yourself cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Keep up the good work, mate!

Mabrown Bourke St on Urbanspoon

2) New Shanghai, Emporium

Absolutely love the fit out

New Shanghai Xiao Long Bao (8pcs) - $7.80

Steamed Vegetarian Dumpling (8pcs) - $9.00

Pork Belly Braised Overnight in Sweet Soy Sauce - $17.50

Fried Garlic American Pork Ribs - $20.80

Shallot Pancake - $6.50

Salt & Pepper Soft Shell Crab - $29.80

New Shanghai Pan Fried Pork Bun - $10.50

Sahhhh juicy...

Steamed Pork Belly Buns (2 pcs) - $6.00

There's a lot of this happening when you're food blogging:
Table filled with food but no one's eating them until it gets cold, hah 

New Shanghai is a place that's been on everyone's radar since it's opened. To me, there are 2 main reasons for this: 1) It's at the new Emporium building. 2) Rumour has it that it sells good dumplings, specifically, Xiao Long Baos (XLB). Have heard a lot of good things about this place so did not mind it at all when I was asked if I wanted to come and enjoy a menu tasting that they were hosting. 

Firstly, I thought that it was quite cool that even though New Shanghai is a full-fledged restaurant on its own yet located at the food court of Emporium. As soon as I walked in, I was quite taken aback and impressed by the decor they had going on. A harmonious balance between new and old; simple and sophisticated. I like it very much. Goes to show that a good dumpling restaurant doesn't have to be at a dingy alleyway next to a dumpster at Chinatown. Sure, people say that is part of the charm but to me, it gets old pretty damn quick. I would choose a much cleaner and comfortable setting like this over the former any day. 

We were escorted to a private dining room at the back of the restaurant where the tasting was held. And boy, were there a lot of bloggers in one room. We were all given free reign to order whatever we wanted from the menu so we decided to order a variety of dumplings and also some main dishes to share.

Now, let's get straight to business: the Xiao Long Bao's. They were delish. Definitely one of the best ones in Melbourne (there are a couple of other places that do good ones too). To me, a place that does good XLB is what sets itself apart from all the bazillion dumpling restaurants around. Most places do decent steamed pork dumplings because it hits the spot and is quite standard. But, with XLBs, it takes a little bit more care and finesse. Skin must be delicate but still has a slight bite. And more importantly, filling must be soft, flavourful and incredibly soupy. Not juicy, SOUPY. And soupy, it was. In fact, last time my friends and I were here, she literally squirted soup all over herself when she bit into the XLB too quickly. So, yes. Bravo to New Shanghai for ticking all the boxes for what makes a good XLB.

The other dumplings were very consistent that night. In fact, they've been quite consistently good every other time that I've been here since too. Conclusion: dumplings at New Shanghao = good. Unfortunately, it can't really be said about the main dishes here. The soy sauce braised pork is a dish that I've had at so many other restaurants and also make it a lot at home that it is quite rare for me to find an exceptional one, including the one here. Too fatty. Nothing special. Still prefer the one I make at home. Besides that, ribs were quite tough and the soft shell crab had barely any crab and batter was chewy. I know a lot of people were raving about the steamed pork belly bun here too but, again, this to me was quite common and nothing too extraordinary to me. It was just okay. Normal.

Despite the above, I must say that I really like coming to New Shanghai and it has slowly become a regular favourite amongst my friends and I. Although, I recommend just sticking to the entrees, noodles and dumplings because they do them really well here. The mains, you can skip because to be honest, they're not as good and frankly, quite boring. Oh oh and I also highly recommend the Shepherd's Purse dumplings (not pictured) as it's my second favourite after the XLBs. The skin is slightly different. Extremely silky yet has a slight bite and resistance to it -- it's amazing. Sauce is a mix of peanut and chillies which is such a good combination too. Make sure you order it!

New Shanghai on Urbanspoon

3) Providence Cafe, Carlton

I love this glazed curtain wall feature in the cafe... Stunning

Soy Magic Coffee

Smoked Trout, Bubble & Squeak Potatoes, Hot Smoked Trout & Herbs with Poached Eggs

Egg & Gamze Bacon Pie

Breakfast Salad

Pumpkin & Burrum Biodynamics Lentil Fritters with Cate's Chilli Tomato Pickle, Coconut Yoghurt & Lovely Leaves

Berry Clafoutis with Gundowring Rhubarb Ice Cream

I was quite keen to come for the tasting at Providence Cafe as I knew it was a new venture by the same people behind the super successful Grain Store in the CBD. Located towards towards the northern end of Rathdowne Street, Providence Cafe is actually set in the building of a pretty modern apartment. The concept of this cafe is actually quite unique with a focus on "farm to table" dining. To me, this is quite different (and frankly a little difficult) for a cafe in the CBD which tends to go for a more edgier approach. 

Even though almost every new cafe in Melbourne these days choose to use a lot of edible flowers and microherbs to enhance the "Instagrammibility" of their food, I appreciated the fact that Providence went against all of that and stuck to a more rustic approach. You see it everywhere from Kettle Black, Top Paddock, Hammer & Tong, etc etc etc. Again, quite unusual for a new cafe to against all of that, especially in the inner city. Oh, the owner also explained how every single plate was handcrafted, which again, contributed more towards the overall rustic feel of the cafe (but in an understated way).

As for the food, I really liked the smoked trout with potatoes and eggs as well as the egg and bacon pie the most. Besides being utterly delicious, these two dishes almost exemplifies what the entire cafe is about. Food that is not necessarily fancy but downright rustic, delicious and highlights the amazing locally sourced ingredients from passionate farmers around Victoria. It was incredible. Every mouthful of these two dishes really made me feel like I was at a country farm restaurant. Loved it.

Although, must say I wasn't too big of a fan of the breakfast salad and lentil fritters. It's not that it wasn't cooked well, it's just that I don't normally like to have salads or anything with too much spice for brunch dishes. It's just a preference thing. That said, coffee here really is fantastic. From the way the barista spoke so passionately and enthusiastically about the flavours and craft of making good coffee, I knew my coffee beverage was in good hands. 

Overall, I quite like Providence Cafe for the location, salmon with potatoes and eggs dish, egg and bacon pie and also the coffee. Plus, it is quite different to many other cafes around as this is the only cafe that I've been to that really made me feel like I was at some farm restaurant in the country. They've really executed the "farm to table" concept well because of all the connections they have with local farmers AND the fact that they're located next to a farmers market on weekends definitely helped too! It was nice of the owners to give us all a voucher to use at the farmers market next door after our brunch so that we could show support to the local farmers. I bought myself a beautiful slab of pork belly from McIvor Farms and some amazing vegetables, which made for a great roast pork with crackling dinner the following night.

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