Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Streat Cafe, Flemington

Disclaimer: Winston and his sister dined as a guest of Streat Cafe. All opinions are honest and based on own personal experience at the time.

Pictures of their team on their wall... Nice

Miso and Shiitake Broth, Crispy Tofu, Roast Eggplant, Soft Boiled Egg and Soybean Chilli Paste - $16

Lamb in Filo Pastry - $18
Fried egg, wilted kale and carrot, smoked almond yoghurt

Weekend Special - $18
Osaka Breakfast, Okonomiyaki pancake, wagyu scotch eggs, wakame salad with yuzu dressing

The people behind Streat had contacted me a few weeks ago to come into their cafe in Flemington to try out their new Autumn menu. 

Now, I have heard of Streat prior to this after seeing a few of their popups around the city. I know that Streat is a non for profit (NFP) organisation that strives to provide youths from troubled backgrounds around Melbourne with various tools to increase their life skills and hopefully turn their life around. They are a fully functioning cafe chain which serves to fund all these initiatives. Having done my fair share of volunteer work at other NFP organisations (like Engineers Without Borders) during my time at university, I definitely have deep respect for the work that they do.

On a separate note, they did express preference that this post be more about their food instead of their social work. Good on them for wanting honest and constructive feedback so they can find ways to improve (a great attitude to have for business owners).

As for my experience at Streat, what struck me first was their menu. I think they have got a good variety of dishes for people to choose from in terms of quantity of options (without being too overwhelming). Besides that, I also noticed that there were Asian influences in several of their dishes (probably due to the fact one of their chefs was of Japanese descent), which I thought was a refreshing change to see. In terms of offerings, I liked what I was seeing already.

To start, I found the food to be fair but definitely had room for improvement. Coffee was good. The Japanese soup dish with crispy tofu was great. The broth had great depth of flavour and umami. The roasted eggplant inside was just so tender and flavourful as well. The lamb filo dish was rather tasty but did come out a bit dry, maybe needed a runnier kind of sauce to go with it instead of yoghurt? Finally, I liked the idea behind the weekend special. It was an enjoyable dish to eat but I'm not entirely sure about the presentation of it.

Overall, I think the food at Streat Cafe was pretty good to start with but has potential to be taken to the next level. They had the right idea behind the menu, with the flavours to match. Some minor improvements to be made with execution. Finally, maybe even pimp up the plating and presentation a little bit by playing around with different plates, giving the food more height and detail on garnishes? For me, this last point is something I don't really mind but because the standard of cafes in Melbourne has become exceptionally high these days (picture perfect food everywhere, with lots of colourful edible flowers even) that I know what other people's expectations are. Truthfully, I know that enhancing their presentation is definitely something that they need to do if they want to be a major player and make themselves more competitive. 

I enjoyed my meal at Streat Cafe and can see that they are doing pretty well in Flemington. They're on the right track already so I wish them an even bigger and better success in the future!

STREAT on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Clearing Out My Backlog 5

Oh, look! Another blog post using photos taken only with my iPhone instead of a proper camera (like any other self respecting food blogger).

Max Brenner, QV

Max Brenner was a place I visited almost every Friday night the first few months I first moved to Melbourne 6 years ago. After that, my visits to Max Brenner were just as frequent as when the Olympics would come around. So, it was nice to revisit this place for a mid arvo snack after my friends and I had a lovely lunch together at the newly opened Red Spice Road in QV one Sunday afternoon.

The chocolate was just as good as I remembered. It's no secret that I'm not a dessert person, not even close. But, I do find the chocolate here to be nice and thick, velvety, unctuous and just downright addictive. Whether you're having it with the belgian waffles (my fav combo), dessert pizzas, fondue or just with a plain croissant, the chocolate is pretty damn good. Although for myself, I can't go past 4 or 5 bites. But that's just me (due to my low tolerance for sweets). Still good, though.

Anyway, Max Brenner to me still remains to be a fine establishment here in Australia. Always a good place for a catchup too, which is nice.

