17 April 2014

The satisfaction of biting into a bánh mi from Nhu Lan is unrivaled.  The setting is usually our deck.  Faces are raised to catch the golden sun, beers in one hand, bánh mi in the other. 

What's so great about a Nhu Lan bánh mi?  Undoubtedly it's the combination of soft, crusty baguette, the generous, lean pieces of BBQ pork, the sweet, vinegary pickled carrot, the batons of crisp cucumber and spring onion, the fiery chili and fresh coriander.  Oh and the pork liver pate.  To die for.  It's fresh, it's quick and it is so, so tasty.

This sandwich ticks all the boxes for me.  One of the best lunches around.

Good to know:

Bánh mi $4

Nhu Lan
152 Victoria Street
Cash only

Images: T B Southam 
Nhu Lan on Urbanspoon

14 April 2014

Not a chicken sushi roll in sight.  Instead, made to order nigiri, hose maki and nosé maki resplendent with plump, fresh pieces of seafood- salmon, tuna, prawn, king fish, even uni (sea urchin) if you're in luck.  I'm in heaven.  

Hinoki Japanese Pantry- a sushi takeaway bar and Japanese grocery store is a welcome addition to the inner suburbs.  Suzuran used to be our sushi takeaway of choice when I worked in Camberwell, but now it's simply too far to trek. In any case I feel we have lucked out as Hinoki's enticing menu ups the ante in the sushi stakes.  We're talking the likes of hotate hollandaise- seared scallops with hollandaise sauce and tobiko (flying fish roe), nasu dengaku- sweet, grilled eggplant with miso and salmon aburi- seared salmon with creamy sesame sauce.  My tummy is rumbling just typing this.

Ducking in 5 minutes before closing time TBS and I decided a medium sushi mix would do us just fine.  Our previous visit had seen us sample the salmon and prawn nigiri, nosé maki and inari deluxe and nosé maki mix.  I had been especially taken with the inari- the sweet aburaage, prawn, creamy avocado and aioli was a flavour explosion.

This time round we received salmon, king fish, prawn and tuna nigiri, salmon aioli nosé maki, California rolls and some more inari deluxe.

The slices of fish were generous and fresh.  I especially enjoyed the rich salmon and the crisp, poached prawn.  The rice was the perfect temperature and the dab of wasabi in the nigiri just shy of tear inducing.  

The salmon aioli nosé maki consisted of  slivers of salmon gracefully resting atop rolls of rice and topped with aioli and spring onion.  The creamy aioli and the sharp spring onion complemented the rich salmon.  Mouthfuls of addictiveness.  

The disks of California rolls contained all the goodies you'd expect- salmon, avocado, crisp cucumber, crab, mayonnaise, tamago and tobiko- a well executed 'classic'.

The inari didn't disappoint on this occasion either.  My favourite contained a morsel of sweet minced poached prawn and aioli when dipped in soy just screamed "UMAMI".

You can't put a foot wrong when ordering from Hinoki Japanese Pantry.  The ingredients used are fresh and full of natural flavour, the price is right AND they use biodegradable packaging. What's more- if you're hankering after a Japanese beer or a seaweed salad to accompany your feast then you need look no further.  With sushi this good on offer why waste your pennies on cold, limp sushi rolls that are a dime a dozen?  Eat better people. Hinoki Japanese Pantry is where it's at.

Good to know:

Sushi mix medium $35

Hinoki Japanese Pantry
279 Smith Street
Telephone (03) 9417 4531
Closed Monday
Tuesday to Thursday 10:00am to 6:00pm
Friday to Saturday 10:00am to 7:00pm
Sunday 10:00am to 4:00pm

Images: T B Southam

Hinoki Japanese Pantry on Urbanspoon

11 April 2014

'Seasonal', 'local', 'ethical', 'sustainable' all those catch words you want to hear when reading about a new restaurant.  Feast of Merit is all of these things AND is run by YGAP a social initiative aimed at supporting poverty alleviating projects.  The profits from Feast of Merit are channeled towards their education and youth leadership projects in Australia, Cambodia, Malawi, Bangladesh, Ghana and Rwanda.  So their heart is certainly in the right place but I was also keen to see whether they would deliver a memorable dining experience.

