Sunday, 27 April 2014

Vue de Monde, Melbourne, Victoria (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Vue de Monde has been on our restaurant wishlist for sometime. Alissa had been wanting to go since her friends raved about it years ago, and after I enjoyed an impressive meal at the more casual and traditional Bistro Vue, I really wanted to see for myself how good Shannon Bennett's flagship restaurant was. With this in mind, it should not be surprising that a reservation at Vue de Monde was high on our list of priorities when planning our first trip to Melbourne together, with our reservation made before we even booked our flights over.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Gelato Messina, Fitzroy, Victoria (Alissa and Donovan Eat Australia)

In the culinary battle for Australia's best foodie city, I've always felt that Gelato Messina was a massive feather in Sydney's cap, and one that Melbourne just did not have as good an answer to. For those who have not been fortunate enough to try Messina's exceptional gelato, their aesthetic is best exemplified by the process that goes into the making of their famous Apple Pie Gelato, where pie pastry and apple pie filling are made from scratch, giving their gelato a reality of flavour that simply cannot be found in lesser, essence/extract based ice cream. With an artistic, almost Heston Blumenthalesque drive to discover new wild and wonderful flavours, Messina are probably the best gelateria in Australia, and the opening of a Fitzroy branch in 2013 gave serious leg up in the Sydney/Melbourne intercity rivalry.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Kokoro Ramen, Melbourne, Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

For regular readers of the Ministry, I don't think its any secret that I'm a little obsessed with ramen. To me, great ramen is a truly wondrous thing; a surprising combination of culinary skill and precision that nevertheless seems so effortless when served up, and results in an utterly delicious, casual and approachable eating experience that is generally fairly affordable. If arteries and weight gain were not an issue, I'd probably live on daily steaming bowls of tonkotsu broth and ramen noodles, and its a dish I always have to try when visiting new places. When we arrived in Hong Kong as part of Alissa and Don Eat Asia, Ichiran Ramen was our first port of call, so it seemed only fitting that the first meal of our Melbourne trip would be a ramen joint.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Food Truck Rumble, Northbridge, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Food trucks have come a long way. For too long relegated to being a source of overpriced meals of low quality served up at events looking to gouge money out of hapless patrons, in recent years there has been a massive global turnaround of fortunes for the humble food truck as a serious alternative to the fixed address restaurant. In Los Angeles Roy Choi and his Korean/Mexican fusion food has turned him and his food truck company Kogi into a west coast answer to David Chang, and when an operator of a food truck is being proclaimed one of the 'best new chefs' in America, you know the role of the food truck in the global landscape has changed.

Thankfully, cultural shifts in Perth over the last decade have meant that instead of dying a slow painful death trying to cross the Nullarbor, global trends are actually making it to the west coast, to the point that we're ready for our very own food truck festival as part of Eat Drink Perth - the inaugural Food Truck Rumble. In a typically Perthian, one-degree-of-separation-from-anyone-in-the-creative-sphere, I met the organiser of the festival, Ai-Ling Truong, just a few days before the Rumble and discovered that not only is she a friend of a friend, but that she is also the blogger behind Food Endeavours of the Blue Apocalypse, a blog mostly focused on her inventive home cooking but also the blog that hipped me to how good banh mi is in Girrawheen. I told Ai-Ling that we were definitely going to be there, and that Alissa and I would be heading in for 10:45 am.
"But it doesn't start til 11...", she said quizzically.
"I know", I said, "but you've gotta have a plan."

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Tra Vinh (Brisbane St), Northbridge, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

My family were introduced to Tra Vinh many years ago by one of my mother's friends. Located near the corner of William and Brisbane Streets in what is considered Northbridge (but is technically Perth), its hardly located on a busy thoroughfare akin to James or Francis St - especially when you consider our first visit was before the massive rejuvenation that William St has undergone in the last few years. Though slightly out of the way, the place always seems packed during peak times - a situation that has continued even with the opening of a second, more conveniently located branch in Northbridge proper.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

G'Fun Cafe, O'Connor, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

When talking about cheap eats, I think there's a distinction to be made between Cheap Eats and Super Cheap Eats. The Melbourne and Sydney Good Food Guide supplement for Cheap Eats draws the line at $30, and a place like Pinchos is a good example of that kind of restaurant; $30 for tapas is really good value (with drinks on top of that). At G'Fun in O'Connor, you can get an appetizer/snack, a main meal and a drink, and still get change from $10. And if you're not that hungry you can get change from a fiver just for a main meal. That's got to be one of the biggest bargains in town.

