Long Chim – Perth, City – Monday 28 December 2015 – Dinner

Stir fried Siamese watercress

Stir fried Siamese watercress

Hot and sour is a set of contrasting flavours that speak to elegant balance requiring excellent execution. Hot and cold refers to contradicting aspects that provide both the highs and lows in the same breath.

A perfectionist would shake at the thought of opening a big ticket restaurant, in a new big ticket hotel, in a city that can break even the most successful magnate. In this case the magnate is of the culinary variety. David Thompson is surely the most well-known Australian chef that has made Thai his own. He has a long history, and has been overseas for a long time, but I am interested in the present.

Fish cakes

Fish cakes

Long Chim is David’s first Australian venture in many, many years. It is set in the renovated Old Treasury Buildings which also house the COMO Hotel. This is a development where the paint is barely dry. Walking down into the basement restaurant, that actually has two indoor rooms, and an outdoor courtyard, you get a good idea of the dollars spent on this project.

Nothing has been left to chance. While it is tight for room, it is not uncomfortable once seated, and there is enough table space for the food and wine to come. The only sour aspect to begin was being reminded for the third time (in addition to at the time of booking, and earlier today on the confirmation call) that we needed to be out in one and a half hours. I thought it was a bit crass in front of my guests when I had myself already mentioned this (such was the care taken to inform me in the lead up to dining).

Red duck curry

Red duck curry

If you or your guests are susceptible to spicy food, it is important to discuss this when ordering. While only three dishes are marked “spicy”, this is traditional Thai and there is still spice in everything, many times in spades. For example, the fish cakes we began with were absolutely delicious, but they themselves were hot, and the small amounts of cucumber, and fried Thai herbs, did not dull the effect. You would need a high threshold for heat to add the extra chilli.

Pad Thai

Pad Thai

On the other hand, the next dish, to begin mains, was an extraordinarily beautiful stir fried Siamese watercress with peanuts that perpetuated balance between just a few fantastic showcase ingredients. It was not hot at all. Only a touch of spice was found in the green chicken curry, along with a huge amount of flavour. There is not a huge amount of chicken, but it is tender, and the sauce can be used to enhance any amount of leftover rice long after the chicken is gone.

The red duck curry had a couple of notches more heat, but not in an uncomfortable way. Again there was a lack of duck. It was delicious gamey duck, and not outrageously expensive, but I would rather pay another few dollars and get a bit more. The pad Thai closed out our mains and little did we know the punch this dish would pack. It was not needed and took a touch away from the perfect handmade noodles and the quality of the other ingredients. It was still very good but half the table couldn’t have any more than a taste.

Green curry

Green curry

The food is why we are here and certainly was a high point. It would be unfair to say service is a low point, but the floorstaff tonight (on a Monday) are stretched thin. Our particular waitperson is friendly, and when asked questions knows the answer, but lacks some confidence, and probably some of her own dining experience on how to be attentive and how to time certain aspects.

In the courtyard

In the courtyard

Without dwelling on the low points of our experience, there were a couple of good examples. Having been told three times about the time restriction, we didn’t start receiving mains until 55 minutes into our 90 minute allocation, with no explanation. They were not cleared quickly when we finished either. Then with 15 minutes left we asked for the remainder of our wine to be poured. We were told there wasn’t much left and would we like another bottle. That doesn’t make much sense to me.

It was at this point when we were asked whether we would like dessert menus that I decided if the staff have forgotten about our timing, then so would I. We had a look at dessert and ordered two dishes between the four of us. Both the Thai coffee ice cream, and the coconut cake, were worth staying for. Both lived up to the rest of the food; the moist coconut cake bursting with coconut; the ice cream revealing strong almost bitter coffee, dulled by sweet condensed milk.

Coconut cake

Coconut cake

I had an espresso with dessert and it was a good quality, adding to another high point in what was a hot and cold ride. The coldest part of the experience was the air-conditioner, which the restaurant just couldn’t seem to balance like the chefs could with their flavours. Given everyone was dining without jackets, many in short sleeves, it was far too cold in the basement.

The enormity of the operation could be openly seen over the course of a couple hours. So many customers, staff, chefs, and an Asian restaurant probably unmatched in the city. This will be a success for some time, but it will only become an institution if several features are enhanced soon.

