Royal Mail Hotel On Spencer: Melbourne Food & Wine Festival – Are you game?

Going back to the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival for a moment – as well as the Hawkers’ Market, Bro and I also attended the “Are you game?” dinner at the Royal Mail Hotel on Spencer.

Also known as the “roadkill” dinner, it was an evening of dishes showcasing different Australian game meats. Apart from the yabbies, all the meat that evening was wild caught game. Drink wise, we started with a glass of Prosecco, and then over the course of the evening were served three glasses of wine from the wine label, Ladies Who Shoot their Lunch. Seriously, how perfect was that wine label for the evening. I’m not going to talk about the wine because I know sweet FA about wine, apart from the fact I like to drink it. On to the food!

There were TEN courses… when we saw the menu we thought that we might have to select from some of the options. But no, there were TEN COURSES! Oh my goodness. Let’s get stuck in.

"Are you game?" dinner at Royal Mail on Spencer

First up was a Yarra Valley yabby martini with lime aioli and spring onion cigar. The yabby meat was very delicately flavoured, and we found a bonus quail egg at the bottom of the glass. The aioli was nice and creamy, although I found the spring onion cigar rather sweet, which was disconcerting!

"Are you game?" dinner at Royal Mail on Spencer

Next up we received a quail pithivier with wild rice and curly kale. The pithivier had light flakey pastry and I also noted that it was buttery – mhmmm so buttery – with hints of cinnamon. The wild rice was chewy and sweetish, and the kale was also buttery. It was a very enjoyable dish.

"Are you game?" dinner at Royal Mail on Spencer

The third course was a smoked Flinders Island mutton bird salad with Mount Buffalo organic hazelnuts and grapefruit dressing. This was one dish that had everyone divided. The mutton bird was interesting, and was unlike any other bird I had ever eaten before – it had a very strong, oily anchovy flavour. Yes, anchovy! Mutton bird tastes like fish! Amazing. I can’t say that mutton bird is a meat that I would seek out again, but it was interesting to try it.

"Are you game?" dinner at Royal Mail on Spencer

After the mutton bird, we received wild barramundi with “sand of the sea” and clam foam. The barramundi was BEAUTIFUL – it had fantastic flavour, was perfectly cooked and flaked away under my fork. The “sand” was finely ground breadcrumbs, and the “foam” was tapioca. Chives represented seaweed and thinly sliced potato on the fish represented scales. I was so impressed that the fish was perfectly cooked when the kitchen would have had to cook so many portions at the same time. This was the dish of the night for me. Seriously lovely.

"Are you game?" dinner at Royal Mail on Spencer

Following the barramundi was a duck liver parfait with apple and pear chutney and brioche. The duck liver parfait was very, very rich – to the point where it was almost bitter. It was nice though, very smooth, with the sweet, fruity chutney helping to cut through some of the richness, both from the parfait and the buttery (and heavily buttered!) brioche.

"Are you game?" dinner at Royal Mail on Spencer

Next was a Flinders Range kangaroo rogan josh curry served with a pappadam and a piece of nann. The curry had big bold flavours and the roo meat was made into a couple of large meatballs. I’ve had (and cooked) roo many times before, and because it’s so lean it’s not a meat that is nice when overcooked. So I’m not entirely sure about roo meatballs – while the roo meatballs weren’t too dry, they were noticeably drier than a beef meatball would be. It was a tasty curry though.

"Are you game?" dinner at Royal Mail on Spencer

After the curry there was a palate cleanser of crocodile ceviche with Yarra Valley salmon roe and limoncello. This was really interesting, it was like a lemon liqueur crocodile chewing gum!

"Are you game?" dinner at Royal Mail on Spencer

Moving into the final courses, next up was herb crumbed Daylesford venison with mushrooms, kipfler potatoes and saffron cream. Maybe I was a bit delirious with food by this stage, but I wrote in my notes that the venison had a pate like flavour with a texture that made me think of boiled meat.

"Are you game?" dinner at Royal Mail on Spencer

And for our last savoury course, we received slow braised wild Redesdale rabbit with squid ink gnocchi. This was supposed to come with Flinders Island wallaby prosciutto, but they must have had a shortage because a small amount of the prosciutto was passed around the table (which didn’t get to us). The chewy and tough gnocchi was the only disappointment of the night. The rabbit, however, was good – tender and flavoursome, and in my notes, I wrote that it tasted like a savoury chicken pie! I think I was definitely delirious with food by this stage. The thing that was topped with a mushroom was a potato filled with rabbit liver.

"Are you game?" dinner at Royal Mail on Spencer

And finally, for dessert, we had duck egg crème brulee. This was SUPER rich, and very creamy. It was lovely, but oh my god it was SO RICH, particularly after ni
ne other courses! I enjoyed smelling the sprig of rosemary and lemon too.

I was mostly very impressed with the food that evening. Most of it was cooked really well, presented nicely and nothing was too strange (not that Bro and I mind strange, we did do offal last year). It was a very good event to attend and we went home two happy eaters.

Royal Mail Hotel on Spencer
519 Spencer St
West Melbourne
Phone: 03 9329 6955

Cookbook Challenge: Week 23, Leaf

Silverbeet frittata

Recipe: Silverbeet frittata
From: The Cook’s Companion

Second recipe: Chard with olive oil & lemon
From: Nigel Slater’s Tender

The theme for this week’s Cookbook Challenge is “leaf” and I’ve decided to showcase silverbeet (chard). I think silverbeet is a seriously beautiful vegetable, with its snowy white stems and large dark green, ribbed leaves. And the rainbow versions are even more stunning, with their red, yellow, purple or orange stems. When Bro and I were younger, a friend who lived near us used to give mum silverbeet throughout winter. She must have grown buckets of the stuff, because we seemed to receive it constantly. So much in fact, that after we moved houses, we didn’t (couldn’t?) eat silverbeet again for years!

Silverbeet frittata

I don’t blame my mother for not cooking silverbeet again for ages. While I think it’s a fantastic vegetable there’s only so much I can think to do with it. And a bunch goes a rather long way – I made two recipes out of my bunch of silverbeet. The first recipe was a silverbeet frittata from the Cook’s Companion. I made us a large frittata for lunch, and a wee mini one for photos – aww look! Isn’t it cute? Yes, that is a mini frying pan, and it was perfect for an individual sized frittata. The frittata was lovely, the earthiness of the silverbeet working really well with the egg and particularly the cheese. It was a very satisfying lunch, which we ate with fresh tomatoes.

The second recipe was a simple one – boiled silverbeet with garlic and lemon juice. I couldn’t resist adding a big knob of butter to the pan when cooking the garlic and I’m glad I did. It made a tangy, buttery, garlicky sauce for the silverbeet and was a nice side dish for dinner tonight. (I also added some to the top of the frittata as a garnish).

So silverbeet – are you a lover or hater? And does anyone have any brilliant ideas on cooking it?

See previous Cookbook Challenge posts here

Update: see the round up at My Food Trail.

Silverbeet frittata

Silverbeet frittata

Adapted from the Cook’s Companion

Serves 4

400g silverbeet
olive oil
onion, peeled and finely diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
freshly ground black pepper
salt
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
Handful of grated mozzarella (I just added this in because I had some in the fridge)
6 eggs, lightly beaten

Separate the silverbeet leaves from the stems. Trim the ends off the stems and cut into 1cm pieces and rinse thoroughly. Give the leaves a good rinse, then roll them up and slice.

In a 22-24cm frying pan, saute the stems, diced onion and garlic in oil over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the leaves, covering the pan until the leaves are wilted, and then saute for several more minutes. Tip the stems and leaves into a colander and allow to drain. After it has cooled a bit, give the silverbeet a squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible.

Into a large bowl, add the egg, pepper, a bit of salt, cheese and drained silverbeet and mix well. Wipe the frying pan with kitchen paper and place on a high heat with a good glug of oil. When the pan is hot, tip in the egg mixture and lower the heat to medium.

Let the egg mixture cook until the top is just moist, running a spatula around the sides and under the frittata as it cooks to make sure it doesn’t stick.

Slide the pan under a preheated grill for a minute to cook the top, then loosen with a spatula and slide on to a warmed plate. Cut into thick wedges and serve.

First, cook the veg (if you don’t, they will release their juices into the frittata, which will be too watery). Cut the stems from the Swiss chard and roughly chop. Cook in a large pot of simmering salted water for 10 minutes. Wash the leaves well, roughly chop, and add to the pot. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes until wilted.

Drain well and cool, then squeeze out any excess water. Beat the eggs, egg yolks, cream, parmesan, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a bowl. Heat the butter and oil in a non-stick fry pan, and pour in the eggs. Arrange the drained greens in the pan, jiggling them so they settle into the egg.

Cook over moderate heat until the eggs have set on the bottom and are lightly golden. Heat the grill, wrap the fry pan handle with kitchen foil and place under the grill for a few minutes until lightly golden and just-set in the middle. If it’s still runny, cover the pan and give it another couple of minutes over moderate heat. Cut into big wedges and serve.

Chard with olive oil & lemon

Adapted from: Nigel Slater’s Tender

450g white stemmed chard / silverbeet
3 garlic cloves, peeled & sliced finely
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
knob of butter
a lemon, cut in half

Separate the stems from the leaves and wash thoroughly in cold water.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and add the stems. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, or until they are soft and still retain some bite. Remove the stems from the water and leave to drain in a colander.

Bring the water back to the boil and add the leaves – they will only take 1-2 minutes to cook. Remove the leaves from the water and drain in a colander.

Pour the olive oil and butter into a pan on low heat. Add the garlic and cook gently – don’t let it colour. Tip in the drained silverbeet leaves and stems and fold them over in the warm oil and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and squeeze half of the lemon over the silverbeet. Serve immediately with the other half of the lemon on the side.

Cookbook Challenge: Week 22, Red

Recipe: Must-try red cabbage braised with apple, bacon and balsamic vinegar
From: Cook with Jamie

It’s week 22 of the Cookbook Challenge and the theme is “red”. I had a ton of ideas for red week, but I got a bit caught up in piezzas (that’s a pie/pizza hybrid for those uneducated in the way of the piezza) and opted for an easy recipe.

Red cabbage braised with apple, bacon & balsamic vinegar

I seem to like a lot of vegetables that other people deem boring – eg broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and the ever so humble cabbage. I like cabbage both raw and cooked, so when I saw this red cabbage recipe AND it was titled “must-try” I naturally had to try it!

The cabbage is braised with bacon, apples and balsamic vinegar. The original recipe used a whole head of red cabbage. Now, I know I said I like cabbage, but a whole head of cabbage would mean NOTHING but cabbage for a week. So I only used half a head of cabbage, but I kept the bacon and apple quantities about the same – because you can never get enough bacon, right? At the end of the cooking time, I tasted the cabbage – Jamie’s book describes it as a “gorgeously sticky-sweet cabbage dish that you’ll want to eat immediately”. It was tangy and vinegary, but didn’t really enthuse me, but since we weren’t going to be eating it that night I popped it into the fridge.

Red cabbage braised with apple, bacon & balsamic vinegar

It sat in the fridge for two days, and we ate it last night with piezzas left over from the pizza party. In those two days, the flavour improved and I found it much more exciting than on the night I had made it. I was also glad I hadn’t halved the quantity of bacon because the bits of salty bacon were GREAT amongst the sharp tanginess of the cabbage.

So the verdict? I think it is a must try recipe, but only if you can leave it for at least a day!

See previous Cookbook Challenge posts here.

Update: see the round up at My Food Trail.

Red cabbage braised with apple, bacon & balsamic vinegar

Recipe: Must-try red cabbage braised with apple, bacon and balsamic vinegar

Adapted from Cook with Jamie

Serves 4

olive oil
250g bacon, finely sliced
1/2 tablespoon fennel seeds, bashed
1 onion, peeled and sliced
3 apples, peeled and chopped into 2.5cm pieces
1/2 red cabbage, outer leaves & core removed, chopped into irregular chunks
salt and pepper to taste
75ml balsamic vinegar
sugar to taste (if necessary)
a knob of butter
chopped parsley leaves (optional)

Heat some oil in a saucepan until hot, add the bacon and fennel and cook until golden.

Add the onion and cook with the lid on for several minutes until golden and sticky.

Add the apple, cabbage, some salt and pepper and vinegar and stir well. Put the lid on and cook on a low heat for an hour, stirring occasionally. Taste the cabbage – you may want to add some sugar if it’s too vinegary.

Scoop into a serving dish, place butter on top and garnish with the parsley.

Pizza Pie

International Pizza Pie Incident Party

Vanilla cupcakes with lemon buttercream & fondant pizza slices

It’s time for another global food party – last time we made gnocchi and this time we’re doing pizza pie!

Pizza PIE
Waka, waka, waka

Now I know that pizza pie can refer to just a regular pizza, but I really wanted to do a PIZZA PIE. So I have two offerings to bring to the party.

Pizza PIE

The first, is a pizza in a pie form – pies with a pizza filling! I made a savoury shortcrust for the bottom pastry, which was then placed into pie tins and blind baked. Then I filled the pie shells with pureed tomatoes, salami, olives, mushrooms and mozzarella. Then it was topped with a lid of (store bought) puff pastry and baked to pizza pie perfection. Despite my lack of pie making experience (and trust me, it showed when I just tried to whack the puff pastry lid on top without wetting it, thinking it would stick by itself) these were still very good. My shortcrust pastry was buttery and soft, and the filling tasted just like pizza. A definite pizza pie success.

Pizza PIE

My second pizza pie is a pie in pizza form! I cooked up a pot of meat pie filling by browning some diced beef in seasoned flour, and then stewing it with a couple of diced carrots, onions and celery and chicken stock. I made pizza bases from no-knead pizza dough, spread on pureed tomatoes, and then added a thin layer of meat pie filling. Shredded mozzarella went on top of that, and then a piece of puff pastry. Again, it was baked to pizza pie perfection – I LOVED this version, most likely because the pie filling was savoury and moreish.

Vanilla cupcakes with lemon buttercream & fondant pizza slices

I did also do regular pizza, but unfortunately Bro ate the ones I was going to photograph (nice one, Bro!). And you may also be wondering about the cupcakes? Well, it’s Penny’s birthday and it can’t be a party without cake. So Penny received vanilla cupcakes with lemon buttercream and pizza slice fondant toppers. Happy birthday!

A big thanks to Dany for coming over and critiquing my pizza pie creations. Huge thanks also to Alastair for doing the mountain of dishes I generated! I hope you enjoyed my offerings to the party – visit the other attendees to see what they prepared:

Addictive and Consuming
Sense & Serendipity
Christine’s Recipes
Eat, Live, Travel, Write
Tasty Trix
Hold the Beef
Enriching your kid
Five Star Foodie
Kitchen Butterfly
Second Helping
Berry Travels
Cafe Campana
Momofuku for 2
Fried Wontons for You
A Food Lover’s Journey
Sweet Cherrie Pie
Tangled Noodle

Persimmon: Ron Mueck & Week of Eats

Ron Mueck exhibition - NGV

During the week of eating that we had while my in laws, Annette and Terry, were in town, we went to the Ron Mueck exhibition at the NGV. (My posts are all out of order, but never mind). Has anyone gone to see the exhibition? Wasn’t it fantastic? And if you haven’t gone, it’s closing this weekend, so quick sticks!

