Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Ayam Chef, Southbank (by invitation) by Big Fil

You’ve probably heard of Iron Chef.  Less well known is his Malaysian cousin Ayam Chef (or Chicken Chef in Malay), who produces wonderful Malaysian dishes amongst the sky scraping apartment buildings on Coventry Street in Southbank. I must admit even though I’m a big fan of Malaysian food and have friends who live just around the corner, I’d never heard of Ayam Chef.  Surprisingly neither had my friends, even though the restaurant is hardly a secret given the way it rapidly packed out around 6.30pm with a mixture of families and Malaysian expats. 

When you enter first impressions are good.  Melbourne has a lot of lower end Malaysian restaurants but there is a distinct gap at the middle (and higher) end that Ayam Chef neatly slips into.  It’s well decorated and comfortable, nicely lit with interesting wall decorations and polite service. As part of our invitation to try the restaurant Snooze and I were asked to select our choices from the menu and settled on the chicken satays and Hainanese Chicken Rice (mandatory for a place called Ayam Chef), one dish from the Hawker menu (Chow Hor Fun) and from the mains the wok fried buttery coconut prawns.  

First to arrive was our chicken satay entrĂ©e.  Snooze was quite impressed, pronouncing them amongst the best chicken satay she’s had and particularly liking the not too peanut buttery accompanying sauce.   While I was in agreement about the sauce, and the satays were nicely cooked, as well as being fat and juicy, I found the flavour a little flat and would have loved the smoky flavour of a traditional charcoal cooked satay.

Again, the Hainanese Chicken Rice featured nice, plump chicken, accompanied by a tasty but not too spicy chilli sauce.  The flavour of the rice was more robust than most chicken rices around town and the accompanying sprouts were nice and crunchy.  Just a high quality chicken rice.

The last two dishes Snooze and I agreed were the dishes of the day.  Of the two Snooze preferred the chow hor fun.  This features hor fun noodles fried in the wok with other assorted goodies like pieces of chicken and fish cake, topped with an egg gravy sauce.  Lots of wok hei for the noodles and the smooth delicate flavour of the sauce made this a comfort food par excellence.

My favourite though was the prawns.  These were fat, juicy and came with just a hint of chilli to get the taste buds fired up, with the coconut crumble adding flavour and texture.  Served on what I think was a rice cracker and definitely incredibly morish.

By this stage we were tossing up whether we could add a dessert to our meal, eyeing the durian cake listed on the specials wall.  While we thought it would probably be beyond us we did eventually order the sago pudding; little sago balls sitting in coconut milk on top of a layer of palm sugar.  Best when all the layers are mixed together, this is a delicious mixture of textures and flavours and one of my favourite Asian sweets. 

We had some drinks to go with our meal.

Verdict: we loved it

I suppose one of the biggest complements I can give is after our complementary visit here I immediately arranged a return visit with some Malaysian friends.  Excellent food, reasonably priced and a big jump in class from most of the Malaysian restaurants around town, somewhere that could easily hold its head high in Malaysia itself.

Ayam Chef on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 4, 2015

Laurie Dee's Hamburgers & Frozen Custard, Epping by Big Fil

It’s a long way from home, particularly for Snooze, but the combination of a burger rated as being good by a number of people I think are generally on the money, plus the opportunity to check out a part of town I’d never visited in all the time I’ve lived in Melbourne, finally persuaded me to take the nearly two hour trip to Laurie Dee’s. 

While I’m not sure I’d make the special trip again here again, reports of good burgers were definitely true and I’d love to see them spread their wings and open up in other shopping centres closer to home (Box Hill, or Chadstone maybe?).

Located in the fancier outdoor dining section of the Epping Plaza, Laurie Dee’s serves up an American diner/fast food outlet experience with a twist.  If your expectations of American hamburgers has been coloured by the McDonalds and Hungry Jacks you may be in for a surprise, as these are fresh and tasty.  Great looking meat patties, pressed slightly flat and lightly charred on the outside, juicy on the inside.  The melted cheddar adds a nice creaminess to the burger, and the diced pickles add just a touch of sourness to make the flavours pop and keep the burger from being meat dominated.  Fresh lettuce and tomato, and after all those sweet brioche buns it’s nice to get something which tastes like a proper hamburger bun.

