Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pabu Grill & Sake, Collingwood

Love the space, perfect for a nice catchup meal esp on a weeknight

Is it just me or does anyone else feel like the food scene in Smith St is getting more and more interesting these days? There's a growing number of new, exciting restaurants along that strip that I'd love to try and Smith St does very well have the potential to be the next "hot spot" for the Melb food scene. 

What brought me here to Pabu Grill & Sake was an e-mail I received from the owner, Khoa, asking whether I'd like to come in to eat at his restaurant one of these days because he's got a story to share... 

Great. I'm all about stories, inspirations and good memories behind Food (and not just what's on the plate). As I've also mentioned, Smith St's food scene has slowly been grabbing my attention more and more these days. PLUS, the fact that it's an Izakaya concept caught my attention even more (after being far from impressed and not seeing what the big deal is about with the "famous" Izakaya Den). 

Along with 2 of my mates, we headed over to Pabu after work last week and must say I liked the vibe of the place from the moment I walked in... Cool, casual, relaxed. Recipe for a good Izakaya setting. 

After taking a look at the menu ourselves and going by Khoa's recommendations for the "signature" dishes, we eagerly waited for our food to arrive...

Hamachi Sashimi - $14
Kingfish served with yuzu soy and thin slices of jalapeno chilli

Fresh! Interesting as we were advised to roll the fish from the outer end, encasing the chilli so we could make sure we got a bit of everything. Kingfish/jalapeno/ginger yuzu soy together, it's all very good. 

Renkon Chips - $5
Sliced lotus root chips

Chips were semi thick, crunchy and just nicely salted. 

Edamame - $6
Lightly salted soy beans

Edamame, however, was on the salty end. But we were only eating the beans in the pod, so no dramas.

Pabu Sumiyaki Set - $16.50
Includes 5 mixed skewers: tsukune (chicken balls), yakitori (chicken thigh), chilli inari kushi (bean curd), gyu kushi (beef), buta kushi (pork belly)

Liked everything! Some were a tiny tad on the salty side but I didn't mind. It was still amazingly grilled and each brought beautiful flavours, fun platter to share.

Khoa was also telling us about how they use bamboo (instead of charcoal) for the grilled meats to make it more environmentally friendly and also give a subtle arome to the meat.

Hotate - $5
Large juicy scallops with bacon and wasaby mayo

These skewers at the front have been blurred out but they were really delicious! The flavourful bacon with the wasabi mayo (which wasn't overpowering and just nice) was so good with the scallops. Love it.

Watari Kani Karaage - $10
Soft shell crab lightly coated and deep fried, served with lettuce and herbs dipped in spicy mayo

LIKE. I find most places to overcoat their soft shelled crabs with batter (so you end up eating mostly fried flour) but not this. You could still taste the meat because this was perfectly light, thin and crisp on the outside.

I also liked that our piece has got lots of crab roe in the meat. Huge brownie points for me, personally because I enjoy that. Though, not entirely sure about serving it with rocket leaves. Baby spinach might've been better?

Sake Aburi Sashimi - $14
Slices of salmon lightly seared with hot sesame oil, ponzu soy, ginger, spring onion and roasted sesame seeds, 8 pieces

Really liked this! The thick chunk of salmon was seared nicely before being sliced up (as opposed to searing individual slices). Great texture and every other component paired the fish very well. Enjoyed this a lot.

I'm sure my friend Winnie (aka my aburi salmon buddy) would like this too!

Nasu Dengaku - $9
Grilled eggplant with sweet and spicy mayo

Bit sweeter for my liking but still liked eating this because of how nicely grilled the eggplant was. Everything was soft and tender with no tough, rubbery bits.

Ebi Karaage - $8
Crispy marinated spicy prawns with spicy mayo and sweet chilli sauce

FAVOURITE dish of the night! Marinade was delicious and prawns were incredibly crunchy, especially the head. 

