Friday, January 28, 2011

Melbourne wrap #3

This is the last of the Melbourne posts, starting from last year. After one particular day of city tripping, through Flinders Street on the way back to our serviced apartment, we see people clutching cones of fresh cooked potato chips and eagerly join the queue at Lord of the Fries.

It’s not just chips – there’s the huge range of sauces, onion rings, burgers and even “nuggets” – not bad for a vegetarian/vegan outlet. For a very late lunch we order a few boxes of deep fried goodies drenched in sauces to take home for a proper pig-out, six-pack in hand – all class.

Fries with Swiss and Belgian sauces from Lord of the Fries,
Flinders Street, Melbourne CBD
The box of chips gets soggy quickly, steaming away as we rushed home – I wonder if the cones keep them crisp more effectively? It’s not helped by the puddles of two different sauces on top: the special of a Swiss mustard in bright chutney yellow and the creamy Belgian ‘euro’ mayo.

Thickly cut and well browned, I struggle to find a single crispy chip in the box, but the thick, creamy and herbs/spice-dotted mayonnaise makes up for it, mostly.

Onion rings with Aussie sauce
The box full on onion rings is also doused in a sauce; this the Aussie, a tomato sauce with vinegar. I’m not sure what’s so Australian about that, but it’s a refreshing change from good old ‘dead horse’.

Perhaps caused by the golden crumb on the rings of onion, this pack actually maintained some crispness and was my favourite of the lot.

Nuggets with Vietnamese sauce
I momentarily forgot that Lord of the Fries is vegetarian when I ordered the nuggets; enticed by one of my childhood favourites and current ‘guilty pleasure’ foods. Rather free in form, these golden battered blobs are drowning in the Vietnamese sauce that is a sweet chilli mayonnaise.

Nugget inner
Biting into the nugget, I think anyone could easily mistake it for chicken. The texture was spot-on (although I suppose chicken nuggets come in varying textures anyway, with rather unknown contents), but there was definitely a lack of flavour that probably comes from chicken fat (and feathers, bones and beaks if some people are to be believed). Improved with the sauce, we polish off this box too, crumbs and all.

Post Lord of the Fries meal
Re-energised, lined stomachs and a bit thirsty from the salty fare, a few drinks were in order. We managed to get to Lonsdale Street where the bar hopping started; the first two bars were great though – the subsequent ones less and less memorable and ending quite unmemorably at Crown Casino.

Seamstress, Lonsdale Street, Melbourne CBD
I found Seamstress (or more accurately, its basement, Sweatshop) a few years ago after stumbling out of a Chinatown laneway. With three levels (basement bar, first level restaurant, top level cocktail bar), there’s something for most; although the kitchen was closed at our late hour. While both bars were relatively quiet, we sat up at the bar at Seamstress for a cocktail.

The Tri-fecta
I couldn’t resist the menu of ‘Short drinks in fancy glasses’, and beautiful, fancy glasses they were. Based on vodka, lime, sugar and delectable elderflower cordial, it was a refreshing tipple, especially with the cucumber and mint additions.

In fact, the cucumber flavour came through more strongly than the elderflower, as did the lime. It was a very pretty yet properly warming drink.

Bartender's tipple

Written up on a board next to the bar, the ‘bartender’s tipple’ was a special that included pisco, pineapple juice and lemon, and was a stronger drink, equally warming if not more so. Pisco is not one of my poisons of choice, with its strong rum-like, in my opinion.

Nihonshu, Lonsdale Street, Melbourne CBD

A literal hop and skip away, we pass a dimly lit shopfront with a long bar running down its length and step back to see Nihonshu looking back invitingly. I see two seats inside at the high-seated bar and pull up to the substantial menu of sake and shochu.

Shelves stocked with sake

The shelves behind the bar are almost groaning under the weight of a huge selection of bottles and tins of beers, with Japanese snacks to match. We see others further up the bar choosing their own sake cups of different patterns for their immediate use.

Winter special and potato chips

We ordered a winter special of umeshu (plum wine) with black tea and sugar, which arrives piping hot in a large earthenware teacup. It’s strong in all three facets, with the alcohol in the plum wine almost amplified by the heat, toned down somewhat by the bitterness of the tea.