Ron Mueck exhibition - NGV

I’m so glad we went, as I loved it. My favourite sculpture was the little old ladies above. Dead Dad (photo at the top) was also fantastic, and I also loved Drift below).

Ron Mueck exhibition - NGV
Ron Mueck exhibition - NGV

If you have time this weekend – go go go.

Ron Mueck exhibition - NGV Ron Mueck exhibition - NGV

After the exhibition, we had lunch at Persimmon. It was Annette and Terry’s last day in Melbourne, so we were hoping for a good last meal with them. I was pretty confident that Persimmon wouldn’t disappoint.

Persimmon

We were given some warm rolls while we decided what to eat. On the board was a selection – brioche, caramelised shallot and pumpkin seed rolls.

Persimmon

For starters, Bro ordered a serve of the soft shell school prawns, with garlic and herb aioli ($15), intending to share it with the table. Everyone else ordered their own starter… and then we ordered ANOTHER serve of the prawns. Greedy, but to be fair, the prawns were great – crunchy, and intensely prawny flavoured.

Persimmon

I had the olive oil poached veal carpaccio, with quail’s eggs, sweetbreads and rocket ($18). The meat was very tender and rare, and I loved the little fried quail’s eggs and sweetbreads.

Persimmon

Alastair had the salmon “mi cuit” with avocado, beetroot & horseradish ($17). Thank goodness for internet enabled phones, we had to google “mi cuit” (which means half/semi cooked). This looked really good, and I loved the teeny little beetroot pieces.

Persimmon

Annette had the chicken liver parfait, apples, pears, raisins & capers and toasted brioche ($26). I didn’t try any, but it sounded like it was a good dish.

Persimmon

Terry ordered the snail’s tempura with pearl barley risotto, parsley and garlic ($17). This was the most interesting dish out of all of them! I tried a bit of a snail, and while it was good, I’m not sure this is a dish I would ever order.

Persimmon

Time for mains. Terry and I both had the lamb’s loin, lamb shoulder, vegetables Provencale and jus gras ($30). Underneath the leaning tower of lamb’s loin slices was a crumbed square of braised lamb shoulder, which I swear tasted almost like something Bro and I used to eat back in New Zealand (a lasagna square for any kiwis out there who remember them!). Oh the memories! Even without the food flashback, I really enjoyed my dish. A fair bit of meat, but it was done well with great flavour.

Persimmon

Alastair and Bro had the scotch fillet, which came with broccoli, white onion & garlic jam, potato crisps and smoked salt ($35). The broccoli was actually pureed – that green bit on the plate. The crisps were behind the greenery, but I think the white onion and garlic jam hadn’t made an appearance on their plates. That, or it was in disguise.

Persimmon

Annette had the butternut pumpkin gnocchi with onions, macadamias, capers and bontazola ($26). This looked absolutely delicious.

Persimmon Persimmon

It was recommended that we order sides, so we selected a salad and green beans. I particularly loved the beans which still had a bit of firm crunch but weren’t squeaky.

Persimmon

Service
was fantastic. And this was true even before the story I’ll tell you in the next paragraph. Our waitress was happy and cheery, and friendly without being OTT. One example – we looked at the dessert menu after our mains, and noticed that some of the desserts had pop rocks. And we discovered that Annette and Terry had never tried pop rocks before (I know, we couldn’t believe it either!). When our waitress come back, we decided not to order dessert but made a passing comment about Annette and Terry’s lack of pop rock experience. And so she insisted that we HAD to try some and came back with a little bowl of pop rocks for us! The left hand side had honey flavoured pop rocks, and the right had chocolate covered ones. Pop rocks go posh!

Okay, so here’s my story. We had a lovely bottle of wine with our mains, a Stefano Lubiana Merlot 2005, and I only remember this because when the sommelier (I believe) came to the table to refill our glasses with the bottle, Annette and Terry requested that I take a photograph of it. And somehow that lead to them outing me as a food blogger (facepalm).

Persimmon

So it may have been due to the blog that we received the following…. complimentary dessert! Which was a peanut butter parfait, with caramelised banana, marshmallow and pistachio ice cream. And chocolate pop rocks – I can’t forget the pop rocks! I have a deep, enduring love affair with peanut butter so it’s no surprise that I loved dessert.

We had such a lovely meal and it was the perfect finale to Annette and Terry’s visit.

Read about a previous visit to Persimmon here.

Persimmon
Café/Bistro
Ground Level
NGV International
180 St Kilda Road
Melbourne

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting

Last Monday, a group of us headed out for an epic ramen hunt in in an effort to find the best ramen in the Melbourne CBD. I was very happy to be part of the group, particularly after eating ramen in Japan.

This is a long post, so settle in! My fellow ramen hunters were Penny from Addictive and Consuming, th0i3, Maria and Daz from The Gourmet Challenge, Adrian from Food Rehab, and Billy from Half-eaten.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: score cards

We ate at seven different restaurants to try out their ramen, and gave scores out of five on three categories – broth, toppings and noodles. Billy put together score cards and scoring sheets for us to use – cute!

