Tag Archives: Melbourne

Melbourne, Day 2: East, West, and fusion

Day 2 in Melbourne started with breakfast in the newly renovated hotel restaurant here at the Grand Hyatt. They have gone with a beautiful, open design conveying the feel of a working kitchen, with the chefs working and doing their prep on the stations and service areas around them. Everything was really fresh and well prepared, and because the prep areas are right there, always fully stocked.

After an initial morning meeting, we started to plan our week here, and most importantly where and when we would eat. I had my list of places that I had scouted, and our hosts had a number of additional suggestions in the city and surrounding areas. After a quick visit to one of the culinary schools here, we picked up a business associate at the airport and headed back downtown for a late lunch.

The European, aptly named, is a narrow restaurant nestled beside the historic Princess Theatre, directly across from the Parliament buildings. As you walk through the tall doors, you would swear you were in an old French bistro, small wooden tables and a long bar gracing the dark wood panelling, and chalkboards with the daily specials, and wine selections.

Features included two kinds of local shellfish, a couple of pastas, two daily fish dishes, and a veal scallopine. After perusing the menu and wine list, We ordered some of the featured Coffin Bay oysters to start, which I hear were exceptional, briny, and plump. (due to a reaction years ago, I haven’t eaten oysters in years, but I enjoy hearing about the nuances of them from those who do.) I ordered some of the crispy School Prawns, a small shrimp quickly deep fried and served with a romesco aioli and fresh lemon. They were very fresh and tasty, with a briny sweet finish.

For main courses, a few at the table ordered mushroom risotto, while I had the farfalle alla siciliana, bowtie pasta with ripe tomato, basil, and anchovy with garlic and olive oil. Simple but delicious, with a glass or two of pinot grigio to wash it all down. For dessert, we elected to share two offerings, a parfait with a fig and pecan crust and roasted fruit, and a tiramisu.

Following an afternoon of work, we retired to the hotel, and then regrouped for a beverage before heading out for the evening. I had scoped out the local music scene, and we headed to a small club in West Melbourne called Spenser’s Live to see a quartet of some of Australia’s finest fusion musicians: Brett Garsed, Phil Turcio, Craig Newman, and Gerry Pantzis. They played a fantastic 90 minute set of inspiringly tight, textured, and smooth instrumentals, after which we were famished.

It was creeping onto midnight, so we decided to follow a recommendation I had read about online. Anytime a restaurant is touted as the place the local chefs go after work, you know two things: the food will be good, and reasonably priced. We headed over to Supper Inn in a deluge, the first rain in awhile here, and after scaling a narrow staircase, came into just what I would expect, a busy room full of bodies young and old, and the smells of great Chinese cooking.

We ordered 5 things:

Hot and sour soup, which was packed full of meat, shrimp, and vegetable, crispy skin chicken with special sauce, which was crisp on the outside, moist and tender inside, with a light but very tasty glaze, fried rice with pork and shrimp (enough said), pork spareribs with mandarin sauce, which were crispy with a sweet sticky sauce clinging to them, and shiitake mushrooms and shanghai bok choy, caramelized and so packed with flavour one of my dining companions described them as the best shiitake mushrooms she had ever tasted. I would have to agree, and after a night of several beers, great music, and finally another great meal, we settled in for the night.




Melbourne Day 1 – Gingerboy

I will be in Melbourne for the next 10 days on business and seeing as it’s got a great reputation for good food, thought I’d share my dining experiences.

The Central Business District is compact and an interesting mix of old and new architecture. Across the street from my 30+ story hotel are two beautiful old churches, the spires of which I look out onto. I set upon some research before leaving Vancouver and had a list of a few restaurants to check out. The inflight magazine on our flight from Sydney provided a few others and to my great delight, once I searched all the addresses and websites, I had 8 places within a few blocks of the hotel. My first order of business was an evening walk to get my bearings and check out the CBD quickly, and then pop into one of my choices for a solo dinner.