Long Chim Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Master Roll Vietnam – South Yarra – Tuesday 22 December 2015 – Lunch

Bahn mi

Bahn mi

There are so many great looking casual restaurants in Melbourne that you need an enhanced memory, or method of remembering, to note them all down for future return visits. Master Roll Vietnam fits into this category nicely.

A few weeks ago Catherine and I were walking along Toorak Road when we passed by, after breakfast, on our way to dessert! The modern Vietnamese eatery, using clean and minimalist décor, with an eye catching logo, made an impact.

Knowing the main game was catching Spectre at the Como Centre, my mate Simon and I wanted a quick lunch that was good quality. Some brief research that morning revealed that the sleek design translated into popular Vietnamese cuisine, with a line to boot. On that guidance we decided to meet at midday to beat the rush and we had done just that, with little time to spare.

Duck rice paper rolls

Duck rice paper rolls

To get a small spectrum of the offerings we tried both the grilled chicken and crispy roast pork bahn mi. To start we shared a serve of the duck rice paper rolls. Everything here is reasonably priced, but with competition down the road from another Vietnamese bakery, not to mention the number of places like Roll’d popping up, you need to do better than just that. And it was.

I was a little surprised because having my first bite of the roast pork bahn mi, there was the usual distinct flavours coming from the pate and pickled vegetables, but the pork really shone. It was generous and delicious with a good amount of crackling making the saltiness perfect. Then I tried the grilled chicken and somehow it was bettered by a small margin. The rolls are a nice quality, but I think that might be the main point of improvement.

The duck rice paper rolls are good, but I think I need to lower my expectation on the quality of duck you get in relatively cheap rice paper rolls because it is not amazing. The wrapper was firm around the duck and other usual ingredients, but I think the pre-wrapped nature means the duck dries a little and I think the only way around that is to do it fresh and incorporate the hoi sin sauce into the roll rather than have it as a dipping sauce.

I often have a craving for a great bahn mi and as well as being the shortest walk from my place, Master Roll Vietnam is also of such a quality that those cravings are unlikely to subsist any time soon.

Master Roll Vietnam Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

San Antone by Bludso’s BBQ – Southbank – Wednesday 23 December 2015 – Lunch

Share platter (beef brisket, pulled pork, chicken, chicken sausage, served with coleslaw, mac and cheese, and Texas beef chilli) along with pork rib tips.

Share platter (beef brisket, pulled pork, chicken, chicken sausage, served with coleslaw, mac and cheese, and Texas beef chilli) along with pork rib tips.

The growth in American barbecue in 2014 didn’t quite seem to grip 2015 in the same way. We have been educated in the virtues of slow cooked and wood roasted meats, and believe me, no one is arguing with the product.

I was always cautiously optimistic that the reasonable price of the product, in no small way resulting from the less popular cuts of meat, would hold sway, giving barbecue devotes two reasons to continue the patronage. At San Antone by Bludso’s BBQ, a very large, very full restaurant, ensures that American barbecue is here to stay, with the pull of Crown in toe.

Today I’m with mates who have definitely subscribed to the gospel of brisket et al. They know what to order straight off the bat, throwing in an extra dish for good measure. The meat platter is $64 to share between two. We get two between the four of us, but there is no doubt that with a few extra sides you could easily share one between three. The meat platter not only contains a good amount of brisket, pulled pork, chicken sausage, and roast chicken, but sides of coleslaw, and mac and cheese. The extra dish thrown in was the pork rib tips (short, meaty sections of rib attached to the lower end of the spare ribs), and we also had a go at the chilli fries.

My first taste is of the brisket and it stayed my favourite on the platter. It is beautifully tender, and whether dipped, drenched, or kept clear of the Texas chilli sauces, it is a hit. At about this stage, Redders announces that his NBA team is up by 17 points and that is when I notice the amount of US sport on the various TVs which is a big selling point to many. The next try is of the chicken sausage which makes me question why chicken isn’t used more often in sausages because anything with that much salt and spices is bound to taste great.

The roast chicken itself is excellent, and quite substantial, but is the meat that I associate least with this cuisine. An extra bit of brisket and a bit less chicken is worth some thought. The pork rib tips are a little fiddly, and don’t fall off the bone like some ribs, but it is rubbed in a nice spice mix, and is rich in flavour.

