Restaurant and food reviews from Perth, Australia

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Oliver's on James Street, Northbridge

Eating in Northbridge can sometimes be a bit of hit and miss.  With lots to choose from, and wait staff standing outside some of these establishments beckoning you to come in, it could be a difficult choice which could lead to pleasant surprises or pretty average meals.  Northbridge itself is known for a huge variety of cuisines on offer, but these generally range from your cheap eateries to good cafes and mid-ranged restaurants.

Situated near the Russell Square side of James Street, a new player turned up some years ago called Oliver's on James Street.  Being a bit off the busiest parts of James Street, a casual walk from the other end of James Street could see you miss this place completely but a while back I had heard one of my trusted 'foodie' friends commented that they had been there for a work Christmas function and for a Christmas function serving multiple meals they were pretty impressed.  These days, Oliver's seems to be doing quite well with a steady amount of patrons on a normal night.

Oliver's is of a moderate size but has a decent amount of seating.  There is both an indoor and an al fresco area overlooking James Street.  The interior is neat and clean, and has quite a cosy feeling with warm halogen lighting.  The decor shows some European influences, and is quite modern and stylish compared to other restaurants in Northbridge.

The menu is reasonably extensive with that European base and caters for vegetarian with a number of vegetarian friendly options.  On the menu is a varied selection of items including various entrees (from bread to pizzas to soups and risottos), 12 inch wood-fired pizzas, meat/seafood and pasta/risotto based mains, salads, and desserts.  The prices average about $6-15 for entrees, and $25 to $40 for mains (or even less for most pizzas) depending on what you pick.  The drinks menu is also quite extensive for a restaurant in this area with a decent wine list of mainly Australian and New Zealand wines, beer and some cocktails.

Char-grilled Black Angus rib eye served on a parsley mash and topped with ratatouille - $39.50

This meal was a special for the day, written up on the specials blackboard and advised by the wait staff before they took the order.  It sits above many of the other dishes in terms of pricing, no doubt due to the Black Angus cut used.

The dish came out pretty much as described in the menu description.  The steak was thick and of a decent size, cooked right to the requested medium rare, and seared on two angles to form black patterns on the steak.  Upon cutting and eating the steak, it was juicy and tender.  Even though the steak was char-grilled, it didn't have much of the bitter taste you often get when steaks are char-grilled.

The ratatouille was made with tomatoes, green and red capsicum, zucchini, large slices of garlic, and onion.  The large amount of ratatouille topping the steak gave a different taste combination than you get with your usual steak sauces.  All the vegetables were quite soft (presumably having been cooked through together), and the taste was a nice tomato based sauce without being too salty or sweet.

The mashed potato base was of a reasonable amount, making the whole dish a decent sized main.  The mash was creamy and buttery and also reasonably smooth. 

Side serve of vegetables (served with many main courses)

The main course is served with a side serve of vegetables that were steamed and tossed in a bit of oil.  The dish included broccoli, cabbage, carrot, zucchini, sugar snap peas, and spinach.  The vegetables seemed fresh, and were lightly cooked to retain a slight crunchy texture and strong colours, but the zucchini was nicely soft and the carrot was cooked enough to ensure it was not too crunchy.

Wedges with sour cream and aioli - $8.50

The wedges were served hot, tasty and crunchy.  The wedges were good, but otherwise quite normal.  The serving size was also pretty normal for wedges and the price.

Raspberry mascarpone and sherry trifle - $10

The menu states that the desserts are all made in-house.  Along with the dessert menu, there is a selection of dessert wines.  The desserts on offer ranged from your heavier chocolate dessert cakes, fudges, and sticky date puddings, to lighter crème brulees, pavlovas, and lemon tarts.  All desserts are priced at $10.

The trifle was served in a clear glass so you could see the various layers that made up the trifle.  It consisted of a mix of refreshing raspberries that had been combined with the sherry, topped with something that tasted like custard, cream, chocolate sprinkles, and half a strawberry.  The dessert was reasonably sweet but not too sweet or heavy.  The sherry added a nice touch to the dessert and seemed like just the right amount to give the taste without going overboard.  There was no strong mascarpone taste in the dessert, and the cream worked well with the dessert and didn't feel like it was too much that you had to remove some of it from the dessert.

The trifle was also served with a couple of pieces of shortbread.  The shortbread was a well made shortbread, though was not a standout over other normal shortbreads.  However, the shortbread did not seem too buttery nor too crumbly.

In summary, Oliver's offers some good food for Northbridge standards.  It's set above your simple offerings, and has better food than your standard cafe without being posh.  The restaurant is largely European influenced, having a selection of pizzas, pastas, risottos as well as your meat based mains and seems to do a good job of it.

Points to note: Well made, hearty food in a stylish but casual atmosphere.  Prices are pretty normal for a semi-fine dining restaurant.

Go for: Good European influenced food compared to what is on offer in Northbridge.  The made in-house desserts, whilst not ground-breaking, are a plus.

