Monday, 24 November 2014


Southern Cross Lane
111 Bourke St 
Melbourne, VIC 3000

Quail is one of those delicious but under-utilised meats. Thankfully places like Mabrown exists. Instead of being the same-same and specialising in fried chicken, this place is treated as a fried quail pit stop by most punters. But they do actually do other dishes as well, though you wouldn’t be able to tell it from most diners’ tables. The food here carries a south-east Asian influence, and that’s what I’m here to check out today, along with the fried quail of course.

Drunken Chicken ($9.5, 2ppl)

To kick things off, we were served the ubiquitous starter of Drunken Chicken ($9.5, 2ppl). The chicken was poached to delicate, silken perfection, sitting in broth flavoured with sesame oil.

Drunken Chicken ($9.5, 2ppl)

However, instead of having the alcohol infused into the marinade, we were given a little shot glass of Chinese cooking wine to pour over the chicken. That meant that the smell of alcohol prevailed over the taste. A less traditional way to do things for sure, but perfectly fine for those who aren’t so fussed about the drunken aspect of the chicken.

Salt and Pepper Quail ($8pc)/Spicy Quail ($8pc)

Our two pieces of Salt and Pepper Quail ($8pc) and two pieces of Spicy Quail ($8pc) looked ridiculously tame compared to the platters of quail ordered by the other tables, and they do taste pretty darn good. They were sweet and succulent with a thin layer of caramelised skin. The spicy quail was topped with a smoky chilli oil which, mingled with the sweet marinade, left me licking my fingers clean.

Peking Sauce Beef ($22.8)

I’m pretty sure that Peking Sauce Beef ($22.8) is a non-Chinese invention. Yet there is no denying that the strips of battered beef covered in plummy sweet and sour sauce, though rather tough, are downright addictive.

Wok Tossed Juicy Prawns in XO Sauce ($28.8)

Up next were scaled down portions of prawns, served two ways. The first was Wok Tossed Juicy Prawns in XO Sauce ($28.8). This spicy seafood sauce, chock full of fried shallots and shrimp, was the perfect accompaniment to the plump, fresh prawns.

Wok Tossed Juicy Prawns in Ginger and Spring Onion Sauce ($28.8)

The Wok Tossed Juicy Prawns in Ginger and Spring Onion Sauce ($28.8) boasted a much more traditional flavour palate, the lightness and umami bringing out the delicateness of the seafood.

Archar Barramundi ($22.8)

Out last dishes were fillets of fried barramundi, once again done two ways. The Archar Barramundi ($22.8) hit like a punch, the vinegar and turmeric delivering a sour and pungent right hook, before mellowing out to a surprisingly warm finish of ginger and palm sugar. Needless to say, this dish definitely impressed.

Tom Yum Barramundi ($19.8)

The Tom Yum Barramundi ($19.8) was visually stunning, and though less explosive, tasted just as good as its predecessor. Despite the mean looking sauce, it wafted gently with a balanced mix of lemongrass, ginger, and chilli for an aromatic finish. 

Coconut and Sweet Corn Ice Cream

We insisted we were full but our host was such a sweetie that we soon had a tub of Coconut and Sweet Corn Ice Cream in front of us. Though not a flavour I’ve had before, it is an absolute genius of a combination, and the chewy corn kernels added texture to flavour. It was a neat and tasty solution for a sweet tooth that didn’t leave me feeling too guilty. 

Whilst Mabrown is not all that far from your average Chinese restaurant, with a vibe that reminded me of the university restaurants on Chris’ campus, there are some rather good dishes on the menu. And even if that’s not your thing, I agree with everyone else – the quail alone is good enough to come back for. 

Rating: 14/20 – pabrown.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of Mabrown .

Mabrown Bourke St on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Mr Nice Guy

535 Little Lonsdale St 
Melbourne, VIC 

I’m just going to come out and say it: I love blogging and writing about food, but I’m rubbish at writing intros. There are only so many times I can say ‘I like food x’ and not sound like a broken record. And now that Thai food has picked up in Melbourne I’ve lost my go-to rant of ‘why is there no good Thai food’ as well. Bummer (??).

I spotted Mr Nice Guy on my way out of a dinner at Mapo Grill. It was the colourful tables and cute chalkboard drawings that caught my eye. To my surprise, the menu on the window toted pad grapow gai and the like, instead of... I don’t know what I expected, but tom yum definitely wasn’t it. 

Less surprising was the brunch on offer during daylight hours at this kitschy, laid-back little cafe. Thai and brunch seems a weird combination, but according to most of the reviews I’ve read, they’ve been swinging it just fine. The staff were as sweet as the bushels of flowers on the tables. 

Nam Tok Moo ($12.9)

Thai salads have life worked out. The mixture of sweet and sour, meat and herbs defies boring. The smell of lime and mint wafted up tantalisingly from the Nam Tok Moo ($12.9) the moment it came to our table, the aromas of the herbs released by warm pieces of pork neck that reminded me a lot of good BBQ pork. I like my tamarind and lime dressing to be a little sharper and less sweet, but other than that, the flavour profile is absolutely perfect. 

Pad Kee Mao Beef ($15.9)

Pad Kee Mao Beef ($15.9)

As our ‘filler’ dish, we shared a pleasingly generous plate of Pad Kee Mao Beef ($15.9). Glistening from the wok and with just enough chilli to tingle, the chewy noodles contrasted delightfully with the handful of crisp sprouts scattered on top. It was so richly flavoured with Thai basil and green peppercorns that it barely needed the nubbins of beef.

Mr Nice Guy Famous Oven Grilled Chicken ($19, half)

Believe it or not, despite eating half my meals out, I still try and maintain some semblance of health. And that’s how I ended up having the Mr Nice Guy Famous Oven Grilled Chicken ($19, half) over the pork belly.

