1. The Stables of Como, South Yarra
One of the most stunning brunch venues I've ever seen...
Almost looks like a wedding venue eh?
Rumbled eggs with pancetta + truffle pecorino on griddled Dr Marty's crumpets -- $17
Chunky chips with aioli -- $5.50
Salmon + prawn fishcakes, tartare sauce, pickled onion + herb salad -- $21
So, I want to start off by saying how beautiful Stables of Como is. As the name suggests, it was a former horse stable that has been transformed into a cafe...in the Como region. For me, it wasn't the table setting or furniture or whatever that made this place beautiful, it was the location and surroundings... This cafe had a unique location because it was nested in the middle of a park (Como park, to be specific). Loved it. Oh, and the fact that the weather was incredible that day definitely helped.
As much as I enjoyed the setting and environment, I must be honest by saying that I wasn't necessarily won over by the food. The menu was a little uninspiring to me. Nothing particularly exciting to try. Overall, the execution of the dishes weren't bad, but it just tasted okay. Wouldn't say it's particularly better or more memorable than other scrambled eggs, fish cakes or chips that we've had at other cafes. Quite ordinary and forgettable food to me. Like I said, it wasn't bad. But it was just okay.
That said, still very happy I got to try this place out otherwise I wouldn't have discovered such a stunning cafe. Even though the food wasn't my favourite, I would still recommend it to people who are looking for food in the area because maybe their experience might be better than mine.
2. Chimac, West Melbourne
Spicy Pork Taco -- $15
Kimchi Quesadilla -- $15
Oozy gooey cheese goodness...
Retro Korean School Lunch -- $15
Seared spam rice bowl with stir fried kimchi, sunny up fried egg, fried shallots, mozzarella, garlic granule
Tofu on Kimchi Field -- $22
Tofu, cheese and caramelised kimchi
Bulgogi Burrito -- $15
Seafood Pancake -- $17
Prawns, squid, scallion
Chimac Chicken -- $32
Ultra Crispy & Wonder Soy
Chimac Chicken -- $32
Bloody Sweet & Wonder Soy
Kimchi Cheese Fries
Chimac!! Hands down one of my favourite discoveries of 2014. So much so that I've honestly mentioned this place to so many of my friends last year. It's great. What sets this place apart is that this is a Korean Mexican FUSION restaurant. It's not the only one in Melbourne but they do it here really, really well. I'll be honest, I was one of those people that have always been highly skeptical about fusion cuisines, especially when it's an Asian fusion food as it always quite horrible more often than not. I'm okay with modern asian food, but not asian fusion... Ugh.
That said, I am always more than happy to have my stubborn and narrow minded preconceived notions about food shaken proven wrong so I can learn to be open to more new experiences... Which was what this place did for me. I mean, Korean AND Mexican??? I can't think of 2 cuisines that can be any more different to one another... But it works.
I loved everything about my meal the first time I was here so much that I found myself back there the following week. It didn't take too long before I was back there again several times after that. First, let's talk about this fusion thing. If you think about it, taco/burrito/quesadillas really are a great vessel for anything flavourful (like Kimchi or Korean Bulgogi meats) so there really is no reason why it has to stop at Mexican food. The other reason why this works is that both Mexican and Korean food uses a fair amount of melted cheese in their food, which makes the combination rather familiar and not too foreign at all. My favourite of the night was definitely the quesadilla. Baked till crisp with a gooey melted cheese layer against the bulgogi or kimchi filling. Absolutely SMASHING.
Besides that, the other highlights of my meal here was definitely the KOREAN FRIED CHICKEN (KFC) and Kimchi Cheese Fries. The chicken here is hands down my favourite one in Melbourne and trust me, I've had my fair share over the years. At the end of the day, it's not about finding out which KFC is the best, per se, as most places do it slightly differently so it's more about finding one that suits your liking the most. For me, the batter was a great balance of crisp and crunch (yes, there is a difference). It was thin and crisp but still had a bit of substance and crunch to back it up. Plus, the sauces were so delicious and not too overbearing. Finally, how incredibly juicy my chicken. Fantastic. As for the kimchi cheese fries, it was AWESOME. Bit of kimchi relish, mayo, coleslaw with a few jalapenos to finish. I would have these kimchi cheese fries over the standard American chilli cheese fries any day.
