Chin Chin

Chin Chin‘ have always been the buzzwords when I ask for recommendations for the hottest Melbourne restaurants in town. I’ve also been pretty late in the trend, considering that their head chef has since gone on to expand onto Kong, which has created quite a bit of a buzz too!

However, with Chin Chin, the words ‘long queues’, ‘1h wait’, ‘overrated’ usually pop up during the conversation. That is why I was reluctant to give it a go – I usually can only do dinner in the city on weekday nights and all these don’t sound appealing when you’re tired and hungry after work!

But anyway, Vivi was in town for work and we found that the only time we could do dinner was Sunday. I didn’t have anything on on that Sunday evening and because it was only 2 of us, I thought it would be easier to get a table. So I asked Vivi if we could meet early at 5pm (to prepare for a long waiting time) and she was fine with it.

So Chin Chin it was!

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Vivi got there promptly at 5pm (I was caught up in something oops). She was told it was going to be a 30-45minute wait and she would get a text when the table was ready. So she went down to the Gogo Bar to wait for me.

Vivi was famished and ordered this, upon the staff's recommendation

Vivi was famished and ordered this, upon the staff’s recommendation

Haha I guess to us Singaporeans, this is nothing but overpriced roti prata! While Vivi did like the peanut sauce, this doesn’t really justify the $9 price tag!

The setting at Gogo Bar was comfortable, casual and even somewhat peaceful – it wasn’t at all noisy but I guess it could be because it was still early in the evening. We sat there and caught up for awhile. And true to the staff’s word, at about 35minutes later, Vivi got her text and we headed upstairs.

This is why you've to wait at least 30minutes to get in

This is why you’ve to wait at least 30minutes to get in

Because I'm nice, I shall share the menu ;)

Because I’m nice, I shall share the menu ;)

We didn’t take too long to decide what we want and the food didn’t take very long too. I was quite impressed with that, considering that it was full-house.

Son-in-law eggs with chilli jam

Son-in-law eggs with chilli jam

Now, I’ve heard alot about the Son-in-law eggs so the moment I spied it on the menu, I knew we had to get it.

Ohhh lookey at ze gooey yolk

Ohhh lookey at ze gooey yolk

Verdict? I love how the outside had the rubbery texture but the inside was all gooey and soft. The chilli jam was fab too. I guess if you want to take this cynically, this is really nothing but glamourised sambal eggs. But I guess the unique factor would be that the egg is all soft inside instead of being hard-boiled.

The next dish was also ordered upon many reviews on Urbanspoon:

Crispy barramundi, green apple salad, caramelised pork, peanuts & chilli

Crispy barramundi, green apple salad, caramelised pork, peanuts & chilli

So did this dish live up to its apparent popularity? Well, the first bite I took was the barramundi and I found it really salty, hard and dry :(

The next bite I took was into the caramelised pork which was all soft and melty – what a world of difference! I also detected seasonings of honey, fish sauce, lemongrass with peanuts sprinkled on top – elements that were all light and appetising at the same time. Yum!

I also enjoyed the fresh apple salad that were sliced up so finely to give a delightful acidic crunch. So yes, the only disappointment on this dish was the fish which is quite a shame really!

Twiced cooked beef ribs

Twiced cooked beef ribs

I did hear some good things about the beef ribs and for us, this was the Dish of the Night. The beef just slides off the bone and melts in your mouth… mmmm. It also goes wonderfully with the fish sauce accompanying with it. Lots of tender care (pun fully intended) has been put into this all right!

Dry red  curry with soft shell crab, snake beans, Thai basil & kafir lime leaf

Dry red curry with soft shell crab, snake beans, Thai basil & kafir lime leaf

We ordered this because I got greedy and couldn’t go past it when I saw ‘soft shell crab’. However, unfortunately, I would have to say that this was the dish that impressed us the least. The seasonings and overall flavour of the dish were good, but I found the soft shell crab to be not very fleshy. I felt like I was eating more shell than crab and that disappointed me a little.

So as you can tell, we probably ordered a little too much so we asked if we could pack the leftover food. And the staff said yes. Yay!

Wooo love doggy bags! With the mysterious Vivi at the back hehe

Wooo love doggy bags! With the mysterious Vivi at the back hehe

I was the privileged one who got to take the doggy bag and because we felt so stuffed, we decided to take a walk down to Southbank and walk along the Yarra River. Nice little Vivi helped me carry the doggy bag around – thanks Vivi!

So it was quite a nice evening – balmy Spring weather and catching up with an old friend over a pretty decent meal :) It was also quite a treat having those leftovers for lunch the next day – whoop!

I would say the food at Chin Chin is quite creative and spot-on with its flavours and I can see why people would find it a hot spot, as the menu is quite extensive and I hear that it’s always changing.

So while I may be reluctant to make this 1 of my Top Picks due to its no-reservation policy and pricey tags, I reckon Chin Chin is still worth a go, if you have time to spare and are in the mood for some Thai dishes with a twist!

Chin Chin on Urbanspoon

Berry Inspired Cupcakes

I couldn’t resist slipping in that pun. You can take it however you want it – cupcakes inspired by berries, or just cupcakes that are berry inspiring, haha!

So remember when I said that the gelato I had in Italy got me thinking about some flavour combinations for desserts? Well, I channeled that inspiration into some cupcake-baking!

To jog your memory, I was first very impressed by the lovely combination of pistachio & raspberry.

Pistachio & Raspberry! Best combi ever!

Pistachio & Raspberry gelato that I enjoyed in Milan

That caused me to google for ‘pistachio raspberry cupcakes’ when I got back to Melbourne. And voila, I came to this recipe.

These ingredients actually weren't cheap but oh, just to satisfy my curiosity - how good would they taste in cupcakes?

These ingredients weren’t cheap but oh, just to satisfy my curiosity – how good would they taste in cupcakes?

I liked how the recipe incorporated white chocolate into it for that little touch indulgence – pistachio and raspberry just seem too healthy on their own don’t they!

And here they are!

Pistachio & Raspberry cupcakes with White Chocolate Frosting

Pistachio & Raspberry cupcakes with White Chocolate Frosting

And yes, my guess was right – the combination worked for me even in cupcakes!

Love the raspberry surprise in the middle!

Love the nutty texture of the cake and raspberry surprise in the middle!

I guess the only thing that I wasn’t a big fan of was that the cake turned out a little dry. If I were to make this again, I would consider turning down the temperature to 180 degrees celcius instead of the recipe’s 200 degrees. I might even use a different cake base recipe (like the 1 I’m about to share below!) to make it more moist.

It was quite a simple recipe and I only made a couple of changes to it. You can just follow the link if you are interested in making them yourself or if you want my adapted recipe, let me know!

***

So the next combination that inspired me was this:

My last gelato - Stracciatella & strawberry

Stracciatella & strawberry gelato

Basically, stracciatella is the Italian’s version of chocolate chip ice cream, but a smoother version. I enjoyed this combination very much and this immediately leaped to my mind when I came across a recipe for Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes!

Let's get baking!

Let’s get baking!

The idea of using fresh strawberry puree sounded too good to resist and thinking of how to incorporate the Stracciatella element, I decided to modify the recipe a little and make it Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting (with a little something extra :) )

Because I actually remembered to take pictures, let’s go into the process shall we?

Step 1: Load up the food processor with 4-5 strawberries

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Pureed Strawberries - it smelt so good!

Pureed Strawberries – it smelt so good!

Step 2: Pre-heat oven to 180degree Celcius. Do your cake mix at the same time. 

Mix in flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Followed by melted butter, sugar, egg, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract

Mix in flour, baking soda, and salt. Followed by melted butter, sugar, egg, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract

Adding in the strawberry puree

Adding in the strawberry puree

Step 3 – Divide cupcake batter (this would make 12 cupcakes)

The batter itself was delish!

The batter itself was delish!

Step 4 – Pop cupcakes into oven to bake for 20minutes. Make frosting in the meantime.

Okay, this is the part where things got a little messy and I forgot to take pictures (bad blogger alert!).  But basically, here is what I did for the frosting:

  • Melt white chocolate (100g) in a metal bowl over a pot of boiling water
  • Mix half a block of softened cream cheese (125g) with 40g of butter, 1 tsp vanilla extract and the melted white chocolate

AND THEN… a sudden revelation came to me…

If I want to keep to the theme of FRESH strawberries and since strawberries go so well with white chocolate, why not add more strawberry puree to the frosting??

So I added another step to the frosting:

  • Puree 3 strawberries (as many as you want!) and add it to the frosting mix

Woo! Here goes nothing….

Step 5 – Remove cupcakes from oven. Use a toothpick and make sure it comes out clean to ensure that it was thoroughly baked

Fresh out of the oven! I used a toothpick & made sure it came out clean to ensure that it was thoroughly baked

Fresh out of the oven! It smelt soooo strawberryish

Step 6 – Pipe on the frosting! 

Yes yes I know I need to work on my piping skills... sigh

Yes yes I know I need to work on my piping skills… sigh

And of course, I had to make it look Stracciatella-like so I dusted on some flakes of Lindt Strawberry Intense (of course, it doesn’t have to be strawberry-flavoured but I found that  the strawberryish dark choc flakes helped to bring out the strawberry theme!).

