30 Mill Espresso & Kitchen – Malvern – Saturday 6 February 2016 – Breakfast

Chilli scrambled eggs with diced bacon and coriander on sourdough

Chilli scrambled eggs with bacon

There are distinct advantages to getting up early, but my experience in this area is limited. Back in Perth I needed to get up early enough to order breakfast by around 11am back eight years ago because there were so few places offering all day breakfast, even on weekends. This lead to some very rushed mornings. On the flip side, the Melbourne all day breakfast has led to some irregularly late wake up times but today we are well and truly ahead of the pack.

It might be 9.45am but that is very early for us! Used to arriving when everyone else is, and therefore used to waiting, it is quite refreshing walking into a more than half empty cafe. Refreshing and a little disconcerting. Is this cafe as promising as we thought it was?

Avocado and feta smash on sourdough with poached eggs

Avocado and feta smash on sourdough with poached eggs

30 Mill was full in no time and we realised that eating early has its perks. I chose the chilli scrambled eggs with bacon, and Catherine the avocado and feta smash on sourdough with poached eggs. The chilli scram feels and looks old school but was well seasoned and packed with flavour. Catherine really enjoyed her dish, especially the avocado smash, but the eggs were a touch underdone.

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Coffee here is great. On the whole the service was friendly and helpful, but it is what you expect in a suburban cafe. Like many suburban cafes, if you are in the area, or live close by, it is easier to get excited. 30 Mill is a bit better than that though, and in this case it was the the food that elevated it.

30 Mill Espresso Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Minamishima – Richmond – Thursday 18 February 2016 – Dinner

Otoro Aburi

Otoro Aburi (lightly seared tuna)

Acclaimed fine dining sushi bar restaurant Minamishima is perfectly simple and beautifully complicated. What about this restaurant, or more accurately the talents of chef Koichi Minamishima, has possessed thousands of people to pay $150 a head for multiple courses of sushi?

I am out of my depth here and I have known it since Minamishima opened. While I’ve travelled a fair bit, I have not been to Japan, and I have no idea what is authentically Japanese, and what is the Western attempt. It is certainly not difficult to get a good impression of what great Japanese is all about with the likes of Tetsuya and Nobu now staples of the dining landscape in Australia. I have never had more than ten pieces of sushi that are all different though.

Calamari

Calamari

I must admit I had to ask the restaurant to email me a list of the dishes because we had a private dining room behind us that was rather loud, so the quietly spoken Japanese waitstaff and chefs were no match when speaking through the courses. They do not provide a menu of any sort either, before or after the meal, which they should think about for people like me who are easily confused! Several courses of seafood consisted of ingredients I have never tried or even heard of. There were so many courses that I’m just going to write about what I really liked.

Hotate (scallop)

Hotate (scallop)

It really is all about the sushi, presented in the nigiri style. The rice is heavenly, consistent across the board, and I’ve never eaten sushi rice like it. Every time I detected wasabi it was perfectly uniform across the rice too, but hidden by the most pristine, often shiny, incredibly fresh, pieces of seafood that you will ever see in Melbourne. The toppings were so small that it was hard to notice they were there, but given I put the whole piece in my mouth each time, I can only imagine the quantity added a touch, without overpowering the star. Put together the presentation was on several occasions quite breathtaking.

Otoro Gunkan (tuna belly)

Otoro Gunkan (tuna belly)

My Western propensity for cooked food told the story. Without doing the maths there were say fifteen courses of sushi and but for the three courses of tuna, my favourites were all cooked very lightly. The hotate or scallop sushi was quite incredible. That subtlety of the scallop perfectly presented with nothing to outshine it. The prawn sushi was lightly cooked too and I found it better than the optional additional course of scampi which, while beautifully presented, was strong tasting with a firmer texture, and not as good in my opinion.

Scampi

Scampi

The three tuna courses were very exciting. I have never had tuna belly of the quality provided by Minamishima, and it is the seafood equivalent of one of my favourites, bone marrow. As much as I loved the belly, the “Otoro Aburi” was exquisite. Slightly seared it still had a certain sublime fattiness, but for me, a deeper flavour. From these highs it was always going to be difficult for the Akami tuna to raise the bar, but it was still gorgeous.

Anago Kyoto style Box sushi

Anago Kyoto style Box sushi

In the beginning white fish featured for four courses before other forms of seafood, followed by tuna, and more dominant flavoured fish towards the end. I love kingfish and the closest to it was the king dory that came out as the first piece of sushi. The lightly flavoured fish was a good familiar start to proceedings. Towards the end my highlight (again slightly cooked sorry) was the Anago Kyoto style box sushi. The richness of flavour a highlight.

Saba (mackerel)

Saba (mackerel)

As I said it is all about the sushi. You need to dine at Minamishima understanding that you are having an expensive, but memorable sushi experience.

