Archive | July, 2011

carlton espresso

28 Jul

Carlton Espresso

It’s wine time, which means nothing other than the fact that it’s past 11am. While other friends might consider an afternoon catch up as being centered around coffee and cupcakes I have the pleasure of being part of a friendship that isn’t that gay or juvenile. The cupcake trend is over, believe it – unless you’ve got a good red velvet then I’m down. But even if I did have a red velvet cupcake, my partner in crime this afternoon would have insisted that I drink match it with liquor – the stronger the better. She knows how to party on a Wednesday afternoon.

Braving the horse shit weather and considering we are both in Carlton all signs point to Carlton Espresso on Lygon Street, which has been the scene of many afternoon wines and even more eye rolls. I guess in this instance it’s not that I don’t like Italians, it’s that the Italians (read: waiters) don’t like me and don’t even bother with the carrying out the most basic function of their job – to connect me quickly and painlessly with whatever I am ordering. Admittedly, the entire scenario would be different if I had the grace, charm and charisma (and lady parts) of Jade but I digress. We sit down, order the usual and at this point I am surprisingly only moderately pissed off at the awful one sided flirting going on by Andre, or is it Mario, or Leonardo or Gogetta Da Wino? This seems to be the case every time we pay Carlton a visit – I wait patiently for the flirting to end so I can discuss whatever critical bullshit it is that I feel the need to discuss. I know, the trials and tribulations of befriending a drinking buddy who is devastatingly captivating to petulant Italian waiters.

I’m not particularly sour in my day to day life, there is just something about an overly confident European that grinds my gears.

Well, what is there left to say? The wine comes out, I drink it, talk about women’s rights and porn and consider eating a complimentary olive but something tells me it’s laced with Rohypnol.

Assiette, Ash cloud & A long ride home

25 Jul

Did you know that there is an overnight train from Sydney to Melbourne? Did you also know that the journey takes as long (if not longer) than driving between the two cities?  And who knew that people in towns with names like Harden and The Rock, actually use these services even though it means getting on / off the train at 3am in the morning? Oh and by the way the toilet / bathroom facilities are UV lit and there is no running water.

I had the (dis)pleasure of finding all of this out recently when some volcanic ash from a far away land (Chile) forced me to take the overnight train with my distinguished colleagues – who by the way were not feeling so distinguished after 12 hours sitting upright (guys, if you are reading this you know who you are).

The only saving grace of the whole saga (but by no means did this make up for the horror of the train ride) was a pre-train meal at Assiette in the trendy locale of Surry Hills (also conveniently in close proximity to Central train station).

Earning a second ‘hat’ last year, Assiette could easily have been another fancy establishment with trendy ‘deconstructed’ / fusion fare and not much else.  So I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and creativity of the food we had – a welcome treat before the dreaded train journey.  The setting is intimate (think Embrasse style – simple decor, white table clothes but none of the pretentiousness that is so common in Sydney establishments), the service prompt (we were done and dusted in just under 2 hours) and there is plenty to choose from the carefully crafted, albeit short, menu (so short that one of my esteemed colleagues mistook the list of mains as a five course degustation for $37, asking for ‘menu 2’ to which the polite but confused waiter asked – ‘are you sure you can eat all of that?’).

Cured Hiramasa kingfish with dashi jelly, pickled octopus and blood lime

Momentarily forgetting the journey ahead of us, we enjoyed our beautifully presented meals (it felt a little like ‘the last supper’ to some of us).  For entrée I chose the cured Hiramasa kingfish with dashi jelly, pickled octopus and blood lime, which not only looked fantastic on the plate, but also had the perfect balance of flavours – a touch of sweet from the jelly, the fresh briny taste of the fish and the slightly sour blood lime worked a treat.

Roasted denver leg of venison with parsnip and chestnut croquette, brussels sprouts and lardons

For mains most of us opted for the roasted denver leg of venison with parsnip and chestnut croquette, brussels sprouts and lardons.  Again, our plates arrived looking like mini works of art and tasted even better.  The venison had a warming gaminess to it, without being chewy (as is always a risk with game meats).  The brussels sprouts were perfect with the crisp lardons and the croquettes (one of my favourite things in the world!) were wonderfully golden and crunchy on the outside, and creamy on the inside – although I didn’t finish these as they were rather rich and filling.  Judging by the very clean plates at the end we all enjoyed our meals.