The downtown core is divided into large streets with all of the big buildings you would expect in an urban metropolis, but in addition, there are small streets and lanes between the buildings that provide a very different atmosphere. Tucked into the various “little” streets and “lanes” are all of the small cafés and restaurants you could imagine. There is a great deal of south Asian influence here, and keeping with Australia’s reputation for excellent cooks, the incorporation of classic technique for a vibrant fusion food culture. A stroll to the east took me over to the large park beside the parliament buildings and once I finished weaving in and out of the side streets to scope out the next week’s dinners, I ended up at my first destination, Gingerboy.

Tucked inside an older building and on a side lane, the place was bustling! No room in the dining room, I was told, but could saddle one of the barstools and have my dinner there, or pop upstairs to the brand new cocktail lounge. I decided on the former, as the small open kitchen was right there and my barstool provided a great view of all of the action (probably the only thing I really miss about not being in a small restaurant kitchen every night). I counted 8 cooks working furiously and food flying out at a phenomenal pace. I perused the well chosen wine list and the menu and decided that beer would be suitable for a menu inspired by Singapore’s famous hawker stands. I asked the young lady tending bar for a recommendation for beer to suit the food, and was introduced to “333” from Vietnam.

Looking though the menu, I settled on picking a few small plates, and decided that once I had some reinforcements would have to come back to try some of the larger plates meant to share. First to catch my attention was the signature dish I had read about, “son in law eggs”. I was informed that the kitchen could make a smaller order if I liked, as there were normally 3 on a plate, (an offer I gratefully accepted to allow for more choices), and also decided on the cuttlefish, corn cakes, and wagyu dumplings.

First to arrive were the eggs, crispy from the deep fryer, soft in the centre, perched on a banana leaf with chilli jam and fresh mint, basil, and cilantro. I cracked them open with my chopsticks and the combination of crisp outside, soft poached egg centre and the spicy jam mixed with the sweet fresh herbs was exceptional. Shortly thereafter, my crispy chilli salt cuttlefish arrived, with a fresh lemon wedge and warm sesame oil to accompany. I love fried squid in all of its forms, especially the larger varieties like cuttlefish and the “flying neon squid” we get back home. Simple yet delicious!

The corn cakes were next to appear, a bowl overflowing with crisp fritters made of cornmeal, fresh corn, herbs, and finely diced hot peppers. I nearly burned my tongue in my excitement, but thank goodness for a nearby bottle of the crisp “333” to prevent any damage. The corn cakes were nicely spiced, tender and soft inside, crispy outside, and were particularly useful in sopping up the remaining soft egg and chilli jam from the first dish.

Last, but certainly not least, the Wagyu beef and bamboo shoot dumplings with their cashew soy dipping sauce graced the narrow bar. There were different types of dumplings on the menu, but these had grabbed my eye, along with a supporting endorsement from the bartender. Well seasoned Wagyu beef (the same breed used for the famous Kobe beef) and bamboo shoots were folded into thin gyoza wrappers and steamed and fried in the traditional manner. The texture was very interesting, akin to a great beef tartare, and provided just enough zip to make it interesting without losing the subtleties of such well marbled beef.

I was nicely full from my four plates, but after finishing up and cleansing my palate with the last of the beer, determined I had enough room for dessert. I ordered a latte and the apple and vanilla dumplings with rhubarb soup and coconut sorbet, and was then offered to move upstairs to the lounge to have dessert. Brand new, the upstairs had only opened on the previous Monday and was turning into an extra dining area on busy nights. A few tall tables, a bar with a half dozen stools, and a few cozy low ottomans provided a few seating choices. I sat at the bar and when dessert arrived a few minutes later, was equally as impressed. Thin dumpling wrappers stuffed with an apple and vanilla filling, served warm in a delicious thin rhubarb soup. The soup was actually quite like one my former pastry chef Dawne used to make with panna cotta, and was a nice complement to the warm apples. The coconut sorbet was extremely smooth and flavourful, and the texture leads me to believe they use a pacojet, an innovative machine which basically churns the sorbet fresh each time you serve it.

I’ll have to ask next time, which will certainly come soon, this time with a few others to help work through the very well executed menu. Gingerboy can be found at 27-29 Crossley Street, a few blocks from the Parliament buildings in Melbourne’s CBD.