Mr Nice Guy Famous Oven Grilled Chicken ($19, half)

Though simple, I’ve hardly had a better piece of roast chicken. The brining meant that the meat was moist and succulent, and the quick trip into the oven left the chicken melt-in-mouth tender. It sat on a bed of spicy cauliflower cooked until just crisp, and the jug of chicken jus added extra flavour.

It may have been because of all the salivating I had done during the day over the promise of Thai food, but I thought this meal was seriously good. Though not the most authentic, the flavours were bold and delicious, and the chefs have clearly put their own little twist in. Consider me a fan.

Rating: 15/20 – mr brightside.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. 

Mr. Nice Guy on Urbanspoon

Monday, 17 November 2014


1 Main St 
Box Hill, VIC 3128

It just hit me that in the two and a bit weeks I spent in Japan last year, I didn’t have a single bowl of udon. At the time, I was too busy chasing up the perfect ramen that was, until recently, so elusive in Melbourne. In hindsight it probably would’ve been nice to have a bona fide Japanese udon, but I’m not too upset – I think we have it pretty good here in Melbourne. 

Japanese food doesn’t have much of an audience in the outer eastern suburbs, where the Asian population largely stems from China and south-east Asia. But that doesn’t stop the occasional Japanese restaurant, such as Umaido, from cropping up. And I for one rather like the blatant Japanese-ness of it. 

One thing I got very used to seeing in Japan was wide selections of fried snacks lounging under heat lamps – they were everywhere, in restaurants, supermarkets, even convenience stores. And Umaido, aside from specialising in udon (and a small smattering of rice-based dishes), also has one of those nostalgically familiar pick-your-own-sides stations. 

Ontama Udon ($5.9)

The Ontama Udon ($5.9) is exactly what I think of when I think of udon. Though the noodles were a bit overcooked, they were fat and slurpable. The soup is fantastic, a light umami with the faint fishiness of bonito, turning creamy with the stream of yolk from the soft boiled egg. 

Hungrier than I am, but less of a purist, Chris had the winter special of... I have embarrassingly forgotten to note the name down, but it was something along the lines of a Pork Belly in Pork Broth Udon ($9.9). Unlike the delicate little bowl of Ontama Udon, this one was much more generous in portion, the delicate soup replaced with a cloudy, garlicky broth. The slices of pork, rather than being thick and fatty, were smoky and chewy, and enjoyable in its own right. 

Takoyaki ($2, 2pcs)/Vegetable Korokke ($1.8)/Karaage Chicken ($2.9, 3pcs)

We chose three sides to go with our meal. The Takoyaki ($2, 2pcs) was a disappointment, gluggier than it should’ve been even after sitting out under the heat lamps. The Vegetable Korokke ($1.8) fared better, the patty of smooth mashed potato coated in a golden crumb. The Karaage Chicken ($2.9, 3pcs) was the best, the juicy ribs flavoured with a spice rub and tasted fantastic despite being lukewarm.

Though Umaido is not fine dining, and the udon certainly isn’t as good as this or as this, it provides a good imitation of the true udon experience for a fraction of the price. If I can peel myself away from the Ontama Udon, I might give the soft boiled egg curry rice a go.

Rating: 13/20 – slippy slurpy.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. ‘

Umaido on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 13 November 2014


119 Hardware Street 
Melbourne, VIC

What happens when one person wants to eat Korean food whilst the other person wants Mexican? It sounds like a bad joke, and if it was one, the punch line would be: go to KOBA

I’m starting to think that the space KOBA occupies along Hardware Street is jinxed. In the last couple years, at least 3 different restaurants have come and gone, but it seems KOBA is here to stay. It’s a tiny place but it functions more as a takeaway than eat-in, though it does have a narrow bench lining the wall, and a couple of al fresco tables.

We arrived at about 7pm on a Friday (overtime again – my pharmacist and I turned over a whole ward!) to find a long line, and staff that were upbeat but scattered. It took a long time to get to the front of the line, and when we did, we found that they were out of fried chicken and sliders. On a 6 item menu. 

Tokpokki ($5)

Cutting our fried, delicious losses, we started with a bowl of Tokpokki ($5), which were pretty decent for the price. Though hardly subtle, the spicy bean paste was flavoursome, and soaked thoroughly into the sticky pieces of rice cake. The raw shredded cabbage on the other hand? Not so cool. 

Chicken Tacos ($7, 2pcs)

The Chicken Tacos ($7, 2pcs) sounded really good on paper, but once I saw that they were no longer in soft shells, their appeal diminished twofold. Seriously, who thought hard taco shells were a good idea? If I wanted that, I would’ve ordered nachos! Anyway, the toppings on these tacos were a tepid and unremarkable mix of grilled chicken, shredded cabbage, and spicy bean paste. I couldn’t taste the kimchi or salsa at all. For such a distinctive combination, the taste of these tacos was profoundly unremarkable.

Kimchi Fries ($7)

Topping off the lukewarm night was a box of lukewarm Kimchi Fries ($7). Once again, this was a study in wasted potential. The chips were too skinny to be able to get away with sogginess, and though the toppings of kimchi, cheese, onion relish, and sour cream promised to be a riot of delicious flavours, the reality was that they were rather bland, and had trouble attaching themselves to the chips.

I feel as if the meal would’ve gone quite differently had we been able to order the fried chicken and sliders that I had originally came to KOBA for, and what we ordered instead were poor substitutes indeed. KOBA not only made me sad with its long waits and subpar food, what disappointed me the most was all that wasted potential – Korean food and Mexican food have some of the most prominent and bold flavours, and a kimchi and grilled chicken taco could’ve gone so right, so easily!

Rating: 10/20 – sad face.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.

KOBA on Urbanspoon