Sunday, August 23, 2009

I Went To Costco And Survived... Just

"I Went To Costco And Survived" - that should be made into a t-shirt I think.

As you may have heard, Costco has recently opened it's first store in Australia. The media buzz surrounding the opening of the store was phenomenal. I must that admit that at first I didn't care too much but by the time it actually opened, I too was caught up in the hype. As has been written in countless articles, Costco is a US bulk retailer that sell a variety of products. It has single-handedly brought the masses to the previously derelict Docklands area. Who'da thunk it that a US store could do what hundreds of millions of development couldn't do and bring people of all sex, race and religion flocking to one location. I guess the message that Costco shouts out loud and proud is "WE ARE THE CHEAPEST".

It is true that Costco are cheap, but as Duncan has written, will it actually save you money? Before you can even begin to buy anything, you need to sign up for a membership of $60/year. There already is an outlay that you need to recoup.

My experience of it on Saturday was chaotic to say the least. Getting there is a bit of a travel as I live in the south eastern suburbs. But to get a car park was pure hell. I assumed all the traffic was for the footy match at Etihad Stadium, but I was to be proved entirely wrong. Again, who'da thunk it that so many people would turn up.

Once we did get inside, my head started to hurt immediately. The foul smell of pizzas and hot dogs from the food court hung in the air, just to make you feel even worse. It was sensory overload as the shelves were stacked so high it could have been a factory. Everything was oversized, from the trolleys to the products. Now I know how it feels to be a person of unusually short stature (ok I mean a dwarf) in the normal world.

If I take away all the frenzied people and chaos, would Costco actually be somewhere I would shop? I would say, yes but extremely infrequently. It would be more like if I happen to be in the area, I might drop in, but not as a purposeful trip. The mere fact that you need to buy in such large quantities makes it unviable I think. Unless you're Octomum and have eight children to feed, I can't seem this style of buying working well for most families.

Let me take some examples. The alcohol that was supposedly cheap (the newspaper picked a bottle of Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon 06 as an example) didn't really turn out to be cheap. I'm partial to a nice drink so go to Dan Murphy's regularly and look at the prices. Costco is no cheaper and obviously has a much smaller range.

The denim jeans, which were my main reason for wanting to go, turned out to be old styles and in very extreme sizes (very small in this case). The rest of the clothing range was outdated off items that you wouldn't really buy.

I didn't get round to looking at the electronics, but again, unless the one you wanted just happened to be there, the choice is limited and you would be better off going to a normal store and bargaining for the price.

I concentrated mainly on the food items as that's my interests. The usual brands of snack food that we are used to were there, but who can seriously consume a whole box of Tim Tams or Snickers bars. My favourite chocolate Lindt balls were cheap, but a saving of about $1 for a 150g equivalent pack is not worth buying a kilo. I love Chupa Chups as much as anyone and will consume on average one a day, but 1000 of them for $189, how will I ever get through that.

The deli department had a range of pre-packed cured meats as well as items like this huge pizza. A 1.4 kg pizza is extremely large and as Duncan wrote, would hardly fit into your oven. There was a glass windowed area showing all the pizzas and other similar items being made on the spot, so possibly it is of decent quality.

The bakery area smelt quite nice to be honest, with the smell of cakes wafting about. However, looking at the products just reminded me of the hideous creations that I love to read about on Cake Wrecks blog. How would you like a 1 kg Tiramisu, or maybe three loaves of butter cakes take your fancy, or better still, 24 of the largest cupcakes you've ever seen all clinically wrapped in plastic for your easier convenience. To top it off, all the baked goods has used by dates that were only 5 days away. Unless you got a birthday party for those octuplets, it's going to be hard to consume so much cake (I would try but they just look unappetising).

As Duncan noted, the cheeses and butters did look good. I was temped to get some Victorian Goats cheese and some Lescure butter. Again, the large quantity would be a problem and I would have to purposefully eat those items more, thereby counterbalancing the saving as I would consume more than I normally would. Cheeses were sold in blocks of 1 kg, cream cheeses 2 kg, caviar by the half dozen jars, white anchovies in 1 kg tubs and the list goes on.

The meats and seafood section looked like that from a supermarket, supersized. Care for 3 kg packs of rib eye steaks? How about a couple of kilos of lamb, or maybe a whole salmon takes your fancy. I think you get the point by now. You gotta buy a lot at once. Otherwise, the selection does look quite decent and there is a saving.

The fruit and veg section was a sparse selection of items. The strawberries smelt really sweet, and I would normally buy a kilo at once, but I would have to transport them in a hot car a fair distance home. Other fruit and veg were sold in fairly generous quantities, but nothing as shocking as the other items in the store.

