Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Heirloom - Modern Izakaya and Sake Bar

Japanese food is one of my favourite types of cuisines along with French food. So it was with much delight that I accepted an invite to attend a new modern izakaya and sake bar in Heirloom restaurant. I was joined at the meal by my friends and fellow food bloggers April, Agnes, I-Hua and Claire. We were trying out a special bloggers menu which contains many similar elements to the restaurant's current 6 course degustation menu.

The meal started with Sashimi and Kushiyaki (grilled meat on skewers). The sashimi was supremely fresh and eaten simply with soy and fresh wasabi, a great clean start to the meal. I don't get to eat fresh wasabi often and it's really beautiful stuff and taste so much better with the sashimi. Following the sashimi were chicken and pork belly skewers. They had a wonderful charcoal flavour and the meat was really tender.

The next lot of entrees we ate were a Wagyu Tataki, a Salmon Yukke, Potato Dango and Pitoro Gyoza. The Wagyu Tataki below was a really zingy dish that I kept wanting more of. The yuzu jelly and wasabi dressing went wonderfully with it. I didn't think any entree could beat that but the Salmon Yukke definitely did. A runny egg sat upon a bed of salmon with crispy potato and truffled cauliflower. The combination of flavours were superb and my favourite dish of the night. The Potato Dango is a Japanese gnocchi of sort (potato squares fried) served with a Roquefort and miso cream. It was so simple again but so good. Lastly, the Pitoro Gyoza (pork jaw meat) was one of the best gyozas you'll try anywhere.

From the amazing entrees, we moved into mains. I must say I was a bit disappointed with the mains after the stunning entrees we had just eaten. The Quinoa Kingfish Teriyaki with Japanese mushrooms and parsnip puree was quite good, but not really memorable. The dish did contain soy sauce but I question how Japanese in flavours it is. I'm not trying to pigeonhole the restaurant into just doing Japanese food, but clearly the more Japanese focused entrees were far superior to this dish.

The Heirloom Kaisen Takikomi Rice was a big casserole of rice with Hokkaido king crab, prawns, mussels and calamari. I felt all the seafood were a tad dry and didn't really shine in their flavours. Once you ate the seafood, the rice was quite bland and dry and didn't have the rich seafood flavours such as that of a paella.

The dish that I was anticipating most was the Wagyu Ribs Sukiyaki. The Wagyu ribs were super soft and very nice in flavour. The soy sauce was a bit salty and dominated the flavours of the various vegetables. It was a good dish but again I keep going back to how good the entrees were.

With our meal, we were served a variety of different Japanese beers and a Japanese sake. The beers were very good but the sake was awesome, one of the best sakes I've tried. The sake range is obviously quite extensive as they pride themselves as a sake bar as well. You can sit at the round bar area to drink your sake and snack on some izakaya items if you don't want a full meal. The room is divided into a number of areas with traditional tables, high tables and a bar area. The lighting is kept fairly low, but not totally dark, and the room has a nice feel to it. I can't really comment on the service as we were dining as guests but the wait staff all seemed friendly.

Overall, I like the food but the entrees alone were the highlight for me. The flavours of the entrees were all fairly simply and the quality of the ingredients and clear flavours really shine through. I would definitely go back just for the entrees and recommend you also try them out with some beautiful sake.

I dined courtesy of Heirloom restaurant.
Heirloom on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Prahran Market - Good Food Everywhere

This post is Sponsored by Nuffnang.

As an avid food lover, one thing I love to do is visit markets and supermarkets. When on holiday, one of my planned activities is to spend many hours at markets and at supermarkets to see what food the locals eat. I'll walk around and eye at everything and want to buy all the good things I see. We're lucky in Melbourne to have our own very great markets to visit. One such market is the Prahran Market. The Prahran Markets have been around since 1864 when it first started at Greville Street and then since 1891 in it's current location. Fire has erupted through the market in the 1950s but has since been rebuilt and what is currently standing has been that way since the 1970s.

I was fortunate enough to go on a tour of the Prahran Market, led by the food loving Kathy. Kathy helped to highlight not only all the great food in the market, but also the history and people behind the stalls. I learned about Pino and his plight to get to Australia to join his childhood sweetheart Maria. While Maria was allowed to enter Australia, Pino wasn't and it was only after he rescued someone back in his hometown and was given a favour by his Government that he got to come to Australia.