But what I liked most is that the prawns were almost medium in size (as opposed to the tiny school prawns). That way, you can totally taste and bite into the meat as well. Fantastic marinade too.

Though, I couldn't help but think it would've been even more kickass if they used Sriracha chilli (instead of sweet chilli) mayo for this... Still, SO GOOD. Enjoyed every single piece of this.

Green Tea

Final Thoughts:

Overall, I really like Pabu. I thought all the dishes were good and the setting was really nice and inviting, perfect for a chilled out meal with friends after work over drinks.

Best part was that the prices were REALLY reasonable (see above). Khoa explained how he personally feels that most Izakaya places in Melbourne are overpriced (ahem, totally agree!) and his aim was to price it in a way that people feel comfortable enough coming to dine here twice a week, as opposed to once a month. This is also why you can always find regulars coming back to this 7 week old establishment.

Personally, I feel that even if I end up paying $30+ as I would at other Izakayas in Melbourne, at least I get to eat a whole LOT more in terms of variety here too. Another reason why I feel lots of people would really identify with this place, is because of the story it tells. It really is by customers (and lover of Izakaya food) for customers, and it shows.

Besides the great pricing, I really like how there was SO much to choose from in the menu. Now, THIS is the kind of Izakaya meal I enjoy. It was one that appealed to everyone and we would've loved to eat more if only we had the stomach space.

And don't hate me for saying, but I really did find my experience at Izakaya Den to be mediocre and underwhelming and would gladly eat at Pabu over that place any day. I know a few friends who have been there since I posted pictures of my meal here on Instagram and thought the same too. 

This may sound like a generous review, but hey, I call it as I see (or taste) it, "sponsored" or not. Now, my only hope is that they continue to keep up the good work. Do give this place a go and let me know how you go. As for me, I'm definitely going to take my family here for a nice Jap meal sometime in the next 2 weeks... =)

Disclaimer: Winston and friends dined here as a Guest of Pabu Grill & Sake at a discounted price. All opinions are honest and based on my own personal experience at the time.

Pabu Grill & Sake on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wince's Faves: Kaprica, Carlton

Is that not one of the most beautiful sights you've ever seen at an Italian restaurant?

It was during our exams, my friends and I were studying at uni but decided to head over to what has now become my FAVOURITE pizza place in Melbourne for lunch, just a skip and a hop away from Melbourne Uni.

We chose to sat down in front of the pizza making station, so we could catch all the action.

And before I knew it, I was confronted by a question that never fails to turn me sheepish to me very core...

"Are you a Food Blogger?"

... asks the man behind the pizza counter.

"Uhhh, yeah I kinda am... But a friendly one...?!"

A lot of people may not know this, but for some reason, I still find it very hard to settle into this "identity" of being a "Food Blogger" even after all this time. First, I found people to have lots of preconceived notions about food bloggers.

Another main reason I feel uneasy for having a "title" like that is it makes it sound so official, formal and professional. Almost like a job. Whereas, I see myself more as someone who simply enjoys food and loves to share my experience with others. Sure there are other stuff like site traffic, page rank, invites, freebies, sponsorship, etc etc... But those things really don't concern me much at this point... Maybe I'm just lazy. Meh

Plus, I just DON'T want people to feel different around me because I am a "Food Blogger", whether it's the chef/waiters at the restaurant, or even friends in real life. I'm just........ Winston, your everyday guy.

We continued talking with the owner throughout our meal, who was actually the man making the pizzas at the counter. All day, everyday. Nicest and most humble person I've ever met at a restaurant. Being only 6 weeks old at the time, Pietro shared about the inspirations he drew from the street foods of Italy; and how he wants this place to be the simple and homey space for people to enjoy really good pizza. 

Pietro was later even more interested in our background when we told him we were from Malaysia because he says he's always wanted to take his wife and 2 young kids to Pulau Langkawi for a holiday. And maybe, just maybe, he might be so lucky as to open his own little Italian restaurant in Malaysia one day. I told him that when he does, he's got nothing but my FULL support. And told him to let me know if there's any way I could help.

