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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Melbourne: Brunches of 2014 (Hammer & Tong)

Hammer & Tong at Brunswick St, Fitzroy.

My last brunch spot after a skiing trip was at Hammer & Tong.  Still trending on the Melbourne’s top 10 eating list, this place sports your usual Fitzroy vibe with a simple fit out and hipster dressed crew.  As Hammer & Tong was the brainchild of a ex-Vue de Monde chef, my expectations were rather high.  Or if you prefer, astronomical.  

My first dish was Hammer & Tong’s classic Soft Shell Crab burger ($14).

Crispy, with a slight hint of roe between this fluffy bun, it was no surprise that the Soft Shell Crab burger is an instant hit among diners.  It was not because it was unusual, but rather, the combination is a no-brainer. Who hate deep fried stuff between buns!?  Pair that with some mayo and refreshing coleslaw, it was just sensational. to The biggest merit is the deep fried crab which was not dripping in oil!  For $14 bucks though, it was a microscopic meal which means more food required, so I ordered the zucchini and corn fritters ($18) to my meal.

At Hammer & Tong, the fritters were actually crisp unlike the one I had at Mart 130 before!  With one poached egg to merry the lot with the avocado, parmesan and homemade tomato chutney, it was actually a pretty good eat.  BUT, it was again, another microscopic meal.

XL on the other hand ordered the ramen.  Translucent onsen egg, mushrooms, bacon, spring onions on a bacon dashi base.  The intent here was clear from start to end.  Hammer & Tong's use of bacon not only provided a saltiness to the dish, but at the same time a sense of smokiness. A truly unusual dish, but with two bacon elements together, it felt too salty for my liking. But for an brunch place, it was a good attempt.  
Breakfast Ramen; 62c hens egg, bacon, oyster mushroom, spring onion, bacon dashi

At Hammer & Tong, the menu is creative with unique ingredients making their way to the menu.  Soft shell crab, ramen, and duck eggs to mention a few.  But at the end of the day, this place still presents brunch at a level already available in town.  Least to say, brunch here was satisfying.  My biggest dislike though were the microscopic serves.  Without two meals, you go home feeling half the man you were before you walked in. If I had to queue to get in (most did) which was probably gonna be very long at peak hours, I’d be gutted to be served that a burger that pathetic size.  Yay or Nay?  Yay, but with caution.

Looking for Brunch?  Check out my Melbourne Brunches in 2014


 Hammer & Tong on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Melbourne: Brunches of 2014 (Operator 25)

Operator 25 at Wills St, Melbourne CBD

If you do not like to queue but have no intentions on sacrificing on quality, where do you go?  Frequented by my fellow Melbourne residents, is Operator 25.  Coming in closer to 11am, it was barely three-quarters full and we easily got a sit inside. Wow, high ceilings and an airy sitting area too? Operator 25 just seems to have it all at that point.  But can the kitchen deliver?    


Greeted and served with no delay, the menu was soon in my hands.  A quick flick and I decided on the Balinese Pulled Pork and Coleslaw on Brioche roll with Sweet Potato Wedges ($19).  Why bother with the staples like the boring big breakfast no?
Biting into that soft buttery brioche was a familiar Balinese taste.  Not it was no Babi Guling or Naughty Nuri’s, instead it tasted like my very own ex-colleague Mei’s Indonesian pork dish with notes of fragrant lemon grass, turmeric and other spices pounded together.   The delicious and tender pulled pork made this roll simply irresistible.   Fresh coriander which also happens to be a favourite herb of mine was there to ensure that the meal never gets to overwhelming due to its meaty nature.  Also, do not forget about the yummy sweet potato wedges.  It was very, I repeat, very delicious. 

My friend KK on the other hand opted for his usual fix, the House Benedict with Grandmother Ham, eggs, and Hollandaise on a Rosti ($15).  Definitely would have ordered that if I knew they used a potato rosti instead of the boring English muffin. 
The Hollandaise here had a runnier texture than usual but was still every bit flavourful.  The Grandmother Ham tasted smokier than usual too but I was not sure whether it was just me being overly sensitive or it actually was.  Was it a yummy bite?  I surely think it was :)!

An eye catching dessert of Vanilla Custard Sago, Rhubarb, Raspberry Foam and Honeycomb/Meringue ($9) gave our brunch a sweet ending.  I do not remember seeing a dessert so pretty ever for a price below $10.  This might be a first in a very long time indeed! And boy did it taste good.
Mild in sweetness, the dessert was bursting from the natural sweetness of the rhubarb and honeycomb/meringue.  Pair it with the sour berry foam and it was all very well-balanced.  Bite into the bouncy textures of the little sago pearl, roll it around, have another spoon of the airy foam.  Repeat.  Nirvana achieved.

