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Posts Tagged ‘CBD

Pizza Battle – Heat 1

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Original post announcing the battle here. I’ve been apologizing a lot lately and I’ll apologize again. Reason for the supreme belatedness of this post is a combination of tech problems and being super busy. However we’re off and here goes.

The pizzerias reviewed for Heat 1 are:

1. D.O.C. (Carlton)

2. Barbagallo (CBD)

3. Bande a Part (North Carlton)

4. Pizza Meine Liebe (Northcote)

I apologize for photo quality, the dim lighting in these pizzerias did not agree with my Canon Ixus yet again.

1. D.O.C.
295 Drummond St
Carlton, 3053
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D.O.C. Pizza and Mozzarella Bar on Urbanspoon

From the team behind Carlton Espresso, D.O.C. is all about authenticity: simple pizza, quality produce and bases, few toppings. The place is also a ‘mozzarella bar’ and features Australian-produced fior di latte and Italian-made mozzarella, as well as an excellent selection of cured meats (bresaola, prosciutto, speck, etc.)

Capricciosa Nuova at Carlton's D.O.C.

We had a capricciosa nuova with tomato, mozarella, leg ham, mushroom, artichoke and olive. Those that frequent the normally terrible Lygon Street pizzerias (ie. Papa Ginos, Notturno, etc.) will be familiar with the capricciosa and although the ingredients look the same, this is of a far better standard. The ham is great quality, none of that weird curly shaved mystery meat type stuff and the mozarella is their beautiful fior di latte (not the shaved one you get in a plastic bag at Coles).

While the service at D.O.C. can sometimes be Roman-style arrogant, brisk and full of swagger, on this occasion we were well served and I have no complaints. Design is nothing to write home about: clean, Mediterranean, stone everywhere. I find the place to be somewhat cramped and somewhat noisy but these are small quibbles, the pizza speaks for itself.

Bonus: Their excellent antipasti, cured meat selections, cheese platters and desserts are also worth trying but, alas, this is a pizza review.

Pizza Taste: 9.

Everything Else: 7.

2. Barbagallo Trattoria e Pizzeria
103 Lonsdale Street,
Melbourne 3000
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Barbagallo Trattoria e Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

The self-named new restaurant of Pietro Barbagallo, he of I Carusi (Brunswick East/St. Kilda) and L’Uccelino (Yarraville) fame has started his own joint and they definitely haven’t scrimped on the details. The place is all ostentatious marble, hard wood and the like. The loudness is definitely palpable, the noise basically bounces off the walls, and there are several tables with only stools, not a set-up I’d recommend for eating pizza and paying $20+ for it.

This place has a terrible reputation for service, but if I may disclose, the waitress was a friend of mine, so we got the attention we needed and I have no complaints. However, this may not be indicative of their usual service.

The pizzas don’t have names at Barbagallo but the one we ordered featured tomato, mozzarella, olives, salami cacciatore, olives and roasted peppers and it was pretty awesome. The olives, for example, tasted amazing (for some reason). The base could use some work, the pizza overall tasted a little blander than DOC and the salami failed to live up to DOC’s ham. Having said that, it was still a fantastic pizza and I’m splitting hairs… splitting hairs is something we expect to do a lot during this battle.

I’ve heard excellent things about their pasta too, and their calzoncino (with three types of chocolate: white, milk and dark) was delish. But… we’re all about the pizza here!

Pizza Taste: 8.

Everything Else: 7.

3. Bande A Part
749 Nicholson St,
Carlton North, 3068
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Bande à Part on Urbanspoon

Bande A Part is an existential-themed pizza bar named after a Jean-Luc Godard film. As such, a number of menu items and some of the decor are to do with the them (including, for example, the Anna Karina pizza). Before building this list, I had never been to Pizza Meine Liebe (reviewed fourth in this post) and had no idea that Bande A Part was related to the famed Northcote pizza joint, but it appears that a relationship exists, given the similarity in some of the menu items and decor.

While I love existentialism and Godard, I’m not a big fan of Bande A Part. The pizzas that we had were fairly bland affairs, service was indifferent and the atmosphere of the place was cold, despite the best efforts of the decorators (which, by the way, didn’t go that great either, due to the cool 60s minimalist vibe). The biggest problem though, is the menu, which is high on concept and low on delivery and quality, the pizzas we tried were fairly lacklustre, especially when compared to their Italian counterparts rated above. The one pictured above is the Greek pizza (I forget the full name but it’s something suitably quirky) and was the better pizza that we tasted. The base was somewhat too chewy and the toppings too bland for my liking.

Pizza Rating: 5. Lacklustre when compared to the ones above but still preferred to most pizza around the city.

Everything Else: 5. Points for an interesting concept.

4. Pizza Meine Liebe
231 High St
Northcote, 3070
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Pizza Meine Liebe on Urbanspoon

As mentioned above, the Northcote stalwart, PML, is also related to Bande A Part, a connection which I had no idea existed until I finally visited PML to do this review. If I had known that the poor quality at BaP would be somewhat repeated at PML then I might have struck one of them off the list but, alas, the pizza is eaten and the reviews are written.

Pizza Meine Liebe has quite a following in Northcote, this place has been around for quite some time and is very popular with the Northern Suburbs hipster set. I don’t really understand what all the fuss is about. The pizzas were decidedly better than their BaP counterparts but still nothing to really write home about. Let me be clear, the bar here is pretty high. If comparing both PML and BaP to Pizza Hut or your neighbourhood pizza joint then of course they’ll come out on top. But when compared to their Italian counterparts rated above, these funky anglo-run hipster joints just don’t stack up. Perhaps it’s a matter of taste but, hey, it’s my review!

I sampled three pizzas here this time, the Jett pictured above being the main one I had. I’m normally a fan of potato-based pizzas, especially when combined with taleggio cheese, but this was a bland affair, swathed in oil and I was sick of it around half way through.

The service and decor here was also much better executed than at Bande A Part. Our waitress was friendly, personable and attentive and the whole place seemed to fit together a lot better, eschewing warmth and comfort (albeit in a somewhat cramped fashion) while combining the elements of the decor well into a good package. Service-wise, I’m aware of the terrible reviews these guys get on urbanspoon and elsewhere but since service was great when I visited I can’t complain.

Note: PML is crazy busy so it’s advised to book for either 6pm or 8pm or take-away (Joe’s Shoe Store next door will have you with a pizza and serve you a pint to boot). Gluten-free bases and toppings are also available here.

Pizza Taste: 7. The pizza here is worth a try, in part to see what all the fuss is about and in part because it’s decent pizza but it just can’t compete with the Italians. Not for my money anyway.

Everything Else: 7.5. Not as loud as the Italians and with friendlier service, you don’t get the ‘authentic Italian atmosphere’ nor are you bathed in opulence but it’s an overall more pleasant place to visit.

So D.O.C. takes out the first heat, just pipping Barbagallo which also stands an excellent chance of making it through to the Final. Stay tuned for Heat 2!

Ramen Battle – Heat 2

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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.

If you aren’t up to speed yet, here is the original post introducing how the battle works and here is the post for Heat 1 where Ajisen, Momotaro and Meshiya squared off.

On the rack for Heat 2 we had:

  1. Ramen Ya (seeded)
  2. Ito
  3. Menya
1. Ramen Ya
Shop 25G Melbourne GPO,
350 Bourke St,
Melbourne, 3000
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web

Ramen Ya on Urbanspoon

Chashu Ramen in Tonkotsu Broth, apologies for the lack of photo quality, the lighting was rather bad.

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: 6/10

2. Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe
122 Bourke St
Melbourne, 3000
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foursquare
web

Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe on Urbanspoon

Geki Kara Ramen

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)

3. Menya

foursquare

web

Tonkatsu Ramen

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.

Old Town Kopitiam Mamak

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Old Town Kopitiam Mamak
Level 2, Shop 11, QV Square,
QV, Melbourne, 3000
website
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Old Town Kopitiam Mamak on Urbanspoon

I would like to note first of all that I have been to this restaurant on numerous occasions and have therefore had the ability to sample several of the dishes. I will thus give you a breakdown of all of them.

Old Town Kopitiam Mamak is a recently opened extension of the already established and fairly popular Old Town Kopitiam on Little Bourke Street (as far as I know, no connection to the chain in Malaysia by the way, I find it bizarre how people tend to assume that just because a place has the same name… a name that you can clearly see is a fairly ubiquitous concept based on traditional concepts… means that they are the same place). For the uninitiated, the ‘mamak’ concept comes form the Malaysian name for Indian Tamil Muslims that settled in the country (the term is considered to be pejorative as far as I know) and opened restaurants of a particular type selling a particular variety of food. For more detailed information check out the fairly comprehensive wiki article on Mamak stalls but the general gist is that these restaurants are often open 24 hours a day, are very cheap, sell very tasty (but very unhealthy) food and are hubs for everyone, old and young, to come, hang out, chat and order an array of artery-clogging awesomeness.

Now Old Town Kopitiam’s version is not cheap, but it is also not expensive, you pay roughly the same amount for a meal here as you would in most other ethnic eateries. The decor is inspired partly by the mamak stalls themselves (stools, tables outside, uncles/ah peks/old men) with their leg up smoking, etc.) and partly by the old Ipoh white coffee-style coffee shops with the marble, tiles and the old wood (somewhat similar to Hong Kong-style bing sutt but somewhat different also).

The fare is definitely mamak-inspired, and the test here is definitely for authenticity. The menu has a selection of rotis, both sweet and savoury, Malaysian breakfasts (such as half-boiled eggs and kaya toast), Nasi Kandar and mamak-style noodles (mee goreng, etc.)

Of the dishes I have tried here let’s start with the nasi kandar, of which there is a selection of either biryani rice or plain jasmine rice and either two or three dishes from the nasi kandar menu.. I selected the nasi biryani (spiced rice) with ayam goreng (fried chicken) and sambal egg ($9). Of the dishes I sampled, I found this one to be one of the best and most authentic. The rice was spiced well, the sambal could’ve been spicier (as usual) but was good overall, the ayam goreng wasn’t the best in Melbourne but was definitely passable, all together it was a worthwhile dish for 9 bucks.

The second dish I tried here was the savoury roti telur (roti with egg, $4.50) which was, in marked difference to the nasi kandar, a spectacular fail. The roti itself tasted bland, and was served chopped into pieces for some reason (bizarre), there was far from enough egg but the worst part was the curry. It was served with a sambar (a vegetable type curry) and some sort of fishy curry. The sambar was basically brown and water and tasted like nothing, the other curry was basically oil with sugar in it. Horrible.

I’ve also tried the sweet roti bom (roti $5) buttered and served with condensed milk and sugar on the side, ) on two occasions and both times I was satisfied. For starters, the roti was served whole as it damn well should be, the butter gave it the requisite flavour (though nothing like in Malaysia of course) and though there was not enough condensed milk and far too much sugar, the staff were helpful and provided additional condensed milk free of charge upon request.

However, by far my favourite roti at Old Town Kopitiam Mamak would have to be the roti john (minced meat, mayonnaise, sweet chili and egg served in a long toasted bun, $7). This is another legendary dish in Malaysia & Singapore, legends abound as to how it came about. I’ve heard that there was a white customer at some mamak stall named John who requested western bread instead of the roti, the dish stuck and was named after him. Take that with a grain of salt though. Roti John recipes vary in Malaysia & Singapore, some are served with a cold cut, some with minced beef and some with sardines. This particular roti john is one of my favourites and, due to being heavy on the mayonnaise, can feel like a light snack or a meal depending on your stomach.

In addition to the food, Old Town Kopitiam Mamak also serves Malaysian drinks such as the teh tarik (sweet milk tea that has been pulled through the air for aeration) and a great set of ‘specials’ which are incredibly sweet, fruit-based (such as lychee, mango, etc.) and are served in a big jar-type glass mug with fruit chunks and flavouring. For anyone who has been to the mamak stall in Malaysia’s Petaling Jaya SS2 called Murni will be very familiar with these. I haven’t seen them anywhere else apart from Murni and Old Town Kopitiam Mamak.

Alex’s Ratings:

Taste: 7/10. I suppose three out of four ain’t bad, discounting the savoury roti fails.

Authenticity: 7/10. Almost but not quite, again the savoury roti really lets them down.

Value: 7/10. The food is still cheap, but not uniquely so, definitely not by ‘mamak’ standards and while some dishes are excellent value (such as the nasi kandar) other dishes seem excessively expensive (such as the roti john).

Service: 7/10. Mixed bag, I’ve had some friendly and attentive service here as well as slack-jawed waiters staring into space while I wave my arms around trying to get their attention. Given the price and standards set by other Asian restaurants in the same market category, definitely above average here.

Ambience: 8/10. They have definitely done well here, combining Malaysian mamak ambience that makes us all long to be back in KL with Australian hygiene standards and cleanliness. There are also some unique visual elements that I appreciate, such as the picture at the top of the stacked cans. Could do with less stools and more chairs though.

Overall: 7/10. Just scrapes through, they’re lucky I’m in a good mood.