Sunday, 29 December 2013

Saint Crispin, Melbourne - 12 Dec 2013

Scott Picket and the St Crispin team in the open kitchen
Saint Crispin has been very high up on my wishlist of Melbourne eateries for months, pretty much since it first opened and received glowing review after glowing review. It has not taken very long for Saint Crispin to develop a huge following and widespread recognition, opening only in July this year. It was awarded a chef's hat and the Best New Restaurant from The Age Good Food Guide 2014 only weeks after opening its doors. The men behind St Crispin are Scott Picket of Estelle and Joe Grbac, former head chef of Press Club. Both worked under Phil Howard at the 2-Michelin starred The Square in London.

The restaurant is set in what was originally a cobbler's workshop. It is a very cool space with timber floorboards, high ceilings and tables with no tablecloths, which creates a relaxed, casual dining experience. There is also an open kitchen so diners can watch the chef's prepare their food, something that I am always intrigued by.

The menu at Saint Crispin has a strong focus on seasonal and mainly local produce. For the quality of the ingredients and the cooking at Saint Crispin, the menu is great value. You can either choose 2 courses for $50, 3 courses for $60, or go all-out with the 7-course chef's tasting menu at $120. There are also some snacks and sides on the menu.  My wife and I decided to go with 3 courses tonight. 

Amuse bouche and bread

Amuse bouche
Our waitress brought over a couple of snacks while we waited for our first courses to be served. There was a a little chickpea puff that reminded me of a fried tofu puff in appearance and texture. This was served with a little dabble of lime mayo, which just delicious: zingy and zesty. The other snack was a sour hibiscus marshmallow coated in cocoa. The marshmallow was like a little cloud that evaporates in the mouth.

We were also served some sourdough bread, house churned butter, onion cream cheese and olive oil (because the waitress had mistaken my wife as a vegan). The onion cream cheese was just gorgeous and you can really taste the wonderful flavours of caramelised onions. Pity there was not more it as both my wife and I were fighting over it.      


There were also some premium courses on the menu tonight for those feeling indulgent, namely us. Our eyes lit up when we saw the words ALBA WHITE TRUFFLE printed on the menu! We knew we could only order one of the truffle entree (as it would set us back an extra $40)! I decided to also get the other premium entree on the menu, King Island Marron for an extra $12.
Truffle is the one ingredient that gets me the most excited. I just love how that wonderful, pungent aroma of truffle fills a room. Ever since my Europe trip, my appreciation for truffle of the white variety has grown stronger. It may look much uglier than its black cousin, but the white truffle has a stronger, more pungent flavour and aroma than its black counterpart. 

White truffles from Alba (in Northern Italy) are a very prized ingredient and people pay big money to get their hands on these tubers (they can fetch USD 2,000 a pound for the best variety at auctions)! La Pergola (a 3-Michelin star restaurant in Rome) charges 98 euro with Alba white truffle, so $40 is a relative bargain(?) (although La Pergola sources the highest quality truffles).

Alba white truffle, button mushroom and risoni (extra $40)
OK, so my wife was the lucky one on this occasion and got the white truffle dish for entree (but I still got to try some :D). Scott Picket, the executive chef, personally came over to shave the truffles over this dish (since no one else in the kitchen is allowed to handle this prized ingredient haha). 

It goes without saying, that this course was just amazing! The combination of truffles and mushrooms in a rich, creamy dish is just to die for. So satisfying, with each bite leaving you want to dig your spoon in for more! The risoni were like soft, slippery pellets that resemble risotto in appearance only. We would have preferred this dish as a risotto but the flavours of this dish still shine through!

