Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Co Thu Quan, Footscray by Big Fil

One of the things about Vietnamese cafes in Melbourne is that, generally, there's not that much variation in the basic menu. Co Thu Quan though offers some more unusual variations of Vietnamese street food, in sizes and at prices that encourage exploration of the menu, and in an atmosphere that's about as authentic South-East Asian that you're likely to find in Melbourne.


I always love the smells and bustle of the Little Saigon market. I think it's much more interesting than it's nearby big sister and it's where I always seem to end up when visiting Footscray. It always feels incredibly vibrant, the smell of the herbs permeates the air and it's narrow walkways makes it feel much more intimate. Sitting in the cafes is probably my favourite place in Melbourne to people watch too - arguably only a window seat at Hell's Kitchen in Centre Place can compare (see Kit Kat's review back in May 2010).


If you want to get the best out of Co Thu Quan it's important to be a bit adventurous. At first blush my favourite out of everything we tried may not sound to everyone's taste, a coconut beef offal stew served with mini baguette on the side (Pha Lau). Absolutely delicious though, with bits of lung and tripe and other unidentified cuts sitting in a gently flavoured broth perfect for dunking the bread in. Flavours are mild and with almost no smell, it's one of the best things I've tried all year.


That is not to say that the rest of the menu lets the team down. If you are looking for something more familiar there are a couple of rice paper roll options, with the Bo Bia including Chinese sausage and basil.


Or there are the spring roll like Bahn Trang Cuon, mini rice paper wrappers filled with fried shallots, beef jerky, sour mango and dried shrimp, topped with a streak of mayonnaise. The skin is thinner and a bit crisper than your typical Chinese restaurant style version, the filling a bit herbier and stronger flavoured.


Another interesting dish which used the rice paper wrappers was the Bahn Trang Tron, a rice paper wrapper salad with green sour mango, beef jerky, dried shrimp, crushed peanuts and Vietnamese mint. Not mentioned on the menu but also included were some pork scratchings and a quails egg (yum). One of those dishes that I'd put in the glad I tried it category without really tickling my tastebuds to the extent I'd order over untried menu items.


Final dish tried was the Bahn Day Cha Com, a sticky rice cake with fried pork patty, kind of like a large gelatinous dumpling with a mini pork schnitzel filling. The flavours are fairly restrained but it's the unusual texture which made this stand out, the soft and slightly chewy rice cake with the slight crispness of the pork patty.


The drinks here are interesting too, with my selection one that you can eat with a spoon equally as well as drink with a straw, the avocado shake. It's green, it's thick like a thick shake, and it comes served in an old jar (so very Melbourne!). Flavour wise it's like a creamy avocado, and the one here is possibly the best I've found in Melbourne.

Verdict
Food - 8
Service - 7
Ambience - 8
Price - 7.5

Overall
Go wild, order things you've never seen before, and you'll have a ball here (or at least I did). Services is a little disorganised but the owner is very friendly, to the extent that during a quiet period we spent nearly ten minutes chatting as I paid the bill. And afterwards, if interested, go and check out the Heavenly Mother Temple next to the river.


Heavenly Mother Temple

Address
Shop 22, Little Saigon Market
63 Nicholson Street
Footscray VIC 3011
Tel: 0412 685 558

Cô Thư Quán on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

MeatMaiden, Melbourne CBD by Bureaucrat

Gothic overtones and dead meat - that pretty much sums up MeatMaiden.  Located far below the daylight dwelling office folk, our clanging footsteps on the metal staircase echo off the shiny white tiles as we made our way past the hidden sanctum that is MeatMaiden.  

A moody den of darkened booths, a display of carrion and, to liven up the atmosphere, pretty young waitresses awaiting your order.

Meaaaaat!

Ensconced in our booth, the four of us decided to go for the score 6 wagyu.  With a minimum order of 900 grams (each 100 gram is $12), we ordered our 1.1kgs of wagyu to be served medium rare, which the waitress noted was the way they served it here.  That was the closest we ever came to the wagyu.

This was about 500gms of brisket - the other 600gms was on another tray.

What came instead was 1.1kgs of brisket.  It was funny because we were so hyped up about having the wagyu that we were all puzzled about the dish that was presented.  Mr A and I remarked that it didn't look like wagyu (none of the pockets of translucent fatty goodness); within two bites, Mr G commented that it tasted like pork; Mr P said that for something was supposed to be medium rare, this was pretty much well cooked; and I said that it tasted of brisket.  Despite all the doubts, we didn't question or ask the staff whether we were served the wrong thing - because the waitress had confirmed our order at the time.

