It is hard for me to contain my level of nachas (Yiddish for joy/pride) when I can inform the good people of the globe about a true hidden gem. Portone Wood Fired Pizza is not only hidden in terms of its obscure location but also from well deserved media attention and exposure. For me, Sam, major shareholder and CEO of The Chommery, I say it openly and honestly that these are my favourite places to write about – hands down.
Portone is hidden away in a small walkway separating cosmopolitan Carlisle Street and the Coles parking lot in Balaclava. I will testify that you can be a regular down this neck of the woods for years and yet never see, taste or smell the goodness pouring out of this little venue. This place is as relaxed as they come, with a minute dining space located within the arcade and a simple menu advocating a handful of entrees and a range of pizzas. Take my word for it – very informal.
I beg you to look past the laminated menu and just take Portone for what it is - old school, friendly and delicious. We began by indulging in an entree of field mushrooms served with butter, lemon, garlic and mozzarella ($9.00). We shared this between three gentlemen and it provided 1-2 juicy, warm ‘shrooms each. Scrumptious and a perfect way to tease the appetite. In hindsight, due to the large sizes of the pizzas, we probably didn’t need a starter but if you ask me, ‘would I do it again’? The answer would be confident, ‘definitely’.
Pizza 1 was the Putanesca – Napoli sauce, fior de latte, olives, anchovies, capers, cherry tomatoes and parsley. A simple combination of toppings that we all know and love. Might I add, I am an admirer of the standard of thickness of the base, crunchy but still doughy.
Ordering and paying becomes so much easier with the set price of $16.50 for a medium (13″) and $19.50 for a large (19″). Let me be the first to tell you, the large is really large (suitable for more than one). Not like the new-wave miniature pizza crave taking Melbourne by storm.
Moving onto the Porcini – Porcini and napoli sauce, fior di latte, confit garlic, roasted field mushrooms and thyme ($19.50). True pizza deliciousness. Another basic but effective combination of mouth watering cheese and buttery mushrooms. Definitely get one of these and smack it in the middle and share that up. Chommery approved.
Finally, the Gamberi – Napoli sauce, mozarella, chilli prawns, cherry tomatoes and sauteed spinach. No need to go on. This too was extremely chommable. Just a warning, this pizza was hotter than we thought but great for people that like to spice things up.
Three pizzas and all of them winners.
I will leave you folks today with the particularly mesmerising view of a couple of fresh pizzas getting all fired up in the oven. I have said this once and I will say it again – I have to get me one of them for home.
Portone is open 6 nights a week from 5:30pm – 10:00pm (excluding Mondays), but that information is only helpful if you can find this hidden treasure
The Important Details…
Suitable for: Pizza lovers only
Price: $20 per head
My View: A hidden gem!
Address: Shop 3 Arcade, 244 – 254 Carlisle Street, Balaclava
Phone: (03) 9939 1739
When you venture a good 20km away from the nest in order to satisfy your weekend brunch cravings – you are really hoping for something special. The destination of choice for this Chom adventure was none other than Duchess of Spotswood – in Spotswood Victoria. It saddens me deeply that I have known about this eating premises for some time and have only just visited it for the first time now.
Consistently mentioned, regularly blogged and continually awarded as one of Melbourne’s finest cafes and I just never pulled my finger out far enough to venture over to this side of town. Label me lazy and truthfully I would not argue. With the amount of media and direction that this little beauty has received, I should have dined here long ago. Have no fear The Chommery will make up for lost time.
Kings Woodcock – scrambled eggs with green tomato chutney served with pork, chilli and fennel sausages ($17.50). While I felt this breakfast option was the least creative of the range of dishes we ordered, the flavours did not disappoint. Beautiful buttery eggs with little snags are a safe bet for the less adventurous.
The Duchess of Pork – Crispy pig’s jowl with fried eggs, rich truffle sauce and sourdough toast ($18.50). From the amount of praise I have heard about this dish I am glad to finally be able to validate them. This was seriously something to write home about, or in this case write online about. A thick, generous piece of piggy perfectly moist in it’s own juices and truffle sauce complemented by soft, perfectly cooked fried eggs. A winner every day of the week.
The Clam SCRAM – scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, Cloudy Bay clams and spanner crab ($21.50). While some of the team claimed this to be ‘too fishy’, I absolutely loved it. The portion size is not massive however, the richness of the eggs combined with the protein from the sea dwellers made for a surprisingly heavy option. Note; only for the FFC (fish friendly chommers).
Idle Tongues – Seared ox tongue with marinated char-grilled zucchini, deep-fried zucchini flowers and poached eggs ($19.50). A truly creative choice. Even if you exclude the delicious taste, just the range of items included scores points to the dish. Only in Spotswood will you find a tempura-like vegetable and melt in your mouth ox tongue lying next to some poached eggs.
The Prince of Wales – House smoked salmon with pickled cucumber, fennel and horseradish yoghurt, poached eggs and brioche ($19.50). I bet you I wasn’t the only one that wasn’t expecting a superbly poached fillet of salmon instead of the normal mingy strip or two of packeted nonsense. I want to give too many of the dishes we chommed as the ‘Dish of the Day’! This one is certainly fighting hard for a spot. You will be seriously hard pressed to find a nicer piece of fish even in some of your top restaurants. A great order.
Crumbed lamb’s brains with poached eggs and sourdough toast. If you are thinking gross, you can stop right now, thank you very much. These rocked all our socks off. The has to take the prize as dish of the chom. Rich, sumptuous, brainy centre with a light hazelnut crunch in every bite. The light tartare was not overpowering and balanced the rich brains to a tee. A very well thought out dish (pardon the pun).
An inside look into the true craftsmanship and beauty of these rare delicacies. Take special note of the gooeyness attached to each of of the lightly fried balls. All of it adds up to my most memorable brunch options of my eating career. Call them genius, call them mind blowing, call it the smartest dish you have ever eaten – just go chom some extra brains. A must order for any keen foodie.
If the Duchess is your local spot, then I can’t help but be somewhat envious of you. If you are an East-sider (like myself), then the traverse across our great city (Melbourne) for a premium breakfast or lunch is well worth it. Either way, I implore you to find a cafe using higher quality produce and constructing more creative dishes. Seriously, let me know if you find one. For the moment, I will leave you very comfortably saying that ‘you won’t’. I think it is time that you spoil yourself like royalty and dine with her excellency - The Duchess of Spotswood.
The Important Details…
Cuisine: Superior quality cafe fare
Noise: Gentle hum
Suitable for: All creatures great and small
Price: $20 – $25 a head w coffee
My View: Exceptional
Address: 87 Hudsons Road, Spotswood
Phone: (03) 9391 6016
Tip: Head a few doors down to Candied Bakery (81a Hudsons Rd) for a sweet treat after/before Duchess!
It’s a Saturday or a Sunday – you’re hung over or just really hanging for a massive meal? I present to you, all you can eat yum cha at the recently updated David’s Chinese in Prahran. Two sittings are available at 11:00am and 1:30pm and they last for a full two hours of constant chomming.
While there are no trolleys, which I will be honest with you is very disappointing, you can take comfort in the set-in-stone price tag of $35.00 for as much food as you desire. While this isn’t as cheap as Minh Tan II on Victoria Street ($15-$20 per head) in Richmond, it is cheaper than the opulent Red Emperor feast in Southbank ($55 per head). I do think that a David’s yum cha experience is worth your while for that stupidly big feed that you indulge in once every blue moon.
You are more than welcome to check out my full scoop on David’s offerings for dinner here. But without further adieu, I will let you in on the vast range of snacks that helped me get to bursting point last Sunday afternoon.
We can start the meal on the false pretence that we will be healthy. Some steamed Chinese greens never go astray.
BBQ pork buns were a must chom. Might as well try it all.
One-bite soft shell river prawns. Eat ‘em with their heads on or off – I don’t mind.
Very deep fried sesame prawn toast. Unhealthy, but loads of oil must help the hangover.
Steamed pork dumplings.
Pork and prawn shu mai.
Shanghai village pork ribs with a remarkable sweet sauce.
Ginger prawn dumplings.