King Island marron, sweet corn, chorizo and tomato (extra $12)
My marron course was also a highly enjoyable course that contained some beautiful flavour combinations. The marron was fresh, and very well cooked. The flavours of the marron were paried nicely with sweet corn puree and grilled sweet corn kernels, diced tomatoes and bits of crispy, spicy chorizo. The contrast between the chorizo and the marron was amazing and complementary! This course was also served with some smooth and slippery strands of squid ink pasta


Flinders Island lamb, parmesan, artichoke and broad bean
For main, I went for the Flinders Island lamb, which was served four ways. There was a braised shoulder, loin, a piece of leg and a rib. Each of these were a winner and beautifully cooked, but my favourite was the rib with wonderful caramelised meat falling off the bone. The dish also came with a thin, glistening strip of crispy bacon, a great addition for its texture and bursts of salty, porky flavour. Sharing the plate too was an intense, grassy nettle puree, cute little fluffy pillows of herb gnocchi, broad beans and lemony artichokes.

Courgette flower, sesame, green tomato and beetroot
My wife's main was the courgette flower, which was stuffed with goat's cheese. The dish was served with grilled haloumi, eggplant, red rice, a crispy sesame cracker, beetroot, nettle puree and an emulsion made from fromage blanc. There were some nice flavour combinations and textures here but even my wife found that this dish was too "cheesy" (which is saying a lot given my wife loves cheese).          

Sebago potato crisp, seaweed mayonnaise ($9)
For some unknown reason, my wife always orders a side of chips when she sees them at menus of hatted restaurants... sigh. Perhaps she was a seagull in her past life? The sebago potato crisps were nice and fluffy and the seaweed mayonaise was very tasty and full of umami.   


As always, we decided to pick 2 desserts so that we could share. Desserts are usually the toughest choice as everything often looks so enticing. After much indecision, we decided on the following (could have easily picked the apricot, nectarine and peach dessert):   
Chocolate, earl grey, milk and ginger
The chocolate dessert was just amazing, no other way of putting it. The chocolate mousse was smooth, airy and yummy. The thin ganache layer was rich and decadent. And there was a nice thin chocolate crust layer at the base. And the earl grey ice cream was very pleasant with a hit of that lovely floral bergamot flavour.  

Mango, coconut, vanilla and verbena
The other dessert was a vanilla panna cotta served in a jar. The panna cotta was loaded with little black specks of vanilla and was quite rich and creamy, and not gelatinous, which I liked. The panna cotta was topped with a dollop of coconut cream, mango and lemon verbena

Petit fours
To finish off a fantastic meal, we had these blood orange jubes, which were quite sour but nicely balanced with a sprinkling of sugar.

Our meal at Saint Crispin was brilliant and I can't wait to go back there again when I am in Melbourne next. I love the concept here: amazing cooking using fresh seasonal, mostly seasonal ingredients that doesn't break the bank. The ambience of the dining room is relaxed too and the meal won't take hours to finish. Sydney could do with a few places like Saint Crispin. I can't think of too many places in Sydney where you can have a 3-course meal this good for $60.

Highlight: WHITE TRUFFLE from ALBA!
Lowlight: St Crispin is always busy so best to book early. And it can get loud inside, so it can be difficult to hear what your dining partner is saying. 
Overall:  Modern, great tasting food. Not too expensive, very accessible. Great atmosphere. Friendly staff. Trendy. 8/10 (Excellent) 

St Crispin
Address: 300 Smith St, Collingwood VIC
Contact no: 03 9419 2202

Saint Crispin on Urbanspoon

Friday, 27 December 2013

Auction Rooms, North Melbourne - 14 Dec 2013

Cool space at Auction Rooms - a converted warehouse and an old auction room
During our food-filled weekend in Melbourne, Auction Rooms was the first cafe that we visited (and my first stop of my coffee crawl, more on this in an upcoming post). Auction Rooms is housed in an old auction house on Errol Street, North Melbourne and is both a coffee roastery and cafe. Auction Room is a very popular cafe and highly regarded, having been awarded Melbourne's Best Cafe in The Age Good Cafe Guide 2013.

All day menu
Following on from the auction theme, the all day menu consists of smaller items, which are listed as opening bids and more substantial dishes, listed as counter bids. After we reviewed the menu, we put in our "bids" and here's what I thought of the food and the coffee at Auction Room.

