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
A range of different Chinese restaurants, take-away outlets and other oriental cuisine line the extended walkways that make up Chinatown in Melbourne. Often you find yourself bewildered by the choice as you make your way down Little Bourke Street. Some of the premises are presumably serving totally inedible MSG, while others may delight your taste-buds all night long. With the external facades and menus all of a similar nature, it could prove to be a game of luck landing one of the better choices.
Either way, as a good-food navigator, I have a duty of care to my readers to send them in the direction of where I believe they will enjoy themselves. Today’s chom spot is Bamboo House, located at 47 Little Bourke Street, which is about half way between Exhibition and Spring Streets. This house began operations in 1984, offering a large variety of northern Chinese dishes in a comfortable setting. Trading successfully for over 25 years, there is much to love about Bamboo House and it’s excellent choice of Chinese fare. Most importantly, in all those years, the prices have remained reasonable.
There is nothing quite like the typical ‘Aussie-Chinese’ look that can be found at Bamboo House. Waiters are dressed in slacks, white shirts and black vests. The tables are completed with white cloths and the floor is non-other than classic dark red carpet. Some may say ‘out dated, where is the exposed brick’? For me, I can’t stress how much I love it when venues keep their original look eg Pellegrini’s and France Soir.
To begin the feast we had the chicken san choy bau. How can I resist? The cool and crunchy lettuce leaf compliments the chopped chook+veg+ nut mix so perfectly portioned inside. A favourite entree that I would recommend to all. Note: ask for extra plum sauce and drizzle all over, not because it needs extra flavour – it just tastes so damn good.
What an army of dumplings above? Soft, plush, juicy pan-fried beef and steamed pork dumpling. Excellent dumplings – no further elaboration required.
You almost need sunglasses to shade the shiny red glow that is glistening off this Peking duck. We requested the full duck and this is exactly what arrived. It’s so delicious I could demolish this little beauty all on my lonesome.
We were lucky enough that a duck master came out from the kitchen in order to prepare the individual parcels for my troops. This bloke was a lovely chap, cooked some ridiculous duck and likes playing tennis in his spare time.
The photo does not do justice to these two constructed Peking duck wraps. Deep inside, the delicate, warm wrap holds a thin, sweet layer of plum sauce and two strips of spring onion – not to forget a generous portion of duck! Eating perfection.
To help balance the stampede of main courses to follow we ate a plate of steamed Chinese greens with mushrooms. Nothing amazing here, just an attempt to try be slightly healthy.
The steamed Mongolian chicken with capsicum is a crowd pleaser. An above average version of a stock-standard Chinese dish. The chicken pieces are tender, the vegetables are fresh while the sauce is not too overpowering.
I have come to know and love this dish in my more recent chomming years. Sichuan dry fried beef has all too quickly become one of my favourite courses on an oriental night out. Ultra-thin pieces of beef, fried in the boiling hot depths of cooking oil and then drenched in a sickly-sweet dressing. Maybe the description does not sound the best – take it from me this is eating bliss. Each croft (crunchy + soft) bite into these mouthfuls is just ‘top-notch’.
Important to offer something for the fish eating vegetarians and the Omega 3 crowd. The steamed barramundi with ginger and spring onion is an excellent choice. The pre-cut, fluffy pieces of Barra are bathing so eloquently in a very light soy dressing. This dish is light and certainly Chommery approved.
As I am sitting here jibber-jabbering I can’t help but salivate. The Cantonese beef with snow peas was exactly what I was hoping for. Generously sized pillows of beef, meaty goodness, each one more lathered in the sweet Cantonese sauce than the next. The snow peas are only visually appealing, while the whole dish is worth it simply for the succulence of the beef.
We dined here as a group of 11 to celebrate a family members day of birth and the Bamboo staff looked after us considerately by perfectly portioning each dish to suit the numbers. Bamboo House is also great if you are a smaller group looking to get a quality Chinese fix when floating around the CBD. I will say that this is not the most economical option on Little Bourke and neither is my equal favourite venue of Longrain (diagonally opposite). Now, you have seen the photos and maybe read some of my dribble so you can make a more informed choice. Bamboo House is not a house, it’s a home and one worth living in even if only for one night (or day).
