Monday, September 29, 2014

(almost) 4 days in Melbourne

It's amazing how short a 4 day trip to somewhere you love can feel. No matter how long I schedule for my visits to Melbourne I can never squish in everything I want to see...let alone everything I want to eat. I gave it my best shot though on this last trip...


As soon as I dropped my bags at my hotel I raced out to grab a late lunch at Mamasita.This is one of my favourite restaurants in Melbourne and until Mr Moustache opened in Sydney it was the best Mexican I'd ever had in Australia. I always order a Tamarind Jarrito (I've never seen this on offer anywhere else), Mexican corn (oh Lord, its good! The cheese, the cheese!), soft shell tacos (fish is their best) and a bowl plantain chips (again with the cheese).

Mamasita on Urbanspoon


Bao's are the new of course I was desperate to try this place!  I heard about Wonderbao about a year ago and up until this trip they'd not been opening on weekends. It didn't really matter this time as I'd arrived in Melbourne on a Thursday...but for future weekend trips I'm glad I can pay them a visit on the weekend.

The cafe is a little hard to's at the back of a modern-looking building and faces out to a small laneway. The space is tiny, just a few bench seats inside but when I arrive for afternoon I manage to snaffle myself a seat. If I hadn't *just* had lunch at Mamasita I would've gone for a few things on the menu, but as it is I went with the suggestion of one of the staff and choose the braised pork belly gao bao. It's messy...but pretty darn tasty.

Wonderbao on Urbanspoon

Melbourne Cat Cafe

Can I just say "squeeee"! Australia's very first cat cafe opened in Melbourne the week before my about epically perfect timing. And no, for all of your smart Alec's out there, they don't serve get to pay you money and spend an hour stalking cats to pat whilst interrupting their nap time. Fun.

The concept is pretty similar to the cat cafes we visited in Japan this year...though they aren't *quite* as strict with "the rules". We get to leave our shoes on for example and there's a distinct lack of hand sanitizer on every counter (though you should wash your hands in the loos before/after your patting session). The space is WAY bigger than anything we encountered in Japan too...this place had room after room with CATS! Wall to wall CATS (well about not quite wall to wall).  Just like Japan this is a fun and relaxing way to while away an hour (or more if you book for more time).  Unlike Japan the cats here are all rescue cats...unlike the cat cafes in Japan where most of the "staff" are pure bred. I like our model much better to be honest and all of the cats here seemed really happy with their new digs.

There's not much of a "cafe" to the Cat Cafe but there's a Japanese-esque vending machine downstairs and the staff with bring up a hot drink...or a cold sip on whilst you pat your cat of choice.

Cat Cafe Melbourne on Urbanspoon

Nama Nama

Cat patting really works up an appetite so I decided to check out Nama Nama for dinner - a casual Japanese udon joint owned by the people behind Izakaya Den.

It was the draw of Udon that made me really want to try this place, and whilst the Udon was good (though pricey) I'm not sure I'm in love with this place. I'm sad the Edamame were served cold -- like out of the fridge cold, the service was 'weird' (I was the only person in the place but had to keep getting up to ask the waitress if I could order) and the bowl the Udon was served in was so deep and awkward for a noob chopstick user (and even difficult when I switched over to a trusty fork). I wish they'd had a few more snack sized dishes to help paid out my Udon.

All of that aside I think this place is closing down soon and being reopened as something else...

Nama Nama on Urbanspoon

Queenies "Breakfast City tour"

The next morning I'd booked myself into a breakfast city tour run by Andrew Prior who was a contestant on Masterchef  (to quote Andrew "the season that noone watched" LOL). Andrew is a very vibrant personality and his vivaciousness and love of food come across as he leads us around Melbourne.

Our tour kicks off with breakfast at Pei Modern and I order the Eggs Benedict with an OJ on the side. I like starting off the tour with a gives us a chance to hear what the tour guide has to say and to meet our other tour-goers. The eggs-benny are really good...good yolk porn.