I was not overly impressed with the first course of Ama Abi (sweet shrimp) with Kurumi (walnut) tofu. I am sure there is a lack of appreciation here, but I can’t apologise for not being familiar with softly textured tofu in a broth, though the broth was very nice. The tamagoyaki (omelette) was delicious as a refresher following the last piece of sushi and was the only overtly sweet aspect of the tasting. Before dessert we had a beautifully presented stuffed zucchini flower with prawn paste and yuzu dashi broth, showing off both technique and use of subtle flavours. That was the last good dish because the Hassaku (citrus) Jelly and Hojicha (green tea) ice cream was not. The instruction from the waitstaff was to mix it all up which lost the potentially great flavour in the green tea ice cream. As we started our meal I had noticed the couple next to us almost not touch theirs after initial tastes (but they had not followed instructions). It is a pretty dish, but it needs some work.

Hassaku Jelly Hojicha ice cream

Hassaku Jelly Hojicha ice cream

I would never order the matching wines again. From a great start with The Lost Plot 2004 sparkling from Mornington, and a nice Austrian (2013 Hiedler Gruner Veltiner), we descended into a spiral of unappealing wines. For novelty value it was good to have one or two sips of the wine from Japan, but they do not make a lot of wine, and there is good reason why. The French rose was lacking brilliance for a meal like this, and the Georgian wine (from the origins of wine making) was offensive. We took it in good spirit, knowing the sommelier was trying something different, but some of the wine actually took away from the excellence of the food. I should have ordered the sake, but I am not familiar enough with it, to properly appreciate having several tastes. Next time I’d focus on full glasses of the first two styles.

Mr Minamishima (closest) in action

Mr Minamishima (closest) in action

All of the chefs preparing the dishes, and the waitstaff on the floor, were professional and friendly. Once we had the courage to ask some questions, we started to gain some knowledge that is not necessarily provided as a matter of course. This is so different that I feel a bit more education could help, but I plan to make another visit and ask all the questions I still have now.

King dory

King dory

It is only five days since I tried this intriguing restaurant. The lasting memory of the food makes me want to go to Japan more than any other experience I’ve ever had. There is something very powerful in that, and in what Koichi Minamishima is doing for our expectations of what excellent Japanese is all about.

Minamishima Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Belle’s Hot Chicken – Richmond – Friday 19 February 2016 – Dinner

IMG_4762Complete confidence. In the product, in the delivery, and in the aesthetic. I had a feeling there was nothing wrong with going to Belle’s Hot Chicken‘s Richmond branch from the moment it opened. The teething issues you see in other openings were all dealt with in Fitzroy at the widely acclaimed original venue.

I would be surprised if I haven’t walked past one hundred times since the announcement that Belle’s was opening in Richmond. In the beginning, besides the attack of local graffiti artists, there was not a lot going on next to the Richmond branch of Meatballs. But once noticeable change started, progress was swift, and all of a sudden it was down to the finishing touches.

It is hard to say this, but my particular experience dining around 6.30pm on the first Friday night, was absolutely perfect. This type of perfection is not unattainable. After all, we are talking about quite a defined product and a relatively small restaurant with a good complement of staff. But it was perfect.
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Catherine ordered the Southern (no chilli) and I ordered the medium as the last time I tried hot it defeated me! We both did the tenders and chose sides of coleslaw and Old Bay fries. The chicken was cooked to the second; just done and not any more for maximum flavour. The sides were great as usual with no noticeable difference to the Fitzroy original.

To wash it down we tried the Belle’s Aperol Spritz and “The Arnaldo” which was my favourite – a Long Island ice tea tasting drink but with an iced tea and lemonade over a tequila only base. Service was superb with an obvious concentration to begin with friendliness and professionalism without an ounce of arrogance that could happen at a successful outpost.

It is needless to say that I’ll be back regularly and that I am going to have to exercise more as a result. As the bloke in his seventies next to us polished off his second basket of chicken I realised it was still possible to live a long happy life, especially when fried chicken is involved.

Belle's Hot Chicken Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mayday – Richmond – Saturday 30 January 2016 – Breakfast

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Heirloom beetroot salad, organic white quinoa, orange, beet leaves, pickled radish, fennel aioli

I might be a gambler, but that is no reason to go against the odds. There is not enough time to make bad decisions so I’m careful where I venture. Unlike horse racing, even a superficial amount of research reveals cafes to visit, and cafes to steer clear of. Naturally a food lover doesn’t go out of their way to have a bad experience, and a gambler doesn’t go out of their way to lose.

When Catherine and I go and have a new experience, we generally have some idea on what to expect. Personally I don’t like looking at menus, or reading any reviews before I first try a place, but I am mindful of what I hear from friends and several forms of media. The exception is when we try somewhere that is completely new, and only has the reputation of the owners and main staff behind it, or not even that.
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I walked past the old Olmecs on Bridge Road while it was being renovated and one aspect caught my eye “Axil Coffee Roasters”. That is the deadset promise of great coffee, and a likely top quality cafe. I noted it down and made it a must try once it opened.

