Plantation Coffee / STREAT

Commuters at Melbourne Central train station have got it going good – it is the one-stop for all train lines (duh), Coles is just next to it for convenient grocery-shopping, there are many food stalls to grab food on the go from…

….And as for coffee options, there are even a couple of options for barista-made coffee! Whoo!

I have blogged before about my sentiments of getting a coffee on the run, and there is a reason why I love getting on the train at Melbourne Central…

Plantation Coffee

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I’ve heard alot about Plantation Coffee when it first opened and from the look of their website, they seem to know their coffee! So I was eager to give it a go at the next opportunity I had to take a morning train from Melbourne Central (I only drink coffee in the mornings).

One thing I noticed upon reaching the counter was the offering of a piccolo size (1 size smaller than the regular). I was curious if that affected the coffee taste so I decided to go for it.

Piccolo Latte - $3.50

Piccolo Latte – $3.50

I actually found that with the piccolo, the intensity of the coffee was stronger. So while I shortened the time that I could sip my coffee leisurely on the train, I quite enjoyed the stronger taste of the coffee. From memory, I could taste hints of nuts and the proportion of espresso to milk was just right for me!

The second time was when I introduced Ms JQ to it…

Regular Lattes - $4 each. Yes, we really got our coffees on the go!

Regular Lattes – $4 each. Yes, we really got our coffees on the go!

This time round, I went for the regular size but I found that this made the coffee milder, and it didn’t have as much of a kick as the previous time. The blend for this round was also not as impressive, unfortunately. We both noted a sour aftertaste which we didn’t quite enjoy. So it was just an okay cup of coffee – I guess we were expecting more for that price and their brand name.

Yes, the second time was a little disappointing and looking at the reviews on Urbanspoon, many seem to have the same sentiments – that while the coffee used to be good, the standard appears to have dropped recently.

So overall, Plantation Coffee doesn’t seem to deliver consistency but I guess if you rather not have machine-made coffee at the fast-food chains, this would be an option!

Plantation on Urbanspoon

STREAT

Being slightly let down by the previous experience at Plantation, for my next morning train ride, I decided to head on to a tried-and-tested place, STREAT!

I went for my usual latte :)

Small/Regular latte - $3.80

Small/Regular latte – $3.80

To my delight, the coffee was as good as I remembered. It was robust, smooth, with a punch of fruitiness and subtle hint of dark chocolate at the end.

Just what I needed to have an enjoyable and quiet train ride on a weekend morning!

So without a doubt, between the 2 coffee-stands at Melbourne Central, I would definitely go for STREAT, for its delivery of consistently good coffees.

I guess my only complaint is that the stand doesn’t open early enough on the weekends!

STREAT Melbourne Central on Urbanspoon

So yes, that is why I like taking the train out from Melbourne Central – nothing like a good coffee perk that actually makes me look forward to taking a train, even with the possibility of train delays and other public transport woes!

With the high traffic that goes through Melbourne Central daily, I won’t be surprised if many of you have already been to these places for your coffee runs. But if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?? ;)

Homemade Marinara

Once in awhile, we all have to do that fridge stock-check, don’t we? And to our horror, we would discover some food forgotten in the icy depths of our home fridge.

I’m usually quite conscious of what I put in my fridge (i.e. I only buy ingredients that I’m quite sure that will be cooked soon) but I guess I do lose track once in awhile, hence the need to do a fridge stock-check like everyone else!

So what do we do when we unearth them again? (I’m referring to those food items that are still good to use)…

…Get inspired to cook them of course!


It so happened that I found a stash of frozen mussels and prawns, which were meant for a dinner party. As the dinner party was later cancelled, I forgot about it. I also found a neglected jar of anchovies, which I had only used once for another recipe.

I gave these items an apprehensive sniff but they didn’t seem to have gone bad. So staring at these ingredients, I pondered what I could do with them…

The 1 & only Seafood Marinara that I was looking forward to try!

And then the memory of this came flooding back…

Oh that memory of marvellous mussels and scampi! Of course, I didn’t have scampi but prawns could very well do the trick. So I googled for some recipes for Marinara pasta and found one that even used anchovies! Yay!

So off I went to get my canned tomatoes and parsley (I already had the other ingredients) and I was all set to go!

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Tadah! My homemade version of Pasta Marinara!

Believe it or not, this simple recipe actually did bring me a little closer to Vernazza

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From freezer to the table ;)

Of course, there was a distinct difference in using canned tomatoes in this recipe versus the fresh tomatoes used for the one in Vernazza. But apart from that, I was quite happy with my homemade Marinara sauce – Ann tried some and she liked it too!

I find that the anchovies actually aided to bring down the sourness of the tomatoes and gave it that oily and salty edge. The white wine gave the sauce more body with its fruitiness. And although the seafood was frozen, when defrosted, there was ample juice left in those mussels and prawn heads, which made the entire pasta very seafoody – scrumptious!

This goes to show the quality of the seafood that was bought – I got them from Queen Victoria Market, my favouritest food market ever.

**edit I forgot to mention that I added chillies as well, just for that extra oomph! I liked the spicy tang that it gave to the marinara sauce but if you don’t like your food spicy, feel free to omit it. 