The Important Details…
Noise: Mid-level chit chat
Suitable for: All
Dress: More upmarket than usual
Price: $50 per person
My View: Tip top Chinese Fare
Address: 47 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9662 1565
Maybe it was a sign from the food gods telling me that when you are watching an AFL match at the MCG you are meant to eat the food that is offered at the stadium. Hotdogs, jam doughnuts, meat pies and hot chips, coke and beer are all absolute winners every day of the week. You certainly cannot go wrong with a combination of those timeless junk-esque snacks. We tried to beat the system on this occasion – to find a suitable pre-match restaurant that was quick, affordable and delicious. Maedaya was quick, affordable and semi-delicious.
I had been to Maedaya on several occasions before, and thought that it would tick all the requirements for this evening. We had no choice but to arrive early, considering we wanted to watch the first bounce, and there is a strict no booking policy for under 6 patrons. The staff are very friendly as they greet you in Japanese (I think) as you enter the room. Further, our waiter was very kind as he helped us select our dinner and drinks – nice to find some helpful staff.
The team behind Maedaya have done a great job fitting out the downstairs room. As you walk in the front door, it is impossible not to notice the ropes hanging from the ceiling that creep down the walls. An interesting touch. I like the space a lot. Meanwhile the bar is on the right hand side displaying an impressive range of Sakes and Japanese beer on tap. I did not get a photo but you will surely see the small grilling station upon entering, where a dedicated griller stands and cooks a variety of skewers (a specialty here). An upstairs room is available too where they host self-barbequing stations – personally I find the downstairs much more cosy and cute.
The menu is enormous in both physical size and variety of izakaya inspired dishes on offer. The skewers are certainly a feature of the menu taking up an entire page of different options including, mushroom, eel, scallops, chicken … you get the picture. We started with the scallop (pictured above). I was hungry and ate them very quickly. The scallops were not a brilliant quality. But they were only $5.00 for the two. It is hard to complain when normally they are a very expensive treat.
Beef, teriyaki chicken and chicken mince skewer ($6.00ish for all). These were very chommable and arrived very quickly.
I cannot criticise the presentation of the Maedaya skewer set. Five of these babies are lined up next to each other, each ready and waiting to disappear. Each skewer was meant to have a different dressing, although I found the mayonnaise ones to be very similar, besides the colour. The three on the right were all alike too. They were very inexpensive and tasted like mushy chicken mince. Not superb, but an ok snack.
The salmon sushi was presented very nicely with carrot slivers and toasted sesame seeds to decorate – stock standard hand rolls. This dish was probably the best of those ordered and was appropriate to share with 2 people.
Main serve of chicken teriyaki. Tender pieces of chicken coated in a thick sweet marinade. You can’t go wrong with it. A good option to plonk in the middle between 2 or 3 people. Three forks please?
Above is the salmon and tuna salad. I felt like the pieces of salmon and tuna were slightly sub-par standard overall – seems like the average fish theme runs through all the dishes here. Nevertheless, this was a healthy and surprisingly filling salad. The golf ball inspired mayonnaise constructed pile of crab meat was a very nice touch. I chommed him up real quick.
We were in and out of Maedaya within 40 minutes, not bursting out of our pants and our wallets had not suffered either.
Overall, Maedaya is not creme da le creme Japanese. That long lasting feeling when you think about the restaurant for days post-visit did not occur after this experience. Will I go back in the future? I would go under similar circumstances. Certainly the level of haste to re-visist has decreased a notch or so since this experience. In such a competitive industry in Melbourne, you just have to be perfect (or at least close to it) with simple dishes like these. Or maybe my mind was a mess the whole time and I just wanted my Four’N Twenty Pie…
The Important Details…
Cuisine: Japanese Izakaya
Noise: Bearable chit chat
Bookings: Groups of 6 or more
Suitable for: All
Price: Approx $25 a head
My View: Fast, friendly and cheap
Address: 400 Bridge Road, Richmond
Phone: (03) 9428 3918
Sozai is one of many on my restaurant repertoire list. Thankfully, I put suburbs next to names of eateries to make the decision making process even faster. A cold night in Melbourne, I can take comfort in going to one of my old favourites, ensuring I will have a good meal. It’s also not too far away from the nest either.
