Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Does Mamasita live up to the hype?

I enjoy trying new places and this place has Melbourne abuzz with the prospect of authentic Mexican cuisine.

Close to work at the top end of Collins Street, it seemed like a good lunch option with a couple of work mates.

We ordered our dishes from the Comida para la familia (Food for the family) section of the menu.

Bill and I ordered the $16 Chili relleno (Bullhorn chiles stuffed with wild mushrooms, pepitas, epazote ; pumpkin sauce). And Dallas couldn't curb his penchant for pork and requested the Costillas de cerdo al chipotle $18.

The Chili relleno came attractively presented but I was disappointed in the flavour. I could barely discern any mushroom in the stuffing because of the volume of rice used to fill it out. The sprig of corriander, the pumpkin seeds, and the pumpkin puree were nice addition, but I had to use generous dollops of the jalepeno sauce to make the dish more interesting.

I asked Bill and Dallas to guest blog.
From Bill - "An interesting take on classic Mexican favourites. I had the chilli rellenos which were stuffed with mushrooms, herbs and rice and served with pumpkin puree, a tasty combination but some diners may have been surprised if they were expecting the traditional cheese-filled variety. Downsides are the absence of condiments and sides served in traditional Mexican eateries and slightly stale corn tortillas and salsa that remided me of the type that come out of the jar. If you want the full Mexican 'comida', the extra cost of pre-meal tortillas/salsa and refried beans and rice side dishes pushes this restaurant out of the value-for-money range."

One of my favourite recollections of our time in Mexico was the almost instantaneous presentation of a plate of hand-made tortilla chips and delicious salsa that appeared on the table moments after you were seated. So I have to agree with Bill on the sneaky sting of pricey side dishes. If you add some fairly standard sides like Ejotes beans, Tortillas and Guacamole, you add $18 to your bill. Perhaps this is a necessity for a resturaunt renting at the pricey end of Collins? But it seemed steep to me. We ordered the Tortillas with salsa which were only $5, but as Bill says, the salsa was pretty lame.

We wouldn't normally discuss pigs on this blog, but I didn't want Dallas feeling left out. After all, he's such a retiring wallflower.
From Dallas - "Pork ribs that rock....Sazonado carne de cerdo!!! tender meat that falls away from the bone in a tangy but slightly sweet broth. Ah....why is the meat on the bone always the tastiest?"
So there you have it. If the dishes were under $10, I might be more charitable, but for the prices here, I expect something a little more.
Mamasita on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Grossi Florentino - Cellar Bar

I think I now understand what all the fuss is about!

I'd been hearing about Grossi Florentino and chef Guy Grossi for years. He and his resturaunt are a Melbourne institution. For some reason I'd always balked at spending more than the bare minimum on Italian food and shunned eating pasta at resturaunts. But it turns out, that like most things in life, you really do get what you pay for.

I was net surfing for lunchtime inspiration and seeking a jaunt outside the office when stumbled on the Grossi Florentino website. I hadn't intended to visit, but then an item on the menu really caught my eye - Pumpkin Tortellini with Fried Sage or Tortellini di Zucca Della Lungiana $18 as it is named on the menu.

Ever since our Solomon Island adventures, I've been a great fan of the tadka or chaunk technique of frying herbs and spices to add flavouring to a dish. This Indian method of cooking involves tipping the lightly fried and very fragrant herbs into a dahl or curry at the end of cooking to create an exciting fizzling flavour punch. I'm not sure how Guy does it with the sage over tortellini, but I wouldn't be surprised if his technique is much the same.

Anyway. The result is what matters and here it is superb.

The delicate flavours of pumpkin-filled tortellini were perfectly matched by the sage fried in olive oil. I also now understand the true meaning of 'al dente' too. The pasta had a delightful texture and even though it sounds cliche, it really did melt in my mouth. The meal comes with complementary herbed and seasoned bread and olive oil which is delicious.

As you'd expect in a place of this calibre, the waiters are fantastic. Friendly, attentive and unobtrusive. And your glass of water is never empty.

Maybe those of you who are Italian food gourmands will think me naiive to only now be just discovering these delights. And to be fair you'd probably be right given my previously irrational foodist tendencies. I've been addicted to Asian food for it's plethora of vegetarian options but was too quick to dismiss the Mediterranean for it's apparently meat, salad, gloopy pasta and otherwise bland cuisine.

How wrong I was.

Grossi Florentino on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Duelling Dumplings at Hu Tong

It isn't often that a quick city lunch inspires poetry, but here goes...