A true gentleman, he is... And one can't deny his real passion for sharing true, authentic and delicious Italian pizzas with the everyday person. Love it.

This is what it looks like from the outside...
Pretty easy to walk past, am I right....?! Who would've thunk it...?!

Being non-existent on the interwebz prior to this (since it's so so new), I only found out about this from word of mouth from my friends that walked past this one day!

Walking in you are greeted by the sight of people, happily enjoying their lunch in a room with high ceilings, abundance of natural light and rustic interior. 

Nice buzz and chatter filled the room but wasn't loud due to the good acoustics and high ceilings

They even had books for kids to draw too...
Liked that.

 Salami Calypso -- $13
Tomato, mozz, pesto, hot salami
(taken with iPhone)

This was from my first visit to Kaprica and I loved it so much I thought I'd share it too. The hot salami, set against the gooey cheese and tomato with little hints of pesto was utterly DELICIOUS. Great combo, I would order this again.

Puttanesca - $13
Tomato, mozz, olives, anchovies, capers, chilli, cherry tomatoes

The anchovies were my favourite part about this. It was fresh and not salty and just moorish to eat. But, I also liked how my other friends liked this pizza for the other ingredients more, such as the chilli, cherry tomatoes, etc. 

Prosciutto - $13
Tomato, prosciutto, rocket, parmesan

Oh man these were great too. The prosciutto had a slightly chewier bite after being baked. Contrasted against the sharpness of the rocket and parmesan, was so delicious. What's not to like?

Salmone - $13
Tomato, mascaporne, onion, smoked salmon, fish roe

All the pizzas were really good... But this Salmone pizza has got to be my fave!!!

I mean, wouldja just look at that?

What I LOVE about this is how every single ingredient found its place, if that makes any sense. The salmon and fish roe were a natural fit. The mascaporne with its soft creaminess were a better substitue for cheese to go with the salmon. And the slices of red onions and parsley, again, just complemented the salmon so damn well.

I don't know if this may work for other people, but I seriously loved every bite!! This combo is an absolute WINNER to me.

Lemon Tart - $5

The curd was great. It was so light that it disappears in your mouth almost in an instant, leaving only its fresh, tangy flavour. Different from most jam or custard like curds...

Chocolate Tart - $5

Most people know that I'm not really a fan of chocolate (*GASP*!!) but I really enjoyed this. It was dark chocolate but not bitter and leaves you wanting more. Less rich from being well balanced with the right amount of cream. Good.

Final Thoughts:

What I like most about the pizzas here is that the tomato base is fantastic and the pizzas are really crisp. Not just crisp around the crust, but also the BASE (which is very rare for most woodfire pizzas these days, IMO!). I mean, you can tell from the photos of me holding up the pizza that the base had a crunch and held the ingredients really well. This was a huge plus for me. Only exception was prolly the Puttanesca, slightly soggier compared to the other 3 but I'm guessing it was from the weight of the ingredients. And of course, the ingredients and flavours of the pizza toppings. Like+++. Favourite is prolly the Salmone and Hot Salami.

Pizzas at Kaprica have easily become my FAVOURITE in Melbourne now for a number of reasons:
- crisp pizza base
- great flavour combos
- PRICE (only $13 compared to DOC's $25+ pizzas)
- location (right next to Swanston St and near Melb Uni)
- ambience
- downright good, honest pizzas

I hate to say this, but this place really made me rethink why I've paid so much more for pizzas that were not as good at places like DOC or the other pizzerias around Melbourne. I just love how affordable this place is, especially for students, without compromising on flavour. 

For future reference, Kaprica is open everyday, 8am-10pm; except for Mondays when it's 8am-4pm. 