I am a sucker for good sides and the coleslaw, and the mac and cheese, do not let me down, though they are no match for the meats. I’ve found some mac and cheese that almost merits ordering on its own, but given the reasonableness and generosity of the platter you couldn’t expect it to come out in a clay pot or fry-pan which I’ve seen work best.

The knowledge of the boys on both the food, and Puch on the beers, means our waitperson has an easy job, but even as the shift changes, there is no lack of service. On the other hand, things have gone downhill in the NBA and attention is shifted to the wealth of American craft beers, and the virtues of gridiron/NFL, but not before Barca shows us some incredible NBA footage of Tracy McGrady.

The restaurant is massive, but one thing Crown does well is make sure the large spaces seem a little more intimate, and are adequately themed. With the stamp of both the taste and design from the main man, Bludso, “literally straight out of Compton” they have the ingredients for longevity. While there is pressure to do well, there is also a ready-made tourist (and local) market around here that does half the work.

San Antone does an excellent job in the areas that count, and devotes of American barbecue would be crazy not to check it out.

San Antone by Bludso's BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Biggie Smalls – Collingwood – Friday 11 December 2015 – Dinner

IMG_4434Walking down Smith Street towards Biggie Smalls I couldn’t help but double take at one of the other kebab shops along the way. It’s claim to fame is being the shop that is used for a TV show. I have seen some ads for that show (Kebab Kings) and it makes me worry for the future of that particular shop.

Sweet sounds of hip hop are blasting out of 86 Smith Street and I already like the theme of this shiny new glorified kebab shop. Having just begun its life I’m surprised that at 7pm I can pretty much go straight to the counter after a quick perusal of the wall mounted menu, and order my first taste of Shane Delia’s kebabs.

Looking around as I wait I realise that in a matter of ten minutes there are no stools or booths left in this diner. It is instant success, but will it last? The concept fits beautifully in Smith Street and I already have several people I’ll be recommending to check it out just to have a listen to what the DJ (yes, DJ) is playing.

A-Rab lamb kebab

A-Rab lamb kebab

As for the kebabs, I chose the A-Rab. It is their lamb version, accompanied by smoked hummus, herbs and pickled onion. The lamb is terrific and fills up the kebab generously, and the smoked hummus is clearly visible, adding heaps of flavour along with the Biggie hot sauce, and old skool dressing (roast garlic yoghurt). This is a contemporary combination wrapped up in a well made and toasted traditional pita. There are comfortable flavours you know, with a pop from the less traditional additions. I think it will be a kebab for certain tastes, and certain days when you feel like something a bit different.

I am not a huge eater by any stretch and the bag of small crinkle chips is monstrous in relative terms. But they have this addictive spiced butter and preserved lemon that forms almost a sparing crumb over most of the chips. I could not stop.

Hot Crinkles

Hot Crinkles

Biggie Smalls was not everyone’s thing when he was dominating the hip hop world, and the kebab shop of his name won’t be everyone’s thing either. I’m not a good one to judge though because I have a soft spot for a good kebab, especially one executed this well, and more than a leaning to hip hop, especially the old skool.
Biggie Smalls Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sherbet – Maylands – Saturday 21 November 2015 – Breakfast

Vanilla slice

Vanilla slice

Getting ready for a 20 year reunion is a little nerve wracking. These days Perth feels part home and part away. Normally at times like these I would not be trying a new place.

Such is the folklore about Sherbet that “try” does not have quite the same connotations. Eyes wide open I know as I walk in that this is just an excuse for a sweet treat; one that will ease some of the anxiety.

The counter staff are laid back and there is no hint about what an institution Sherbet has become. A few floor staff trolley out orders to a three-quarter full cafe that is small, both inside and out. The breakfast selection is okay, without being overwhelming in choice. The breakfast tart looks good in the window display and I order it.

Breakfast tart

Breakfast tart

It comes out with a generous serve of chutney and inside the crisp flakey pastry of the tart there is a motley of the expected ingredients. It tastes of quality, but I eat it quickly knowing that the main event is next.

Without any doubt I’ll be back here because the selection of pastries, cupcakes and other sweets is fantastic. One is singing out to me and given I haven’t had a vanilla slice in a while I simply must try it! Ridiculously good is the best way to describe the coming together of the balanced sweetness in the icing, the perfect pastry that holds nicely, and the firm texture of gorgeous custard. There can be no anxiety eating something so great and I’m ready for the reunion.