Pretty Dessert

Desserts were possibly the prettiest dishes of them all and I had serious food envy, given I didn’t order any (to avoid food coma on the long train ride which was going to be unpleasant enough without a bursting belly).  Unfortunately I cannot recall what was actually on the plate – some ice cream, marshmallow and delicate little cubes of jelly; but its safe to say it was delicious as it all disappeared pretty quickly.

Cheese platter

The cheese platter was also very generous with 4 types of cheese, quince paste, some lavosh and rye bread.

So with desserts finished and the last drop of wine consumed we could delay the journey no longer.  Dragging our luggage down the street like lost stragglers we ambled our way to the dreaded train to begin our epic journey – a little delirious from the wonderful food we had just consumed and somewhat hopeful that the journey would somehow be a more likeable experience than what we were expecting.

What misplaced hope – in the words of one of my travelling companions as our train journey came to a close: “that really was just horrific”.

Note from DDO: apologies for the poor quality of the photos (again!) – but as you can probably tell, there were a lot of unexpected events surrounding this dinner, hence the lack of a proper camera!


Assiette: 2.5 Gold Stars (out of a possible 3 – good food, relaxed ambience, worth a visit if you are in the area)

Country Link: 0 (Horrific! Only because Australian train travel is at least a century behind the rest of the world!)


48 Albion Street
Surry Hills, Sydney

China Bar signature

19 Jul

Remember that episode of 30 Rock when Jenna comes back from a season break 30 pounds heavier after eating a whole summer of Pizza during her run on Broadway in ‘Mystic Pizza: The Musical.’?  Well, DDO didn’t just do a musical tv series.  Or anything to do with Pizza!  But this family dinner WAS most certainly inspired by something on TV (an extremely overplayed, over glamourised tvc on the Chinese cable channel TVB Jade), and left me  bellowing “ME WANT FOOOOOOD!!”

China Bar Signature

Said commercial was for China Bar Signature, an Asian food buffet emporium, offering every possible type of stereotypically eaten asian delight!   It’s a combination of clever marketing, hiring an amazing photographer and offering this “Eat As Much As You Like” haven of food that seems to have made this place EXTREMELY successful, and the whole experience – from booking our table, to the morning of our reservation, to before we arrived, to when we were 3 minutes late, and finally being shoo-ed out once our ‘allocated eating time’ was up – left us speechless… or was that the food coma…?

China Bar Signature is HUGE!  As you drive down Burwood Highway it’s hard to miss this giant food cube of a restaurant as it glistens on the corner lit up by the token red neons that China Bar is so famously known for.  You walk in to find a grand dining hall packed with people, packed with staff, and most of all PACKED with food.  As we are hurriedly seated (much to the distress of the maitre’d we are 4 minutes late, well not late but 4 minutes into our booking time range of 6:15 – 6:30) at our round table for 5 near the entrance.  In case you haven’t picked up already, there’s a reason this place is so damn big.  It’s because when you offer people too much food, with endless food varieties (…they even offered dim sum!  Ummm! Its 7:30pm…. ) people come in HOARDS!!

So in order to deal with the masses of hungry humans needing to stuff their face with limitless amounts of Asian themed fare (present company included…), the establishment has 2 seatings, 5:30pm and 8:00pm.  With our booking for 6:30 we are warned almost every 4 minutes leading up to 6:30 that we HAVE to leave at 7:45 and asked “are you sure that is enough time to finish eating…?”

Dim Sum assortments

Given the pressure from the restaurant to eat and leave, DDO and the Fam had devised some what of an eating plan of attack… which was almost immediately VITTO-ed by JP and I.  You see, N along with Mumsy and Dadsy thought it a good idea to tackle one station per person, to ensure we got to try as much as humanly possible without wasting time.  Clever idea.  But I was only interested in eating an hour and a half worth of unauthentic sushi and sashimi… and maybe a dumpling or 2 (coz eating Sui Mai at dinner times … like eating chocolate for breakfast…!!).  And JP was pretty much all over that Oystar bar (2 rounds worth) faster then we could pour our first cups of tea.

