Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dahon Tea Lounge - King of the Pork Baguettes

Shop 5, 111 Cecil Street South Melbourne
Melbourne, 3205
Ph: 9696 5704
Facebook: Dahon Tea Lounge

A tea lounge. Now that's a novel idea for Melbourne. While there are more lounges that cater to coffee lovers than you can count in Melbourne, not many appeal to tea lovers like myself. Well, thanks to friend and fellow food blogger Cherrie and her brothers, I now have a tea lounge to go to. I was lucky enough to score an invite (ok I harassed Cherrie for months about it) to a small launch party at Dahon.

You can't go to a tea lounge and not drink tea right. There was beautiful blossoming tea and numerous tea blends to try. There's more tea than you can poke a stick at so I'm sure you'll find something to your liking. Once you've picked a tea, you can relax in the comfy couches or at a table which will also enable you to eat some food. The lounge is nicely decorated with bright, light colours which I find cheery and relaxing.

Food wise, again there are numerous choices, but it's the Filipino food that I like best as it's not that easy to find good Filipino food in Melbourne. Having been to Cherrie's house and tried her Filipino cooking, I wasn't in any fear of eating bad food. For me, my favourite savoury item was by far the Filipino BBQ Pork Baguette with pickled vegetable. The pork was definitely the hero and oh so delicious. Putting it into a baguette with the pickled veg made for a perfect combination where you can't stop eating it.

Next up, we have the Chicken Adobo, which is even recommended by the Black Eyed Peas. Check out the video below at the 23 second mark. I dare you to watch the clip and not be chanting "Filipino, Filipino, Filipino, Filipino" by the end of it.

The Chicken Adobo was served with tomato rice and went down a treat. The Mini Spring Rolls were excellent and even the Filipino Noodles were good. I generally do not like vermicelli that much but these were quite good, with the acidity helping make them better. Throughout the night we ate a tonne more food, from different baguettes, to other types of spring rolls and BBQ Pork Skewers. All were delicious.

With dessert, there is a rotating range of items at the lounge. Of course you can sample some, cakes, slices and cupcakes, but for my money, if the Leche Flan is available, you have to get that. It is simply divine. A luscious smooth caramel custard that will just make you want more and more.

If you love tea, or good food, get yourself down to Dahon Tea Lounge and try it out. Heed my advice and grab a nice refreshing tea, seat yourself at a table and order lots of Pork Baguettes, BBQ Pork Skewers and 3 Leche Flan and eat till you can't eat anymore.

Thanks Cherrie and the whole Dahon crew for hosting me and feeding me such good food and drinks.

Dahon Tea Lounge on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cumulus Inc - Banquet Meal

I had been to, and thoroughly enjoyed Cumulus Inc upon my first visit. I had meant to go back so many times that I lost count. Sometimes I was thwarted by the wait, and sometimes by the distractions of other newer restaurants. Finally, I got a group of 10 together and found out that you can make a booking there for large groups of over 8 people. The condition is that you must have the banquet meal, which I initially wasn't too happy about as there were so many dishes I wanted to order off the a la carte menu. However, this turned out to be a massive blessing in disguise being forced to have the banquet meal.

Let me start by saying that the banquet meal is E.P.I.C. Every single item was amazingly delicious and we all went too hard at the beginning. By the time we got to the star dish of the lamb shoulder, everyone was so full that we couldn't even finish the shoulders. Anyway, I digress. Like all good stories, let me start from the start.

The meal started with some really addictive nibbles. Spiced almonds were really tasty but it was the Padron Peppers that had everyone hooked. As some of you may know, Padron peppers come in spicy and mild forms. It's like a Russian roulette biting into one. You never know what you'll get. The spicy ones are quite hot indeed, with a nice fiery burn. We all had some much fun biting into the peppers and everyone liked the taste of them, even the spicy ones.