Deep fried prawn rice paper rolls.
Shredded lamb with chilli, garlic and spring onion.
Chicken San Choi Bao, classic springers and spring onion pancakes.
Seafood dumplings with scallop crown.
Battered salt and pepper calamari. Freaken delicious, but ask for some plum sauce for perfection.
Banana leaf encasing sticky rice with pork inside.
Roast pork dumplings.
A pile of Peking duck pancakes. They weren’t the best in Melbourne, but am I going to sit here and complain about a plate load of these wraps?
Something about green prawn dumplings that attract me… a lot.
Banana street fritter pieces. If you can fit in one or two by this stage, I salute you.
Pulling cake and almond pudding with sesame powder.
Finally, soft-centred chocolate dumplings. These are really something special. Even if you have no room left maybe put one in your pocket and save it for later.
While most of these choices are more of a Westernized adaptation of yum-cha, the taste is very pleasing. My only advice is pace yourself.. or actually scrap that. Do whatever you feel is best. Don’t forget, once you have sat down, you might as well have a little nibble on everything that comes your way because you have already paid for it.
Hope you enjoy folks.
Do let me know other yum-cha experiences that you come across in Melbourne and beyond!
The Important Details…
Cuisine: Yum Cha
Bookings: Yes – best in advance via telephone services
Suitable for: Big Chommers
Dress: As you like
Price: $35.00 – all you can stomach
My View: One of Prahran’s better choices for a feed
Address: 4 Cecil Place, Prahran
Phone: (03) 9529 5199
Attention foodies of Melbourne – you now have a Vietnamese dining choice south of the great Yarra River divide. The people of Elwood have much to thank chef Geoff Lindsay for bringing his take on modern, up-market Vietnamese food to humble Ormond Road.
While no bargains are to be found here, you can take comfort in knowing that you will be dining in a very comfortable and relaxing environment. This is a major change from the regular fast-paced hustle and bustle you would expect whilst dining at most joints on Victoria Street (Melbourne’s Vietnamese hub).
Dandelion is an attractive eating destination for both younger and older folk. The older generation will take comfort in dinner bookings available 7 nights a week and lunches too (Thurs-Sun). Meanwhile; keen, younger foodies are here to sample Lindsay’s take on 21st century fusion Viet cuisine.
Now, without further ado, let us start talking about the food – because that’s why your reading this today. We dined here during the week as a group of 5 chommers and racked up a food bill of approximately $40 per head. To begin we had a ‘nibble’ of the crispy sesame and coconut rice papers with spanner crab dressed with coconut, chilli and lime ($16.00). The crab was buttery soft and almost melted into the crackers. Next time will try the chicken ribs with ginger.
While rice paper varieties included rock lobster, soft shell crab and spicy pork, we knew that we could not afford to order them all – despite wanting to chom every variety! We decided on the torched salmon, caviar, shredded lettuce, apple and yuzu soy ($16.00). Totally scrumptious and a shame others were so pricy – slightly cheaper we would have ordered one of each.
A minimum order of three of green rice fried tiger prawns with nuoc cham ($5.00 each) is required by the kitchen. An easy task to achieve considering how bloody brilliant these were.
Call me a loser – I felt that I should present the constructed prawn with all its accompanying body armour. Drizzle that baby with the juices provided, wrap it up and … chom. Flavour and texture explosion to follow in the mouth of awesomeness – ridiculously crunchy. A must order – one per person (at least).
‘Fresh off the coconut grill” – The crew at Dandelion deemed the BBQ pork spare ribs with lychee and mint salad ($38.00) so special that it was given its own heading on the menu. Much of this hype is owed to this specific course winning the prestigious Age Good Food Guide ‘dish of the year’ 2012. One can assume that it is only fair to let all customers know that they can sample an award winning dish during their chom – as we did graciously.
While we skipped the entire pho section of the menu, I took due notes that wagyu beef with brisket, chicken and mushroom and spanner crab options were on offer. Would be crazy not to sample one of them upon my next visit. We did have the Mekong fish curry with coconut, young jack fruit and sweet potato ($33.00). The broth was very light, while the fish was fresh and cooked perfectly, complemented by loads of garnish. The sweet potato pieces floating around were a top addition too. The pork belly and goat curry options tickled my fancy too.
Steamed shredded chicken salad with Vietnamese slaw, peanuts, crispy shallots and nuoc cham ($23.00). Once properly tossed, this was an excellent side salad; filling, delicious and full of flavour. I would recommend one salad between 4 chommers.
A range of accompaniments that were provided with the ribs and curries respectively
Dessert number one was little coconut pancakes with mung bean puree and coconut ice cream ($16.00). Just under a mouthful per person, which, combined with its sticky sweetness, is all that you really need. Get stuck into that coconut ice cream when you are done with the little cakes.
To conclude a lovely evening we all helped demolish the deep fried black sesame ice-cream with palm sugar and and caramelised monkey banana ($16.00). Who doesn’t like fried ice-cream, seriously?
To cap it all off, the service at Dandelion was truly exceptional. The staff were very patient with my somewhat difficult group and waited on us extremely professionally. While the overall price was on the expensive side, I believe that it can be justified once in a while when you want to eat Viet in a more high-class environment. Dandelion is doing great things for Elwood and surely will do nice things for you too.
Keep on chommin’.
The Important Details…
Cuisine: Modern Vietnamese
Noise: You can hear yourself think
Bookings: Yes – to make life that one bit easier
Suitable for: Older crowd – not cheap
Price: $40 per head (excluding alcohol)
My View: DVIE – Delicious Vietnamese In Elwood
Address: 133 Ormond Road, Elwood
Phone: (03) 9531 4900
A visit to the small take-away outlet down A’Beckett lane left me in two very interesting states. First and foremost admiring the deliciousness of all the bao we just sampled and secondly, wondering why the hell these guys are not open at night or on the weekend. These two senses of wonder will surely be felt after you visit Melbourne’s new hot-spot Wonderbao.
This place caters perfectly for the corporate and RMIT uni-types that roam Melbourne’s city for the best grub going around. Wonderbao offers a cheap, quick and delicious snack on the go. Take note of what the space looks like, with limited signage (just as the Melbournians like it) and a camouflaged black finish you can easily miss.
Seating space is very limited – 5 stools to be precise. So don’t come here expecting to have a proper sit-down breakfast or lunch experience. Take-away is my best advice or gently perch yourself outside on a milk crate and catch some vitamin D while chomming down your bao. Just be careful not to spill the Siracha down your top – like I did.
Two of us dined and we ordered a grand total of 6 buns to share. After some complex mathematics, this resulted in 3 per person – this would be the Chommery Approved (CA) suggestion of ordering.
To begin with bao festivities, we had the classic Char siu bao – BBQ pork bun ($2.00). The famous bun that we all have grown to love so much over our eating years. Wonder’s version was great – a thin but substantial layer of juicy, sweet chunks of pork wrapped in regular soft encasing. A good start to the chom.
While not visually appealing ‘da pork’ bao was an interesting choice. This was an absolutely enormous bun filled with shitake mushroom, egg and Chinese sausage ($3.20). The size and weight of this bun was truly special but it was far from my favourite of the day.
I am certain you will agree that the next three baos look too good to eat. Each one a piece of artwork with it’s distinct finishing touches. The braised pork belly gua bao with pickled mustard, coriander and crushed peanuts ($3.80) was divine. A generously thick, fatty layer of pork belly stole the show, doused exquisitely with the peanuts to create a truly special bao.
Could I be as bold to say that I preferred the roast pork belly gua bao with cucumber, pickled carrots, daikon and hoisin sauce ($3.80) to the braised? I think I like the consistency of the roast pig slightly more, combined with the fact that the meat and the fat blend in more easily with this method. Extra points given for the use of the vegetables – this must be heart foundation approved. A must order bao!
The fried silky tofu gua bao ($3.80) won the gold medal for me on this occasion. Hands down, this was the best bao and believe it or not, it was vegetarian! The gentle piece of tofu was lightly fried, then surrounded by pickled mustard, coriander, crushed peanuts and sweet soy and finally encased in the soft bun. This is a brilliant food dish and is a tribute to the bao lords.
