Sunday, 23 October 2011

Kuni - Melbourne - 56 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne

A group of 7 of us rocked up around 8:30pm on a Friday night and got in straight away.

This place may not be pumping like others but it serves decent Japanese fare. Everything is fresh.

For around $45 per head for food, can't complain.

Good, unassuming service.

Try it rather than trawling around the city for a place that you can never get into unannounced.

Kuni's on Urbanspoon 



Saturday, 22 October 2011

Lupino - Melbourne - 41 Little Collins Street, Melbourne

I was super excited about coming to Lupino - all week. A casual Italian offshoot of Becco.

Walking in, there was a good vibe in the air - dark, cool bar, lots of people and terazzo (or something like that) floors - I had a positive groove to my stride.

My friend observed that it did not feel like we were sitting on top of the next door neighbour.

My heart started to really race when I read the great simple menu.  Some tasty-looking starters and mains - marinara, veal scallopini.

I just had a feeling that I was gonna love it.

Then came the entrees - mussels were fresh but no excitement factor, lamb back strap beautifully cooked medium rare but had an odd hint of sourness (maybe grapefruit), squid with potatoes (lacked flavour). The start was saved by a fantastic lamb shank with polenta and peas.

BUT at that point, I think I was still fooling myself thinking I was loving it where really my heart was starting to drop a few beats.

AND then came the mains. I had crumbed chicken with a radicchio salad ($28). It looked a bit dark on the plate and it was just dry - too thin and overcooked.  I find it really hard to overcook crumbed chicken at home!

One friend had swordfish which was fresh but lacked oomph and the mariana was just seafood and pasta, no flavour - like salt, wine, olive oil ($29).

Worst of all was the fact that my pregnant friend asked for the marinara without mussels and was charged $5 extra.

The risotto was the winner out of an average bunch - I think it is quite telling when risotto is the best dish on a menu.

We got the bill and were reminded of the extra $5. I of course could not keep my mouth shut and expressed disappointment about the extra charge for a pregnant lady or for anyone for that matter - I held back from using the word "discrimination".

The manager/owner/not sure what he was, came over to address our concern. Actually address is the wrong word.  He said "if it is only about the $5, I will take it off the price."  In unison we all said  "it is the principle." Arrogantly he then proceeded to give us a lecture on how:
"the price of mussels per kilo is less than prawns and you had 2 extra prawns to compensate so it was more expensive for them and that this was a cheap marinara in any case others cost $39 and this is a lower priced restaurant compared to the others around town and they have to manage costs but if it is about the $5 I will take it off the price." He then snatched the bill away and took the $5 off the price.

My heart stopped!

He not only had us feeling like idiots - like we don't know the price of mussels - he also made us feel cheap.

The total bill was $353 for 5 people (included a Cullen Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc which was $75, no dessert) - do the maths, not expensive but food should match expected reputation.

My friend summed it up perfectly.

"A terrible end to an average dinner."

Lupino on Urbanspoon

Self Preservation - Melbourne - 70 Bourke Street, Melbourne

Hands down below zero, this is one of the coolest cafes in the CBD. It has a feel of Fitzroy in the City which is exactly what Melbourne needs.

I generally find that CBD eateries lack atmosphere - it is time for a clean up of the 90s and Self Preservation is a good start.

Simple menu, great coffee, laptops all around and jewellery for sale at the back.

And the food is great - not just another Block Arcadesque place. I had a marinara for $20, lots of flavour and very fresh seafood. My friend had a celeriac and porcini mushroom soup - superbly made.

Will keep coming back.

Self Preservation on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 16 October 2011

MissChu - Melbourne - 297 Exhibition Street, Melbourne

If this doesn't make it in the next Age cheap eats guide then there is something wrong with this world.

This place is putting the cool and hip into the normally drab upper west side of Exhibition Street - I am actually not sure if it is west but thought I would sound directionally profound.                                                            

It is small in so many ways - the stools are small, the bar width is small, the people feel small, the leg room is small and the space between a dripping sauce bowl as the waitress clears the table and your body is small.  But the food is big.  It is a cross between modern and traditional Vietnamese.

It is a tick the box menu which is fun but also problematic for someone like me who likes to tick all boxes - and not just when it come to food.

We started with roast duck and banana flower rice paper rolls. They came in a pristine little white box which felt like unwrapping a present. The balance of flavours was spot on.

Next up, scallop and prawn dumplings. The dumpling was perfectly glutinous (a word I learnt from the Gourmet Traveller - my bible) and the seafood flavour came through with a bang.  The traditional pork hanoi fried spring rolls - crispy on the outside and juicy in the centre - bring it on.

The green papaya salad was a bit too watery but the prawn and crab net salad was really interesting.

We ate too much but I could have eaten more.

