Sunday, August 31, 2014

Paringa Estate Winery & Restaurant, Red Hill South

T'was a stunning day in the Mornington Peninsula...

Best thing about dining at a winery restaurant is the view...

My favourite way to start a lunch like this is with a Riesling... Can't go wrong


Poached marron, globe artichoke, lardo, toasted almonds - $20

Wallaby tartare, caper emulsion, rye, juniper - $20

Red Gate quail, truffle puree, sour onion - $20


Aylesbury duck, pumpkin, charred leek, tamarillo - $40

Hapuka, white bean & cuttlefish, ham hock crumb - $38

Flinders Island milk fed lamb, macadamia, brussel sprouts - $40


Duck fat potatoes, garlic, rosemary - $8

Green beans, aioli, crisp shallots - $8


Quince sorbet, vanilla cream, pistachio, crisp Mock Orchard apples - $15

Textures of chocolate, blood orange sorbet, hazelnut brittle - $15

Cheese Platter - $32

i) Ossau Iraty 
Ewe's milk, semi firm cheese from Basque, a smooth, creamy but firm cheese with a mild grassy flavour

ii) Red Hill Cheese "Fingal Gold"
Organic cow's milk, washed rind with a creamy flavour, richness and complexity, great depth of flavour and a long aftertaste

iii) Cabot Clothbound Cheddar
Made from cow's milk, this American cheddar wrapped in cloth and aged in a cave for 14 months is a perfect balance of sweet, fruity, savoury and nutty

iv) Red Hill Cheese "Mountain Goat Blue"
Made from 100% free range goat's milk this cheese is moist and delicate, with a natural rind and deep blue veins a striking contrast to the porcelain white body. The mouth-feel is velvety with pronounced floral flavours

Whenever people think of eating at a fine dining restaurant in the Mornington Peninsular, the following 3 options always comes to mind: Montalto; The Long Table; Ten Minutes by Tractor. I havent' been to any of these places but I know that they're quite famous. However, I was only interested in Montalto and Ten Minutes by Tractor because they both had a nice view of the winery from the restaurant. It was rather important for me to choose somewhere with a view to make the most of the location, I thought. Because it was seriously rare for me to eat a restaurant of such quality and price, I was hoping for the restaurant we chose to be Hatted as well.

Initially, we had made a booking at Long Table but I wasn't feeling convinced because it didn't have a view. Food there is good, I'm sure, but I truly wanted somewhere more open. I did a bit more research online and came across Paringa Estate. I knew NOTHING about this place (but it looked good in the few pictures that I saw). Never heard of anyone mention about this place before; went in not knowing a thing about what the food was going to be like. It was a bit of a risk but heck, there's going to be wine and a view so that's more than good enough for me.

The place was stunning when we walked in. Simple and inviting decor. We were tossing between a couple of different wines to choose from at the start but was glad when my friends agreed to get the Riesling as I honestly believe it's such a perfect wine to enter a meal in the day. That's how I've always felt anyway. It was delicious. Smooth, light and slightly floral too.

The food on the menu looked good. Though to be honest, I am fairly predictable with the food I order when I come to these kinds of restaurants. I normally start with a meat entree, followed by a fish main (or seafood entree, then meat main). Not a fan of ordering 2 consecutive courses of seafood or meat as I like to try both and balance it out. As for dessert, I don't have a sweet tooth at all and am normally quite happy with just a cheese platter to finish, which was what I ordered and shared with the table. I can't really speak for the other dishes that my friends had as I only tried my quail, fish and cheese courses but they did look fantastic and everyone seemed to enjoy what they were having.

To start: quails. Most people would be surprised to know that this was actually my first time eating truffles. Was probably the only food blogger who hasn't tried them. Never had the urge or would intentionally go out of my way (or wallet) to try them, which was why I was glad to see it on the menu as I was keen to finally taste it. The shaved truffles themselves in my quail dish weren't anything I'd rave about (wasn't as intense as I'd imagined) but my goodness that truffle puree underneath the quail was UNBELIEVABLE. Could have had bucket loads of that stuff, great balance of salty and earthiness, just downright tasty. And I must honestly say I was very happy with how they cooked the quails. Absolute perfect and not a second over or undercooked. They served the quails 3 ways on my plate and it was nice to go between the different textures and cooking methods to enjoy the same quail. $20 was very good value for money, I thought, because of all the technique that went into this tiny dish and also the premium truffles used.

Next, my fish. Again, I thought that they completely nailed the execution for the dish as well and treated the fish with respect by handling it meticulously. It was really crusty and crunchy on the outside but as soon as you bit into the incredibly moist and delicate flesh, your palates are happily greeted by the subtle sweetness of the Hapuka flesh. I've said this once, I've said this several times, Hapuka is hands down my favourite white fish to have at a restaurant. I prefer this 10 times more than Barramundi because of the delicate texture and flavour of the flesh (when treated properly). The whitebean puree with cuttlefish and ham hock crumb added the perfect balance of flavours to the fish too. Texturally, I liked how they added a different dimension as well. I was very happy with the first 2 courses and must say I was thoroughly enjoying every mouthful so far.

Finally, the cheeses. Everything had been really great so far and let's just say the cheese platter did not disappoint. I wouldn't say I was able to pick up every detail of each cheese described in the menu but hey, taste is subjective anyway and food experience is a personal thing. No one should tell you what you should or shouldn't like/taste. Personally, I really loved the subtlety of the ewe's milk cheese, very refreshing.  The brie or "fingals gold" had a really strong nutty tone to it, which was unique. Cheddar was sharp but still had a rounded or soft finish, which was delicious too. The blue was a little too sharp or intense for me and I tend to prefer the soft, creamier textures for blue but it still had a good body of flavour underneath. It was hard for me to pick which was my favourite as I thought the first 3 cheeses were great and my answer kept changing after I had each one.

In the end, I was very happy with our meal at Paringa. It really ticked all my boxes. Food -- check. Wine -- check. View -- check. I was impressed by the meal so was wondering at the end about whether or not they had Chef's Hat or not, so I asked the Manager on our way out. Turns out they did! A very well deserved accolade. It'd be a shame if they didn't as I thought they were quite good at what they do. An unexpectedly pleasant find and somewhere I would definitely recommend people to try too if they're looking for a stunning place for a relaxed and enjoyable lunch at the Mornington region. Not as famous as the first 3 places mentioned above but definitely proves its worth.

Paringa Estate Winery & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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