This tour doesn't take us "into" a lot of places for sampling like many other tours do, it's more like having a friend show you around town as they point out the tasty places they like to eat. It's perfect for me. I especially liked seeing where Melbourne's smallest bar is located...I wonder if I'd even try to get in given it can only accommodate about 10 people are any one time.

Pei Modern on Urbanspoon

Little Veggie Patch Co

Even though I've packed up my balcony garden I'm still really interested in urban gardens and love to take an opportunity to see community gardens whenever I can.  The Little Veggie Patch Co has a "pop-up patch" on a carpark rooftop behind Federation Square. I've heard that the patch is so popular that it's actually become a permanent fixture and houses plots of inner-city residents/workers plus a host of patches for restaurants. Super cool. I LOVE it!


During the food tour Andrew points out Supernormal to us - a new(ish) modern Asian restaurant located on Flinders Lane. As an aside is Flinders Lane the BEST street in Melbourne, or what? So many great places to eat PLUS my favorite fabric store is on this street too.

I wanted to try Supernormal as Andrew tells us that even though the menu is designed for sharing they are MORE than happy to make smaller portions if you're dining on your own (I was...I came to Melbourne on my own as Dave was gallivanting around Europe on a sporting trip). As soon as I sit down at the counter I'm told that anything I want to order can be made in a smaller portion...nice one Supernormal. After the yummy Lobster Roll at Devon I was keen to try this one -- good, but not *quite* as good as Devon. I also had a yummy (1/2 serve) crab salad and some pickles. Happy. I'd go back here in a heartbeat.

Supernormal on Urbanspoon


I decided to try Fonda for dinner as it was close to my hotel and you know, it's Mexican. Was it as good as Mamasita (if you're a Mamasita fan comparisons have to be made)?  Hmmm...truth be But it wasn't just wasn't Mamasita.

I'm not a fan of places where you have to go up to the counter to order, especially when you're dining on your own as it means you cannot leave anything on the table in case someone snaffles it. That aside, the food was good, it just wasn't Mamasita. The corn was good with just the right about of spice to give it a little heat and I loved my a jar.

Fonda on Urbanspoon

 Cumulus Inc

I went to Cumulus Inc a few times on my trip as it was so close to my hotel and they do really good coffee. The good thing about traveling alone is that you can usually nab a spare seat at the bar without much of a wait - which I do on both my visits. I had the most amazing baked eggs here for breakfast one morning - I think the addition of shankleesh cheese is what really made this dish amazing.

Cumulus Inc. on Urbanspoon

Jimmy Grants

I adored the grain salad I had at Jimmy Gr during my last Melbourne visit and there was NO way I was missing out on it this trip. I decided to check out the branch at the new Melbourne Emporium - very swish - and I am happy to report the grain salad was just as good as I remember. And, some happy news (if it's true) is that Jimmy Grants is going to be opening a branch in Parramatta. Seems quite random but if the rumour is tree I'm going to be one happy, grain salad eating, camper.

Jimmy Grants on Urbanspoon


After an afternoon of wandering around the fabric shops at Fitzroy I found myself right in the vicinity of Huxtaburger. It would be rude not to pop in for a burger, right? I just love these burgers - soft bun, perhaps cooked and seasoned beef patties. If only Huxtaburger would move to Sydney too.

Huxtaburger on Urbanspoon


On my second last day in Melbourne the BFF flew down with his cousin and we decided to go for a fancy dinner at Bistro Vue. I love French food and was really looking forward to this meal but it fell a bit flat for me. The layout of the restaurant just didn't feel very comfortable to me -- we were sort of sat in a corridor and the service felt a bit pushy given that we only had a 2 hour window to eat.

I liked the food that I ordered, steak tartare and a grilled lamb dish. My friends ordered some wonderful French mainstays - confit duck, french onion soup and steak with frittes. We didn't have time to enjoy dessert at BistroVue as we ran out of time...but not too worry, I'd probably eaten enough on this day anyway.