Oliver's on James Street
160 James Street
Northbridge, WA 6003
(08) 9228 8725

Trading Hours
Monday to Thursday: 4:30pm to 10pm
Friday and Saturday: 11:00am to 10:30pm

Oliver's on James Street on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tak Chee House, Northbridge

Years ago, on William Street, Northbridge close to the train station was a restaurant called Tak Chee that was a favourite amongst many including students for its relatively cheap and yet tasty Hainanese chicken rice.  The original owners sold Tak Chee and the Hainanese chicken rice was never the same and the restaurant eventually shut down.  However, in recent times a new Tak Chee opened in Northbridge on the northern side of William Street claiming that the original Tak Chee (or the original chef) is back.

A while back I thought it was worth a try to see if the Hainanese chicken rice was worth going for.

Tak Chee serves Hainanese chicken rice as well as a range of other Asian dishes that have a Penang influence.  These dishes include stir fried rice and noodle dishes, curry laksa, and rice and meat dishes.  The meals seem to range on average from $9 to $12.  Tak Chee also sells ice kachang (a sweet dessert generally made from shaved ice and various toppings and syrups).

Tak Chee is not a large restaurant, with maybe only just over a dozen or so tables that seat about 2-4 people each.  There are many signs (and some photos) up on the walls displaying various dishes on offer as well as specials only available on certain days.  The atmosphere is pretty typical of a casual Asian restaurant, with simple tables and chairs, simple and fast service, a casual atmosphere, and a large proportion of Asian customers.

Hainanese Chicken (half) - $12

Hainanese chicken rice is generally a dish of a chicken boiled in a special chicken and pork stock , served with rice cooked with a chicken stock, and a side soup.

Although the menu contains Hainanese chicken rice as a one person meal for $9, we opted for the $12 half chicken and to get rice separately.  Chicken rice (see below) is an additional $2 per bowl.

The chicken comes out largely deboned, on a bed of cooked bean sprouts, topped with shaved spring onion and covered in a sweet soy based sauce and a bit of oil.  It is accompanied with a separate serve of chilli sauce that is not very hot but adds a tasty garlicky chilli sauce to dip the chicken in.  The chicken itself seems fresh, and is very moist, tender and tasty, especially in the non-breast parts.  The chicken has the flavour of the chicken stock from the boiling process, as well as the added taste that comes with the soy based sauce.  The skin of the chicken is also very tasty, moist, and a bit jelly-like but not fragile.

Chicken rice (i.e. the rice served with Hainanese chicken rice) is generally rice cooked with a special chicken stock substituted for water, as well as some oil.  Tak Chee's chicken rice comes out flavoursome with that tasty chicken taste to it, but if the taste is not enough (or if you just want even more flavour) you can add more of the soy from the chicken as well as the chilli sauce.  If you do have Hainanese chicken rice, this chicken rice is pretty much a must have over plain white rice.

Along with the chicken rice a small bowl of soup is served.  This soup is quite flavoursome but is a light soup.  All up, the elements of Tak Chee's Hainanese chicken rice make for a pretty tasty meal.

Assam Laksa - $10

The Assam Laksa is only available on weekends.  I am told that Assam Laksa is a popular dish in Penang (and thus Penang being quite well known for its Assam Laksa) which is a noodle dish which is meant to have a sour, more fish based soup rather than the creamy, curry taste usually associated with a curry laksa.

The Assam Laksa is served with ingredients including half a boiled egg, shredded lettuce and cucumber, onion, pineapple, cut chilli, and mint.  The noodles are thick rice based noodles that look similar in size and shape to spaghetti.  Separately, in a small dish, a small amount of sweet runny oyster based sauce is served.

The Assam Laksa has a full flavoured soup with a sour but not (undesirable) 'fishy' taste and is reasonably chilli hot without being too hot.  This presumably is partly due to the chillies added to the soup base during the stock phase, as well as the visible cut chillies mixed through the soup.  However, from my memories of a trip to Penang in the past, the strength of the chilli isn't quite as hot as the ones I tried in Penang but I can see why that level of chilli isn't commonly served here.

The noodles themselves are quite simple and plain (but generally is covered with the taste of the soup), and in the bowl I had a touch on the soft side.  The other ingredients added different textures and flavours to the dish with the mint being quite noticeable.  Also, the pineapple pieces, being placed on top of the Assam Laksa after it has been cooked,  retains its sweet and refreshing nature.

There are a few places around Perth that have their own version of Hainanese chicken rice.  Tak Chee's Hainanese chicken rice is very tasty and seems to be cooked and served as a pretty good version for Perth standards, Coupled with a variety of other Penang influenced dishes, and reasonable pricing, Tak Chee makes for a reasonably tasty and casual meal out.

Points of note:  Good, tasty and tender Hainanese chicken rice.  Other traditional Penang/Malaysian dishes on offer.

Go for:  Good, reasonably priced Malaysian food. Well worth a try if you like chicken rice or Malaysian dishes.