Macchiato ($4)
I ordered a macchiato, which used single origin beans were from Konga Co-op, Ethiopia. This coffee was very enjoyable with an interesting and complex flavour profile of floral, stone fruit and melon notes. Auction Room uses beans from Small Batch Roasting Co.      

Cappuccino ($4)
My wife went for her standard cappuccino.  The cappuccino was also very good. It was smooth, full bodied and had enjoyable flavours without any bitter after taste. The beans used were also from Konga Co-op, Ethiopia.

Banana & walnut bread with espresso butter & maple syrup ($10.50)
My wife ordered the banana & walnut bread, which our waitress tells us is a signature at Auction Room and a crowd favourite. We can certainly see why. The banana bread was moist, fluffy and not too dense. We both welcomed the addition of walnuts, as it made the banana bread more interesting. Spreading the espresso butter and watching it melt into the banana bread is to drool for! The coffee flavour adds another dimension to what is already a satisfying dish. And don't forget to drown the banana bread in maple syrup.... yum! 

This is certainly not the healthy option on the menu. The serving was huge and my wife couldn't finish it so I had to help her out, which I  certainly wasn't complaining about given how tasty this banana bread was.   

Crispy skinned pork belly with watermelon, pickles & quail eggs ($19)
I decided to order the dinner-for-breakfast option, crispy skin pork belly. The portion was quite large and being a rich dish (and also because I had some of my wife's banana bread), it was a struggle to finish and I needed to be rolled out of the cafe! Having said this, I really enjoyed this dish.

The pork belly was very well cooked. The crackling was crispy, the meat was tasty and so tender that both the meat and fat just melted in the mouth.  Just delicious!

The watermelon was grilled and I found this component to be quite interesting. Surprisingly it goes well with the pork belly, something that is fresh and juicy to cut through the fattiness of the pork belly. Grilling the watermelon gives it a more meaty texture.

The quail eggs were a vibrant purple as they were beetroot - pickled. I am not sure whether this actually enhanced the flavour of the quail eggs, they were still pleasant to eat (and look at) nonetheless.

The pickles were good for cutting through the richness of the pork. They were deep fried, and to be honest I would have preferred the pickles were served unfried.

Barisra at work and open kitchen
Auction Room is a cool cafe with an awesome vibe. It's in a converted warehouse, so it reminded me a bit of Grounds of Alexandria, except Auction Room is smaller and serves better food and coffee, in my opinion. It's places like this that have made me fall in love with Melbourne's cafe scene.    

Highlight: Excellent coffee. One of the better cups in Melbourne.
Lowlight:We were so full from the big portions, that we needed to take a long, long walk to burn off all those calories. Perfect for curing a hangover though!    
Overall: Auction Room is a fantastic cafe. Both the coffee and food are great here and reasonably priced. The staff are friendly too and the the dining space is casual and relaxed. A great spot to unwind at during the weekend. 7.5/10 (Great)                     

Auction Rooms

Address: 103 - 107 Errol St, North Melbourne VIC
Contact no: 03 9326 7749

Auction Rooms on Urbanspoon 

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

High Tea at Azuma - 24 December 2013

Merry Xmas everyone!

Every year, my wife and I kick off the Xmas festivities by going somewhere nice on Xmas Eve. Last year it was Bridge Room, this year we decided to try the high tea offered at Azuma, which is nestled in the food court of Chifley Plaza.

I was keen to try the high tea at Azuma because of all the fantastic cakes that I have eaten at the now defunct, Azuma Patisserie. With the closure of the Patisserie earlier this year, Azuma decided to offer their take on high tea on weekdays (2pm - 5pm). I needed my fix of their signature chiffon cake, which is by far the best I have seen in Sydney. Plus it would be interesting to see the Japanese interpretation of an old English favourite.

Tokyo high tea
There are two options for the high tea: Kyoto or Tokyo. The Kyoto high tea ($25) is served in a bento box with a mix of savoury and sweet options and your choice of coffee or tea. The Tokyo high tea ($32) is served in a stand and contains the items in the Kyoto high tea plus a few other goodies, most notably chiffon cake. Obviously we opted for the more substantial Tokyo offering.   

