Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sassy's Jamaican Kitchen, Fitzroy

Although I am obviously very inclined to fine dining, sometimes you just need somewhere like Sassy's Jamaican Kitchen. Somewhere where you know and accept that the music will be too loud and the service will be almost non-existant, but the food will be amazing. Somewhere you can wear trackies too, and BYO your drinks and store them in the esky at the front of the restaurant, and bop along to Jamaican music whilst you draw on the paper table clothes with the textas in a cup on the table. Somewhere where whilst you go to the toilet, you may just run into a lovely Jamaican man smoking up some Jerk Chicken on a massive BBQ out the back.

If you can't tell yet, I have a massive soft spot for Sassy's, and have since I first discovered it whilst driving along St George's Rd early last year. Since then I have probably recieved some of the poorest service in Melbourne at this restaurant, but I don't even care because the food and atmosphere is that cool. Most reviews describe it as 'Island Time' and it is as if the wait staff actually don't find any need to rush at all. For example, it took them an hour and a half to make me a cup of tea this evening, but I didn't seem bothered by it since I was drawn into this chilled out zone that is Sassy's.

And the food? Well yes, it is the food that keeps us coming back. Its such clean, simple, yummy food. Presentation isn't amazing, and yes you can sometimes wait for up to an hour whilst they freshly grill your jerk chicken for you but then you dig into your Sassy platter ($48 for two people) and start to rip the chicken off with your fingers, or feel soothed by the flavours in the Veggie stew and the wait just seems to disappear and you are lost in the Caribbean eating homestyle flavours that actually make you feel somehow nourished.

Tonight, as per usual I shared the platter with a friend. There are heaps of cheaper options at about 11 or 12 bucks a meal, but the platter literally gives you a taste of almost everything on the menu as well as a couple of corn cobs. The platter tonight featured a decent piece of Jerk Chicken (the chicken just falls off the bone and the smoky marinade is so good), some marinated fish and vegetables, vegie patties with beautiful beans and rice, and my absolute favourite (that yellow lump on the picture) Sassy's Veggie stew. I long to know what is about this stew that makes it so good. The sauce is a little bit curry, a little bit coconutty and despite asking once again tonight what is in it, we are still yet to find out an answer. All I know is that I always end up coming home with a big container of this Veggie Stew as it is just that amazing.

So if you are feeling stressed, rushed or sick of recieving the normal standard of service at a restaurant and feel like kicking back and relaxing in a very cool environment whilst some very cool looking men slowly but surely cook you up a feast, head to Sassy's. Head there with an open attitude and be ready to sip on your BYO drinks and doodle on the table cloth whilst you wait up to an hour for your food. Be prepared to want to eat with your fingers, and lick them afterwards too.

It is worth it. Sassy's Jamaican Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Pizza Night @ My House

I have a confession to make.

I am a pizza snob.

I actually dislike 'normal' pizza so much. I find it so hard to find any combination of toppings on your average takeaway menu. I refuse to eat anything that sounds boring or normal. My partner absolutely hates this because he loves a good greasy American pizza from a box, but I always insist on driving twenty minutes to go to my favourite woodfired pizza restaurant so I can get a super trendy thin crust woodfired gourmet pizza with the very best toppings. Snobby, I know.

However, I am a huge fan of home-made pizzas. We buy our bases from Cleo's Deli, my favourite local shop that I cannot speak highly enough of. She stocks two brands, bases that already have tomato paste on them and softer woodfired ones that you add your own tomato too. This particular evening we had the woodfired ones as I had made my own tomato pizza sauce from leftover tinned tomatoes (so easy- just tomatoes, tomato paste, italian herbs and a dash of balsamic. Simmer for half an hour or so on low, refrigerate).

The best thing about homemade pizzas is that you can actually put whatever your heart desires on them, or whatever is in the cupboard. In this case it was a bit of an inventive evening using up whatever vegetables, cheeses etc I had on hand. The boy just kind of lets me do my thing chucking whatever I want on them and hoping that they will compare to the greasy local takeaway one... they always do. So I thought I would share with you the flavour combinations I tried that you may want to experiment with at home- straight from the mouth of a pizza snob!

Moroccan Vegetable- tomato sauce on base, mozzarella, mushroom, roasted pumpkin, roasted eggplant, red onion, low fat ricotta cheese, a sprinkle of cumin and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Would have also been great if I had spinach on hand.

Proscuitto with Asparagus and Balsamic- tomato sauce on base, mozzarella, proscuitto, asparagus, red onion and a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

Why not try and be a little more inventive next time you make home-made pizzas?! Let me know how you go.

L x


I still don't really know how I feel about Coda. I so wanted to love it, and there was so much to love about it. Every time I had walked past this beautiful basement restaurant a year or so ago, peering down through the floor height windows, I had wanted to eat there. It is a very beautiful looking restaurant, with a long bar, fine furnishings, ambient lighting, a semi-open kitchen. The service was impeccable- the waiters were attentive without hovering and honest about which dishes they preferred, one waitress even spending 5-10 minutes discussing our main choices with us. The sommelier was helpful and friendly, and we really enjoyed our bottle of French Pinot Noir.

But, as my dining companions (my foodie cousin, my fussy cousin and our respective partners) and I discussed last night over our long meal, something seemed not right about Coda. We put it down to the fact that their menu seems to be a fusion that just doesn't seem to compliment each other enough- Asian, French and some hints of Mediterranean.

Don't get me wrong, I ate some amazing French inspired Vietnamese food whilst over in Vietnam. But these dishes didn't bring the two cultures together, it was more that the menu included scatterings of Asian dishes (tapas, curries, little bites) and French dishes (steak with pomme daughinoise, steak tartare) and Mediterranean (some amazing zucchini fritters, proscuitto with figs, lamb chop with chimi churri). We just couldn't seem to wrap our tastebuds around digging into a beautiful Mediterranean lamb chop, then zucchini fritters with melt in your mouth buffalo mozzerella, then the spicy Asian flavours of a duck curry and Korean chicken. The dishes just didn't seem to compliment each other.

It was very difficult not to compare Coda with its neighour, Chin Chin. Whilst the service and ambiance at Chin Chin has nothing on Coda, every dish there just seems to compliment the one before and after, the flavours all go together with the classic combination of sweet and salty, zesty and spicy. They do Asian fusion, and they do it well, whereas this strange French, Asian, Mediterranean fusion at the neighboring restaurant just didn't leave us as impressed.

In saying this, we did eat some really wonderful dishes and enjoyed our time there.
We started off by choosing our own selection of tapas dishes from the 'Smaller' selection- individual serves of Asian and Mediterranean tapas choices. We all agreed that if we were to ever revisit Coda, we would leave the mains and feast on this part of the menu, as this was the part of the meal that seemed to work.
Spanner Crab, Galangal, roasted chilli and lime betel leaf

Crispy Prawn and Tapioca Betel Leaf
Two of my dining companions chose these little bites of plump seafood with spices and were impressed by both of them

Beef lettuce delight with nahm jim, chilli, tomato and spearmint
They were also impressed with the 'sang choi bow'-esque lettuce cups filled with yummy tender beef and herbs.

Sugar cane prawn with sweet chilli sauce
My boyfriend couldn't go past this massive sugar cane prawn- prawn mince wrapped in crispy rice noodles. I had a bite and it was indeed very delicious, but also very messy and hard to eat in a fancy restaurant. He really had to go barbarian and just hold it like a drumstick- very funny to watch!

Hanoi crispy rice paper roll with nuoc cham dipping sauce

My more fussy cousin loved this Hanoi spring roll so much that she ordered a second one. I was lucky enough to get a taste and the spiced pork wrapped in the crispy rice paper with the crisp lettuce and herbs took me back to Hanoi where we ate these every day for approximately 10 cents a spring roll. It was very enjoyable but hard to justify the price when you can get a serve of six on Victoria Street for the same price- however the surroundings would not be nearly as nice.

Soft rice paper roll with fresh tuna and wasabi mayonnaise
Regular readers will know I cannot go past raw tuna, so I adored this beautiful rice paper roll fresh tuna and a gorgeous wasabi dipping sauce. I know what I will be having next time I buy fresh tuna. This was a beautiful little dish.

Tempura Bugs with Roy Choi's kim chi, chilli salt and soy dipping sauce
This was another awesome Asian inspired dish. Plump bugs in a crispy batter served with a soy dipping sauce and then dipped into an almost 'dukkah style' dipping salt that clings to the bug and explodes in your mouth. Kim Chi was very spicy and not the best I have had.

Lamb Chop with chimi churri and orange cumin salt
We all agreed that this was one of the two stand-out dishes for the evening- these tender, melt in your mouth lamb chops turned us all into barbarians, picking up the bone and sucking off every bit of juicy marinade and meat we could find. The zestiness of the chimi churri with the sweetness of the orange salt was really wonderful.

That's Amore Buffalo Mozzarella with zucchini fritters, mint and pea salad
This was the second stand out dish that everyone wished they could have 'Amore' of. Huge, beautiful and plump pieces of mozzarella with a crunchy little fritters and fresh salad. My only complaint would be that the size of the fritters compared to photos we have all seen on Urban Spoon didn't seem consistent- these ones were literally bite size and didn't seem to contain a hell of a lot of zucchini at all. However, I would still order them again and again.

After we had worked our way through all these little bites, we picked two mains to share. My foodie cousin was devestated to find the black pepper crab had sold out already, so we asked the waitress for the next two best mains to share.

'Uhm Ma' Chicken
We were told that this was the most popular main on the menu, a Korean style dish featuring a spicy sauce with vegetables and whole pieces of chicken. I can't say this dish (or either of the mains) blew me away. The flavours were nice but it was very heavy and despite the salad we got to cut through the spiciness and heaviness of the dish, it left me feeling a little blah.

Roasted duck yellow curry
The actual duck in this dish was really wonderful, melt in your mouth, fall off your bone- yum. But the sauce itself was fairly mediocre and I have had better yellow curry at the local Thai restaurant. It didn't leave me wanting more.

Heart of palm, honey-dew melon, mint and cucumber salad
This was enjoyable and much needed to cut through the spiciness and heavy flavours of our mains, but once again wasn't anything I would order again.

Obviously all of the above are just my opinions on that particular night, but as I have said above, these different cuisines just didn't seem to fuse for me. It felt odd going from cuisine to cuisine in such a way. I would argue that they definitely seemed to do Meditteranean the best, as the lamb chops and zucchini fritters were undoubtedly the dishes we would return for.

Monkey banana fritters, crushed pistachio, black sesame and coconut sorbet

And, they definitely did know how to do dessert. My foodie cousin and I absolutely devoured Coda's take on banana fritters, battered in crispy rice noodle-esque pieces with gorgeous sorbet and crunchy pistachio. I would have this for dessert every night if I could afford it- both money wise and calorie wise.

So all in all, we were both overly impressed and somewhat underwhelmed by Coda all at the same time. I think I would give it another try, but purely focus on the small plates and dessert and skip the main section altogether.

A very beautiful restaurant, great for a romantic first date or special occasion... just make sure you are prepared for flavour confusion! ;) Coda on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Vegie Bar, Fitzroy

I had forgotten how awesome Vegie Bar is. I used to frequent there quite a bit in my late teens and loved it, but its been awhile since I have been there. Will not leave it that long between visits again.

The boyfriend and I went there on the way to the football today. We chose Vegie Bar because we have been discussing adding more vegetables to our diet as part of a more detoxing diet in the next few weeks. Obviously this won't be possible every meal but we will attempt it as much as we can, and why not begin at the Melbourne hub of vegetarian food? The best thing about Vegie Bar is that you do not miss the presence of meat at all as the food is so flavoursome and wholesome.

We took a seat outside watching the Brunswick St world go by and started with two super healthy juices. The juice range is extensive and reasonably priced, and what better drink to accompany a healthy vegetarian meal?

Between us we shared three dishes and ended up with WAY too much food. I had forgotten how much value you get for your money at Vegie Bar so a small pizza and too very cheap mains set us back $40 (with drinks) but left us with enough yummy food to feed a small family. We gave it a good crack though.

The 'Duo' of Chickpea Dahl and Potato and Lentil curry with roti bread and brown rice was really good. The brown rice is probably not even needed though as we used the roti in the same way we do with Malaysian food, as a kind of spoon to mop up the curry and dahl. In particular, the chickpea dahl was so packed with flavours, I could quite happily eat a whole bowl of it.

We loved the Vegan Nacho's- if all vegan food could be this yum, I think I could handle being one! We barely noticed the fact that the cheese and sour cream was missing dairy as there was more focus on the other elements of the dish, like the yummy black bean mix on the bottom and the amazing homemade tomato and corn salsa. The oven roasted chips were great too.

This Moroccan pizza was so good that we didn't even notice it was cheese-less. Topped with tomato sauce and hummus, eggplant, roasted capsicum, pumpkin, mushrooms, olives and sesame seeds it was a massive vegie fest and so enjoyable. The base in particular was perfect and the toppings so fresh and perfectly cooked.

I am so happy to have rediscovered Vegie Bar and plan to return there again soon to have another vegetarian feast- especially when I am on a budget as the value for money can't be beaten. If you are a meat-lover and haven't tried legit vegetarian food before, give it a go. I think even the biggest carnivores would find something on the menu that pleasantly surprises them.

