Saturday, 31 May 2014

Alfred's Kitchen, Guildford, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

What makes a great burger? Its a question I've ironically pondered far more often than I actually eat burgers these days, and one that I've thought a lot about in the lead up to writing about a burger joint as famous as Alfred's Kitchen. The burger is a dish so globally ubiquitous that it feels like there really must be a Platonic Form of what the ideal burger should be, and yet its something that is so apparently easy to put together high school students can be paid a pittance to make it. Compare that to the hours of work that goes into making a great tonkotsu ramen, and the burger seems almost too easy. In spite of all this, three star Michelin chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal have had a go at making their ultimate burger, suggesting that the quest for the perfect burger is indeed a noble goal, and one more difficult that the fast food production line would suggest. While I certainly have neither the culinary knowledge of the Michelin starred, nor do I claim to have the same level of connoisseurship in regards to burgers that I would claim in regards to ramen, I am intrigued by the idea that there is a burger out there so perfect it transcends its limits - must like how Banh Mi is greater than the sum of its sandwich parts.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Dosukoi Ramen, Fremantle, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Dosukoi was the first ramen place I tried after being introduced to ramen at Arigataya. Back then, the quality of Arigataya's miso ramen was near untouchable, but Dosukoi's version was a close second favourite. Located in a tiny shop in the historic Fremantle Markets, the market's unfortunately odd opening hours meant getting my Fremantle ramen fix was limited to breakfast and lunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with Friday night being the only option for a ramen dinner. Given these limited opening hours, I always made it a point to have a massively chillied-up bowl of Dosukoi's ramen as pre-gig ritual to help clear the sinuses before performing with my band.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Estate 807, Denmark, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Just as a coffee at Dome before an international flight is a tradition for my family, Alissa's family have always considered a magazine for the flight a prerequisite air travel parting gift. Its a tradition we have continued whenever I have travelled interstate, and before our recent flight to Melbourne we each chose a magazine for our in-flight perusal. Though I usually pick up a cooking magazine, the Gourmet Traveller Wine issue had a lot of feature articles of interest, including one on WA winemakers 'daring to be different'. Of most interest however was an article on the magazine's Cellar Door Awards - especially useful since we were driving down to Denmark immediately after our trip to Melbourne. Many of our favourite wineries in Margaret River, Great Southern and Geographe got a mention, with Vasse Felix taking out the 'Cellar Door with Best Food' category in Margaret River. We were surprised to find Forest Hill not get a mention in the same category for the Great Southern region considering their cellar door is home to the excellent Pepper & Salt. Listed instead was Estate 807, a newish winery Alissa and I had never heard of before. Intrigued by this new lead, we decided to add lunch at Estate 807 to our Denmark itinerary.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Pepper & Salt, Denmark, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

In January last year, Alissa and I had the pleasure of dining at Pepper & Salt - arguably not just the best restaurant in Denmark, but in the entire Great Southern region as a whole. Owned and operated by chef Silas Masih and his wife Angela, and at that time located at Rockcliffe Winery, the interesting spice-driven fusion food had Alissa and I raving to both our parents. When my parents went down to Denmark later in the year they were similarly impressed with Silas' creativity, and he had spoken to my parents about their plans for a potential expansion. We were thus elated to pick up a copy of the Good Food Guide and discover that Pepper & Salt had made the move to the massive upper deck of Forest Hill's cellar door. Having been the head chef at the cellar door before striking out on his own, it's a fitting homecoming, as well as a reactivation of what was an underutilised space. Heading down for the Anzac Day weekend, a return visit to Pepper & Salt was something I pretty much insisted on.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Vegie Bar, Fitzroy, Victoria (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Vegie Bar needs very little in the way of an introduction. A fixture of Fitzroy's vibrant restaurant scene, Vegie Bar has been cooking contemporary vegetarian food for over 20 years, and still draws crowds 7 nights a week (or at least every weeknight I've walked past). When my friends Jake and Tegan moved to Melbourne it was one of the first places they were taken to, and when I came over to Melbourne to see Prince in 2012 they passed on the knowledge for one of the most memorable meals of the trip. Alissa had also enjoyed a meal at Vegie Bar before we had met, so when planning our 2014 Melbourne trip it was one of the first restaurants locked in.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Friends of Mine, Richmond, Victoria (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

I'm not big on going out for breakfast, so when I do I want it to be as worthwhile an experience as going out for lunch or dinner. In my hometown of Perth, there are far too many breakfast joints who treat breakfast like its a blank cheque to mark up simple dishes like Eggs on Toast without offering any particularly creative alternatives. During our visit to Melbourne, I was keen to give breakfast a fair go and see what the city had to offer. While researching places to go, I stumbled upon a list of Matt Preston's five favourite Breakfast spots from the Herald Sun online. The Herald Sun is a horribly right wing paper that I wouldn't normally be caught dead reading, but that first photo of the Banana Bread from Richmond's Friends of Mine had me transfixed. After reading what Preston had to say about the place, it was pretty much settled; Friends of Mine was on our list of breakfast places to check out.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Wonderbao, Melbourne, Victoria (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

