Archive for the ‘Cheap Eats’ Category
5 Separation St
Northcote Victoria 3070
Hours: Tues – Fri 7am – 4pm, Sat – Sun 8am – 4pm
Espresso Alley sits right opposite Northcote Shopping Centre on Separation Street, in a refurbished house with a deceptively small shop front which accommodates 5 bike posts, for those inclined to bike it.
Full of natural light and fitted with a mezzanine level, the illusion of space works in Espresso Alley’s favour. For those on the lower level of the cafe, it gives a whole new meaning to “looking up” to the coffee machine.
With the food-prep area proudly located in the middle of the cafe, the piadinas, tiramisus and vegan-friendly friands are displayed for all to see.
The quirky tables were a highlight for me, simple wooden tables given a lick of black paint with silhouettes of various food-related implements left bare and a clear lacquer applied over the handiwork. I guess the Vinces Mazzone & Colosimo, or their decorators, have a good eye!
Food-wise, they’ve stuck to a short, simple menu which includes toasties, somethingh I consider an entirely underrated cafe food.
I chose to have smashed avocado on toast, a personal favourite of mine. My avo was mashed to the perfect consistency of “smashed”, smooth enough to spread chunky enough that I can spear a hunk of avocado should I choose to, the cheese was salty and herby and perfect and the mixture was worked through so I couldn’t throw anything out.
The only letdown was that my toast was slightly burnt around the edges and difficult to cut through due to over-toasting.
In their defence, I did rock up far too early on a Saturday morning (8.30am!) on a 39 degree day.
They take great pride coffee-wise, with the barista personally coming out with my cappuccino in order to apologise for the “slight bubbles”. Apparently it’s calving season and they’re giving the cows a different feed, leading to more bubbly milk (?).
I didn’t mind. The (Coffee Supreme) coffee was fantastic overall and if the cows don’t want to cooperate, I’m not one to shoot the barista.
Overall, I’d go back. It’s very early days yet and I can see potential.
Bún bò Huế $8.50 – Hue traditional Vietnamese Style Chili Beef soup, sliced rare beef, pork, beef loaf, pork loaf and prawn cake
Bún bò Huế is a traditional noodle soup from Huế, consisting of vermicelli noodles swimming in a spicy, beef and tomato based soup flavoured with lemongrass.
This is one of Co Do’s ‘signature dishes,’ and is listed underneath all their signage. Thankfully, this version does not disappoint – sweet, sour, spicy it is wonderfully refreshing yet packs a punch with intense flavours.
Bun Rieu (approx $9)
A thick, tomato-y soup with crab meat and drop noodles.
Taste: 7.5. The soups were full of flavour, probably helped along with a little MSG. The bun bo hue packs a pretty good punch, but isn’t overly spicy. Let down by the pancakes and the salad.
Value: 9. You’d be hard pressed to make the broth with the amount of ingredients you’d need to buy for the price. Amazing value, as with most joints along Victoria Street.
Service: 6. You don’t come for the service. At least you don’t have to pay for it either.
Authenticity: 7.5. I’m not Vietnamese, but I think it fairs well in authenticity.
Atmosphere: 6.5. Cheap, cheerful. Quick. It doesn’t pretend to be a fine dining restaurant, but like I said. You don’t pay for a fine dining restaurant.
Overall: 7.5. Great stalwart on Victoria Street. Come for the bun bo hue.
With over 200 items on the menu – it would be impossible for everything to be perfect – though some dishes here are certainly close. I’m very keen to come back and sample some of the other items, and also to try the pho – which Billy of Half Eaten claims to be pretty good.
After so much ramen, I needed to eat and review something not noodly. So I went with rice.
Peko Peko (or pekopeko, it’s so hard to figure out proper spellings for a spelling Nazi like me) is a Taiwanese restaurant in Southbank (or South Melbourne, it’s so hard to… oh you get the drill). You will find that, invariably, when reviewed, the place will almost always be described as ‘cute’ or ‘cosy’ or something of that order. Much of that comes from its logo, its staff, all the cute little art on the walls and just the general vibe of the place. See, my way of avoiding cliches is by agreeing with them but in a round-about manner. I’m awesome.