Seafood bar

So aside from the usual fried rice, noodle bar, steamed dumplings -which include xiao long bao and assortment of dim sum dumplings… which I think is PRETTY WEIRD but then again, so is the whole concept of this place! SO sparing judgment.

…there are stir fries,  a Japanese section, an Indian/Malaysian offering, a salad bar (uh… AS IF!!  needless to say that area was untouched on my part… ) Chinese roast meats – which were roast pork, pork belly and peking duck, and of course seafood bar.

Maki assortment

It didn’t take me long to beeline for the sushi bar (which was my favourite part of the TVC) with it’s brightly coloured maki rolls all lined up.  The flavours were pretty standard, but tasted acceptable considering the environment we were in…

Seared Salmon & Eel Sushi

My favourite was the seared Salmon and Eel Sushi, which I’m pretty sure I cleaned out at least a whole platter of each!  They were really fresh and surprisingly, the bed of rice it nestled on was far from being dry and rock solid like many other places that offer this type of sushi.  Although I did manage to try some of the other things, like satay, and peking duck, after about 3 rounds of sushi my stomach was so full of rice I could almost explode.  Thats the thing with “all you can eat”… there really is only so much you can eat, before you feel ill.  And I was certainly well on my way…

mums tailor made fishball noodle soup

Mumsy was probably the smartest with her eating choices and opted to head straight for the noodle man where she was able to tailor make her bowl with choice of noodles as well as assorted dumplings, balls and vegetable accompaniments.   Thankfully for us, her relatively un-overstuffed belly meant she still had room for dessert…

Coconut pudding

Mixed cakes

The dessert spread was just as impressive as the savory food.  So impressive in fact, there was a massive line that wrapped all the way around the dessert run and around the bend towards to restrooms. It may also have been something to do with the fact that it was getting close to that 7:45 cut off.

Offering everything from pastries and tarts, cheese and bread to sponge cakes, cheese cakes and puddings… Most impressively being the retail sized

Pastries & more sweets

freezer full of ice cream sticks!! (You know those one’s you always see at asian grocers that you never quite know if they are icey poles or ice creams… icey creams…?)  By this stage, JP had to excuse himself from being so full.  He literally got up and had to walk around the restaurant. Mum, N and I did a round of desserts for the table, and Dadsy stayed by the table … smart move Dadsy!!

Although we only returned with 2 small plates of an assortment of little cakes and something red beany, we all struggled to finish them, and even the mere hand to mouth action was too difficult.

Freezer full of ice cream poles (?)

We started as a troop bellowing “Me want FOooood!” with eye’s for food being bigger then our actual stomachs, and walked out (to a line of hopefuls outside, awaiting their glorious hour and a half of excess consumption) feeling completely defeated by the Food Monster that drew us in!

NOTE TO SELF: its much funnier experiencing the effects of over consumption through Jenna on TV Land than in real life… should also probably stop eating sundae’s whilst working out on the treadmill….

China Bar Signature

380 Burwood Highway, Burwood East  (03) 9887 8011

Straits Cafe

6 Jul

It takes a rare occassion to find the DDO team without eat/drink/be merry plans on a Friday evening!  So on this glorious night off from society, the 2 of us jumped at the chance to have a simple night in.  Take out.  DVD.  Eating our emotions!  (I didn’t actually realise how literal that phrase would be until the end of the SADDEST movie.  It literally left me wailing….)  AMAZING!!

Given  N has quite possibly every movie title in her and JP’s DVD collection, we headed to lovely Balwyn for our night in.  The best thing about being in that area is the plethora of Asian take out places that are in near by suburbs (which would normally seem 10 minutes TOO FAR for consideration.)  It was a toss up between Laksa or Taiwanese… umm… no brainer!  LAKSA TIMES!

