Monday, 4 May 2015

Kao Thai

347 Sydney Rd 
Brunswick, VIC 

I like relaxing on Friday nights with a good meal, but that’s often complicated by the need to blog said meal. And that’s why I find myself foregoing the fancy Friday night date more and more, in lieu of a simple and companionable dinner. The multi-course tapas blog post can wait for when I’m a little more awake. 

Though my love for authentic Thai food is undying, I have to admit I’ve developed a bit of a grudging soft spot for its mildly westernised incarnation. And despite plenty of reviews insisting that Kao Thai is the best and most authentic Thai food in Melbourne, I was pretty sure that at least the second part of that statement is a bit of a fib. Still, that doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, and I was happy to settle for something simple and delicious. 

Like most places along Sydney Road, Kao Thai is homely but incredibly cramped. There is however a quiet and pretty little walkway, which led to a quaint sheltered courtyard. Though everything was simple, it was all very welcoming, and none of it was gaudy or overdone.  

Thai Milk Tea ($3.5)

I’m a big lover of Thai Milk Tea ($3.5), but whilst this had the milky sweetness and enticing orange colour, it failed to deliver on the actual tea aspect. If you don’t like tea, you’ll love this tea. 

Pad Keemao with Beef ($13.9) 

Our plate of Pad Keemao with Beef ($13.9) was rather good. Though the wok-smoke and fish sauce made the rice noodles taste more Malaysian than Thai, the balance was shifted back by the distinct aroma of Thai basil and a small amount of green peppercorns.  It was actually very tasty, the mouthfuls of slippery rice noodles going down a treat with the crunch of vegetables and tender sliced beef. 

Red Chicken Curry ($14.9)

Similarly hearty and delicious was the Red Chicken Curry ($14.9). Despite my initial impression of ‘this is much too sweet!’, the coconut cream actually segued well into a deep, aromatic richness, with just a hint of spiciness. 

Red Chicken Curry ($14.9)

The gravy was well balanced between the warm and comfort of cumin and red chillies, and the sharper additions of lemongrass, kaffir lime, and peppercorns. The chicken was doled out in large chunks, and the vegetables were once again crisp and fresh. There was way too much curry there for a single serve of Jasmine Rice ($2.5), no matter how generously we scooped the sauce on, and I was left dolefully eyeing the remainder.

Despite only being semi-authentic, I liked Kao Thai way more than I thought I would. The food was unchallenging and delicious, and sometimes that’s really all I’m after.

Rating: 13.5/20 – easy blogging.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. 

Kao Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Scarvelli Cafe

143 Whitehorse Road 
Balwyn, VIC 

Living in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne, I am a bit short on luck when it comes to brunch. However, I don’t live in Melbourne for nothing. Though few and far in between, there are quite a few well-regarded cafes in the east, though most of them are clustered closer to the CBD. One that would come to most people’s minds is Snow Pony, but just down the road from that is Scarvelli Cafe, doing a roaring trade in all things brunch.

To ease my sister’s back-to-school and dentist appointment blues (I know, the poor kid), I promised her brunch as a treat. As we cruised down the highway, Scarvelli Cafe shouted out to us with an enormous graffiti painting of an eldritch woman, and before long we had parked the car in a side street, and our buttocks on some chairs by the window. 

It always amazes me when I see a restaurant in my end of town decorated with a patchwork of creative thrift-store knick-knacks. Generally speaking, I’m used to seeing cafes that are comfortable, but lacking in character. Otherwise, there is so much character that it makes you wish the cutlery wasn’t so chipped, and the tables weren’t so grotty. Scarvelli however is a true Melbourne cafe, dressed up with freshly trimmed posies, rusted pots impersonating lampshades, and an unusually high number of moose-related pieces.  There was even a spacious courtyard out back; it’s a shame the weather was so blustery that day. 

Apple and Watermelon Juice ($6.5) 

I heartily recommended the Apple and Watermelon Juice ($6.5) to my sister, in the fear that if left to her own devices, she might decide to have a milkshake before noon. It was a good decision, as the juice turned out to be fresh and sweet, with just a hint of seasonal tartness.