Well, I guess that sums up most departments in Costco. Despite my headache getting worse and worse the longer I stayed there, people were queueing up for miles to pay for their massive trolleys of items. I'm not sure if their mentality is more "since we're here and paid our membership, we might as well make it worth it" or "we use this in these quanities anyway so this is great". I can only guess and I think it would be more of earlier than the latter.

I shall not be going back to Costco too soon as its currently too crazy for me, and the membership and savings does not justify buying such excessive quantities. However, it may work for some families and they may genuinely cut down their food bills.

Have you been to Costco? What do you think about it? Will you be shopping there regularly?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Macaron Masterclass - Part 2

Before the explosion of the TV phenomenon Masterchef and the macarons from Adriano Zumbo, there was Master Markham.

Melbourne's food bloggers had first tasted the macaron masterpieces that Duncan had made as far back at 2007. They were a sensation and produced a buzz around the Melbourne food blog scene for quit a while. I was one of those caught up in the wave and was lucky enough to have Duncan teach me personally how to make them in our first Macaron Masterclass. Yes, I had coined that word before Masterchef, so that's my claim to fame. :-)

Duncan was kind enough to once again do another Macaron Masterclass. This time, Sarah, Sandra and myself were present. This time, we upped the ante and decided to do more flavours. Initially, we had thought of doing 4, but luckily we dropped it down to three. Otherwise we would have thrown in the towel I suspect as it finished quite late into the night. Sarah has written a great summary of the day, so I won't bother repeating it all.

We used Duncan's own recipe as the base for our macaron shells.

Everyone took their stations and got into it.

The piped shells. I've discovered I still have very far to go with my piping skills. These perfect beauties were by Duncan.

The baked shells, all glossy with their feets, waiting to be filled.

Sandra filling shells while "quality checking" them at the same time.

As for the flavours, we finally settled on:

* Coffee shells with White Chocolate Ganache - rose coloured shells
* Violet shells with violet gelatin set cream (I insisted that we must do violet) - green coloured shells
* Mandarin shells with mandarin gelatin set cream - purple coloured shells

Look how beautiful they turned out.

I suggested that we switch the colours of the shell from what you would normally expect, just to provide a disconnect with the flavour and the colour, providing another sensation when you ate it since you are expecting something else. I think it worked out well.

I love the violet the best, that's no secret. I wasn't so sure about the other two flavours though. I thought the coffee and white chocolate combination would be rather boring. I didn't like when we first made it, but after two days, I was loving the coffee flavour. I wasn't sure about the mandarin flavour either, as usually mandarins don't have a strong flavour. However, again, the mandarin ones worked a treat. The mandarin flavour really shone through.

After a few days, the gelatin set creams didn't hold as well as the ganache. The shells got a bit soggy and melded with the filling. Although this made them look terrible, the flavours were amazing. Next time, the filling sneed to be stiffer to hold the moisture in and not melt the shells.

It was a lot of fun making the macarons and thanks to sarah and Sandra for the lunch and to Master Markham for again imparting his knowledge of the beauty (and beast, it's so damn hard to make a perfect macaron, trust me, I've tried and failed miserably) that is the elusive macaron. I haven't tasted Adriano Zumbo's macarons, but I doubt they could get much better than the Markham violet macaron.

Hellenic Republic

434 Lygon St
Brunswick East 3057
Phone: (03) 9381 1222

If you haven't been living under a rock, you would have probably been caught up in the TV phenomenon that was Masterchef, yeah? one of the judges was George Calombaris, yeah? He owns a restaurant called Hellenic Republic, yeah? I wanted to go there, yeah? So I booked in for a lunch session, yeah? Such was the popularity that I could only get a 2pm sitting, yeah? Not to worry, that won't faze this food lover, yeah?

I love how the exterior of the restaurant looks, like a beautiful gift box waiting to be opened. As you open the two layers of doors (why don't more restaurants do this, it stops the cold winding blowing right into the restaurant), you are greeted by a much larger space that expected. The eye is drawn all the way down the length of the space, seeing all the diners as well as the chefs doing their work at the open kitchen.

I went to lunch with my friend Nelly, here she is. Notice anything about the photo? No, it's not that the light behind Nelly makes her look angelic, see the far left corner. Who's that bald man with a striped cardigan on?

Yep, it's none other than the man of the moment himself, George Calombaris. He was sitting at the next table eating lunch with his friends I presume. Not wanting to seem like a total chef groupie, I didn't go over to talk to him, instead choosing to take paparazzi type photos for 5 minutes of him. See how normal I am hehe.