Mayday opened a month later and had a following from day one. We were pleased on our first attempt to visit that we got told food had stopped being served on account of the hour wait (it was early afternoon). It is much better to be honest than disappoint. A week later we came a bit earlier and after a slightly odd welcoming by the floor manager we were seated after a short wait.

The menu has several enticing options as we expected. A couple in particular jumped out to us and we decided to share something indulgent (Croque Madame) and something sounding relatively healthy (Heirloom Beetroot Salad). There is a certain settling in period that a cafe must be afforded so with friendly staff making an obvious effort I’ll say the service was even.

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Croque Madame – smoked ham hock, raclette cheese, fried egg, mustard bechamel

The food was excellent. The croque madame is one of those meals that given its components is always some level of good. Here the smoked ham hock, generous amount of raclette cheese, mustard béchamel sauce, and runny fried egg, have that extra level of quality that balances the guilt. The bright, extremely photogenic ingredients in the heirloom beetroot salad, put that balance in our favour. There is a bit of texture from the quinoa, and the orange provides a burst, but there is not quite enough in the dish to add to each bite.

The coffee is very good as I expected and I tried a couple to be sure! Catherine tried the orange juice which at the time (I hope this has changed) was under “house made”. When she thought to herself that it doesn’t taste freshly squeezed she looked over to the counter looking for the juicer only to see that it comes straight from a Nudie bottle. I can understand teething issues having worked in some cafes and restaurants literally on opening day, but the manager couldn’t have been serious when she said “it is freshly squeezed by our supplier”, adding “this will change”. That’s fine, but maybe don’t charge $6 for it and put it under house made? I had already paid when I enquired (I wasn’t after a freebie) but there was no apology or even a joke. Luckily her attitude did not extend to her staff.

This is a really contemporary looking (read Scandi themed!) cafe doing excellent coffee and great food. In a matter of a couple of years this part of Bridge Road has blossomed. Mayday adds to the collection of great places for breakfast and lunch but it is not close to the best of them yet.

Mayday Coffee and Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saint Urban – Richmond – Saturday 30 January 2016 – Dinner

Smoked pork hock terrine and lentils with lemon cream

Smoked pork hock terrine and lentils with lemon cream

I was having lunch at Reunion recently when the owner came up to the table next to me and applauded the lady sitting there for her restaurant. Overhearing a little more I realised her restaurant is Saint Urban, one that I’ve pondered going to enough for this conversation to promote it towards the top of my list.

This particular Saturday night we were actually looking for a cheaper option but the first place we walked into was not enticing (had a smell) and I took the leap to suggest Saint Urban which is a bistro slash wine bar. As we walked in we quickly realised that there was a chance it was already booked out given the number of tables already full. Luckily we got seated on the bar which is quite comfortable.

Confit duck leg, parsnip puree, honeyed pear, sorrel

Confit duck leg, parsnip puree, honeyed pear, sorrel

On the way there we had been for a drink at “Richmond Yard” which is a grungy, post apocalyptic themed trailer park with a few food van options and a bar open on Saturday nights in summer. This meant we could launch straight into the menu, ordering a pork hock terrine, the half chicken roasted in Calabrian spices, and the confit duck (all to share).

The terrine was a delicious start, and more and more this was feeling like the Richmond equivalent of Fitzroy’s Gertrude Street Enoteca. Next came the chicken and duck dishes to share. The spice rub made it for the chicken, but along with that it was perfectly roasted. The duck was almost as perfectly prepared. Both were generous serves with smart accompaniments.

Half chicken roasted in Calabrian spices with roasted bell pepper

Half chicken roasted in Calabrian spices

With some cakes from Beatrix waiting at home we will need to come back for the carrot cake or one of the other appealing desserts. It may not have been the cheap meal we initially set out for, but it was certainly not expensive, and given the quality of the venue and service, the price makes it entirely reasonable to dine here regularly.

Saint.Urban Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Varnish on King – Perth City – Wednesday 27 January 2016 – Dinner

Roasted jalapeños with black pudding & goats curd

Roasted jalapeños with black pudding & goats curd

It is overwhelming walking through the Perth CBD and noticing all the changes in the seven years since I left. Places that had stories I attach to them – some special, some weird, some quite intoxicated. Many of these places have changed in huge ways.

Perth has definitely improved as a city and continues to. Some of the boom might have faded, but the underlying base is enhanced in its wake. There are too many changes to mention, and while it had started before I left, even just walking down King Street there is no longer its namesake cafe, Hudson’s is gone and has been remarkably changed, and there is now a beautiful basement room across the road at 75 that is Varnish on King.