Skinny Flat White ($3.8) 

I, on the other hand, am a grownup, and therefore don’t need to take my own advice. And that’s how I ended up drinking my entire Skinny Flat White ($3.8) on an empty stomach, after going to the gym. Even though I was jittery afterwards, it was well worth it. With some help from the tasting notes, I found notes of plum and chocolate in my brew, but unfortunately the sweet citrus escaped me. It was a big, comforting cup with a smooth, rich aroma. 

Wagyu Burger ($20)

Though I didn’t like her having the milkshake, I couldn’t deny my sister the Wagyu Burger ($20). It was as pretty as a picture, and tasted even better than it looked. If you think the combination of beef, cheese, American mustard, and special sauce in a sesame seeded brioche bun sounds familiar, you would be right. 

Wagyu Burger ($20)

However, this is a burger McDonalds could only dream of creating. The beef patty was thick and juicy, with a slice of jack cheese melting into the charred crevices. Layered on top were the tangy-creamy duo of mustard and a heavy dollop of special sauce, and vibrantly fresh salads.  Even the chips were amazing; they were golden perfection with a centre of mashed potato, generously salted and served with a side of pungent mustard aioli. This is definitely one worth breaking the diet for. 

Chilli Eggs and Ham ($16.5) 

My order of Chilli Eggs and Ham ($16.5) on the other hand was nothing like I had expected. What read like an innovative but hearty breakfast was actually an innovatively reconstructed Sunday lunch. The centrepiece was a golden ham hock and potato hash that proved once and for all that Scarvelli is the master of deep frying. 

Chilli Eggs and Ham ($16.5) 

Underneath the hash was a bed of sweet minted peas, served with a delightfully zesty herb and onion salad on the side. Topping it all off were two perfect sunny-side-up eggs with the yolks still wobbling, ready to be mixed in with the chilli sauce. 

Mango and Lime Tart/Chocolate Brownie with Crystalised Ginger/Pomegranate Shortbread, 

But wait, there’s more! On my way out, I was handed a small bag of goodies, which turned out to contain a deliciously tangy and flaky Mango and Lime Tart, an unbelievably gooey Chocolate Brownie with Crystalised Ginger, and a buttery piece of Pomegranate Shortbread, studded with little fruity kernels. 

And this awesome grow-in-the-bag coriander, which my mum confiscated gleefully the moment I got home.

There is plenty to love about Scarvelli Cafe, from the simple but delicious food, to the cosy, laid back atmosphere. And possibly most of all, excellent coffee in a part of Melbourne where (shock horror) not every single cafe serves a good espresso. One thing I did however find fault with was the service. Though friendly enough when you do actually get it, it just all seems rather half-hearted and a bit reluctant. C’mon guys, you were almost perfect!

Rating: 14/20 – sunday dinner brunch lunch.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of Scarvelli Cafe.

Scarvelli Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, 27 April 2015

Tipo 00

361 Little Bourke St 
Melbourne, VIC

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been treated to (and tortured by) a series of photos on Facebook of one of my friends, who is currently travelling around Italy. Whilst I may not be able to join in on the blue skies, clear waters, and beautiful historic sites, I can at least appease my craving with a good bowl of pasta.

My usual go-to place for authentic but classy pasta (as opposed to an enormous feed by nonna) is Grossi Cellar Bar, but I’ve been hearing increasingly about the new it place for Italian in the CBD – Tipo 00. After having worked at Vue de Monde for 4 years, as well as stints at other Melbourne fine-dining destinations, chef Andreas Papadakis has turned his talented hands to creating this cosy but refined little pasta bar. Since its opening late last year, Tipo 00 has quickly gained almost universal acclaim from both critics and diners. 