It amazing just how popular the humble bao has become. I remember watching an episode of Play School when I was in Year 1 which included a multicultural 'through the round window' segment showing children our age eating dim sum. Pretty much the only person of Asian descent in the classroom, there were a lot of naive comments from the rest of the class that the dumplings and bao looked 'ewwww, gross!'. Fast forward over 20 years and love for the bao has exploded; the Momofuku bun elevated it into the mass public consciousness in the west, and the west even elevated Tim Ho Wan's brilliant take on the char siu bao to a Michelin Star. We've eaten a lot of bao in the last 6 months alone -the aforementioned Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong and Singapore, Momofuku variations at TypikaIppudo and Shop Ramen, and a very interesting Beef Tongue Ruben version at Pleased To Meet You - so when I discovered there was a place specialising in bao in Melbourne, it quickly made the list of places we had to check out.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

La Panella Bakery, Preston, Victoria (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Local knowledge cannot be underestimated in the hunt for good food. Sure, picking up a copy of the Good Food Guide might help you find interesting places that even the average local may know nothing about, but there is a certain depth of knowledge that comes with actually living in a city; I know that my ability to find interesting middle-of-nowhere suburban gems in Perth is greatly enhanced by the fact I live there, and I have to resign myself to the fact that discoveries like a ex-Vue de Monde chef cooking at a Melbourne bowls club are the kind of surprise finds that a tourist is unlikely to just stumble upon.

When making arrangements to stay with our friends Jake and Tegan in the suburb of Preston, Jake informed me of a nearby bakery that we had to try. Prior to him becoming a vegan, I used to jokingly tease Jake's preference for burgers and junk food as being 'the rearguard of the culinary arts', in contrast to the avant-garde of Molecular Gastronomy. Its a term that has stuck - in spite of the Dude Food trend suggesting that he was perhaps just really ahead of the pack.
"It's a bit rearguard, but their vegan pies are very convincing... or at least we find them to be," Jake informed me over the phone.
Interested to see what local knowledge can uncover, I added La Panella to our schedule of places to visit. Located on Preston's High St, the tired and dated appearance of the bakery's facade comes complete with missing letters in the 'Hot [Br]ead' signage that adorns the wall. This place is vegan? Where's the green paint job that signifies healthiness and sustainability? Where's the hipster-pleasing industrial chic with the Edison-style light bulbs? It looks a lot like any old school no-frills run of the mill independent bakery, which makes the fact its food is largely vegan all the more remarkable.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Hopetoun Tea Rooms, Melbourne, Victoria (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

As forward-thinking a city as Melbourne is, its also a city that proudly conserves its institutions. Established in 1892 and located in the historic Block Arcade on Collins St, Hopetoun Tea Rooms is a link to Melbourne's booming turn of the century Victorian past. Being mad for all things vintage*, tea and sweet, its long been a culinary destination on Alissa's wishlist, so when our tram stop conveniently dropped us off outside the Block Arcade, our quest for a cup of coffee turned into tea, scones and tarts. Just look at that incredible display!

Shop Ramen, Fitzroy, Victoria (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

One of the great things about writing a blog is that you get to share your favourite meals with others. Its nice to know that I've help point people I don't even know in the right direction of great Roast Goose Noodles in Hong Kong, or the incredible fusion food of East Indies in Cochin, India. Though not specifically a blog for the gluten intolerant or for vegans, I do like to point people with dietary requirements in the right direction of satisfying meals as I feel no one should have to settle for boring food. So its one of the great food tragedies that up until now, I've never been able to share a bowl of ramen with vegan friends. I tried at Ramen Ya in Melbourne and had a decidedly un-vegan egg placed on the rice our friends Jake and Tegan had ordered, and the horrible stir fry served to our friend Gita at Zensaki in Perth was topped with bonito flakes. All these times my friends have had to go with a non-ramen alternative while I waxed lyrical about how incredible ramen is. When I heard that Shop Ramen made a Vegetarian Ramen that could easily be made Vegan by removing the marinated egg, it was the perfect opportunity to introduce my friends Jake and Tegan to a dish that is more than just a favourite, but an obsession (see here, here, here, here, here, here and here).