Tak Chee House
1/364 William Street
Northbridge, WA 6004
(08) 9328 9445

Trading Hours
Lunch - Monday to Friday: 11am to 2:30pm; Saturday and Sunday: 11am to 3pm
Dinner - Sunday to Thursday: 5:30pm to 9pm; Friday and Saturday: 5:30pm to 9:30pm

Tak Chee House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Big Bowl Noodle House, Northbridge

Noodles freshly made from scratch by a machine upon your order?  An interesting concept for Perth, and being in Northbridge a different way of getting your noodles in an area where there are plenty of offerings.

Big Bowl Noodle House is situated on the northern end of William Street.  Its location is amidst other Asian eateries and shops though it has quite a simple and relatively small street frontage which doesn't give a lot away.  Big Bowl Noodle House isn't a large venue, and its interior is orderly and relatively simple and clean.  This simplistic approach pretty much suits the style of the noodle shop and the relative speed of serving noodles in most noodle places generally.

Prices of the noodle dishes average $9-14 which seem to sit on the mid to higher end of the spectrum for common noodle places around Perth and Northbridge - but you are getting freshly made noodles albeit by a machine.  Looking at the menu, there are quite a few different noodles on offer including noodles with soup, dumpling and wonton noodles, stir fried noodles, and baked noodles.  The menus are bright and show example photos of some of the offerings on the menu.

When you order your dish, you are given a choice of three different noodles to choose from.  Based on what I could gather, you can choose thin noodles, thick noodles or a wholemeal type of noodle.  After you make your order and pay, the order is forwarded through to the kitchen and your meal is prepared.  Looking from the ordering/payment counter you can see three large containers of flour feeding into what appears to be three different machines - presumably each machine corresponds to each type of noodle.  A member of the staff uses the machine to obtain noodles from the machine and then takes them into the cooking part of the kitchen.

A short while later, the noodle dishes are served once cooked.  The serving sizes at Big Bowl Noodle House appear to be relatively large, without being too much.  Before going into the specific dishes, I will say that the noodles do taste different to your standard noodles you get from other venues.  The noodles do in fact taste fresher and have a lighter texture and taste to them.  They do taste like they are made-to-order and cooked just right such that the noodles appear to not stick to each other, have no side tastes, and were cooked through but not soggy.

Seafood laksa noodle soup - $12.90

This dish came out in a relatively large bowl and when you consider the cheaper pricing against other laksas in the area, it probably should be.  This dish lacked any choice of rice versus egg noodles or combinations thereof, but as the noodles are all of the made-to-order variety isn't necessarily a bad thing.

In addition to the noodles, the laksa came out with a variety of other ingredients including tofu, carrots, squid, prawns, fish cake, bok choy, and spring onions - which are not strange for a seafood laksa.  The soup was reasonably hot with chilli which is great if you like spicy foods and hot is really how a laksa should be.  However, there were two differences in this laksa compared to your common laksa.  The first thing was the amount of salt.  This dish was relatively salty for my tastebuds, and compared to many other laksas I have tried it seemed to affect the flavour of the laksa that I could taste.  The second was the distinct lack of coconut milk to create a creamy laksa soup.  Coconut milk is common in the curry type laksa soups and it generally adds to the richness of the taste, though some places do curry laksa without coconut milk.   However, coconut milk also adds to the amount of fat in the dish so whether or not you prefer coconut milk is up to you.

Combination seafood baked noodle with cheese - $13.80

In this dish, I opted for the thick noodles.  It came with king prawns, squid, sliced fish cake, some vegetables (such as Chinese shiitake mushroom and onion) and a lot of creamy cheesy sauce.  Being cooked then baked, this dish takes a bit longer than other dishes to come out.  As the baking dish is hot, the dish full of the noodle bake is served on another plate.  The dish comes out with a slight golden tinge on top, which is caused from the cheese.  Eating it gives a slight melted cheese taste caused by the browning of the creamy cheese sauce throughout the noodles.

The sauce itself was quite creamy and not too cheesy.  Being the cheese lover I am, I would have preferred a slightly more cheesy mix, but otherwise the sauce is a mild cheese and cream mix that isn't strongly flavoured in any particular way but also seemingly not sickening in large portions (e.g. if it was too rich).

Overall, the soup noodle dishes we tried don't seem to stand out to me as being clearly better than other places though Big Bowl does seem to attract a fair amount of customers.  However, the freshly made noodles did taste different and fresher to what you get from other noodle places that use more generic noodles so that's a plus.  So if you like your noodles and want to try them freshly prepared in a dedicated noodle shop, Big Bowl Noodle House might be right up your alley.

Points of note: Freshly made machined noodles.  The taste of the dishes don't seem to stand out though for my tastebuds.

Go for: To try the freshly made machined noodles.

Big Bowl Noodle House
408 William Street
Northbridge, WA 6004

(08) 9228 4448

Trading Hours
6 days (closed Wednesdays): 11:30am to 8:30pm

Big Bowl on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cafe Villa, Leederville

I was hungry and didn't want fast food.  After a bit of thought, Cafe Villa came to mind.  I hadn't been to Cafe Villa for some time and I heard it's been pretty good of late.