Like much of popular Taiwanese culture (food and design included), the Japanese influence at pekopeko (see how I’m trying out different spelling to see which I like best?) is palpable. I’m no expert on Taiwanese cuisine, I was there in 2004 but I ate mostly street food (which was amazing) and don’t remember a great deal of it. The food at pekopeko is best described as fusion, many of the flavours will be familiar to patrons of Westernised Chinese outlets (sweet & sour? honey glazed?) but with nary a ‘beef in black bean sauce’ in sight.
I would like to point out right now to those that rail against Westernised Chinese food, pekopeko is proof that with good design, a cool vibe, and food that actually tastes good, sweet & sour chicken actually can be cool… and desirable. Let’s face it guys, much of pekopeko’s menu (clearly I’ve settled on this spelling) is heavily reminiscent of Westernised Chinese food. And that’s not a bad thing!
The menu is extensive, but the bento boxes are popular and come recommended. I have tried a number of them. And can tell you that the standout for me so far is the pop chicken (pictured above, deep fried bites of chicken, much like tori karaage but smaller, sort of like a larger version of KFC’s popcorn chicken), followed by the five spice squid (pictured below). All bentos come with rice (excellent), a halved spring roll full of carrot (not very inspiring) and some form of salad (quality varies).
Dishes that were a little more fail were the Sweet & Sour Chicken Crunch and the Honey Beef, both of which were far too sweet. The sauces used for these dishes just felt too much like that synthetic flavouring that is usually associated with Westernised Chinese but dialed up an extra notch or two. Not very pleasant.
Still, something has to be said for good rice.
It must also be said that Pekopeko’s special were kind of zomg the last time I went. The wasabi mayo beef strips were delicious as expected. Tender beef strips with deliciously large lashings of wasabi mayo. This is not an elegant dish, it’s a wasabi mayo explosion but hey, I love wasabi mayo, so why not.
The real superstar special on the night was the black sesame ice cream & earl grey tea panna cotta (pictured above). I don’t know where they source their ice cream, perhaps it’s homemade, but it was wonderful. It was full of real sesame seeds which added a mile of awesome to the taste of the ice cream. The panna cotta was amazing too, the earl grey tea flavour was rich enough but not overwhelming. A perfect dish. As you can see form the below picture, I literally licked the bowl.
Get in while stocks last folks, these specials aren’t going to be around forever. If you’re in the mood for an affordable (bentos are $12 each, the specials were under $10) and delicious meal in a cute, cosy and interesting restaurant then Peko Peko is a goer. Do it. Your stomach will thank you later.
Taste: 8. The amazing specials and solid pop chicken more than made up for the inferior dishes mentioned above.
Value: 9. A meal for this price is not uncommon but this is something different for those sick of the usual $10-15 range food options. The menu is huge, all affordable and the specials add an extra layer of quality, value and variety.
Service: 8. They seem to be always busy but the staff are always friendly, polite and attentive. The waitress forgot to bring me an extra spoon/fork for the dessert which was being shared and she apologised profusely a million times for the slight error. That is what I look for in service, not inch perfect execution but simply understanding and politeness.
Atmosphere: 9. Cute, comfortable, interesting, innovative and different. Peko peko has put effort into the way the place looks and it shows. A labour of love, much preferred to the usual blandness.
Overall: 8. Need I say more? Head on down.
Welcome back gentle reader, and apologies for the delay between this post and the last once again. It seems time has been getting the better of me lately. I’m sure I don’t need to spend a great deal of time introducing this post, particularly if you’ve been following the ramen battle going on on this blog in the past few weeks. If you haven’t, checked out the introduction here, Heat 1 here (won by Ajisen Ramen)and Heat 2 here (won by Ramen Ya). That’ll bring you up to speed.