Located in what used to be an Italian Restaurant in the South St row of shops as a McDonald's and a Red Rooster, the oddly named G'Fun Cafe has been a regular haunt for my family, especially when my father and I used to work just 5 minutes away. Lunch run orders for up to 10 people were not unheard of since at prices this low its a pretty easy sell, and we still offhandedly refer to it simply as 'Cheap Chinese'. G'Fun is owned by a fairly enterprising family who have worked out that there is a profit to be made if you open up near a university and offer no-frills meals for dirt cheap prices. I used to frequent their older store in Nedlands during my UWA art school days, and recently discovered it has since been rebranded under the G'Fun name.

The interior is an odd, spartan combination of standard cafe tables and decor that seems like it came free with the store when it transitioned from Italian restaurant to feeding bargain hunters and hungry student masses.

Obviously too expensive to pull out, the old pizza oven remains, though I'm sure it has not been used for years now. Though keeping elements of the old store, G'Fun have recently renovated their counter space by moving the hot display cabinets closer to the kitchen and moving the condiment station further away - all good and logical moves to make the busy weekday lunchtime service as fluid as possible. Alissa and I came on a lazy Sunday afternoon, hence the emptiness in the photos above.

Usually we would get one or the other, but for the benefit of demonstration Alissa and I ordered two items each from their small snack selection - Stuffed Crab Claws and Spring Rolls. Both are fairly standard examples of the dishes that are probably frozen bulk buys quickly fried up for sale. Which is not to say we didn't enjoy them; the Crab meat (and probably filler) is sweet and deliciously tender, though having been in the food warmer lacks the crispness that it would have hot and fresh out of a fryer. The spring rolls are also tasty, but again suffer from a lack of crispness.

Being the noodle fiend that I am, I decided that the Dry Noodles with Roast Chicken was the way to go. The noodles were fairly standard for this type of dish, with the roast chicken being quite juicy in spite of being a piece of breast meat. The addition of some greenery helped make the dish have the semblance of healthiness and I enjoyed it for what it is and is something of a regular order for me. You're not going to be mistaking this for the handmade noodles of Kitchen Inn anytime soon, however when you're looking at paying around $6 (including a 50c dine in surcharge you can simply avoid by ordering it to go) you can't really complain.

For a point of difference, Alissa went with their Chicken Rice with Barbecue Chicken. Interestingly enough, G'Fun don't serve any pork dishes and thus make their char siu out of chicken. I've never quite understood why they do this since they make a beef curry and teriyaki fish, however I'd have to assume they must get some kind of amazing deal on bulk chicken due to the amount of food they sell during peak times, or they have religious views that preclude dining on swine. Their signage refers to their chicken rice as 'famous', and while this might be justified by G'Fun being renowned for being cheap, its definitely not the best chicken rice I've had. Chicken rice made the legit Hainanese way has a stronger, fattier flavour to the rice and a characteristic oiliness. This chicken rice is probably healthier, and has enough of the chicken flavour in the rice to be tasty by itself without any sauce. The char siu style chicken actually tastes fairly similar to real char siu, with a nice sweetness and the blackened edges signs of that smokey barbecue touch. As with the noodles, this is not going to be replacing your favourite chicken rice stall anytime soon but for $5 ($4.50 takeaway) its almost absurdly cheap.

The Verdict: Good
Okay, so its not the most exciting place to eat, but it fulfills the same role as Taka's Kitchen does for Japanese food by providing tasty Chinese at highly affordable rock bottom prices. This is not the kind of thing that is worth driving long distances for, but if you're living in the Melville area and are looking for a bargain you could do a lot worse than G'Fun Cafe. A word of warning though; Alissa and I have repeatedly made the mistake of driving to G'Fun for a weekend dinner only to find the place closed; they only do a lunch service on Saturdays and Sundays, and their opening hours are always a little off-kilter around public holidays.