Cafe Villa is situated on Oxford Street, in the busy part of the Leederville cafe strip.  It's usually fairly busy during peak hours and offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Cafe Villa is a Gold Plate finalist and has been a mainstay of Leederville for some years now.  The food served for lunch/dinner includes pasta, salads and modern style cafe mains.  Not to mention on the lunch/dinner menu there is an "all day big breakfast fry up" consisting of fried eggs, bacon, hash browns, chipolatas and tomato served on toast" for $19.90.  But no, I'm here for dinner.

Looking through the menu, the pricing averages $20-30 for a main course which is pretty reasonable for a Leederville cafe.  The menu also happens to mention that during busy periods there may be a 30 minute wait for meals.  Given I was pretty hungry, it was lucky I went on a moderately busy evening where the food didn't take 30 minutes to come out.   I wouldn't like to see what it's like when it gets busy then - especially if I'm starving.

To match its name, Cafe Villa has created a warm environment decorated with indoor green plants, outdoorsy chairs, and warm lighting.  The atmosphere is relaxed and quite casual with a slight Mediterranean feel, and includes an al fresco area at the front overlooking the buzzing part of Leederville.  However, as it was a really hot summer day in (at times) really hot Perth I opted to sit inside - lucky they have air conditioning even though it was evaporative.

Garlic Bread - $6

The garlic bread came out as big and reasonably thick slices of crusty bread coated on both sides with a garlic and herb butter.  Biting into the garlic bread showed the butter had soaked into about half of the bread.  Nice.  Provided you're not going to be speaking to or kissing anyone important afterwards the garlic bread is pretty tasty as far as cafe garlic bread is concerned.

Calamari with lemon pepper and aioli (medium) - $18

The calamari was dusted with a lemon pepper coating before being fried.  Alone, even without the aioli, the calamari already was tasty (due to the seasoned coating) and had a slight crunch to it.  The aioli gave the calamari the creamy sauce flavour that is often done with tartare sauce.  Aoili. More garlic.  The well made calamari with the aoili tasted good though.

The salad served with the calamari included gourmet lettuce, rocket, spanish onion, cucumber, carrot, tomatoes and a light dressing.

Spiced Pork Belly Confit - $29

The pork belly came out with a "sweet-spiced glaze" and was served with "house-made apple chutney" and on a base of congee.  Quite a different combination that I haven't seen before.

Being pork belly, this was perhaps never going to be the healthiest dish but as far as pork belly goes it was cooked just right and was not dry.  The pork skin was lightly crunchy, but not as much as a well prepared pork crackling - perhaps due to the sweet-spiced glaze.  The only issue was that once the pork skin made contact with the congee, it lost the crunch.  Taste-wise though, as the pork belly was cooked right it retained its natural flavour.

The serve of apple chutney that was placed on top of the pork belly was generous and added flavour to the pork belly.  The chutney had a mildly sweet and fruity taste to it that gave a slightly refreshing feel that accompanied the pork well without the sometimes excessive sweetness that some plum sauces served with pork give.  However, as the serving of chutney was generous, with excessive chutney it tended to cover the pork flavour a tad more than it should, and the sauce at times could be a slight bit sour at times for my liking (most likely due to the apples).  Overall though the flavours were good and a nice combination, being served at a cafe.

The bed of congee was an interesting concept for a modern cafe.  The congee had a good consistency and was lightly flavoured and had a touch of ginger.  By itself, the congee was a slight bit too bland to be served as a restaurant meal.  However, coupled with the pork belly and the generous sauce the congee complimented the dish well, being a welcome neutral addition to the otherwise heavier tastes and flavours of the pork belly and apple chutney.

In summary, Cafe Villa is a pretty decent cafe.  It's priced well within the modern cafe crowd but offers some interesting dishes that are well thought out and executed.  And then there's the location factor where you can choose to stay put or move along to many other venues like coffee shops, book and specialty stores or to the local pub.

Points of note: Not just your typical cafe menu.  Service may be slow when they are busy.

Go for: Reasonably good cafe food, in a happening area.

Cafe Villa

Corner of Oxford and Newcastle Streets
Leederville, WA 6007
(08) 9242 1554
Trading Hours
7 days: 7:30am till late

Cafe Villa on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 18, 2010

Jus Burgers, Leederville

Burgers.  There's your fast food chain burgers.  There's your pub grub burgers.  There's your fancy fine dining lavish burgers that we won't go into.  Then there's Jus Burgers.

Jus Burgers in the late arvo

Neatly tucked into a market that sits well above the quality of the fast food variety, and yet less hit and miss than your average pub grub burger, are a range of dedicated burger places that Jus Burger fits into.  The original Jus Burger store in Leederville is a buzzing place where often you have to wait in line to order and receive your burger, and an even longer wait if you want to dine in to have that same burger.  Whilst a popular place usually means they're doing something right, the disadvantage of this is that you might feel somewhat compelled to eat and go to make way for the next customer.

From the outside, Jus Burgers looks like a funky happening joint which neatly fits into the Leederville scene.  From the inside, Jus Burgers looks like a neatly packed, happening burger joint that has a casual, relaxed and young feel.  The kitchen is open and you can see the staff working away flipping burgers and looking like they're not having a bad time doing it.