Pan fried brussel sprouts with maple & blue cheese

Pan fried brussel sprouts with maple & blue cheese

I was told about Varnish a while ago and tonight I get to half cross it off the list. Half because I am dining alone, precluding me from ordering several good looking larger dishes.

First cab off the rank is the Brussel sprouts. They are nicely presented and the combination is great, especially with the maple not dominating and just giving a hint of sweetness. It’s naturally a large serve as this is food to share, but I don’t mind coming back to it while I enjoy the two other dishes I order.

Next comes the cholesterol – a large serve of bone marrow. It is awesomely fatty and luckily there is a bit of balance from the crumb. I’m glad I ordered it, but my next check up will be interesting! Ask me whether I ate all three pieces and I’d have to plead the fifth.

Bone marrow with grated venison heart & lemon

Bone marrow with grated venison heart & lemon

Last I try the jalepinos with black pudding. Each element is excellent and put together this is a fantastic dish. Topped off by the sauce (which can be added to with three different chilli sauces), this is another fun dish that is surprisingly not too hot, though I was warned not to go too close to the stem.

There is a great deal of risk putting out some of these combinations. Each one needs to hit the mark. There would be many punters having a snack with their whiskey, or other beverage of choice, and the likelihood of returning could depend on one dish. Here the skill of the chefs and their technique averts that risk. Each dish was excellent and these are not your usual suspects.

The enthusiasm, and obvious knowledge of my waitperson almost convinces me to order a whiskey, but having walked here on a warm day I go for the tried and tested. A glass of the Vasse Felix Chardonnay followed by the Delinquente Vermentino from the South Australia Riverland shows equal care in the selection of wines. It is nice to have such skilled service. Across the floor and behind the bar the staff are genuinely enjoying themselves and are doing a terrific job.

Walking though the intimidating door, down into the intimate basement was the only time I felt self-aware here. After that, even though I was dining alone, this was a very enjoyable experience from all angles. I’ll be back with a crowd.

Varnish on King Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Uncle – St Kilda East – Sunday 17 January 2016 – Lunch

Tumeric duck curry with kipflers, sweet potato puree and roti

Tumeric duck curry with kipflers, sweet potato puree and roti

Vietnamese is hot right now. There is so much to like about this cuisine. There’s the use of fresh ingredients, sauces with punch, and deep, deep flavours.

In recent years the basics haven’t changed in Australian Vietnamese food. Though the addition of modern thinking using similar ingredients and flavour combinations with some added finesse has surely broadened the audience, and added much more interest to those who already supported.

Uncle has been around for some time, and in a way can lay claim to some of this modern trend. We’ve been wanting to try Uncle for ages but it wasn’t until we were catching up with friends from Elwood that we made the drive.

Bahn mi - crispy pigs ears with pickles and peanuts; and Ha Noi fish with turmeric, dill and mayo

Bahn mi – crispy pigs ears with pickles and peanuts; and Ha Noi fish with turmeric, dill and mayo

There are so many options on the menu that we need to leave it aside a bit while we have a drink. With some help from our waitperson we decide on a few dishes knowing that we can reassess. To start we tried the obligatory rice paper rolls. These are vegetarian, featuring banana blossom, mustard leaf, enoki, coconut, and miso dipping sauce. The mushroom is almost meaty, but I still can’t help but think they are better with some prawn, duck or other meat inside.

Next the pretty Szechuan spiced beef tartare arrives on a large rice cracker. It is good but having had some amazing tartare, this is not as inspiring by comparison. On the other hand, Uncle’s modern take on bahn mi is stunning. Using this classic flavour combination in brioche sliders, and enhancing with the crunch of pig’s ears, makes for more than a couple of bites of complete indulgence.

Szechuan spiced beef tartare with Fuji apple, crispy tripe, celery leaves, rice cracker

Szechuan spiced beef tartare with Fuji apple, crispy tripe, celery leaves, rice cracker

The market fish today is snapper which we opt to have served whole, accompanied by green mango, puffed wild rice, a herb salad, and a sweet & sour ginger dressing. The freshness of the snapper stands out, this beautiful fleshy white fish coming away from the bone in generous proportions for the four of us. Having reassessed, we needed just one more dish to top us off. The tumeric duck curry did just that. Again, it was a generous serve, and with some steamed rice on the side, made for a great finish to the meal. Both of these mains really impressed.

There are three distinct dining areas and being upstairs but inside was the right position for a hot Melbourne afternoon. If we were staying later the outdoor section would be a terrific place for an evening drink and a few snacks, or something more filling. It is well designed for the theme with overflow at busy times going to the less exciting downstairs entrance.

The thing I love about Uncle and its modern Vietnamese is that I can go back to this food regularly. During the following week I thought about going for Vietnamese more than once. With so many options that illustrates its appeal.

Uncle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato