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Sonido!

sondino1

69 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy VIC 3065

It’s Sunday morning, and I’m already on the streets, walking across the Carlton Gardens to get to the first point of interest for my ethnic eats article (if you haven’t read it, read it here.)

The place I’m headed to is Sonido! Its name is derived from the Spanish term for “beat” or “sound”, and once you walk into its interior it’s immediately obvious why it’s called that. Ambient and atmospheric Latin American tunes (genuine vinyl records, not cheap CDs) provide plenty of aforementioned beats, and it’s easy to forget you’re in Melbourne rather than somewhere in Colombia or Cuba. It’s all very tasteful, and none of it seems cheesy or fake.

arepasThe staff clearly enjoy their work. Breakfast is cooked in the open kitchen next to the baristas plying their trade, the smell of aromatic scrambled eggs mingling with the strong smell of the Supreme coffee. You can’t beat a place that can make you comfortable the minute you enter the place – especially when you’ve traveled far just to have breakfast.

The food is simple but satisfying. Scrambled eggs with diced tomatoes and other herbs, served on arepas – a circular flat bread common in some South American cuisines. Cooked just the way you’d want the eggs to be, not too much or too little herbs, it’s a modest package but it’s all tasty – an excellent start to the day. The iced coffee (I never saw the sense of drinking hot coffee on a hot day) is mightily strong, the concentrated caffeine and ice punching your senses awake.

Finishing the meal may take some time, as the tunes and quaint little posters weave an illusion that’s hard to break away from – the illusion of having all the time in the world. Unfortunately for me, time was short. There were other places to see and more food to taste. But I left Sonido! with a satisfied stomach and awakened senses. And for a cafe like this, it’s a feat I regard highly.

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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Reviews

 

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The Point

Aquatic Drive, Albert Park VIC 3026

It’s not often that I get to go to a high-priced place like The Point, but when I do the tension is really on. Walking into its ultra-modern interior is like walking into something Harry Seidler might have designed in the 80s. Located on the edge of Albert Park Lake, it looks more like a luxury villa than a restaurant – and once you walk inside, you get the feeling it’d be better off as a villa.

The staff are warm at your approach. But as you walk past them again on your way to the restroom and back, the same greetings are there, as if you just walked in for the first time. The syllables are so robotic in nature I thought for a brief moment the staff were robots themselves. I glanced left and right at the smiling machinations. The smiles didn’t slacken. Definitely robots.

Sitting down in the main dining room is a relief, but a short one. Menus are brought in with rapidity and the extra information is brought to bear as the complimentary entrees are brought in. Above average bread and butter, and the tiny little hors d’oeuvres were a treat. A treat whose tang faded far too quickly.

The real entrees were extravagant. Caviar on every dish, you name it, on french toast, in puree eggs in its own shell, the roe was piled onto everything (neatly). Not that I’m complaining, though. To sample caviar even in its rawest form while someone else is paying the bill is an honor in itself.

Next, mains. Lovely, tender steaks, served simply all on its own in the center of a plate. Although expensive ($48 per plate minimum) it is, in my opinion, one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. Here was a steak that quite literally melted at the tongue. Served with traditional carrots and fried potatoes (both of which held their own quite well), The Point instantly ranked in my mind as the best steakhouse ever (never mind the robotic service).

Although undeniably posh and seemingly built for the urban aristocracy, The Point can be deceptive at first sight, but once you take your seats and the first plate is served, there is no other steakhouse like it. One word of warning to the thrifty: Enter only if you’ve got deep pockets!

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Posted by on February 14, 2014 in Reviews

 

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Third Wave

30 Cato Street, Prahan VIC 3181

Being invited to review any cafe or restaurant is an exciting event, even more so for a budding reviewer (like myself). But there are times when one realizes his invitation is merely a fragment of a larger campaign, but still he is compelled to go.

And that’s where I found myself on a sunny Friday as I arrived in Prahan to accept said invitation. Third Wave Cafe is a medium-sized contemporary cafe, located opposite a gym (the irony was not lost) and appeared to be more secluded than prominent. The staff are friendly and easy-going, service is quick and prompt, and in the backdrop the sun’s rays filtered lazily through the windows – how much more breezy could it get?

