Monday, April 26, 2010

Free Pizzas And The Emergence Of Social Media

Dear reader, let me first apologise for the many tangents that this post shall take. Join me on a journey where I try to eloquently pull together various pieces of information that I have read over the last couple of weeks and give my opinion on what I think is the future trends for media. My views are by no means innovative. I was triggered into thinking about the issue of media by the latest Hidden Pizza saga.

Lets start from the start. On April 12th, I saw a status update on a friend's Facebook profile that there was free pizza to had. Of course, being the food loving freebie sucker, I wanted to know more about it. Further enquires to the friend revealed that you had to call to place an order and then be told the address. Instantly, being the savvy Gen Y social media aware technie that I am, I smelled a viral marketing campaign. I asked this friend to take notes about what she had to do when she got the pizza. Low and behold, she had to sign a waiver form and be filmed. Bam, viral marketing!

I actually don't mind viral marketing at all. For me, it's just the ever evolving marketing strategies that mirrors how people interact nowadays. With the ever increasing infiltration of the Internet into all aspects of our lives, the methods in which information is disemminated is also changing. I personally spend quite a bit of time communicating with my friends online, via digital mediums such as email, instant messaging and social media sites such as Facebook. It seems only natural for marketers to use those mediums to promote their products and services. In fact, I would say that companies without an online presence are in danger of becoming obsolete. The power of viral marketing is phenemonal, as the targeted audience is made to believe that they are in charge of the distribution of information and would actually feel proud in being the first to obtain that information.

However, when viral marketing goes wrong is when the product being virally marketed does not match with the company behind the campaign. When I first heard of the Hidden Pizza idea, I thought it was a great way to market a new restaurant. By creating a buzz and a feeling of goodwill, I really thought the restaurant would help differentiate itself quickly in a very competitive environment where large franchises dominate the scene.

But it was all soon to unravel, with news emerging that the whole Hidden Pizza campaign wasn't for a restaurant, but was for Yellow Pages. Huh? I was perplexed. I thought that the need to search Yellow Pages for the restaurant was a bit of a game more than anything about marketing it.

This campaign didn't seem to make any sense to me at all. Using the Yellow Pages to find a hidden pizza restaurant seems pointless, as once a few customers had visited the restaurant, you would think that the location of the restaurant would quickly be known. When I started to search for the restaurant, I didn't even bother going to the Yellow Pages website. I headed straight over to Google and did a search, and was looking for revealing information from blogs. Immediately, the top hits were from blogs such as My Aching Head, Simon Food Favourites and Travelling In Mary Janes, revealing everything you needed to know about Hidden Pizza.

The model that Yellow Pages tried to use to draw users to their site and make their brand known totally failed. All the talk was of the actual pizza, the restaurant and how good a free pizza was. There was hardly any mention of Yellow Pages or how it was useful at all. As both Fitzroyalty and Anthill clearly discuss, the Yellow Pages model is outdated and does not cater to the modern users requirements anymore. They need to change their model rather than use viral marketing in a clumsy way to promote themselves.

When I am trying to look up information, about food for example, I don't turn to Yellow Pages. Their listing are static and do not offer me any more information than I could find in two seconds on a Google search. I need dynamic information that reveals more to me about the restaurant I want to eat at. I turn to user generated sites such as review sites, blogs or Facebook. Traditional print media is one stop I turn to, but they know only reveal a small part of the picture. Food reviews by professional reviewers may give me an insight into the chef's inspiration for a dish, but it doesn't reveal that parking at a restaurant is awful and hence I must get there early. Social media compliments traditional media.

There is still a lot of rejection from traditional media for social media, but the media landscape is evolving, as shown by the first ever food bloggers conference with Eat.Drink.Blog. Traditional media is being challenged, but instead of embracing the new and finding better ways to ultilise it, the attitude they adopt when dealing with social media is one of contempt, assuming that those of us who produce and participate in social media would automatically want to be involved in traditional media, which is not always true, as Mellie has demonstrated.

I have to say that when I read Mellie's post, I was a bit surprised. I applaud Mellie on her choice, but if I was given the opportunity to write about food whilst being paid, I would do it. I see this blog as an outlet to engage with others about a topic that I enjoy discussing without any restrictions, and for that I love it. But I would also enjoy being able to write in a different manner which would offer me more access to food industry people. There may be times when my integrity and morals are tested, but that is the same with any other job. We are all constantly juggling those challenges, and it's up to each person to assess each situation on its merits.

To conclude, this post is not about taking a stab at traditional media. Instead, I hope to highlight the fact that social media has arrived, and rather than trying to denying it, embracing it in an appropriate manner will actuall help a business rather than hinder it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Masterchef Night At Thanh's Kitchen

So Masterchef Season 2 is about to start. Despite a rocky start last year where I hated the show, I very quickly warmed to the culinary reality show with heart. I was an addict by show's end and was engrossed in all things Masterchef. The rest of the nation was also captured by the cooking capabilities of Chris, Justine, Poh and Julie. We were also raptured by Georges riddles that he passed as sentences, Gary's stern but fair demeanour, and Matt Preston's cravats and his orgasm, I mean, eating face.

So to celebrate the return of Masterchef, I hosted a Masterchef Night in my kitchen. What followed was lots of delicious food, over eating and some fun and games.

Lets start with the food.

First up, we have Kevin presenting his dish. So what did Kevin make? A delicious dish of "Original Salted Crispy Chicken Wings KFC (Kevin Fried Chicken)". Well, this dish was both false advertising in that it wasn't fried or original. It seemed very much like the dish that was presented at my Christmas Party, only then it was made by Krystal and not Kevin. Hmmmm, I smell some cheating going on here. Anyway, I found the dish a bit too salty and lacking some flavour.

Next up we have the ever camera shy Dennis presenting his dish accurately described dish of "Spare Ribs with Some Sauce". I think the name and presentation might need some work. The taste and texture was actually quite good, but a bit too salty, as Dennis himself noted.

Nelly's dish to be judged not only looked good, it also contained a threat. Her "Nelly's Moro-c-c-con Pie! I Better Win or I'll Bomb You" was definitely a crowd pleaser. Once the nuts and lemon was squeezed on the filo pastry, the flavours of the lamb stuffing oozed out in rich bursts.

I helped present mum's "Crispy Skin Pork Belly" since she was not present. This too was a massive crowd pleaser with everyone going back for seconds after initial judgment.

Amy's "Very Yummy But Ugly Sushi" once again put shame to restaurant descriptions of their dishes. How much more honesty do you want. I enjoyed the sushi, especially the smaller rolls filled with seaweed. But yes, the could have been rolled a bit tighter. Irene's dish of "Cheezy Prawn Wrap", spelt with a Z for originality was very good. The oozy cheeze (sic) made for a very rich dish.

Krystal tried to use tradition to win the contest by submitting a "Traditional XinJiang Roast Lamb Skewers With?" for judging. Even she wasn't sure what other ingredients were in it. The skewers were tender and good. Elliot went for a dish inspired by the Iron Chefs, combining some rather daring ingredients to give us "Homemade Lotus Root Cake". Notice how he had to emphasize that it's homemade, in case you were in any doubt. So his dish was lotus root cakes sitting on top of roast pork. The lotus roots definitely were a flavour I haven't eaten much of in this form, and combined with the pork was an extremely interesting dish. I don't know whether this flavour combo really worked.

Ling brought, not one, but two dishes, although only one went up for judging for fairness sakes. Her first dish of "Chicken Rendang with Lace Pancakes" looked and tasted the part. The beautiful coconut lace pancakes were wrapped around this fiery rendang, made with chicken rather than beef. Her second unjudged dish were macarons. She made three flavours, Berry, Pistachio and, drumroll please, durian. Mmmmm, I loved the durian macaron as I too have made durian macaron previously.

With all the savoury dishes out of the way, it was onto desserts. First we have Kidman's "Creme Brulee in Two Flavours". She made a traditional creme brulee and also a green tea one. We all watched in fascination as she used a blow torch to make the sugar crust. The brulees were rich and creamy and tasted excellent. Minh made a "Apricot Parfait with Shoehorn Shortrcust Biscuits". Oh my goodness, the parfait was A-Mazing. Somehow, the flavours of the apricots just seeped into the dish and the whole thing was an absolute delight.

Jacky went for something simple, with his entry being "Cake". It was "inspired by Bread Top", complete with plastic containers for the cake, haha. We all forgave him seeing as he doesn't have gas at his house currently. The cake tasted ok. I think Bread Top could have done better. I went for something simple too, with my entry of "Chocolate Cake With A Surprise". I must say that I'm pretty happy with the results of how my cake turned out, and it was definitely rich and decadent. So what was the surprise I hear you ask? Well, scroll down to the next photo.

The "surprise" element was a lava of creamy passionfruit curd when you cut into the cake. Mmmm, don't you want some now?

So with the tasting out of the way, it was onto the officially score tallying. Each person voted on a dish out of ten. Obviously you couldn't vote for your own dish. So here are the results.

* Number 13 with 54.50 pts, Jacky and his "Cake".
* Number 12 with 78.47 pts, Elliot and his "Homemade Lotus Root Cake".
* Number 11 with 78.49 pts, Kevin and his "Original Salted Crispy Chicken Wings KFC (Kevin Fried Chicken)".
* Number 10 with 82.00 pts, Krystal and her "Traditional XinJiang Roast Lamb Skewers With?".
* Number 9 with 82.51 pts, Irene and her "Cheezy Prawn Wraps".
* Number 8 with 82.70 pts, Dennis with his "Spare Ribs With Some Sauce".
* Number 7 with 88.00 pts, Amy with her "Very Yummy But Ugly Sushi".
* Number 6 with 92.20 pts, Thanh with my "Chocolate Cake With A Surprise".
* Number 5 with 94.79999 pts, Nelly with her "Nelly's Moro-c-c-con Pie! I Better Win or I'll Bomb You".
* Number 4 with 95.00 pts, Ling with her "Chicken Rendang with Lace Pancakes" .
* Number 3 with 98.80 pts, Kidman with her "Creme Brulee in Two Flavours".
* Number 2 with 101.899 pts, Minh with his "Apricot Parfait with Shoehorn Shortrcust Biscuits".
*And the winner, on a score of 113.00, my Mum with her "Crispy Skin Pork Belly".

However, what is a contest without controversy. There were grumblings amongst the contestants that mum was ineligible to enter due to her numerous years of cooking experience. Hence, on a re-count, the winner was judge to be......Minh.

So, it was time to hand out the beautifully printed certificates (good work Kevin) and hand out prizes to the various category winners.

First up was "Most Original Dish", and the winner of that was......Ling, with her Lace Pancakes being a crowd favourite. Her prize were some beautiful crystal shot glasses.

The "Thanks For Coming Award" went to......Amy, for arriving a whole hour late and making us all stare at the food but not being able to eat it. Her prize was a very treasured one, the March 18th Edition of The Age's Green Guide, which I contributed from my own stash.

The "Most Presentable Dish" award went to......Nelly. Her prize was a massive wooden spoon (happily donated by Ling) that she could hit everyone with instead of bombing us.

The "Get Back To High School Cooking Class" award went to......Jacky, for his Bread Top inspired cakes. And Jacky's prize was one that everyone wanted. He got KFC discount vouchers (generously donated by Kevin), with one voucher already used for authenticity.

And of course, "Best Dish" went to......Minh, with that amazing parfait. His prize was a cookbook (very generously donated by Krystal) and the honour of getting to wear the Masterchef At Thanh's Kitchen green Heineken hat. He got to do his Miss Universe parade and wave around the kitchen while all the other contestants clapped and pretended to be happy that he won instead of them. Note that the printer decided to break down at this point and we had to write up Minh's certificate with a blue pen, classy, haha.

And that, my dear readers, wraps up the first ever Masterchef Night at Thanh's Kitchen. Thanks to all the contestants for putting so much effort into their original dishes and getting into the spirit of the night. I hope we can all do it again. Let's not eat until we can't move next time.

Oriental Tea House

Shop F015
Chadstone Shopping Centre
Ph: (03) 9949 2072 (retail)
Ph: (03) 9949 2071 (restaurant)

Oriental Tea House is a mixture between a tea shop and a yum cha place. It tries to do a bit of both, and on the whole works quite well, as yum cha literally means to drink tea. The particularly restaurant/shop I visited was the newly opened one in Chadstone. The space isn't particularly large but is inviting and colourful.

The shop component is decorated quite nicely, with lots of teas on display and for trying. I'm not sure how the prices are for the tea as I didn't really pay close attention, but the variety is large and varied.

The restaurant component is separated into two areas each flanking the main tea displays in the centre of the room. The ordering system is reminiscent of a normal restaurant and some yum cha places in Hong Kong. You literally tell the waiters your order and they bring them out when it's ready. I have to say that I'm not a real fan of this style of yum cha. The fun of yum cha is the unexpected arrival of various interesting dim sums being wheeled out at a steady pace. The constant waiting for your favourite dim sums is also part of the tradition of yum cha. Finally, you can gauge how full you are and continue to order or stop.

Anyway, we made our best guess at how much we think we wanted to eat. With a large table of 8, it was actually quite hard to decide what to order. We settled on a variety of classic dishes like har gow, siu mai, roast pork, scallop dumplings and shark fin dumpling. There were a few unique dumplings such as potato dumpling and some combination type dumpling.

I have to say that the majority of the dumplings were really good. Probably the most disappointing dish was the roast pork, which was rather flavourless and had chewy skin.

Ok, so with the good, there's quite a bit of bad, which would make me not go back. As I mentioned, I'm just not a fan of ordering all the dumplings at once. This type of system can work in places like Hong Kong because the service is ultra fast. The dumplings are basically ready and they just bring it to you. However, in our case, they must have actually steamed the dumplings on order because it took an eternity to arrive. A semi-ordering style can work with more exotic dishes that not many people order.

Another problem is the price. In fact, this is a massive problem. The dumplings were extremely expensive, with prices starting from $6.80 for what is usually deemed as a "small" order in a typical yum cha place. And in those places, a "small" is usually ranges from $2.80-$3.80. These dumplings were good, but by no means two times as good as other ones. Hence, this price issue combined with the ordering system and the amount of time it takes for the food to arrive will mean that I will have to rule this out as a yum cha option in future. And just a final note, which crazy yum cha place charges each person $3.50-$4.50 for tea. Tea, in my opinion, should be complimentary at yum cha.

Oriental Tea House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pearl Restaurant - Express Lunch

631 Church St
Richmond VIC 3121
Ph: (03) 9421 4599

As part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, a host of restaurants had Express Lunches on offer. This consisted of a glass of wine and two course. I took advantage of this and went to lunch at Pearl Restaurant.

Pearl has a very good reputation so I was expecting good things. I have to say that the parking situation already got me a bit aggrevated. Due to it's location on popular Church street, it's really hard to find a parking. When I finally did find a parking spot, it was only for an hour meaning I had to move the car halfway during lunch.

Upon arrival at the restaurant, I saw a light, cleanly decorated place, which I liked. We were seated at a table roughly in the middle of the room, and it was quite comfortable.

A waiter came round to give us the menu and explain how the express lunch worked. Another came to ask what wine we wanted. So far so good. Upon making up our minds, the waiter took our orders and we sat about chatting while waiting for our meals.

The girls decided to go for entrees and mains while I went the mains and dessert option. Irene go the Chestnut Soup while Ling got the Bocconcini Roll. The soup was hearty and tasty with a crispy piece of bacon inside. However, the bocconcini roll was not good at all. The cheese was so hard and all the flavours together with the cabbage, fig and fried cheese crisp didn't work.

For mains, we all chose the Seared Scallops with Crispy Skin Pork as the other dish was a vegetarian mains, and we're all carnivores. The dish was beautifully presented and my mouth was salivating. Once I started eating though, I was no longer salivating. The main components of the dish weren't good at all. The crispy skin pork belly had chewy skin, a layer of fat still unrendered under the skin and lacked any flavour. The scallops were pathetic anorexic things with the roe left on. I don't mind eating the roe but it doesn't really add to the flavour. Worse still, the scallops were cold. The sauce and accompaniment worked well with the dish, but could not save it.

My dessert of Rosewater Ice Cream with Turkish Delight and Persian Floss was also a massive disappointment. The flavours didn't work together for me at all. The floss tasted qutie bad actually, really malty.

The ambience in the restaurant is very good. I love the light airy feeling, and with the light streaming into the mostly white room, felt warm and relaxing. The service though, was in total contrast and cold. Our waiter was not only cold, he wasn't very efficient either. I waited and waited and waited for 30 minutes for water despite the waiter being at our table numerous times and seeing it was empty. Finally I had to ask and even then he took a while, once I could get the attention of all the wait staff standing around at the bar.