Bistro Vue on Urbanspoon

Bowrey to Williamsburg

Are you full yet? Luckily I still had room for one more delicious Melbourne breakfast at the NYC inspired Bowery to Williamsburg. My cornbeef hash with potatoes was delish and my piccolo latte was perfect. I just love how Melbourne has so many great cafes in the CBD that open all weekend...if only Sydney took a leaf out of Melbourne's book in this respect the city would be a much more fun (and tasty place) to hang out on a weekend.

Bowery to Williamsburg on Urbanspoon

The End xoxo

PS, oh, there may have been a cheeky Souva that I snuck in from Jimmy Grants after breakfast but let's just keep that between us, ok?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Marukame Udon, Chatswood

Some careful planning saw me visiting Chatswood four times recently for some sewing classes. I'd be lying if I said that my decision to do the class in Chatswood wasn't motivated by the arrival of a new udon noodle restaurant in the suburb, Marukame Udon.

Marukame Udon is a bit different from Menya Mappen and Hana Hana as they make their own noodles in-house. This means they are super-fresh and have a nice "bounce" as you bite into them.

The set up of Marukame Udon is same as the other udon restaurants I've visited both in Sydney and Japan. Place your order, pick up your noodles, shuffle along and collect any side dishes you want...and then pay. Simples.

The sides are your usual suspects...tempura and various sushi-type offerings. I do miss the range of little salads and tidbits on offer at other places that I've visited so Menya Mappen will always be #1 for me.

On my first visit I try to recreate the delish udon I had in Tokyo back in February and order a bowl of Bukkake Udon with slow-cooked egg and beef. The meat here was stewed (with quite a strong flavour) rather than grilled like I had in Tokyo so sadly I think I ruined a good bowl of udon with this stunt. Better luck next time Miss Piggy!

I exercise restraint and order just one piece of tempura, settling on a Tofu Tempura ($2.40). Tasty, but I couldn't find any tempura dipping sauce here so opted for soy sauce instead.

On my next visits I stick with what I know and am not disappointed. The Bukkake Udon with slow-cooked egg is really good. Without the addition of the strong-flavoured beef the texture of the noodles really shine through. Happy happy! You can actually choose to have your bowl of udon hot or cold...I always go with hot, but I think next time I'll try the cold version as I'm told it's really good.

The side this time is a really delicious Tempura Chicken with Sesame ($2.90). The black sesame seeds add a really nice, nutty flavour to the batter. More please!

I'm already plotting my next sewing class in Chatswood so I can try a bowl of cold udon!

Marukame Udon is at 332 Victoria Ave, Chatswood.  Phone them on 9413 9434.

Marukame Udon on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ester, Chippendale

Ester is certainly Sydney’s darling at the moment, especially after winning awards at both the recent Time Out and SMH Good Food Awards. Despite its recent accolades I had no trouble making a booking for a Friday night recently.

Set in an unprepossessing location in the gritty(ish) backstreets of Chippendale the restaurant nestles amongst new apartments, old warehouses, terraces and warehouse conversions and the new Central Park development looms overhead. I really love that a restaurant that is sort of the middle of nowhere (as much as anywhere in the inner city can be “in the middle of nowhere”) is going gangbusters. Proves that if you build something great you don’t need to be on bustling Crown or King Streets for the customers to turn up.

Ester is much more spacious than I was anticipating and despite the concrete walls, the wooden floors and the gale blowing outside the place was lovely and warm. This is no doubt due to the big wood-fired oven they have blazing away in the kitchen. I really like the big arches on the wall - the remind me of the arches of a wood-fired oven. I wonder if that is the intention they were going for?

Whilst we pondered the menu we were given a little bowl of roasted chickpeas with salt, rosemary and (I think) fennel seeds (or something else with an aniseed flavour). I wish I could've lingered over these more as they were all gone by the time my wine arrived.

After a particularly craptastic day I was keen for a glass of wine...or two. I don’t really know much about wine varieties so out waitress was happy to recommend something close to the only wine I know I like (which FYI is a Pinot Gris). I pleased to say my Dario Princic Chardonnay Pinot Grigio Bianco '12 Friuli Italy (wow that’s a mouthful) ($15.00) went down a treat. Ester has a good choice of beers if you’re that way inclined and Dave went for the Mountain Goat Organic Steam Ale from Victoria ($8.50). His beer had a great, fruity scent and flavour and was super easy to drink.