The electric blue neon ‘Sushi (fish) Sozai’ sign at the top of the window will be the beacon of light letting you know you have arrived at your destination. Pleasant exterior with wooden paneling, a very typical Japanese style. A few tables out front, only really used to eat in the summer. In the winter they’re just used for a quick hit of nicotine during a meal by some patrons.
As you hope for when you go out for Japanese food – a clean, sleek fit out in which you feel very comfortable to dine. This snap was taken when Sozai was emptying out. An hour back or so, around 7:00pm, take-aways run in and out continually while the place is packed with sit-in diners. I have been known from time to time to take advantage of the efficient take away service.
Stock standard bowl of miso soup ($3.50). This is a great way to start any Japanese meal (unless you burn your mouth). In the winter, there are not too many nicer pleasures than cupping your hands around a hot dish and slowly warming up the ol’ body with small gulps at a time.
I can never stop myself from ordering this appetiser. Once they arrive and I have my first heavily salted bean, I can not stop eating them. The edamame beans ($7.00) at Sozai are served warmed with large sodium crystals dispersed throughout. I recommend these as a delightful snack to share with up to 4 people before your meal. Warning – these are addictive.
The gyoza – pan fried home-made pork and vegetable dumpling (6 for $8.50). Small parcels of minced fillings in a very delicate Japanese type dumpling wrapper. These work well to share between 3 or 4. They aren’t award winning Xiao Long Bao – just tasty, lightly fried mouthfuls. Dip them in the sauce provided for extra flavour.
Nasuden – lightly fried eggplant with miso glaze ($8.00). Love it, and order it every time I see it on the menu. On this particular occasion, you may notice the closer portion was slightly overcooked. It still tasted ridiculously good. The delicious miso paste, combined with the moist warmed eggplant is heavenly. Nice to share between three people.
Ebi tempura – prawns and vegetables deep fried in Japanese batter ($12.50). I always like to think that tempura batter is a far healthier alternative to the regular bread crumb/beer batter – I think I want to go on keeping this belief. The prawns are the best on the dish by far. The vegetables are only there to say hello with no real added value. A light soy based dipping sauce is provided too. I often let the napkin soak some of the residual oil from the tempura for a good 5 second before I pick it out and chom it in two mouthfuls (max).
If you want an insider’s tip for Sozai that you may use on your own, it is ‘ask for the Nasuden nigiri’ ($3.00 per piece). They are the seaweed wrapped eggplant sushi. Using the same eggplant displayed earlier, only finely cubed sitting on a bed of Japanese rice. Need I say more – order, order, order. Two per person is perfect. The entree sushi platter – 4 pieces maki + 4 pieces nigiri ($13.00) was put on the same dish. Good use of space if I say so myself. Excellent, fresh pieces of sushi. Flawless every-time. Unfortunately, this is the extent of sushi for this meal.
Chicken thigh fillet with teriyaki sauce with steamed vegetables ($21.00). I’ll admit this photo does not look too appetising. To be honest with my loyal readers, the taste is not great either. I have a brother with a condition that does not allow him to eat fish products, thus we often order the chicken teriyaki for him. It’s very edible, but most definitely not Chommery Approved.
The unagi don – sizzling smoked eel with steamed rice and thin omelette ($20.00) is a dish that many may not see on a regular basis. Besides eating this dish time and time again at Sozai, I have only one other fond memory of eels. When my brother and I were young children visiting the Botanical Gardens in South Yarra, we would run to the edge of the lake and our caring father would hold us back while we tried to catch one of the eels in the water. We were not so lucky. This could be Mr Sozai’s source. Roughly 5 soft, sweet, succulent pieces of eel sit pretty with a Japanese egg and sliced peas. We commonly put this in the middle and share between three. No more spiel, just try some eel.