To complement our hamburgers Snooze ordered cheese fries.  Shoestring style fries topped with cheese sauce and diced onions, the major issue was how quickly the cheese sauce went cold and ‘gluggy’.  Normally I am a big fan of fries with cheese, and down towards the bottom was better where the cheese was still warm, but I’d likely give these a miss next time.

For our luncheon desserts we ordered two of the frozen custard style sundaes, the Turtle with warm chocolate and caramel fudge with toasted pecans and whipped cream and...

...the Chocolate Avalanche, with honeycomb pieces and mini m&ms.  My impression was these were a little lighter than your typical diner style ice-cream sundaes, and tasted a little fresher, but the flavour of the sundae was more restrained.  Of the two both of us preferred the Turtle, with the honeycomb pieces of the Avalanche tasting a bit stale.

Verdict: We liked it a lot.
Really nice burgers although the fries and sundaes weren’t quite there, our server (the Manager?) was extremely friendly and the store itself a nice place to eat.  It’s a bit of a backhanded comment but both of us compared it to McDonalds – twice the price but ten times the quality.

Laurie Dee's Hamburgers & Frozen Custard on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 2, 2015

St Zita's, Glenhuntly (by invitation) by Obelix

We have been followers of St Zita's on Instagram for a little while now and had been admiring pics of their cafe offerings online.  So the Bureaucrat and I were excited to be invited for lunch at this relatively new addition literally next to Glenhuntly train station.

St Zita's prides itself on doing a slightly different take on traditional cafe fare.

The Bureaucrat went for something a little bit spesh - scallops for lunch.  It was quite oh la la.  They were tenderly seared scallops atop a pumpkin rosti with bacon dust (!), sweet chilli jam and avocado and lime hollandaise.  You had me at BACON DUST.  The Bureaucrat reported it was a delightful melding of sweet and savoury flavours.  Her only regret was that it didn't come with a gigantic hunk of bread for her to mop up all the sauce she was tempted to lick off the plate.

Meanwhile I opted for the Beetroot Labna.  This was off their specials board and consisted of multi grain bread, shredded beetroot, perfectly poached eggs and dollopings of ricotta and pomegranate molasses.  Once again, a lovely melding of sweet and savoury.

Being a cold drizzly kind of day, we warmed up with pots of organic tea.  Bureaucrat went Earl Grey and I tried the French Breakfast which had a touch of vanilla.

We were too full to try the sweet offerings...will definitely earmark this for next time...

St Zita's staff were warm and friendly and the cafe had a cozy vibe.

Verdict: We liked it a lot

St Zita's is a gem of a local cafe with friendly staff. They take the creature comfort of traditional brunch/cafe fare and provide their own twist.

St. Zita's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Norsiah's Kitchen, Carlton by Bureaucrat

Lately, a few of us at Eat and Be Merry Crew have been feeling like "one of those days" has turned into a never-ending series of "one of those days".  When every day feels the same and you yearn for times gone past when things were fun and carefree.  In an attempt to mix things up a bit from our dreary work days and feeling the need to eat something comforting, I rambled along with Big Fil, heading towards Melbourne Uni.

He promised there was going to be good food at Norsiah's Kitchen, which is a cheap eats place that dishes out a range of Indo-Malay cuisine.  It's popular among the uni students that study and live nearby and also office workers.  There's a range of traditional style, home-cooked dishes all ready in the bain maries, which is dished out by presumably members of Norsiah's family.  I forget exactly what the prices are but they are cheap.  Even with extra serves of meat, you're still looking at a meal that's less than $10.  By memory, a plate of rice with two types of dishes is $7.50.  If you want three types of dishes, it goes up to about $8.50.

I think Big Fil got beef curry and the chicken curry.  I got to the a little bit of the beef curry which was melt-in-your-mouth tender and had a deliciously deep gravy that had lovely aromatics from the lime leaves.

As some of the dishes looked too spicy for me, I also chose the chicken curry, fish balls and a side of ikan bilis (fried salted anchovies) and toasted peanuts.  The food is simple but tasty.  The serves are reasonable given that you're paying $7-8 dollars.  The thing I liked most about the food was that it was all home cooked.

Big Fil got a frothy glass of teh tarik and I went for a custard apple soda.

Verdict: we liked it a lot

A really nice cheap and cheerful place.  It's not too far from the edge of the CBD.  Given that service is quick (and friendly), it is possible to walk there for lunch and get back within the hour. Also have a gander at Big Fil's review back in 2010 when he tried some of the a la carte dishes for dinner.

Norsiah's Kitchen on Urbanspoon
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