Jus Burger offers a variety of burgers from various cuts of beef, to chicken, to fish, to lamb, to kangaroo to vegetarian to... let's just say they have a lot of different burgers to choose from ranging on average from $10-15.  Jus Burgers state they use produce from WA where possible, thus supporting local industry.  This extends from the bread, to the meats and the vegetables.  To accompany the burgers, they have some sides such as chips and coleslaw, as well as drinks including the Phoenix branded range of organic drinks.

The Guvnor burger ($15) with foie gras ($6)

Ok, so this is the all out 270g burger topped with the optional $6 foie gras.  The burger comes out on a plate with lettuce, tomato, spanish onion, relish, aoili and a thick patty of beef.  Not to forget to mention a spread of foie gras on the inside of the top bun.  Oh... and a knife stabbed right through the burger.

The burger is a pretty decent burger, being freshly made from fresh ingredients.  The way it's presented and the ingredients used also set it apart from your normal pub burger or many common burger franchises that churn out burgers.  The patty itself isn't too bad - it's pretty consistent throughout showing it's made of decent beef mince, however there isn't a lot of added flavour to the patty - instead keeping to a more pure beef taste and relying on the sauces that go into the burger.

Given the size of the Guvnor burger, the addition of the foie gras adds only an incremental taste to the burger.  The question is how much better did it make the burger?  I definitely tasted the foie gras, but to me eating the burger as a whole I didn't think the foie gras added a great deal more to the experience of the burger - maybe as I'm used to being served foie gras where it is a dominant taste of the dish or in applications that draw out its flavour.  But for $6 it's well worth a shot if you don't know how foie gras tastes in a burger or if you haven't even tried foie gras before.

In summary Jus Burgers is a reasonably trendy burger place that is busy and during peak hours often requires a bit of waiting before you get served/seated.  The burgers though are better than your average burger and coupled with the fact that Jus Burgers seems to be the in-thing makes a good simple and relatively fast casual meal.

Points of note: A large variety of burgers on offer.  Lots of WA produce used.

Go for:  Simple burgers that are decent and have a choice of fillings combinations.  Modern, Leederville atmosphere.

Jus Burgers
743 Newcastle Street
Leederville WA 6007
(08) 9228 2230

Trading Hours
Tuesday to Saturday: 11:30am to 10pm
Sunday: 12noon to 9pm

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pho Chu The, Richmond (Melbourne)

I asked a Vietnamese friend of mine what is the best place in Australia for Beef Pho (or Traditional Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup).  Categorically, they stated Chu The in Melbourne.  Whilst there are a few branches of Chu The in Melbourne, one of the one that seems the most proper to go to (and is very often packed) is the one in the heart of one of the Vietnamese/Chinese-Vietnamese centres of Melbourne - Richmond.  When you go in and see the amount of Vietnamese/Chinese-Vietnamese people inside, surely something must be right?

Pho Chu The - Richmond

The restaurant works on turnover, and for prices in between $7-9 (depending on serving size ) you would think so.  The interior is very typical of a Vietnamese Pho establishment: Simple tables and chairs to maximise patronage; An assortment of sauces, pre-prepared tea in flasks, and dispensers for cutlery and napkins on the table; And menus and various notices in Vietnamese.  Chu The is not a place where you enjoy a long drawn out meal.

Chu The is a true Pho restaurant and accordingly a true Vietnamese restaurant unlike a lot of "Vietnamese" restaurants that serve all sorts of Asian food under the "Vietnamese cuisine" banner.  Aside from a few dishes or specials, it only really sells Pho and an assortment of drinks including Vietnamese drinks (including those that look like they contain beans, jellies, coconut etc).  Whilst Pho is the staple and most popular dish, Chu The offers just about every different Pho there is - ranging from beef to chicken, to tripe and mixes of all sorts of variations and inclusions of meat each giving their own distinct individual flavour and soup base.  I have found from experience that my favourite is the plain Raw Beef Pho.

Raw Beef Pho - $9 for large

The Raw Beef Pho comes out in either a small, medium or large serving size.  The bowl is filled with soup, house-made rice based noodles, thinly sliced raw beef (that cooks as you put it in the hot soup), and topped with spring onion.  On a side dish raw bean sprouts (or if you prefer them softer you can request they dip these into hot water first), lemon, mint and chillies are provided for you to add to your Pho.  This method lets you add your own desired quantity of each additional ingredient to your liking - great concept!  For the fire-eaters and dare-devils amongst you the fresh chillies are pretty hot (too hot for me to put any significant amount in) and if that's not enough you can add the chilli sauce to help you sweat even more.

So what makes Chu The so good?  It's all in the soup.  The soup base of the Raw Beef Pho I had was very flavoursome as far as Pho goes.  So much so that I want to drink the whole bowl of soup - and that is even without the addition of copious amounts of fat that can be added into soups with cream or coconut milk.  Saying that, I suspect the soup base involves many hours of simmering a large pot full of bones and various other secret ingredients to get it to taste the way it does.