Through the market, you will get to meet some very passionate food lovers, such as MJ Mow and Damian Pike, both of whom show such enthusiasm about their produce in potatoes and mushrooms. These two gentlemen are the only non-chefs to be honored by the food industry for their contributions.

Fresh fruit and veggies abound in the market, but you will also find a variety of other items, such as a shop specialising in various containers, wonderful fresh flowers, and some delicious Tad Lombardo chocolates.

The market has lots of meat and fish stalls, but one that caught my attention was Cester's Poultry and Game stall. These guys sell everything that is poultry and game related. You can pick up some rabbit, goat, quail, pheasant, guinea fowl and whatever else your mind can conjure up. I am totally eyeing off the rabbit and will be going back to buy some for a dish I've wanted to make for a while.

If rabbit is not your thing, they also make loads of poultry products, such as rissoles, pies, kebabs and sausages. The flavour combinations all look to be great matches and definitely worth trying.

Shopping around the markets can be tiring work so one must stop at recover, and my personal recommendation is recover at Pastry Twist. Here you will find this wonderful gentleman making Hungarian Donuts, or Kurtoskalaks. These donuts will blow your mind away. So you get the awesome donut yeasty taste, but you also get this caramelised sugary exterior. Blended with the cinnamon, they are knee-weakeningly good. While you may be tempted to go with the chocolate, or chocolate and nut version, please please please I implore you to stick with the cinnamon version. The flavours of the cinnamon really shine through and tastes so good.

Once you've purchased your fruit, veg and meat, you obviously need to visit the delis and pastry shops to buy all the essentials of cured meat and cakes right. Ok I joke but I do love my cured meats and desserts. I think I could live off those two things alone if my heart would allow me.

Be tempted by beautiful Salted Caramel Macarons or the rather erotic looking Marshmallows which they sell from a table outside Naheda's Choice. The lady stallkeeper will also encourage you to eat the marshmallows a certain way. I'll leave that for you to find out when you go yourself if you dare.

If eating erotic marshmallows are not your thing (of which I have to ask you why not), you can grab some delicious Lebanese pastries from Abla's, who sells the pastries out of massive metal pans.

As you can see, the market caters to everyone needs for your essential items, but will also tempt you with a huge variety of treats and goodies from all other the world. The stall holders are all passionate about their trade and will help give you loads of useful information, while also sharing some stories with you if you ask them. I'd highly recommend you go to the Prahran Markets and load your trolley up with heaps of good food.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Road Trip - Portarlington, Point Lonsdale, Queenscliff

You know you're far behind in your blogging when you post about a road trip in Summer during the Winter months. I thought the trip was loads of fun and worth telling other people so here's an idea for somewhere to go next Summer, or even during Winter.

During Summer, my friends and I took a road trip with the idea to eat mussels at Portarlington as our main destination, but really we just decided to stop at many locations as the trip progressed. The Portarlington town is very nice and has a great pier from which you can walk and enjoy the sea breezes. The waters were still a tad cold so we didn't swim but some braver young kids were definitely lapping up the cold clear water.

For lunch, we decided to try the Portarlington Grand Hotel. They had a number of mussel dishes but we decided on the classic white wine sauce, a huge seafood platter, potato gems and wedges. The seafood platter as very fresh and tasted good. Even the crumbed calamari (usually super chewy) and battered scallops, fish and prawns were nice and fresh. The mussels were a massive highlight. They were some of the freshest, plump, sweet mussels I've tasted. I can't wait to go back and eat more this coming Summer. Lastly, even the potato gems and wedges were great and went well with the various sauces.

After lunch, we decided to eat some dessert at the award winning Portarlington Bakehouse. I was a bit disappointed actually. Everything looked the part but was only ok. The Almond Croissant pastry was good but the filling was not very nice at all, with that strong almond essence taste. The Vanilla Slice was ok, but I found the texture wasn't smooth enough and pastry not crisp enough for my liking. Finally, the Fruit Tart lacked the beautiful creme patissiere that I love.

Next stop on the trip was Point Lonsdale. The pier is really striking, as is the Old White Lighthouse. We wondered around the pier and lighthouse and the views were really beautiful.