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Guess what was lunch for me the next day?

The only hard part of this recipe is scrubbing and debearding the mussels – the cooking itself only took 15minutes!

Despite it being a seafood pasta, the cost of these ingredients is also not expensive. You can easily get mussels at $6/kg and prawns at $13/kg at the market. The other ingredients don’t cost much at all!

Okay here is the recipe!

Homemade Marinara (serves 4)

Recipe adapted from Taste.com.au

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Chillies – I added about 6 chilli padis but you can add as many as you want, according to your threshold for spiciness! 
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped OR 1 tbp of minced garlic
  • 6 anchovy fillets
  • 2 x 400g canned tomatoes
  • 200ml white wine
  • 500g spaghetti
  • 1kg mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 300g prawns, with the heads on
  • few stalks of parsley, to tear over the pasta later

Method (I’ve  pretty much stuck to the original recipe but just listing it here for your conveninence) 

  • Heat olive oil over the pan. Fry the garlic and anchovies until the anchovies have melted.
  • Just when the anchovies are about to melt or have melted, you can add in the chillies at this point.
  • Add canned tomatoes and wine to the pan. Bring it to a simmer for about 20minutes and let the sauce reduce.
  • In the meantime, cook your pasta in a pot of boiling water with salt. Once it’s cooked, drain the hot water and wash under cold water for awhile to prevent it from sticking. Toss through some olive oil for extra flavour.
  • Add mussels to the pan of sauce and cook them through until the shells open up. Add in the prawns. If the sauce is starting to look dry, add some water from the pot that you have used to cook your pasta – do add the water slowly to not dilute the sauce.
  • Once the seafood has cooked, serve up your pasta and scoop your sauce over. Serve with the torn parsley!

Sounds easy and yummy? Well, it is! I reckon this is a freezer(as per my experience, the seafood can be kept for 2 weeks)-and-weeknight-friendly dinner. So if you’re in the mood for some fine Italian food but too lazy to go out, this might fit the bill!

So there we go – one recipe that saved my once-forgotten freezer stash! And one that fed me well too – whoop!

Steer

How much are you willing to pay for a good steak? You will be surprised (at least, I was!) by how much some people splurge out for that hunk of beef!

Anyway, I don’t really see much sense (cents?) in forking out $2,800 for a piece of meat that will be devoured in less than an hour, but I do enjoy a good steak. So when I found out about Steer’s early-dining special – $39.50 for an entree/dessert, steak, side & drink – I wanted to go for the longest time ever.

I’ve heard so much about Steer’s premium steaks that this deal sounded too good to be true. The problem was finding the right people who can make it for that early dinner hour!

But finally, I found my 2 steak kakis :P So that’s where I found myself 1 weekday evening, at about 6ish pm…

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As expected of that hour, the restaurant was quiet when we stepped in.

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The waiter reminded us that as part of the early dining special, we had to be out of the restaurant by 7.30pm. As the restaurant didn’t seem that busy, that seemed quite reasonable to us!

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This wasn’t stated on their website so I was quite pleased to see that there was quite a decent selection of steaks to choose from, even for this deal.

I also heard about Steer’s service of their wait staff patiently going through the selection of steak cuts before ordering. And I was happy to see that this service was still given for the early-bird special!

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As usual, Ms JQ and I decided to share our dishes and we both went for the wagyu. Andrew decided to have his own entree and went for a different cut.

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Lemon Lime Bitters

We were entitled to a glass of wine but as we don’t drink alcohol, we had this for our drink choice. Yums!

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Complimentary bread

The butter was wonderfully churned and we generously lashed them out on our bread. As we enjoyed the butter and we were given so much of it, we thought of asking for more bread. But in the end, we thought we should save our tummies!

And it was a good thing that we restrained ourselves…

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Salmon with vierge sauce & artichoke

This was the entree that was presented to me… isn’t it pretty? Ms JQ and I loved how the salmon was so delicately seared on the outside, and inside was this hunk of raw salmon that melted in our mouths.

The dish was vibrant and full of fresh flavours, and would definitely satisfy any sashimi lover!

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Pork terrine

This entree was a heavier alternative to the salmon. We enjoyed the pâté-like pork surrounded by the chorizo and the portion didn’t make it come off as too greasy. It was a decent entree but in terms of presentation and flavours, it lacked the ‘wow’ factor that we found in the salmon.

Ms JQ commented that while the salmon was presented in a refined black porcelain plate, the pork terrine was placed on this flimsy wooden plate which made it look a lot simpler and practically, it made it hard to cut through the pork as the plate was wobbling a lot.

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Beef tartar

This was Andrew’s entree and while I’m not a fan of beef tartar, he enjoyed this a lot. He gave this dish a pretty good review!

After our entrees were cleared, we didn’t have to wait too long for our main course!

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Wagyu Rib Cap 9+

Let’s just say this steak ticked all my boxes. I love how the edges had that crunch from the grill and the inside was so juicy and fatty. Andrew did note that the inside looked more rare than medium and Ms JQ did find it a little too chewy for her liking.

But to me, I actually liked the meat bordering onto rareness as that allowed me to fully taste the fattiness of the wagyu. And when the rare beef is smeared with mustard (which you will see later), that made it such a delectable combination… mmm. I guess that shows how one’s preference for steak differs from another!