Operator 25 was a surprise candidate for me, but for my Melbourne friends it was simply another day in the big city.  If mainstream delights like the Hardware Société does not score well in your books, here is where you belong.  Not regrets for sure.  In fact, this was my top brunch in this big city.  For 2 people with a dessert to share would have costed no more than $26/27.  (No guarantee of queue-less weekends!)

Looking for Brunch?  Check out my Melbourne Brunches in 2014

Operator25 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Melbourne: Brunches of 2014 (Hardware Société)

Ever since I visited Melbourne 7 years ago, I have envied the lifestyle here.  Shopping and eating usually came tops but after NYC, I found that exploring the little lane ways that divides the city into small navigable plots was an even more enjoyable thing to do as a tourist as you never know what lies behind the next corner.   Putting likes aside, my most recent trip here is proof to why Melbourne is easily the brunch capital of Australia.  If you plan on visiting Melbourne, this 3-part breakfast/brunch post is WenY's verdict on the city's 3 hot spots!  With queues out of the door by 8 at most of them, you have been warned.  Go or not to go?  Your choice ;)!

Hardware Société at Hardware Ln, Melbourne CBD
My first stop at 7.30 in the morning was Melbourne’s top brunch spot, the Hardware Société.  I scanned the little eatery and found that it was no surprise that this place had hour long queues during weekends as it only seats 30-40 people.  However, solo dining in this “French” spot is a breeze at that time and I was immediately seated at the bar.

My breakfast was quick to arrive that morning and no it was not their famous baked eggs (too boring!). Instead I opted for a dish of crisp pork belly .  Damn it was good. For starters, the pork belly had the right seasoning and was soft through with its the skin crisp just right.  It did not have that bubbled crackling but a smooth crisp shard which had no intention of sticking between your teeth.  For presentation which I press hard at times, the eggs were picture perfect with its runny yolk trickling down ever so slowly onto the plate.  Damn it was a sight to behold. But ultimately, pinching bits of the plate and having them together was simply yums.
Pork belly, polenta hash, fried eggs, caramelised onions and aioli $18.

A delicious breakfast and a pot of tea was the right kick-start to my first morning.   But fancy apostrophe naming paired with gargantuan publicity also meant that by 8.20,  queues were out of the door.  As Melbourne’s favourite spot, was it all hype?  Definitely not.  But if I had to queue for a long time, I would rather not.

Looking for Brunch?  Check out my Melbourne Brunches in 2014

The Hardware Société on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 8, 2014

Bites: Francoforte Spaghetti Bar @ William St. Arcade, Northbridge

Before jetting off to Melbourne last Tuesday, I enjoyed a  meal of pasta with my sister at the Francoforte  Spaghetti Bar located just a doorstep across from Super Star Waffles in the arcade on 189 William St, Northbridge.  7PM always seem like a bad idea but thankfully on a weekday, the congestion in this little pasta place clears quickly and it took them no more than 10 minutes to get us seated.

After being seated, we placed our orders and were given a complimentary serve of bread, with olive oil and balsamic.

Kale Pesto
Kale and lemon pesto, pecorino, caciatorre sausage, spaghetti

Porco Rosso
Sugo, pork sausages, spaghetti

Guanciale Carbonara
Cured pigs cheek, parmesan, pecorino, penne

Having picked at various pastas around the table, I could not fault with the pasta served at Francoforte.   If was cooked right, served right and the taste was pretty decent.  Do not expect lashings of creamy and American style trickery to hide the pasta.  

Whilst I was not expecting the flavours to overpower the pasta, I was not exactly bowled over by the flavour combination and wanted more bang for my buck.  For example, the Carbonara had great saltiness from the generous slices of crisp pigs cheek which was a nice touch, but the over all finish to the dish was lacking.  It did not have the silkiness or an even salt distribution.  Without a slice of pig’s cheek, it was bland.  Similar comments would apply to both the Kale and Porco Rosso pastas.  The kale pesto one had a homemade feel that enveloped the strand of spaghetti very well but still did not bring me to that level of nirvana a normal basil pesto one does.  

