Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hakata Gensuke Ramen (by invitation), Melbourne CBD by Bureaucrat

It seems like overnight that an explosion of ramen shops have sprung up around town.  Possibly the newest ramen shop that has opened is Hataka Gensuke on Russell Street.  Big Fil and I were invited to try some ramen on its first day of its soft opening last week (it officially opened last Friday). 
Hakata is a district in the city of Fukuoka where tonkotsu (pork bone noodle soup) ramen was first invented in Japan.  This is the first time that Hakata ramen is available in Australia and Master Chef Kousuke Yoshimura is heading up his team to initiate Melbourne diners to this delicious soupy dish.
Upping the authenticity quotient, upon entering the restaurant, each diner is welcomed by a rousing IRASSHAIMASE! from all the staff.  I’ve never experienced this before and I love it – it’s so infectious!  You also get a rousing farewell when you leave.
We got to try chicken kaarage as our entrée.  These have to be the best kaarage that I’ve ever eaten.  The thinnest, crispiest crust which covered a trio of the juiciest chicken pieces.  So very morish.
I had to try the signature tonkotsu ramen.  For me, the quality of the ramen is in the soup.  Made from a master stock, the soup here is made with lots of pork bones.  It’s a very deep pork flavour and the soup has almost gelatinous texture to it due to the high amount of collagen in the bones (apart from the nutritional benefits this is great for those worried about avoiding wrinkles!)
Each table has a range of condiments, including do-it-yourself ground sesame seeds, minced garlic, dressings and pickled veg (shown above).
The noodles here are slightly chewier and flatter than your typical ramen noodles.  You also get to customise your dish by choosing how firm you want your noodles to be.  The tonkotsu comes with lots of spring onions, black fungus (wood ear) and a slice of pork. 
Another condiment - fresh, pickled ginger (my favourite).
You can also add extra toppings, including marinated egg, bamboo shoots, seaweed, cha siu, veggies and even extra noodles. While you can customise your bowl of ramen, adding the extra ingredients could potentially turn it into a more expensive bowl of noodles.
Big Fil ordered the shio tonkotsu.  I think ‘shio’ means ‘light’ and refers to the depth of flavour of the soup.  It came with bamboo shoots, spring onions and also a slice of pork.  While he admits that he isn't the biggest fan of ramen he did like the lighter, fresher, ‘cleaner’ taste of the broth. To him, the broth was definitely porky but without the somewhat ‘muddied’ flavours that he usually doesn't like.

Food – 7.5*
Service – 7.5
Ambience - 7
Price – 7*
*Scores are notional as we were guests of Hakata Gensuke
Hakata Gensuke is a great addition to ramen scene in the city.  I really like the tonkotsu broth and there’s a great family vibe to the place.  I’m going go back to try their black tonkotsu (the soup and noodles look black!), the gyozas and to have them delicious chicken kaarage again.
Hakata Gensuke Ramen
168 Russell St  
Melbourne 3000
Telephone: 9654 4040

Hakata Gensuke Ramen on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 18, 2014

Chuckle Deli, Melbourne CBD by Big Fil

Chuckle Deli recently opened in the Hub Arcade, just around the corner from Chuckle Park Bar and Café, surprisingly replacing a small Vietnamese eatery that had always looked fairly popular. 
Walking past Chuckle Deli looked very attractive, with the small menu interesting.  It’s always fun to be amongst the first to try out new places so Snooze and I headed out one cold and wet day (pick a day, any day in the last two weeks) to see what it was all about.
Arriving around 12 I thought would guarantee us one of the three tables inside.  Wrong, and so we were relegated to one of the two outside tables.  Not a real problem though, as unlike some of the arcades and laneways around town Hub Arcade never seems to suffer from the wind tunnel effect and we were able to sit and enjoy our meals in comfort.
The menu is based on offering four salads and four rolls which are on rotation.  On this day we chose two of the rolls, and a salad to share.  All the salads sounded tempting but we (or rather I) settled on the lentil salad, served with smoked trout and pink grapefruit from memory.  The lentils gave the salad quite a strong flavour, the grapefruit a sour punch which when combined with the lentils I thought overpowered the fish a bit, although Snooze liked it a lot.  Different strokes for different folks I guess.
I thought the sandwiches were better, even if Snooze did beat me to my first choice of the Rueben.  Combine good bread, nice corned beef, a bit of sauerkraut and a real punch from the mustard and you have a quality, well flavoured sandwich. 
My Katsu roll on the other hand combined a well-cooked piece of crumbed, fried chicken meat with creaminess added by the accompanying mayonnaise.  If you’ve never had a katsu roll before just imagine a really good chicken schnitzel roll and you’ll get the idea.

Small but very cute, Chuckle Deli strikes me as both a good place to meet a (small) group of friends for lunch, or to grab a quick bite to take back to the office.  Service is friendly (although you’ll have to wait if you order the katsu roll – it’s cooked fresh) and they definitely seem keen about what they are doing.  The sort of place that there wasn’t much to criticise, all very good without anything really blowing our socks off.