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Wagyu Flank 9+

I’m sorry that I can’t make this steak look any nicer (that was how it was presented and the dim lighting didn’t help!).

But appearances aside, the steak had that wonderful charred exterior and the meat inside was really tender. This one is leaner and Ms JQ actually preferred this cut to the previous wagyu but I think I like mine fattier!

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Scotch Fillet 4+

This was the cut that Andrew chose and he allowed me to steal a bite – it was really tender and juicy!

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These were the sauces that we could choose to go with our steak. The waitress went through all of them with us and I went for Dijon and English mustards, and some wasabe mayo!

As you can tell, we were all quite satisfied with our steaks. Andrew was also pretty impressed with their super sharp knives – click here for the ‘live’ demonstration!

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Steak chips

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Mashed potato

We all went potato-ey for our sides. I actually preferred the mashed potato over the steak chips as I didn’t find the chips batter crispy enough :( But the portion was generous enough and we reckon there must be at least 3 potatoes in each side!

The service was prompt and we did manage to get out of the restaurant by 7.30pm, with our tummies bursting. We didn’t even feel like having dessert which goes to show how full we were! Despite the lower price tag, I find that the service, portions and quality of food were not compromised, and has allowed me to have a good sampler of Steer’s famed steaks.

With all these factors, I would make Steer a top pick for anyone looking for a decent steak and good dining experience in Melbourne. And yes, I highly recommend their Early Dining Special!!

Steer Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

And as the night was still young, we had time to go down to the Yarra River, to catch a glimpse of the lunar eclipse!

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Unfortunately, my camera is not professional enough to get a close shot of the moon or capture the blood moon :( But oh well, didn’t it manage to capture a fine view of Melbourne by night, with the moon hanging by its side?

And that just did the trick to round up the night, with good food and good friends – ah what a nice night that was!

More Cheap Eats!

You know there are just some places that you don’t even need to think twice before going in? Simply because they are conveniently-located, okay-tasting and cheap?

Yup, you may notice from my blog that I’ve quite a few of these places on my list – while I do appreciate the occasional fancy meal, I’m actually all about value meals. Hehe this is the Singaporean in me speaking.

So here, I round up 3 more places – of 3 different cuisines at 3 different suburbs!

Pho Dakao Hoang, Springvale

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What else can you find in Springvale but Vietnamese food?? But if your eyes are sharp enough, you’ll realise the above picture is not pho but something else!

It’s actually a bowl of Combination Pork noodles, with yes, the innards of the pig! I just decided to try this out of curiosity and it was SUPER FILLING. In terms of flavour, it was all right – I find that it could do with a more flavourful broth.

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Dry noodles with Crispy Chicken

The noodles looked pretty dry to me but mmm crispy chicken!

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The classic Broken Rice dish.

The person who had this had no complaints and look at that glistening slab of pork!

All of the above dishes are around the $10 mark and the huge portions are definitely value for money.

There is a no-end of Vietnamese restaurants to choose from in Springvale and honestly, I think you can get a decent bowl of pho or broken rice anywhere in this suburb.

But there are some restaurants that are more crowded than others so maybe you can consider this if you can’t get a spot in the more popular restaurants!

Pho Dakao Hoang on Urbanspoon

Yummy Bubblepia, Holmesglen

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Holmesglen is another hub for affordable meals, and there seems to be a healthy competition among 3 Korean restaurants that are located side-by-side.

Anyway, out of these 3 restaurants that have been tried and tested by our youth group, Yummy Bubblepia remains our favourite.

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Complimentary condiments

I guess we keep coming back here because for some reason, there are always seats available to accommodate our large group, there is a wide range of dishes to choose from and we like the quality of the food here above the rest.

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Soybean paste soup

Again, the portions here are quite filling and most of the dishes are around the $10 mark. Each bowl of soup comes with rice too.

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Soondubu

This is 1 of our favourite soups. The soup always packs a generous amount of seafood, the right level of spiciness and super soft tofu – perfect for a cold night!

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Chilli Karage

I find myself ordering this dish whenever I’m craving for fried chicken (which is more than the occasional hehe) and something spicy. And also when I don’t really feel like having a hot soup.

It’s not really that spicy and is more on the sweet edge. But anyway, it does help to fulfill the fried chicken craving!

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Bibimbap 

This is another favourite of mine. I’ve tried a few bibimbaps but I must say I’m quite attached to Yummy Bubblepia’s one.

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Bibimbap all mixed up

I find that every element is cooked well in this little bowl – the slightly yolky egg, the freshly sliced pickles and vegetables, and the rice that are crunchy around the edges of the bowl. Such a comforting bowl of rice!

So yes, Yummy Bubblepia is a good stop for some Korean comfort food.

Just to let you on a little secret, after our dinners, we tend to go to the Asian grocery mart next door to get this Korean ice cream that is made out of a frozen wafer with red bean ice cream and honey (at about $2.30) – just to complete the Korean comfort meal experience!

Yummy Bubblepia on Urbanspoon

Minang Nasi Padang, Carlton

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I reckon many Melbourne University students will be familiar with this place as it’s located so near the campus. Minang is also closely associated with Norsiah’s Kitchen round the corner which serves up the Singaporean/Malaysian version of Nasi Padang.