So as noted, the winners of the two heats were:
1. Ajisen Ramen, in an upset, and since highly contested win over highly vaunted Momotaro.
2. Ramen Ya, in a comfortable victory over some fairly decent opposition.
Although this is mentioned in the introductory post, I shall copy & paste it here for you information. Here are the more rigorous scoring guidelines for our Final battle:
Finals competitors will be scored on:
- Broth: Is the broth mouth-watering? Does it make me want to drink the entire bowl? Does it make me want to jump into it and do laps?
- Noodles: Are the noodles too soft? Too rubbery? Do they break apart easily?
- Filling: Is there too much of one particular vegetable or not enough meat? Is the produce of a low quality?
- Authenticity: How authentic is it to the particular type of ramen they are trying to execute? Is this the real tonkotsu? is this a well-crafted miso?
- Everything Else: As above
- Overall: Final Score
We also had a guest judge, our good friend Shu Qi, along with us for our taste tests to add an extra palate to our battle. And here are the results.
Ajisen Ramen130 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9662 1100 urbanspoon foursquare
Our return to Ajisen Ramen was not without controversy. Those that have been following the previous heats may have noticed that the decision to have Ajisen win Heat 1 was contested hotly in the comments. Our good friend Billy from Half-Eaten was particularly passionate about his hatred of Ajisen. Our position was defended by asserting supremacy over Momotaro, and I won’t harp on about it, read the post on that Heat for more info.
So bruised & battered, Ajisen headed into the final round very much the underdog. Could it pull off another stunning upset in the face of its detractors? Or would it be left runner-up, in the dust of ramen mediocrity? We shall soon found out.
Shu Qi – Char Grilled Beef Ramen:
Broth: 6. Tastes comforting after a massive day
Noodles: 4. Look more like angel hair pasta than ramen.
Fillings: 8. The beef is tender, and cooked at medium-rare as requested. (Alex: I tried Shu Qi’s beef and was also impressed with it, while char-grilled beef is not an authentic filling for ramen usually it tasted pretty awesome & they weren’t stingy with it either)
Everything Else: 6.5. Rock music playing, waiters look like part-time students.
Jess – Volcano Ramen:
The volcano ramen is my favourite ramen at this place.. MS & I frequent this place for old times sake as early on in our friendship we were in Hong Kong together and joined forces in a ramen frenzy at this chain which was dotted all throughout HK, before it arrived in Melbourne. I have fond memories of sitting there watching MS sweating chilli through his pores trying to swallow every last piece of ramen whilst I tried my best to slurp my ramen up without snorting it out of my nose in laughter. So I have a soft spot for this dish 😉
As you can see from the pictures; this ramen comes served in a large bowl with mixed vegetables and some char-shu and a dollop of “volcano sauce”, which I can only best describe as similar to the chilli-oil that you get at Chinese restauraunts.
Authenticity: 6 – I like to think of this place as Japanese fast food.
Broth: 7; tasty, but MSG-laden. Loved the volcano sauce.
Fillings: 6.5. veggies, meats, etc. Plentiful. I liked the chashu, had about 4 pieces. I gave this a 7.5, but after tasting the chashu in Alex’s ramen at ramen-ya, I reconsidered. My god were the chashu at ramen-ya delicious.
Everything else: 7.5. Decent value. Massive bowl for the price. Had entertainment vouchers so 25% off. Table service, quick, not friendly but not unfriendly. It is what it is, it’s like a diner I guess, wait staff students just trying to earn a buck. It’s not fine dining, but you don’t pay for fine dining.
Alex: Spicy Ramen
Authenticity: 4. Quite clearly neither the menu, the decor or the staff are Japanese. And neither is the food really. They have (Indonesian-produced) Calpico though. I think that’s where the four points are coming form. And I don’t want to be mean.
Broth: 7. Included collagen, thick and fairly tasty, MSG-laden but who cares? I don’t. Also, spicy, very spicy. I like.