Fresh strawberry cupcakes with my version of a straticella frosting!

Fresh strawberry cupcakes with my version of a Stracciatella frosting!

So how did the recipe work out? Well, let me just put it out there that this is my favourite cupcake recipe so far. The cakes retained a moist texture and I reckon this makes a good cake base recipe.

Needless to say, the strawberries could be tasted throughout the cupcakes and I thought that the frosting was a great combination of flavours. Note that I didn’t add extra sugar to the frosting so all the sweetness came from the white chocolate and strawberry puree :)

What a Berry Inspired Cupcake indeed! Hehe.

All right, here’s the recipe below with the list of ingredients. I’ve already taken you through the method so just scroll up again to refer to the steps!

Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting (makes 12) 

(adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)

Ingredients

CUPCAKES

  • 4-5 large strawberries
  • 1 and 2/3 cup + 1 Tablespoon (218g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup (62g) strawberry yoghurt
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FROSTING*

  • 3 large strawberries
  • 125g cream cheese
  • 40g unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g baking white chocolate
  • Some dark chocolate to cut up later & add some finesse ;)

*I found that this makes more than enough frosting for 12 cupcakes so I would advise that you reduce the portions a little, to avoid wastage. 

So there you have it – 2 batches of Berry Inspired Cupcakes, as inspired by my foodies adventures in Europe! I haven’t been baking recently but who knows when inspiration will strike again? We’ll see!

Mangiare in Italia – La Finale

All right, let’s just finish this off shall we? ;)

Despite being fed so well in Cinque Terre, I wasn’t expecting much from Milan, given that we just had a day there, and that this was the least-researched place out of our entire trip.

So yes, we had our share of touristy restaurant meals but there were a few surprises too. Read on to find out more!

Our first meal was around the Duomo as we looked for lunch. Of course, there were lots of restaurants with marked up prices in a touristy area but we took a chance with this pizzeria as the prices seemed more reasonable…

We shared a pizza with eggplant, zucchini, mozzarella & cherry tomatoes

We shared a pizza with eggplant, zucchini, mozzarella, basil & cherry tomatoes

Unfortunately, I forgot the name of the restaurant but I was pleasantly surprised by how good this pizza was!

The pizza dough was baked in a wood-fire oven and I liked how Italian the ingredients are! The vegetables were hardly dried out and retained its juicy flavours. I’m actually quite inspired by this combination of ingredients and I’m thinking if I should make a salad out of these ingredients!

Moving on, in our quest to find San Lorenzo Maggiore, we chanced upon this gelateria… 

Corso di Porta Ticinese, 51, 20123 Milano
Pistachio & Raspberry! Best combi ever!

Pistachio & Raspberry – Best combi ever

The gelato here was pricier than the ones we had in Cinque Terre (about €3.50 per cup I think) but boy, this was the BEST gelato I ever had.

The pistachio gelato was creamy with the right touch of salt and the raspberry sorbet was so refreshingly sweet and sour at the same time. Mmmm who would have thought pistachio and raspberry would go so well together?

Eating that gelato, I got so inspired to look for pistachio-raspberry dessert recipes – more on that next time!

Via Nerino, 10, 20123 Milano
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Waaahh what a romantic setting :P

Waaahh what a romantic setting :P

I seriously cannot remember what Ms Gan ordered and it must have been the Milanese summer heat that drained my brain cells because I forgot to take pictures of her food! Sigh I think the blogger instinct wasn’t very active at that point.

So you would just have to make do with my side of the table!

Squid-ink pasta with clams & salami - €10

Squid-ink pasta with clams & salami – €10

My pasta was a nice al-dente texture! And yes, the squid-ink pasta did have a hint of the seafood taste. There was also a hit of spice with the chilli used, going so well with the juice oozing out of the clams. Overall, apart it from being a tad too salty, I couldn’t fault this dish.

And because the main was quite reasonably priced, and I had space in my tummy, there was dessert!

Panna Cotta with Creme Caramel glaze & Raspberries

Panna Cotta with Caramel & Raspberries

I think I was sold when I saw ‘raspberries’ on the menu. Haha. Anyway, it was a good panna cotta, but I thought this tasted more gelatine-like than the one Ms Gan had in Vernazza – I kinda preferred the silkier version!

Anyway, can you spot the little orange fruit in the background? I don’t know what it is but it tasted like a nectarine! If you know what it is, please feel free to share :)

The next morning, we ask our Airbnb host for recommendations and she pointed us to this nearby cafe…

Blu Anche Ristorante

Via Carmagnola 5, Milano

Custard & nutella croissants

Custard & nutella croissants

Upon entering, I felt like I was stepping into 1 of Melbourne’s cafes! With its wooden furniture and hippie layout, it did feel kind of surreal. I guess this could be the reason why ;)

Gotta enjoy it with a cappuccino! It was less than €2 for the coffee

Gotta enjoy it with a cappuccino! It was less than €2 for the coffee

The coffee was as good as the one I enjoyed at the Monteresso train station – smooth and strong. But like what I had found before, the blend wasn’t as complex-tasting as the ones we get here in Melbourne. I guess it’s the Italian way of keeping their food simple but good!

Again, we wound up around the area of the Duomo for lunch. So we ended up in another touristy restaurant…

My risotto of prawns, tomatoes and zucchini

My risotto of prawns, tomatoes and zucchini

This risotto was okay, but after what I’ve tasted in Vernazza, this pales so much in comparison!

And because of the sweltering heat and because we had a few more hours to spare in Italy, we had 1 last gelato.

Gelateria Vanilla

Via Pattari, 2, 20122 Milan

My last gelato - Stracciatella & strawberry

My last gelato in Milan – Stracciatella & strawberry

Nothing much can be said except that it was a good cup of gelato! Again, I felt so inspired by this combination of flavours that I scoured for dessert recipes with these flavours when I got back to Melbourne – I’ll try to blog about it soon!

Eating gelato was such a simple pleasure when we were in Italy – they weren’t expensive and you’re almost always guaranteed a good cup wherever you go. And it was even a sweeter deal because of all our traipsing under the sun, especially in Milan where it felt hotter, being away from the coastline!

But yea, a downside is that we had to fight the summer heat, and Ms Gan shows us how to eat the fast-melting gelato in style…

Ms Gan shows us how to eat gelato in style haha

Hahaha couldn’t resist putting this up

So that’s it for our foodie adventures in Milan, as well as my European summer getaway!

Food definitely made up half of the experience and it was a treat sampling 3 wonderful European cuisines, while taking in the wonderful sights. And that, my friends, made it a most memorable summer indeed ;)

Mangiare in Italia – Part 1

After eating our way through the South of France, we come to the motherland of pasta, risotto, espresso and of course, gelato.

I actually have come to appreciate Italian cuisine alot since moving to Melbourne. I like the simplicity of the cuisine, and the honest, fresh flavours that are brought out in Italian cooking i.e. lots of fresh herbs, ingredients presented as they are with minimal processing and simple cooking techniques.

(I guess it also helps that I’m a big fan of Jamie Oliver and most of his recipes are inspired by Italian cooking!)

So I was more than curious to find out how Italian food really tastes like in the homeland. So here I chronicle our foodie adventures in Cinque Terre (and will do Milan in a separate post), where we truly celebrated Mangiare in Italia i.e. Eating in Italy!

Vernazza

We started off with our first dinner in Vernazza. After searching around TripAdvisor, we found this to be the top rated restaurant in Vernazza…

Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre

Via gavino 36, 19018 Vernazza

Make no mistake about the restaurant's name! Arrr...

Make no mistake about the restaurant’s name! Arrr…

To be honest, I was a little skeptical approaching this restaurant. With the whimsical outlook, it doesn’t look like a serious Italian restaurant!

You know you're dining in Italy when a good bottle of olive oil & balsamic vinegar can be found on every table! But as a heads up, this will be included as service charge

You know you’re dining in Italy when a good bottle of olive oil & balsamic vinegar can be found on every table! But as a heads up, this will be included as service charge

But talking to the owner of the restaurant, a true-blue Italian, he was confident of the restaurant’s offerings. He asked us where we were from and he recommended that we try the risotto because ‘Australians usually order it and they love it’, according to him.

Ms Gan decided to go ahead with the risotto but I was feeling quite full so I ordered the seafood salad

Seafood salad

Seafood salad

While I enjoyed the fresh seafood flavours on the plate with the good douse of quality olive oil and smattering of salad greens, I suffered serious dish envy when Ms Gan’s risotto came!

Mushroom risotto

Mushroom risotto

The dish looks so understated but once you take a bite, whoa. It was creamy without being gluggy with the mushroom taste infused throughout, and the rice was cooked a perfect al-dente. And of course, there were those sprinklings of chopped parsley for that fresh herby taste.

As Ms Gan also concurred, we’ve never had risotto like this before!

When the chef (who is actually the owner’s brother – they look alike and it’s quite cute!) came by to ask how was our food, Ms Gan said the risotto was really good. To which the chef replied, ‘Of course! Many women want to marry me because of this risotto!’ 

Hahaha. Nothing like some humour to round up a good dinner! Anyway, that really made our first night in Vernazza quite enjoyable, but I was seriously craving for that risotto after that…

So I was more than happy when we came back on our last night! And no prizes for guessing what I ordered!

Yes finally a mushroom risotto to myself! With Ms Gan's eggplant parmigiana in the background

Yes finally a mushroom risotto to myself! With Ms Gan’s eggplant parmigiana in the background

And the risotto tasted still as good as the first night! I guess this really shows the consistency of their food. Ms Gan also commented that her eggplant parmigiana was really good (silly me forgot to take a picture of it!) – again, it looked simple and Ms Gan only ordered it because the manager recommended it. But simple as it is, the dish was yum!

So since the owner’s recommendations have been spot-on so far, we asked him to recommend the desserts. I was actually eyeing the tiramisu, but to my surprise, he said the tiramisu was just average and I should order their homemade cannoli instead.

All the cannolis are made in-house

All the cannolis are made in-house

Now, the cannolis I’ve had before are quite hard and really creamy inside so I wasn’t too sure about it. But the owner insisted that this was the restaurant’s best-seller and I should go for the one with the ricotta cream filling. I was then afraid it was going to be heavy and I asked about the chocolate cream cannoli instead.

He then threw up his hands in the air, in true Italian fashion, and said, ‘Okay, I give you half and half okay?’

Haha we are such fussy customers. Ms Gan went ahead and ordered the panna cotta with fresh fruits, also upon his recommendation.

My special half & half cannoli, at no extra charge!

My special half & half cannoli, at no extra charge!

Panna cotta with an overload of fresh fruit

Panna cotta with an overload of fresh fruit

Now, the panna cotta was lovely, with a silken texture and the right balance of sweetness. The fruits and raspberry coulis also helped to give a fresh edge to the dessert, making it taste really light and refreshing.

BUT my friends, this cannoli is really something else…

BEST. CANNOLI. EVER.

BEST. CANNOLI. EVER.

Just like the risotto, this cannoli was something I’ve never tasted before. The pastry was not hard at all, with a beautiful crunch to it. And the owner was right – the ricotta cream was wayyy better than the chocolate cream. The ricotta cream was velvety and had a lovely vanilla bean taste to it, hardly heavy at all, and it went so well with the pastry.

This cannoli was simply out of this world! (But later, when we met the Australian-Italian couple on the way to Milan, they said that nothing can compare to the cannolis in Sicily itself – ah, I cannot imagine how much better they would taste!)

By the way, this restaurant serves breakfast as well, but you gotta make sure you only order the Italian stuff…

Haha they said they had to put up this sign because of the many requests from American/British/Aussie tourists

Haha they said they had to put up this sign because of the many requests from American/British/Aussie tourists

So yes, I would HIGHLY recommend this place if you ever drop by Cinque Terre – you would never guess that it houses such good, honest Italian food! And yes, heed to the owner’s recommendations!

Panificio Foccaceria

Via Roma 7, 19018 Vernazza

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So I read from Ladyironchef that you have to check out the foccacia here. Again, I had some preconceptions about foccacia being a hard and chunky bread so I wasn’t too keen on it. Besides, on the first morning in Vernazza, I was still missing the French croissants so I decided to have a croissant for breakfast…

Turns out the croissants weren't as good... I guess you can't compare to the 1s in France!

Turns out the croissants weren’t as good… I guess you can’t compare to the 1s in France!

On our last day, I decided to give the focaccia a go after all (we were in a hurry to catch the train so I didn’t take a picture :( ) and it just blew away all my misconceptions!

The focaccia was fluffy and warm. There was a nice chewy texture with a touch of salt to make it a delightful brekky. Wow I’m glad that I tried it after all!

La Torre

Bia Carattino, 64, 19018 Vernazza

The view from La Torre

The view from La Torre

Again, this restaurant caught my attention through Ladyironchef’s post and I pleaded with non-seafood-eating Ms Gan that we checked out this place.

Bread served with good olive oil again!

Bread served with good olive oil again!

It was actually a little difficult finding this restaurant as we didn’t realise that it was located so high above the hill (eeks, as if we didn’t climb enough steps on our hike that day already!).

So was the food worth the climb up?

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

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

This, my friends, trumps ALL other Marinara pastas I’ve had before in my life… The spaghetti was cooked to perfection with that slight chewiness, and the tomato sauce and olive oil just leap out on your tastebuds. Of course, the seafood was really fresh. It was a slightly messy business taking apart the scampi but the mussels were absolutely juicy.

With this perfect plate of pasta and the breathtaking view of the sun setting over Vernazza, what more can you ask for?

Monterosso al Mare

So after our trek which started in Corniglia, we looked for lunch in this beautiful beachside village.

Il Piccolo Diavolo

Via Vittorio Emanuele, Monterosso al Mare

Sicilian pasta of anchovies, pine nuts, red currants & pesto

Sicilian pasta of sardines, pine nuts, red currants & fennel

Ms Gan had a simple Margherita pizza while I decided to go for the pasta, in bid to try the local delicacy. I did find it quite interesting, but I wasn’t sure if I was a big fan of the sudden hits of strong fennel with the bony sardines. But I liked the pine nuts and sweet red currants with the pasta and the generous lashings of olive oil.

Slurp! Gelato Artigianale

Via Fegina 86, 19016 Monterosso al Mare 

Mango & Strawberry gelati, for €3 from memory

Mango & Strawberry gelati, for €3 from memory

Of course, when in Italy, you gotta have gelato right? So after our lunch, Ms Gan and I indulged in a cone each before hitting the waters. We quite enjoyed the texture of the gelato and I was glad I got the fruity flavours as they were so refreshing in the summer heat :)

Manarola 

After our 2nd trek, it was lunch business again here in this village.

Trattoria La Scogliera

Via Birolli n. 103, Manarola

Marinara pasta for me & pesto pasta for Ms Gan (in the background)

Marinara pasta for me & pesto pasta for Ms Gan (in the background)

I couldn’t go past the marinara pasta again (hey, we’re by the coast after all right?) while Ms Gan had a craving for pesto pasta. The pasta was all right but we found the dishes a little too salty. So in terms of the quality of the marinara pasta, I think La Torre still serves up the best!

Gelateria Cinque Terre

Via Antonio Discovolo 248, 19010 Manarola

We shared a cup of pistachio, lemon & another flavour that I can't remember :P

We shared a cup of pistachio, lemon & another flavour that I can’t remember :P

Yup, we needed that something to sweeten up our day! We thought this place would be good because of the long queue. But turns out we found the pistachio flavour a little too salty for our liking. We kinda preferred the gelato we had at Monteresso!

And on our last day in Cinque Terre, I finally discovered espresso coffee!!

Changing trains at Monteresso & found a cafe at the station! If you look carefully at the menu on top, you'll see how cheap the coffee is :O

Changing trains at Monteresso & found a cafe at the station! If you look carefully at the menu on top, you’ll see how cheap the coffee is :O

I haven’t had espresso coffee since we got to Italy as our cute little accommodation provided instant coffee. But since we had checked-out, it was the perfect excuse to get a cuppa!

It felt like ages since I last saw an espresso machine!

It felt like ages since I last saw an espresso machine!

I’ve read reviews before that somehow, coffee outside of Melbourne doesn’t taste the same, even in Italy (yea, I know… like, seriously?!). So I was curious to find out…

Okay, so they don't serve their coffee in fancy takeaway cups, but what's the coffee standard?

Okay, so they don’t serve their coffee in fancy takeaway cups, but what’s the coffee standard?

It turns out that yes, while the coffee blend isn’t as tasty as some of the good cafes in Melbourne, it was still a strong good cup of coffee. It was smooth and had a slight nutty taste. In fact, I thought this was better than the one I had at the fancy cafe in Nice.

And this is just from a simple cafe-bar at a train station! I guess this is a good indicator of their coffee standards right?

So that’s it for our first half of our Mangiare in Italia adventure :) And yes, we did find quite a few places that showcased the spirit of Italian cuisine didn’t we?

Next up would be the second half and my last instalment of my summer European foodie adventures – Milan!

 

Merchants Guild

Sometimes, we don’t have the luxury of Saturday mornings to go for the more popular brunch places and have a full-out brunch venture. During such times, we can only afford a simple brunch in a convenient location. And that is how we arrived at Merchants Guild.

DSCN2225

Basically, this was the situation: we wanted to do a later brunch so that we can settle more things in the morning (i.e. packing for Ms CC who was getting ready to leave Melbourne at that time), and we wanted to find a place in between our church and Ms CC’s place to cut travelling time. So after narrowing down the possible suburbs, we found Merchant’s.

Taking advantage of that rare winter sun!

Taking advantage of that rare winter sun!

I was actually excited about checking out this cafe as it meant exploring a new suburb. I wanted to get a feel of the brunch scene in Bentleigh and we also read many good reviews of their Pranna Chai lattes. I found it quite unique that a cafe would be well known for its chai latte, as opposed to its coffee.

So after a 15minute wait (yes, Merchant’s was alot more popular than we thought!), we were given the outdoor table and in a rare twist to our brunching habits, Ms CC, Ms JQ and I ALL ordered the chai latte – we really wanted to know what’s the hype about!