This is a place I will keep coming back to, even for a nice break away from the office for lunch.

And the price for 2 - $52. We did not have alcohol but that included some quirky drinks. How cheap is that?

MissChu on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Newmarket Hotel - Melbourne - 34 Inkerman St, St Kilda

We got a 9:30pm booking so decided to have a pre-dinner drink near the bar. A good space and full of the beautiful people of Melbourne. We wanted a $12-$14 glass of sparkling, but the only thing on offer was $8 sparkling on tap or a $17 glass of Louis Roederer. Disappointing there was no good "in between" - we went for the $8 glass and it was average.

We were shown to our table and thought the service was deliberately try-hard good - over service at times but then plates left around for too long at others - not naturally good.

The menu was extensive and appeared to have a bit of a modern mexican feel entree wise but then mains were a bit of this and a bit of that.

We ate prawn tacos for entree ($16 for two). A soft taco and the ingredients very fresh; perhaps the prawn was a tad overpowered by the chilli but overall it still tasted good.

We then shared the lamb ribs with pomegranate which I enjoyed because I love very tender lamb surrounded by fat. It did not appeal to the other women on the table.

We ate the signature dish - I am a sucker for the signature dish, I always order it. I hate though when I meet people and I say that my favourite pastime is cooking and they ask "what is your signature dish?" Such a lame question. And if it is a man asking on a date - I see no future at that point really.

That dish was a 3-day cooked chicken with a raft of other vegetables in a light sauce. It was an excellent dish and deserved the signature - juicy chicken, perfectly cooked asparagus and broad beans - overall hearty but delicate.

The balmain bugs were good but a bit oily and missing the char which should be the main flavour carrier.

As for the seared tuna, I politely said that it did not come together. Others said it was just awful. "You can put that in your blog Adles!"

We had fun with our friend who is by far the worst food-word-smith around town. Our side of quinoa (which was very crisp and fresh by the way) - kwi-no-a did you say?"  And how do you say that word j-u-s - yuice is it? How about j-a-m-o-n? Hamon she correctly said with a Spanish h followed by, "I thought it was meat but". A non-discerning diner but will tell you if she doesn't like it. "Put that in your blog Adles!"

The wine list was disappointing, not a single bottle under $70 except the house carafes which I would not really call wine.

For dessert we ate a brownie with salted caramel and pear. Mixed reviews on the table, I thought the brownie was empty and the caramel too salty.

The average price range for mains was $29-$33, which I thought was reasonable and the serves were definitely generous.

Overall I enjoyed the food, the produce was good and everything was cooked well. Not overly priced but some food lacked love. A bit like the retro decor and cement posts, lacking that comfort and warmth. If I was in the area and ate there again, I would definitely eat the signature chicken.

Newmarket Hotel on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Il Solito Posto - Melbourne - 113 Collins Street, Melbourne

Out with a few girls on a Tuesday night looking for a decent bite to eat. We attempted Chin Chin but the place was pumping and my stomach was crawling up my throat again and could not wait one and a half hours for a table.

So one of the girls said let's get a pasta at Il Solito Posto. I had a slight hesitation as there was no recent talk of this place. But I do recall those good old times when I used to get a good value well cooked pasta for around $14.

Well, have times changed!

In contrast to Chin Chin, Il Solito was dead. Different to times before when we had to wait at least 20 minutes for a table.

I ordered the seafood linguini and others ordered risotto and the veal penne.  The seafood and the veal penne were good time favourites.

Not any more - the seafood was scarce, there was no salt (I hate adding salt to pasta after cooking) and I was not sure on the mussels. And worst of all it cost $32. Look, I am not expecting to pay $14 but for that price I am looking for a well cooked flavoursome pasta with a healthy amount of fresh seafood.  The veal ragu was too rich and the risotto was average.

This brings me to a couple of matters:

(1) The price of good produce - I understand that restaurants are suffering because good produce here is expensive.  But cooking pasta well with a few simple ingredients does not need to cost much - mussels are cheap, as are tomatoes and basil.

(2) Finding an excellent well priced pasta is Melbourne is impossible.  I am always disappointed unless I am paying top dollar at Il Bacaro and Enoteca di Sileno. There are some great places in New York City (goats cheese house made agnolotti with lemon butter - $12 at Otto in Greenwich village - the best pasta I have ever eaten!) and Rome (crab pasta with a delicate brandy cream sauce at L'Archetto for $17).

Places like Il Solito Posto need to think really hard if they want to get thriving bums on seat during the week - maybe spend some time with the likes of Mario Batolo from Otto.

Or maybe they are doing well with take away meals from the likes of Macquarie bankers - I guess working crazy and desperate hours in the office with money to burn, one will eat anything - been there, done that and over it.

Rating: 4/10
Il Solito Posto on Urbanspoon