In the pursuit of becoming an all knowledgeable foodie (one can dream) I have found one cuisine falls by the way-side – Italian. I think it relates to a loopy mentality that goes something along the lines of, “I can make a spag-bol at home”, so why would you go out for it? You are now probably thinking that I am naive and slightly stupid. You’re probably right too.
We decided to steer clear of the burger bonanza, take a trip away from Thai and choose something other than Chinese. I had Franco Choo’s in Prahran on my list ever since it opened in 2011.
The menu consisted of three entrees, two main courses and two desserts. For a night out as a couple, this was a blogger’s paradise. It was suggested by the waiter that a 3 course menu was available for $43.00 per person. We did some calculations, assessed our hunger levels and naturally, obliged gracefully.
The vitello tonnato was a beautiful appetiser consisting of thinly sliced poached veal with tuna mayonnaise ($13.00). The veal was served cold and the pieces were much thicker than a carpaccio which is good for the big chommer. The thick dressing of mayo was full on but totally delicious.
If only this pasta came in a main course size – if not that – if only I could have a life time supply in my fridge. Either one, I will be happy with. The pasta was perfectly boiled – perfect al dente (none of that shmooshy/watery stuff). The pork mince gave it a meaty goodness that my heart desires, and the shavings of cheese was a great topping (especially when tossed through). Note: Photo does not do justice (PDNDJ).
Saffron braised free-range milawa chicken leg, artichokes and polenta gnocchi ($26.00). If the chicken falls off the bone without the use of a knife then generally speaking you have a winner. Each soft piece was dripping with chicken goodness as the remainder braised itself in the sauce on the plate. The polenta crisps were delicious without being over-fried and worked well to soak up the sauce.
Why not throw in an overused cliche – This dish looked too good to eat! Pan roasted barramundi, squid ink risotto and new season’s pea ($28.00). A generous portion of fish that possessed a crunchy and nutritious skin. Call me crazy but the highlight was actually the risotto. I don’t know if you buy the squid ink from a calamari store or Officeworks but it makes for amazing flavours!
Almond meringue rotolo (roll), strawberry and blood orange sauce ($11.00). Strawberries (check), cream (check) = happiness.
While dessert has become a staple conclusion on my eating adventures, it usually only consists of one only – we did manage with two this time. Warm semolina pudding, burnt orange caramel, pear and mascarpone ($12.00). Another very visually pleasing dish for the evening. A really interesting option that worked very well. The crushed pistachios are a great finishing touch.
I am sure these are not the typical dish you imagine when you hear of an Italian restaurant, but sometimes it is better that way. The combination of flavours, the beautiful arrangements and the high quality produce used in each dish, places this gem aside from the standard pizza/pasta charade. The menu changes every 2-3 weeks, so odds are we will have a different experience next time. Now it is time to tie up your shoes, because you can’t refuse a lovely night out at Franco Choo’s.
The Important Details…
Noise: Gentle background music
Suitable for: Adults – no children
Dress: Slightly above average
Price: $43 for 3 courses – no alcohol
My View: Small but great!
Address: 179a High Street, Prahran
Phone: (03) 9529 7310
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
You want excellent quality Japanese food, very reasonable prices and a top-notch location and I’ll tell you Hibari Japanese restaurant is where to go. Running with the same successful formula for many years (maybe 10 or more) in the same location on Malvern Road in South Yarra, Hibari serves up dish after dish of all the usual suspects that you desire.
Very unassumingly positioned with no outside seating, which is no problem for The Chommery and won’t be one for you either. You haven’t come here to spend many $$$, ogle multi-million dollar fit outs or be served by a person wearing oversized Ray Bans (without lenses) with a snake tattoo crawling on to his neck from underneath his top-button done-up collar. You have come for GOOD – WHOLESOME- INEXPENSIVE food. Do those places still exist in Melbourne? Yes!
Basic, self explanatory interior which forms a very cosy seating arrangement that only holds 30 people at any given time. It’s standard to see a continual influx of ‘in the know’ locals picking up take-away all through the night.
Edamame Beans ($5.00) – boiled green soybeans. Served salted and warm. In case you don’t know the correct way of eating these. You suck dem beans out and throw away the wrapping.
One bottle of sake (or more) always goes down as a great companion to any Japanese meal. The regular house blend, slightly heated is my standard choice.
The Moriwase is the combination plate of sushi and sashimi ($24.00). Fresh fish, perfectly made and a simple yet effective presentation. Top suggestion to share between 2 or 3 people. The real chommers should ensure to smoosh up that wasabi+ginger+soy to make a great sauce to coat your pieces in.
The large Califonia roll with prawn, vegetables and mayonnaise ($10.00) Your standard roll – no complaints.
Spicy inside out tuna roll ($10.00) Very aesthetically pleasing presentation. The addition of the fish roe and the sesame seeds on the outside provide for something slightly different.
Yakiniku – sliced beef in Japanese BBQ sauce ($14.00) For the price I shouldn’t complain. As for the readers, they want the truth or they won’t trust The Chommery anymore. The beef is very edible, but not of an amazing standard. Therefore, it is an order if you want – but I’m not saying it’s a must.
Good Japanese main courses are hard to come by. Although, The Tori teriyaki – chicken in teriyaki sauce ($14.00) is an exception. The chicken is tender and perfectly coated with the sweet teriyaki. A side of rice goes well with this to lap up the sauce. Further, at the price you are paying the serve is far from stingy. Definitely order to share with 2 + diners.
Minutes from Chapel Street and just down the road from Hawksburn Village (Malvern) placing Hibari in a prime location. Note: It’s often difficult to notice; it’s almost opposite the McDonalds.This is my favorite spot for local Japanese dinner. You can get a table rockin’ up, but to ensure you get one, it’s best to book ahead.
Chommery Approved Suggested times to visit Hibari:
- Casual relaxed weeknight (except Monday)
- Wholesome food with NO pretentiousness
- Post/pre movie at Jam Factory (Yes, it’s worth driving away from Chapel Street)
- Lining the stomach before a night out on the booze and/or start with BYO @ $4.00 per bottle
The Important Details…
Noise: When full quite loud
Bookings: Yes, via phone
Suitable for: All
Price: $20 – $25 per head
My View: An oldie but a goodie
Address: 479 Malvern Road, Prahran
Phone: (03) 9827 0155