How the chai latte is served

Pranna chai latte – $4.50

And I guess half of the fun in order the chai latte is pouring out for yourself!

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Okay, all these antics aside, how good was the actual drink?

The chai-pouring aunty!

Yes, I’m the chai-pouring aunty!

To be honest, we didn’t find the spices strong enough. We even tried to leave the spices inside the small jug before pouring the tea out again but still, the chai taste was quite weak. So yea, we were a little disappointed in our drink which turned out more milky than spicy – we all thought that an Indian aunty from our church makes much better Indian tea!

Ms CC was actually so let down by the drink that she decided to order a coffee for us to share, to fulfil the caffeine hit.

Latte

Latte – $3.80

Alas, the latte came out weak as well and we couldn’t quite taste the blend :(

So the drinks didn’t quite hit the mark… what about the brunch fare?

Superfood breakfast - $18.50

Superfood breakfast – $18.50

As the name suggests, this dish is made of all things healthy – broccoli, kale, pumpkin seeds… you get the picture. The only familiar brunch ingredients we found were the lovely poached eggs, that slice of toast and side of smashed avocado. We felt really healthy eating this light dish – while it was good, we felt a little not used to such a superfood dish!

Bacon with an avocado and charred corn salsa on sourdough with eggs & pesto - $18

Bacon with avocado and charred corn salsa on sourdough with eggs & pesto – $18

This was Andrew’s dish which looks pretty healthy too! The elements all worked well on the dish but he did comment about the avocado salsa being a little too sour.

Roast potato bubble and squeak

Roast potato bubble and squeak – $18

While the previous dishes were so wholesome, we felt that this dish gave us the grease that we wanted. Yay!

But we found that while the roast potatoes, smoked trout and poached eggs went together, the horseradish cream and pickles on the other side of the dish seem abit disconnected from the rest of the dish. I guess they are meant to give a sour cut to the dish but we weren’t big fans of the pickles and we felt the cream made the overall dish heavier.

Eggs Panzanella - $18.50

Eggs Panzanella – $18.50

And this, I thought, was the Dish of the Day :)

Eggs Panzanella - $18.50

Gotta get that yolk shot!

I enjoyed the salty hit of the jamon paired with the fresh basil, tomatoes as well as the lucious yolk on those hunky toast pieces. I guess I wasn’t so sure about the anchovies and Ms CC found that she didn’t like the jamon. But oh well, I thought that out of all the dishes we had that day, this was the 1 interested me the most with the combination of flavours.

Overall, I guess Merchants Guild is for you if you are after a healthier slant to your brunch fare with their ‘superfood’ and organic ingredients used in their dishes and drinks. Or just looking for a decent cafe in Bentleigh :)

Merchants Guild on Urbanspoon

So while we were not fully won over by Merchants, at the end of the day, we found a convenient cafe that fit into our busy schedules, we got to venture to a different suburb, and discover a different type of brunchfare – here’s to another tick off our cafe-hopping list!

Comfort Lunches for $10

It’s always nice to have a meal out over the weekend, and I guess even in cafe-friendly Melbourne, there are times when we tire of cafe food. And there would be just times that we desire something a little more wallet-friendly and a little less fancy but hitting the spot at the same time. Otherwise what I would call a ‘comfort lunch’ :)

Sounds like a challenge? Well, I guess in Melbourne where there is a heavy saturation of restaurants, we are bound to find some options for a comfort lunch! And because we love a good meal under a budget, here are some of my finds that a $10 note got me!

I Love Pho 264

We were pleased to find a 2nd storey that could house our big group!

We were pleased to find a 2nd storey that could house our big group!

We swung by this place for a quick lunch after our Old Folks Ministry visit at Kew. Having heard so many good reviews about this place, I was really keen to try out their pho!

Special Beef Combination Pho

Special Beef Combination Pho

The portion was really generous and it was a fine bowl of pho so we were definitely getting value for our money (from memory, it was about $9 a bowl?). But unfortunately, the general consensus around the table was that the pho didn’t seem very outstanding, as compared to other pho places we’ve been before.

While the broth definitely didn’t have the heavy MSG taste that most other pho places have, it didn’t seem as concentrated. This could be our once-off experience as I’ve heard alot of good reviews about this place. And after all, in a suburb concentrated with Vietnamese restaurants, the battle of the pho is quite fierce.

But anyway, you can’t deny that this is a good deal to get your tummy filled! So yes, here’s 1 place for a decent pho under $10!

I Love Pho 264 on Urbanspoon

Mamanee Thai Restaurant 

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From Richmond, we move on to Collingwood! Where you will find this gem of a Thai casual eatery.

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Okay so their meal deal is right at the $10 mark. Still not a bad deal right?

Panang Curry Beef

Panang Curry Beef

The beef curry looks a little dry doesn’t it? But taste-wise, the curry had that rich coconut milk flavour and the beef was quite tender.

Pad See Ew Chicken

Pad See Ew Chicken

This will be the sweet version of the Singaporean Char Kway Teow. I was a little scared by the amount of oil that sank to the bottom of the bowl. But I guess I can’t complain with the generous amount of veggies and chicken given. I also love the soft egginess (if there is such a word) throughout the dish. This piping hot dish totally hit all the carbs, veggies and protein quota and that leaves me one satisfied customer!

Pad Thai Chicken

Pad Thai Chicken

Ms JQ got this and I must say I had abit of a dish envy when I stole a bite. The noodles were nicely stir-fried, with the right balance of sweet and savoury flavours, ending with that refreshing lemon hit and peanut crunch. Just like my Pad See Ew, there was a good serving of chicken and beansprouts.

Thai milk tea, which was $3 from memory

Thai milk tea, which was probably $3 from memory

Ms JQ couldn’t resist ordering this to share which kinda busted our $10 budget, but only just by a little! :P We found this a lot sweeter to the teh tarik that we are accustomed to and there seems to be a slight floral taste to it. It was a good thing that we shared as I’m not sure if I can finish this sugary drink all by myself!

Anyway, at Mamanee, your $10 note stretches far with the portion size (that bowl is deeper than you think!) and pretty authentic Thai food. So a good place for a quick-fix Thai lunch!

Mamanee Thai on Urbanspoon

Fukuryu Ramen

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So Fukuryu Ramen is 1 of the latest places riding on the ramen wave in the CBD so we came to check it out. It also helps that their ramen bowls were under $10 which helped in our comfort lunch quest!

Signature Tonkotsu - $9.90

Signature Tonkotsu – $9.90

We couldn’t help comparing this to our favourite tonkotsu ramen at Don Too. While Fukruyu‘s version is indeed creamy and the noodles were al-dente, we still preferred the one at Don Too (sorry Fukruyu!). I guess the char shu is more meltingly tender and the broth had a thicker pork stock at Don Too. So while the tonkotsu is decent at Fukruyu, we know which 1 is still our favourite ramen in town!

Shoyu Ramen - $9.90

Shoyu Ramen – $9.90

I thought I would go abit healthier and order a clear-soup bowl. But it turns out, I still like my ramen with a creamy broth (i.e. tonkotsu all the way!). Again, I can’t fault the texture of the noodles and the entire dish, but I just didn’t find the ramen very outstanding.

Chicken Karaage - $5.90

Chicken Karaage – $5.90

Again, Ms JQ and I couldn’t help sharing this side dish which caused us to go over our budget a little (oops) but hey, at least I’m reviewing 1 more dish right?  I guess we couldn’t resist the call of fried chicken! The chicken inside was really tender but I didn’t find the batter crunchy enough. After all, it’s karaage right? So yea, I wasn’t a big fan of it but I did like the spicy mayo on the side!

Our comfort ramen lunch

Our comfort ramen lunch (photo credit: Ms JQ)

So overall, I wasn’t quite blown away by this latest ramen hit in town. The place does have a cool vibe and it is a lot more spacious than the cozy Don Too. But in terms of the ramen quality, I may have to remain loyal to my favourite ramen place. But anyhow, this place definitely gives a good value bowl of ramen and I won’t hesitate to recommend this place for a comfort ramen lunch.

Fukuryu Ramen on Urbanspoon

So there you have it – 3 choices for comfort lunches, and 3 different cuisines as well! How characteristic of Melbourne’s multicultural food scene! So what are you waiting for? Hit these spots to fill up your lunch tummy and stretch your $10 bill!

Di Bella Coffee Roasting Warehouse

In the midst of many cafe giants, let me tell you something about Di Bella Coffee Roasting Warehouse: it is Melbourne’s best kept secret.

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Tucked away in a quiet corner of North Melbourne, this cafe has never come on my radar. But time and again, I would hear Daimz mention about this place. I just didn’t think too much of it, as there was always a much more talked-about cafe that I wanted to try out.

But one day, he had a less-than-satisfying experience at Top Paddock, much to my surprise, and he told me that Di Bella was still way better. Now, I know Daimz knows his coffee and food so since he wasn’t too impressed with 1 of my favourite Melbourne cafes, I had to find out what’s the fuss about….

Incidentally, this was also going to be our last brunch with Ms CC who was leaving Melbourne for good (sobs). So we thought we better pick a good place for our last brunch with her, and decided to hold Daimz accountable for his recommendation!

interior

I was immediately impressed by the fact that they make their own coffee in-house (I guess the words ‘coffee’, ‘roasting’ and ‘warehouse’ in the cafe’s name should have rang a bell already.. DUH!). So I was looking forward to a good cuppa coffee!

