Friday, October 30, 2009

Terra Rossa: Faultless

Terra Rossa
87 Flinders Lane
Ph: 03 9650 0900

Today, Kate's tram was running late as she made her way to our 1.30 lunch date. Sitting alone at in a restaurant, something I normally dislike doing, was no problem here at Terra Rossa; the staff made me feel incredibly comfortable. The male waiters were cheeky and charming but not sleazy, and the females made jokes and made sure I was comfortable at the small table. One waiter, who introduced himself as Damo, asked if I'd like something to drink, took one look at me and said "Cosmopolitan?". He picked my type instantly and told me it'd be the best Cosmo I've ever had.

Cosmopolitan ($17)

It's hard to narrow down the best Cosmo I've had as I've gotten through quite a few very good ones, but this was definitely up there, and their extensive cocktail list (containing both Terra Rossa specialties and classic cocktails) was perfect on this 28 degree day.

Pan-seared gremolata barramundi with sweet potato, charred asparagus and yellow pepper salad ($33)

The barramundi just melted in my mouth; the flesh was so soft and broke away from the fillet so easily, and the skin was left on to turn crispy and salty. The sweet potato was cold which was a surprise and I probably would have preferred it served warm. Nonetheless this was a beautiful, fresh salad, served on a bed of peppery rocket, that left me feeling full and satisfied, but not stuffed or heavy.

Linguini Marinara - fresh selected seafood tossed in garlic, chili, lemon and fresh herbs with olive oil and white wine or napoli sauce; shown here with olive oil and white wine ($23.50)

As beautiful as my dish was, I was so jealous of Kate's. It was so simple but the garlic and herbs smelt incredible as it was brought to the table. Kate said that the calamari was cooked perfectly, tender rather than chewy, and that while it was an oil-based sauce it was not overpowering as you could taste the quality of the olive oil.

Baked white chocolate and caramelised strawberry cheesecake ($13)

I don't often order desert, but we were having such a good time at the restaurant that it just seemed right to finish it off with something sweet. Kate and I shared this and it was the perfect end to the meal; light and crumbly and with perfect little shavings of white chocolate. I couldn't have eaten it all myself, so in my opinion it was perfect sharing size... but then again, I'm not much of a sweet tooth and Kate said she could easily put it away by herself.

Terra Rossa is a gem tucked away in Flinders Lane whose food, service and atmosphere I could not fault. The decor is beautiful and luxurious inside, all red walls and fireplaces and mirrors, and the manager informed me there are plans to extend further into the laneway to open up an outdoor eating area. The staff are young and energetic, and there was not one surly waiter, not one member of staff who looked like they'd rather be elsewhere. They also seem to genuinely enjoy working with each other, and this adds to the professional, yet casual, vibe of the place.

Terra Rossa is the kind of restaurant that does everything - tapas, breakfast, pizza - and does it well. They also have a cheese room, do functions, have most of the menu available for takeaway, and offer an $12 early bird lunch special from 11.30am-1.00pm. I was blown away by the service and the food, and will be back soon for breakfast.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Food court dining

Cafe Krifi
Victoria Gardens Shopping Centre
620 Victoria Street
Ph: 03 9421 6006

Dining in a food court is not something that I find very appealing, but if you work at Vic Gardens or want a bite before you see a movie at Hoyts, Cafe Krifi is probably your best option. It's one of a few sit down eateries in the shopping centre but is the most "restaurant-like", with a large open dining room and a spacious outdoor area.

The menu is long, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything in between, with gluten free and vegetarian options. There's pizza, cakes, burgers, salads, and today we came to try out the breakfast menu.

Krifi Big Breakfast ($14.20)

Good crispy hash browns and bacon, and smokey sauteed mushrooms; the bland scrambled eggs, however, were a let down; quite flavourless and boring in texture.

Eggs Florentine with salmon ($16.50)

Krifi's version of this dish was generous in size and much more filling and satisfying than I thought it would be, and came with a thick stack of fresh salmon and good, rich hollandaise.

Krifi does a great cup of coffee too and Bf enjoyed his huge milkshake. Keep walking past the bain maries and long queues for greasy burgers and chips; the big windows, moody red lights and young, friendly (and good looking) service provides a brief escape from the hordes of Ikea shoppers and gym junkies that dominate the centre.

Cafe Krifi features in the Melbourne Entertainment Book.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

For the curry-loving recessionista

Funky Curry
164 Bourke Street
Ph: 03 9662 2299

I picked up the director of the Curry King Group, Ramit Thadani's business card when I visited the Bourke Street outlet of Funky Curry for takeaway lunch. "Where quality and service ends", reads the slogan on the bottom of the card. The language barrier is a factor at Funky Curry; when I was asking the names of some of the dishes there was much confusion as the staff thought I was asking to buy them. Despite any flaws in service or communication, the quality of the food is not lacking. The dishes are ladled out from a bain marie but you wont find hours-old, crusty or congealing curries here.

I heard about Funky Curry quite a while ago when their Recession special was advertised in a weekend paper and, a few days before pay day, I thought it was time to check it out.

Clockwise from left: naan bread, baingan dapyaza, paneer makhani ($6.50)

The bread was warm, fresh, thick and chewy; the soft paneer was coated in a sweet, buttery tomato sauce, but it was the baingan dapyaza that was the highlight - big chunks of eggplant and onion in a sauce that was oily and rich but not greasy or overpowering.

I was looking for a place that served up low cost, high quality Indian food, and simply observing the patrons of Funky Curry suggested that the food would be both those things, as the majority of the customers were students, Indians, or Indian students.
The small, crowded dining room and walls decorated with fluro signs means the Bourke Street outlet is not somewhere I'd probably sit down for a meal; the vibe is more suited to quick takeaway pick up. I am interested, however, in dining in at the Curry King Group's latest venture, Curry King on Bridge Road - stay tuned for that review.

Curry King Group has seven locations across Melbourne city, Richmond, South Melbourne, Docklands, Malvern and Hawthorn.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Looking for a new way to eat sushi?

Japanese Cafe Restaurant J
167 Exhibition St
Ph: 03 9650 9877

Walking down Exhibition Street with my mum recently, we were struck by the window display in a certain Japanese restaurant. Struck, perhaps, is not the right word - "grossed out" would more accurately describe how we felt, and dry retching would describe how we acted.

I'm sorry to all the people out there, flatmate J included, who think there is nothing wrong with sushi presented in burger form, who even think it's a great little idea, but there is something extremely off putting about the unnecessary fusion of fatty Western culture and delicate Japanese flavours. Besides, they just plain look cheap and tacky.

So you can imagine my amusement/horror when I received a call from my friend Kate inviting me to this novel little Japanese place. Kate, who spent much of her childhood in Taiwan, told me that she used to eat delicious cakes of rice topped with various ingredients like beef teriyaki or wilted greens that sounded similar to the sushi burger.

She chose to try her sushi burger in the "Sushi Burger Box" meal: a burger of your choice with a bowl of miso soup and a choice of one of five entrees - perhaps tatsuta age, tonkatsu or in Kate's case, gyoza - for $16.50.

Gyoza - Kate said these were great despite coming with strange side dishes like mashed potatoes and orange wedges - unusual, but she really enjoyed the combination!

Yakiniku Burger - Kate described this as "the Japanese version of a souvlaki".

Tempura Sashimi Bento ($21)

For those who aren't quite ready to try a sushi burger, there's plenty of noodle dishes, bento boxes and other entrees to choose from. I chose the most expensive bento box on the menu, the Tempura Sashimi Bento, and there were highlights as well as lowlights in the box I received.

The miso soup that accompanied came in a little cup to drink out of, rather than in a soup bowl, and the soup was excellent, with a strong flavour, fresh crunchy spring onions and plenty of tofu and seaweed. The tempura was light and crispy and coated a good selection of vegetables and two big prawns; the sashimi, however, was served in thick thick slices rather than delicate, melt-in-your-mouth pieces, and had browning edges. When I bit into one of the salmon pieces it tasted strange and bitter, although the others were fine. The little seaweed and celery salad that came with it was nothing special but the salmon nori roll had beautiful fresh fish, creamy avocado and crunchy cucumber.

Ichigo Daifuku - rice cake with fresh strawberry and sweet white beans ($3)

I'm not much of a sweet tooth but I was quite excited about desert after Kate's sister Miss Violonjello told her how amazing this rice cake was. The sweet little ball of glutinous rice had a really interesting, light texture, and the strawberry inside was juicy and fresh. Kate and I both agreed that, despite its small size, the strong flavour meant one was enough. The rice cakes can also be purchased to take away, like the sushi burgers.

"Looking for a new way to eat sushi?", the cafe's website asks me. To be honest, no. Maybe one day I'll bring myself to try a sushi burger, but for now I'm pretty happy with the way I consume my sushi. Service is quite good here and all in all J cafe is an eye-opening experience, and certainly not conventional - but then again, as Kate pointed out, maybe we don't know as much about Japanese food as we'd like to think we do.