Four of us gathered on a Sunday evening to sample what Feast of Merit had to offer.  The space is welcoming- an open kitchen, daisies in milk bottles on the tables and the hum of happy diners.  We ordered drinks- wines for the girls and beers for the boys.  I don't know whether it was my heavy NZ accent but I had to repeat my wine order twice before pointing to 'Te Whare Ra' on the drinks list. 

We decided to start with a few small plates: the grilled flat bread, smoked eggplant, the cuttlefish and octopus and the Feast pickles.  We all enjoyed the charred, pillowy flat bread and the smoky eggplant, which were an ideal pairing. 

The cuttlefish and octopus which was served with lemon, chili, oregano and parsley was tender and quite vinegary. It was enjoyable but didn't have me scrambling for more.

I found the Feast pickles a bit underwhelming-  I felt the medley of vegetables could be varied to increase the vibrancy of the dish but I did like the addition of fennel for its aniseedy notes.

As we nibbled we were presented with a warm pre-digestive tonic of ginger, cayenne, lemon and honey.  I loved the heat of the ginger and cayenne travelling down my throat as I swallowed. A nice touch.

Whilst we may not have been blown away by the small plates, things were to get markedly better with the arrival of the mains.  We were confused by the menu which indicated the proteins were $17 p.p.  When we asked our waitress how it all actually worked she was just as befuddled.  Basically for $34 you get half a chicken, half a fish, or a really decent stack of lamb or beef.  We decided to order half a chicken, a $34 portion of lamb and two salads.

The 12 hour slow cooked lamb joint had MP groaning with delight.  It pulled apart at the merest touch of a fork.  A simple accompaniment of spicy harissa was all the dish needed to showcase the beautiful cut of meat.

The roasted parsnip was served with freekeh, mint and pomegranate molasses.  The parsnip were sticky, soft and complemented by the nutty freekeh and bursts of mint.  I found the seasoning slightly too salty for my taste but it wasn't so bad that it ruined the dish.

The fried cauliflower was a crowd favourite.  Served on creamy hung yoghurt with blackened onions and sour cherries, this dish had texture, depth and left you wanting more.  The sour cherries were a genius addition- their tangy flavour cutting through the richness of the fried cauliflower.

The subtle preserved lemon had infused the Milawa roast chook which was served with a mound of bulgar and currants.  The chicken was cooked perfectly with the white meat remaining moist.  I particularly liked the crispy skin of the chicken and the sweetness of the plump currants.  Again, a real hit.  Whilst the presentation was pleasing to the eye, the lack of serving cutlery (especially with the chicken) we felt was a bit odd.  TBS also noted that our small plates were not changed between our appetisers and mains, unlike our neighbours, and so they were a touch tiny for all the food we had.

We couldn't pass up dessert so chose two to share between the four of us.  The desserts were simple and had a real 'home-made' feel about them.  Read that however you like. The plum crumble, pistachio cake and marscapone was enjoyable and my favourite out of the two.  The chestnut cake was topped with smashed berries and sat atop some smears of hung yoghurt.  The cake was a little dry for my liking.

I'm a fan of Feast of Merit's ethos and am keen to support the initiative but at the same time I want to have an experience that ticks all the boxes, especially when the list of 'to visit' restaurants keeps growing by the minute.  I have a few minor gripes: firstly, with an open kitchen you inevitably glance over and may catch the eye of the staff.  Now I can understand when it's head down, bums up and concentration on service is 100% but when it's quiet and a patron smiles at you, would it kill you to smile back?  This happened twice.  All I got was a blank stare.  Not a fan.  Second, I wasn't keen on the rubbish being taken out from the front of the restaurant to the back through the restaurant and past the diners and finally, I would have preferred for our water glasses to have remained on the table after our mains and the water jug to have been replenished.  As I said, minor gripes but they all add up and affect the dining experience.  

Will we be back? Most likely.  We all agreed that the proteins and salads were real stand outs and the meal was akin to a glammed up Sunday roast.  I was also a fan of the interesting bio-dynamic wines on offer.  And plus, you can't help but admire the heart behind the project. Here's hoping with a few tweaks this place takes off, it certainly deserves to.