Coffee blends to choose from

I like how they have detailed descriptions of their coffee blends!

Our waiter told us that the 2 blends used that day were the Arnika Reserve and Modena. Apart from Andrew, the rest of us went ahead with the Modena blend.

Thought I would include the menu here because it's not on their website

Thought I would include the menu here because it’s not on their website

Because we are such cooperative people and like to taste a variety of food, we decided to share our dishes. But Andrew again, well, because he likes to be different, decided to have his own dish.

Anyway, it wasn’t long before we had our coffees served!

Magic, cappuccino & latte

Magic, cappuccino & latte

Haha I like how despite all of us going for the same blend, we went for different types of coffees and went about sipping each other’s coffees and giving our 2 cents’ worth – what will I do without my brunch gang??

And after our group sampling, we came to the conclusion that the coffee was delicious. Wow, it’s been a long time since I described a coffee as ‘delicious’! The blend was very pleasant, as you can taste the smooth sweetness of the honey and caramel, and then ending with that bitter hit of dark chocolate.

We all also thought that the Magic was the best out of the lot, as the ratio of espresso to milk really brought out the best of the blend – yayyy guess who got that winner cup of Magic?? :P

We also didn’t have to wait long for our food – service was really efficient!

Andrew's Coffee-cured salmon

Andrew’s Coffee-cured salmon

Andrew’s comments were that while the salmon was cooked nicely, he still preferred the ocean cured trout served at Top Paddock and he found the black skordalia a little strange. I guess overall, it was an okay but not outstanding dish.

Hash browns, poached eggs, ham & hollandaise

Hash browns, poached eggs, ham & hollandaise

Now, this is apparently Mr DC’s favourite dish when he comes to Di Bella so we had high expectations of it. This is a simple dish but somehow, it was lip-smackingly delicious.

I really like the stringy texture you get from the hash browns as you can taste how well-cooked the shreds of potatoes inside are. And everything on this plate was cooked well – from the crunchy hash browns to the oozy yolk of the eggs, to the hit of salt from the ham and finally with the creamy hollandaise to tie up the entire dish.

Wild mushroom omelette

Wild mushroom omelette

Again, another simple dish executed well. There was that fluffy eggy goodness inside with the crispy edges and you can taste the truffle oil throughout. And how can you resist those crispy shards of fried cheese on top? Mr JC commented that he wasn’t a big fan of the olive bits inside that gave it a bitter edge but I didn’t realise it until he pointed it out! Oh well, that was a pretty good omelette to me!

Crispy pigs jowl

Crispy pigs jowl

This is 1 dish that captured Ms CC’s heart, and tastebuds. There was the fatty juiciness of the pork, the crunchiness of the balsamic croutons (which I couldn’t get enough of!), the rich yolk of the Son-in-law eggs, the fresh hit of salad and the subtle sweetness in those tiny raisins scattered throughout.

I personally wasn’t too sure of those big leafy coriander that may have overpowered the salad. But I appreciate the different textures in the dish and how well that pork jowl and son-in-law eggs were cooked. And be warned, this is a very hearty dish!

Brunch for 6 :)

Brunch for 6 :)

Because Ms NO was craving for it, we even had a side of chips! So that resulted in us tumbling out of Di Bella filled to the brim, and well-caffeinated. To think about it, it’s been awhile since we were fed so well at a Melbourne cafe as we have found that portion sizes have been getting smaller!

To sum up our Di Bella experience, the coffee is of high quality, the brunch fare is simple but well-executed. And with the portion sizes, the food does give you bang for your buck. And we found that in comparison to the more popular Melbourne cafes, Di Bella does not have the infamous long queues and it is big enough to cope with the weekend brunch crowd.

So in all, I guess I would have to give Daimz credit for pointing us to this local insider gem!

Di Bella Coffee Roasting Warehouse Melbourne on Urbanspoon

And I’m glad that we had such a good experience with it being our last brunch with Ms CC. It’s sad that I’m losing 1 of my best brunch partners and dear sister-in-Christ. But oh well, at least I’m thankful for the memories that we’ve had and that God is leading her to a new phase in her life. Missing you lots already Ms CC, but God willing, we’ll see each other soon ;)

Le Côté Délicieux de France

Being fans of the French cuisine and knowing that we were entering the country with the most number of Michelin star restaurants, Ms Gan and I started off our French leg with much anticipation. I was all ready for an exciting gastronomic experience, and was all out to discover le côté délicieux de France, or the delicious side of France ;)

Carcassonne

We started out our French food journey in Carcassonne for a very late dinner. Hungry and tired, we just settled on a random bistro on the way to the Medieval City. It was quiet and the surrounding streets were dark, and there were only 2 other diners at that time – didn’t seem a very good start to our French foodie quest!

Our 1st meal in France

Our 1st meal in France

I spotted Duck Leg Confit on the menu and decided to go with it anyway. I had a good experience with the duck confit at Singapore’s Au Petit Salut and a disappointing one at Melbourne’s Bistro Vue. Au Petit Salut’s duck had a crispy skin on the outside and the meat inside was a little dry but still tender. Whereas Bistro Vue’s version was really salty and when I asked the waiter, he said that this was the way duck confit is meant to be.

With these 2 extreme experiences at hand, I wanted to find out what would be an actual French take on this dish!

This was €15 from memory

This was €12 from memory

Folks, beyond this humble looking dish lies a meltingly tender duck under that crispy skin exterior. I was shocked to find my first mouthful of duck melting in my mouth! It also had the right amount of salt. Ms Gan stole a bite and she found it good too.

What – the best duck confit I had so far, in a random bistro with no Michelin stars?? That’s ridiculous!

(Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of the restaurant and menu so I won’t be able to tell you where this place is!)

So being fed with such a good French duck on our 1st night, as well as the beautiful night view of the Medieval City, I went to bed happy and satisfied :)

The next morning, we went out with a mission – not just to explore the Medieval City by day but to also look for croissants for breakfast!

We found this random bakery... less than €1 for each pastry!

We found this random bakery… check out how cheap those pastries are!

Again, this humble bakery housed the best croissants I’ve ever tasted – I’m serious!! The layers were flaky on the outside and had a chewy texture on the inside. The butter flavour was also not overpowering, given it an overall light feel. Wow such cheap and good croissants!

Within the Medieval City, there are many restaurants that offer a 3-course lunch option. We just chose this random one:

Auberge Le Plo

23 rue du Plo, 11000 Carcassonne

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Our entree of French Onion Soup... Unfortunately, I kinda preferred my homecooked version of Shannon Bennett's recipe!

Our entree of French Onion Soup… Unfortunately, I preferred my homecooked version of Shannon Bennett’s recipe!

Ms Gan's steak... which was  a little dry

Ms Gan’s steak… which was a little dry

I quite enjoyed my Cassoulet! But it was very buttery and full of beans, so it got abit too heavy for me towards the end

I quite enjoyed my Cassoulet! But it was very buttery and full of beans, so it got abit too heavy for me towards the end

Our panna cotta & creme brulee which were just average. Bistro Guillaume does a better creme brulee!

Our panna cotta & creme brulee which were just average. Melbourne’s Bistro Guillaume does a better creme brulee!

Unfortunately, this meal was nothing to shout about but the price was really reasonable! And we were really stuffed after that meal.

Avignon

After that, it was a late arrival again into Avignon and we had a simple pizza just round the corner from our accommodation.

Felt a little strange having pizza in France but this was really good! Lovely thin crust and the cheese was yuuummm

Felt a little strange having pizza in France but this was really good! Lovely thin crust and the cheese was yuuummm

Our host in Avignon was really friendly and she provided us such a big breakfast spread for the 2 days that we were there! Who said the French were snobby and cold?

Croissants, Au Pain Chocolat, Orange cake, 3 types of jam

Croissants, Au Pain Chocolat, Orange cake, bread rolls, 3 types of jam, honey & butter.. ahh where to start??

But yea, between you and me, we much preferred the croissants we had in Carcassonne and we missed them very much!

And here’s what we had for lunch in Avignon!

AOC

5 Place Jerusalem, Avigno

It didn’t occur to us that France, having that many Michelin-star restaurants in their country, would have some in Avignon too. So when we found some of these restaurants while walking around, we were told that they were fully booked, d’oh! So we settled for this bistro after I read a good review online.

Our starter of gravlax - it was so fresh and I like the way they cut it, makes every bite juicy and meaty!

Our starter of gravlax – it was so fresh and I like the way the fish is cut, makes every bite juicy and meaty!

Ms Gan's main.. I think it was pork? I remembered she said the meat was abit dry

Ms Gan’s main.. I think it was pork? I remembered she said the meat was abit dry

I went for the fish and I enjoyed it! The fish was nicely pan-fried and there was a burst of fresh flavours with the tomatoes.

I went for the fish and I enjoyed it! The fish was nicely pan-fried and there was a burst of fresh flavours with the tomatoes.

I can’t remember the exact price of our lunch (yea go me) but in total, it was less than €20 per person – not bad, I would say!

On our last day in Avignon, we checked out this bakery near our accommodation, as recommended by our host.

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Yay finally an encounter with a French patisserie!

Yay finally an encounter with a French patisserie!

I’ve never had a fig tart before and the figs looked so fat and juicy that I just had to get it!

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This tart, ladies and gentlemen, is da bomb. The figs were as juicy as they looked, the tart pastry was a crusty and buttery perfection, and that dollop of custard under the figs just tied everything together. Si délicieux! Can anyone find a fig tart like this in Melbourne?? Please let me know!

Nice

Ah again, we arrived at our next destination in time for dinner. We asked our host for a recommended place and he immediately pin-pointed this restaurant so off we went!

Carre Llorca

3 Rue de la Prefecture, 06300 Nice

Guess what's this?

Guess what’s this?

The menu!

The menu!

We decided to skip the entrees and go straight to the mains. As you can tell, the menu was all in French so we needed some guidance!

Ms Gan felt like lamb so the Tagine d’agneau it was!

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The lamb was slow braised but Ms Gan didn’t find it as tender as she wanted. I also wasn’t that keen on the couscous at the bottom. But overall, not a bad dish.

As Ms Gan already chosen lamb and I wanted some red meat too, I decided to try the veau, or veal ;)

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Now, this veal was outstanding. It was crumbed on the outside with sweetbreads and inside, it was so SO tender. I never had veal like this before! The veal didn’t taste as gamey at all and I loved EVERY element on the dish – the roasted fennel, the airy crunchy seaweed on the side that just disintegrates in your mouth without effort, the mash and the jus all over. I think Ms Gan had a bit of a dish envy whoops! :P But yes, this was one unforgettable dish!

We saw the nice array of desserts on display and decided to share one :)

Lemon tart

Lemon meringue tart

The lemon meringue tart was beautiful, with the nice acidic tang of the lemon curd, balanced out with some sweetness and lovely pastry. Great way to end the night!

We had such a good impression of this place that we came back for our last lunch in Nice!

Back for another meal!

Back for another meal!

Amuse bouche - think this was yoghurt at the bottom with tomato puree

Amuse bouche – think this was goat’s cheese at the bottom with tomato puree

Ms Gan had a craving for steak so steak it was!

Ms Gan said that this was a good piece of steak and she really enjoyed it :)

Ms Gan said that this was a good piece of steak and she really enjoyed it :)

As for me, I chose fish.

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The fish was beautifully cooked, with a hint of translucency in the flesh. Again, every element on the dish was enjoyable – the juicy pan-seared scallop, the delicate bacon strip, the shavings of cabbage, the mash and peas, and the jus. Yum!

And because we were still in France, we looked for more croissants for breakfast!

Brunet Boulanger Patissier

3-4 rue Alsace Lorraine, Nice

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€0.80 or €0.90 (the extra €0.10 is for extra buttery goodness) croissants again? yes please!

€0.80 or €0.90 (the extra €0.10 is for extra buttery goodness) croissants again? yes please!

The croissants turned out beautiful again… the only difference is that the top layer of these croissants were slightly more charred than the 1s we had in Carcassonne. Still tasted good though!

Ahhh we resisted getting a sweet treat the 1st time we came here...

Ahhh we resisted getting a sweet treat the 1st time we came here…

but on our last day in Nice, Ms Gan & I went ahead n got a slice of raspberry tart (€2.60 per slice) each!

But on our last day in Nice, Ms Gan & I went ahead n got a slice of raspberry tart (€2.60 per slice) each!

Haha so much for keeping our sweet tooth in. That raspberry tart was absolutely delish – love the generous serving of raspberries, not too overly sweet glaze on the top, and the well-baked pastry. The only problem was that 1 slice was too big for 1 person so Ms Gan actually didn’t finish hers!

And of course, in a beachside town like Nice, you gotta have some ice cream right?

Fenocchio

2 Place Rossetti, 06300 Nice

France's version of gelato

France’s version of gelato

I got Nocciolato, hazelnut dark choc

I got Nocciolato, hazelnut dark choc

The gelato had a good texture and the dark chocolate was spot-on, rich and indulgent.

My only complaint would be that the gelato stalls in Europe don’t allow free sampling (unlike Melbourne) and that makes it hard to decide on which flavours to get! Oh well, I guess it’s because they are quite confident of their gelato quality!

Okay moving on with my French foodie journey. On 1 of our days in Nice, Ms Gan decided to be a hardworking student and stay in to do her assignment. So I wandered around the city by myself, inadvertently making it a self-foodie tour of Nice!

I decided to start out the day with a good cup of espresso coffee, as I haven’t had one since the start of our European tour. So after some Googling, I came to this place:

Caffe Vergnano 1882

Rue Halevy 11, Nice

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The reviews said that the coffee was good and this cafe seemed to be Italian-owned so all looks promising!

Can never tire of croissants for breakfast in France!

Can never tire of croissants for breakfast in France!

Verdict? Yup, my cappuccino was strong and smooth, and definitely alot better than the espresso coffee I got from McDonald’s the day before! Definitely would recommend this place if you’re craving for an espresso coffee in Nice.

But I would have to say that the price was a little steep, at €3.20 per cup, especially when you think of the conversion rate back to the Aussie dollar! (As I found out later, the coffees get alot cheaper when we got to the actual birthplace of espresso coffee, Italy!)

After that nice peaceful morning to myself with a good coffee hit, I wandered around the streets and found myself inside Galeries Lafayette, where the designer clothes didn’t quite interest me, but something else…

Pierre Herme

Ground floor of Galeries Lafayette

6 av Jean Medecin, Nice

Ahhh can't believe I chanced upon these famous macarons!

Ahhh can’t believe I chanced upon these famous macarons!

The guy at the counter was very helpful, because I seriously couldn’t decide which 1 to choose (hey, I gotta spend my €2.10 wisely yah??). He patiently went through all the flavours with me hehe.

I asked him which 1s were the more popular flavours, and he said the top 3 were the Milk Chocolate & Passionfruit, Rose & Raspberry, and Raspberry & Pistachio. Guess which 1 I got?

Ahhh the guy packed it so nicely that I felt almost sorry to eat it!

Ahhh the guy packed it so nicely that I felt almost sorry to eat it! I brought Ms Gan here later and the lady handed out her macaron on a tissue -_-

Yup, I got the Montebello macaron i.e. Raspberry & Pistachio!

Wow, the flavours were amazing and the texture of the macarons surpasses all that I’ve eaten so far – soft, chewy and with that subtle crunch at the end. If only its price wasn’t so dear and can only keep for 3 days (as told to me by the guy), I would have bought a whole box back!!

So after more walking about and souvenir shopping, I was stopped in my tracks by this:

I guess the picture is not very clear but I can assure you that those oysters were huge!

I guess the picture is not very clear but I can assure you that those oysters were huge!

I’ve heard alot about the oysters in France but didn’t think I would find them in this part of France!

The display of seafood enjoyed by the diners at this cafe looked so fresh and good and that got me drooling, and Googling. I found that reviews of this place were good, but service was questionable. The other problem was, these aren’t exactly the $1 South Melbourne oysters and the price tag ain’t cheap!

I did walk away for awhile and had this internal debate within myself. Finally, I went, Aiyah so far shopping hasn’t cost me much and who knows when I’ll come back to France?? Let’s just try!

Cafe de Turin

5 Place Garibaldi, 06300 Nice

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Decided to go for the No 2 Claires, 1/2 a dozen

Decided to go for the No 2 Claires, 1/2 a dozen

As the reviews said, service was a little brusque, even though the restaurant wasn’t crowded. But that wasn’t enough to dampen my excitement!

Some warm fresh bread & butter to start off with

Some warm fresh bread & butter to start off with

Yay yay my oysters are here!

Yay yay my oysters are here!

Compare the oysters to the oyster fork to get an idea of how big they were!

Compare the oysters to the oyster fork to get an idea of how big they were!

As imagined, the oysters were creamy and the size of it meant that I had to eat them in 2 bites instead of the usual 1!

Enjoyed these 6 oysters at leisure :)

Enjoyed these 6 oysters at leisure :)

Yes, I did splash out a little on these oysters but I actually didn’t regret it – the French oysters are quite something else! If you are ever in Nice and can afford it, the other seafood offerings look good as well!

And finally, we had our last dinner in France at a 1-Michelin star restaurant…

L’Univers de Christian Plumail

54 Boulevard Jean-Jaures, 06300 Nice

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Following our disappointment at Avignon, we actually booked ahead at this place while we were still in Avignon. So we arrived here with high expectations, wondering what a 1-Michelin star quality dining experience would be…

Our amuse boche which was pate on a biscuit

Our amuse boche which was pate on a biscuit

As usual, the bread was good - served warm, had incredible fluffiness on the inside with olives inside, and wonderful crust on the outside

As usual, the bread was good – served warm, had incredible fluffiness on the inside with olives, and wonderful crust on the outside

We decided to go for their Weekly Menu Special, which was actually the cheapest set – a 3-course meal at €35 (from memory).

I guess at that time, we were thinking of saving abit of money and thought that a 1-Michelin star restaurant could still do a spin to a simple menu. But as we found out, that wasn’t the case!