Just a quick note, the scores are no indication of the restaurants as a whole, as we were only scoring the ramen.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Menya

Stop 1: Menya
Shop L01 146A, Melbourne Central,
211 LaTrobe Street, Melbourne
Tel: 03 9639 3383

Our quest started at Menya. Because it’s so teeny, we split into two groups. Alastair and I shared a table with Maria and Daz where we tried the Sapporo ramen in shoyu (soy based) soup ($9.20) and Maria and Daz had the chashu (pork) ramen. The two ramen were essentially the same except for a slight variation in toppings.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Menya

The Sapporo ramen came with pork, vegetables, egg and seafood extender.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Menya

Topping wise, I found the egg was too salty. It must have been soaked in soy sauce, judging by the brown colour. I wasn’t fond of the pork either – you know that taste and dryness that boiled pork has? It tasted like soup pork, which is fine if you’re drinking Chinese soup but not for ramen. The broth was thin, although I did write in my notes that it was okay for what it was. The noodles however, were gluggy and overcooked. Not a great start to the ramen hunt, unfortunately.

My scores for Menya were:

Broth: 3/5
Noodles: 2/5
Topping: 2/5
Total: 7/15

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Hanaichi

Stop 2: Hanaichi (unscheduled)
QV Square Lonsdale St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9662 9409

Our next stop was Meshiya in QV. As we were walking there, we passed by Hanaichi, a little shop above the QV food court (where Wagamama used to be located). Someone (I believe it was Billy!) insisted that we had to try it. There was only one ramen on the menu and it was described on the menu as ramen (egg noodle soup) – $6.90.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Hanaichi

As you can see, it came out in paper bowls – this was real food court stuff. The noodles, which you may be able to just see under the pork, were a scary, fluorescent yellow, but were not that bad. At least they weren’t overcooked. However, the pork was tasteless and below average, and the broth, well that was also not great.

My scores for Hanaichi were:

Broth: 2/5
Noodle: 3/5
Toppings: 1/5
Total: 6/15

Stop 3: Meshiya
200 Lonsdale St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9654 6242

Our next stop was Meshiya. We sat down, after rearranging their tables to accommodate the nine of us, looked at menus and decided what to order… and then we discovered that Meshiya was OUT OF RAMEN. Whaaaaaaa? How does that happen? We decided not to order anything, apologised, put the tables back and continued on the ramen hunt.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Edoya

Proper Stop 3: Edoya (unscheduled)
138 Russell St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9654 7358)

So on we went, making another unscheduled stop, and went to Edoya. We all got a little side tracked here and everyone ordered items other than ramen. I blame the complimentary edamame and seaweed salad that we received.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Edoya

Alastair and I had some sashimi, while others ordered ox tongue, yukke, and soft shell crab! There was beer too. What a terrible lack of focus. Tsk tsk.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Edoya

In addition to everything else, we did also order two bowls of ramen to share. On the menu, it just said ramen ($14). Sadly, it was another very average bowl of ramen. I thought the noodles were okay, and found that the pork was pretty good, but the broth had a VERY strange taste that I couldn’t stomach. I marked down the broth quite heavily for this.

The other food we ate from Edoya was fine though.

My scores for Edoya were:

Broth: 1/5 (ouch – but I think someone else gave a 0/5…!)
Noodles: 2/5
Topping: 3/5
Total: 6/15

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ito Noodle Cafe

Stop 4: Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe
122 Bourke St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9663 2788

Stop 4 was Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe, where we ordered three bowls to share between us – the chashu in shoyu, the tori kara in miso, and the tonkatsu in miso (all $9.80) We wanted to order the tonkotsu, but this wasn’t available that day. I wonder how often it’s available to order?

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ito Noodle Cafe

At this point, Alastair decided he needed to eat lunch and scoffed down a bowl of katsu curry don – apparently the noodles weren’t doing enough to fill him up!

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ito Noodle Cafe

The rest of us stuck with ramen. This was the chashu ramen in shoyu soup. I thought it was the best out of the three bowls.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ito Noodle Cafe

The tori kara in miso soup – basically deep fried chicken.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ito Noodle Cafe

And the tonkatsu in miso soup – deep fried pork cutlet.

Hallejuah! Finally some good ramen. The noodles were good, the toppings were great and overall the broth was tasty. I found the miso soups a bit too salty, but the shoyu was really good. The chashu was really tender, and all the toppings were done well, although there were comments that the bamboo shoots in the bowls had a very strong and distracting flavour.

My scores for Ito Noodle Cafe were:

Broth: 4/5
Noodle: 4/5
Toppings: 4/5
Total: 12/15

Stop 5: Ajisen Ramen
130 Bourke St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9662 1100

Our next stop was just down the road – to be honest we could’ve used a longer walk due to all the noodles already consumed – but we pushed on. Again, we ordered three bowls to share – chargrilled ramen ($12.50), spicy miso ramen ($11) and chashu ramen ($11). I haven’t noted down what soups we had, I assume the chargrilled and chashu ramen were shoyu, and the spicy miso was miso.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ajisen Ramen

This was the chargrilled ramen – basically seared steak (which we requested to be rare) on top of the noodles. It was rather garlicky.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ajisen Ramen

And here’s the chashu ramen.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ajisen Ramen

And finally the spicy miso. In the small bowl to the right is the spicy meat. We were asked if we wanted to keep it separate as it was quite spicy. It did have a fair kick to it, but I’m sure we could’ve coped with it in the big bowl.