Whilst I prefer Raw Beef Pho, I am told that the Chicken Pho (which comes with a completely different soup base) is also very good.  And if you like your other combinations of Pho or if you're game for it, Chu The will probably have something for you.

In summary, if you like Pho I recommend you try Chu The if you get the chance.  If you haven't tried Pho before and are in the area, Chu The wouldn't be a bad place to decide whether you like it or not.  For prices in the vicinity of $7-9 it's pretty good value and you have little to lose.

Points of note:  Authentic Vietnamese Pho.  Typical quick and simple meal and environment.

Go for: Really good Pho and a good price!

Pho Chu The
270 Victoria Street
Richmond VIC 3121
(03) 9427 7749

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cina, Armadale (Melbourne)

In Melbourne's suburb of Armadale are a few restaurants and cafes set in typical Melbourne suburban fashion - long narrow restaurants in nicely renovated buildings.  One of these restaurants is Cina on High Street.  Cina states they serve Malaysian and North Chinese Cuisine - which are presented in separate sections of the menu.  The prices are moderate with many dishes in the $20-30 region, putting them above your eat-and-go restaurants but not as expensive as up-market fine dining.

The shopfront is not very large, but once you go inside the atmosphere comes across as relaxed yet a place you could enjoy a meal with good conversation and wine (or food and conversation if you don't drink alcohol) .  The interior is quite modern yet retains a definite Chinese character for a restaurant that serves what would otherwise be quite traditional dishes.  The wallpaper is decorated with Chinese Calligraphy, and the lighting and colours give an inviting warm feeling.  The venue, being licensed, also has a large assortment of wines displayed on shelves throughout the restaurant.

Portion of Cina's wallpaper

The decor is also modern (in an Asian way) that adds to the experience.

 Cina's cutlery presentation

 Cup of tea

Onto the food...

Peking Duck - $29 for 6 pieces

For those of you who don't know what Peking Duck is, it is a dish consisting of small thin pancakes that you usually fill with Roast Duck skin squares, cucumber, spring onion and hoisin sauce.  Cina's Peking Duck initially is brought out by the waitperson on a dish showing the separate ingredients for you to view.  After giving your approval, the wait-staff bring the dish back into the kitchen to prepare the Peking Duck serves which are brought to you on individual plates to enjoy.  Many restaurants leave the dish for you to prepare yourself, but Cina gives you the option of preparing them yourself or by the staff.

The Peking Duck servings are well prepared, with a generous amount of vegetables, and with a portion of meat on the crispy duck skin giving it a bit more substance(many restaurants serve it without the meat).  The pancakes are light and freshly prepared, and there's a good serve of the hoisin sauce for flavour.

Salt and Pepper Calamari - $23.80

This is not your typical salt and pepper squid you get from many Chinese restaurants or restaurants that do Yum Cha/Dim Sum.  The coating is quite light and see-through that seems like a light coating that verges on a dusting of a special flour mix, and it doesn't taste like it has been drenched in oil.  The frying oil used also seems relatively fresh as there isn't that mix of other infused flavours when the frying oil has been reused many times, plus the frying colours looks relatively light.  Add to that cut fresh chillies to add to the flavour plus a bed of something similar to deep fried bits of wonton skin, and this dish stands out as a proper, rather than churned out, salt and pepper squid.

Peking Pork Ribs - $17.80

Similar to the Salt and Pepper Squid, the batter is relatively light though in this dish the pork ribs are coated in a proper batter.  The sauce is a sweet and savoury sauce that turns out well on this dish without being sickly.  The dish is served with shredded onion and spring onions, and a side serving of steamed broccoli.

Coconut Jelly - $6.80

The coconut jelly was very smooth for a coconut jelly/pudding, consistent, and had the texture in between a panna cotta and the more mainstream coconut puddings.  The taste was light yet had a nice sweet coconut taste that was quite a nice refreshing end to dinner.  The dusting of icing sugar and garnish added a nice touch to this dish.

Overall, Cina is a well presented Chinese and Malaysian restaurant that serves some refined versions of 'normal' Asian dishes.  The quality of the food together with the nicely interior decorated layout provides for an experience a cut above your average Malaysian or Chinese restaurant.

1183 High Street
Armadale VIC 3143
(03) 9824 4102 

Trading Hours:
Lunch - 7 days: 12 noon to 3pm
Dinner - 7 days: 5:30pm to 10:30pm

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bouchon Bistro, Wembley

*UPDATED REVIEW - click here*

Down in the middle of Wembley lies a French Restaurant that from the outside looks relatively modest and unassuming. The name of the restaurant is Bouchon Bistro and over a number of years has gathered a bit of a name for itself. Bouchon Bistro is owned by Chef de cuisine Gwenaël Lesle and Manager Philippe Kordics who have been running the establishment since 2002. Prior to opening Bouchon Bistro, Gwenaël was head chef of Friends Restaurant at the Hyatt.