The nai wong bao filed with egg custard ($1.70). How could this chom end on any different note than with a custard filled treat? The nai wong was also huge and split perfectly to share with your amigo.
And there you have it – I have done it again – waffled along way longer than necessary to convey my contention for today’s piece. I will re-enforce it now in case you haven’t yet been able to decipher it – if the above photos appeal to you – get your ass to Wonderbao!
The Important Details…
Cuisine: Asian / Chinese / Buns
Suitable for: Cheap-eat fans
Price: $10 per head
My View: Beautifal Bao!
Address: Shop 4/19-37 A’Beckett St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9654 7887
Hand’s down, Maxim’s Palace at City Hall (HK island) was the most memorable yum-cha experience of my life. A bold statement, even if I say so myself. Never the less one that I feel describes my time perfectly. A combination of excellent dim-sum, attentive service, thriving atmosphere and a very reasonable bill at the end, all helped to create an amazing lunch and a perfect ending to my holiday.
When lunch service begins sharply at 11:00am & concludes promptly at 3:00pm, you would be a straight out fool not to expect heavy traffic ahead of you when you arrive. A diverse range of locals, tourists and ex-pats fill this monster 7 days per week. Not to worry, the staff are highly capable of managing the masses, as you will quickly see, when you dine in this massive eating hall. This venue seats 100′s of people and the space is delightfully palatial (new word for me). White table cloths, chandeliers, fine china and view of the harbour. What an environment?
Did I mention trolley service too? You must be sold! We began with the steamed beef dumplings ($40 HKD – $5 AUD). Moist, plush and delicious. Only problem is I had to keep asking for soy sauce throughout the meal. Must be a very Western addition to dim-sum.
The only vegetarian dish of the lunch. Am I a bad person for eating animals? (probably). Steamed dumplings with assorted vegetables ($35 HKD – $4 AUD). These were fabulous and the skin did not fall to pieces either!
Steamed prawn mince dumpling ($40 HKD – $5 AUD). This dumpling wins my vote for the unique wrapping style. The only remainders of this round were the soy stains in the table cloth.
Shrimp rice noodle roll ($40HKD – $5 AUD). Must order. There were three optional fillings of prawn, beef or pork. Note: these easily cut in halves – wise to do so to avoid (more) mess.
Char Siu – baked barbecue pork buns ($40 HKD – $5 AUD). These were very similar to the ones found at Tim Ho Wan. Sweet pastry on the outside complemented with sweet BBQ pork. Hard to go wrong here…
Steamed pork dumplings with crab roe ($40 HKD – $5 AUD). A standard choice – above standard quality.
We could not help but order more rolls of this type. Mainly so because I rarely find these in Melbourne. Barbeque pork rice noodle roll ($40 HKD – $5 AUD). Drool drool drool.
Barbeque pork bun ($35 HKD – $4 AUD). Although we already had pork buns, we could not go past the original, the first, the champion of all pork buns.
Steamed shrimp dumpling ($40 HKD – $5 AUD). I sometimes dream about these little pillows of heaven. One bite of delight!
9 courses for two people at approximately AU$25 per person. A very affordable experience and a TOTAL must go! All-in-all my yum-cha research paid off big time! Maxim’s, along with Tim Ho Wan, are both incredible experiences for any die hard yum cha fan. Besides the high standard of food, they are two totally different adventures.
Travel well, order well, chom hard.
The Important Details…
Cuisine: Yum-Cha, Chinese
Noise: Not quiet by a long shot – them trolleys are noisy but easily maintained conversation
Bookings: Rock up, take a number and start drooling
Suitable for: Chommers of all ages
Dress: Smarter than usual – I looked like a bogan Aussie
Price: Approximately $200 HKD or alternatively $25 AUD (don’t forget we ate a sh*t load)
My View: Amazing experience, not to be missed – Did you see the chandelier?