Was Francoforte Spaghetti a bad eat?  Definitely not.  In fact, if I went to Italy, I would be looking for the homemade feel which I get from Francoforte.  Reading the comments of other, I quickly found the error.  If in Italy, the flavour of the sauce are meant to compliment the homemade pasta.  But in the case of using pre-made pasta, does it still work?  I have absolutely no idea whether the spaghetti was homemade or not.  One thing for sure though is that it did not have the same silkiness of the one I had at Marea or Rockpool.  Then again, the two restaurants I mentioned are heavily accredited by the folks at the Michelin Guide or Australia Good Food Guide.  
Francoforte despite being hard to fault, the pastas here were more of an OK than a “wow”.   In saying that, I would not feel obligated to even bother queuing on a busy day.  But on any other day, it could be an automatic walk-in meal.

Francoforte Spaghetti Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Bites: Yum Cha @ Fortune Five Dim Sum, Northbridge

A sudden Yum Cha craving hit my sister over the weekends and when Monday struck, YH and I was at her office doorstep to get her a quick fix.  As per usual we went to our usual spot on James Street.  But if you have not noticed, Dragon Seafood has now become Fortune Five Dim Sum.  Thankfully, the dim sum here is now better than ever whilst the prices have stayed stagnant.   11.50pm and a full house filled with the Asian oldies and their counterparts was a clear testament to my statement.

First up were vegetables stuffed with fish paste and covered in a sticky black bean sauce.  Simply yummy!  The waitress claims it is a dish from HK but whilst in Malaysia, my mom does it with her eyes closed.  Confusion ~.~!
In the background is the bean curd roll and the prawn with coriander dumpling.  Not sure whether island life has made me desperate for Chinese food but the dim sum here tasted really good that day.

Another staple I ordered was the Siu Mai which was a little porky to YH, but for me it was a meaty little bugger.  I like my Siu Mai to be a little porky but not smelly if you get what I mean.  This hits my sweet spot.  Naturally, I had half the steamer as my sister does not really enjoy Siu Mai too.

YH’s ordered Salt Pepper Squid Legs which is his usual order.  I found the seasoning a little under but where Fortune Five does well is in ensuring that every piece of tentacle is coated nicely and cooked to perfection.  One too many times have I dined at Dragon Palace, Golden Century, Dim Sum Cafe, and other places that served me half-assed tentacles which were either only partially battered, or came out disgustingly oily.   

Last but not least were the egg tarts.  Who can walk away from a dim sum meal without a serve of these lovely tarts.  My dad would certainly have to give that person a lecture.  The tarts in Fortune Five comes in a serve of 3.  Crispy on the first bite, the custard was to my liking.  Firm enough with the right sweetness.  It could be eggier though.  I love my egg tarts after all :)!

Me bringing out the camera today was a little bit of a mistake.  For some odd reason I thought we were going to a new pasta place.  Thankfully it was of great use.   Fortune Five now has an appearance on this little blog of mine ;)!  Food at this new Yum Cha place has really got me wanting to come back.  The quality is there and the price is right.  I have not had the whole menu but from the food we ordered that day, Fortune Five Dim Sum really did well.  This is probably the best Yum Cha place in the Perth CBD area.  However, as I have mentioned in my previous Yum Cha posts, the quality of dim sum in Perth can be inconsistent, so if Fortune Five keeps up their good work, queues will definitely be out of the door!


Fortune Five on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 4, 2014

NYC Trip: The End

If someone asks you how big is New York City? Just say “Too big,”.  It really is.  Over a week, I ate my way through the big Apple and found many places irresistibly yummy! Despite a sore foot, I merely covered an area in Manhattan that spans from the Upper East till Downtown.

Although I could never really finish the city, I think I did pretty well food wise and here is an almost complete list of places where I dined sorted into 2 price categories.

NYC Essentials (<$20)

An iconic burger places with occasional collaborations with top chefs that is neither too commercialised to be a joint nor too unique to be a one-off boutique burger place.  But if you are having one of those “days”, what better than a shack burger paired with fries and a happy ending of peanut butter shake.  Happy days!

Start the meal with a basic Gyoza before calling a main of Hakata Style ramen.  Black garlicky oil on an already amazing porky broth?  Damn it was heaven without the line.  

If Hide Chan was North Pole, then Totto Ramen would be the South Pole.  Different from start to end, the only thing similar between the two is its owner.  At Totto Ramen, enjoy a Chicken Paiten Ramen so amazing it makes one dreams of it at night.  This is a legit pork alternative.  Beware, queues are long.

With popular places like Junior’s in the area, it is easy to overlook this relatively unknown diner.  Yet this might be your best bet for quality breakfast pancakes.  Crispy, fluffy and cooked through with perfection, it was all too hard to ignore.