The noodles at Ajisen Ramen were really strange – they were similar to spaghetti, not like other ramen noodles at all. While they weren’t bad, they weren’t ramen noodles! Broth-wise, in all three bowls, it was SALTY SALTY SALTY. I would’ve given the broth a higher score if it hadn’t been so FREAKIN’ SALTY as it was rather flavoursome. The toppings were good too, so the broth (and strange noodles) did let Ajisen down.

My scores for Ajisen Ramen were:

Broth: 3/5
Noodle: 3/5
Toppings: 4/5
Total: 10/15

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ramen Ya

Stop 6: Ramen Ya
Shop 25G Melbourne GPO
350 Bourke St, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9654 5838

Ramen Ya was up next. At Ramen Ya, you can select your soup base – tonkotsu (FINALLY!), shoyu or miso. And then the topping – chashu, tsukune (minced chicken), and gyoza. We ordered three bowls – chashu in tonkotsu, chashu in shoyu and tsukune (minced chicken) in miso.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ramen Ya

This was the tsukune (minced chicken) in miso soup.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ramen Ya

I’m pretty sure this one was the chashu in tonkotsu.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Ramen Ya

Which would make this the chashu in shoyu.

A hush descended over the table as we started slurping up the noodles. Even though it was our second to last stop we polished off all the bowls, and looking around at the scores, it was obvious that it was the best ramen so far. All the broths were good, particularly the tonkotsu (naturally!), and the toppings were fantastic, although there wasn’t much of the chashu, which was a shame because it was tender and delicious. The noodles were also good – springy with a bit of bite.

My scores for Ramen Ya were:

Broth: 4.5/5
Noodle: 4/5
Toppings: 4.5/5

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting

Stop 7: Chocolate Buddha
Federation Square, Melbourne
Phone:(03) 9654 5688

Our group wandered down to Fed Square for our LAST STOP – Chocolate Buddha. We nabbed a table outside, sitting in the sun and looking over Fed Square. It was a very nice way to end the day!

We ordered two bowls – the gyu ramen ($19.80) and the tori miso ramen ($19.80). There was also a salmon ramen on the menu, but I think our bellies would have burst if we had tried all three. Expectations were high for Chocolate Buddha as the ramen cost twice the amount of other restaurants.

Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Chocolate Buddha

The gyu ramen was nice. The beef was tender and full of flavour, and the broth (a shoyu broth?) was tasty.


Melbourne CBD ramen hunting: Chocolate Buddha

However, the tori miso ramen was a mixed bag. The chicken was really good – juicy and soft. But the broth, oh the broth! It was REALLY sweet. It let the whole bowl down. Disappointing for a $20 bowl of ramen.

My scores for Chocolate Buddha were:

Broth: 3/5
Noodle: 4/5
Toppings: 4/5
Total: 11/15

We completed the ramen hunt by tallying up the scores. Here they are – 5.5 hours and 19 bowls later, we had a very conclusive result.

7th place: Hanaichi – 45/105

6th place: Edoya – 51/105

5th place: Menya – 58/105

4th place: Ajisen – 63/105

3rd place: Chocolate Buddha – 70/105

2nd place: Ito Noodle Cafe – 82/105

And the winner….. the best ramen in the Melbourne CBD was -

1st place: Ramen Ya – 89.5/105

Well I certainly can’t eat ramen again for a while, but I had a great day. I wasn’t particularly surprised that Ramen Ya came out on top, but I hadn’t expected Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe to score so well. A big thanks to my fellow ramen hunters for the company and laughs!

We discussed doing more hunts in the future – any suggestions for what we could do next?

Cookbook Challenge: Week 21, Thai

Recipe: Chinese Chive Cakes
From: Thai Street Food

Second recipe: Son in law eggs
From: The Cook’s Companion

It’s Thai week for the Cookbook Challenge! I received a copy of Thai Street Food for Christmas, and it is a rather large, but gorgeously presented tome. I read it cover to cover last night in preparation for the Thai challenge (obviously I’m still having issues with being better organised) and I want to eat everything that’s in there!

I really wanted to make something from Thai Street Food this week, but all the recipes seem very complicated. They all have big blocks of text and specialised ingredients, and many of them need to be started the night before. So I choose the easiest recipe I could find, which was Chinese Chive Cakes…….. I know, I know, it’s THAI week, but it’s in Thai Street Food and they’re commonly sold in Thailand, so I think I’m still good with the theme.

Chinese chive cakes & son-in-law eggs

If you have a look at the recipe down below, it’s rather long, even though I did simplify it a lot. I must say that the recipe looked more complicated than it actually was. I made the dough, then the filling, then placed the filling into the dough, similar to making dumplings. After the chive cakes were made, they were steamed – they could have been eaten at this point or shallow fried. You can guess which option I took, can’t you? I fried the suckers!

The chive cakes have a chewy pastry, and fried you get little firm, crisp parts. My filling had a fair amount of pepper, so they were salty and peppery and rather tasty. I can definitely see myself making these again.

Chinese chive cakes & son-in-law eggs

My second recipe was from the always reliable Cook’s Companion – son-in-law eggs. They are just basically deep fried hard boiled eggs, with a sweetish, sour, salty sauce that’s made of fish sauce, palm sugar, tamarind water and lime juice. After I made the sauce, Alastair walked downstairs into the kitchen and exclaimed, “It smells like Asian cooking in here!” and Bro asked if I had used shrimp paste. I blame the fish sauce – it was pretty pungent!

The sauce was great though, quite strong, but addictive. But I wonder if the recipe would work with a soft boiled egg – it would be nice to have the eggs with a still slightly squishy yolk. I’ll have to keep that in mind for next time!

See previous Cookbook Challenge posts here.

Update: See the round up for this week at My Food Trail.

Chinese chive cakes & son-in-law eggs

Chinese Chive Cakes

From Thai Street Food

Makes 9-10 cakes

Pastry

1 cup rice flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour, plus a couple extra tablespoons for dusting
2 tablespoons sticky rice flour
large pinch of salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Filling

400g Chinese Chives, cut into 1cm lengths
4 tablespoons oil
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2-3 tablespoons light soy sauce
pinch of ground white pepper

Making the pastry:

In a bowl, mix together the flours and salt. Work in the oil, and then add enough water to make a thick but wet dough (the book specifies 1 & 1/2 cups water but when I added all the water I had a very thin batter rather than dough and had to start again! Mine took about half that amount of water.)

Place a frying pan or wok on a low heat and add the pastry, stirring constantly (you may need to use a whisk). When the pastry is half cooked, it will be very sticky and have an opaque sheen. Take it off the heat and set aside for a couple of minutes.

On a clean working surface, sprinkle on the extra tablespoons of tapioca flour. Add the dough on to it, and work the flour into the warm pastry. Knead for about five minutes, until it is firmish and clean to the touch. Roll the pastry into ten balls and rest for at least ten minutes under a clean, damp cloth.

Next, make the filling. Give the Chinese chives a good wash, and drain well. In a wok or pan, heat the oil and fry the garlic with the pinch of salt until beginning to colour. Add the chives and cook until wilted. Season with the sugar, soy sauce and white pepper. Taste to make sure it is well seasoned but not too salty. Transfer to a sieve or colander to drain and cool. You don’t want too much liquid, so give the filling a squeeze with your hands after it’s cooled a little to get rid of some of the juice.

Give the pastry balls a light knead, then press out into thin discs that are slightly thinner at the edges and about 10cm in diameter. Place a pastry disc into the palm of one hand and spoon 2 heaped tablespoons of filling into the centre. Light the edges of the pastry up and fold and crimp together, pushing the edges up into the centre. Custom says that there should be ten folds! Pinch the edges together in the middle, twist them together and then press down and seal. Repeat with the remaining pastry balls and filling, keeping them covered with a damp cloth as you make them.

Steam the cakes for about 15 minutes on a banana leaf or baking paper. Either cool for a moment before serving – or you could pan fry them (YES).

If pan frying, let the cakes cool for a bit after steaming. Heat a heavy frying pan until quite hot. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil and then add the cakes, shallow frying over a low-medium heat. Turn them a couple of times until they are golden on all sides. Remove and drain on a paper towel.

Serve with soy sauce and chilli.

Chinese chive cakes & son-in-law eggs

Son-in-law eggs

From The Cook’s Companion

1/2 cup palm sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 tablespoon Tamarind water
juice of 1 lime
vegetable oil
4 hardboiled eggs, peeled
1 tablespoon friend sliced garlic
fresh coriander leaves

In a saucepan, combine the palm sugar, fish sauce and tamarind water. Simmer, stirring, until all the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the lime juice and taste – it should have a balance of sweet, salty and sour. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

Heat the vegetable oil and deep fry the eggs for several minutes until they are golden brown. Drain on paper towels, cut into quarters, and dip into sauce and eat with the fried garlic
and coriander.

Rhubarb Yoghurt muffins

Rhubarb and yoghurt muffins

Cookbook Challenge: Week 20
Theme: Tangy
Recipe: Rhubarb Yoghurt muffins
Cookbook: Vegetarian cooking, a commonsense guide

The theme for this week’s Cookbook Challenge is “tangy”, and first up I must make a confession. I cheated this week – I actually made these muffins last week! I was going to make a fresh recipe for the theme this week, but in keeping with our long weekend tradition we did some more house painting on Good Friday (our bedroom and our ensuite). It looks fantastic, but painting seems to suck all the energy from me for the rest of the weekend and I couldn’t muster up the motivation to do anything today!

A colleague of mine gave me some rhubarb from her garden, and I used them in these muffins last weekend. I love it when people give me food – particularly when they have grown it themselves! Coincidentally, the muffins fit with the tangy theme – since they had rhubarb and yoghurt in them.

Rhubarb and yoghurt muffins

The original recipe made a large cake, but I made small cakes instead. I’m calling them muffins because the rather thick batter is mixed like a muffin rather than a cake – but the texture of them is very cake-like, similar to a butter cake. They look quite flat, but they were very good and moist. The original recipe called for a tablespoon of rose water, which I halved because I was worried that it would be too soapy. Half a tablespoon gave them a faint, sweet, fragrance that went really well with the rhubarb. I think I worried needlessly, a whole tablespoon probably would’ve been fine!