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But I guess one difference between the 2 stalls is that Minang is open on Sundays while Norsiah’s isn’t, which is how we wound up there one Sunday evening for a cheap and good dinner in the city area.

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This was one plate we got and the pumpkin curry was a winner. The pumpkin retained its sweetness and was really soft, with that hint of spice.

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This was another plate we got and let me tell you, that charcoal-black thing on the right was delicious. We asked the lady behind the counter what that was and she said that it was beef lungs and that she ‘likes it’.

We decided to give it a go and let me tell you, all of us who got it enjoyed it. Ann commented that it tasted a little like bak kwa – sweet and savoury at the same time, and flattened so that it’s still tender.

I would go back to Minang’s just for those beef lungs but the lady said that it’s not available everyday :(

I guess the alternative would be to attempt cooking it by myself – but does anyone know where to buy beef lungs??

Anyway, Minang is such a good option when you need that quick meal or just to do takeaway, even on weekends!

Minang Nasi Padang on Urbanspoon

Okay, there you have it – 3 more cheap eats! I’m always on the lookout for value meals so let’s see if I can add more of these places to this blog in time to come! ;)

Proud Mary / Chez Dré

The title says it all: we got up to our usual brunch mischief one fine Saturday morning, and finished it off with a sweet treat, hitting up 2 spots at once!

So let’s get into the details shall we?

At our last brunch, we were discussing our favourite brunch spots and ‘Proud Mary‘ came up. I’ve not been to Proud Mary before and I’ve heard about it being 1 of Melbourne’s top cafes. So naturally, I was keen to try!

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We got there near to lunch time and the place was still buzzing. So yup, we had to wait for a table.

But the wait was only about 15minutes so that wasn’t too bad.

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Ms JQ had good memories of the Potato Hash on her previous visit so we went for that. I also found the Ox Tongue dish pretty interesting so that settled our orders!

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I have read quite a few good reviews about their in-house coffees so I was really excited to try out their coffees, especially after having Di Bella’s superb in-house blends.

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They also look pretty serious about their coffee-making!

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The café was really busy when we got in, and I must say the staff was quite patient with us walking around the café going trigger-happy. With them bustling around waiting on tables, we were quite in danger of tripping them up – oh the work to keep up this blog!

Anyway, our coffees finally arrived. We gleefully took our first sips, with expectations running high.

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For some reason, the coffees did not meet our expectations, unfortunately. While it was a pleasant cup to drink, we found the blend too mild. This was quite in contrast to our experience at Di Bella, where we could distinctly taste the blend and it came out strong and full-bodied.

It was a tad disappointing indeed, as I’ve heard so much about Proud Mary’s coffees!

As for our dishes, we didn’t have to wait too long, which is quite commendable, given the crowd that day.

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How pretty is the presentation?? However, upon closer look…

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…can you see that the poached egg is slightly overcooked? Uh-oh!

It was another disappointment for us as after all, a good poached egg makes up the bulk of any brunch dish!

Aside from the lack of yolkiness though, the Ox Tongues dish was quite all right. The tongues were thinly sliced and they didn’t came out too chewy so it was a nice texture. It also went very well with the sour dough bread, egg, fried shallots and red peppers.

Okay, what about our 2nd dish?

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Again, the fault of the dish lies in the overcooked egg (I forgot to take a shot of it). But apart from that, this was one really good Potato Hash! The hash had that nice crunchiness on the outside and stringiness of the potato strips on the inside. We found that the potatoes were more finely sliced than the ones we had Di Bella (oops couldn’t help making another comparison!).

The crispy kale was a delight to crunch on and the SAUCE – we couldn’t get enough of it! It was a shame about the egg – if not, this would have been one mighty fine dish!

Overall, Proud Mary looks like one well-oiled machine – it certainly knows its popularity and handles the brunch crowd well. However, the quality of the food and coffee didn’t seem up to scratch that day, as expected of a top Melbourne café.

I would still recommend this café for anyone looking for a good brunch in the Collingwood area, but due to my experience that day, it would be short of being 1 of my Top Picks. Perhaps I’ll have to give it another go next time!

Proud Mary on Urbanspoon

Anyway, with the savoury tummies filled, it was on to feed the sweet tooth at Chez Dré!

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(Just a note, the entrance to the café is actually through the alleyway – on the right side of the picture – or the backyard.)

I visited Chez Dré a long time ago for brunch and I remembered I wasn’t too impressed by it – I found it overpriced and the dishes weren’t very creative. But I remembered I was very impressed by the array of sweets on display.

At that time, I felt a little tight after having paid for my brunch meal and I told myself I’ll try to come back another day just for the pastries/cakes…

…And yes, I finally made it!

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Yes, it still looked as charmingly delicious as I remembered ;)

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As you can probably guess, Ms JQ and I had a hard time selecting a sweet. We decided to share one as we were quite full from brunch and because well, it isn’t cheap! So that didn’t make it any easier narrowing down to one!

But we finally made our choice…

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Woo Pistachio & Strawberry again! I guess I can’t say ‘no’ to this combination after my previous experiences!

