MSG: The Melbourne Social Guide

Helping you add flavour to this wonderful city.

The MSG does Sydney – Ryo’s, Klink and Menya

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While the Melbourne vs. Sydney rivalry will probably never die, I do occasionally visit our northern cousins and revel in the things that they do lord over us. We may have better coffee, bars, arts, sport, character and various particular cuisines, but unquestionably, Sydney has its fine dining scene, beautiful harbour, beaches, Thai food and ramen to lord over us.

Here is but a smattering of the places I visited in Sydney that I feel like writing about.


125 Falcon St
North Sydney NSW 2060, Australia
(02) 9955 0225

Ryo's on Urbanspoon

You may be familiar with our hunt for the best ramen in Melbourne, and while I’m still a huge fan of Ramen Ya, Sydney has us beat on the ramen front. Ryo’s Noodle was pretty amazing. The place is tiny and not easy to get to if you’re based on the other side of the harbour, but the ramen was authentic, delicious and full of glorious chashu. The tonkotsu broth is very much on the salty side, and they do have less saltier options, but I found the saltiness pleasant and not overwhelming. This place is surely a must visit, quite possibly the best ramen in not only Sydney, but Australia.
Alex’s Ratings
Taste: 9
Value: 9.5
Authenticity: 9
Ambience: 7. Small, cramped, long lines and backless seating, but what can you expect?
Service: 7.
Overall: 9.

Klink Handmade Espresso

281 Clarence St,
Sydney NSW 2000
0415 118 505



Klink Handmade Espresso on Urbanspoon 

Klink is a tiny place located in a fairly cool art gallery in Sydney’s CBD. I actually recommend you check out the art gallery as well, it has some interesting modern pieces, but I’m no art expert so I can say little more about that. As for Klink, I love the place itself and felt very comfortable there despite the hated backless bar stools they use. The place seats about 10 people, it’s that small, but very interestingly designed. There’s a window next to the coffee bar which dominates the space and is used for takeaways. The other dominant element is the massive wall of mounted empty coffee sacks, from various different green varietals. The machine is a 2 (or 3? I forget) group La Marzocco and the coffee is roasted by The Golden Cobra, who I believe are run by an ex-Campos guy. The coffee wasn’t amazing. It was drinkable, but nothing approaching the quality of Mecca Espresso or The Source. But the staff are super friendly and even remembered me from one visit, which I find quite impressive. All in all, a pleasant place that’s somewhat different and with drinkable coffee. Why not?

Alex’s Ratings:
Coffee Taste: 7
Ambience: 8.5. This would be 9 if not for the backless stools.
Service: 9
Overall: 7.85

Shop TG8, 8 Quay Street,
Haymarket NSW 2000
(02) 9212 1020
Menya on Urbanspoon 

MOAR Ramen! Menya in fact has three outlets – Chinatown, CBD and Circular Quay – and I selected one that was both convenient and fairly highly regarded. The place has an entirely different feel to Ryo’s. Ryo’s felt secluded, familyish, cosy and authentic whereas Menya felt professional, a business-style churn out of ramen with a snappy girl at the front desk and a tendency to herd diners into the massive communal tables that comprise most of the restaurant’s space. Needless to say, Ryo’s was a much more pleasant experience.
The same goes for the ramen. While Menya also provided a quality tonkotsu, the chashu just wasn’t as good as at Ryo’s and neither was the broth as falvoursome. Having said that, Menya could still compete with the best ramen joints in Melbourne and probably be superior to all of them except for maybe Ramen Ya, so that makes it well worth a visit.
Alex’s Ratings:
Taste: 8
Ambience: 5. Cramped, herded like cattle, backless benches at an overcrowded communal table. This is Sydney at it’s finest. No discernible quality or attention to detail in the design either. But hey, it was clean!
Service: 6. Impersonal, snappy and fast.
Value: 7.5. Still can’t beat such great ramen for a lunchtime meal.
Authenticity: 7.5. The place seemed far more authentically Chinatown than Kyoto but the tonkotsu was solid.
Overall: 7.5. Wouldn’t make it if not for the taste, which is what matters at the end of the day.

Sunday Lunch at Cutler & Co

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This is a guest post by Jillian Liew, who will hopefully soon be joining our ranks as a regular contributor. The post was originally published at her personal blog. You can also follow Jillian on Twitter.

Cutler & Co.
57 Gertrude St
Fitzroy, 3065
(03) 9419 4888
Cutler & Co on Urbanspoon

Not like the folks at Cutler need any more publicity and recognition but being awarded the Best Restaurant of the Year in the 2011 Australian Gourmet Traveller Awards and Two Hats by The Age Good Food Guide 2011 are totes more than reason enough for you to make your way there and soon.

My dining partner, A (who runs The MSG) and I made a booking for Cutler’s Sunday lunch special where Andrew McConnell and the talented kitchen staff plan and prepare the day’s menu with a focus on fresh ingredients sourced from the local farmers. The idea is to come in, dine with us, and enjoy a long leisurely lunch with good food and company. The menu consisted of several appetisers and entrees to share, which has been set by the kitchen, followed by your choice of main and dessert. And all that for just $69 pp, which is very reasonable.

We were promptly seated by our host in the dining room area that was decorated with gorgeous light fixtures and some palm trees around as well. I actually quite like the palm trees even though I thought it was a bit off with the rest of the decor but I digress. I ordered an aperol with blood orange drink to start the day off light while A went with a coffee. The waitress explained how the Sunday lunch menu worked and I was suitably impressed and excited with the way things looked and started already.

We started off with fresh Coffin Bay oysters to get our appetites going. It wasn’t the best nor biggest oyster I’ve had (PS: Tasmanian oysters FTW!) but it was a decent palate cleanser.

This was followed by cracked wheat salad, labne and barberries. This starter was rather surprising as I’ve never had cracked wheat before and it reminded me of barley and risotto combined together to make this delightfully light and refreshing dish. We promptly finished this and I would definitely go back for more if I remember the name of this dish in future.

Next was the wood-grilled prawns and celeriac remoulade in a tangy mayo dressing. The prawns was quite good and went well with the salad on the bottom.

The next dish brought out was carrots, walnut cream and shanklish. (PS: I knew you’d want to know what shanklish was.) I really enjoyed this one even though when it arrived at our table, my first thought was, “Eh? Carrots?!?” But when I tasted it, I went, “Mmm, carrots. And yummy yammy paste thing.” The “yammy paste” was actually walnut cream once I managed to get the proper menu names off A. The carrots were beautiful and had a lovely bite, which paired well with the walnut cream and shanklish. The shanklish was peppery and threw me off a bit but I really liked the combination. A hates carrots but had a try because you simply had to, so I had to take it upon myself to finish the dish. Tried as I might, I couldn’t but it remains one of my favourite of the lunch.

By this time, our stomachs were about ready to implode from too much food too early in the day with two more entrees, mains and desserts yet to arrive. A typically Australian breakie choice at most brunch eateries; avocado and spring onions on grilled bread arrived, following that a terrine of pork with a mustard fruit puree. The avo toast was nothing that remarkable but the next time I make it at home, I’m going to add some coriander on it fer shure. A thought that the terrine lacked flavour and tasted bland but with the marmalade, I thought it was good and was texturally fine, just not as awesome as I wanted this terrine to be.

We were given an interval between entrees and mains, which I am so grateful for, and A even more taking a short smoke break. A chose the pork belly and I the duck leg.

The corned duck leg was meltingly tender and crispy breaded skin on the outside which complemented the purple broccoli and creamed leeks. I would have preferred for the leeks to be cooked a little more because it was too toothsome for my liking but paired with the soft duck meat, the dish would have been a textural mess of mush on mush, so I won’t complain too much.

A thought the pork belly was good but the skin a tad less crispy than we liked pork belly skin to be. The cavolo nero and pearl barley were good garnishes to the plate.

Desserts arrived momentarily where I was about ready to fall into a food coma. A chose the Meyer lemon curd, rhubarb and blood orange granita. I decided to go for the Tomme D’Abondance cheese served with apple chutney, which was a slightly better choice because I very nearly went with the chocolate cake and chestnut ice-cream.

The granita was refreshing and a great finish to such a rich meal. I loved the cheese paired with apple chutney and maybe a little mustard seeds eaten with crisp crackers. Not the lightest end to a meal but certainly one of the more memorable ones.

To surmise, I will definitely be making my way back here again for their ala carte dishes at the bar for a different dining experience. I have to say that on a Sunday, the place was full on packed out by 1pm with likewise diners as ourselves who just wanted a relaxing day out. After this meal, I can see why Cutler & Co. are doing remarkably well. With almost perfectly executed dishes, delicious flavours with complementary textures, pleasant service and host, and awesome company, you’ll walk away from this restaurant happily satiated.

Taste: 9/10 – I loved almost every one of the dishes save for a few nitpicks of one or two components of an individual dish. The tastes and textures are unique and allowed me to explore new foods, which I hadn’t tried before this. Definitely would love to return here for their degustation dinner if I can get a booking at maybe some time next year. (Tip: Their weekend dinners are completely booked out til December 2010.)

Ambience: 9/10 – Very casual but keeping in with the fine-dining vibe, I love the restaurant’s design and look of everything. I managed to sneak a peek into their kitchen as we exited and noticed a stuffed duck tacked onto the kitchen wall. A quirky WIN in my book.

Service: 9/10 – The host and wait staff were very pleasant and good-natured with us. The waitress took care to explain the menu and how things ran for the Sunday lunch. The host was attentive but not too overly so that we felt that we were preyed upon

Value: 9/10 – I thought it was great value for the number and variety of dishes we had as I was ready to bust open at the seams of my dress at the end of the meal and go into food coma. The Sunday lunch menu is a more relaxed and more affordable way of getting a taste of what Cutler has to offer. I liken it to crack as I really, really want to return for their degustation dinner after this gastronomical lunch affair.

Overall: 9/10 – Almost perfect execution and excellent service and food. I am tempted to round it up to a 10 but nothing in life is perfect unless you’re eating at El Bulli or The Fat Duck, which both are still a long stretch to call perfect though everyone tries.

Spring Lazy Grazing @ The Commoner

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In Winter, I had thoroughly enjoyed Melbourne Food and Wine’s Put Victoria on your table Roast Collection festival, so when I was excited when I saw that to wave good bye to the winter blues, Melbourne Food and Wine was putting on a Spring Graze festival.

Full listing of events.

The event that most appealed to me was the Saturday Lazy Grazing at the Commoner.

“Join us at The Commoner for Lazy Grazing in September in the form of plates of beautiful seasonal Victorian produce to share with people you like.
Celebrate Spring and the best that Victoria has to offer. It has been an awfully long winter… Why don’t you say goodbye to it in style….”

When Lunch every Saturday in September.

Cost $55.00 Food cost per head

I had been to the Commoner a couple of years ago and had been extremely impressed. I’m not sure why it took me so long to go back, because my memories of the place were of fantastic food  and  exceptional service.

We nestled into the small but very homely little cafe. I love the way the place is fitted out, with exposed brick, heavy wooden tables and random yet thoughtful trinkets and tools adorning the walls and shelves.

It doesn’t feel like you’re at a restaurant or cafe, it feels more like you’ve entered into someone’s home.

The waitress began by asking us if there was anything we didn’t eat – to which we all shook our heads.

One of the many reasons I love these friends – we all love our food and we’re not picky.

We started with a lovely bottle of French wine – a  2009 Bernard Defaix, Petit Chablis which was recommended to us by the waitress. It went down surprisingly well considering we had all been out for A’s birthday the night before and we were all somewhat a little worse for wear.

The first course –

Boccerones - Sicilian white anchovies with sweet pepper, aioli and parsley

These were delightful. After we had all shaken our heads to our lack of dietary requirements, M exclaimed that she didn’t eat anchovies. I normally would say I don’t eat anchovies either, as I hate the fishy salty flavour of standard anchovies.

These however, were not your regular anchovies – they lacked that yukky unappetising fishiness, rather – they were really light and delicious. It was complimented well with the aioli and the perfectly roasted sliver of capsicum. A simple, yet perfectly executed dish – a nice refreshing way to began our meal.

house bread

The house bread was toasted and very moreish and came served with olive oil and toasted sesame.

smoked cod dip, mount zero olives, roasted spring vegetables

Our second course – the smoked cod dip was wonderful, and the spring vegetables which included baby carrots, spring onion, asparagus and red onion were perfectly executed.

To quote A “Who would have thought that carrots could taste so good”.

house black pudding, potato tortilla

Onto our next course – the house black pudding.

Black pudding is one of those things that can be hit or miss. Being a sausage made out of blood it is very easy for this dish to be overpowering. Black pudding is something I very rarely order because it can often have a very strong ‘iron-y’ flavour to it, though I am always game to try it, particularly at great eateries because when done well it can be fantastic as it was at Attica.

This specimen certainly did not disappoint – lightly pan-fried to perfection to produce a crisp crust encasing insides which had a wonderfully smooth texture – so smooth it seemed almost like pate.  This paired well to the tortilla, which despite being potato based was not heavy at all.

Pan fried semolina gnocchi, fresh peas, broad beans, goats curd

The next course was probably my favourite – the  gnocchi was delicious, again pan-fried to create a perfect crust,  and resting above a cloud of light fluffy goats curve and sprinkled with fresh peas and broad beans.

The goats curd was neither heavy nor stinky, but light and delicious, and my god were the peas good. I’ve always enjoyed peas – but so rarely eat fresh peas (I’m not sure why!). They had the perfect texture, and just ‘popped’ in your mouth when you ate them. When I was a child I loved peas, particularly the peas in snow-peas, but I hated the pod they rested in, so much to my father’s horror I would suck the peas out, then put the pod back. Thankfully I’m a little older and a little less picky now. The broadbeans were also delicious – I thought I hated broadbeans! but I think I just hate dried broadbeans which are salty and yuck.

roast lamb served with house yogurt

And onto our main course – and another bottle of wine – the 2008 Pennyweight Shiraz from Beechworth.

I’m not a huge fan of lamb, so when I have a lamb I enjoy I’m always impressed.

This one was amazing, perfectly cooked to pink perfection, but the ribs were the star. Seriously, so so good. The house yogurt perfectly complimented the lamb, which was also served with a spicy harissa which gave a wonderful kick and roast jeruselum articles cooked with rosemary.

jeruselum artichoke, harissa

tangerine tart

Our final dish – we each received individual tangerine tarts which consisted of pieces of tangerine resting on custard encased in perfect pastry. And by perfect, I mean perfect. This is the best tart pastry I have ever had, it was thin and wonderfully crispy, such that we could hit the pastry with the back of our spoons and it would crack! And it tasted amazing – not overly sweet, but simply perfect. The custard was light and smooth and whilst I didn’t love it, everyone else in our party loved it.

chocolate coated candied grapefruit

To finish off, we were given a few pieces of candied grapefruit which had been covered in dark chocolate.

A wonderful meal, we all left very satisfied and extremely pleased. Excellent value for only $55, it was the perfect way to spend a lazy Saturday.

On the bill – our meals were listed as “Feed me.”

I love this concept of letting the restaurant take the reigns and just being fed. I was recently called a control freak by one of my friends – maybe sometimes I am a bit bossy when it comes to where and what we eat – though I do love giving restaurants free-reign to just “feed me”. Provided the restaurant is deserving ;).

The commoner do something similar for Sunday dinner I believe – I can’t wait to try it!


Jess’ Ratings

Taste: 8.5. Food was delicious.

Value: 8.5. You’d be hard-pressed getting the quality of the food for what we did for $55. Events like these at restaurants are generally great value.

Service: 9.0. Personable, but not in your face. Nothing to fault.

Atmosphere: 9.0. Great little dining room, like I said earlier, it really felt like you were in someone’s home.

Overall: 9.0. Love it. I’ll make sure I won’t leave it another two years before I return.

122 Johnston Street, Fitzroy

Phone: 03 9415 6876


Hours: Wed-Fri Dinner 6:00pm-Late
Sat-Sun  Lunch 12:00pm- 3:00pm
Dinner 6:00pm- Late

Written by glutamatejess

September 17, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Food blogging: A cardinal sin

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I’m going to take a break from reviewing and discuss with you all the State of our Food Blogging Union.

A certain tweet and a certain blog post, both from Singapore, crossed the Pacific last night and made some waves in the food blogging community on both sides of the (much bigger) pond. Here’s the lowdown from my colleague in the Lion City, written in the form of an open letter to the blogger who’s, allegedly, reprehensible actions may bring the art of food blogging into disrepute:

Dear B,

It has come to my attention that you had visited a certain restaurant today for their Sunday Champagne Brunch in the Joo Chiat vicinity today with 3 dining companions. The brunch would have cost S$68++ per person. You had informed the restaurant that you were a food blogger and assumed that by telling them so, the bill for all 4 of you would be waived.

This was not to be the case, as highlighted to you by the management. Further, I understand that upon being informed by the staff that out of goodwill, the restaurant would waive the costs of the meal for your partner and yourself. However, the costs of the two other diners had still to be borne by your dining companions. Upon hearing so, I put it to you that you threw your credit card at the cashier, while you glared at the staff who handled your bill.  This was quoted from the operations manager of the restaurant and thus may be skewed.

The management of the restaurant in question was, in my opinion, more than kind enough to sign off the bill of both yourself and your 1 dining partner as goodwill.

Let it be known that most of us food bloggers (yours truly included) simply cannot condone your acts today.

Dated 22nd August 2010

Indeed, we cannot condone such acts and let me be perfectly clear. Food blogging has risen in prominence in recent years. As we have become more widely read we have also become more influential, we have been picked up by PR companies and restaurants alike as they jump on the new media bandwagon to promote their establishments. And that’s fine, that’s ok, that’s market-driven capitalism, ladies and gentlemen, and we love it. BUT you food bloggers will know that we are constantly attacked by certain other members of the hospitality establishment – be they prominent journalists or restaurateurs – for being random hacks who (often) don’t have any experience in either hospitality or journalism and are just contributing noise to an already noisy internet.

I vigorously defend food bloggers and food blogging against these charges, as do many others, because the food scene is about democracy, demand and supply. The food scene is, first and foremost, for the common punter and if we food bloggers are representative of the common punter, with our underdeveloped palates and our quirky use of the English language, then we are the best ambassadors for said food scene. So if a food blogger didn’t have a good experience at your restaurant, or didn’t understand the finely honed, complex, nuanced dishes that were presented due to his membership of the boorish, unwashed masses that normally frequent your hell-hole, and the food blogger pans it and influences public opinion… well too bad. Make sure your customers have a better experience next time and don’t complain, you grade A ass-tard.

BUT what does bring food blogging into disrepute is not bad writing (and there’s a lot of it, and it hurts me) and it’s not supposedly untrained palates being let loose on an unsuspecting kitchen, it’s the alleged actions of the food blogger mentioned above. Food bloggers, you are not entitled to goddamn free meals! You are not entitled to anything, in fact! How a food blogger could have the gall to actually walk into a restaurant and demand free food just because he sits behind a laptop and churns out (poorly written, simplistic) reviews of restaurants is totally beyond me.

I would never even announce that I’m a food blogger at a restaurant. The whole point of being able to write an objective review is that you should be served as would any member of the general public. We’ve talked about how restaurants probably realise that we’re food bloggers once they see DSLRs and pads with pens, and that’s a tough one to get around, but at the very least don’t waltz up to the maitre’d and say “I’m a food blogger, bitches, now give me and my friends free food and handjobs or I will pan your restaurant to smithereens, muahahahaha!” Seriously.

So, unlike my colleague at Hungry Epicurian, I am not going to be so cautious as to not name names. The allegations are being levelled at one Brad, from Lady Iron Chef. Now I will say as something of a disclaimer, these are just allegations, I have not seen any evidence of course, and I will straight out inform you that this is hearsay. Brad did tweet that he was at brunch at the restaurant at the time, so those facts do match up… But this isn’t about Brad, this is about what THOU SHALT NOT DO AS A FOOD BLOGGER. I for one would like to see a post on LIC clarifying Brad’s position, or at the very least some tweets. The allegations have not as yet been acknowledged.

So that’s it from me and back to reviewing, folks, and remember. Those bloggers that do engage in this kind of activity are a minority. The rest of us aren’t doing this for free food, limelight or anything else. We do it because we love food and we love to write about our experiences and share them with the rest of you. Please don’t let a few bad apples spoil the bunch.

PS. Hey Brad, you should probably fix the horrendous spelling error in your blog header. “Past-time” doesn’t mean anything. #JustSayin

UPDATE: The news has now hit Yahoo! Singapore. See what I mean about disrepute? H/T to HungryEpicurian once again:

A young food blogger who demanded that he and his three companions be given free meals at an upscale restaurant in the Joo Chiat area has sparked a huge furore online.

The group of four had walked into Private Affairs, a small but exclusive eatery in Joo Chiat, for its Sunday champagne brunch promotion that costs S$68++ per person.

The blogger in question, Brad Lau, who runs a food blog called Ladyironchef, had informed the management on Friday that he would be coming down to review the Sunday Brunch promotion.

On the day itself, he and his partner came down at about 130pm, followed by his two other companions, each of whom came down half an hour apart.

The four of them had brunch until 430pm, even when the restaurant’s official brunch hours was from 1130 am to 330pm. Brad and his partner also enjoyed two glasses of champagne each.

When presented with the final bill of $435, the blogger initially refused to pay and repeatedly told the restaurant’s chef, “I never pay for food in any restaurant.”

The restaurant eventually offered to waive off the cost of the meal for him and his partner as well as the cost of the champagne out of goodwill, thus lowering the bill to $159.

Still upset but finally relenting to pay, the blogger then threw his credit card onto the bar counter in front of the cashier before storming out.

Note: Yahoo! Singapore has confirmed the incident with the restaurant’s management, click on that link above to see their statements. So one side of the story is confirmed, will be interesting to see if Brad posts with his side, whatever that side may be.

UPDATE 2: Lady Iron Chef’s website appears to be down. DDoS error? (h/t to Billy from Half-Eaten) Or has the website been taken down?

UPDATE 3: The website now states that “This account has been suspended”.

UPDATE 4: Brad has now replied with a full post and explanation on his blog. It’s lengthy and seems to still go down once in a while. I won’t reproduce it here because I’d have to pretty much quote the whole thing in full plus pictures, but the gist of it is, that he had been invited by the restaurant to attend a “tasting” which he sees as fundamentally different to visiting as a usual punter. Moreover, he was told that he could bring a friend and both their meals would be on the house. Brad wanted to bring three friends, had notified the PR rep for the restaurant that he was doing so but did not get a response. The rest is, as they say, history.

I don’t really understand this PR-invited food tasting culture in Singapore personally. As I said above, I believe that in order to properly review an experience at a restaurant it’s important to be incognito, much as one of the general public would be, so as not to receive special service and special perks. In my opinion, that leads to a “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” arrangement that destroys the objectivity of food blogging and reviewing. But whatevs. In any case, I think it was somewhat presumptuous of him to assume he could just bring along as many people as he wanted. Moreover, it was something of a professionalism fail by the PR company to not even dignify him with a response. Can this be attributed to that aspect of Chinese culture known as ‘saving face’? Would it be normal to, instead of saying ‘no’ and thus the person making the request losing face, to just ignore and hope that they get the message? I’m not sure, maybe someone can comment.

I’m sure Brad and everyone else will be happy to see this sordid affair behind them. Brad and the restaurant both got some publicity, both were maligned for a while and I’m sure no one will even remember what this was in a month. However, the focus behind this post was to start a discussion about food blogging and where we should draw lines in terms of ethics. I hope I’ve done that.

Update 5: Yahoo! Singapore has posted a fresh one reporting on Brad’s response, this might be a good avenue for those of you who still can’t get access to his blog.

Although he did not clarify at the time if he and his partner would be expected to pay, he wrote, ”This was an invitation to a food-tasting session. There is no hard and fast rule stating a plus one for a food tasting. However, having attended previous food tastings before, I assumed that the meal would be, at the very least, on the house for myself and one dining partner.”

Written by alexlobov

August 23, 2010 at 4:46 pm


with 5 comments

310 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

Phone 03 9620 1881
Lunch: Mon-Fri noon-3pm
Dinner: Mon-Sat 6pm-10pm
Cuisine: Japanese

Tucked away in Flinders lane, this warehouse restauraunt has very much a minimalistic fit-out, with exposed concrete and dim ‘moodlighting.’ It works though, and although noise invariably echoes in warehouse fit-outs, the tables are well spaced enough that you can still hold a conversation with your dining companions.


I hate having to yell to hold a conversation over dinner.

The menu consists of a few stalwart items on the regular menu, which is complimented by a rotating seasonal special menu.


I love the emphasis on using seasonal produce.

The wine list is limited, with about 30 bottles on offer. The list wasn’t cheap, but they were reasonable mark-ups for a restaurant. We chose one the ’06 Huia Pinot Noir from  Marlborough $64. This wasn’t anything to shout about, but wasn’t bad.

From the winter special menu, we chose;

blue swimmer crab meat and tobiko with shiso leaf wrap (1p) 5

This was pretty average. Well presented, and nice you could wrap it in the shiso leaf, but the crab meat was uninspired and could have been fresher. The tobiko balls were a nice addition, as they ‘popped’ in your mouth.

rare yellow fin tuna w yuzu spice 18.5

The flavours were good, however, the tuna had been cooked a little too much, so it wasn’t quite rare.. leaving the dish a little tough rather than tender and soft. The citrus yuzu spice was nice, and the tobiko roe worked nicely with the dish.

o ka san's special baked pork belly 14.5

This dish was excellent value – a few slices of thick, tender pork belly cooked on a bed of enoki mushrooms. Baking in the bag left this dish tender and moist, capturing the flavours.

oven baked harvey bay scallops w nasu and ponzu sauce 15.5

These scallop were ok, but nothing spectacular. They were quite small and uninspired for the price.

From the regular menu we also had,

agedashi tofu deep fried bean curd with bonito dry fish flakes 11.5

This dish is fine, but no better than what you can get at any other Japanese restauraunt. The tofu pieces are perhaps a tad small.

gyoza fried pastry stuffed with minced meat, cabbage with hint of garlic 12.5

The gyoza, again, are fine, but did not wow me, and again pricey at 4 for $12.50

omakase sushi head chef's selection of sushi e 28.5

In order from the front; grilled eel, oyster, squid, (some sort of fish – I forget what type), king fish, tuna.

The grilled eel was nice, probably the best of the 6. The rest were all nice, but again, but none of it was exceptional. Presentation was nice, but at $28.50, this equates to $4.75 per piece. Poor value.

beef steak char-grilled aged eye fillet steak with a thick garlic teryiaki sauce $35.5

This (and the pork belly) were the stand-out dishes. Thick slices of beef, cooked blue (to order). The teriyaki sauce was delicious, the beef a great cut. Even though I was well and truly stuffed by this stage, I still ate it. Couldn’t let it go to waste.

This was served with a side of

soba and potato salad with the beef

This was delicious, the soba and potato salad topped with a creamy-sesame dressing.

Jess’ Ratings

Taste: 7.0. None of the food was bad, but much of it was not much better than what you can get at many other Japanese restaurants, which are often substantially more inexpensive. The beef and pork belly were to die for.

Value: 6.0. Overpriced.  Good use of seasonal ingredients, but serves were too small for the prices.

Service: 7. Polite.

Authenticity: 7.0. Head Chef Masahiro Horie and his wife make a great team presenting well cooked a  traditional Japanese food with a modern twist.

Atmosphere: 7.5. Although they could have crammed much more tables in, they have obviously put a lot of thought into spacing the tables adequately. Love the fit-out, very intimate.

Overall: 7. I like Hako. I really do. I just find they charge too much for what they are, especially when there are so many other good places out there, such as Izakaya den. Having said that, I have been a few years ago, and their lunch menu is quite well priced.

Young Guns 3×3

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The Young guns of wine Festival, now in its second year, is a celebration of the best young winemakers from around Australia.

The festival runs events, to which these ‘young guns’ can match their wine to some of the top restaurants in Melbourne.

Most of these ‘events’ were lunch or dinner with matching wines. The one that appealed the most to me was the 3×3 Event held at Izakaya Den.

“Take three wine producers, Franco D’Anna (Hoddles Creek), Andrew Marks (Wanderer) and Mike Michael Aylward (Ocean Eight) and ask them to select 3 of their wines each.

Take 9 dishes from the city’s Izakaya Den and you have 9 wines for 9 dishes but that’s where the rules stop! Enjoyment, conviviality and fun are the keys here and the informality of the Izakaya means that anything goes. Izakaya Den has a purely Victorian wine focus especially with young, modern producers who are making elegant, food friendly wines.”

It sounded too good to be true. 9 dishes, 9 glasses of wine. For $80? Surely there was a mistake.

I have dined at Izakaya Den on two prior occasions, and had been very impressed as reviewed previously here.

And, fortuitously, this event fell on one of my RDO’s.

We were greeted by part-owner Simon Denton, who explained the deal. 3 Courses, each with 3 dishes and 3 different wines. We could choose to match these with any and every dish in the course to our liking.

I was a little disappointed when I saw our glasses were only being filled to a third. I was really hoping they’d be full glasses, but then I am very greedy when it comes to booze.

However, we very quickly realised that our wine could be topped up.

My friend and I became very excited. We knew this would be a great lunch.

Pardon for the  increasingly blurry photos, as we had consumed increasingly more and more alcohol.

Round 1

fresh tofu, plum and ponzu

We started with the tofu, which was a little bland, and not to my liking. Fortunately it was all uphill from here on.

kingfish sashimi

The kingfish was absolutely divine. It was the stand-out dish of the lunch, and the best sashimi I’ve had in a long time, if not ever. It was flavoured with a citrus-y sauce, served on a bed of picked bean sprouts. The fish was wonderfully fresh, and its flavours were perfectly balanced – not too sweet, not too tart, not too saltly, just simply perfect.. The only thing that could have made this dish better is if I could have had more. I think I liked this dish even more than the tuna tataki that I have previously raved about. (Though I will need to go back and have them both again to decide 🙂 ).

pork belly kushi-yaki

This dish was nice, a simple dish, but done well. The grilled leek is a great accompaniment for the perfectly cooked pork belly.

These were matched to

'09 Hoddles Creek Pinot Blanc, '10 Wanderer Chenin Blanc, '09 Ocean Eight Pinot Gris

The Ocean Eight Pinot Gris was the stand out of the three. It was well balanced, slightly sweet with nice floral flavours. Very easy to drink. The Hoddles Creek Pinot Blanc wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great. The Wanderer Chenin Blanc had a beautiful floral opening flavour, however a very tart finish.

Round 2

duck breast, pomegranate

The duck was delicious. Perfectly cooked, served on a bed of cracked wheat. The pomegranate lifted the dish from good to exceptional.  We liked this pairing so much, my dining companion SR and I were fighting for the seeds.

sweet corn kari-age

Sweet corn kernels battered together and deep fried, served with a side of green tea salt. I’m not sure how much flavour the green tea salt added, the dish was tasty enough as it was is. Very addictive.

baked blue eye, ginger miso

The fish was delicate, light, the ginger miso a nice accompaniment.

'08 Ocean Eight Chardonnay, '08 Wanderer Pinot Noir, '09 Hoddles Creek Chardonnay

Of the three, the stand-out wine was the Wanderer Pinot. Of course, the Pinot best suited the duck. It’s a no-brainer, Pinot and Duck are the perfect companions – a match made in heaven. Neither Chardonnay were amazing – but Chardonnay is a very difficult wine – if not perfectly balanced they can taste overly musky. These were drinkable, just not great, especially next to the wonderful Pinot Noir.

Round 3

eggplant dengaku

This was different to a ‘typical’ dengaku – which is typically served sliced in half lengthways. This dengaku consisted of cubed pieces of eggplant, deep fried and then served with a sticky sweet sauce. It came with another vegetable – I believe it was radish? SR, not a fan of eggplant didn’t like this dish, just as well, I love eggplant so more for me!

sansho pepper quail

I love quail! And this one certainly did not disappoint. The skin as perfectly crispy, the meat perfectly tender. Accompanied with pickled garlic shoots. I love garlic shoots, I think here they would have been better just boiled rather than pickled.

grilled ox tongue, spring onion

I love ox tongue. these were perhaps served just a fraction too thick compared to what I’m used to, but this dish was delicious nonetheless.

'08 Wanderer Syrah, '08 Ocean Eight Pinot Noir, '08 Hoddles Creek Pinot Noir

Of the last three wines, the Wanderer Syrah was the definite standout. It had deep berry overtones, and was just delightful. Incredibly easy to drink.

I was a little inebriated by this stage. Can you tell?

We had a great position, being seated in the middle of the bar, meaning we could watch the dishes being meticulously constructed. However, it was dangerous, because although we could watch everything, it also meant that we were watching everything… and seeing this image..

meant we could not resist. Even though we were well and truly stuffed, we had to do it.

ginger creme brulee

I adore creme brulees. This one wasn’t bad, but just a tad too gingery for me to handle. I’m not a massive fan of ginger, though the creme brulee was wonderfully smooth, and it’s always so satisfying ‘cracking’ the top.

All in all, a fantastic lunch. Food was exceptional, service amazing, wine great. The wine makers came around to chat to us all individually, which added a really nice personal touch.

It was an absolutely perfect event. I can’t stop raving about how much I enjoyed it.

And an absolute steal for only $80.

Many thanks to the Festival and to Simon Denton for making it happen.


Izakaya Den

Basement 114 Russell Street
Melbourne, 3000
Tel: (03) 9654 2977
Izakaya Den on Urbanspoon

Written by glutamatejess

August 16, 2010 at 1:44 am

Cafe Vue @ Heide

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7 Templestowe Road
Phone: 03 9852 2346


Day: Tues-Fri 10am-5pm,  Sat-Sun 9am-5pm
Dinner:                      Thurs-Sat 6pm-9pm

Catching up with the lovely ladies, we decided to try the latest addition to the Vue family –  Cafe Vue @ Heide, the museum of Modern Art, tucked away in the eastern suburbs.

We opted for the Menu du jour which gives 2 courses $35, or 3 courses $45.

(We didn’t actually have a choice – we booked a table, booking ensures you have to order the menu du jour. If you take your chances and just rock up, then you can order a la carte from the cafe menu, which is a little more inexpensive).

The three of us decided to go entree + main, and bypass dessert.

Menu du jour for July was a entree choice of

Pearl Barley Risotto

duck and pistachio terrine

The risotto was perhaps a little too ‘al dente’ for my liking, but that’s more my preference than the way it was cooked. It tasted fine, however a little too ‘healthy’ for my liking, like brown rice.

The duck and pistachio terrine looked fantastic, the flavours were good but lacked depth in flavour.

For mains, choices were the

skate salad

which was slices of tender skate  served ontop of mousselines of pomme purree, roasted baby beetroot, fennel, olive oil, fennel and capers

lamb ragu with pappardelle

The skate was cooked to perfection, with generous slices of tender fish. However, although this dish had nice clean piquant flavours, witch each individual component being perfectly cooked, this dish lacked a certain ‘je-ne-sais-quoi’. It looked amazing, texturally it was perfect, with the nice bite from the skate, the crunch from the fennel, the tender beets  and the perfectly smooth pomme purree, however it just didn’t wow me.

Similarly with the ragu. The pasta ribbons were cooked to perfection, the dish again looked amazing, but it lacked depth of flavour. The sauce was slightly watery.

Having said that, it was overall a very pleasant experience. The cafe is charming, with big open windows, the crockery delightful and the service was faultless. The food is by no means bad, but it just lacked a ‘robust-ness.’ Definitely keen to return and see what else they have on offer, and also to have the famed Café Vue Lunch Box.

Jess’ Ratings

Taste: 6. The flavours were almost there. It just needed to go to the next level.

Value: 6.5. $35 is a tad pricey considering the standard of the food. However, the ingredients used were of excellent quality. The cafe brunch menu is excellent value though.

Service: 8.  No problems with this.

Atmosphere: 8. A great place to spend a lazy weekend afternoon.

Overall: 7. I’ve been to the other Cafe Vues and have been more impressed with the food. I’m just going to put it down to the menu not suiting my taste. Definitely will return.

Written by glutamatejess

August 12, 2010 at 12:22 am