Overall, on the food that I tasted from this express lunch, I don't think I will be rushing back to Pearl to try more. The environment is comfortable, but the service and food let it down and don't justify the prices.

Pearl on Urbanspoon

Tao's Restaurant

201 Bulleen Rd
Bulleen VIC 3105
Ph: (03) 9852 0777

My friend Kevin was telling me about how good Tao's Restaurant is, and combined with a discount from the Entertainment Book, it works out to good value as well. So Ling and I went there for dinner.

The restaurant is located all the way out in Bulleen, off a really tight turn on Bulleen Road. Surprisingly, to me anyway, the restaurant was very busy and packed out. I guess good things never stay a secret.

The only choice you have for the meal is a $50 banquet. You do get to pick your entree, mains and desserts. The meal starts off with an Appetiser, which consisted on this occasion of a piece of tomato, prawn tempura and a crisp with mash potato. For the entrees, Ling got the Sashimi while I got the Oysters in Japanese Flavours. I love the presentation of the dishes and both entrees were good.

A Chawa-Mushi follows the entree, which is smooth and tasty. Inside contained seafood, which is different to the norm and a bit of a surprise. A choice of soups also precedes the main course. The Ginseng Chicken Herbal soup I got was so comforting. Also before the main meal is a palate cleanser of a tomato consomme, served in this attractive iced bowl.

So by this stage, when you are actually feeling quite full already, out comes your mains choice. I chose the Hot Stone Sizzling Steak and Ling chooses the Confit Duck Leg with White Wine Sauce. My steak is spectacular, arriving all sizzling and flaming everywhere. It draws attention from other patrons. The confit duck arrives in a paper bag, which makes me wonder how "confit" it is. Both dishes are quite tasty, with the steak having a classic pepper steak flavour and the duck tasting more baked than confit. Mains are served with a cute bowl of fried rice as well, and it's surprisingly good.

And now that your full to the max, you have to find a bit more room for desserts. We choose the Creme Brulee and the Pannacotta. The Brulee was good, with all the bases ticked from crispy sugar top to smooth custard. The Lemon Pannacotta was way too sweet, and they put whipped cream on top of it too. The green tea slick, cause I'm always curious how all elements taste, was purely decorative as it was bitter as anything. They basically mixed green tea powder with water.

The restaurant is quite nicely decorated with flowing white semi-opaque curtains separating the space. However, my pet peev of low restaurant lighting bugged me a bit. The space also felt a bit sparsely strange in terms of how they laid the tables. It could be re-arranged a bit better I think to enhance the atmosphere. It felt a bit isolated.

The service was friendly and efficient, possibly too efficient. They were ready to clear away plates when we weren't finished and brought out dishes when we were still eating the previous thing. I'm not sure whether they want to turn around tables or if they are just so used to serving the food fast.

Overall, it's a good place to eat and works out to be good value. It sits somewhere between fine dining as the food, service, location don't quite hit the high highs but it's definitely above average dining.

Overall Rating: 14/20, Food is good in a nice surrounding.

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.

Tao's on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 05, 2010

Momotaro Rahmen

392 Bridge Road
Richmond VIC 3121
Ph: (03) 9421 1661

I've been loving ramen ever since Elegant Gourmand (aka Dan) from Tummy Rumbles started writing about it. His heavenly descriptions of the dish with all it's various components just drew me in to this Japanese favourite. When I read his review about Momotaro Rahmen, I knew where my next ramen adventure was to be.

Momotaro Rahmen is a small cafe style place which specialises in just a few different dishes, one of which being ramen. The decor is very minimal and the crowd in the room are all there for a quick feed.

Adrian and I shared a plate of gyoza and both tried the Char Shu Ramen. The gyoza is good, but I was eagerly awaiting the ramen. Dan had informed me that it wasn't the fatty type of ramen and more a cleaner flavour. He was spot on. The ramen is a much cleaner style, with the pork being leaner pork, and the broth being a clear base. It was good in its own way, but not for me. I definitely prefer the fatty pork broth style ramen such as can be found at Ramen-Ya.

I look forward to trying more ramen around Melbourne to hopefully find a variety of good ramen. If you have any suggestions for a place that serves good ramen, I'd love to hear about it.

Momotaro Rahmen on Urbanspoon