The coffee is nothing to write home about, but it does the job. I leave Sherbet on a high, ready to conquer the rest of a big day!

Sherbet Cafe & Bake Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sir Charles – Fitzroy – Saturday 24 October 2015 – Breakfast

Special K - Kale & corn fritters w tahini yoghurt, avocado, poached eggs & szechuan dukkah & crispy kale

Special K – Kale & corn fritters w tahini yoghurt, avocado, poached eggs & szechuan dukkah & crispy kale

Finally we are checking out a café I had heard heaps about a little while ago when it opened. While sparingly, when I find out about certain openings, I instantly make a note hoping there’ll be an opportunity in the following couple of months to try the latest, and hopefully, greatest.

Sir Charles took over from a bagel place that I knew of, but had never been inside of. Traditionally, this part of Fitzroy near the lights at Johnson and Brunswick, had always felt like the most touristy part of Fitzroy. As more places opened with local relevance (Commoner and Naked being two of note) it seems the path has been paved for more entrants.

Iced tea

Iced tea

Having not been to the bagel joint I can only guess that the fit out here is a significant renovation. Modern flourishes like the paintwork on the walls, and the sense of space that comes with high ceilings and natural décor, is all present. I struggled to find parking but walking a few extra backstreets meant I came across other local cafes that look worth a visit, but none of the size and pizazz of this one.

As dishes came past we relaxed knowing that the reports of sophisticated breakfast food must be true. But we were here to taste; not view. Catherine chose the Special K which features several unusual ingredients that she enjoyed together. The kale crisps in particular were excellent, which cannot always be said of kale in general. The szechuan dukkah provided some further texture, without being too hot, and was balanced by the pummelled avocado and tahini yoghurt.

# Hash House made potato hash w king oyster mushrooms, charred baby leek, sauce vierge, fried egg & truffle oil

# Hash – House made potato hash w king oyster mushrooms, charred baby leek, sauce vierge, fried egg & truffle oil

My potato hash is fantastic, but shares the star billing with the king oyster mushrooms, the charred leek and the perfectly fried egg. It’s an opportunity to have a vegetarian dish without even realising it. The colourful presentation adds even more appeal.

Coffee here is great, and Catherine’s iced tea is right up there too. It’s a large cafe, one of the largest, but there are plenty of staff to go around and service is reasonably good.

There is a growing number of cafes that are making breakfast combinations that have as much thought and technical execution as fine dining restaurants. Sir Charles is right up there.

Sir Charles Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pho Hung Vuong 2 – Richmond – Friday 13 November 2015 – Dinner

Shredded beef and brisket pho

Shredded beef and brisket pho

There is a lot to love, and a lot to put up with, when dining on Victoria Street. At times the less appealing aspects (to put it lightly) ruin the whole experience.

Tonight we had walked for around 30 minutes to get here so it was only hunger, and the promise of some good pho, that meant we didn’t turn around and head back to safety. All I can say is that Victoria Street needs a dramatic clean-up, which I’m sure all the good businesses on the street have been asking for (for a long time). Luckily the unsavoury characters outside are not interested in soup, and the door of Pho Hung Vuong 2 provides a degree of separation.

Prawn spring rolls

Prawn spring rolls

While we are here for a soup, we begin with the prawn spring rolls. Wrapping in the lettuce as tradition dictates, and dipping in the sauce, there is nothing quite like a very good quality spring roll to get proceedings underway. These are thin and crisp, but the room inside is filled with delicious juicy prawn meat and nothing else.

Chicken pho

Chicken pho

I go with the beef and brisket pho and Catherine with the chicken pho. Both have slightly different broths and we both add a good covering of bean shoots and Thai basil; in addition I add a decent splatter of chilli which packs a good punch. There is comfort in soup, but I find good pho has that bit more complexity; a taste I’m used to but still find as interesting as a new experience. Freshness from the additions, and filling satisfaction from the noodles and added meat.

Pho Hung Vuong 2 has a sister restaurant in Springvale too, which I’m told is just as good. There is nothing to note about the service or décor, except the fact that the restaurant is full and the reason is the soup. We will be back but one day I hope a lot of the unsavoury aspects outside are gone.

Pho Hung Vuong 2 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato