Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mamak, Melbourne CBD by Bureaucrat

Mamak is a restaurant that's rather popular in Sydney, which has found its way into Melbourne.  When it first opened, I remember the buzz about the fact that it was opening, and the long queues of people lining up for a table every day.  Big Fil went there a few weeks after it opened (see his review in September 2012).  

As I'm quite skeptical of most things, I figured, if Mamak is good, then it would be around for some time and, as such, I don't need to hurry to try the food there.  When I first ate there (over a year ago), I didn't see what the big deal was.  The food was okay but I thought it was a bit pricey for what it was. I didn't have anything against the place but I wasn't in a hurry to go back.

So a few weeks ago, it happened that we needed a quick apres work dinner.  As it was before 6pm, the place wasn't full and we got a table straightaway.

We got two mains and some roti chanai to share.  The roti was flaky and light and came with some dipping sauces.  By memory, the yellow one was had some lentils and wasn't too spicy (it was our preferred sauce), while the orangey one was bit more spicy.  We didn't even try the chilli sauce because it'd probably be too hot for us.  While the roti was freshly made and the sauces were nice in flavour, the sauces, however, were lukewarm.  Tsk.

For the mains, we got nasi lemak w curry chicken ($12).  Instead of curry chicken, you can choose curry fish, lamb or veggies; sambal prawn or cuttlefish; or fried chicken.  A big mound of coconut rice was the good thing - as were the ikan bilis, roasted peanuts, cubes of cukes and the boiled egg.  The curry chicken itself was rather mingy.  Two pieces of mostly bone and gristle with very little meat, and also served rather lukewarm.  Definitely not worth the $12.

The mee goreng ($12) was slightly better - at least it was freshly cooked.  Stir fried Hokkein noodles w egg, prawns, fish cake and bean sprouts.  It was okay but nothing exceptional or noteworthy about it.

Food – 6.5
Atmosphere – 7
Service – 7
Price - 6

While my first visit I thought Mamak was 'meh', based on my latest visit, my thoughts are "I'm not coming back".  There was a whiff of MSG from one or both of dishes - I couldn't tell which one though.  It was enough to make me feel really thirsty afterwards.  
Food is average - you can certainly get better for cheaper or at the same price elsewhere.  I still can't understand what the big deal about this place is (and there are still queues during the peak dining times).  For the price, the serving size is on the wee side - we were both still hungry afterwards.  I certainly wouldn't line up to eat here.

This ain't a cheap and cheerful sort of place.  It's mid-range but they still expect you to clear your table asap so they can give it to the next lot of diners.  Overall, I find Mamak a bit of a rip-off.

366 Lonsdale St  
Melbourne 3000
Telephone: 9670 3137

Mamak on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Coconut House, Melbourne CBD by Bureaucrat

Continuing my culinary expedition along Elizabeth Street (the bit near Vic Market), I convinced my team that we go to Coconut House for lunch.

CH is a funny place.  It’s actually in two locations, on the same street, but just with a few shops in between it.  You can order and eat in either shop, but the food is made in only one of the shops.  If you’re sitting in the other shop (as we were), you can see your food being delivered from the  other shop via the street pavement.

The menu is quite extensive and I love the cute Malaysian drawings they have up on the walls.  And rather pleasingly, the dishes are less than $10.  The dishes we ordered were around $8-$10.  Pretty impressive given how expensive eating out can be these days.

I went for the combination curry laksa, which came with sliced chicken, mint, tofu, fish cake, mussels and prawns.  The laksa wasn’t too spicy, which was a good thing for more.  I quite liked how the chicken was tender and that everything was pretty reasonable in terms of quality and quantity.  I also ordered a nicely tart iced lemon tea to go with it.

Mr G and Mr A both went for one of the house specials – the hometown fried chicken chop mee pok.  Mee pok is a flat egg noodle dish and is served with marinated mince pork and special sauce and egg noodles. Served with or without chilli oil.  It also comes served with a braised egg.  They both seemed to like it.  

Mr G went for the BBQ pork and BBQ chicken w rice and braised egg.  It also came with a small bowl of soup, and he seemed quite happy with this too.

Food – 7
Ambience – 7
Service – 7
Price – 9

The food is quite reasonable and I can see why it’s so popular among uni students and office workers.  The serves are reasonably sized and the ingredients are also pretty good.  I can’t get over the price, which is super cheap.  Usually super cheap means super crap, but not here.  

Check out Big Fil’s review back in May 2010.

Coconut House
449 Elizabeth Street
Melbourne 3000
Telephone: 329 6401

Coconut House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cholo's Peruvian Restaurant, Dickson (ACT) by Big Fil

It’s a long time since I’ve lived in North Canberra but even back in the mid 90’s Dickson was known as the place to go for cheap and tasty Asian food.  Staying at The Pavilion on Northbourne Avenue gave me a chance to visit again and there are still a lot of cheap to mid-range options for those on a bit of a tight budget.  What I didn’t expect to wander on past though on a dark side road was an interesting looking Peruvian restaurant.

Cholo’s is casual in design with lots of brown and bright red colours and a few pictures around the wall reminding diners of the ‘exotic’ nature of the food.  Combined with the friendly warmth of the serving staff it feels a bit like a family run restaurant.

Visiting on two separate nights meant that I could sample a dish from both the regular menu and one of the specials.  First night from the specials it was the Adobo de Chancho, pork loin topped with Spanish onion, yellow chilli and coriander sauce, served with a salad of diced potato, corn, beetroot, carrot, egg and peas, and rice topped with fried sweet potato strips.  The pork was nicely cooked, the sauce mildly flavoured with a touch of sweetness cut through by the coriander (always a good match with pork).  The salad is reminiscent of a Russian or Potato salad and while the addition of the rice felt a little strange it was useful in mopping up the rest of the sauce.

The following night from the regular menu it was the Pollo a la Brassa, roasted chicken served with a garden salad and Papas (chips by another name?) and topped again by fried sweet potato.  Well seasoned and cooked chicken, respectable chips, served a moderately hot chilli sauce, what let it down a little was that the garden salad felt a little perfunctory.  While I did quite enjoy this what struck me a little about both meals is that it all felt quite familiar in style and taste - pork with potato salad, roast chicken with garden salad.

There are a few desert options, including a torta tres leches, a sponge cake soaked in three different sorts of milk, condensed milk, evaporated milk and cream.  Given the ingredients the cake is lighter than you would expect, but it also didn’t have the delicious luxuriousness of some other versions that I have tried.

One thing you should definitely try if you visit is the pisco sour.  Popular in both Peru and with Chile, when it arrives at your table it is pretty and frothy, and the sweetness of the sugar lined glass rim contrasts with the sourness of the drink.  Just delicious.

Comfortable and familiar feeling with just a few different touches, Cholo’s is a good neighbourhood restaurant and somewhere I am glad to have tried but not necessarily somewhere I would rush back to visit if in Canberra.  It did feel a little tame, that the dishes on offer reflected those designed to appeal to a local palate more than what might be found at a typical Peruvian cafe.  But then again, I’ve never been to Peru.

Food – 7.5
Ambience – 7
Service – 7.5
Price – 6.5

Shop 68, 12 Challis St 
Dickson ACT 2602
Telephone: 02 6248 8648

Cholo's Peruvian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 14, 2014

East Empress, Glen Waverley by Bureaucrat

For a family celebration, Mother Hen was in charge and had picked East Empress as the place for our dinner.

In Glen Waverley area, there's no shortage of Chinese restaurants.  However, EE is one of the more slightly upmarket suburban Chinese restaurants.  Over the years, we've been to EE a few times - I think mainly because it's convenient to us and the place is a bit more swish than your run of the mill suburban Chinese restaurant.  

I still have a little chuckle to myself when I drive past EE, as it's pretty hard to miss.  Located on Springvale Road (near The Glen), it has a massive capital E that's done up in red lighting to subtly let everyone know its presence.

As it's been so long since I last ate at EE, I had forgotten what it looked like on the inside.  It's quite a big restaurant, that's spread out across two floors.  And, surprisingly, it's quite nicely decked out with a nice blend of traditional Asian accents with a slight 90s edge to it.  The mood lighting gives the place a bit more class and ambiance.

We headed upstairs to our table, and we were quite impressed that the whole floor was already filled out with diners - mostly Westerners.  It's clearly the place for entertaining, as most of the tables were big tables (8+ seats).

As it was a special occasion, Mother Hen went for one of the banquets (the $46.90 pp), which gets you four entrees, two mains, dessert and tea/coffee.  Given that Bubba Chuck is a child, we asked if we could swap her cup of tea for a glass of soft drink/juice.  The response was pretty unimpressive.  It was no.  Because apparently providing a soft drink instead of tea isn't factored into the price of the meal.  I mean, sheesh, I doubt very much that giving us a glass of soft drink would eat into their profit margins that much (if at all).  Plus, as we were paying full price for Bubba Chuck, you'd figured it's not an unreasonable request from us.  Tsk, tsk, tsk.

The first of the entrees was a seafood curry served in a scallop shell.  Initially, we thought there'd be at least some scallops in it, but no, it's just diced chicken and veg that's served in a shell.  This a bit claggy in texture and a tad greasy with the crumbed topping.  

Next was san choy bao.  This was a pretty big serve of the minced chicken and veg.  While I didn't care for that sauce that was squirted on top, I did like the filling.  Crunchy, pleasing textures and piping hot.  There was so much filling that I had to eat this with a spoon.

Then came the Peking duck, which you got two serves each.  The duck was nice - a nice chunky slice with a crispy skin.  Although, I would have liked more cucumber and spring onions in it.

The last of the entrees was the grandly named "harmonious blend of prawns and scallops wok-tossed with crunchy snow peas".  Good points were that the seafood were fairly big in size and it was stir fried with lots of Chinese cooking wine and ginger.  The not so good point was that the seafood tasted and looked like it had been frozen for a very long time.

The first of the two mains was Cantonese fillet steak w rice.  Nice big pieces of tender steak with a nice tomatoey sauce and lots of onion slivers.

The other main dish was teriyaki chicken with special fried rice.  However, in my I'm-getting-too-full state, I forgot to take a photo of it.  While the large chunks of chicken was meh, I did like the fried rice which had reasonable amount of wok hei.

Given that all the dishes had come out pretty quickly, there was a bit of a wait before our dessert came out - this was a good thing since we were all very full.  There's nothing fancy or artistic about the deep fried bananas or pineapple ring with a slab of vanilla ice cream.  But hey, it's sometimes the unfancy stuff that appeals to the kid in us.  A light crispy batter and the drizzle of caramel pretty much erased what little dietary goodness there was in the fruit.  Good but bad at the same time.

Food – 7
Service – 6.5
Ambiance – 7.5
Price – 6.5

For a place that's pitching itself as something more than the average suburban Chinese restaurant, EE sort of delivers.  It's got the ambiance and the menu selection but the actual food is mixed.  Some of the dishes were above average (san choy bao, Peking duck and the Cantonese beef) with good flavours and nice ingredients but the rest of the dishes weren't that memorable or noteworthy (what with the frozen ingredients and lack of scallops in the first entree).   

Service was prompt but I couldn't get past the whole "we're not giving you a soft drink in lieu of the tea because it's not part of the price".

East Empress
263 Springvale Road
Glen Waverley 3150
Telephone: 9887 8388

East Empress on Urbanspoon
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