After a moping morning
I crave a different dish
To dull my doldrums
And fulfill my wish
I found my saviour
And changed my mood
At Hu Tong Dumpling
Chique meets great food

My usual go-to dumpling dens are Shanghai Village and Camy Shanghai but sometimes you've gotta break the habit and try the competition.

When I arrived at 11.32 am (I told you I was craving), there were already 7 people waiting at the yet-to-be-opened door. A few minutes later the waitress let us all in and kindly gave me a table despite me being the only one without a booking.

I ordered the Vegetarian Dumplings With Spinach Flour Wrap ($5.50 for 6 pieces), the Vegetarian Spring Rolls ($4.50 for 3 pieces) and a pot of Chinese Tea ($2.50).

Are the dumplings worth the 100% price premium over their Village and Camy cousins around the corner? You betcha!

The spinach flour wrap added another very pleasing dimension to the already delicious fillings of mushroom, carrot, tofu and cabbage.

But my favourite part of the experience was the sensational chilli flakes in oil with whole corriander seeds. The chilli concotion is part of the table condiments set, along with the ginger infused vinegar. Combined with the spinach dumplings, the chilli and corriander seed surprise was a wicked delight. I normally like soy sauce, but this trumps it very nicely.

The spring rolls were tasty with a curried filling and streets ahead of other dumpling places. But you don't really go to dumpling houses to eat spring rolls!

The tea was delicious too with none of the bitterness sometimes associated with the tea elsewhere.

The other feather in Hu Tong's cap is that it is a really nice place to eat. You won't find sticky white laminex or lurid pink here. I'll still probably pop into Shanghai Village now and again for variety (or if I'm really hungry), but Hu Tong is my new favourite.

Get onto Hu Tong I say.

Hu Tong Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sustainable aquaculture? Yes really.

Dan Barber is a chef who is passionate about fish and has a strong eco-food bent. His short 15 minute talk is well worth watching for sheer entertainment value alone. The guy is funny! But the fascinating story on sustainable aquaculture and his inspired views on world food were the glaze on the tofu for me. This one should almost be mandatory viewing. Enjoy.

I watched this on the train this morning. Since getting back from the Solomons, I've been really getting back into TED Talks. They are a fantastic resource and can be really inspiring.

You can also download it to your computer or iPod through iTunes. Just search for TEDTalks in Podcasts.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Izakaya Hachibeh

Izakaya Hachibeh offers a refreshing change from the usual chain-store nori-ramen-noodles Japanese options elsewhere in Melbourne.

I went for lunch and selected from the excellent value $12 Hachibeh bento menu. Following the eco-creed I ordered the fried vegetables, potato salad and agedashi tofu (because I’m incapable of going to any Japanese restaurant and not ordering it). The bento menu might be confusing, but the idea is that you select one item from each of the A, B and C boxes. There are also specials options on a board and more extensive alternatives available should you wish to branch out further. A PDF dinner menu is available on their website. One of the more intriguing options is the “Hachibeh ladies lunch set” which is only available to those without a Y chromosome, so I was out of luck.

The large bento comes attractively presented with the three selected options and rice arranged in their own little compartments in the box. There is also a complimentary miso which was very good. The flavours in each dish complemented each other nicely. The tasty potato salad was cold mashed and well seasoned with spring onions and pieces of carrot. It went nicely with the flavoursome teriyaki sauce vegetable stir-fry of carrots, cabbage, cauliflower and onion topped with sesame seeds. Of course my favourite was the agedashi tofu. Deliciously crisp on the outside and exquisitely smooth within. And the texture was matched by the taste. Excellent.

The word Izakaya is a compound of the Japanese words for sit (“i) and sake shop (“sakaya”). Upon entering Izakaya Hachibeh, you’ll find it looks more like a restaurant than a bar, with black tables, maroon walls and beautiful red lanterns adorned with characters reading “izakaya”. But there is also an impressively diverse range of sake on offer including their “special-made Hachibeh sake” which I’d be keen to try for dinner.

The restaurant which markets itself as Japanese Tapas was a novel concept for me. But with more than 100 small dishes available for dinner, they certainly have variety.

Izakaya Hachibeh should also be commended for the clarity of their dinner menu. I haven’t yet been for dinner (perhaps for a future entry) but I checked the menu and was delighted to find an entire section headed Vegetarian No Fish Stock with 20 delicious-looking options to choose from. Other Japanese restaurants could do well by learning from this example.

Izakaya Hachibeh is a friendly and great value lunch spot with authentic tasty Japanese food and I’m looking forward to trying it for dinner.

Izakaya Hachibeh on Urbanspoon