The menu at Ester is a little cryptic. There’s no description, just a few things are listed separated by a forward slash. You can either cross your fingers and hope for the best or ask your waitress for a bit more information. We’re happy to go the first route and are not disappointed at all.

A lot has been written about Ester (by bloggers, avid Urbanspooners and “proper” journalists alike) and many people sing the praises of the Roasted Oysters ($4 each). I’m an oyster lover from way back and couldn’t pass these by. The oysters are served slightly warm (sounds gross, but trust me it’s EPICALLY good) after a brief stint in Ester’s famous wood –fired oven and dressed with a horseradish mignonette. If you’re an oyster lover too then these are a must order.

I think the Lobster Sausage Sanga ($9 each) is a new item on the menu. The “snag” is lovely and tender with a wonderful hit of lobster within. I was particularly enamored with the bread which was thick, moist and crumbly, almost like cake in texture. Excellent.

We were ordering quite a lot (whoops) so just ordered one Smoked Pork Croquette ($5 each) between us to try. The smoky flavour from the oven was really evident in our croquette and I think the lemon was a good way to really lift the flavour to something a bit special.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever actually ordered bone marrow before but I know a few people who are devotees so I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. Ester’s Bone Marrow and XO sauce ($17) is served with some deliciously smoky (yes, everything is smoky) wood-fired bread which matches SO well with the unctuous, fatty, buttery marrow. Yum.

The cauliflower / almond / mint ($8 for a ½ serve) is another now-famous Ester dish. We’re told the cauliflower is quite a big dish but they are happy to offer a half serve if you’re wanting it as a side to your main...which is what we do. I really love when restaurants are happy to bend a little with their menu to allow their customers a bit more flexibility in ordering. The twice-cooked cauli is served with on top an almond purée and topped with almonds and fresh mint. It really is VERY delicious.

The Honey Glazed Duck ($38.00) is a special for the night and we HAD to order it as Dave finds it nearly impossible to pass up duck on a menu. He was pretty happy let me tell you! The Asian-inspired duck had a super crisp skin, a sweet honey glazed and a subtle Aniseed flavour (Star Anise)?

During dinner I confess that salad is one of my favourite things to eat, a confession brought on no doubt by the salad we ordered. The salad of cos / walnut / white anchovies ($9) is a good counterbalance to the rich, fatty duck and the white anchovy dressing was a thing of beauty. Whilst I declare that I LOVE salad I think what I really love is a good good dressing...something that for me is hard to replicate at home.

I like that the Salted Caramel Semi-Freddo ($4) is just a little dessert. Sometimes you want something sweet after dinner but cannot face a whole dessert. This of course is not that time for us as we also order the whoppingly large Citrus Curd Meringue Pie ($15). The pie comes not served by the slice, but packed into a rather hefty bowl. I have flashbacks of the Magic Pudding as soon as it’s placed before us. Once we dig down beneath the soft, fluffy meringue the citrus curd is *just* on the right side of being eye-squintingly tart, with just a hint of sweetness. The whole lot sits on a dark, crumbly cake-like base. Absolutely LOVED this!

I paired my desserts (well, technically “our” desserts) with an interesting glass of Japanese dessert wine. I’ve never had Japanese dessert wine before, or even heard of it, so it was fun to try something new. Loved the apricot flavour and slightly sour afternote. Much less sweet than other dessert ones I’ve had.

I really enjoyed my dinner at Ester. The food was excellent, hearty, rustic and flavoursome though I have to admit nothing blew my socks right off my feet. I'm keen to go back and try a few of the other things on the menu though as there is SO much more to try (like the prawns please). Soon I hope. If we can get a booking.

Ester Restaurant and Bar is at 46-52 Meagher Street, Chippendale. Phone them on 8068 8279.

 Ester on Urbanspoon

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