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
Owner's Granddad's Pork and Yam Dish
XO Prawns on Egg Noodles
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!
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
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!
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
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.