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The level of detail given to the dessert is impeccable and I guess that’s what you’re paying for. As you can see, there are many layers and combinations of pistachio and strawberry in this cake.

Beneath the pistachio jelly, we could taste a pistachio mousse, another layer of strawberry mousse, a berry jam, and a pistachio cake at the bottom. What a wonderful play of flavours and textures on the tastebuds!

Although the portion looked small, Ms JQ and I were quite satisfied sharing this between us. Given the bar that this Pistachio & Strawberry cake has already set, I’m quite sure the other pastries and cakes at Chez Dré would be of pretty high quality.

This little cake certainly brought back memories of the desserts I had in France so I would highly recommend this place for anyone looking for a French sweet treat!

Chez Dré on Urbanspoon

So there you have it – our Saturday adventure of an Aussie brunch and a little French sweet. We’ve got another weekend foodie venture up our sleeves so watch this space!

 

That Night at Collingwood

It was 1 of the last nights for a brother in Melbourne so a farewell dinner was in order. He requested for Modern Australian cuisine and we thought bringing him to Collingwood would just do the trick, with its fair share of Modern Aussie restaurants and the chance to bring him to a more ghetto side of Melbourne.

It was quite a challenge finding a place that suited the budget for the 9 of us, and fulfilled the foodie expectations of the group at the same time. Finally, I decided to take a chance with Rockwell & Sons, as the prices seemed fairly reasonable and I did hear some good things about their Fried Chicken Sandwich.

So here goes nothing!

(Silly me forgot to bring out my camera that night so kind Ms JQ helped to photographed with the ever-dependable iPhone 5s)

The restaurant was still fairly quiet on that Sunday night at 6pm

The restaurant was still fairly quiet on that Sunday night at 6pm

We decided to do sharing plates, splitting between the guys and girls. I guess we should have taken the hint when the waitress asked if we wanted to order more dishes.

Menu for the night

Menu for the night

Due to the group’s budget (yea some people in our group were really on tight wallet strings that night!), we restrained ourselves… but little did we know!

Smoked lamb ribs

Smoked Lamb Ribs

Crispy Confit Duck Wings

Crispy Confit Duck Wings

As you can tell, the portions were reallyyyy small, much to the dismay of the guys :( Simply put, there wasn’t enough meat to go around!

In terms of the flavours, the lamb ribs were fine, but might be a tad too salty and we found the duck wings all right too, although someone did find the duck wings a little too sweet.

French fries

French Fries with aioli – just can’t say no to ‘em chips!

Fried Chicken Sandwich, or burger?

Fried Chicken Sandwich, or burger?

So finally, I got to sink in my teeth into the House Specialty of the Fried Chicken Sandwich (I kinda feel like it should be renamed to a ‘Burger’ instead, yes no?). We all loved the buttermilk dressing on the nicely battered fried chicken and we quite enjoyed the brioche bun, with those fresh shreds of lettuce to cut through the greasiness.

But just as we found in the previous dishes, there simply wasn’t enough of it to satisfy – the burger was easily demolished in 2-3 mouthfuls! So really, this burger comes across as overpriced.

Overall, the dishes didn’t quite hit the mark in terms of flavour and the value for portion sizes didn’t sit too well for us, especially the hungry boys! I guess this would be a place for you if you’re willing to spend at least $30 to get your tummy filled. But honestly, I don’t really see the unique edge at Rockwell & Sons and if you’re looking for more bang for your buck, there are a lot more burger places to choose from!

Rockwell and Sons on Urbanspoon

So yeah, unfortunately, we emerged of the restaurant with our bellies only half-filled. I guess we could have gone all-out and splurged on more dishes but we decided to save our tummies for the other offerings at Collingwood…

Mr Papadopoulos (lamb) - $8

Souvlaki  fix at Jimmy Grants – this pic is taken from my previous post

As the guys were a lot hungrier than the girls, we decided to make a stop at Jimmy Grants. I am happy to report that the guys fully enjoyed the souvlakis and I felt a little better after that – it’s not a nice feeling when you pick a dinner place and your dining companions don’t enjoy their meal!

And then we walked on for our dessert spot – N2 Extreme Gelato!

Flavours for the night

Flavours for the night

Because we like sharing – we picked 3 flavours between the 9 of us hehe.

White chocolate lavender fudge, Ferrero reveal  & Strawberry rosewater meringue pie

Strawberry Rosewater Meringue Pie, Ferrero reveal & White Chocolate Lavender Fudge

We were a little disappointed that our favourite Black Lava Salted Caramel was not offered that night. But anyway, here’s our lowdown on the flavours we had:

White Chocolate Lavender Fudge – we found the lavender a little overpowering. Someone commented that he felt like he was eating soap (oops!). But I guess once you get used to it, it’s still edible :P

Ferrero Reveal – This was the crowd favourite that night. We enjoyed tapping through the chocolate-coated top and were thrilled to be provided with a syringe of chocolate ganache to ‘inject’ into our gelato. And yes, it did taste like Ferrero Roche. Unique and yummy – this gets our thumbs-up!

Strawberry rosewater meringue pie – Again, we didn’t quite warm up to the idea of using flower flavours (rosewater). It was all right but not very memorable.