Address: City Hall, Hong Kong Island – 5 Minutes from the Star Ferry by foot
Situated very unassumingly in the middle of the Mongkok area in Kowloon, Hong Kong, lies Tim Ho Wan. An internationally famous restaurant which carries the prestigious title as the ‘cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world’. After finding out this piece of information, it was with the utmost haste that I located an internet access point, obtained the address and recent reviews, which included the average cost of a meal, and headed in that direction.
My readings on Trip Advisor and other forums concluded that your total spend would be within a range of $5.00 – $10.00 AUD (60-160 HK) for a full meal of Yum Cha delicacies. My initial thought was, “That had to be total bullsh*t – no way Michelin would award a restaurant that cheap”. Turns out the reviews were spot on and the bill at my first Michelin experience was $20.00 for two.
Now, Tim Ho is no secret and by this I mean that plenty of people flock here. You would be wise to double-check, but I believe the opening hours are 10am – 10pm 7 days a week. From what I hear, the queues for brunch/lunch can be up to a two hour wait. On the fateful night I went, we arrived at 6:30pm and were seated instantly. To avoid the crowds it may be best for dinner (don’t quote me though).
This is an IN and OUT experience – the staff seem to hate people (or maybe just me). You come, stay for the food, certainly not for the service and leave feeling somewhat scarred emotionally, but very satisfied physically (in the tummy). You are provided with the menu (above) and order accordingly – only once! It was like pulling teeth with the agressive staff to allow us to order a second helping of pork buns.
The feast began with vermicelli roll stuffed with beef ($18 HKD – $2.20 AUD). The wrapping was gentle and thin but strong enough to hold the beef and vegetable pieces inside. Doused with a sweet soy sauce, I loved this dish. Awesome start. Only issue, all the food arrives as soon as it is ready – which is within minutes. Be prepared to chom quickly if you want to eat hot food.
The steamed fresh shrimp dumplings ($24 HKD – $3 AUD) were exceptional. No explanation necessary, but a must order.
These tasted tremendous, but unfortunately the wrapping exploded mid-chom process. The steamed dumpling in chiu chow style ($11 HKD – $1.5 AUD) are best to eat over your bowl. If you are like me, you can ask for soy sauce too – the staff may respond, they may not!
I was over the moon after I sampled a plate of pan fried turnip cakes ($14 HKD – $1.80 AUD). Call me pathetic, but I hadn’t tried these before. They were slightly crispy and lightly oiled, filled with nice shmooshy bites as you ploughed through each cake.
Unquestionably a high-light of the evening were the pan fried green pepper filled with mixed fish ($14 HKD – $1.80 AUD). Thin, fresh pieces of pepper hugged the tightly packed fish. Not only scrumptious, but also a unique offering that I had not come into contact with before. Thumbs up.
The steamed beef ball with bean curd skin ($16 HKD – $2 AUD) were not my favourite dish of the night, not because they weren’t delicious, simply that the other courses stood out more. I was not the biggest fan of the wet bean curd wrapping.
Steamed pork dumpling with shrimp ($24 HKD – $3 AUD) were another stock-standard favourite. Just as good as you will find in fine-dining establishments. Only difference, is that they wouldn’t be stuck together.
The baked buns with BBQ pork ($17 HKD – $2 AUD) were another new dish for me. I am well versed in the standard steamed BBQ buns but not with this alternate element of the frying/baking method. Boy were we happy to try these new treats, and happy enough to order a second helping
The wrapping was sweeter than usual pork buns and crumbled as you bit into the bun. Meanwhile the inside was filled with the typical BBQ goodness. Overall, these made for beautiful parcels of happiness and three each did the trick too.
All in all, Tim Ho Wan is a must go for any foodie looking for a delicious and very cheap yum-cha experience. I mean, seriously $10 AUD per person for 9 courses of exceptional grub? You may be asked to wait in line for hours (but I am told you can put your name down, browse the Ladies Market, and return later to a table) and perhaps be treated with a little dignity. But I believe the pros far outweigh the cons. With 4 locations (or more) dispersed over Hong Kong island and Kowloon, the Tim Ho people have made Michelin standard dining all that more available. Enough typing, more chomming. Enjoy.
The Important Details…
Cuisine: Yum Cha /Chinese
Price: $80 HKD / $10 AUD per head
Address: Click here