I opted for the Azuma blend green tea, which was a blend of roasted rice and matcha. I don't know how many times I have had this tea at the old Patisserie (probably triple figures :P). My wife opted for sencha, a more delicately flavoured and grassy brew than the Azuma blend. The green tea cappuccino is also a good choice here.   

Top layer of Tokyo high tea stand (yes, peek-a-boo, I see you!)
For the savoury options,  there are salad rolls and piquant salmon canapes (salad rolls only for my wife being a vegetarian). Both were very good and contained quality ingredients. The salad rolls had avocado, cucumber, asparagus and my favourite, Kewpie mayo! The piquant salmon canapes were sushi rolls of avocado and cucumber and topped with a spicy, creamy salmon and a single edamame bean

The bottom layer of Tokyo high tea stand
On the bottom layer, we have (from left to right), creme brulee, fruit salad with champagne jelly (my wife didn't get the jelly since she is vegetarian), rolled green tea cake, and gateau chocolate.

The creme brulee was probably my favourite out of these 4 items. I loved how the creme was silky smooth and incredibly moreish yet not too rich. The combination of creamy custard, vanilla bean and thin, crispy caramel layer was just divine.

The fruit salad with champagne jelly was also very enjoyable. I liked how the champagne jelly just evaporates in your mouth without the slightest hint of gelatine. And of course fresh fruit and champagne always goes down a treat!

Rolled green tea cake too appeals to my Asian palate: a soft, fluffy sponge cake that's like eating a cloud, together with sweet and slightly bitter green tea equals YUM!

The gateau chocolate was rich and decadent. Compared to the rest of these sweets, this could be considered dense but when you compare this to some of the rich, sickly sweet chocolate brownies out there, you'd think this gateau was light.         

As well as the stand, we were served with this plate of extra goodies that comes with the Tokyo high tea: a slice of chocolate chiffon cake, a homeade scone, chantilly cream and strawberry preserve 

Besides the fact that the scone has toppled over to its side, I adored the golden crust and the soft, crumbly and moist inside of the scone. A perfect treat to be enjoyed with cream and jam on a lazy afternoon! The chantilly cream was whipped so it was much lighter than the usual clotted cream found in English afternoon teas. I did wish there was more cream though because I wanted to have some with the chiffon cake.

The flavour of the chiffon cake was chocolate today, which is not my favourite out of the Azuma selection (I love the Earl Grey or the Green tea flavours) but wonderfully delicious nevertheless. These chiffon cakes are pillows of soft and fluffy goodness. I don't think I could get sick of eating them. I don't know how they get the cakes to be so fluffy. I have baked hundred of chiffon cakes at home and can never get it this good. All I know is that they use imported Japanese flour.           

The dining room at Azuma
I enjoyed everything that I tried at Azuma today. The portion sizes were very manageable as both my wife and I finished comfortably. Sometimes I need to be carted out of high tea places because there is simply too much food or the cakes are just too sweet and rich. I think Azuma is onto a winner with the high tea format as it can be run out of their main restaurant and gives us an alternative to the usual finger sandwiches for afternoon tea.   

Address: Level 1, Chifley Plaza, 2 Chifley Square, Sydney NSW
Contact no: 02 9222 9960

Azuma on Urbanspoon

Monday, 23 December 2013

Hammer & Tong, Melbourne - 15 Dec 2013

Hammer & Tong opened in February this year in Melbourne and has become a very popular eatery in a short space of time. Hammer & Tong is on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, a bohemian hot spot filled with loads of cool bars, cafes and boutique stores. It's owned by two ex-Vue de Monde staff, chef Simon Ward and front of house manager Dennis Fereirra. With this in mind, I knew I had to check this place out as soon as I found out that I would be spending the week in Melbourne.    