While we didn’t found the N2 flavours to be the most impressive that night, it was still good ice cream and we still had a blast oohh-ing and aaahh-ing over the theatrics of the ice-cream making and the unique elements found in our gelato cups. We also got on a sugar high and got a few crazy wefies to prove it oops.

N2 Extreme Gelato on Urbanspoon

So while Rockwell didn’t satisfy our tummies for the night, N2 helped to fill in the gap. So we did manage to end it on a (sweet) high note – yay! It was also nice walking around the streets of Collingwood, chatting along the way and still being in high spirits because of each other’s company. So yes, that was our night at Collingwood – probably leaving a little to be desired for in the foodie department but still fulfilling in the bonding and company ;)

For That Bowl of Ginseng Chicken Soup

Eating out can be such a social affair but there are times when you want to take a break from the kitchen, and yet do away with the small talk or networking over a fancy meal. Just some simple conversation and down-to-earth food would do… ever felt like that?

It happened that I was having a pretty rough week – my old injury acted up again when I was at the gym and that was giving me a constant pain, my jaw problems were back so I couldn’t eat properly, and to put the icing on the cake, my faithful laptop of 6 years suddenly died on me, just when I had to work on some assignments for an online course.

And this occurred just after I finally took the plunge to get a new camera* so I couldn’t have felt more broke…

Feeling quite overwhelmed, I was mulling over all these at work 1 day and suddenly, I felt like taking the night off – to not have to think of what to cook for dinner, and spend that time with someone familiar and close.

So on a whim, I whatsapped the housie to ask if she wanted to go out for dinner and turns out, she was feeling the same sentiments as me (yup, she was having a tough week too)! Yay, I guess that’s why we’re housies :)

So we were all set for an easy but comforting meal. And having my favourite Sam gye tang (Ginseng Chicken Soup) in town seemed to be the answer…

Big Mama

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As you can tell from the above picture, the restaurant was buzzing even on a weekday night. I’ve blogged about Big Mama being 1 of my favourite comfort eats (i.e. good food, low cost) and looks like it’s popular with many others too.

Side condiments at Big Mama

As usual, Big Mama served up morish and unique side condiments – Ann and I couldn’t stop picking at them and may have requested for 3 serves (oops).

Big Mama

The Agadeshi Tofu was also still as good as before – crisp on the outside and pillowy-soft on the inside. With the generous drizzles of teriyaki sauce and mayo, and dancing bonito flakes on top, you can only imagine how good this would taste when all combined into one mouthful. Mmmm.

And the main reason why we came…

Big Mama

Hurrah, the Sam Gye Tang didn’t disappoint. The soup was thick and flavoursome, and the meat just fell apart. As you sip the soup, you can taste the sweetness of the red dates and glutinous rice, the soothing chicken broth, the creaminess of the garlic, with that hint of herbal ginseng at the end. The soup simply sings with flavour!

So yes, I stand by it – Big Mama remain tops for me for its Sam Gye Tang :)

Big Mama on Urbanspoon

As we shared that meal, we also shared about the week’s past events, life and God.  I guess it puts things into perspective when you hear about someone else’s struggles, and you realise that you’re not the only one with problems, or when you are reminded of God being ever present in the lives of His children. And that’s when you realise, with God, all these trials can be overcome in the end…

It was also timely that when we got home, I found that a sister shared this verse on Facebook:

‘From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.’ – Psalm 61:2

What comforting words to round up the night! Thank God for His reminder to always depend on Him when the heart feels overwhelmed :)

Big Mama

And thank God for that good meal and time spent with the housie. Just like living with family under one roof, we may see each other everyday but it’s not everyday that we sit down to have that heart-to-heart conversation.

And I’m glad that we did just that, over that bowl of Ginseng Chicken Soup ;)

*yes, all pictures from this post are taken with my new Olympus OMD-EM5. Still figuring it out but quite enjoying it at the moment! 

Easy Peasy Gourmet Salad

Now, I’m no Jamie Oliver that can whip up a 3-course meal in 15minutes but I’m very happy to say that I’ve found a salad recipe that is can be made in 10minutes tops.

And the best part? It even has a gourmet slant to it that would definitely please the crowd!

So read on for this quick and short post for a quick and short salad recipe!

Manchego & Pear Salad with Maple-Glazed Walnuts

Manchego & Pear Salad with Maple-Glazed Walnuts

I was thinking of making a salad for a fellowship gathering at church when I came across this salad recipe comes from another blog that I frequent.

The idea of caramelising your own walnuts sounded really interesting and I never had manchego cheese before. Plus, the dressing was sooooo simple. So with a unique combination of ingredients and an easy-peasy method, that settled my salad choice!

Salad ingredients

Salad ingredients

As you can tell from the above picture, the walnuts are really the star of the salad, or so I find! As also warned in Sarah’s recipe, I found it really hard to stop picking at the candied walnuts before completing the salad… oops! I reckon it makes a great snack on its own – a healthier version to caramel popcorn, perhaps?

Sarah goes into detail on how she toasts the walnuts in maple syrup so please check out her post for the method. I followed it really closely but I omitted the dash of salt. I reckon you all should give it a try because I’m sure the salt will lift up the taste of the caramelised walnuts.