Sozai is not out of this world, heart stopping, fine dining, three chef hat winning cuisine in Melbourne. Alongside Hibari on Malvern Road, it is one of my local go-to Japanese joints. The following reasons are why I keep going back to Sozai, and why I feel you may enjoy yourself too:
- The produce is fresh
- The interior is wooden and warm, not to mention clean
- The sushi is excellent
- You can often get in if you don’t have a booking
- The prices are very competitive
- It’s open seven nights a week (very rare for Japanese restaurants)
- The overall food standard makes me smile
- Reliability, convenience and taste are all checked
The Important Details…
Noise: Fair amount of chatter floating aorund
Bookings: Yes – wise to do so
Suitable for: Young and old
Dress: Casual – smart casual
Price: $30-$35 p.p. (very reasonable)
My View: Consistently pleasing
Address: 1221 High Street, Armadale
Phone: (03) 9824 8200
An important disclaimer you need to read before viewing this post: I do not consider myself an expert to critically analyse and discuss Vietnamese cuisine. Not to say, I am an expert of other types of food, but I have had significantly more experience at eating them than Vietnamese. I constantly hear how great (and economical) Vietnamese is in Melbourne. Thus, I took it on board and drove down to none other than Victoria Street, Richmond to a widely popular spot called ‘I love Pho 264′ to check it out.
What a unique name for a restaurant. I think the owners must really admire the pho that comes out of their kitchen. Alternatively, is it what the customers are meant to think after they have visited this place? All that really comes to my mind when I think of “I love” phrases is Brick Tamland’s (from Anchorman’s) “I Love Lamp” quote. Classic.
We chose to dine here on a Saturday night and what a packed dining room it was. When we arrived at 7:00pm there were limited empty tables. By the time we left at 7:30 there was a small queue forming out the doorway on the cold street. Approximately 10 hungry chommers. Upon arrival, I was surprised that they took reservations and even more so that they kept our table free. We were in a big rush before the footy. It worked out well that they held the table for us and even better that you are served your food within 5 minutes of ordering it. Generation Y and university students seem to make up the bulk of their customer base. Wow do they have voices on them! This place isn’t meant for a quiet meal.
As an entree we had great pork and prawn rice paper rolls ($5.00 for 4). For all the maths heads out there, that equates to $1.25 per roll. Cheap! I loved these because they were nice and fat, with a generous amount of insides. Not to mention a delicious dipping sauce. The only other starter that we were aware of was a variety of spring rolls.
You can tell by the name that people come here for the Pho. They come in three sizes, small, medium and large. We only found this out by overhearing the table next to us order. The three of us all ordered the medium size. We would consider ourselves as pretty good eaters and we were very full after this. I would recommend the small or medium, depending on your hunger level. Above is the beef and brisket pho ($10.00). Generous combination of soft pieces of meat and flat rice noodles for each of the servings. The broth was served warm, not as hot as we would have liked. Still, very passable. I made a concoction of complimentary chilli and hoi sin sauce to add some extra kick. Wasn’t necessary but I like to add sauce anyway. A shared plate of lemon, basil and bean shoots was provided. A few handfuls of them were thrown into the bowl too. I tried each of these (all the same but the meat) – they were all delicious.
Chicken and beef pho with steamed vegetables ($10.00) (vegetables were requested). Nice to see some vegetables in the broth. Will be adding these few in for next time.
Shredded chicken pho ($10.00).
Bowl of chilli for desert?
Now, you may ask, did I ‘love’ Pho 264? Truth be told, love is a very hard word to comprehend. I may respond by saying, ‘What is love? baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more’. I can usually tell if I have fallen into love with a place if I have either; dreamed about the food that night or sit reminiscing my wonderful time the next day. Neither of these happened. Needless to say, you cannot always have such strong feelings towards each place you dine at. If you ask, would I return? The answer is yes. I love Pho 264 was fast, cheap and delicious. If you are looking to fulfill those criteria then this is the place for you.
The Important Details…
Noise: Lots of chit chat
Bookings: Yes – Not sure how much it will be honoured
Suitable for: All pho fans
Dress: As you wish
Price: $10 – $15 per head
My View: Cheap and cheerful
Address: 264 Victoria Street, Richmond
Phone: (03) 9427 7749
As Melbourne fast approaches Winter, with a deep chill in the air, leaving the house becomes a task in itself. My desires to travel to uncharted and unfamiliar restaurant territory is quashed precisely for this reason. You may have found yourself in this recent situation, deciding on a particular spot for dinner, coming to the conclusion to go with an old favourite after a lengthy discussion. Further, a place that allows bookings can prevent one from potentially catching pneumonia while standing in a queue for hours on end. Thus, we decided on Hu Tong Dumpling Bar in Prahran. Local – Check. Booking – check. Reliable – check.