Finally, we travelled to Queenscliff to look at the old Fort as well as the Marina and Port. There was lots of beautiful vistas, especially from the newly opened tower that gave you 360 degree views of Queenscliff. We also had a bit of fun and shot some funny photos. Look at us getting shot out of a cannon. Look how high I jumped. No trick photography involved haha.

We had a great time that day and I highly recommend you take a road trip around the Bellarine Peninsula area. There's a lot to see and eat to fill a full day. I would definitely go eat those amazing mussels at Portarlington.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Newmarket Hotel - Excellent Latin Food

Latin food encompasses quite a large spectrum of cuisines, and luckily, Newmarket Hotel does them all really well. I am totally in love with Newmarket Hotel already, having been back 3 times. While the outside is quite unassuming, once you step inside you feel like you've stepped through one of Alice In Wonderland's magical doors. The interior just oozes a funky vibe. The decor, such as with quite a number of modern Melbourne restaurants, is a mix of industrial and vintage. I'm going to coin this style "Industrial Vintage", or has it been used already? Anyway, the dining area has these beautiful arches and sunlight streaming through the upper glass windows. I love the light fittings which match really well with the big leather tub chairs. An impressive long bar separates the dining area from the outside courtyard and a casual drinking space inside.

The menu is very diverse, and designed by the amazing Paul Wilson, whom I got to meet in person at the Middle Park Hotel
breakfast launch and at Steer Bar and Grill where he was consulting. I love Paul's work and once again he's come up with a winner in my books, creating a relaxing enjoyable space that serves great food at good prices.

You might start your meal with a variety of tacos, which are all brilliant. All the flavours are vibrant and really get you going back for more. While I loved quite a number of tacos, from the soft shell crab to the prawn to the beef cheek, my favourite is most definitely the bone marrow with brisket. The taco is pure unctuous spicy brilliance.

You can move your way sequentially through the menu and try some Cocas (Catalan flatbreads) with an assortment of wonderful toppings. Then you'll hit the starters where you're greeted with smaller fresh light meals. I especially love the Buffalo milk haloumi that's been grilled to perfection. During the summer visit, I also had a beautiful Tuna and Mango Ceviche. It was zingy, fresh and very clean in flavour.

While I'm a huge fan of cured meats and would always order it at other restaurants, surprisingly I haven't tried any of the cured meats at Newmarket as I'm always tempted by other items. Not to worry, something to go back for. The salads and vegetables part of the menu obviously doesn't get much of a work out from me either. I was a tad disappointed with the Bravas Potatoes, as they didn't have that perfect crispy oily taste. Instead the oil tasted a bit dull, if that makes sense. My disappointment didn't last long though when the meats come out. The St Louis style Pork Ribs are freaking finger lickin' good. Everything about them was perfect, from the soft meat falling off the bones to the beautiful sauce and served with a fresh apple slaw. The Suckling Pig with Chicharon was also amazing. The meat was so tender and skin so crispy. While I like peaches, I felt the addition of them really didn't add anything to the already deliciousness of the pig (the grammar in the sentence is shocking but you can feel my enthusiasm I hope). Mmmmm, mmmm, mmmm. I can taste the pig now writing about it.

I've tried a few desserts here and they are all good, but nothing has jumped out at me as sensational yet. I liked the Tequila Flan, Seasonal Fruit, as well as the Coconut Creme Brulee below. While some would love the Chocolate and Chili Ice Cream with Rum and Mandarins, I personally hate the combination of chocolate/chili and chocolate/citrus, so this dish was never going to appeal to me. However, I can be objective and say the ice cream was of a high quality and if you love those combinations, you'll be in heaven.

As I mentioned, I love the atmosphere in the restaurant. Noise filters through from the other two areas into the dining area and provides an energy to the room. The seating arrangements are very good, so you feel like you have some privacy amongst the busy-ness. The service was very good every time I've been, with friendly wait staff who also seem very knowledgeable and are able to make great recommendations as well. Lastly, the drinks list is very extensive so you can definitely find something to go with your food, or if you're just there for a drink, you'll be equally satisfied. I would enthusiastically recommend you go try Newmarket Hotel and I hope you like it as much as I do.

Overall Rating: 16.5/20, Excellent Latin food in a wonderful fun atmosphere.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Newmarket Hotel on Urbanspoon