Noodles: 4. OK, the much maligned Ajisen noodles. Yes they are like angel hair pasta, as Shu Qi and Billy have both pointed out. They’re round not square. OK, you guys win there.
Fillings: 5. They are getting stingy with the spicy mince, the bastards. There was again, way too much cabbage, again way too much carrot. Grrr. Less spicy mince = me not happy.
Everything else: 7. Backless chairs annoy me but it’s a fairly clean, comfortable place otherwise with decent service.
Ramen YaShop 25G Melbourne GPO, 350 Bourke St,
Melbourne, 3000 urbanspoon foursquare web
By far the most popular ramen place around, loved universally by almost everyone, I have never once heard a bad word said about this place. So I guess, err… firm favourite status then.
Shu Qi – Seafood Gyoza Ramen in Tonkotsu Broth
Authenticity: 8. Love the wooden spoon!
Noodles: Tastes like ramen noodles from the Asian grocers.
Everything Else: 8.
Jess – Seafood Gyoza Ramen in Tonkotsu Broth
Broth: 9 – delicious, creamy broth. So addictive, and didn’t get the MSG furry tongue after this like I did a bit from Ajisen.
Noodles: 8 – nice texture.
Fillings: 8 – I tasted some of MS’s cha-shu, and it was amazing. Melt in your mouth pieces of pork. Fantastic. The seafood gyoza were ok. Not bad, but not great. They didn’t pair so well with the ramen. So 9 for the cha-shu, 6 for the gyoza, but 8 overall cos the cha-shu was so damn good. My bad on choice of fillings though. Their vegies were presented nicely on top, the pickles were perhaps slightly too ‘pickled,’ i.e. vinegar-y for me, but good nonetheless.
Everything else: 7. Much better value than Ajisen. Ajisen is bigger, but the overall broth, noodles, fillings all tasted better. Service was almost non-existant, more like a canteen style. Order at counter. Noodles came quickly though, self-service for drinks. In this regard, Ajisen wins.
Ajisen is good in that it has lots of choice. Though, with something like Ramen, I think Ramen-ya has the better philosophy in streamlining to; broth, then filling. Rather than try and do too much, their focus is doing what they do, but doing it well. The broth and noodles were hands down heaps better. The seafood gyoza weren’t that good though. Ramen-ya clear winner for me.
Alex – Chashu Ramen in Tonkotsu Broth
Broth: 9. Delicious tonkotsu, near perfectly executed.
Fillings: 8 – more chashu this time! Though, in general, the produce could be of better quality but I feel like I’m asking too much. It’s ramen after all. Not gourmet.
Everything Else: 7. Backless stools, order at the counter. Points lost there.
Overall: 8. Clearly the best ramen in Melbourne
So as you can see, Ramen Ya is clearly the best ramen in Melbourne and wins points on many frontiers. The chashu ramen in the tonkotsu broth comes heavily recommended, as does their near-secret (advertised nowhere it seems) happy hour from 2:30 – 5:30 where all ramen and bento is $6.50. If you should go during regular hours, don’t forget to get your loyalty card stamped. Fifth stamp gets you a free ice cream and a tenth stamp gets you a free ramen. Bargain-a-licious!
Apologies for the delay between heats folks, been busy with various things, but here’s Heat 2 to satisfy your ramen loving tastebuds! I promise the final will come sooner than Heat 2 did.
On the rack for Heat 2 we had:
- Ramen Ya (seeded)
Melbourne, 3000 urbanspoon foursquare web
Ah Ramen Ya, wonder of wonders. This place has been talked about and blogged about a great deal and I can confidently tell you that, for me, it’s lived up to the hype.
They offer choices of tonkotsu, shoyu or miso broth with all their ramens. The undeniable star of this line-up is the tonkotsu which has been blogged about here, here and here. I had the chashu ramen in the tonkotsu broth and it was delicious. I complained about measly chashu servings in the previous heat and ramen ya was no different in terms of quantity but… the quality of the chashu was head and shoulders above the likes of Momotaro. I’m of the firm belief that good chashu should melt in your mouth and that’s exactly what this little sucker did.