I gave a couple of muffins to my colleague, and she has promised me more rhubarb in the future. Sounds good to me!

See previous Cookbook Challenge posts here.

Update: See the round up for this week at My Food Trail.

Rhubarb and yoghurt muffins

Rhubarb and yoghurt muffins

Adapted from: Vegetarian cooking, a commonsense guide

150g finely sliced rhubarb (plus a couple of stems, thinly sliced, for decoration)
250g caster sugar
310g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
125g plain yoghurt
1 tablespoon rosewater
125g unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease a 12 cup muffin tin.

In a bowl, mix together the rhubarb and sugar. Sift the flour over, and mix into the rhubarb mixture. Stir in the vanilla, egg, yoghurt, rosewater and butter until just combined (the mixture will be very thick).

Spoon the batter into the muffin trays, and decorate with the extra pieces of rhubarb. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the muffins comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and turn out on to a wire rack to cool.

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival: Heat Beads Hawkers’ Market

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival: Hawkers' Market

The Melbourne Food & Wine Festival is over for another year. I only went to two events this year, and the first was the very popular Heat Beads Hawkers’ Market held at the Queen Victoria Market.

Held on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night, there were two sessions on each evening. We attended the later one at 8:30pm on the Tuesday night. A ticket for the event included four vouchers to purchase four small dishes from the various stalls.

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival: Hawkers' Market

I was a bit worried that it would be crazily busy, and the night was going to involve lots of lining up to get food, but fortunately that wasn’t the case. There were twelve restaurants represented, with each restaurant presenting a small selection of their dishes.

As soon as we arrived, we nabbed a table. I specifically chose one that was close to the food stalls and under good lighting.

Alastair and I shared our dishes, so we got to sample eight dishes plus a bonus.

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival: Hawkers' Market

We started at Dainty Sichuan. I was VERY overwhelmed with the choices on offer – the lady at the stall rattled them off at breakneck speed and by the time she got to the end I had forgotten what she had first said! It would have been great to have them listed on a piece of paper. I ended up with a prawn skewer, a chicken wing and some pork ribs. I didn’t actually ask for a chicken wing – I normally steer clear of barbequed chicken – but it ended up on my plate, so I just accepted it. Turns out that the wing was good anyway. The wing and the prawn skewers had a spicy, tongue numbing quality to them from Sichuan peppercorns.

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival: Hawkers' Market

We tried a serve of the goat masala and daal from Chilli India. This was just okay, I thought it was a bit bog standard.

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival: Hawkers' Market

Next up, we tried the pork cheek from Pan Asian. This was VERY fatty, and very tender. I was a bit worried that Alastair would be put off by the fattiness, but it turns out that he was in an eating mood and gobbled it up.

Oh, and remember how I mentioned that I specifically choose a seat with good lighting? At this point THEY TURNED OFF THE LIGHTS IN OUR SECTION. Rahhh! Hence the funny lighting in the rest of my photos.

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival: Hawkers' Market

We had the fish grilled in a banana leaf from Laska Me. The fish was tender and moist, with some subtle spices. It was very nice.

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival: Hawkers' Market

From Maedeya, I selected the okonomiyaki and sweet potato. I was surprised that the okonomiyaki was actually pretty good – it was still nice and hot which definitely helped. The texture was very soft, but it was tasty. One of the best dishes we ate that evening.

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival: Hawkers' Market

We also tried the japchae from Hallah. Points for being freshly cooked, but unfortunately taste-wise I found it to be far too sweet.

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival: Hawkers' Market

By this stage we were getting full and I was running out of things I wanted to try! Lots of places had also sold out of dishes as well, which cut down my options. So I gave a voucher to Kenzan @GPO for a serve of their yakisoba and cooked tuna sushi roll. The yakisoba was just so so – like the japchae, I found it too sweet. The sushi roll was nice though.

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival: Hawkers' Market
Thanks to Bro for the picture!

After this we were too full to eat any more savoury food, so I headed to the ice cream stand. You had to pay for ice cream though, and while I normally wouldn’t have minded, I still had two vouchers left! So I figured a compromise would be a banana fritter from Dumpling King, which came with a scoop of ice cream. I don’t know why they stuck sparklers on their banana fritters, but it was cute! Thanks to Bro for taking the photo, because the sparkler fizzled out before I made it back to our table.

Oh, and the banana fritter and ice cream was great.

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival: Hawkers' Market

For my final voucher, I handed it in at Warung Argus and received a serve of black rice pudding. What I had actually wanted from them was the suckling pig, but they had sold out by the 8.30pm session (BOO). The rice pudding was very runny and coconutty, with the rice still quite firm. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t amazing either. Pork would’ve been better!

Bro received an extra voucher from someone who was too full to use all theirs – apparently he looked “deserving”. Heh! He finished with a bowl of laksa!

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival: Hawkers' Market
There was entertainment…. but we were too busy eating….!

While four vouchers each doesn’t sound like a lot, it did end up being quite a lot of food, and we were STUFFED afterwards. While some of the food was just so-so, overall it was a good event and we really enjoyed ourselves.

If it’s on again next year, I do recommend going.