The space at Hammer & Tong is very cool. On the outside, the walls are filled with street art and graffiti. On the inside, it's casual, relaxed and industrial. There are three different dining areas: the main dining hall and coffee bar, the corridor bar and the sunroom. As we arrived at 10am on a Sunday morning, it was packed so my wife and I had to wait 10 minutes or so before we were seated. We were seated in the sunroom at a communal table with other diners.

Hammer & Tong offers coffee, breakfast, lunch, and snacks Tuesday through to Sunday. Dinner is also offered Tuesday through to Saturday. We were here to try their daytime menu (click on the image to enlargen). The dinner menu will have to be for another day. 

Cappuccino ($3.80)
Both my wife and I decided to order a cappuccino. Hammer and Tong uses coffee beans from Dukes Coffee Roasters. This was an excellent coffee that was smooth and full bodied. A great milk coffee to start the day with before moving onto the stronger stuff later on.  

Corn & zucchini fritters, avocado, manchego, spinach, chilli, tomato relish, poached egg  ($17)
I absolutely love corn fritters and these were no exception. The corn and zucchini fritters were quite enjoyable: crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy in the inside. The poached egg was cooked well, with warm egg yolk oozing out waiting to be mopped up by the fritters. I really liked the tomato relish in this dish and it is an obvious match with the fritters. However I thought there was a lot happening on the plate with this dish, each component being quite delicious although I am not sure if everything on this plate was needed.     
Duck egg, asparagus, truffle butter, parmean briont ($18)
The duck egg was my favourite of the two dishes we tried. This was like a modern take on eggs on toast. The duck egg was massive and the egg yolk was runny and gooey, perfect for mopping up with the buttery briont, a cross between a brioche and a croissant. The truffle butter was amazing and smacks you in the face with its intense, pungent flavour and aroma. Asparagus spears were also a perfect companion with the runny egg yolk and the truffle butter.   

I decided to order another coffee, a macchiato, as I wanted to sample the single origin bean Hammer and Tong had on offer today. The beans were from Brazil and it was a pleasant concoction, with a distinct nutty flavour from the almond and honey notes. Certainly a coffee worth coming back for!

One thing that I have learnt quickly is that the all-day eatery is something that Melbourne does much better than Sydney. We both love Hammer & Tong and wish that Sydney had more places like this. For Sydneysiders, think Devon Cafe, except Hammer & Tong opens for dinner as well. I am definitely keen for a repeat visit, especially to try their signature soft shell crab burger

Highlight: The duck egg and paremesan briont was a winner!
Lowlight: Hammer and Tong is incredibly busy, especially on weekends, so be prepared to wait. You may also have to share a table with other diners, which may not be for everyone. 
Overall: Hammer & Tong is a great cafe that does good coffee, delicious food in a relaxed, casual environment. The service is friendly, efficient and attentive service despite how busy gets. Drop by anytime of the day as it is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 7.5/10 (Great)

Hammer & Tong
Address: Rear 412 Brunswick St, Fitzroy, VIC
Contact no: 03 9041 6033

Hammer & Tong on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Tokyo Syokudo, Croydon - 20 December 2013

Yesterday was my mum's birthday so the family and I decided to treat my mum to a nice birthday dinner at Tokyo Syokudo,  just a stone throw from Croydon station. Tokyo Syokudo is probably a restaurant that you have never heard of (I certainly hadn't heard of it until recently). It was recommended to my wife by her physiotherapist.

Tokyo Syokudo doesn't look like much from the outside or the inside. It is literally a hole in the wall restaurant with a very cosy / casual dining space that can fit barely 20 people. Syokudo means "small street restaurant" in Japanese and that's exactly what this restaurant is.