Neatly stacked laksa for 2

N had recently been introduced to Straits Cafe, serving simple hawker style Malaysian food in Doncaster.  And I do NOT use the term simple lightly.  The whole place is basically a big room, with nothing but an open kitchen and the hustle and bustle of busy chefs/staff and hungry customers.  We call ahead to order and are advised to pick up in 10 minutes.  This night in is fast (pun intended) proving to be a winner!!

Although the takeaway menu offers all your usual suspects: Hawker style Har Mee, Rendang Beef, Belachan Kang Kong and Hainanese Chicken Rice, I couldn’t help but indulge my ‘creature of comfort’ cravings and go with the Curry Laksa.  (Although having a quick perve at what people were eating on their cramped, lively table tops, I’m pretty keen to get back and try myself some Char Kueh Teow and Chicken Rice).

Anyway, the fragrant smell of those neatly boxed up Curry Laksa’s were enough to make me plough through the roads like a maniac… I had Laksa Blinkers! As we unpacked the noodle and soup boxes, opening the lid of the soup box was like being hit in the face with a Food Bomb!   The steam and smell of that thick coconutty soup was thick and hearty… although opening the box housing the noodle/chicken/etc, I did feel minor anxiety as I poured the ingredients out waiting for that glorious ‘plonk’ from the usually present eggplant… No Plonk!  No Eggplant?!

Minor cross road aside, I couldn’t wait to tuck in!!  As is tradition, this Curry Laksa had chicken, bean shoots, fish cakes, bean curd puffs, vermicelli and thick egg noodles… and THAT soup!!

Curry Laksa $9.90

Now i’m not going to lie.  There was a brief moment of ABSOLUTE soul destroying disappointment when I fished around in denial trying to find “that Eggplant” that is ever present in other commonly reviewed Laksa establishments.   Thankfully, the Straits Cafe Laksa made up for it with its super fresh chicken pieces and AMAZINGLY fragrant soup (this one is not as sweet or over creamy as many other places, and is a touch tangier due to its fresh ground herbs for the soup base).  What ever this family recipe is, it most certainly shits on it’s more frequented Laksa counterparts.

So for just under 10 bones, I got to eat in the comfort of my own home (…sort of…), blubber uncontrollably  while shamefully consuming as much food as I did Kleenex! …can I just say, ‘Marley and Me’ was NOT the best DVD choice.  Straits Cafe may have not given me Laksa with eggplant, but they filled my Laksa void nonetheless!!

Straits Cafe

694 Doncaster Rd, Doncaster

(03) 9848 1605

Eat Drink Man Woman (EDMW)

3 Jul

A touch of Gold at EDMW

A far cry from its namesake film, the Eat Drink Man Woman philosophy is simple – we Eat, we Drink, and we’re either Man or Woman.  There are no meat cleaver toting chefs (well not from my vantage point into the sleek open kitchen) and no barbeque pork buns on the menu (well not yet, although it would be a bit of a kitschy move to reference the Asian gore flick).

The brainchild of Daniel Schelbert and Marcelo Tummino (of The European and Supper Club fame), EDMW occupies the large space that used to house that Brunswick Street stalwart Retro – which by the way, was probably 10 years past its used by date anyway.  Gone is the garish yellow paint, replaced by classy neutrals, with hints of deep blue and gold – all of which blend with surprising harmony.

Open for just a few weeks, and being where it is (Brunswick St will always be dear to us, despite it now turning into the new Chapel St for the North) we were keen to give the place a go before it became the next over-reviewed and over-populated establishment (ok we’ll admit it, we wanted to be one of the first blogs to get to it before The Age did!).  So despite the no-booking policy (I don’t do no-bookings generally, although the lady on the phone assured me we should be fine for a table of 4 as they had just opened – and then added as an afterthought that ‘yes, we are getting busier and busier by the day…’), we found ourselves seated at a window table (the fam crew – J, JP and E) on a Saturday night.  The place had a nice buzz to it and despite being a rather large space, didn’t feel like it was only half full.