Max Brenner Chocolate Bar on Urbanspoon

Nhu Lan, Footscray

Nhu Lan in Footscray is also one of those places that people always recommend out-of-towners to try when they're in Melbourne. It's undeniable that the Vietnamese do make amazing bread and baguettes (due to the French colonisation of Vietnam) and we are lucky to have so many great banh mi (or Vietnamese bread) shops in Melbourne.

The place is always packed and the smell of freshly baked bread just fills the shop at all hours of the day. Nhu Lan seems to be more famous than others, but is it necessarily better? It's very debatable. But, who cares? They do still make pretty good and consistent banh mi and probably the only people who can tell the difference are the most nitpicky of eaters. Put it this way, they've got people lining up at their door every day for a reason.

This is one of Dad's favourite places in Melbourne. He always packs a couple of slices of butter from home along with a butter knife so that he can have it with the bread IMMEDIATELY after it comes out of the oven. It makes him so, so happy. And then, he would buy like 10 mini rolls home (cause they're only $0.20 each anyway). Ahhh, the simple joys. My favourite there is always the BBQ roast pork banh mi. Nice, crusty bread with warm, grilled pork filling and a nice kick of chilli. 

Nhu Lan on Urbanspoon

Papparich, Glen Waverley

Don't mind the piece of chicken satay, it did NOT come with the Roti Bom (lol)

It's no secret a harbour a slight feeling of disdain towards the Papparich chain in Melbourne. Till this day, I really can't say I like the food! I think their food is sub par compared to other Malaysian establishments like The Grand Tofu in Flemington, Kuala Lumpur Restaurant in Carnegie, Straits Cafe in Doncaster and Chef Lagenda in Deer Park (all place I've blogged about). 

I've been to the QV, Chadstone, Doncaster and Glen Waverley branches to date and must say that I enjoy the convenience and location of them more than the food itself. Although, I must be honest to say that I do enjoy their 3 layer tea. But, it definitely isn't a place I would ever line up for. Is it a place that I would ever suggest? Definitely not. But I do know a lot of friends who still enjoy the place so would happily tag along (and not mention my personal thoughts about the food as I don't want to ruin other people's mood by doing so). After all, as much as I love food, I do think it really is more about the company than the dish I'm eating anyway. 

PappaRich Glen Waverley on Urbanspoon

Pelmeni Kitchen, Prahran

Mum and I came across Pelmeni Kitchen a few moons ago when we were at the Prahran Market. I have never had Russian dumplings before back then and wanted to give it a go. The dumpling skins were smooth and slippery, filling was fragrant and I really liked the creamy sauces on top (especially the spicy ones). 

1,000 times better than the ones I had Third Wave Cafe. Just sayin'. Pelmeni's dumplings have been stuck on my mind for a long time since then and I really do hope I can pay those guys a visit again soon.

Pok Pok Thai

A lot of people has been telling me to try Pok Pok Thai in Docklands since it first opened. From what a lot of people described, it was almost a revelation to them to have Pok Pok join the Melbourne food scene. I tried it with a friend one evening. It was okay, but I can't say I was jumping for joy. Although, it did remind me a lot of Middle Fish in Carlton.

The food was fair. But, I found that it lacked some kind of punch, "oomph" and personality. Grilled pork necks were fine, but fell a little flat. No charred, crispy edges with lively flavours. My mussels with bean sprout omelette was fine as well. It was okay but wasn't great. Lacked a bit of seasoning and again, I think if they had more crispy edges and more fresh herbs/vegetables, it would've taken the dish to another level. That's just my opinion anyway.

Okay food, but not the best. Now, I need to check out this Jinda Thai place that also newly opened that everyone's been talking about. Getting a bit tired of seeing it on my Instagram feed almost every day, need to get my butt there to check it out myself.

Pok Pok on Urbanspoon

Rice Paper Vietnamese Restaurant, CBD

For the longest time I've always been so scarred by any of the restos on Swanston St. After going against my instincts and giving it another go, I found Rice Paper to be quite alright, actually. I only decided to come here one evening with a friend because I noticed that it had just renovated.

I do enjoy my Bon Bo Hue (Vietnamese spicy beef noodle soup) and was pleasantly surprised to find that they serve them here as not a lot of Pho shops do. It is spicy yet sour at the same time and for some reason reminds me a lot of Penang Assam Laksa. Weird, I know. Broth is nice and warms the body. Paired with the assorted beef parts and slippery rice noodles, it was hard not to enjoy. 

Wouldn't say this place is my favourite, but it's not bad. And apparently, they do a pretty good soft shell crab noodle here too, so I might need to give that a go sometime.

Rice Paper Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The Royston Hotel, Richmond

I was at a friend's apartment one evening after work. The 5 of us weren't sure where to go for dinner but we knew we wanted to go to a gastropub. After about 5 minutes on Urbanspoon, we decided to go to The Royston because it seemed to have quite a high ranking in the gastropub category.

The interior was very dark and old. Not unusual for gastropubs, but I can't say I prefer this more than the ones that are more done up and slightly renovated. The scallops and steak were a little underwhelming (almost struggled to finish it) but hot dang were the thrice cooked chips there amazing or what! We couldn't get enough of them. Seriously crunchy with a nice, soft and almost mushy centre. Just the way I like it even though most people would argue that potatoes need to be "fluffy" in the middle. Whatever. I truly enjoyed the chips there that evening. Plus, their aioli was super garlicky, which was nice too.

Royston Hotel on Urbanspoon

Shanghai Dynasty, CBD

I was very lucky to be invited to a dinner here at Shanghai Dynasty when my family friend's parents were in town. The Dad and Youngest Son have the same birthday and wanted to have a Chinese banquet dinner to celebrate. And let me tell you, this place is really uppity. The owners have spent millions on the fitout and really is catering for the upper class and wealthy Chinese tourists (which, we know there are a LOT of here in Melbourne). 

Uncle Wong went all out at dinner. There were about 15 of us at the table and there was everything from wine, to the biggest plate of lobster noodles I have ever seen, fresh abalone and everything else in between. It was a really fancy and high class Chinese meal. Nothing but the best. Best part about it, everything tasted freaking AWESOME. I was really impressed as I was worried it might be all show only but the flavours and execution was really impeccable. I was definitely the best and finest Chinese meal I've had in Australia. 

Cold dishes as starters to the meal is very big in the Chinese cuisine and was done very well here at Shanghai Dynasty. The lobster noodles were fantastic, FULL of flesh and deep fried till crispy before tossed with the sauce and noodles. The other highlight was definitely the grilled beef. WOW! Sweet, sticky on the outside and so incredibly tender it almost melts in your mouth. Simply amazing. Overall, it was a meal that I will remember for a long time and I am truly grateful to Uncle Wong for his generosity in shouting us all this highly expensive and unforgettable meal.

Shanghai Dynasty on Urbanspoon

Spring St Grocer, CBD

We are really spoilt for choice for seriously good quality gelati here in Melbourne. Spring St Grocer is one of the handful of places in town that serves just that. I've been here 3 times to date and find that the quality has been consistent every single time. Flavours that are true and honest and done by people who care a great deal about what they do (and it shows in the final product).

Although, amongst all the great gelateria in Melbourne such as Gelato Messina, n2 Gelato, Spring St Grocer and Pidapipo, I must say that my personal favourite is Pidapipo, which also happens to be the newest addition to Melbourne and a place I will blog about at a later date. Like I said, we are very spoilt for choice here and all the other places are great runner ups too.

Spring St Grocer on Urbanspoon

Steakhouse 66, Docklands

My friends and I went to Docklands one Friday evening to catch the fireworks (forgot what it was for) and were scouring to look for a place to eat in the area after it was done. Now, I may be a little unfair for saying this but New Quay in Docklands is probably the last place I would go to look for food. But, we were really glad to come across Steakhouse 66 which seemed to serve pretty fairly priced food that seemed honest and down to earth.

All the dishes we had were not bad. Everyone seemed to enjoy their meal but I did find my steak to be a bit thin, overcooked and lacked char. Besides that, everything else was quite delicious, even the desserts. We had a fun evening here and I'm just so relieved that there is at least one place decent in the whole New Quay area that I wouldn't mind coming to eat next time I'm in the area.

Steakhouse 66 on Urbanspoon

Tiamo, Lygon St

I think a lot of people would agree that Lygon St isn't necessarily everyone's favourite place to go for Italian food. The Italians seem to find their cuisine bastardised over there. Instead of the food being about the small details, fresh ingredients and homemade just like the ones they find in their Nonnas kitchen, Italian food seems to be misrepresented on Lygon St and showcasing the complete opposite. Although, this is just a general impression that Lygon St seems to give to people and obviously isn't true for every single Italian restaurant there. I'm not ignorant and know that there are good ones there too. But most of it, not so much.

Anyway, those were the exact thoughts that ran through my head when some old friends whom I haven't seen in YEARS decided to catchup for dinner at Lygon St. I was given the task to choose the restaurant and just picked the most popular place there next to DOC by default. I had been to Ti Amo many years ago so was quite interested to see if anything's changed since. 

Overall, the food was not bad. The flavours were there. But, again, as in true Lygon St style, it lacked the refined and homemade touch. It felt really overdone and commercialised. It wasn't that the food wasn't good, it was just the general feel of the place. Which is why I love places like Kaprica near Melbourne Uni, that serves true and honest Italian food by people who are so passionate about what they do. Oh well, I did have a good catchup with my old pals anyway, which was fun.

Tiamo on Urbanspoon

Tiamo 2 on Urbanspoon

Trunk Diner, CBD

Trunk Diner, being more known for its casual American diner food was a place I distinctly remembered when I first tried it years ago. I was still in uni at the time and remembered enjoying the wagyu burger (flavourful and moist patty) more than my coursemates who were almost offended by the size of the burger. Being students at the time, everyone was more used to the big, greasy burgers that fill you up as opposed to these tiny, delicate burger no bigger than the Maccas cheeseburger. Now that I've started work, I find myself to be more forgiving in that sense.

Anyway, I came here again last year when we had a blogger friend who was in town for a few days so the few of us caught up together for dinner. Overall, everything was pretty good. It didn't exactly leave the most lasting impression but we did enjoy the things we ordered. Trunk Diner was super buzzing and packed to the brim that Friday evening that we went and I can definitely see why. It's got great vibe and energy with great open space to hang out.

Trunk Diner on Urbanspoon

Westlake Restaurant, Chinatown

I've got so many fond memories of going for dimsum (or yumcha) with just Dad and I growing up. Dad used to pick me up from my music lesson on Saturday (don't laugh) and take me straight for a few baskets of dumplings for a snack. I really enjoyed those times just bonding with Dad over a simple meal, and I still do till this day. Coming to Westlake with just Dad was very reminiscent of that and still brings a smile to my face (not sure what happened to my Mum and Sister that day, to be honest). 

Anyway,  can't say Westlake is my favourite place to go for dimsum. In fact, it was actually pretty bad. I think our family take dimsum quite seriously and the food here didn't meet our expectations at all. Skin was really thick, fillings lacked flavour and certain dishes seemed to be overly salty (like the cheesebaked scallops). Wasn't the best but, guess what? I had an AWESOME time with Dad nonetheless. Being the youngest child in the family, I am definitely very attached to my parents (more than my siblings, haha). Getting to spend that sort of quality time alone together doing somewhat we love to do just feels special and something I cherish very much. Can't wait for him to visit in June =)

Westlake on Urbanspoon

Yeonga, CBD

The few of us came to Yeonga after we couldn't get a table at Don Woori or Woo Ga one Sunday evening. We hadn't notice Yeonga just around the corner from those restaurants before, so it must've been fairly new when we went.

Overall, the dishes were quite enjoyable. There really is so many good Korean restaurants here in the Melbourne CBD and I do think Yeonga happens to be one of them, too. The choices for Korean food in the city is so vast, each with its own unique touch, personality and flavour. What did strike me about Yeonga is that it's just as much about the cooked dishes as it is about their BBQ. You'll find that it's normally one or the other at other Korean restos. Also, they Yeonga do serve desserts (which aren't too bad, if I may add), which is quite uncommon to find in Korean restos here in Melbourne. Can't complain about my experience here.

Yeonga on Urbanspoon