Inside Bouchon Bistro the atmosphere is casual but has a distinctive character. True to its name, they have furnished the restaurant like a French Bistro, giving a charming feel complete with French posters, French wine, and French staff. On some parts of the wall you will even see testimonies from previous customers writing about their own good experiences of the food and service of Bouchon Bistro.

Bouchon Bistro states that their philosophy is "Delivering the most innovative, challenging and interesting food at the best possible price." A perusal through their menu does in fact show some innovative and interesting dishes all at a reasonable price for food in this category. Bouchon Bistro offers an a la carte menu, a set course menu (a choice of 3 or 4 dishes from the a la carte menu), or for those wanting a surprise - a seven course degustation menu (but must be ordered for the whole table). The degustation menu is where chef Gwenael shows more of his innovative skills with a large range of offerings being largely French based but often containing modern and international elements to further enhance the experience. As far as drinks are concerned, the offerings available include a selection of local and imported beers, as well as a reasonable selection of wines with an emphasis on French wines.

I must admit that once I tried the seven course menu I haven't turned back yet (perhaps some day). So on this occasion there was no surprise that I opted for the degustation menu. The seven course degustation menu must be pre-ordered at least a day in advance as all the courses are specially selected and prepared by the head chef and you don't find out what will be served until they come from the kitchen. The only control you have over what you are served is to indicate any food or ingredients you can't eat or don't want when you make the booking, followed by 2 choices when you arrive: the meat or fish, and the pre-dessert or cheese platter. The degustation menu is also constantly changing so don't expect the same courses if you opt to take the degustation meal a second time - they did say innovative.

To compliment the seven course degustation menu, Bouchon Bistro offers a choice of matching wines. This option costs $50 per head in addition to the $100 degustation menu food bill. For $50 you get 6 glasses of (pretty much) full pours starting from a sparkling/champagne, through to whites and reds and ending up with a dessert wine. The wines are matched by the staff to every course except the pre-dessert/cheese platter course. If you do drink however, I suggest you consider not driving after the meal.

Complimentary bread and butter

I don't really consider myself a big bread eater, but the baguette-like bread had a crunchy crust and was soft (best when slightly warm). The French butter was rich and refined, whilst being soft enough to spread on the bread. I find that one serving (especially if you opt to have the degustation menu which can vary in duration from 2.5-3.5 hours depending how busy they are) is never enough.

Tomato Gazpacho, salmon roulade topped with green ginger, and scallop and tofu topped with sweet pork belly

This dish was interestingly varied in its three components. The Gazpacho was refreshing and light; the salmon roulade was fresh, had a nice soft texture, and the ginger gave it a slight kick; the scallop was tender and had that fresh and natural sweet taste, and the pork belly had a strong flavour and coating of a tasty sweet sauce.

Tuna tartar with quail egg, goats cheese quenelle, and polenta chips

This dish was presented with a quail egg on top of a bed of tuna. As it is served, we're instructed to mix in the quail egg with the tuna. Whilst I have had something similar before, it was with chicken egg rather than quail egg. The result is a very nice combination of fresh tuna with the contents of a small quail egg that adds a softer texture to the tuna without being overpowering. Aside from the tuna, the goats cheese quenelle has a nice creamy goats cheese flavour that isn't as strong as a straight goats cheese, and the polenta chips are had a crisp outer layer and tasty core which turned out nice to eat but pity there were only 2 pieces per serve.

Foie gras custard topped with apple, oyster and parsley foam

This dish was a complimentary course from the chef. The foie gras custard had a consistent texture, and a nice amount foie gras to give you the distinct taste whilst still retaining a custard consistency. The apple, oyster and parsley foam topped off the dish - the oyster being very fresh, and the apple and parsley foam adding a nice refreshing element.

Beef cheek on tapioca, with pureed carrot and an onion reduction

As a relatively tough cut of beef, I am not usually a big fan of beef cheeks. However, the beef cheek cube of this dish was quite tender and well matched with the crumbed coating and pureed carrot and onion reduction. The pureed carrot was smooth, slightly creamy, and had the right amount of salt seasoning to compliment the dish; and the onion reduction was full of flavour (as you would expect from a well made reduction) that gave a nice tasty onion sauce to eat with the beef cheek. The elements of the dish worked together to make this quite a tasty dish.

Lavender parfait with sweet pear and Szechuan crisp

This dish was the palate cleanser before the main course. The lavender parfait was light and refreshing whilst the Szechuan crisp had a bit of a bite. This dish isn't exactly like your standard palate cleanser but felt a bit more substantial whilst offering different flavours of sweet, floral, refreshing, as well as a bit of a Szechuan bite.

Pan fried duck on zucchini, duck cannelloni with eggplant, cauliflower puree and broad beans

This was my first choice allowed of the meal - the main course. Having chosen the meat option over fish, out came a duck dish with two different servings of duck. The pan fried duck was cooked just right - tender and pan fried with flavour giving the duck skin that nice lightly fried taste to it. The duck cannelloni was a bit different - with duck meat filled into a cannelloni and topped with a tasty eggplant sauce.