I’d ordered two dishes for this occasion (having skipped breakfast to attend to other matters), a Texas Fry and the gourmet burger. Both arrived in good order. The burger was tasty, very tasty – coupled with some home-made chips and you’ve got something sure to convert a rabid McDonald’s fanatic for life.

Now, the Texas fry. A dish so well done, so mouth-wateringly simple, that even my natural aversion to mushrooms was subverted (that’s right kids, I don’t like mushrooms on raw). Drenched in a sweet BBQ sauce the Fry was too good to be eaten in a “civilized” manner. I devoured the lot, and found that it tasted even better gobbled down.

Verdict? Good. Deliciously and deceptively good. I suppose the management would like me to say that (you sly dogs, you) but what can I not say? Great atmosphere, excellent fare worthy of its claims, agreeable staff and service, and if any other food bloggers are reading this, take the offer, straight away!

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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Reviews

 

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Stalactites

Cnr Lonsdale & Russell St, Melbourne 3000 VIC

Ah, to return to Melbourne in the summer. An uncomfortable experience for most, but after “winter” Thailand even more so. Summer brings heat, Australia Day, barbeques, and… Greek cuisine?

Stalactites is a Melbourne institution in its own right and defiantly occupies a prominent location on Russell St despite being slowly engulfed by the numerous Asian restaurants in the nearby area. Its most distinguishing feature is its ceilings, embodying its name.

Walking into its new interior brought a sense of homeliness but also of suffocating modernity. New, gleaming surfaces and appliances give the impression of a new restaurant, or in this case, a re-made Stalactites. However, for me its new charm served to disguise the shortcomings of two more important aspects – the food and service.

Throughout my time in Australia I’ve always thought of Greek cuisine as defined by its focus on condiments and souvlaki. Stalactites did not budge me from that belief. The meal, even if it was a do-it-yourself style, possessed no particular uniqueness. A pile of sliced and shredded meats, pedestrian pita, and a refreshing but completely forgettable Greek salad. All of which should have made for a substantial fare. Filling physically, but not spiritually.

The service, I regret to say, was abysmal. Absurd lack of staff and an apparent forgetfulness of orders meant that the staff lacked personality, the meal was  and there was a certain hastiness – a hastiness that I felt pushed Stalactites from the title of restaurant to another quaint indie fast-food joint.

I thought I was missing something here. Stalactites had long been in my mind as being at the forefront of Greek cuisine in Victoria. But as I stepped out into a hot breeze, I knew that belief was gone. It was gone and left a vacuum which I now needed to fill.

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Posted by on January 27, 2014 in Reviews

 

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The Grain Store

517 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000

Okay, here we go, attempt two at getting this site back up and running. I apologize if anyone has been expecting a new one lately – I had to wrap my head around writing about a place on the top of Mount Buller (of all places!) before I decided it wasn’t even worth it in the first place.

So here we are talking about The Grain Store. Now I have been itching to get at this place for quite some time after a friend of mine recommended it to me, but all I kept finding were horrendous lines and a rather off-putting wait for a table. So it was on this last Saturday that I finally managed to snag a reasonable wait (just 10 minutes, can you believe that?) and settled down for lunch with the family.

Now I’ve heard many a good thing about The Grain Store from my fellow bloggers and diners, and was expecting nothing less than an above-average performance. They didn’t disappoint.

I’ll start with the decor. Unassuming on the outside, The Grain Store’s exterior struck me as a fashionable boutique or cafe (which it was, as it turned out), with a small entry for so unusually large an interior. The interior was more appealing, with tightly-packed tables and tasteful decorations accentuating their organic leanings (loaves of bread, open kitchen, clean wooden-fresh feel of the shelves, tables and chairs).

The staff are friendly and quick to respond upon call, and the displays of tarts and fresh breads are so flagrant I would have consumed the lot – thankfully, I didn’t, because I wasn’t here for that. I was here for their brunch menu, which when it arrived like everything else in the place – punctual, organic, and on the whole, smelling good.

Now, as it was a brunch, I was expecting something light. What I was most certainly not expecting was something that looked like it had come straight out of Blumenthal’s kitchen – extravagantly garnished, utilizing the most bizarre array of colours and textures I’ve ever seen on one plate. I was expecting brunch, chaps – not a art masterpiece.