This, my friends, is no ordinary door. This is both the entrance to the Hu Tong eatery and a gym work out all in one. If I was you, I would consider a few bicep curls before attempting to push your way through the heavy metal displayed above. Once we entered the restaurant we were glad to have a reservation. Even though we dined on a weeknight, Hu Tong attracts a variety of locals and families looking for a reasonably priced - it was very busy. Undoubtedly, you will notice a ‘dumpling-preparation viewing station’ as you enter the main dining room. Take a minute to watch the cooks prepare excellent dim sum, in a multitude of varieties, which you will surely be chomming minutes later.
You will notice some of the most elegant restaurateurs in Melbourne sipping Chinese tea and chatting the night away, in the friendly spacious environment. While our numbers weren’t large enough to constitute a round table (my personal favourite), we did notice the unfortunate lack of the ‘lazy susan’ that saddened me ever so slightly. You will love the menu, which, in Japanese fashion, has many photos next to the available dishes. Usually, this does not bode well for a restaurant but in this instance I let it slide.
To begin warming our engines, we dined on vegetable dumplings (12 pieces for $16.80). The interesting green wrappers, with its chewy texture provide a casing for the insides, which formed a piece of vegetable mash. Vinegar, soy and chilli dipping sauce varieties all available for your coating pleasures.
Now we really start to get into the good stuff. The wontons with hot chilli sauce (8 pieces for $12.80) – a must order. These are very soft dumplings and the oil/soy/chilli sauce in which they are bathed matched perfectly with each parcel. Make sure to try to use a soup spoon to get some of the sauce with the wonton when eating. Amazing! Note: these were not very spicy, I would say more on the mild side of hotness.
The staff will always recommend Hu Tong’s signature dumpling dish of Shao-long Bao (8 pieces for $12.80). Often staff will talk up a dish that often does not match expectations. This is not the case here. I have had these every time I’ve visited Hu’s and you will not regret ordering these. To break it down, these are pork dumplings with captured broth inside the wrapping. Not only are they delicious, but fun to eat as well. A must order. On the back of the menu is an in depth depiction of how to eat these dumplings. A good read, to ensure no spillage of the broth and full eating pleasure.
Peking Duck (Half a duck – 8 pieces for $33.00). Another great appetizer, Hu Tong excel in preparing this dish. Soft duck, crispy skin, warm pancake and a dash of plum sauce. Two pieces each really hit the spot, (especially because they were slightly on the smaller side). Once piece is never enough. There is a funny guide on the back of the menu with steps on how to eat the duck too. Bloody obvious though – chom it in the mouth in one go. Obviously!
Diced chicken in chilli sauce with peanuts ($22.80). This was an appealing and inexpensive large sharing dish. No unique chomming experience here, just a reliable Chinese plate that pleased all. Note: I had to remove the plethora of dried chilli skins from my helping – good practice of chop sticks. The waiter informed us that no vegetables would arrive with our main course but from the photo above it looks like either we got lucky or he gave us wrong information. Either way, it’s always good to have some vegetables – right?
The shredded beef with home made BBQ sauce ($28.80) can be viewed above. These beefs strips were heavily glazed and fried but totally addictive. Without question, the small amount of beef within the batter was of a poor standard. Nevertheless, myself and fellow chommers did not leave any left overs. The photo is quite deceiving in that it looks like a small serve, when in truth the mound of beef was built tall rather than wide.
I’m a little confused as to why Hu Tong is ranked as the third best Melbourne restaurant on Urbanspoon. Don’t get me wrong I have enjoyed all my visits to this spot, but number three – I don’t think so. Here we have a solid mid-range Chinese restaurant, that is family friendly and open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. It is a reliable spot to hit up some classic Chinese food out of the city- just off Chapel Street. Take it from The Chommery; do not hesitate to order more dumplings – that’s where the money’s at!. It’s called a ‘dumpling bar’ for a reason.
The Important Details…
Noise: Loads of
Suitable for: All
Dress: Smart casual
Price: $40 a head (not including alcohol)
My View: Superb dumplings found here
Address: 161 Commercial Road, Prahran (The Cullen Hotel)
Phone: (03) 9098 1188