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Cutler & Co, Fitzroy, Victoria (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

With degustations booked at Vue de Monde and Attica for our Easter Melbourne trip, a visit to Cutler & Co. - or any other expensive fine diner for that matter - was not originally part of the plan. While the $130 asking price for their dinner degustation (excluding the inevitable wine and tea) is far and away the cheapest of the three, I was thinking a more upper-middle priced restaurant like Hell of the North's $65 'Let Us Feed You' would be more economically sensible as a third premium meal for the trip. That was before Melbourne resident friends Tash and Lloyd hipped us to Cutler & Co's Sunday Lunch - a casual four course meal, with the first two courses consisting of multiple share plates and a selection of main and dessert options for $75. Convinced that this was a great opportunity for us to fit a Cutler & Co. meal into our schedule without totally blowing the budget, the initial plan was for all four of us to share the meal together, however with Tash busy with the tail end of Melbourne Comedy Festival, I ended up making a Sunday Lunch reservation for two.

The flagship restaurant of chef and prolific restaurateur Andrew McConnell's restaurant empire that includes the wildly popular and successful Cumulus Inc, Cutler & Co's adamantly non-descript exterior belies its interior's elegant mise en scene by McConnell's wife Pascale Gomes-McNabb, whose design aesthetic is very sympathetic to the unfussy but refined quality that is the hallmark of McConnell's cooking.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Nhu Lan, Richmond, Victoria (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

If one can fall in love with a sandwich, banh mi is that sandwich. I think I grew bored of sandwiches as a food sometime after the 100th sandwich of primary school, yet banh mi - with its combination of French baguette, cold cuts, herbs and vegetables - is magical and addictively tasty. As Anthony Bourdain so eloquently put it, banh mi is 'a symphony in a sandwich'. The call of great banh mi is so strong that Alissa and I bypass inferior but closer stores and drive a relatively long distance just to eat at banh mi specialists Nhu Mai in our hometown of Perth, and popping into one of Melbourne's best was high on our list of priorities while we were over.

If you do an online search for the best banh mi in Melbourne, and Footscray bakery Nhu Lan comes up repeatedly. Unfortunately, the week we were in Melbourne was also a week of closures on the rail and tram system heading towards the Footscray area, making the task of getting from Preston to Footscray a little more difficult than it was worth. Thankfully, Nhu Lan's other store in Richmond proved a more conveniently located compromise.

Hammer & Tong, Fitzroy, Victoria (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

It's quite well known amongst my friends that I don't like going out for breakfast, especially in the (largely) overpriced breakfast market of my home town of Perth. Having worked in a cafe during my uni years, the place would be positively heaving with morning customers on weekends. I couldn't help but marvel at the prices people paid for food from a largely unimaginative and pedestrian menu, including paying $6 for two pieces of toast made from bread they could have literally bought from Brumby's and toasted at home. Considering you can get a whole banh mi for $5, it just doesn't make any logical sense. I understand some people don't like to cook first thing in the morning, but considering I can whip up eggs on toast in under 10 minutes or something more complicated like Eggs Benedict in 45 minutes (including making hollandaise from scratch), I'd rather cook breakfast at home unless it means going out for something that is altogether more imaginative.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Po' Boy Quarter, Fitzroy, Victoria (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Its amazing how far the humble food truck has come as a viable and alternative business model to the traditional fixed address restaurant. Last month my post on Perth's Food Truck Rumble skyrocketed to my most read post in a matter of days, and the Rumble itself was so successful that the queues at peak reportedly stretched out to an hour. Glad I got there early.

Melbourne's Po' Boy Quarter is an example of that success story realised and come full circle. Started as a food truck by a couple of people who wanted to bring some New Orleans soul and culture to Melbourne, the Gumbo Kitchen food truck has been serving N'Orleans soul food since late 2011, and in June 2013 expanded the business to a traditional brick and mortar outpost as part of the increasingly exciting foodie landscape of present day Smith St.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Attica, Ripponlea, Victoria (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

When it comes to restaurant reservations, I'm a pretty organised guy. For our honeymoon, I secured tables at all the more difficult to book restaurants months in advance; the then (3 Star-Michelin) Caprice in Hong Kong was secured 6 months ahead, Otto e Mezzo Bombana and Iggy's reservations booked within the first week of their booking windows being opened for the dates we wanted. I even kept a file with all our 20+ reservation confirmation emails printed out just in case we confused times or a restaurant forgot to take our booking down properly. What can I say; I'm a planner by profession.

So when I realised I'd missed the first two days to book a table at Attica, I was filled with a deep foreboding that we'd totally missed out on getting a table for our Melbourne trip - even with a range of dates for the restaurant to select from. The third day in a reservation window for a table 3 months away should not normally be this hard to secure, but such is the frenzy since Attica's incredibly successful 2013; voted #21 in the world on the S Pellegrino List, The Good Food Guide's 2014 Restaurant of the Year and a Chef of the Year win for Head Chef Ben Shewry. David Chang recently went so far as to say Shewry is doing 'god's work in Melbourne', so actually getting a reservation at Attica is kind of a big deal. With all this hype, most of the dates I had wanted were totally booked out, and the only date available did not have a table for two.
"What do you have?"
"We have a table for 4 or for 6."
"Okay, I'll take the four."
"You know you won't be able to split it..."
"That's okay... we'll make it work!"