Ms Gan's starter - Roasted tomatoes & a fried egg. Perhaps just a glamorised breakfast??

Ms Gan’s starter – Roasted tomatoes & a fried egg. Perhaps just a glamorised breakfast??

My entree of rock melon & jamon. I mean the dish was pleasant but I guess that's something you can do at home right?

My entree of rock melon & jamon. I mean the dish was pleasant but I guess that’s something you can do at home too right?

For the main, both of us went for the rabbit with wild mushrooms risotto

For the main, both of us went for the rabbit with pine nuts & wild mushroom risotto

We actually both quite enjoyed our main. Although it was tad too salty (as we found with most food in Europe!), the rabbit meat was not tough and the risotto was cooked al-dente with the mushroom flavours coming through. The dish looked small but was quite filling!

Overall, it was a good dish but was it great? Was it a 1-Michelin star quality dish? I wasn’t too sure about that – honestly, I thought the veal at Carrellorca was more special!

We were stuffed by the end of our main course but there was still dessert to go!

I went onto the dark side - A dark choc biscuit with choc & vanilla bean mousse

I went onto the dark side – A dark choc hazelnut biscuit with choc & vanilla bean mousse

While Ms Gan had something lighter - Raspberries on a crumble with a Creme Brulee top, served with raspberry sorbet. Ahhh I couldn't get over how raspberryish this dessert was!

While Ms Gan had something lighter – Raspberries on a crumble with a Creme Brulee top, served with raspberry sorbet. Ahhh I couldn’t get over how raspberryish this dessert was!

Again, while the desserts were pleasant, we didn’t find them very unique or special. While this was definitely value for money (we were SO stuffed by the end of it), I wouldn’t think this was a Michelin-star place based on the dishes served.

Perhaps it was because we went for the cheaper menu but then again, I can think of many other Melbourne restaurants that can give you the ‘wow’ factor at this price range – seriously, the Michelin star panel should consider some of our Melburnian establishments!

Okay, disappointments aside, I would have to say that the French food we sampled was delicieux enough to make my South of France experience pretty memorable and our palates were definitely spoilt enough :)

But guess what, that wasn’t all for well-fed palates because following this, we went into the place of my 2nd favourite cuisine – Italy! So stay tuned!

My Spanish Food Quest

As far as I know how Spanish cuisine goes, it would be tapas, churros, chorizo and tapas again. So was that what we found in Barcelona? Let’s find out!

Our Airbnb host was instrumental in kickstarting our Spanish Food Quest; the moment we got to his place, he gave us restaurant cards and marked them out on the map for us – yay!

Getting tips from our host!

Getting tips from our host!

So surprise surprise, our first dinner was at a tapas place!

La Mestressa

Plaza d’Osca, 08014 Barcelona

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As we got there pretty early, at 5ish pm, the restaurant was relatively quiet. But it filled up quite quickly.

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They had an English menu (phew!) but even still, it was a little hard communicating with the waitress, like trying to find out what each dish had (allergy alerts for Ms Gan) and the size of the portions. But we got there eventually!

Tuna tataki with soya sauce  - €9.50

Tuna tataki with soya sauce – €9.50

The tuna was cooked beautifully, but I found that the jam on the side didn't quite go with the savoury flavours

The tuna was cooked beautifully, but I found that the jam on the side didn’t quite go with the savoury flavours

Monkfish & prawns with mango sauce - €8.50

Monkfish & prawns with mango sauce – €8.50. This dish was actually served up to us by accident. But it looks good right??

Brie & raspberry jam bruschetta - €4.50

Brie, sesame seeds & raspberry jam bruschetta – €4.50

This above dish was so simple but got us both raving. The brie was melted, and the raspberry jam was not overly sweet, complimenting the cheese so well – who would’ve thought such a simple combination would be so yummy?! I told Ms Gan that I can’t wait to recreate this when I get back to Melbourne – yes, I need to do that soon!!!

Homemade croquettes with Spanish Iberian Ham - €5.50

Homemade croquettes with Spanish Iberian Ham – €5.50

The exterior of the croquettes were nicely crumbed and the inside nice and fluffy. The croquettes were REALLY filling and we both struggled to finish it!

The portion size for each dish was decent so even though we only had 3 tapa dishes in total, we left the restaurant full and satisfied. A good place for a simple tapas meal!

And guess what we had for our 2nd dinner again??

Tasca i Vins

Avinguda del Marques de l’Argentera 13., Barcelona

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The restaurant was quite empty when we reached so it didn’t seem quite promising. But perhaps it was because it was too early in the evening (Barcelonians are known to have really late dinners). We were starving anyway and thought to just go ahead and trust our host’s recommendation…

Fried egg with 'hot sauce' & thread potatoes - €3.95

Fried egg with Iberic ham & thread potatoes – €3.95. A lovely combination of fried stuff! Mmm.

Crunchy asparagus in Brie sauce - €4.75

Crunchy asparagus in Brie sauce – €4.75

We added this on to fulfill the veggie quota and this turned out to be the Dish of the Night! The asparagus definitely had a nice crunch and the brie sauce was so simple yet decadent at the same time. Again, another simple tapas done so well!

Seafood paella tapa - €3.95.

Seafood paella tapa – €3.95

I just had to get this because I was craving for paella and Ms Gan can’t eat seafood. So 1 paella tapa to myself!

Yayy happy with my paella! There wasn't exactly a crust at the sides but still good enough for me!

Yayy happy with my paella! There wasn’t exactly a crust at the sides but still good enough for me!

Mushroom assortment - €3.75

Mushroom assortment – €3.75

It was actually nice tasting the different types of earthy mushrooms but the problem was, it was a little too salty :( As such, we struggled to finish this plate towards the end.

As you can tell, the price of each dish at this restaurant is cheaper than the first one we visited. Each dish was also quite enjoyable but yea, it would have been better if they were less salty. Yay, another great recommendation by our host!

La Boqueria Market (Mercat de La Boqueria)

Rambla, 91, 08002 Barcelona

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Now, this would be Barcelona’s version of our Queen Victoria Market where there are fresh fish, meats, vegetables and fruits.

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They also have a section of  food stalls and there’s where we had lunch 1 day!

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Haha can’t believe we came to Spain to eat crepes! But it was really goood! The crepe guy was also quite abit of a showman, but not in a crepe-y way! (haha get it??)

Having abit of a chat while waiting for our crepe

Having abit of a chat while waiting for our crepe

And we couldn’t resist getting fresh fruit - a whole bag of cherries for €2 and I may have given in to this temptation…

I can assure you those strawberries tasted as juicy and sweet as they looked. AND the chocolate... mmmm.

I can assure you those strawberries tasted as juicy and sweet as they looked. AND the chocolate… mmmm.

Yup, I may have deliberately wanted to stop by La Boqueria Market the next day again, just to get another stick of those chocolate-covered strawberries

So yes, La Boqueria market is a must-visit when you’re in Barcelona, especially for a quick bite and for a dose of fresh fruit!

Taverna Basca Irati

Carrer del Cardenal Casañas, 17, 08002 Barcelona, Spain

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When we got to Barcelona, Ms Gan kept going on and on about some hole-in-the-walls tapas bars that her colleague had told her about. That it would be a place selling really cheap tapas that were meant to be a quick snack-fix or as a teatime serving.

But as we wandered around, we could only find proper tapas restaurants and the dishes weren’t that cheap. Until one day, we chanced upon this tapas bar while walking around!

Ahhhh sooo many to choose from! All of them were priced €1.95 per stick

Ahhhh sooo many to choose from! All of them were priced €1.95 per stick

I chose 1 with brie, jam with a peanut sprinkling while Ms Gan went for smoked salmon... so moreish!

I chose 1 with brie, jam with a peanut sprinkling while Ms Gan went for smoked salmon… so moreish!

On my last day in Barcelona, I couldn't help popping by to grab a few more tapas!

On my last day in Barcelona, I couldn’t help popping by to grab a few more tapas!

And when we finally found one, they all seemed to appear before us – after our 1st encounter with Taverna Basca Irati, we found a 2nd one a few metres down the road!

Bilbao Berria

Plaça Nova, 3, 08002 Barcelona, Spain

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Even though we just had our tapas fill at the previous bar, we couldn’t help having a 2nd go… they just looked too good!

These were slightly cheaper at €1.70 per stick

These were slightly cheaper at €1.70 per stick

I went for smoked salmon this time round and Ms Gan had a big fat juicy chorizo

I went for smoked salmon this time round and Ms Gan had a big fat juicy chorizo

So yes, please look out for the tapas bars when you’re in Barcelona – they are there to keep you filled while you’re on the go! But be warned, there will be too many yummy offerings that you have to exercise self-control!

La Paradeta

Carrer Comercial, 7, 08009 Barcelona

Be sure to get here early

Be sure to get here early!

I personally didn’t expect to eat seafood in Barcelona (I mean, it doesn’t look close to the coast right?) but our host highly recommended this place so here we are! And yup, we got there 15minutes before it opened for dinner and there was a queue already!

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It’s kind of like a marketplace system – the moment you enter through the front door, you choose the fresh seafood you want, pay upfront and then grab a table.