L x Vegie Bar on Urbanspoon

Gypsy's Hideout, Northcote

We love a good little cafe in High St- you are usually guaranteed awesome coffee and a unique breakfast menu (I like to break away from the whole big breakfast, vegetarian breakfast boredom). However, competition is stiff out there and its sad to say that Gypsy's Hideout didn't blow us away. Tucked away at the very end of the main High St, Northcote precinct, it is easy to miss as it doesn't actually have any signage. However, we spotted it due to how busy it was. Simply decorated and buzzing with breakfast-ers, it looked promising. Unfortunately the food, although enjoyable, just didn't blow us away. Service was also so-so, I don't think it would kill the waitresses to have at least a bit of a smile on a sunny Saturday morning!

The coffee was great, and I loved how each cup was served with a different antique novelty spoon- very cute.

The breakfast burrito sounded promising. A tortilla supposedly packed with beans, scrambled eggs, spinach and cheese and topped with home-made salsa, guacamole and sour cream, it just didn't hit the mark. The beans were nice but the scrambled egg component was the thinnest little piece of omelet I have ever seen and didn't add any taste. The guacamole was almost non-existent and I could have made a better salsa myself. This wasn't 'unenjoyable', but I wouldn't order it again.

The poached eggs with eggplant and haloumi on sourdough was slightly more enjoyable. The bread was tasty but was cold by the time we recieved it. The eggs were well cooked and the combination of eggplant and haloumi was very mediterranean. The flavours in this breakfast were much more prominant but the cold toast slightly let down the dish. I would probably give this dish another go and hope that the toast was nice and hot.

Overall, a slightly underwhelming breakfast. With so many awesome cafes in that general area, I don't know if I would bother going back except for the great coffee. However, as always it was great to sit outside in the sun on High St and people-watch on a Saturday morning.
Gypsy Hideout on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dumpling King, Box Hill

We visited Dumpling King for the second time last weekend. We had visited with some more conservative eaters and had ended up eating more Chinese type meals than dumplings on our last visit, so went back to gorge on their beautiful dumpling range! Luckily enough we were able to get their yum cha set and try lots of smaller serves of dumpling goodness!

The spicy salt calamari was firm but tender, with a crispy coating of yummy spices- however I would not call it 'spicy', and I think I do still prefer the Vietnamese style of squid that comes with chili and onion.

The Bejing pork dumplings were plump little pockets of pork mince. Yum. This seems to be the most popular type of dumplings where-ever we go, and is a good place to start for beginners.

These lantern seafood dumplings were quite unusual but very enjoyable. They contained a seafood filling with sweet corn pieces.

Anyone who has read my Malaysia post will know how attached I became to pork buns whilst over there. These were good but I don't think anything will compare to the huge, juicy 80 cent pork buns we had in Kota Kinabalu!

The Siu Mai dim sims were beautiful- the bottom of them were filled with a gorgeous plump prawn!

I would argue that Dumpling King is just as enjoyable as our favourite, Shanghai Dumplings in China-town, and almost as good value. Just another little part of the Asian cuisine I just adore.

L x

Dumpling King on Urbanspoon

Asian style Sashimi Salad

After completely overdosing on food and alcohol yesterday, I was craving something 'detoxing' for dinner tonight and a colleague at work was lovely enough to set me up with some beautiful sashimi grade fresh tuna her son and husband had caught deep sea fishing this weekend.

So, for my 'detox' meal this evening I combined my love for a crunchy Asian salad with my love for raw fish and feel fantastic after eating a completely raw and healthy meal.

Asian Style Sashimi Salad (serves one)

One fillet of sashimi grade tuna, sliced thinly against the grain (only ever use sashimi grade!!! See your local fish shop)
One cup of beanshoots
1/4 cup of sliced cucumber
1/4 cup of Parilla 'Crunchy Combo' sprouts (green produce section of supermarket)
Large handful of fresh coriander, shredded
Two spring onion pieces, chopped finely
Half a large chilli, seeds removed, chopped finely
5 snowpeas, thinly sliced

Tablespoon of fish sauce
Tablespoon of mirin vinegar
Tablespoon of soy sauce
Juice of one lime

In a medium sized bowl combine beanshoots, cucumber, sprouts, coriander, spring onion, chilli and snowpeas. Add dressing and toss to combine. Arrange tuna on top and serve.

Such an easy, simple, healthy meal that your body will love you for. And once again, I preach about trying raw fish- it is simply amazing. Do it!

L x

Maha Bar & Grill

This week my amazing boyfriend was admitted to the bar as an offical Australian lawyer and as part of his celebration we were lucky enough to be shouted out to Maha Bar & Grill in the CBD. I was so excited and proud to see all his hard work pay off (and mine, putting up with him through 5 years of uni and an articled clerkship!), and to be able to cross off one of my top 5 restaurants in Melbourne for such a special occasion.