G'Fun Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Kitchen Inn, Kardinya, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Outside of blogging, I'm a keen collector of vinyl records, in particular focusing on Soul and all its subgenres both old and new. One of the great pleasures of record collecting is when you dig up a record by someone who didn't blow up the way a Stevie Wonder or a Marvin Gaye did, but nevertheless put out work that, while obscure to the mainstream, is consistently excellent (see Sam Dees or Lou Courtney for example). In exploring Perth's restaurants I find a similar satisfaction; as fun as it is visiting a new, on-trend eatery in a blue chip prime location, its the discovery of hidden gems surprisingly buried in suburbia that are probably the most rewarding.

My parents had been raving about Kitchen Inn for almost a year now, but for whatever reason it was only after an aborted visit for a dirt cheap meal at G'Fun Cafe on South Street that eventually brought us to this unassuming restaurant buried in a small row of shops in suburban Kardinya. Literally under 10 minutes from home its a wonder we never got here sooner, but I guess unless driving through suburbia is your thing you'd never know it even existed. However seeing Kitchen Inn's subheading of 'Your Handmade Noodle Shop' (my italics)  I was really excited. I'm a massive wanton noodles fanatic, and though ramen has quickly overtaken it as my noodle dish of choice, it remains a strong, nostalgic favourite that conjures up memories of my childhood.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Pleased To Meet You, Northbridge, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Alissa and I have very fond memories of Harvest in North Fremantle. We started dating just before I went away on an eating holiday to Hong Kong, India and Singapore, and upon my return our third date was a lovely dinner at Harvest. When we got married in November last year, our plan had been to book a table at Harvest on our return from our honeymoon, however owner Clinton Nolan had sadly closed this wonderful restaurant a few months earlier to focus on his casual eateries. We've visited Nolan's other establishments, really liking the vibe and extensive selection of alcohol on offer at Who's Your Mumma while both being a bit underwhelmed by the packed like sardines crowd clamouring for the good-but-not-that-good food at La Cholita. So when my quest for the best ramen in Perth revealed Nolan had recently opened Pleased To Meet You - a new ramen-serving,  Asian-inspired joint on Roe St - it quickly moved up the priority queue as a place check out.

The most striking feature of the restaurant's front facade is how utterly non-descript it is. Following a recent, somewhat pretentious trend of including only the most scant information about a place, Pleased To Meet You's main signage simply boasts its address, with a small liquor licensing sign above the door giving the only indication of its name. When the New York Times made seemingly dubious claims of Perth being more of a 'hipster heaven' than Williamsburg, this is the kind of hipster bair practice that gives the writer's assertions some credence; you really have to be in the know to know this place even exists.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Pinchos, Leederville, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

'It's a trap!'
                                                         - Admiral Ackbar, Return of the Jedi

Admiral Ackbar's infamous words of wisdom come to mind when I think of tapas. On paper its deceptively cheap, but all those small morsels can add up to a surprisingly large bill if you're not doing the math as you go and are looking for a decent feed. On more than one occasion I've thought, 'wow... I could have gone fine dining for these prices'. I don't mind paying top dollar for a meal and I'd happily pay for expensive tapas if I knew that was what I was getting myself into,  however comparing the degree of technical skill on show at places like Co-op Dining or Restaurant Amusé to the more casual/conventional cooking on display at some mid-level tapas places I can't help but feel a little ripped off, especially when its deceptively listed as a 'cheap eat' on Urbanspoon since each plate is $9, but they don't tell you you need 10 to make it worth your while. So when I heard that Justin Bell of Jus Burgers fame had converted his old Snags and Sons location in Leederville into Pinchos - a tapas bar that was legitimately cheap - I had to see this for myself. We don't find ourselves in Leederville very often these days, so a detour on the way home from Joondalup proved an excellent excuse to pop in for a casual Sunday night dinner.