Being the first does not necessarily makes you the best.  But the best itself could not be anymore subjective.  Old school fit up in this humble little eatery maintains its olden day charm.  Come in solo or with the brood, Nom Wah has got you covered.  When you crawl out of the bed during winter, know that piping hot dim sum is not too far away.

I had one shot to get a taste of New York Pizza into my busy schedule.  Thankfully, a slice at ABP did not disappoint.  With the Artichoke slice spanning across two plates topped with their famous cream base sauce, stringy cheese and caramelised artichokes,  this might be NYC’s best value bite yet at just $4.50 a slice. 

An aluminium wrapped takeaway box with a Middle-Eastern scent is the biggest giveaway that someone is holding a box of faithful mixed platter and rice from the infamous Halal Guys.  From street culture to fast-food joint, the Halal Guys are set to dominate.  Cult descriptions of nuclear red rice topped with pieces of meat and lashing of white sauce is just the beginning of a happy end to the night.  Operating till 4am, now Twilight has no reason to exist. 

Chelsea Market (Chelsea)
So much to eat, so little space to put it in.  Here you can enjoy soup, fresh seafood, independent farmers’ produce, Mexican, Korean, pastries or simply just have a stroll.  From clothing shopping to a filling in a hungry stomach, I love this place.  Located indoors for your convenience too.  After the market, head to the Highline Park just outside Chelsea Market for a mile of enjoyable walk to aid digestion.  It is heaven on rails.


If fine dining has always been a part of your priority undertakings to understand the culture a city was built upon, these finer establishments might be the thing you are looking for.  NYC is a city of swag, so common delights can become fancy and clearly so when acknowledged by the headmasters at the Michelin corp.

Fine Dining at NYC
Classy,  sleek and inspiring.  This Jean Georges spinoff has more finesse in its fried chicken than a French bistro does with its Foie Gras. Its seasonal menu takes simple life pleasures and make it into something special.  The courteous service makes dining here a bliss.

Why is this fine dining?  This is because a $30 burger including tip ands tax is pretty damn fine!  But after 26 years of my life, this 1 Michelin star eatery has delivered what I call the “IT” burger.  With a claim like that, many people will have high expectations I know.  But as mentioned, the thick spread of Roquefort cheese on the brioche bun with a juicy patty shows that the Spotted Pig means business.  But that is IF you enjoy the Spotted Pig's take on the classic cheese burger.

The full tasting menu brought my bill beyond the $50 mark.  But a bread course, 4 seafood courses, a seasonal dessert and petit fours make this a bargain.  Sit down and let the jumbo scallops, sensational pastas, lobsters, crabs and briny sea urchins make their appearance as part of a seafood orchestra by Marea.  Top level service makes progressive dining here a seamless experience.
Another Michelin rated restaurant.  If a sushi master pressing sushi is artsy, prepared to be wow-ed by these handy skewer chefs.  Head to tail movement at its finest, see Chef Atsushi Kono coordinate the delicious transformation of the pedestrian chicken protein into something amazing.

One surprise after the other, the Gramercy Tavern is like a roller coaster ride in your mouth.  High and lows in this Modern American X Asian fusion delivers the best bang for your buck of the lot.  Ranked 1 star by the Michelin guide, the inventive savoury menu will keep your buds craving for more.  But when it comes to a sweet ending, good or bad really comes at the toss of a coin.  However, at $60 plus service charges, the tavern is a lunch time gem.

The Japanese culture is big in the States and Sushi Azabu the front runner for no-nonsense sushi exclusivity without the overwhelming price tag of the more mainstream establishments.  Do not expect California rolls or heavy lashings of pretentious Kewpie to make their mark.  Instead, Shim prepares sashimi prawns, tuna, sea urchins and other fresh offerings served on divine sushi rice.


Food business in NYC is big business.  NYC residents are fussy and no trend is always there to stay when you are at the top of the class.  Evolution counts for survival.  Thankfully, with a superbly variable price tag, there is something for everyone.  Whether it is Asian or Western, Chinese or Japanese, Italian or American, be prepared to eat.  But prices in the big Apple can quickly add up especially if you do not watch the cheque due to taxes and tips which usually bumps the bill up by a minimum of 25%.  So, do tell me what you think if you hit the big Apple and try out the food I had.  Note that all opinions here are a from a hungry traveller's perspective which is one that is open and receptive.  If you come here acting all big headed with a mindset from home, it is likely that you will have different views.