Water came shortly after we were seated (tick!), along with a wine list that whilst not extensive, includes some carefully picked Australian, Spanish and Italian wines, which are all available by the glass and very reasonably priced.  We order a Spanish tempranillo/grenache for $45 and settle in to peruse the menu which offers a mash-up of influences – Thai, Vietnamese, Spanish, Chinese, French…the universe!  Its not a large menu, but add in a couple of specials, and there is more than enough to satisfy any hungry belly.  Being the Asian foodies that we are, we order 5 entrees, 3 mains and a few sides to share – I’ll note here that whilst its not a ‘share menu’ per se, ordering the conventional way will mean that you miss out on all the wonderful offerings on the menu (which is exactly what the patrons next to us opted for…how boring).

For entrees we opted for two specials – salmon cooked at 35 degrees; Spanish jamon; chicken liver pate; ox tongue and mussels with chorizo.  Whilst the mussels were nothing to write home about (well cooked, but uninspired) the 4 others would be what my DDO counterpart would describe simultaneously using superlatives such as ‘flavour nation’, ‘party in the mouth’, and ‘amaze balls’, etc..

Salmon - cooked at 35 degrees

Spanish Jamon

Chicken Liver Pate with grilled bread

Ox Tongue with Bagna Verde

Mussels with Chorizo

First the salmon – the waitress wasn’t lying when she said it melts in your mouth – and melt it did, silky smooth in texture and bursting with flavour that only the freshest piece of produce can – true Flavour Nation!

Secondly the jamon – thinly sliced and served simply with some crusty bread and pureed tomato (I am sorry, its some Spanish way of doing tomatoes but the name escapes me completely).  The fat to meat ratio on each slice was perfect and the saltiness of the meat balanced well with the sweetness of the tomato.

The ox tongue – taste I cannot comment on as I don’t eat it – was beautifully presented with a drizzle of a Bagna-verde and anchovies.  By all accounts its as tasty as it looks and it disappears within seconds of being placed on the table.

Then came the chicken liver pate in its cute little jar and thin slices of grilled bread – not much to look at but talk about a party in the mouth!  The pate was the perfect spreadable consistency (not sludgee, but also didn’t turn into bread crumbs once out of that jar) and not too heavy so that by the end we were all wishing it came in a much larger jar.

Needless to say, entrees had left us hankering for more and we’re salivating as we wait for the mains and down the last drops of wine.  Lucky we didn’t have to wait long at all.  For main course we have the slow cooked pork belly, beef ribs and chargrilled lamb with sides of mushrooms and Vietnamese coleslaw (there are also fries on the menu which looked very appealing at the next table – but alas given the no carb dieters on our table we opted out).

Pork Belly

The pork belly was soft and juicy, the Balinese style dressing of lemongrass, shallots, turmeric, chilli and lime providing the perfect tang and a little spice to each mouthful which melted like butter in the mouth.  Ditto the beef ribs – which was a pleasant surprise actually as ribs usually conjure up a dental nightmare with bits of meat left stuck in hard to reach places as your tear it off the bone.  No dental nightmare here – the meat falls effortlessly off the bone and the housemade barbeque sauce was an amazing balance of sweetness and saltiness.

Beef Rib

The chargrilled lamb rump (with olives, artichokes and rosemary), was probably the only disappointment compared to the other dishes and was probably not worth ordering.  Not that it wasn’t cooked well, just that it could have been replaced by potentially another more inspired dish.  As for the side dishes – highly recommend the Vietnamese coleslaw.  Not the mushrooms though which were a little tasteless.

Lamb Rump



As always dessert cannot be bypassed even though we are all nursing rather large food babies. J and I share a trifle of raspberry, biscuit crumble and vanilla custard, whilst the others order the affogato.  The trifle comes in a basic glass and is the perfect way to finish off the meal – sweet, crunchy and creamy in all the right proportions, this one’s a winner!  By all accounts the affogato is a hit too (you’d be surprised how many places can stuff up a simple espresso with a  bit of ice cream).

At the end of the night we all agree that this is one of the better dining experiences we’ve had in a long time (particularly in this end of town).  Great service, nice (for now) unpretentious ambience and fantastic food – go there now before the secret gets out!


Eat Drink Man Woman

413 Brunswick Street


(03) 9419 0088