|Seared Salmon Belly|
Fancy Pants – Shira Nui
It’s something for a dish to be the benchmark of deliciousness for subsequent dishes that come along; it’s something else when you start worrying if anything else you eat will ever measure up. That happened at Shira Nui. Three Times. The Omakase at Shira Nui doesn’t come cheap (It cost me about $90 to eat until I’m moderately full), but submit yourself to Hiro-san’s formidable sushi skills and seafood delivered twice-daily, and you have something truly special.
|Kurobuta Pork Belly ($19)|
Fancy Pants Runner Up – Izakaya Den
I chose a good spot for my 3 year anniversary with Chris. I’ve wanted to visit Izakaya Den since, like, forever. But as a student, well, you know, the money thing and all. Thankfully it was worth every one of the many cents we spent there. Dish after dish of scrumptious came out, all simple yet meticulously made. We very easily whiled away two and a half hours there on the night we visited. And the bar seating facing the kitchen was spacious and plentiful – a food blogger’s dream!
|Lasagne Bolognese ($12.5)|
Cheapie Goodness – Macaroni Trattoria Italiana
Simple and hearty Italian food really shouldn’t be pricy, yet for some reason it is. Macaroni Trattoria Italiana brings us back down to earth with piping hot slabs of lasagne for $12, not $21. And their Nutella tart? To die for.
|Mixed Platter ($19)|
Cheapie Runner Up – Tiba’s Lebanese Restaurant
Trying to fill up on less than a tenner is a feat if a hot meal is what you’re after. Most of the time what you get is some pretty dodgy and greasy stuff, or barely enough to tickle the tastebuds. So how about a platter piled high with meat, salad, rice, dips and pickles, served with large rounds of pita bread for $19? There’s enough there to fill up two very hungry people, and if you’re on an even tighter budget, they have a bang-up vegetarian platter for only $14.
Best Value – Red Spice Road
Value is not always synonymous with cheap. A chocolate bar for $4 is cheap but awful value, but a week-long cruise in the Great Barrier Reef for $800 is definitely good value, even it’s a big bite in the credit card. A $25 lunch banquet may not seem like any sort of bargain at first glance but once you look at the a la carte menu, you’ll understand why this took the crown of best value eat of 2012. For $25 each, we stuffed our faces with a delicious appetiser, sinful twice-cooked pork belly, lamb rendang, and a watermelon-barramundi salad, all washed down with mountains of rice. Whereas from the a la carte menu, the same amount of money would probably would’ve gotten us one main and one appetiser at best.
|Mixed Platter ($19)|
Best Value Runner Up – Tiba’s Lebanese Restaurant
Yes, Tiba’s again! And if you need a reminder, a vegetarian platter for 2 people for $14!
|Cured Ocean Trout ($16.5)|
Munchin’ my Brunch – Auctions Rooms
I was so incredibly impressed with Auctions Rooms. Brunch is usually just brunch, no matter how it’s packaged, so Auction Rooms and its innovation was a breath of fresh air. The food wasn’t a twist on some traditional brunch dish, no, it was completely reinvented. But of course, what’s innovation within execution? Luckily the food here is not only new and exciting, but also extremely well done. Even my comparatively pedestrian Middle-Eastern styled lamb stew was extraordinarily good, one of the best brunch dishes I’ve had to date.
|Grand Petit Dejeuner ($19.5)|
Brunch Runner Up – Chez Dre
Chez Dre came in second to Auction Rooms, but only just. Contrary to what I just said above, a place doesn’t need to over-reach itself to be good. Chez Dre served up a seriously good big breakfast with a bit of a French slant, and our meal was capped off with an outrageous selection of delectable sweets and cakes.
|Theo Burger ($11)|
Junk Food! – Huxtaburger
Man I love a good burger. Something that finds that meticulous balance between a sloppy diner burger and a snooty nose-up-in-the-air knife and fork affair. Huxtaburger obliged. Golden brioche curves and still-pink wagyu? Check. Radioactive yellow mustard and burger drippings? Check. Cap that off with a crisp salad and you have yourself a winner of a sandwich. Oh and this little beauty is only $8 a pop, which hurts nothing but the waistline.
|Spicy Chicken on Rice ($9.8)|
Junk Food! Runner Up – Pancake Dessert House Eatery
I rarely have junk food; in fact last time I was forced to have maccas I felt nauseous for 3 hours afterwards. But fried chicken is a weakness of mine, along with well-seasoned wedges. For the uninitiated, fried chicken is all the same – what art could there be to dipping chicken carcass into batter and heating it to a crisp? But eat enough of it and you’ll relish the contrast between the soft flavoursome skin of American chicken and the Korean version with a surface that shatters like a crackling. But my favourite rendition would have to be the one hailing from Hong Kong. Marinated for hours and quickly fried, the flesh is juicy and sizzling hot, wrapped in skin so flavoursome that picking it off for health reasons becomes an impossibility.
|Wagyu Beef Udon ($15)|
Noodling Around – Nama Nama
Nama Nama is fairly new to the Melbourne food scene but having Izakaya Den as its big brother is not without its benefits. It was popular from day one, relying purely on word of mouth to get the news of its food-made udon out to the hungry masses. And damn you can’t beat those chewy, slurpy noodles. Especially when it’s served with bona fide wagyu, or slow cooked pork belly.
|Small Special Beef Pho ($8)|
Noodle Runner Up – Pho Chu The
Like every other food blogger out there, I’m constantly searching for the perfect pho. This seemingly simple noodle dish of clear beef broth is notoriously hard to get right, but Pho Chu The finally did it. A deep, flavoursome soup inoculated with beefy goodness and a distinct lack of MSG, topped off with a high quality variety of beefy titbits and crisp veggies, makes for what I can without a doubt dub as the best pho in all of Melbourne.
|Pavlova with Strawberries and Double Cream ($9.5)|
Sweet Tooth – Chokolait
I don’t even like pavlova yet this one managed to take the award for best dessert of 2012 – that’s how good it is. Imagine fluffy, marshmallow-like layers of meringue, sandwiching gooey dark chocolate chips, covered in a thick, cool cream, topped off with syrupy strawberries. And that doesn’t even begin to describe how amazing it is.
|Crema Catalana ($13.5)|
Sweet Tooth Runner Up – Crema Catalana
Ah MoVida, when will you cease to delight? I love a good crème caramel but this one really takes the cake. Brittle and slightly burnt sugar crust, thick and creamy custard, all tied up with a twist of orange that really makes it come alive.
|Wagyu Bresaola ($19 for 40g) - Photo Courtesy of K|
|Ocean Trout Belly|
Hmm... daubs of truffle cream on thin slices of marbled wagyu that melts in the mouth just so, or cool and sweet kingfish belly that is more buttery, more flavoursome, and more astounding than any other piece of seafood I’ve ever eaten before? I really couldn’t pick, so everyone wins!