Good to know:

Stone & Wood Pacific Ale, NSW 570ml $12
'13 Clos Clare, 'Watervale' Riesling $11.50
'13 Te Whare Ra 'Toru' $11.50
'12 Two Men Malbec Rose $9.50
Grilled flat bread, za'atar, Nagambie olive oil $3
Feast pickles- turnip, carrot, cauliflower, fennel, cucumber $6
Smoked eggplant, lemon, pomegranate $7
Cuttlefish, octopus, chili, parsley, lemon, oregano $8
Roasted parsnip, pomegranate molasses, freekeh, mint $15
Fried cauliflower, blackened onions, hung yoghurt, sour cherries $15
Milawa chicken, preserved lemon, bulgar, currants $17 per serve
12 hour slow cooked lamb joint, harissa $17 per serve
Plum crumble, pistachio cake and marscapone $8.50
Chestnut cake, hung yoghurt and smashed berries $8.50

Feast of Merit
117 Swan Street
Telephone: (03) 9428 8480
Monday 7:30am to 3:00pm
Tuesday to Thursday 7:30am to 11:00pm
Friday 7:30am to 1:00am
Saturday 8:00am to 1:00am
Sunday 8:00am to 11:00pm

Images: T B Southam

Feast of Merit on Urbanspoon

8 April 2014

If you're looking for a late night establishment then Le Bon Ton might just be it.  Nestled in the back streets of Collingwood, this American South bar, smokehouse, absinthe den and and oyster salon is comprised of mysterious spaces filled with low lit corners and comfy armchairs in which to park yourself for the night.

We found ourselves needing dinner close to midnight so what better opportunity to sample the dude food-esque menu that I'd had my eye on for a while.  Friday night and Le Bon Ton already had a following.  We settled into the dining area and ordered a pitcher of Ruby Tuesday Amber Ale as the kitchen were having a break between 11:00pm and midnight before resuming with the late night menu. Le Bon Ton's drinks menu is comprehensive and interesting- a dazzling array of enticing cocktails, beer, wine and all manner of spirits are on offer.

Service was friendly but a bit muddled with staff telling us to order from the bar as table service had ceased but then deciding to take our order.  In any case we got our order in, settling on a dozen chicken wings, the Texas chili cheese fries and the beef brisket sandwich.

The Texas chili cheese fries arrived covered in a Texas beef and pinto bean chili, melted cheddar cheese and spring onions.  The fries were good but I found the chili lacked flavour and could have been spicier.  TBS and I both commented on the portion size which for $14 was a bit disappointing.

The Le Bon Ton chicken wings had been pit smoked over cherry wood for a couple of hours. I am chicken wing obsessed and unfortunately these didn't do it for me.  They were cold and lacked any flavour other than smokiness.  TBS commented that they tasted like the whole smoked chickens you get in the deli section of the supermarket.

TBS had been angling for us to order two sandwiches but I insisted that they were bound to be enormous.  How wrong I was.  Pitt smoked beef brisket end with BBQ sauce and coleslaw in a brioche bun and a serve of house made pickles for $16 was finito in about 5 bites.  The meat was incredibly tender and juicy, the tangy coleslaw a great accompaniment and the brioche bun, sweet and soft.  There just wasn't enough of it.

The number of establishments with menus revolving around the deep American South are growing rapidly, unfortunately Le Bon Ton was not a place which satisfied my increasing love for food from this region, I also thought it was a bit of a rip off.  But whilst the eating may not be so good, the drinking is perfectly satisfactory.  Whatever your poison, Le Bon Ton most likely has it.  P.S If absinthe fountains are your thing then Le Bon Ton is where it's at.

Good to know:

40 ounce pitcher of Ruby Tuesday Amber Ale $23
Le Bon Ton Chicken Wings $20 (full dozen) $12 (half dozen)
Texas Chili Cheese Fries $14
Pitt smoked beef brisket end sandwich $16

Le Bon Ton
51 Gipps Street
Tuesday to Thursday 5:00pm to 1:00am
Friday 5:00am to 6:00am
Saturday 12:00pm to 6:00am
Sunday 12:00pm to midnight

Images: T B Southam

Le Bon Ton on Urbanspoon


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