We also share chips and soy crisps in more gorgeous crockery from an actual menu of Japanese snack foods.

Nihonshu interior

Chilling at Nihonshu

It felt quite Japanese underground in the bar, so it was a little odd to step back out into the cold Melbourne CBD street and see Saturday night crowds out and about. The night continues at The Toff in Town (a lot of colourful characters, to say the least) and Match Bar (much more subdued and cruisey).

With the wisdom of not being quite so young and stupid anymore, the night ends with a degree of decorum and the morning after starts with a refreshing, hangover-free swim and spa session. I’m finally seeing some positives in maturity.

Lord of the Fries on Urbanspoon

Seamstress on Urbanspoon

Nihonshu Shochu & Sake Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Strand me on The Island Bar, please

It so far hasn’t been the best of Sydney summers, and having recently returned from some similarly variable and unseasonal weather in Asia, I’m a bit over it. Blue sky and sunshine, please. And if and when that is ever the case, I’ll be heeding the call of The Island Bar in Sydney Harbour’s Cockatoo Island.

The Island Bar, Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour
Open since December some time, The Island Bar is the brainchild of Bacco barman Marco Faraone, also Time Out’s Bartender of the Year 2010. Invited along to the media launch, +1 and I and a packed water taxi headed speedily towards the heritage listed island one afternoon.

Some view
Racing by ferries and yachts, my first experience with a water taxi was a little bumpy but manageable. Alighting at the moving jetty was easy enough in heels and sober, though I had concerns for later after a few beverages or so.

The Island Bar launch
But enough with the worrying, I had much to look forward to: cocktails, antipasti and a simply extraordinary setting that is uniquely Sydney (although Melbourne’s Yarra is getting a similar bar in Ponyfish Island – muddy river versus glistening harbour, hmmm).

Looking around Cockatoo Island
It’s a short walk across the island to get to The Island Bar, its brightly striped umbrellas and astroturf-ed surface making it unmissable.

The converted shipping containers that form the bar and an upstairs area fit right in with the island’s shipping history (it was the site of one of Australia's biggest shipyards during the 20th century as well as a former imperial prison, industrial school, reformatory and gaol).

The Island Bar's bar
The bar setup stands out from its rather industrial and then water surrounds, but it doesn’t feel out of place, especially when you’re seated in a comfy-as low deck chair which is easier to get into than out of.

Queue at the bar
Cocktails at the bar beckoned, made fresh and ready for our arrival. I’m initially a little overwhelmed by the wide selection available from The Island Bar’s list of 22 cocktails, each more enticing than the next – not surprising considering Faraone is behind the menu.

Marco Faraone
I start with an Elderflower Collins, an elderflower cordial sweetened twist on the classic Tom Collins. Made with Hendricks Gin and topped with mint and a slice of cucumber, it was, as always with the first drink, one that went down too easily.

The Negroni looks a dark and sexy drink with its cucumber slice and orange twist, but I’m more in the mood for the sweet and silly this night.

Aperol Spritz

Cold War Sgroppino
Frothy, pink and fanciful, the Sgroppino is just the thing to pretend it was a summery day and even offset the saltiness of cured meats. Russian Standard vodka, Aperol and lemon juice are whizzed and fizzed up with lemon sorbet to create the fluffy top of the drink. Indeed, I even got blobs of sorbet in my foam, which were unexpectedly nice.

Making the Hello Sailor cocktails

Possibly a Cockatoo Peach Julep - so many drinks!

The barbeque
Trays of various bruschetta from the spuntini menu did the rounds of the astroturf, doing a good job in subduing appetites and preventing too much tipsiness. In a nod to the very Australian lifestyle and surrounds, bread for the bruschetta was grilled on a barbeque, emitting smoky aroma to all nearby.

Tray of bruschetta
The Traditionale bruschetta with diced tomato, basil and garlic is, as ever, messy and not ideal eaten over a silk skirt, but full of fresh and sweet flavours.

The Romana was my favourite with a surprisingly not too salty blend of black olives, made almost creamy with lots and lots of olive oil.

The Calbrese featured a beautifully creamy and subdued goat’s cheese, smeared onto the bread and topped with ribbons of roasted red capsicum.