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It was a little stressful having to choose from such a wide selection and with a queue behind us… but we got there!

Oysters to start off with

Oysters to start off with

I decided to try out the scampi since I don't see it very often in the Melbourne markets!

I decided to try out the scampi since I don’t see it very often in the Melbourne markets!

Ms Gan's fish, which unfortunately was a little dry and too salty

Ms Gan’s fish, which unfortunately was a little dry and too salty

As for my main, I couldn’t decide between crab or lobster. The lobster was much more expensive than the crab and it was a little annoying that I couldn’t share it with Ms Gan who can’t eat seafood (well, I guess it’s more annoying for her that she can only eat fish!).

But then, I thought I haven’t had one of them for a long time anyway so I went for that in the end…

Yes, I chose the lobster!

Yes, I chose the lobster!

Will I be able to finish this all by myself??

Will I be able to finish this all by myself??

Yup! *burp*

…Yup! *burp*

Yes, that was my piggish moment but I must say that grilled lobster was so satisfying. The flesh was succulent and it was soaked in beautiful olive oil (Spanish I presume) and herbs. The last time I had lobster that good was the baked lobster I had in Boston 7 years ago! So please excuse my moment of indulgence and yes, please check out La Paradeta if you’re a seafood lover!

Okay, on to simpler things.

As we stayed in the Gothic Quarter, there were only mini marts in that area and the fresh fruit didn’t look very good and the things inside were not that cheap. So that’s why we went a little crazy at La Boqueria Market and as we walked down La Rambla one day, to my delight, we spotted Carrefour! Finally, a supermarket!!!

The same amount would cost $5 in Melbourne!

The same amount would cost $5 in Melbourne!

Yes, I guess this sparked off my obsession with raspberries. I was actually really sad that I could not bring them back to Australia! :(

And guess what else we found in Carrefour?

Can you see €1 for each pack of chorizo/salami??

Can you see €1 for each pack of chorizo/salami??

Okay let me make it a little clearer for you

Okay let me make it a little clearer for you

A smoked meat lover’s dream… Without thinking twice, I grabbed 1 pack and then went to the biscuits aisle, and got a pack of biscuits for €0.56!

And guess what I had for breakfast the next day (and the next)?

Enjoyed with a mug of filtered coffee provided by our host and in the comforts of his lovely apartment!

Enjoyed with a mug of filtered coffee provided by our host and in the comforts of his lovely apartment!

Waaahhh a simple but yummy Spanish breakfast for €1.56 over 2 days! I cannot ask for a better local experience!

So yes, Barcelona has given me a good sampler of the Spanish cuisine – I’ve never seen more tapas in my life, and creative and delectable combinations as well! The chorizos and salamis are also one-of-a-kind, as you can’t get better quality smoked meats than these! I was also surprised by the yummy offerings of seafood and fresh fruit.

I guess the only dampener was that we didn’t get our dose of churros but oh well, I shouldn’t complain because as you can tell, we were fed well enough. So overall, I would say that we achieved much in our Spanish Food Quest!

Nieuw Amsterdam

There’s a hot new kid on the block and his name is ‘Nieuw Amsterdam‘. That’s right, he’s so cool that he ain’t just ‘new’, but ‘nieuw’ yo.

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After a holiday, there is always that dreaded but necessary need to adjust back to the routines of life. As you can probably relate, the first day back to work is usually the worst.

In that 8 hours, you have to:

  • fight travel fatigue (or sometimes, jetlag)
  • face the mount of emails and work
  • readjust your brain cells from planning daytrips and navigating around foreign streets back to old work routines
  • remain confined in the four walls of your office space while reminiscing your traipses into the unknown just awhile back

Oh, what a struggle to get through that day!

But after 2 days, it usually gets better (yes, it really does)…

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.‘ – Philippians 4:11

I guess it’s just a matter of not moping about the past holiday too much, be thankful to God for a job provided to recoup from the holiday spending, and be happy to have your own home to come back to everyday instead of living like a vagabond for the past few weeks. And of course, be glad to return to your loved ones that have been missing in your life while you were on the run.

In short, be thankful that you have arrived safely home and be content with what you have!

Okay, so what does Nieuw Amsterstam have got to do with all these adjusting-back-after-a-holiday business? Well I’m getting to that now!

So with catching up with the daily routine, that includes meeting up with friends on my agenda. So yup, that’s how Ms YY, Ms TY and I wound up at Nieuw Amsterdam 1 drizzly winter night, a couple of weeks after I got back…

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This place has been on my radar for awhile, thanks to many raving online reviews and it being consistently on the top 10 Urbanspoon list. The menu also made me quite curious, as they brand themselves as a modern New York eatery. So here we are to see what’s their take on modern American cuisine!

Loving their rustic cutlery layout!

Loving their rustic cutlery layout!

We haven’t met up for 2 months already and perhaps, in our excitement of catching up again over good food, we may have over-ordered… oops!

BBQ scallops, mango gazpacho, avocado, chilli

BBQ scallops

Our first starter was good! The scallops were plump and juicy and there was a nice sour tang from the mango-flavoured sauce and fresh slivers of cucumber. The droplets of avocado gave a creaminess with the subtle spicy hit of chilli. I did find it a little strange having the fried shallots (Western-Asian fusion alert!) but I guess it added the crunch factor.

Chicken waffles, pate, terrine, crispy chicken skin, orange caramel

Chicken waffles

This dish is the hit dish that everyone is raving about and I can see why. I guess this dish encapsulates what Nieuw Amsterdam is all about – it is creative, refined while capturing the flavours of the American diner cuisine at the same time.

The chicken just melted in our mouths and there was still the crunchiness of the waffle and chicken skin. A classic dish that you have to try if you go to Nieuw Amsterdam. However, if you’re not a fan of pate, like Ms YY, you may just have to pass it on to your other dining companions!

And then our mains arrived!

Like what I said, we might have got abit excited ordering...

Like what I said, we might have got abit excited in our ordering…

Let’s go into them one by one shall we?

New York Clam Chowder

New York Clam Chowder

This is another classic Nieuw Amsterdam dish that has got people talking. The chowder was a lovely mixture of saltiness from the bacon and seafood, and sweetness from the vegetables, without it being overly creamy.

Possibly the only odd thing about this dish was the stalk of spring onion thrown on top – we didn’t quite know what to do with it and I don’t know about you, but leaving the root on seems a little off-putting! Presentation-aside, the flavours were spot-on and it was a good portion.

Southern style pork belly chops

Southern style pork belly chops

Everyone, look at the glistening glory of the pork crackle. Yes, that was one mighty fine dish. The pork was juicy and we couldn’t get enough of the crackle! The portion is also deceivingly small, be warned!

Brussel sprouts & bacon

Brussel sprouts & bacon

We added this on to relieve our guilt of having some vegetables. Now, the concept of this dish sounds fantastic – deep fried brussel sprouts with chopped chives and bacon bits. However, the letdown was the amount of salt on this dish – it was as if someone accidentally tipped the whole bottle of salt over the dish :( And it didn’t help that the bacon added to the salt quota!

Because of the extreme saltiness, we couldn’t finish the dish, unfortunately. Otherwise, it would have been a rockin’ good dish as the sprouts had a nice texture – airy, light and crunchy at the same time.

Dutch potato fries with mayo

Dutch potato fries with mayo

I’ll let you onto a little secret – Ms YY and I both have a weakness for fried potatoes. Which was why we couldn’t resist adding on this side. It was well worth the extra calories though for us potato-lovers – fluffy on the inside, crunchy on the outside. There was a nice touch of saltiness but at that time, the saltiness of brussel sprouts got to us and that kind of diminished our appreciation of the potatoes.

Even though we were stuffed, I heard some good things about their desserts so I asked if we could just try one. Being good sports, Ms TY and Ms YY agreed- yay!

Peanut Butter Waffle with Raspberry Sorbet

Peanut Butter Waffle with Raspberry Sorbet

Ever since I got back from Europe, I started to have this obsession with raspberries. With it being the season for raspberries over there, I just couldn’t get over how cheap they were in Europe and how lovely they tasted in gelato. So the moment I spotted ‘raspberry sorbet’ on the dessert menu, I was sold.

And guess what? That was the BEST PART of the dessert. That sorbet immediately brought me back to the gelato days in Europe where it tasted just as good. It also offered such a refreshing cut to the rich chocolate and peanut butter that we couldn’t get enough of it! My only complaint was that there wasn’t enough sorbet to go around the 3 of us… oh for another scoop of that sorbet!

So that was our night at the new kid on the block and hopefully, it will maintain its standard of its cool factor. In all, we enjoyed our meal and caught up for over 2hours without being rushed by the service staff (although that being a weekday evening, things might be different on a weekend). Even when we did go a little crazy with our ordering, the final cost was still $40 per person so you can actually go a little lower than that.

So with exciting food, affordable prices, good service, Nieuw Amsterdam has ticked all my boxes to make it a Top Pick!

Nieuw Amsterdam on Urbanspoon

And yup, it’s good to get back into the routine of life, knowing that there are still some old friends out there who care about you and want to know the going-ons in your life, which makes the transition back into the real world a little more bearable. And that gives us a little something to look forward to during the work week, doesn’t it? ;)