After the initial excitement of seeing George at the next table (either he loves his own restaurants food or he's a cheapskate eating for free, you decide), we ordered our meals. My Greek friend had recommended the Manouri cheese, which we got. This cheese was amazing. The texture was a smooth velvety feel, but it was the creaminess and beautiful flavour that got us both going "mmmmmm" a lot. It tasted great without the fig and olive paste, but did go well with the paste too.

Our plate of Cured Meats consisted of Lamb, Pork and Beef and were all very good.

The Grilled Calamari was sensational, cooked to perfection and still tender. Just a drizzle of lemon completed a great dish.

Finally, the chips were great too. I wonder if these were the chips George demonstrated on Masterchef. They were crunchy and soft inside, perfect.

I love the communal dining feel with huge long tables of people eating and being merry. This restaurant is great for a huge group as the menu is tailored around sharing. I was so envious of all the dishes coming out to other tables, but there was only two of us and we struggled to finish all the food. I couldn't even fit in dessert *gasp*, and all my friends know that I order off the menu from dessert backwards to entrees. It'll just give me an excuse to go back and try the desserts.

Service was very friendly and efficient. The wait staff all seemed happy and that makes you happy as well.

Overall Rating: 16/20, Excellent food and I absolutely love the ambience.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Hellenic Republic on Urbanspoon


Shop 25G Postal Lane, GPO
350 Bourke Street
Ph: (03) 9654 5838

Due to reading about Dan's obsession with Ramen, I too have become obsessed with Ramen. I'm trying Ramen at every Japanese restaurant I go to when it's available. It's all rubbish though, taste more like two minute noodels. Haven't never been to Japan to try the real stuff, I don't know what it should be like. When Dan claimed that Ramen-Ya did pretty good ramen, I was there.

I've been to Ramen-Ya twice now and I really like the Tonkotsu Chashu Ramen. The broth is rich and full of flavour. And the pork is soft and full of flavour. The condiments in the egg, pickled ginger, spring onions, pickled radish and seaweed all combine to make it even better. I also tried the Gyoza, which too were very good. They were more like a Har Gow that you have at Yum Cha rather than the usual Gyoza, but was very nice.

Adrian, who has been to Japan, said the ramen was good, but obviously not as good as in Japan. He would go back to Ramen-Ya to eat the ramen though, so that's a good validation.

Ramen Ya on Urbanspoon

The Vegie Bar

378 Brunswick Street
Ph: (03) 9417 6935

I'm not really into vegetarian food, so when Paul wanted to go The Vegie Bar for his birthday dinner, I wasn't excatly enthusiastic. But after eating there, I would definitely go back.

The Vegie Bar is located on Brunswick Street amongst a vast variety of restaurants. It's neon signs outside is very 80's and daggy, but it does give it a point of difference. When we walked inside, we were greeted by a large cavernous room buzzing with people. We had to get into a queue to get a table since we hadn't booked. The waitress informed us there would be a short wait and if we wanted to sit at the bar out the back and wait. We said that was ok and went out back and had some bubblies while waiting. The wait wasn't too long and a waiter dressed in a kilt came and led us to our table upstairs.

Me and Paul sitting out at a table in the court yard bar.

Jo and Phuong in matching black jackets waiting for Kin to bring back the champagne.

The upstairs table are a bit quieter and give a great view onto the main downstairs tables. As usual, we all picked a dish to share. For entrees we got Falafel and Fried Chick Peas. Those weren't that good and my spirits were dropping further, anticipating having to eat more vegetarian food.

But the best was yet to come. For mains we got a Mushroom Risotto, A Chick Pea Stew, A Cajun Curry and a Pizza with Caramelised Onion and Cheese.

The Pizza was sensational. A crispy based housed sweet caramelised onion, offset by some acidity in lemon juice. The smooth cheese blended well with the rest of the ingredients and finally some rocket gave a bit of a kick. The Chicke Pea Stew and Cajun Curry were also very hearty and I only found myself mildly missing the meat. However, the star of the savoury dishes was the Mushroom Risotto. The semi-signature dish of Mushroom and Truffle Risotto at Vue de Monde is still the best risotto I've tasted, but this one was in the same ball park, big praise indeed.

I thought it couldn't get better, but when my beloved desserts came out, they blew my mind. Here again was simplicity at its best. The Baked Berry Cheesecake had beautiful fresh berries sitting atop a wonderfully creamy cheesecake (which wasn't coying) with a thin buttery base. The other dessert of a Sticky Date Pudding (yes, we chose it because of Masterchef) was even better. The fluffy sticky date pudding had a good strong date flavour without being sickeningly sweet and dense. And the butterscotch sauce was a great combination.