The 43-seater restaurant was predictably booked out for a Friday night, but we were confident of our chances of scoring some bar-seating if we showed up at about a quarter to six. For once, not even our habit of early dinners could save us, as the wait quoted was half an hour to 45 minutes (and get this: by 6:30, the wait-time was over an hour and a half). Luckily the restaurant gave us a call back within about 15 minutes, and though we were seated right by the door which let in draughts of cold air whenever anyone went in or out (and that’s extremely often), we were seated. 

Foccacia with Ricotta

The menu at Tipo 00 has been pared back, leaving nothing but a handful of entrees and pastas, and a few mains for the gluten-intolerant. Still, between the delectable specials and the debate of entree-vs-dessert, ordering was not as easy as you would expect. Once we had ordered however, we were rewarded with a plate of Foccacia with Ricotta. The bread was warm and crisp, seasoned with a moreish combination of sea salt and herbed oil. On the side was a cool dollop of ricotta, spreading smoothly and easily over the bread.

It was also at this point that some bar seating freed up, and the angelic staff asked if we would like to be moved – an incredibly considerate suggestion that made our dinner much less cold, and much more enjoyable. 

Spaghetti Affumicati ($24)

Though I’m happy to give anything a go, I will always order the spaghetti with clams if I see it on a menu. Tipo 00 served up a delicious plate of Spaghetti Affumicati ($24), consisting of spaghetti drenched in a gently briny broth with just a hint of ripe, smoky tomatoes and coarsely chopped parsley. Best of all were the thick, wheaty strands of pasta that satisfy the carb craving, whilst still being perfectly al dente. It was just as good, if not better than the spaghetti vongole at Grossi Cellar Bar. 

Gnocchi di Patate ($26) 

I never get food envy over Chris’ order, but there’s a first for everything, and the Gnocchi di Patate ($26) was deserving of my envy indeed. The gnocchi were draped with sticky braised duck and porcini mushrooms, the gravy rich and buttery, having extracted every last morsel of flavour in the process of slow-cooking. The gnocchi themselves were velvety pillows that melted in the mouth, its texture more like mashed potato than pasta, and were absolutely perfect for soaking up the sauce. Perfection was achieved with a generous grating of sharp pecorino cheese that brought the earthy, hearty flavours to life.   

Gnocchi di Patate ($26) 

Though the serve initially seemed small, it was indulgently rich, and there was almost as much duck as there was pasta. We ended up being entirely satisfied with the portion size. The waiter even offered us more bread to soak up the sauce, thus cementing their place in my heart. 

Pannacotta ($14)

After finishing our pasta, we were satisfied, but with plenty of room left for the Pannacotta ($14). The flawless disc of cream and sugar was thick and silky, and flecked through with aromatic vanilla bean. That would’ve been excellent just on its own, but it was complemented by a bouquet of honeyed berries that tasted of the peak of summer, and streaks of intensely fruity raspberry compote. My only regret is not having room to try their tipomisu.

Even though I’ve had plenty of pasta in my time, I find myself continuously astounded by just how delicious simple and well-cooked Italian food can be, and in my opinion, Tipo 00 makes what is arguably the best pasta in Melbourne. I have to say that pricing is a little painful, but instead of regret, all I felt as I walked out was smugness, courtesy of all the good pasta lining my tummy.

Rating: 16/20 – tipo of the pile.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.

Tipo 00 on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 23 April 2015

El Sabor

500 Victoria Street 
North Melbourne, VIC

They say hindsight is 20:20, and it’s only now that I’ve gone back to working full time that I realise that I took my time off from employment for granted. Instead of lying at home like a sack of dog food when I’m not looking for work, I could’ve taken the time to really de-stress and enjoy myself. On the plus side though, post-work dinners have regained their shine, and it was with great anticipation that I stepped into El Sabor, a-hankerin’ for a good Mexican meal. 

I felt instantly toastier when I walked through the door; the luridly orange walls reminded me incessantly of all things warm, and the decorations of a summer festival. The restaurant was mostly filled with happy locals who braved the moody Melbourne weather to get their fiesta fix. 