Strawberry soaked in blood orange and campari, topped with pistachio cream

This dish was the second choice offered. I opted for the pre-dessert option over the cheese platter. The strawberries soaked in blood orange gave this dish a nice light refreshing dessert element, and the campari gave it a small kick. The pistachio cream was nice and light, giving a sweet pistachio flavour. Overall, this was quite a nice light feeling dish, making one ready for a heavier dessert to follow.

Chocolate fondant, almond ice cream and honey madeline

The chocolate fondant was rich and chocolately, with the centre oozing of a rich chocolate sauce. Whether or not you like rich chocolate desserts will determine how much you enjoy this element, but the size was right to make sure you didn't get a chocolate overload. The almond ice cream was rich and creamy - obviously made in house, whilst the honey madeline was quite light with only a small hint of honey and a bit of a fluffy texture
In summary, Bouchon Bistro offers interesting and non-run-of-the-mill food that is well thought out and offers exciting tastes. At the same time, the food quality is refined and generally what I would expect from a more fancily outfitted restaurant.

Points of note: A la carte as well as an ever changing degustation menu.  Ranges from reasonably short to long degustation or multi-course meals in a relaxed environment.  Prices are reasonable for fine dining quality food.

Go for: French and modern French food.  Exciting degustation menu available - but you need to book/advise ahead.  Some of the dishes are real gems.

Bouchon Bistro363A Cambridge Street
(08) 9387 3898

Trading Hours:
Tuesday to Saturday: 6:30 to late

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Quay Restaurant, Sydney

Ten minutes to opening time. We arrive at Peter Gilmore’s Quay. There’s already a line outside. Inside, the wait staff are huddled around each other and being briefed for the night. Quay was rated Australian restaurant of the year according to a few of Australia's industry ratings.

As can be expected from a restaurant of this calibre, the staff are all very friendly, attentive and refined. However, to my liking, the staff were personable and not uncomfortably posh. The restaurant itself is situated at Circular Quay, which offers fantastic views of both the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge (if you manage to get a good seat). Inside there's nicely lush carpeted interiors, and windows stretching the entire length of the waterfront side.

View of the Sydney Opera House from Quay

The dinner menu at Quay currently provides you with a choice of two options: the four course dinner menu (with 5 choices per course); or the signature menu. I opted for the four course menu.

The amuse bouche for the night was raw tuna on a bed of tapioca and cheese base, topped with an edible flower. The taste was subtle yet worked well together, providing a nice appetiser for the meal to come.

Sea Pearls - Sashimi tuna, aquaculture caviar, sea scallop, smoked eel, octopus, mud crab, abalone

The first course I had was the signature sea pearls which, based on my last visit, seems to be a welcome fixture of Quay. Each sea pearl is delicately made into small bite size pieces that look like someone has handcrafted them. Eating the sea pearls live up to their name - each being full of distinct seafood flavours. The sea pearls are unlike anything I've had before and are hard to describe - and whilst it's not intended to be a main course sized seafood platter, the taste combinations and textures left me wanting more.

Five textures of Southern Rock Lobster

My second selection was the five textures of southern rock lobster served in two dishes. This dish presented five very distinct textures of lobster from chunks of lobster to lobster bisque. This dish gave a different way of looking at lobster without being your typical lobster mornay (or like) or mounds of lobster cooked in sauce. You may have had lobster in various guises before, but this dish brings together a combination of them into one serving.

24 hour slow cooked milk fed Suffolk lamb, sheep’s milk fromage, heirloom baby carrots, Arbequina olives, capers, nasturtiums and rosemary flowers

My main course was the milk fed Suffolk Lamb served with a side salad to share. The lamb was tender and flavoursome, the meat tore apart effortlessly, and had a layer of ‘skin’ coating the top of the lamb with additional flavour. The vegetables and sides were very fresh (the carrot tips were still very green) and complimented the lamb well. Quay sources some of its produce from an organic farm it maintains. This just adds to the freshness and quality of the ingredients that you can taste .

Eight texture chocolate cake featuring Amedei 'Chuao' Chocolate

This chocolate cake contained seven textures of chocolate to form a round chocolate cake. As it is served, an eighth texture of chocolate ganache is poured onto the chocolate cake. The combinations of the textures obviously took a lot of skill to prepare and presents nicely as you delve into it. The chocolate cake was delicious, and despite its name was not overpowering with chocolate. The different textures allow you to experience the difference tastes in the cake giving a lot more character than your standard chocolate cake.

To sum up, Quay serves some innovative food that has been expertly put together with service and views to match. The recurring theme is the attention to texture and taste combinations which give the food that added complexity and uniqueness. As a whole, Quay offers a special restaurant experience or a meal to excite a discerning taste bud.

Points to note:  One of Australia's top restaurants.  Very good and fresh food, very well executed.

Go for: Taste combinations and textures. Excellent fine dining experience for a special occasion.

Quay Restaurant
Upper Level Overseas Passengers Terminal Circular Quay West
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9251 5600

Trading Hours:
Lunch - Tuesday to Friday: 12 noon to 2:30pm
Dinner - Monday to Sunday: 6:00pm to 10:00pm