Overall, the food here is absolutely delicious. I'd definitely recommend the retro school lunch for any spam lovers out there. The kimchi and tofu is delicious because the other reason why I love the kimchi in Chimac (and you'll find that it's different to any other Korean restaurants) is that they fry and reduce their kimchi so that it caramelises, thickens and intensifies in flavour and fragrance. Beautiful. So, if you haven't been to Chimac yet I highly suggest you get your butt there soon. Who knows, I might even see you guys there since I'm always finding excuses to go there every opportunity I can.
3. Hell of the North, Fitzroy
Pulled Pork & Gruyere Doughnut -- $7 each
Crispy Prawn Fritters, Tamarind Sauce -- $7 each
Mussels, Sauce Mouclade, Jamon -- $22
Spring Lamb, Sauce Bagna Cauda -- $32
Gratin Dauphinois -- $8
Free Range Pig, Sauce a la Diable -- $32
Braised Red Cabbage, Manchego -- $8
Grass Fed Beef, Marrow Butter, Sauce -- $32
I had a bit of trouble finding the place as it was along an alley and there wasn't any clear signage of the place but I soon realised that it was behind this bright but mysterious looking yellow door. Do look out for this door if you're having trouble finding the place too. So, in I go and low and behold, this place which looked rather unassuming from the outside, was bustling with people inside. And on a weeknight too, if I may add. I've been to Smith St a bazillion times over the years but how have I not noticed this place before until now.
Anyway, cocktails were had as soon as we sat down, which tasted delicious. We started off our meal with the doughnuts which were really tasty. Next, the prawns... OMG THE PRAWNS. They were amazing!! Our eyes lit wide open as soon as we took the first bite. So big in size and can only imagine how much bigger they must've been before they were cooked. Perfectly cooked with a nice crunchy texture. Flavour of the basil leaf with the sweet but dark tamarind sauce was a match made in heaven. Not sure how French it is to use tamarind but who cares. It was so damn delicious.
Initially, the 3 of us shared 1 prawn amongst ourselves (oh, the naivety) but as soon as we finished it, we IMMEDIATELY flagged the closest wait staff we could find and ordered 3 more. Had to be done because we knew deep down that if we didn't order another serve of prawns to ourselves and it didn't matter if the meal turned out to be great or not, we knew that we would still be thinking about that damn prawn if we didn't. We were telling the manager how damn good the prawns were when he walked past and his response was, "Well, we'd better make sure we give people bloody good prawns if we were charing them $7 each". What!!! Our jaws almost hit the ground after we heard that as we had no idea that it actually costed that much. That said, it was all good as we had a huge laugh about the whole thing because I kid you not, it was worth every cent to us and I would recommend people try it too. I may have set a mountainous expectation of the prawns here after this post but that's just how we felt.
ANYHOO, besides the prawns, the mussels were really good too. Plump and juicy, set in a creamy and delectable sauce. The jamon added the perfect saltiness to the dish too. Moving on, we had the pork, beef and lamb (basically every meat main they had on the menu). Each of these meat dishes came with a grilled component and a braised one (good concept, I thought). I enjoyed the grilled lamb the most (especially with that thin layer of skin on top yum) but did find the grilled beef and pork to be a bit tough. The braised meats were cooked very well but was definitely on the salty side. We did mention this to the waiter who did say that yes, that particular chef did have a tendency of being slightly heavy handed with the salt. Lucky we had the sour coleslaw and cheesy gratin to offset the saltiness.
Overall, I still really enjoyed my meal here at Hell of the North despite the meat mains. I think there's a lot of things to like from their menu and would definitely come back for the tasty cocktails, entrees and not to forget... The PRAWNS!! The place is quite the gem and I would recommend it to people because of the great environment and also for the fact that it's European food with a twist -- something different.