The Paesana was also a winner with a curl of chewy, salty prosciutto adorning a liberal spread of grilled artichoke tapenade, a delicious if not uncommon spread.

Salumi platter
We somehow managed to score a cured meat platter on our table too, which didn’t do the rounds quite as easily as the bruschetta but are great for sharing anyway. The salami was the easiest to pick at, a chunky chewy roll of cured pork, flavoured with fennel seeds and quite addictive to chew.


The bresaola was the darkest of the lot, with a strong meaty flavour compared to the pork meats. I preferred this air dried beef with something; bread or the sparse marinated vegetables in the centre of the platter.

Also a bit chewy was the capocollo, a darkly cured pork neck that was rather salty and otherwise not as flavourful as its platter partners.

The prosciutto was by far the saltiest of the lot, nearly painfully so, though this had texture a little closer to ham than the firmer prosciutto I’m accustomed to.

Sausage on a roll
More substantial food in the way of a good old sausage sizzle started later in the night, served on soft hot dog buns with grilled onion and selection of sauces. It was actually a really decent sausage and probably something they’ll replicate on Australia Day.

Island Bar activities: soccer, croquet and more

You can even see the Sydney Tower from The Island Bar

Shelter amid shipbuilding relics

Ferries to Cockatoo Island will probably do a more loopy journey to the island compared to a water taxi that goes direct, so check the timetable and especially times for the last ferry. I mean, The Island Bar is a great concept that really showcases Cockatoo Island, but I don’t really fancy getting stranded overnight on the island when the bar’s not open.

The Island Bar, Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour
Thanks to The Cru Media for the invitation to a great night on the island.

The Island Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 21, 2011

Smells like... Asian food: Huong Huong

I normally steer clear of places that do all sorts of cuisines as I struggle to think how they can perfect one cuisine, let alone three. In Marrickville Huong Huong was doing a brisk lunch trade the Saturday I visited – in, it appears, its Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai cuisine offerings.

Inside Huong Huong, Marrickville Road, Marrickville
Having stumbled in from the outside humidity, I was getting even more flustered flipping through the pages of the menu of 400+ items, starting with a page of Thai options followed by the rest in protein and carbohydrate categories.

Iced lemon tea (left) and iced sweet coffee (right)
With drinks first, an iced sweet coffee and a lemon iced tea, I was looking for the Vietnamese section, which oddly didn’t really eventuate, though Vietnamese dishes dominated the noodles section.

It was too hot for pho, though I’m sure that’s not how the Vietnamese might see it, and the scarily large bowl size would be too much as it was supposed to be a light lunch.

Crispy skin chicken with tomato rice
Seeing a neighbouring table’s delightful meal, I followed suit and ordered the crispy skin chicken with tomato rice. It was a beautiful dish that arrived with a reddened and chopped chicken maryland showing obvious signs of crispness.

There was also an abundance of tomato rice, in a pile that covered the entire plate, and garnish of a tomato wedge, some cucumber slices and a leaf of iceberg lettuce.

Crispy chicken skin
The chicken skin was faultless, thin, crunchy and flavoursome, but the flesh was a little less tasty and desperately needed the dipping sauce to lift it. Once dipped, the perfectly cooked chicken reached a level of deliciousness that warranted picking up with fingers.

The tomato rice, while red, was a little less tomatoe-y than I’d expected, and a little on the oily side too. It made for a filling dish with the leftovers for the next day just as good.

Grilled pork salad
For the something light, the salads section proffered many delectable combinations, and the grilled pork version arrived looking fabulous, served with perfectly round prawn crackers.

The grilled pork was fairly lean and tender, while the mint leaves, Spanish onion and crunchy, shredded raw cabbage made for great partners in the salty, sweet and sour dressing topped with a tumble of crushed peanuts.

Prawn crackers that come with the salad
Though not a fan of raw onion, I had no problems with the Spanish onion here nor the plentiful chopped peanuts. I preferred eating the salad on its own then crunching into the crackers, rather than putting the salad on the cracker, for fear of soggy prawn crackers.

With leftovers to go as well, Huong Huong’s quick pan-Asian tour proved that perhaps three cuisines in one isn’t all that unusual after all.

Huong Huong on Urbanspoon


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