Service was good, only one drink too a couple of requests to obtain. The ambience is a very nice relaxing mood, with happy people eating and talking. I was totally surprised by the food, all good freshly made food. If all vegetarian food can be made to taste this good, I'd still be a meat eater, but I would eat vegetables a lot more.

Final note, they did do vegan and gluten free dishes.

Overall Rating: 15/20, Some very good vegetarian dishes and fantastic desserts.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Vegie Bar on Urbanspoon

Long Room

162 - 168 Collins Street
Melbourne CBD
Ph: (03) 9663 7226

Long Room is not a restaurant, but instead a bar that serves a few finger foods.

We dropped by after work on Friday for some drinks. Here is Kidman looking beautiful in her eye catching red coat.

Kevin and Kidman in between drinks.

Even the elusive camera shy Dennis was caught in a photo with myself staring off somewhere.

I even bumped into my friend from uni Suroor, who I hadn't seen in ages. Red must be the in colour this season.

Finally, we got the tapas platter, which consisted of various pastries and meat. It was surprisingly good and a large serving.

Long Room is a nicely fitted bar with a more refined feel, great for drinks with friends after work or a meal.

Thai Taste - Part 2

92-94 Johnston Street
Collingwood 3066 Vic
Ph: 9495 6694

As I wrote previously, Thai Taste is becoming one of my favourite cheap Thai restaurants.

A group of us went there for a catch-up dinner. See how everyone is leaning away from Jacky, his deodorant smell was very strong haha. Only joking.

Each of us picked a dish and as usual turned out to be way too much food. We went for Tom Yum soups to start and although they look extremely fiery and like they could blow the roof off your mouth, they weren't that spicy and were very good.

Dishes like Soft Shell Crab, Papaya Salad, Red Curry Duck and Pad Thai are all very good. I just love the Papaya Salad with it's ultra hot sauce.

The Pork Hock always looks so intimidating, a huge chunk slapped in front of you. It was its usual gelatinous oily texture that just makes you want more.

The Whole Fried Barramundi with Appleslaw is addictively delicious. I'm not a fan of fish but I could eat this whole thing by myself.

My rating from last time still holds true and it's a fantastic restaurant serving delicious Thai food at a great price.

Overall Rating: 15/20, Food is excellent and great value for money.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Authentic Thai Taste on Urbanspoon

Good Food and Wine Show 2009

I had first heard about the Good Food and Wine Show last year after reading it on various blogs. By the time I read about them, it was over, and I had vowed to go this year. As it turns out, I was sent some free tickets by Johanna Scott at Stellar* Conceptas Australia, thanks Johanna.

I dragged (ok I didn't really have to drag, she pounced at the invite) my food loving friend Nelly along to the show. Our mission, which we chose to accept, was to sample every single thing on offer and grab as many freebies as possible. I think we did ok, but after talking to some other friends, I feel I still have much to learn in the art of spotting freebies.

There was a lot of alcoholic things to try. I loved the Appletons Rum cocktails and Finlandia Vodka cocktail, but my favourite cocktail was definitely the Midori and Sake cocktail from the head chef from Maedaya restaurant.

There was so much going on that you get an overload of your senses. The pizza judging looked to be taken quite seriously, amongst the eating of pizza of course.

I loved the salami on offer and myself and Nelly bought some.

There were so many sweet stuff to tempt you as well.

We also went through the wine and beer area, sampling lots and lots drinks. Basically, by the end, we were both a bit tipsy. I had been to a lot of the wineries on display at the show, but I was particularly impressed with the huge selection of boutique beers being made, particularly ales. We also spotted Mark Wilson from Dancing With The Stars fame spruiking one of the wines. And for the record, that's definitely a hair-piece.

After eating and drinking our way through the show, we headed off to Steakout in Crown to have some more food. We both got steaks. My rib eye wasn't as flavourfull as I wanted, but still good.

Nelly insisted that we had to have the Ice Cream Fantasy. I like my ice cream, but this was soooooooo much. It turned out that most of the ice cream wasn't that good, but we still ate it, as you can see from the photo below.

I had a great time at Good Food and Wine Show and will definitely go back next year, brining my A-grade "grab as many freebies" game next year.

Thanh attended the Good Food and Wine show as guests of Johanna Scott and Stellar* Concepts Australia hahaha. I've always wanted to write that.