Tokyo Syokudo is authentic Japanese and run by Japanese people (a rarity in the inner-west and western suburbs). The chef / owner is Hideyo Kobayashi. The menu is huge and I was a bit overwhelmed at first with the vast choice for such a tiny restaurant. The menu ranges from items such as sushi / sashimi, grilled meats (yakimono), deep fried items (agemono), udon noodles, bento boxes and main items. Once I had deciphered the menu, here's what we ended up trying:    

Sashimi moriawase ($30)
We started off with a main sized portion of assorted sashimi, which consisted of slices of kingfish, salmon, tuna, and lightly seared scallops and salmon belly. The sashimi is enjoyable, fresh and served at room temperature as it supposed to be (i.e. not ice cold).
Renkon chips ($5)
Deep fried lotus root chips are a favourite Japanese snack of mine: thin, crispy, slightly sweet and finished with a sprinkling of salt. A nice little snack to get the appetite going.  

Next up, we decided to order a couple of items from the yakimono (grilled) section of the menu, which are only available at night. The portion sizes of these items are quite small for the price we paid ($18), although this is typical of Japanese fare. These items should be treated as entrees.  

Wagyu beef amiyaki w Tokyo Miso ($18)
This dish contained slices of wagyu beef lightly seared to rare with a drizzling of red and white miso sauce and dressed with sesame, fried onions and coriander. A flavoursome dish although we would have liked a few more slices. 

Tuna w black vinegar ($18)
This dish consisted of slices of sashimi quality tuna dressed in a sticky, spicy and tangy black vinegar sauce. I thought the sauce was interesting however I think I would have liked the tuna to be seared for less time as some of the slices had seemed to be cooked most of the way through. I personally prefer tuna as a sashimi anyhow.   

Vegetarian roll ($10)
My wife ordered the vegetarian rolls, which she said she enjoyed. The vegetables were fresh and crispy.

Spicy soft shell crab roll ($16)
Another favourite of mine is soft shell crab rolls. Crispy soft shell crab is wrapped in seaweed and rice with legs sprawling everywhere, and drizzled with a a spicy Japanese mayo and spicy powder. I am addicted to Japanese mayo with its combination of sweet, creamy, umami flavour and MSG.
Teriyaki fish bento box ($22)
A popular item at Tokyo Syokudo, particularly during lunch, are the bento boxes. This bento box came with teriyaki fish, miso soup, bowl of rice, tempura, sushi and fresh salad. Who doesn't like these cute little Japanese lunch boxes? 

Vegetable tempura and udon noodles ($11)
My wife decided to order the vegetable tempura and udon noodles. The tempura was good, nice and crispy yet not too overly oily or heavy.  

Next up are is the main section of the menu, which I think contain the best items on the Syokudo menu. Each main item comes with a bowl of rice and miso soup.
Buta kakuni ($15)
Buta kakuni is Japanese style braised pork belly and it was delicious and fragrant. The pork belly was meltingly tender and falls apart easily. The pork belly was braised in a combination of soy sauce and sake, which provided a good mix of sweet, savoury and umami.  

Wagyu beef nikomi ($18)
Even better than the pork belly was the wagyu beef nikomi, which was stewed wagyu beef brisket. I really really enjoyed this and would happily eat bowls of this and come back again and again for it. This bowl contained big hunks of wagyu brisket soaked in a soy based sauce that were so full of flavour with meat and fat that just melts in your mouth. Yummy :9 
Happy birthday, Mum! Tiramisu cake from Breadtop
After dinner, we went home to cut the birthday cake, which was a tiramisu cake from Breadtop. This is one of my favourite cakes from Breadtop and was enjoyed by all as it has been made to suit the Asian palate, so there isn't the big whack of alcohol, caffeine or sugar that i accustomed to in other tiramisu  cakes.  

Happy birthday mum and I hoped you enjoyed the celebrations yesterday! 

And oh yes, Tokyo Syokudo is a local suburban gem, that unfortunately is not too widely known outside the Croydon circles. The food is authentic, reasonably priced and tasty so I wouldn't blame anyone for thinking they were in a restaurant in a little Tokyo alleyway. I know I will be back soon for that wagyu beef brisket! Also if you want to eat here on a Friday or Saturday night, it is best to book as I noticed they had to turn people away on the night. 

Tokyo Syokudo
Address: 10 The Strand, Croydon NSW
Contact no: 02 9715 6001

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