Japanese Café Restaurant J on Urbanspoon

Fabulous Fresco service

Fresco Bar and Grill at Amora Hotel Riverwalk
649 Bridge Rd
Richmond 3121
Ph: 03 9246 1200‎

There's always a risk with hotel restaurants. Sometimes the food is fabulous and the service flawless; other times it seems as though the restaurant was an after thought once the hotel was completed, an extra place within the hotel to make a bit of money rather than providing an excellent hospitality experience. The bf and I decided to check out Fresco, a tiny dining room on the edge of the Yarra whose ambiance loses points with cheap bistro-style chairs and candle holders from the local $2 shop, but whose staff make up for it with almost faultless service.

Grilled bruschetta, pesto, Roma tomato, red onion and cheese ($12)

A fairly small serving size for $12, but nonetheless strong, fresh flavours and great with the accompanying rocket and balsamic.

Turkish bread with a trio of dips - shown clockwise from top is carrot and curry; avocado; and hummus ($12).

In Matt Preston's new book, Cravat-A-Licious (Random House), Preston warns against ordering "a trio of" anything, in particular the trio of dips, suggesting that "their presence can be a sign that the role of the chef in that establishment has been reduced to peeling the foil off tubs and waiting for the microwave to go 'ping'." Indeed, the dips were nice enough but the carrot and curry tasted and looked more like eggplant, and the avocado reminded me of those pale, bland processed dips from the supermarket.

Katsu king prawns with sesame salad and sweet chili ($15.50).

Bf asked if this entree dish could be ordered in a main size; the waitress told us it could. When it arrived we thought it was a rather small main - "Imagine how small the entree must be", quipped Bf. When the bill came and we saw we'd only been charged for the entree size we were informed that the other waitress was new, and didn't yet know that the size of the dishes could not be changed. To apologise for the mistake, we were given the more expensive meal for free when we presented our entertainment card.

"Fresco char-grill" - choose from sirloin or eye fillet beef, chicken breast or salmon fillet. All char-grills are served with crushed chat potato, spring onion and parmesan cake, and a choice of wild mushroom ragu and porchini powder, or peppercorn cream sauce with rock salted roasted Roma tomato.

Shown here is the black Angus sirloin of beef with peppercorn cream sauce ($31.95)

The sirloin was nice, but a little more medium than medium rare - it seems to be the case that at a lot of restaurants you have to ask for your meat to be more rare than you actually want it. The tomatoes were fine but hardly rock salted, and reminded me of the kind of tomatoes you'd quickly whip up in the fry pan for breakfast. Probably the highlight was the potato, spring onion and parmesan cake: light and fluffy with a slightly crispy outer, great for soaking up the rich jus from the sirloin.

The value here is good, but not great - what makes it worth visiting is the service. On the night, there were about four waitresses on the floor, but it was one young girl in particular who was exceptional and was clearly holding the whole team up. She was attentive but never annoying, and when she saw my camera she asked if she could take a photo of Bf and I with it. We left the restaurant feeling happy and relaxed and a lot of that came down to this waitress who was bubbly and always smiling, and for her, nothing was too much trouble.

You won't be blown away by your meal, but if you're looking for a contemporary restaurant that's reasonably priced - especially if you have an Entertainment card - expect to enjoy good food and near flawless service.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Holy Shuck!

Royal Oak Hotel
527 Bridge Road
Ph: 03 9428 4200

Walking along to work the other day, my jaw literally dropped when I saw this sign. $1 oysters for the whole month! I was so excited; one of my favourite foods for only a dollar at the local. Then I remembered that I was standing outside the Royal Oak, a TAB pub whose largest space is taken up by pokies and a sports area; a place I had never eaten at before and probably wouldn't have tried if it weren't for the oyster special.

Natural oysters, $1 each. Kilpatrick, $1.50 each.

A fresh, salty natural oyster normally overwhelms my palate with its refreshing brine and soft, smooth texture. A perfect oyster leaves me delaying eating anything else for as long as possible to savour that amazing taste. Last night, I left with a pleasant taste in my mouth, but that's all it was; the oysters were just "nice". The taste was more fishy than fresh and salty, and presentation could have been better; rather than the usual rock salt or ice, the oysters came out on a bed of browning iceberg lettuce.

I've often walked past this pub and looked in at the rows of elderly people sitting at the slot machines, and it seemed like little else was going on in there. Indeed, when J and I went, the only people in the bistro were ourselves and a family of four. "We have our nights", said the waitress, especially when the footy's on. For anyone who has spent an afternoon or evening at the MCG I can understand the appeal of this pub; cheap beer and the constantly changing specials, including steak nights and parma nights, make the Royal Oak seem like a good option for a quick, cheap feed. Service is surprisingly young and friendly, too.

These oysters are a bargain but they're not worth crossing town for. If you're a local, stick to the kilpatrick variety; the rich, tangy sauce and crispy bacon helps to distract from the mediocre quality of the oyster.