Despite being bummed that we didn't get what we ordered (clearly the waitress got the order wrong, as our bill said 1.1kgs of brisket at $10 per 100gms), the brisket was tasty.  Thin but large slices of very tender beef that had a very earthy-bbq smoky flavour.  On the outside was a pepper based rub. The meat was tender and there was a nice amount of melt-in-your-mouth layer of fat on top to keep things juicy. This was easily the best brisket I've ever have had.  We also had fun trying out the housemade condiments - chilli sauce, BBQ sauce and seeded mustard (all of them were very nice) with the meat.

Ignoring all pretenses of being healthy, we loaded up on two carb-based sides (you don't make friends with salad) - chips, which were nicely crispy and...

...mash and gravy, which was heavenly as it was creamy, rich and smooth.

I also got a serve of housemade lemonade, which was nicely tart and not too sweet.

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

Overall
The biggest let down was the waitress getting our order wrong.  The good points are that the meat is tasty, as were the sides, and you definitely leave feeling full. 

I don't have anything against MeatMaiden but I'm not sure that I'd go back in a hurry.  Sure, its kitschy, it's moody and it's fun to discover something different but I'm not sure this place lends itself to repeat visits (at least for me).  The place captures the soulless, nihilistic vibe quite well and, frankly, if I'm going for a nice steak, I prefer to eat in surroundings that are more in line with my bourgeois sensibilities.

Address
MeatMaiden
Basement, 195 Lt Collins St
Melbourne 3000
Telephone: 9078 7747 

Meatmaiden on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Fudgery, Banff (Canada) by Bureaucrat

With the glorious late summer sun, the Lawyer did the touristy thing and decided to amble up and down Banff following our dinner at Tooloulou's.

There's a couple of confectionery shops in Banff - and one of them is The Fudgery.  It's a narrow shop that has it's diabetes-inducing wares displayed by the window... taunting, tempting and teasing you to come in and be like Charlie Bucket.  If the visual display doesn't get you, then the oh-so-aromatic perfume of roasted pecans and caramel will definitely draw you in.

Inside, you'll find a range of fudge on sale (sold by per 100 grams), bear claws, toffee and candy covered apples and a range of biscuits decorated with a lot of chocolate, sugar and nuts.  We chose the pecan butter fudge.  A soft but chewy nougat slab, smothered in smooth fudge and absolutely covered with roasted pecans.  It's tooth-achingly sweet and sinful but we couldn't stop eating it.  It would have been better had we had a cup of tea to temper the sweetness.  And, dang it, we're on holidays, and everyone knows that holiday calories don't count.

Verdict
Food – 7
Service – 6.5
Ambience – 7
Price – 6.5

Overall
You're inner child will love this place but your dentist may not.

Address
The Fudgery
215 Banff Ave  
Banff, AB T1L
Telephone: (403) 762-3003

The Fudgery on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tooloulou's, Banff (Canada) by Bureaucrat

Having had the chance to wander through downtown Banff, we were able to pick a nice spot for dinner - Tooloulou's a restaurant with a Francophile-bayou vibe.

It wasn't hard to chose this place as the promise of deliciousness such as crab cakes, jambalaya and seafood was hard to ignore.

While it was easy to pick the restaurant, it took longer for us to pick our meals as there were plenty of options. 

The Lawyer picked the seafood and sausage gumbo - a rich seafood stew w shrimps, clams, scallops, Andouille sausage served over Cajun "dirty rice" (which is white rice cooked with a range of seasonings to get a dirty appearance).  It came with a nice slab of warm, fluffy cornbread and pickled chillies.  He loved this dish, although, it seemed to resemble jambalaya than a true gumbo (which is meant to be soupier).

To ensure that I ate some veggies during my trip, I chose the mile high stir fry but opted to get some blackened scallops as an extra on top.  To my delight, the stir fry was pretty damn good.  A great mix of different chunky veg (zucchini, broccoli, onion, caps and mushrooms) that were nicely al dente, fresh and flavoursome (it was tossed through a savoury sauce) and served over white rice.  The small but plump and plentiful scallops were cooked just perfect (not over cooked) and sweet.  There were far more than I thought I'd get for the seven bucks.  It also came with the cornbread, which was sweeter than I imagined cornbread to be.

Verdict
Food – 8.5
Ambiance – 7
Service – 7
Price - 7.5

Overall
Really great food - pretty good serves, flavor and freshness.  If we had stayed longer, I'd definitely go back there for food.  The only minor quibble is the slightly odd staff who can be a bit standoffish with a hint of surliness.

Address
Tooloulou's
204 Caribou St  
Banff AB T1L
Telephone: (403) 762-2633

Tooloulou's Restaurant on Urbanspoon
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