Been here twice already and definitely look forward to coming back to bring new people to try. And also for the Strawberry and Ricotta Tart that Pietro keeps talking about. GOTS TA TRY DAAAAAT!

Kaprica on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 19, 2012

Eat Drink Blog 2012 Conference -- Day 2

Here goes Part 2 of my uber belated coverage of the Eat Drink Blog conference! It's only a snapshot but I hope you enjoy =)

Started off with a huge array of yummy baked treats from Red Door Bakery

There really was sooo much food to choose from. I heart food choices! 

Oh and guess what, the peeps from Breville also had barristas there all day at the conference. This coffee was a lifesaver that early in the morning and tasted great too. Lucky us! =)

Then, we got to hear the world famous food writing coach, Dianne Jacob, share about Food Blogging/Writing, how much it's progressed over the years and some really great tips for all of us. 

Having her fly all the way from the States was a huge honour for us

Next, Peter (of Souvlaki for the Soul) gave a workshop on conducting Food Photography at home. An area that I've been meaning to work on a lot more for a while

This was followed by a Food Styling exercise, another skill (or patience) that I feel I lack so it was really good to watch the process come together!

The final outcome. Loved how they turned a plain, simple lemon tart look as elegant as this. BEAUTIFUL!

Next, we had lunch at the Central Food Market prepared by the vendors

Oh man this paella was a feast for the eyes and mouth. Such an abundance of fresh, local seafood. Flavours were perfect. We're so lucky =)

So much great food to choose from at lunch, but these ham by O'Connell's Meats were hands down the biggest highlight for me!! Super pink, moist and soft it was seriously delicious. 

I'm missing this so much already, darn it! Some really fine ham right there

As you can see, I looked like someone who's piling up their plate with food like there's no tomorrow. I apologise, I might've gotten a tad overexcited. There's just so much awesome choices there that day I wanted them all ;p

Liquid nitrogen and chocolate fountain... "Oooooh.... Aaaaahhh...."

After that awesome lunch, Geoff Kwitko gave a funny, engaging but really useful presentation on SEO, Google Ranking/Metrics. We all loved his presentation! What a joker. Really appreciated all the tips he gave

And before we knew it, it was time for afternoon tea already. Check out the treats! 

After that, we had an interesting session with Tammi Jonas and Simon Bryant on Ethical eating, a topic that I must be frank barely even crossed my mind until that day. They opened up a really fascinating conversation and it was great to hear everyone's views on it and how it's also taught me a lot about being aware of the subject

Finally, the day ended with a panel discussion with Sandra, Helen and Peter on Opportunities from Blogging

Let's just say I've got great respect for each of them and must thank them for paving the way for all of us in the community

Here I am with the rest of the Melbourne food bloggers (Ash, Daisy, Bryan, me, Amy)

Was really great to be with you guys at the conference. You guys rock! =))

And special mention to the seriously awesomeee Nic (of Dining with a Stud) and Theresa (of The Gook)!!!

Oh man, had the BEST time with these two at the conference and made the whole event so much more fun. Memories!
(P.s. Holla to my fellow badasses at the table at the back LOL!)

Another person I was especially happy to finally get to meet was Shez (of One Bite More). Such a beautiful person, both inside and out. 

The crew at the Barossa Valley tour the day before. Fun time was had. Though, I think my teeth was stained purple from all the wine! LOL

Photo creds to Natasha (of Playing House)

Daisy, Bryan, Ashley and I at dinner at the Hilton the night before
LOVE THIS PHOTO!!! And of course, the people in it too ;)

Photo creds to Simon (of Simon Food Favourites)

And before we knew it the whole conference had finally ended, all too quickly. It was a fantastic 2 days in Adelaide and there were so many highlights for me. The FOOD, the PLACES, the LEARNING and ohhh, the PEOPLE. What an unforgettable weekend it was. Much, much fun was had and you can bet your ass that I'm signing up for the next Eat Drink Blog Conference! =D