Food – 8
Ambience – 8
Service – 8
Price – 7

Shop 5
318-322 Little Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: (03) 9650 4494

Chuckle Deli on Urbanspoon

Warra Warra, Melbourne CBD by Bureaucrat

With no shortage of Korean places around town, it doesn’t necessarily translate to good eats all around.  My most recent visit to Oriental Spoon Story 2 was rather disappointing.  However, Big Fil is in the know and took me to Warra Warra which, after my first visit, is now on my list of top Korean ‘cheap eats’ in the city.
Located at the back of the Tivoli Arcade (or behind Swanston Street, depending on how you get there), Warra Warra is not visible at the street level.  It’s under a stairwell, behind an arcade and it has another café in front it, and unless you’re looking out for it, you probably never know this place existed.
On the basis that consensus is a good thing, consensus was that many Koreans were having lunch here – a good sign.  Another good sign was the buzzing, happening vibe to the place.
I went for a lunch deal, which included choosing beef bulgogi, takoyaki and rice for $9.50.  Lots of tender, marinated beef  (with a nice amount of spring onions through it), served with lots of fluffy rice.  The takoyaki were good, as was the crisp salad.  I couldn't finish this off as there was just too much.
Big Fil went for the a spicy beef stew (I think it was the galbi jjim) w angel hair pasta for $12.90.  It looked pretty tasty but I didn’t dare to try it because it was spicy.  According to Big Fil, he really liked his dish.  The beef was very tender and the broth had a good, warming chilli punch to it without being bitingly hot. 
Food – 8
Ambiance – 7.5
Service - 7
Price – 7.5
I really like the sleek, urban and street cred vibe to Warra Warra.  Service is friendly and prompt; and the food is tasty and quite competitively priced. Definitely repeat visits will be warranted (pun intended!).

Warra Warra
Tivoli Arcade, Shop 19-20
Melbourne 3000
Telephone: 9662 2077
Warra Warra on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Rae's Restaurant (by invitation), Dixons Creek by Bureaucrat

Balgownie Estate is a winery in the Yarra Ranges, which is about an hour north from the city. 

We were invited to try Rae Restaurant's menu at Balgownie Estate, which is being led by head chef, Graham Taute.

Many of the herbs and seasonal vegetables on the menu are cultivated at the estate’s own veggie patch or sourced from local producers.

There’s nothing like a welcoming fireplace and expansive views of green hills and blue skies. 

Comfy couches and the glass cathedral ceilings provide a relaxing and spacious feel to the dining area.

The view from our table.

Accompanying me to the lunch was Mr Strong who chose a glass of Balgownie Estate’s 2013 pinot noir.  The grapes for the pinot noir are grown at the estate.  Mr Strong quite liked the smooth, delicate and a hint of cherry flavor in the wine. 

As I wanted dessert, we decided to share an entrée.  This was one of the specials of the day – prawns with a citrus salad, which was served chilled.  A quintet of meaty poached prawns, on a base of cumin spiced avo puree, rocket and lemon segments.  I loved the interplay of the strong flavours against each other - the delicate sweet prawn with the earthy cumin, peppery rocket and the burst of sharp citrus from the lemon.   This was quite delightful and a great way to whet the appetite.

For mains, I ordered the White Rabbit beer battered fish.  Two very chunky and fresh fillets of rockling were encased in a light, crispy batter.  The fish was the standout dish of the day.  The succulent, pearlescent white flesh was delicious; and the celeriac remoulade was spot on.  Delicate strands of al dente celeriac with a rich, creamy dressing that had slivers of red onion to balance the richness.  It made a pleasant change to the usual blob of tartare sauce.  The chunky chips were gorgeously golden, light and fluffy.

Following the strength of the entrée and the fish, Mr Strong’s spaghetti Bolognese was a bit underwhelming.  While it was a nice plate of pasta – al dente spaghetti, a rich Bolognese – we were both expecting something more that would lift the dish to a higher level.  Perhaps a luxe garnish or specialty ingredient in the Bolognese to make the dish a bit more special.

When I was studying the menu, my eyes had zeroed in on the crepes Suzette for two.  There’s something that’s so timeless yet retro about this dessert and I was really looking forward to ordering it.  However, we were told that it was only available at dinner.  Instead, we ordered the caramelised condensed milk and honeycomb semifreddo, served with honeycomb crumble and strawberries.  The smooth semifreddo had a lovely honey flavor and it wasn’t too sweet.  The honeycomb crumble, however, was quite sweet and sticky – those with dentures beware!

However, the sweetness of the dessert was tempered with our cups of tea and coffee.

Food – 7.5*
Ambiance – 7.5
Service – 7.5
Price – 7*
*Scores are notional as we were guests of Rae’s Restaurant.

Rae’s Restaurant is a nice scenic spot for a meal.  Service is friendly and with a smile - our waitress, Kerri, looked after us well.

The food is done well and the dishes are large serves, which is reflected in the price.  While the manager did explain that their lunch menu is geared towards the casual visitor/day-tripper (think: burgers, Caesar salad and the spaghetti Bolognese), I was rather hoping and expecting that being a restaurant that’s attached to a winery in the Yarra Valley the menu selection would be a bit more gourmet in design.  We were told that this menu design was in response to the feedback from their regular clientele who often dine at Rae’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout their stay.

The composition and execution of the prawn entrée and the beer battered fish w the celeriac remoulade are more in line with what I was expecting across the menu.  I accept that not everyone that dines at a winery are foodies, but I would think that there is scope to offer burgers and salads on the menu but to do something to make them a bit more special – perhaps a specialty ingredient or garnish to make the dishes a bit different and memorable. 

My preference would be to come here and opt for the lunch specials; or come for dinner (the dinner options include slow-cooked ox cheek, boned spatchcock and the crepes Suzette) but it’d probably mean you’d miss out on the lovely view that you get during the day.

Rae's Restaurant
Balgownie Estate
1309 Melba Hwy 
Yarra Glen 3775
Telephone: 03 9730 0774

Rae's Restaurant, Balgownie Estate on Urbanspoon
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