I particularly love reading articles about the owner of Maha (along with George Colambaris), Shane Delia, as he seems to capture everything I love about food and cooking in his outlook on food. For example, he states on the Maha website, “As long as I have good food, and family and friends to share it with, my life is complete", which is so much how I feel about my life and the role of food in our lives. The passion he has for his native cuisine and his love for hospitality was really evident in the beautiful experience we had at Maha.

Descending down the stairs we were greeted by friendly staff who took our coat and showed us to our lavishly decorated Middle Eastern style table. The level of service we recieved was wonderful. In particular, I found it very impressive how much they catered for differences in taste. Despite us all sharing the 'soufra' menu, which involves home-style tasting plates, they were completely accommodating to my partner's parents who dislike seafood (not an allergy, just a dislike) and happily matched them with seperate dishes whenever we had anything that contained seafood. Compared to dining experiences at places like Chin Chin and Mamasita, where the food is amazing but the service can be so-so, Maha's staff were patient and pleasant.

The food itself was wonderful. We started with a mezze platter with fresh, warm baked bread. The marinated olives were divine as was the poached salmon.

Second course of the soufra were also great dishes. We loved the rich flavours in chicken and fig tagine with corn bread and a runny egg. Such an interesting and unusual combination.

The duck and mushroom 'spring roll' type dish was also a hit. Crunchy pastry wrapped around salty duck mince with beautiful rich mixed mushrooms. The textures in this dish were amazing.

Our first main was a seafood dish which featured marinated Harpuka fish with a beautiful coriander sauce along with a fish mousse that we likened to a 'fish sausage'. This dish was enjoyable but the flavours were somewhat mild and unable to live up to the richness of the other dishes.

The stand-out dish of the day for everyone was the 12 hour roasted lamb shoulder. I had recently read this recipe in the latest Feast magazine and would have been devestated if it hadn't have featured in our soufra! The meat is marinated for 3 days then slow roasted at 100 degrees for 12 hours, and as you can imagine the result is pretty amazing. The tender meat just falls apart at the touch and is just wonderful served with a pistachio and green olive tabbouleh. We also had a wonderful fattoush salad and an almond rice pilaf.

 As you can imagine by now we were feeling very full and merry (our meal was accompanied by some very nice Pinot Gris from Mornington) but there was not a chance we would not fit in dessert. We were served a beautiful tasting platter with three different desserts- a chocolate and pomegranate tart, a sponge with frangelico sauce and a 'Maha' biscuit and poached pears with vanilla bean ice-cream. It was difficult to choose which of the desserts was my favourite as everyone was unique and wonderful, the perfect way to end our special lunch.

I also enjoyed the homemade Moroccan Mint Tea with fresh mint and honey. As with all the dishes, even this was exquisitely presented.

As you can probably tell by now, I would not hesitate in recommending Maha for your next special occasion. The sharing style of the meals makes it quite affordable with the four course at $45 a head. I am planning on heading back this year to try the Sultans banquet which is a more degustation style of meal. I could not fault the service, food or atmosphere at Maha. I know it is a day and a dining experience that we will all always remember.


L x

Maha Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Yarra Glen Grand Hotel

I visited the Yarra Glen Grand Hotel with some girlfriends last night for dinner and wines and was really impressed with this beautiful country pub. My girlriend, a Yarra Glen local, commented on the overhaul the place had undergone in the last few years. Tastefully decorated and capturing the country feel of the town, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in a beautifully lit dining room.

We found the hotel had an excellent wine list and we enjoyed some local wines.

 We started with a dip platter, and were impressed by their option of gluten free bread so that my gluten intolerant friend could share the entree with us. Dips were enjoyable, but not overly amazing.

Our mains were really lovely though. My friend enjoyed her beef balti with rice and yogurt, however it did have quite the bite to it. The slow cooked beef just fell apart and was juicy and tender.

The other two of us both loved our pan roasted barramundi fillet on a chat potato rosti with a leek puree and snow pea sprouts. This is exactly the kind of dish I love- fresh, beautifully cooked fish combined with zesty flavours and textures.

We all made room for dessert and enjoyed a beautiful yogurt panna cotta with fresh berries, an apple and berry crumble and creme brulee. My panna cotta was rich and creamy, cut through by the sweetness of the fresh berries. A perfect dessert.

I will definitely be returning to the Yarra Glen Grand Hotel. This was the best 'pub' meal I have had in a long time. Sometimes I find hotel menu's lack healthy options and every meal seems to be the size of a house. It was nice to find a hotel that provided good quality as well as value for money.

L x
Yarra Glen Grand Hotel on Urbanspoon