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Posts Tagged ‘Melbourne CBD

Gill’s Diner

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Gills Diner on Urbanspoon

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Gill’s Diner is another trendy creation from the man behind Journal, Supper Club and The European, Con Christopoulos. This means that the decor is likely to be rustic but innovative. The food is likely to be classic and hearty but with some slight twists, and the coffee is likely to be Romcaffe. Bloody Romcaffe. What Christopoulos’ obsession with Romcaffe is I have no idea. Why a man would put all that effort into this brand when there are plenty of far better local roasters around is very much beyond me, but whatever, I’ll let it slide.

The beauty of Gill’s Diner for me is all in the concept. Tucked away down a laneway off Little Collins Street (I’m sorry readers, it’s just too easy to use the words “tucked away” when talking about laneways and I have no intention of straying form this well-worn cliche for the time being), Gill’s Diner isn’t difficult to find. Just follow the neon “espresso & bread” and say hello to the jolly pig & cock that greet you, rustic indeed. The space itself is beautifully fitted out. The chairs are reminiscent of your old high school scout hall and aren’t super comfortable, but I’ll let comfort suffer a little in the name of design. Whoever does Christopoulos’ interior design is very good at what they do, the concept is executed perfectly, down to the finest deals like old-school speakers used for music (as The Age points out: Gill’s is an MP3 free zone“) and menus on blackboards (only on blackboards).

Best of all, the design creates a concept of space where there actually isn’t much. you can thank the high ceilings and perpendicular roof beams for that. Good show, Gill’s Diner! But onto the food. The entree I sampled, the house salted cod & smoked eel croquettes with “white sauce” and leeks.

Solid opening but nothing that blew me out of the water. The croquettes were delicately put together and fried, the sauce was intriguing and the leeks worked great but holy crap was this dish salty! The name of the game here was most certainly salt, ladies and gentlemen, and I’m sure I came away with more than my RDI of sodium. Luckily I actually like salty things.

For our mains, my dining companion selected the Kingfish Fillet with broad beans and peas (pictured above), whereas I had the Wild Mushroom Risotto with Taleggio (pictured below). I’ll let you in on a little secret, you know those things you see on a menu that you must order immediately upon discovery? Taleggio is one of those things for me. I love cheese and it is my favourite cheese so if I see it, I’m hooked.

And look at that hunk of taleggio! I was delighted when this hit the table, so much so that I didn’t have a great deal of my dining companion’s fish. Apologies, readers! I can tell you from what I tasted that it was decent but, again, nothing amazing. It’s a classic dish on a classic base, kingfish is a wonderful fish and there were no complaints from my dining companion either.

The risotto was splendid but not special. It was prepared in just the way I like my risotto, not too saucy and not too dry, arborio rice cooked to perfection. The mushroom risotto is such an old staple that it’s difficult to go wrong with, and the taleggio really added an extra level of awesomeness (though I think my sodium intake that day was equivalent to an entire recommended week).

I didn’t bother having coffee. I knew it would be Romcaffe and I wasn’t desperate enough on the night.

So the verdict on Gills?

Alex’s Ratings

Taste: 8. I can’t really complain about the execution of any of the dishes but none of them blew me away either.

Value: 4. This is a gripe. In my view, Gill’s doesn’t offer the same experience as other affordable fine dining options in the same rough price range, like Cumulus. If I’m going to pay $30 for a risotto then it better be a damn mind-blowing risotto, the hunk of taleggio notwithstanding (at least they didn’t scrimp), this risotto was good but not spectacular.

Service: 7. Rushed, efficient, impersonal, no complaints but nothing special.

Atmosphere: 10. I love it. I really love the fitout and everything about it. I don’t give 10s often but this one is deserved.

Overall: 7.88. This is a solid addition to Melbourne’s food scene, has proved its merit over the last few years and will be a long-term stayer but I just don’t think it’s up in the echelons of awesome that some other restaurants deliver. Not quite an 8 but more than a 7.5. Oh yeah and fail for coffee.

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Pizza Battle – Heat 2

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Welcome back to Pizza Battle! Join us on our quest to discover the best pizza in Melbourne. If you missed the post explaining how this works and the first heat then click on those there hyperlinks.

This round we have visited the following places:

1. Ladro (Fitzroy)

2. +39 (CBD)

3. I Carusi (East Brunswick)

4. Supermaxi (North Fitzroy)

1. Ladro


Ladro on Urbanspoon

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Ladro is an absolute stalwart on the Melbourne gourmet pizza scene, having opened years ago, a little after I Carusi and around the same time as Mr. Wolf to usher in Melbourne’s new age of gourmet pizza. It still carries its hefty reputation into this food battle, and is showing no signs of slowing down, having just opened another Ladro outlet in Greville Street, Prahran, alongside its Gertrude Street institution.If we were intimidated by reputations then this pizza battle would be much more difficult, such is the quality in this fair city of ours, so Jess and I arrived with an open mind. I had heard things about bad service and was prepared for it, but it didn’t eventuate. Firstly, Ladro is not uncomfortable, combining a minimalist design with reasonable space. The night that we were there it was full but not super packed and the service was fast, efficient and low on bells & whistles. No complaints from me, get the job done without being rude is priority number one.

The oiliness was palpable.

The pizza, however, was supremely disappointing. Firstly, I don’t remember the name of my pizza (sorry kids) but it consisted of cherry tomatoes, capers, olives on the usual napoli/mozzarrella base. And it was terrible due to two unfortunate reasons. Firstly, the base was burnt. It’s normal to have a little bit of charring around the base from the oven but I draw the line when I can actually taste lots of yummy (not) carcinogenic carbon in my crust. Secondly, a ‘drizzle’ of olive oil over the pizza can add flavour… but a drizzle, people! Not a cascade! There was so much oil on this pizza that it had literally coalesced into  a pool of oiliness in the middle of the pizza, this was a lake, a pond of oil! As a result, the pizza was slimy and gross.

To be fair, Jess’ pizza, the ‘Badabing’, was a lot better. Less oily, the pork sausage used was good and the chili was just right. But my pizza was so terrible that there’s little chance of Ladro making it into the Final round. Sorry Ladro-lovers, I was tres unimpressed.

Pizza Taste: 6. Note: Much can be made of Ladro’s name, which is Italian for “thief”. A poor choice, some might say, given Ladro’s relatively high prices and, in this case, lackluster offering. Thieves indeed.

Everything Else: 7.

2. +39


+39 Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

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+39 is the international dialing code for Italy and is run by Tony Nicolini (of Pizza Espresso in Doncaster fame). Check out a surprisingly decent review by Matt Preston here. +39 was named Pizzeria of the Year in The Age for 2010 and is still living with the hype. Getting a seat here is not easy and bookings a recommended. It’s also very much cheek-by-jowl as they’ve tried to cram as many covers as possible into a place that isn’t huge, unfortunately a failing of many a restaurant/cafe. This results in a very noisy environment when it’s full as people’s conversations bounce off the marble and spill out onto the street.

My dining companions for the tasting session were @jillianjtl and @cloudcontrol (aka. Billy from Half-Eaten), check out his review of the experience.

We sampled three pizzas, I opted for a special pizza (pictured above) which consisted of a spicy Italian sausage, silverbeet, chilli and scamorza (smoked mozarrella), Billy opted for the broccoli pizza with anchovies and pine nuts (also reviewed at eat and be merry, for tomorrow we die(t))  and Jill had the truffle & porcini pizza.

My selection was the best, excellent base, the smoked flavour of the scamorza came off perfectly, the sausage was great quality and its slight sweetness offset the bitterness from the silverbeet. A great all-rounder. Both other pizzas worked well too, I’m not a huge fan of truffle pizzas because I’m overwhelmed by the mushroominess, and in my opinion, the DOC version of Jill’s pizza is slightly better but it was still very good. Billy’s pizza also challenged how I view the idea of broccoli as a pizza topping. I was impressed overall.

Unfortunately, the service, while friendly, was not overly professional. We booked for 7.30 but were not seated until 7.50, they had to shuffle tables around while we were standing in a cramped passageway, and we were seated at the arse-end of the restaurant by the toilet. They also forgot our drinks order and only checked up on us half an hour later, we were lost in conversation but also thirsty! They dealt with these setbacks well, apologized (not profusely) and righted them but they must still be punished in the scores. A busy restaurant that crams these covers in needs to be able to manage the busy-ness.

Pizza Taste: 8.

Everything Else: 6.

3. I Carusi


I Carusi on Urbanspoon

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I Carusi is another Melbourne stalwart, previously opened and owned by Pietro Barbagallo before even Ladro and Mr. Wolf came onto the scene. The restaurant has since changed and hands, and Barbagallo has opened his eponimous Trattoria reviewed in Heat 1. We came to see if I Carusi still lives up to its reputation.

It turns out that it kind of doesn’t. The change of atmosphere was refreshing, but there was definitely some incongruity, and not of the ironic hipster variety that one invariably finds in Brunswick East. Old Italian pizza, exclusively young and attractive waitresses; white tablecloths, disposable napkins; attempt at luxury, less-than-excellent service… odd.

My dining companion for the evening was Mae aka. @lynnegweeney. Mae opted for the Alla Moda di Mario, with a mozarrella/tomato base and pancetta, red onion & chilli. I chose the Speciale (pictured above) with the same base and soppressa, roasted peppers, artichokes and olives. First point of note is that you’ll note from the picture above, this is slightly different to the simple, uncluttered pizzas of the other “artisan” pizzerias we reviewed and is moving closer to the over-topped, over-stuffed, bang-for-your-buck variants at Pizza Hut and its cousins on Lygon Street. And the taste was somewhere in between too – not subtle at all. While I can’t find fault with anything in particular on the pizza, except that perhaps the olives and weren’t as fine as Barbagallo and the base wasn’t as delicate as DOC, the overall pizza just packed too much punch and not enough finesse for my money. I Carusi – not to my taste.

Pizza Taste: 6.5.

Everything Else: 6.5. Service was friendly enough but also run off its feet and not particularly professional. And speaking of cramming too many covers (as mentioned earlier), this time we were seated in a very narrow passageway between two rooms with waitresses rushing past us on a regular basis and a massive light from the exposed kitchen shining directly into my face. Not best positioning.

4. Supermaxi


Supermaxi on Urbanspoon

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Supermaxi – an odd name for a pizza place, and boy has the buzz been building about this one since it opened not too long ago. Much of the buzz has, of course, been due to the involvement of Rita Macali, ex-head chef of Ladro. We came to see if Macali’s new pizza haven (i mean that, not in relation to the terrible chain, of course) would prove better than the new Ladro chef’s thievery.

In discussing the name, I’ll borrow from Melbourne Gastronome:

So, the name. It turns out Supermaxi is many things: the name of a chain of Spanish supermarkets, a type of NZ racing yacht and a series of late 1980s compilation albums featuring Kool & The Gang, Yello and Wang Chung. Owners Rita Macali and Giovanni Patane toldEspresso that the name is intentionally un-Italian, a portmanteau word made up of English superlatives Italians like to use. Fair enough. But me, I can’t help thinking of products like these when I hear the name. At least it’s memorable!

Not only is the name memorable but so is the dining experience, both in total juxtaposition to Supermaxi’s super nondescript exterior (which appeals to North Fitzroy’s hipster contingent for sure).

My dining companion for this tasting session was Gem (@snarkattack) from Eat Drink Stagger. Check out her take on the experience. Gem opted for a pizza special that was little more than prosciutto and napoli base. A choice not unwise, given the tendency towards simple dishes being the best. I went for something more adventurous (pictured above),The Sicilian,  a tuna pizza with red onion and lemon. My pizza was beautiful, very well balanced, just the right amount of saltiness (dangerous ground considering the tuna) and a perfect base. Gem’s was also excellent, especially for prosciutto fans.

The place itself is really a delight, it’s spacious and feels it because Macali & Patane have not crammed diners in like sardines in the name of profit. Kudos to them. The service was almost perfect, and Patane’s friendliness front-of-house was definitely appreciated. Supermaxi is up there with the best of them.

Pizza Taste: 8.

Everything Else: 9.

So the winner of Heat 2 is Supermaxi, coming out on top with a superior ‘everything else’ score to +39, but both are in strong contention to appear in the Final. But we still have Heat 3 to do which includes such pizza luminaries as Mr. Wolf, Woodstock and Pizza Espresso. Join us for the final installment soon!

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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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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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

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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.

Ramen Battle – Heat 1

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Ladies & Gentlemen, welcome to our first food battle. Contender number one is Ramen, the delicious Japanese dish. More information on the rules can be found here. Here’s a choice bit of history about ramen from our old friend wikipedia:

Ramen (ラーメン) is a Japanese noodle dish that originated in China. It is served in a meat- or fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork (チャーシュー, chāshū?), dried seaweed (海苔, nori?), kamaboko, green onions and even corn. Almost every locality in Japan has its own variation of ramen, from the tonkotsu ramen of Kyūshū to the miso ramen of Hokkaidō.

Melbourne has a multitude of Japanese restaurants and many of them serve ramen so we’ve set out to taste some of the top contenders for Melbourne’s best ramen. For more information on how the battle works, read this earlier post.

The contenders for Heat 1 are:

  1. Ajisen Ramen
  2. Meshiya
  3. Momotaro Rahmen
1. Ajisen Ramen
130 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9662 1100
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Ajisen Ramen on Urbanspoon

Spicy Ramen at Ajisen Ramen

Jess and I have a history at Ajisen. We frequented the place a lot when we were both in Hong Kong at the beginning of 2005 (yes that’s over five years ago) and made it a point to visit the Bourke Street store now and then after our return to Melbourne.  A nice HK anecdote:  I usually have very high tolerance for chilli but I met my match in the HK branch of Ajisen’s spicy ramen. I’m pretty sure my face went as red as a tomato and there may have been tears.

I’ve always considered Ajisen to be somehow inferior to proper ramen joints and only really went there out of nostalgia, but I now must admit that I stand corrected. Despite the lack of authenticity (be wary of Chinese staff at Japanese restaurants) and the global-chain-like nature of the company, Ajisen actually makes a mean bowl of ramen. The spicy ramen is my usual and is a good value dish, containing a number of vegetables (cabbage, carrot, fungus, spring onion), tea egg and spicy mince meat in a shoyu broth. There are plenty of veggies, in fact one of my main gripes with the dish is the predominance of cabbage. I’m not a huge fan of cabbage at the best of times, it’s a bland, flavourless vegetable when boiled, but Ajisen takes it to a new level that I think can accurately be described as padding. Ie. pad the dish with lots of cabbage so people think they got value for money. I don’t see why they need to do this, there’s plenty of other stuff in the ramen and I usually leave half the cabbage uneaten. One thing I appreciate about Ajisen’s ramen is that they use tea eggs instead of regular boiled eggs, I love tea eggs, think they go great in ramen and appreciate the nice touch.

The place doesn’t feel too cramped or claustrophobic like many other Asian restaurants that serve similarly priced food (see Meshiya below) and even though the predominance of backless furniture is annoying (a pet hate), it’s still not an uncomfortable place to eat a meal. The staff are usually prompt and there is enough of them (thank God), and their cartoon mascot is dead cute.

Ramen rating: 7/10
Everything else rating: 7/10
2. Meshiya
200 Lonsdale St
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9654 6242
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Tonkatsu Ramen at Meshiya

Meshiya is a small but busy restaurant on the Lonsdale Street side of Melbourne’s QV complex. Asian international students (many probably living in the apartment blocks upstairs) and office workers (probably from sensis and BHP) are the customers are here, and are both usually a decent weathervane for good cheap Asian food.

I ordered the tonkatsu ramen in a shoyu broth. The broth was pretty good, I’m a big fan of sesame seeds in shoyu ramen, however I felt there was a little too much MSG in it. I wasn’t happy with the tonkatsu at all, it was far too soggy and the noodles tasted a touch overcooked. In fact, it tasted like they had been soaking in the broth for like half an hour before being served to us. Having said that, the dish wasn’t too bad for the price and, if pressed, I would probably go back to eat here.

The place  is tiny and does itself no favours with its layout being long and thin rather than square. This makes it very difficult to get the attention of serving staff (as usual, Meshiya is severely understaffed) and gives the place a cramped and claustrophobic feeling.

Ramen rating: 6/10
Everything else rating: 4/10
3. Momotaro Rahmen (seeded)
392 Bridge Rd
Richmond VIC 3121
(03) 9421 1661
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Tonkotsu Ramen at Momotaro Rahmen

Momotaro comes seeded due to a number of recommendations I have heard and read from other food bloggers, friends and a generally good reputation including a brief write-up in The Age. It’s Richmond location makes it slightly less than convenient but I was eager to try the ramen at this much vaunted noodle joint.

I’ll begin by telling you straight up that I was very disappointed. While the staff all seemed to be Japanese, I fail to understand how Japanese people (with presumably Japanese palates) can serve up such average ramen. Perhaps I’m completely wrong here, maybe the ramen here is actually awesome and I’m completely nuts but I’m going to go with it.

I ordered the tonkotsu ramen, a ramen quite different to the usual shoyu ramen which comes in a soy broth. Tonkotsu is based on a broth of pork bone and collagen. The dish also came with a slice chashu. Everything about Momotaro screams a frugal miserliness. You get one small slice of chashu which is a poor quality cut (the most disappointing thing), the vegetables are non-existent (my friend with who ordered the highly vaunted negi miso ramen, a vegetable based dish complained of the same) with bean sprouts dominating. You have to pay $2-3 extra for extra toppings (presumably, one more slice of crappy chashu? yay) and the egg wasn’t boiled properly and wasn’t a tea egg.  Granted, the noodles were good, but the broth was also a let down. Not enough flavour.

In addition, it’s order-at-the-counter service, the place is tiny, the chairs are uncomfortable and the ventilation was so poor that at 6.30pm on a regular day with the door open we were all sweating like prostitutes in church and gasping for breath. Basically, a real letdown. I have no idea why everyone seems to love this place so much, maybe it was an off day and maybe I’ll give it another chance but frankly, I’d rather go to a Chinese-run place that serves better ramen than a supposedly authentic Japanese place.

Ramen rating: 6/10
Everything else rating: 3/10
The Winner of Heat 1: AJISEN RAMEN

At the end of the day, out of these three places, Ajisen is the place I’d go to if I have the choice. The ramen just tastes better, even if it isn’t as authentic.

Stay tuned for Heat 2!