Everything else about the dish was almost perfect. The broth was full of flavour, the ramen wasn’t overcooked (thank God), there was an abundance (but not over-abundance) of sesame seeds and the whole thing just went down an absolute treat. The staff are friendly, courteous and helpful in the Japanese way. The setting of the GPO is nice, it’s a pleasant place to eat but you do have to order at the counter and the majority of the seats are backless. Having said that, I am willing to forgive almost anything for ramen of that quality. I would probably eat it out of a garbage truck. I think we have a clear favourite for the final shootout with Ajisen, but… surprises do happen.
PS. Ramen Ya has an (unadvertised) happy hour where their ramens are only $6.50 each (instead of $10) after 2.30pm. BARGAIN.
Ramen rating: 9/10
Everything else rating: 6/102. Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe 122 Bourke St
Melbourne, 3000 urbanspoon foursquare web
Ito has been a Bourke Street ramen stalwarts for eons. I’m pretty sure it’s definitely the oldest contender across both our heats and is something of an institution for those of us that started university in 2003 and needed somewhere cheap and decent to eat in the city. I even remember that when Ajisen opened up a few doors down there was talk of a legal challenge by Ito, apparently people would get confused between the two. Ajisen even used to have signs up in the door saying that they were *not* associated with Ito! How’s that for a globally (at least in Asia) recognised chain of ramen stores?
Of my two food blogging compatriots that have reviewed this place, Jetsetting Joyce gave it a resounding meh whereas Billy of Half-Eaten enjoyed his ramen. I have a relationship with the place and, being a creature of habit, I always get the same dish – the geki kara ramen, full of hearty, spicy mince meat and not dissimilar to the spicy ramen I reviewed at Ajisen in the previous heat. Comparing the two in the past has always been a difficult task for me, they’re both decent but not spectacular, but I haven’t been back to Ito for some time so I was ready to give my slightly matured a palate a whirl.
Like Billy, I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t think I could enjoy Ito after having tasted the wonders at Ramen Ya, but it was an enjoyable meal. Despite not being quite up to Ramen Ya’s standards of quality and authenticity, the mince was of reasonable quality and of a good level of spiciness (not everyone can handle the volcano-like spiciness at Ajisen). The noodles were a little too elastic for my liking, no one likes chewing on rubber bands and the broth could have done with a little less MSG, but it was a decent dish.
Ito also has the advantage of being a proper restaurant, with comfortable lounge-style booths, restaurant service and a fairly chilled vibe. There’s nothing that stands about it though, which is I guess what Joyce was referring to. Ito has the feel of a restaurant that has been there for a long time, will be there for a long time to come, is comfortable with the niche it occupies and is not trying to innovate.
So all up, a decent place, a decent ramen, but it’s not Ramen Ya.
Ramen Rating: 7/10
Everything Else Rating: 7/10
(look at that exactly the same scores as Ajisen, I guess my ongoing inability to choose between the two continues)
While Menya has been at Melbourne Central for a long time (Shop 146a Knox Lane, enter off Swanston) they recently opened up on Elizabeth Street and I am unable to ascertain an exact address for the new location, apologies! I can tell you it’s between Franklin & A’Beckett though which should make it relatively easy to find. Even the O-Bento website doesn’t have the new one up yet but the foursquare link above has a handy map.
Menya is run by the good people of O-Bento sushi fame, you may have seen their outlets at Melbourne Central and various other locations. I’ve never been a huge fan of O-Bento but I have been eating the awesome katsu don at the Melbourne Central Menya outlet for a few years now. This is not a katsu don review, it’s a ramen review, but I will say this: Menya may not be authentic or Japanese-run but that katsu don has excellent quality meat, good rice and a wonderful sauce that totally makes the dish.
So the ramen. Given my katsu don habit here, I had never tried the ramen before and headed out to their new location to get a fresh start with the place. The Melbourne Central outlet is tiny, cramped and horrible to eat at, full of clamouring students and tiny square stools to sit on. The new one is much bigger and roomier with proper seats, lounge-style booths and less people. The service isn’t amazing, still order at the counter, but it’s a lot better than the original.
I had the tonkatsu ramen in a shoyu broth. I figured since the tonkatsu in the katsu don was so awesome why not try it in noodle form and Menya did not disappoint. The tonkatsu was pretty much perfect. Perfectly fried, not soggy (like at Meshiya as reviewed in the previous heat) and delicious. The shoyu broth was also decent, though not spectacular. One touch that looked interesting upon arrival was the massive sheet of nori that you can see pictured above. It didn’t taste as cool as it looked though, the nori being far from fresh. Biting through it was a little like biting through cardboard. One touch I appreciated was the serving of a full tea egg (ie. both halves). I’ve mentioned before that I love tea eggs and it makes me happy to see that Menya provides such value for essentially the same price.
Ramen Rating: 7/10
Everything Else Rating: 6/10
The Winner of Heat 2: RAMEN YA.
It’s hard to beat folks. Looking like an early favourite for Melbourne’s best ramen. Stay tuned for the final verdict on the two finalists: Ajisen Ramen and Ramen Ya in the next installment which will include more detailed assessment and ratings of the ramen ingredients.
Demitri’s Feast141 Swan St
(03) 9428 8659
Hours: Tuesday – Sun, 7:30am-5:00pm
Breakfast until 3pm
So, I visited the Age Cheap Eats 2010 winner for the Best Breakfast Place in Melbourne 2010.
I love the Philosophy as stated on their website.
“Greek food by a Greek guy
made with Melbourne’s freshest, seasonal, organic and free range products”
It was extremely busy, as the Demitri’s Feast had just been crowned the title for The Age Cheap Eats 2010 Best Breakfast last month. Fortunately the wait wasn’t too long, and we managed to secure a seat in the charming courtyard garden out the back.
How cute are the stools – made from olive oil tins! Clever, cute and environmentally friendly.
My dining companion ordered
This consisted of a luscious pillow of scrambled eggs, wonderfully soft and creamy, topped with herbs and fetta and sweet juicy roasted cherry tomatoes, still on the vine. All this lay on top of sourdough toast from Dench. I would say this dish gave me massive food envy, though as L pointed out, you can’t get food envy when you practically eat the whole thing. It was so delicious I think I ate more of it than she did.
I ordered the
Unfortunately, my dish could not invoke anything like the dreams of floating in scramble-heaven that L’s dish could. The fritters consisted of grated fresh zucchini and fresh herbs (dill and mint I believe). The flavours were ok, however, texturally, the dish was gluggy and dry, and simply unpleasant to eat. The fritters were also very small, and served with bacon which was overcooked (L’s were cooked fine) and less tomatoes. It really needed something else on the dish that was moister, like poached eggs, cheese, relish, or even butter. It really did not need the bread as it was already too dry. A real disappointment, I put part of it down to the cafe being very busy and struggling to cope, hence overdoing the dish.
Taste: 7/10. Massive thumbs up for the scrambles, points off for the fritters. Can’t wait to try the baclava french toast that everyone raves about.
Authenticity: 9/10. Simple, but good Greek food by a Greek guy. Showcasing some hearty home-cooked style Greek food.
Ambiance: 9/10. Love the philosophy, love the concept, love the use of recycled goods, from the tins converted into stools to the cardboard menus. Real family ambiance.
Service: 9/10. Fantastic. A bit slow, but the staff were extremely attentive and apologetic for the delay (which wasn’t any more than what one would normally experience on a Saturday around lunchtime). Super friendly.
Value: Well priced for the scrambles, serving was large and quality was excellent. Fritters were small for the price. Coffee
Overall: 7.5/10. Can’t wait to go back and try the rest. Even though the fritters were supremely average, just goes to show that good service and great atmosphere really does make your food taste better.