Having travelled extensively around Mexico, the owner of El Sabor, Dhi, knows what’s up with Mexican food. There is incredible passion for bringing a real taste of Mexico to Melbourne, and the food Dhi serves is what he loves to eat himself. Considering the fact that we could not stop salivating at the smell of the enchiladas at the next table, he is on to something good. 


To start off, our stomachs were warmed with a bowl of traditional Pozole – not yet on the menu, but keep an eye out as the weather cools! Despite looking thin and unremarkable, the soup was a chorus of bold flavours that expanded on the palate in a burst of warmth, having been bravely seasoned with the heat of 2 types of chilli.


Hidden beneath the surface was a jumble of chewy hominy kernels that soaked up the broth, and shredded pieces of slow-cooked chicken and pork. This is the ultimate in comfort food that brings frozen fingers and toes back to life. 

Tres Salsas con Totopos ($10)

We were served some Tres Salsas con Totopos ($10) in conjunction with the soup. Chris loved the ripe sweetness of the salsa, and the cooling of the sour cream, swirled into his pozole. I on the other hand lavished my attention on the generously zesty guacamole.

Calamari Fritos ($15)

The plate of Calamari Fritos ($15) was tantalisingly shallow-fried in a batter glowing with spice, and the calamari itself was the most tender I’ve ever had; it all but disintegrated on the tongue. Unfortunately the overall effect is a little dull, even with the addition of aioli and guacamole. After all, how can anything measure up to a spicy bowl of pozole?

Tamales de Pollo ($18, 3pcs)

The Tamales de Pollo ($18, 3pcs) on the other hand were anything but boring, despite its demure appearance.

Tamales de Pollo ($18, 3pcs)

The first thing that’ll tip you off is the smoky aroma exuding from the corn husk. Peel that back and you’ll find a soft corn dumpling stuffed full of spicy pulled chicken. All permeated with the smouldering aroma of corn on a grill. The condiments on the side were served in the colours of the Mexican Flag. Contrived? Maybe. But it is infinitely endearing. 

Alitas ($10, half dozen)

I love a good chicken wing, and its extra nice when they’re rubbed with spices and scorched with grill marks, like these Alitas ($10, half dozen) were. Each piece was succulent and smoky, and cut through with a cool drizzle of sharp jalapeno mayo.

Pescado Taco/Res Taco ($12, 2pcs)

I tend to judge a book by its cover, and a Mexican restaurant by its tacos, so this is what I had been looking forward to the most. The Pescado Taco ($12, 2pcs) consisted of large pieces of white fish in a sheer coating of corn-based batter, wrapped in a fragrant tortilla with the simple accompaniments of guacamole, chipotle mayo, and lettuce. The result was a light but moreish taco that I found thoroughly enjoyable.

Meanwhile, the Res Taco ($12, 2pcs) was the warm, earthy counterpart to the freshness of the fish. The giant wad of pulled beef was juicy and spicy, generously flavoured with chilli and cumin. Just make sure you eat this one first though, as the gravy does soak through the tortilla. 

Churros ($15, 5pcs)

Aside from dessert tequilas and cocktails, the menu contained three sweet options: crème caramel, corn cake, and Churros ($15, 5pcs). Whilst churros would normally be my last resort, I am so glad I wasn’t the one making decisions for once. The fingers of pastry were briefly fried for a crisp exterior and a gooey centre, but their full potential was not unleashed until it was dipped into the chocolate sauce. Consisting of a mix of Mexican chocolate, dark chocolate, and a slick of cream, the sauce tasted of nothing but sugar for a second or two, before the soft explosion of cocoa hit. It was a perfect balance of sweet and bitter, its creamy richness heated by the coating of powdered cinnamon on the churros.

In the end, El Sabor made good on its promise of delicious and authentic Mexican food, and I had serious food envy over the saucy enchiladas at the next table. And the best bit? They do deliveries within about a 7km radius, and Dhi told me for a fact that they often deliver to the staff and patients at my hospital. Now there’s a good option for lunch.

Rating: 14.5/20 – hospital fiesta.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of El Sabor.

El Sabor on Urbanspoon