As the crowd found it, they thought the salad to be really refreshing and light. The pear slices offered a sweet juicy counter to the acidic lemon juice while the maple-glazed walnuts gave that pleasant crunch to the salad. I also found that using a good quality olive oil enhanced the flavours of the salad.

Easy-peasy salad with that gourmet touch

Easy-peasy salad with that gourmet touch

Overall, the flavours were all very simple and easy on the palate – even the manchego cheese tasted like a lighter version of cheddar, with a slight woody flavour.

The full ingredient and method list is up on Sarah’s blog but I thought I would put down my proportions for the salad, just to give you an idea ;)

Manchego & Pear Salad with Maple-Glazed Walnuts (serves 4) 

(Recipe by Sarah Cooks)

Ingredients

  • walnuts – enough to cover your frying pan
  • maple-flavoured syrup (or if you’re feeling decadent, pure maple syrup)
  • 1 pear
  • 120g mixed salad leaves
  • 50g (approx) manchego cheese
  • 1/2 lemon
  • extra virgin olive oil (use a good quality one, like Cobram Estate)
  • salt
  • pepper

So if you’re looking for that no-fuss salad recipe that would get the crowd’s tastebuds going, I would highly recommend this recipe.

It is a little decadent as walnuts and manchego cheese are not that cheap but for that once-in-a-while indulgence for something healthy and crowd-pleasing, I would say, why not!

A Little Green Boost

Today’s post will be short and sweet, but will possibly boost some fruitfulness into your life!

Haha aren’t I punny…

Okay, so it goes that I enjoy a good smoothie, especially in the summertime… mmmm. But I can never quite justify the cost of it – $6 for a cup of slushed up veggies & fruits?? I can easily buy a few kilos of the actual produce at the market!

So I’ve always wanted to make my own smoothies and one day I chanced upon this recipe on 1 of my favourite blogs. The combination sounds fantastic and it apparently boosts up the skin too?? I’m in!

But the problem was, I didn’t have a blender. Eeps.

So this is where the housie came to the rescue – when I told her that I was eyeing this smoothie recipe, she went, ‘Don’t you know I’ve a blender? It’s been sitting in our kitchen!’

Apparently, she had a BRAND NEW SEALED UP blender in our apartment for a year and I didn’t realise it!! I saw the box but I thought it was empty, waiting to be used for packing or moving! Yea, great observation skills that I have.

A treasure trove that's been sitting in our apartment for over a year!

A treasure trove that’s been sitting in our apartment for over a year!

Whee so now I’ve a blender to play with! Time to start whizzing…

Locked & loaded

Locked & loaded

And tadah!

Ohhh yea homemade smoothie!

Ohhh yea homemade smoothie! Whoop!

Yup, just as I thought when I first saw the recipe – the smoothie was delicious. The spinach and avocado were quite neutral in this smoothie but you can really taste the sweet and sour tang of the pineapple, the soothing tones of coconut water, creaminess of the banana and pops of blueberries.

Super refreshing and wholesome - no added sugar too!

Super refreshing and wholesome – no added sugar too!

The recipe is quite forgiving and you can be quite loose with the measurements – go crazy with the amount of fruit and veggies that you want and it would still taste pretty good!

In fact, when I went with the prescribed 2 cups of spinach initially, I found the smoothie to be not as green. I mean it tasted good but you gotta make it green to make it look healthy right?? So I generously plopped in 2 more cups of spinach and the taste wasn’t affected at all – yay!

Yay our in-house smoothie! Couldn't have done it without Ann's blender

Yay our in-house smoothie! Couldn’t have done it without Ann’s blender :)

So anyway, here’s the recipe for the smoothie. It’s originally called the Glowing Skin Smoothie but as the skin-boosting qualities haven’t been quite tested out by me yet, I’ll just nickname it My Little Green Boost for now!

Glowing Skin Smoothie aka My Little Green Boost (makes 3 cups)

(adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup plain coconut water
  • 1 large ripe banana
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh pineapple, chopped
  • 4 cups spinach (or however green you want your smoothie to be! you can start off with 2 cups and add more later)
  • 1/2 avocado sliced
  • 1/2 cup blueberries (I used frozen but feel free to use fresh ones)

As directed in the recipe, I added the ingredients in the above order and whizzed them up :)

I guess now with Spring here, the weather up in Queensland is getting more tropical and pineapples are definitely in season! So why not take advantage of this season and give this little green boost a go?

I’m not sure how much of a skin-booster it is but it sure is delicious and guaranteed to hit your fruits-veggies quota for the day!

Happy Green Boosting!

Hare & Grace

One of the nice things about living abroad is that when friends or family from your home country visit, it is an excuse to meet up and bring them around. And it’s especially nice when these are people you won’t meet or even talk to very often when you’re in the home country itself.

Speaking as a Singaporean, I guess we are quite a reserved people aren’t we? But plop us on an airplane and bring us somewhere faraway and all guard is let down, and suddenly, we are a lot more sociable, haha!

Anyway, by the powers of Facebook, I found out that a high school friend, Ms Zq was in Melbourne for a holiday. I left a comment on her photo and before we knew it, we were arranging to meet up for dinner, the next day! Whoa – talk about the efficiency of social media eh?

I rounded up my other high school friends, Ms TY and Ms YY (I’m sure you all are familiar with them by now!) and Ms Zq said that she’ll be bringing her fellow travel buddy along. I thought Modern Australian would be a good cuisine for our visiting friends so that’s how the 5 of us ended up at Hare & Grace one wet winter night…

The setting is all tropical but it was all cold & wintry outside brrr...

The setting is all tropical but it was all cold & wintry outside brrr…

As it turned out, Ms Zq’s travel buddy was none other than Alexis, a Singaporean food blogger! So not only did this night turn out to be a gathering to catch up with old friends, but also to garner food-blogging tips from a new friend – how eventful!

Bread & lovely butter to start up with

Bread & lovely butter to start off with

Ms Zq also chanced upon the $1 South Melbourne oysters and was still craving for them. So guess what ended up on our table?

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Yea the oysters were fresh, but didn't taste very much different to the South Melbourne ones!

The oysters were fresh, but didn’t taste very much different to the South Melbourne ones!

Of course as food bloggers (and foodies), we like to cast our net wide at restaurants so we easily agreed to share our dishes. And at Hare & Grace, you can’t go pass the steaks so we went for the biggest steak to share…

Of course, we shared this hunk of meat!

The 400gm rib-eye ($48) it was!

Check out the pinky beauty of the meat. The waiter will come round and ask for ur choice of mustard too

Check out the pinky beauty of the meat. The waiter will come round and ask for your choice of mustard too.

We had no complaints with the steak – slightly charred on the outside, juicy in the middle, and just divine when paired with the red wine jus and mustard. I reckon it’s pretty good value as well!

Duck L'Orange - $55

Duck L’Orange – $55

I was quite pleased with the duck as well. The skin was nicely crisped and the middle had that tinge of pink. The orange sauce was also not overly sweet. So far, the meats have all been impressive!

Roasted Salmon - $39

Roasted Salmon – $39

Ms YY had this for herself – she quite enjoyed it so I guess fish is done well at this place too :)

Okay, this is the embarrassing part where we went overboard with the potatoes…

Firstly, as usual, Ms YY & I couldn't go past the roast potatoes ($10)....

Firstly, as usual, Ms YY & I couldn’t go past the roast potatoes ($10)….

...While Alexis wanted to try the Mash & Gravy ($11)...

…while Alexis wanted to try the Mash & Gravy ($11)…

...and we ordered those side dishes without realising our steak came with fries too!

…and we ordered those side dishes without realising our steak came with fries too!

Whoops a little carby overload eh? But I guess we can now give an overview of the 3 potato dishes! We found the Roast Potatoes a tad too salty and we all enjoyed the Mash & Gravy with the chicken gravy. The stringy fries hit the mark as well – golden crisp and fluffy inside.

So if you have to choose between the Roast Potatoes or Mash & Gravy, go for the Mash!

A gathering for old & new friends

A gathering for old & new friends

Although we initially wanted to check out another place for dessert, we felt too comfortable in our seats and thought since it was getting late and it was cold outside, we would just stay in for desserts.

Hmm what to have for dessert...

Hmm what to have for dessert…

I was a little disappointed that the famous Stick n Stones was not on the menu. Anyway, I was all for a conventional dessert and the rest convinced me to go with a not-so-conventional one too…

Pave of Chocolate

Pave of Chocolate (photo credit: Alexis Cheong)

I’m glad I wasn’t the only one taking photos that night (as I usually am). Turns out my photo of this dessert was really dark and blurred and I had to ask Alexis if she could send me her photo – Thanks Alexis!

Anyway, as with this dessert, the combination of ingredients sounded right and it tasted well together too – chocolate and milk, how can you go wrong? We especially enjoyed the Triple Milk Sorbet – creamy, milky and vanilla-ish all at the same time!

Poached Ruby Quince

Poached Ruby Quince, Pomegranate Jelly, Szechuan Pepper Ice Cream, Puffed Spelt

So we ordered this to get in touch with our adventurous side – how does quince taste like? It’s not everyday you spy pomegranate offered in jelly form and mostly, how does Szechuan Pepper Ice Cream taste like??

Unfortunately, as pretty as the presentation is and as intriguing as the dessert sounds, I would have to say that it was quite a letdown. The quince was bitter, the pomegranate jelly was sour and they didn’t fit into the sweet theme of a dessert. Strangely, the Szechuan Pepper Ice Cream was subtle and it did hold a good balance of the strong spice and it tasted all right. However, overall, I thought the combination didn’t make it a very pleasant dessert.

Aside from the disappointing end to our meal, I would say that Hare & Grace does a good steak and offers great mains. I would still recommend this place for someone looking for a reasonably-priced and decent Modern Australian restaurant in the city – just might have to be careful with the dessert choices!

Hare & Grace on Urbanspoon

And yes, although we may not have ended on a sweet note literally, it was still a cosy and fun night with the girls. The dessert hardly spoiled our night as it was the company that mattered more – who would’ve known that so many years after high school, we would still be able to catch up over a meal, in a foreign place?

And that I guess, makes the night really worthwhile and special, more than the food itself eh? ;)