Entrees consisted of Kingfish Sashimi on Chips, Natural Oysters, Prosciutto, Bresaola with Beetroot and Roasted Eggplant. The kingfish sashimi was super fresh and wonderfully zingy. You can never go wrong with fresh natural oysters in my opinion. The two cured meats were of a high quality. However, it was the roasted eggplant that thoroughly surprised me. It was so moreish that we all couldn't stop eating it. Wonderfully soft and smooth, combined with herbs, paprika and a creamy sauce.

Two salads arrived next. The Frekkah salad pictured below was wonderfully fresh and combined lots of great flavours and had an equally interesting mixture of textures. A Cauliflower (can't stand cauliflower normally) salad was my favourite dish thus far. It was done in an Indian Manchurian style of sorts, stir fried with lots of spices to have a caramelised flavour, freshness from herbs and the addition of pomegranates is genius.

The main star of the show, the Lamb Shoulder arrived next. It was the most tender, moist and flavoursome leg of lamb I've ever had. All 10 of us could not believe how tasty the lamb was. There were crunchy bits, caramelised bit while all the time being tender and full of flavour. It was served with Roasted Sweet Potato, which were delectable as well. The lamb was so yummy but we were all so full that we couldn't finish it. Such a waste. Tip for next time, remember to not finish all the earlier dishes and save room in the tummy for the lamb.

For dessert, I was crossing all my digits and hoping for multiple servings of the madeleines each. Instead, we got a Mandarin Sorbet with Chocolate Mousse, Meringue and Chocolate Dirt. I didn't like the dessert at all, but that's because I hate the combination of citrus with chocolate. I didn't mind the sorbet and the mousse by itself was ok too (a bit too dark and bitter even for my liking) but the whole dessert together did not work for me. If you like citrus with chocolate, you'll love this dessert.

That concluded an amazing banquet meal. I'm so happy that I got to try it. Most of the dishes that we sampled cannot be found on the menu and can only be eaten via the banquet, meaning you had to have a large group. The banquet was a steal at $80 and with drinks, it was about $100 each. A thoroughly simple yet amazingly satisfying delicious meal. Trust Andrew McConnell to be able to make the ordinary extraordinary.

Service at any Andrew McConnell restaurant is impeccable and this was no different. The staff were friendly, knowledgeable and efficient. The atmosphere at Cumulus Inc is always wonderful, but I especially love the bench seats that we were at along the far brick wall. This allows you to see all parts of the room, from the front bar, the middle tables, to the back kitchen area where the meticulous team prepare so many wonderful meals from a tiny area. All these elements combined with the great food make for a most wonderful meal.

Overall Rating: 16/20, Great simple food done extremely well. Wonderful service and atmosphere.

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.

Cumulus Inc. on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Donwoori - Best Korean BBQ in Melbourne

My name is Thanh, and I'm an addict, a kimchi addict. And for me, the best kimchi I've tasted (I haven't been to Korea or have any Korean friends who have invited me to their house for dinner) is from Donwoori. Donwoori (aka #secretkorean prior to the secret being let out) was first accidentally found by Agnes. And thank goodness she found the place. Ever since I saw her first tweet about the place, I quickly hauled my ever increasing body mass to this delightful little restaurant. This place is one of those hidden gems that you sort of want to tell people, but at the same time want to keep secret so you can go there without too much of a queue. Seeing as Agnes blogged it already, I may as well.

The restaurant is tiny and sits opposite Victoria Market. It's next to two other Korean BBQ restaurants and you might think it's part of the restaurant next door. But it is the corner place with a tiny sign. It's very small inside and probably sits about 20 people. The largest table seats 6 so I wouldn't go here with a group of 10 friends.

The restaurant does Korean BBQ as well as some cooked dishes. I usually order a combination of the two. The Korean BBQ here is amazing delicious and cheap. One of the set meals is $38 for two people and you will be completely full. There is a pork set menu, or beef or combinational one for 4 people. You can also order individual meats by the plate

Each set menu also comes with a soup. There's a soy bean soup but the standout is definitely the spicy beef and kimchi soup.

Service here is brilliant as they will constantly tend to the meats for you. They cook it and cut it up and keep changing the hotplate so everything is not all burnt. They also, get this, ask you if you want to refill your banchan constantly. Absolute win. The kimchi, as stated is sensational. But the pickled daikon and pickled vegetables are really addictive too. You can wash the food down with a few choices of beers or some sake.

There you have a wonderful meal for way under $30 (with drinks), full of delicious meats, soothing drinks, great service and endless kimchi to your heart's desires. Donwoori has well and truly replace Hwaro as my favourite Korean BBQ place and I've been back six times since, loving it more each time.

Overall Rating: 16/20, Fantastic Korean BBQ for a great price with excellent service.

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.

Donwoori on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Taste of Melbourne 2011 - Is It Worth Going Next Year?

This year, I was again fortunate enough to score an invite to the Taste of Melbourne festival courtesy of Hot House Media. The festival was once again held in the amazingly beautiful Carlton Exhibition Building. I really love fine architecture and this building oozes character in spades.

With my invitation, I was given a free press pass (or should that be bloggers pass? or are bloggers press now?) which gave access to all areas, and 20 crowns, which equates to $20 worth of money to buy food. As with last year's Taste of Melbourne 2010 bloggers event, we were shown around a few different things. We started our tour with a look at the back kitchen area of Sarti. I'm so amazed at how small a space they get to work with and still pump out tens of thousands of dishes of food for everyone.

A taste session at Rekoderling enabled us to drink every flavour of their cider. Whilst I had liked their cider, I had initially described it as less cider-y than my favoured Bulmers cider. Finally, thanks to injerarufus from Twitter, I can clearly put my finger on what the ciders can best be described as, alcopop. They were sugary sweet and so easy to drink and you could hardly taste the alcohol. I personally don't mind the pear flavour but still love a more real tasting cider with that distinctive zing and tang.

A stop by the San Pellegrino Cafe enabled us to dine on some nice pizza and admire some beautiful photographs that people had submitted to their competition.

We did the Art of Sensology class again this year and made mojitos, my favourite cocktail of them all. My mojito turned out perfectly and I have been making them at home quite a lot.

A cheese tasting class was really good as we sampled cheese back to back and could taste the different textures and flavours. I personally loved the Double Brie the most, being luscious, silky smooth and with a good creamy taste.

A chat with one of the nation's most esteemed chefs in Jacques Reymond was an absolute pleasure. You could feel the passion, energy and hard work exude from him. He told me that you always have to work hard for anything you want and go out and grab it yourself. His parents instilled this work ethic in him in which he has passed onto his kids. He also stated that he was quite a hard task master in the kitchen and in fact his chefs call him "Rambo". That made me laugh, and Jacques himself laughed at it. But I'm sure if I was in the kitchen working with him, I would be deadly serious as you can just tell that Jacques is a man of action and not words. You don't succeed for so long by being soft and lazy.

Onto some food. Below is The European Pork Parcels and Sarti Slow Cooked Suckling Lamb. Both were nice but by no means exceptional.

Stokehouse Seared Scallops were again nice, but it was the Eton Mess, with Rhubarb, Violet & Rose Geranium that got my tastebuds tingling and wanting more. The addition of violet made this dish stunning. My pick of the dishes at this year's festival.

St Katherine's "KFC" Fried Chicken was highly recommended by Pat as the best fried chicken he has tasted. While it was good, I didn't think it was exceptional. Libertine and La Traiteur Cassoulet was cooked well but rather bland.

Other dishes that I tried were the Sarti Panna Cotta (good), Mahjong Black Peking Duck wraps (ok) and Millswyn Peanut Butter and Jelly parfait (not as good as I imagined going by the description).

So would I go back to Taste of Melbourne next year?

Yes if I got a free entry ticket. I felt this year's festival was not as good as last year's in terms of the quality of the food. By quality, I do not mean this year's food were badly cooked or not fresh. They simply did not have that "wow" factor. I think the Taste of Melbourne idea is a great one, but wonder if it works in reality. The problem with fine dining is that it takes time to prepare, in a proper fully functional kitchen. In the environment that the restaurants are given, I'm already amazed at what they can produced. However, it will always only be a poor imitation of what they are truly capable of. They can only do simple dishes that can be reheated quickly, in small portions that fit inside a cup or plastic bowl. There is not much room for creativity.

The pricing of the whole festival is also wrong, but is no one's fault. The entry fee of $30 is quite steep already, and that doesn't get you too much. You can attend the Gourmet Traveller's Taste Kitchen, Gourmet Traveller's Chef's Table, Nespresso session, De Detrich Cooking School, Jindi Cheese Class and Yarra Valley Regional Group Tasting Table, but the numbers for those are limited so you might not get in. Then to pay between $8-$12 for each small dish can be quite costly. I spent another $50 on top of the free crowns I got and that was because I'm quite a small eater. That's $100 already if you add my ticket price, 20 crowns. The cocktail class was another 10 crowns, making it $110 all up if I paid for everything. Again I don't blame the restaurants or the festival organisers. I'm sure the logistics of putting on those stalls cost far more than what they make from selling the food. However, the reality for the consumer is that, in my opinion anyway, it's better to spend $150 at any one of those restaurants and truly try out their food and dine in a relaxed enjoyable manner. The four hour sessions may seem long on paper, but when you're in queues constantly trying to buy food, it goes by quite quick.

The layout of the festival this year was truly awful. For me, the food stalls should all be in the most prominent position in the bottom area of the building. That's what people are mainly going for. Putting some food stalls upstairs severely restricted traffic flow as people crowded around the stalls to try and buy food. A simple, pay and get a ticket system should be used. Pay for your food, then step aside to a quieter area so you don't block traffic while waiting for your food. When your number is called, come and grab your food. Simple LED number displays (like at the deli section in a supermarket) would easily suffice.

The buying of crowns, while supposedly making it faster to buy things, is a good idea but should be taken one step further. Each restaurant should be able to issue crowns. So for example, you can rock up to a restaurant, buy one item that costs 12 crowns, give them $50 note and they can refund you 38 crowns. This means you don't have to go searching for a crown seller when you've run out and want to buy food. Surely the crowns have been devised to fasten up transactions by removing the exchange of small coins, but large notes exchange is really fast, especially if you get refunded crowns.

The placement of the VIP lounge this year was an absolute joke. If I had paid for the privilege of being in that VIP lounge (about $100 I think), I would have been livid. It was hidden in the furthest upstairs corner that you can find. It was so dark and sombre in there you would think it was a funeral. Unlike last year when it was in the bottom level smack bang in the centre, brightly lit with a band playing, chandeliers, comfy sofas to sit on, a throbbing bar and full of fun, this year it was dead in there. Even to get to the area, there was only one access point where you had to go completely around the top level. This took about 15 minutes as there were lots of people. Then even when you're at the front area, you needed to walk around the back to get in. If you wanted to buy food and bring it in, this exercise took about 30 minutes, plus you had to be a member of Cirque du Soleil as you needed to balance all the food, weave around hoards of people and carry the food up the stairs without spilling anything. Total F.A.I.L in my opinion. Put the lounge in the best areas downstairs smack bang next to the food stalls and the action. If I'm paying that much money to be in that VIP area, I want convenience and luxury combined.

Finally, to the food stalls. I guess once you go to too many festivals, you see the same stalls crop up time and time again and have sampled all their stuff so you already know what you like and where to buy it. It becomes a bit boring and I didn't really bother trying out too many things. Obviously, if the Taste festival is the only thing you go to each year, you'll love sampling all the food stalls goods.

So there is my impressions of this year's festival. The layout really lessened my enjoyment of it, but the food was also not as great as last year. As stated earlier, I would go next year if I had a free entry ticket, but else I would rather spend my money at one of the restaurants and have a fantastic meal rather than a standard meal. The idea itself of trying out fine food from many restaurants is great, but I'm not sure how it can be made to work. For me, I'd rather go to a festival like the Sydney Road Festival 2011 where there is no entry costs, there's a carnival atmosphere with live music all day and cheap delicious food that I can snack on all day.

Thanks to Hot House Media for inviting me to the festival.