Masterpiece or not masterpiece, we tucked in. It was a fine blend of ingredients, for sure, but I felt a certain mashing of flavours, as if it hadn’t been experimented before. Texture clashed with taste as I struggled to process the barrage of sensations that they had delivered. They had delivered an exquisite trap cleverly disguised underneath layers of pea dressing, salad, bacon steak, and the homemade sauce (that I just can’t put my finger on).

It was a trap, and I didn’t know how to process it. On the plate in front of me, the leftovers left me with a confusion of aftertastes, like an orchestra that tunes itself erratically in the middle of a piece. It is a testament to that storm of flavours that I write this only now, five weeks after. It was good, yes4, but just how good I’ll leave to masses to decide. My verdict,personally, people – go only if you’re prepared for the most hipster-ish mish-mash of flavours that you’ll ever find on a breakfast plate and are prepared to handle it!

Or just go for the coffee. At least that’s not a trap.

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Posted by on October 13, 2013 in Reviews

 

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Little Ramen Bar

346 Little Bourke St, Melbourne VIC

In the coldest of seasons, it’s often hard to resist the warm coziness of a tightly-packed cafe or bar. It has an allure that is logical to even the dimmest of people – and then you come to Little Ramen Bar, a tiny hole-in-the-wall place just off Elizabeth. It sells what it says it sells – ramen. And not just the insta-noodle packets that you secretly know the established joints use, but the real stuff – straight out of the homeland.

The place is small for its purposes, but in the densely-packed congregation of lunch-takers and wanderers there is a strangely comforting warmth. The atmosphere buzzes with talk and the slurping of noodles, a sound you would expect often in such a place (but is strangely absent in the major restaurants). The service is polite and efficient, another little taste of the homeland right there.

For starters I had the wok-fried rice. Now I don’t mean to be conventional, but I like to test the mettle of any joint’s general fare before committing. And in this case I was not disappointed. The rice is served neatly and symmetrically on a round plate, no unnecessary garnishes, just plain, simple fried rice. Not too oily, not too dry, warm to the tongue, just the right start for a cold winter’s day.

Having satisfied myself enough with their skill, I moved on to the next dish, a classic ramen in a rich miso soup base. The soup, fittingly, is piping hot and reinvigorating at the first sip, the pork thinly sliced and tender to the tongue, and the noodles – al dente to a point that would make an pasta connoisseur weep for joy. It was, to say at the least, a wonderful medley of textures and tastes, as a ramen bowl can and always should deliver.

However, I am a modest man, and I shall leave it there for you readers to decide for yourselves. Mere words on a screen may be able to influence millions, but my influence (and this is really important for me and you) should only compel you to go out there, and try for yourself.

Little Ramen Bar on Urbanspoon

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2013 in Reviews

 

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Some Reflections, Some Resolutions

Some of you may be wondering why this isn’t another review, or why I’ve bothered to hold on to this for so long. Well it just so happens that I managed to muster the motivation to shed some light on this little issue of mine. And while I’m staring at the half-blank screen, my morale deserting me, I wonder – what has it all been for, really?

As a “writer” (as I call myself rather cautiously) my works are spaced irregularly for most of the time, with no real established timetable. It can be surmised that this leads to an unstable fan base, an absolute no-no to any blog’s success. But as a [em]food[/em] writer such timings, I feel, are unnecessary. It’s only when you have the putrid, rancid breath of an impatient editor against your spine do you really have to stick to the timetable.

But as a freelance food blogger with no definite plans but to write, write, and write some more, life isn’t so hard. I’ve had time to look for new inspirations, new methods and tones of writing, all to bring the readers some more spice into each article. Which, I’m sure, is what each of you reading this want on your dinner plate each night!

Beginning from this post onwards, I’ve resolved to make the most of my breaks and come up with a new formula, something I’ve found lacking in spice with my previous posts. You won’t see scoring all the time any more, for instance, and I suspect that my tone is about to become a lot more stand-offish. So, ladies and gentlemen, taking cues from luminaries such as Anthony Bourdain, Jeremy Clarkson, and Clive James, I bring you, the new Melbournian Palate.

Your pal (in deep cover),
Al

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2013 in Updates

 
 
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