Category Archives: Melbourne

Eating Melbourne in three days – MoVida Next Door Review

By | Melbourne, MoVida Next Door, Reviews | 6 Comments

This blog entry is part of a series. Read Part 1 here.

MoVida Next Door, view from Flinder’s Street
1 Hosier Lane, Melbourne,, (03) 9663 3038

In his recent podcast, Ricky Gervais was discussing the subject of his ideal restaurant with Karl Pilkington and Steve Merchant. Now Ricky is undoubtedly one of the best comedy writers of all time, and I am a big fan of the majority of his work (Fame excluded). From previous podcasts, Ricky was known to be a great lover of cheese, not only fine, but any cheese. So he is obviously not a man to go by when it comes to food. This was driven home to me by his description of the ideal restaurant. To Ricky, that would be a restaurant that is empty, and the food is there once he arrives. He sits down, eats very quickly and walks off, still chewing and says, put it on my bill. Now both Ricky and I agree that Karl Pilkington is a loveable round headed buffoon, but when it comes to the image of an ideal restaurant, we differ greatly. Here is my idea of an ideal restaurant, or at least one scenario of an ideal restaurant, and as you may have guessed, this is the experience you get from Melbourne’s MoVida Next Door. You walk in with no booking and are greeted immediately with a smile, sat at the bar while a table clears, and offered a variety of great wines and beers. You order a drink, and it comes with a complimentary salty treat, perhaps some tasty salted bread, to get your appetite going. The place is noisy, but the people around you are friendly, and are there for the food, talking about it, enjoying it. You love it so much at the bar that you decide you don’t want a table, and prefer to stay at the bar where you have a view of the kitchen, and you notice the chef putting some live yabbies on ice next to the freshest looking prawns and mussels.

view of MoVida Next Door’s kitchen with the fresh seafood

does it get any fresher than alive?

The Spanish beer and the salty bread do their job and you are ready to order, but you can take your time. You don’t need to order all at once. One dish at a time works better, and makes more sense. The waitress behind the bar is more than just a waitress. She is an alert, young lady keeping the whole bar area under control, and she can rattle off the entire menu, including six or so specials, telling you to the last ingredient what goes into them, and all in the cutest Spanish accent. Ask her to say Pedro Ximenez 🙂 Easily waiter of the year award.

Spanish Moritz beer with salty bread, the salt meant to make you drink more, and it does

In a series of tapas, MoVida Next Door’s first dish of the night is the croqetta, or croquettes of mahon cheese and jamon, crunchy on the outside, and full of cheesy savoury goodness, soft and melty. Mahon is a sharp, hard, cheddar like Spanish cheese made from cow’s milk. It is intensely flavoured and has a fair bit of tartness to it, and when combined with jamon, fireworks. Jamon is offcourse Spanish for ham, and Spanish ham at its best is expressed in the form of Jamon Iberico (ham made from the Iberian pig), of which jamon iberico de bellota is the finest. At that level, the free range pigs are fed a diet purely of acorns for a period before slaughter. The ham is cured for 36 months for an amazing flavour, and if you have not tried it, you have not lived. Even the proud Italians are picking up tips from their Spanish friends and are now further ageing their prosciutto to get some extra depth of flavour.

MoVida Next Door’s croqetta of mahon and jamon

We are still hungry, offcourse, and decide to order something else. So next come baby calamari, stuffed with prawns and rice then grilled, their tentacles breaded and deep fried and served with squid ink. The crunchy tentacles are a good textural balance to the creamy rice and soft, yielding flesh. I’ll try to explain how this tasted, but I will never give it justice. The rice had a consistency creamier than a risotto, and a wonderful soft, but not overcooked texture perfectly matching the juicy sweetness of the prawns, and the grilling of the outer flesh gives some caramelisation to the super sea fresh meat, and then the tentacles add the crunchy salty body, and all the flavours are amplified and brought together by the briny ink. Sensational! And it looked beautiful.

MoVida Next Door’s stuffed calamari with squid ink

So you see why this place is ideallic. There is no better way to eat food than ordering when you want it, taking your time to savour one dish at a time. And when the friendly waitress tells you that you must have a special of grilled quail legs marinated in Pedro Ximenez (pronounced Heemeneth, the “th” sounds like the beginning of the word “the”) you can’t say no. Pedro Ximenez is a grape that makes the dessert sherry that goes by the same name. The grapes are dried in the sun and turned into a sherry that is dark and sweet, aged through solera, a process that mixes alcohols of different age to yield a complex flavour. The quail legs arrive double skewered, juicy and plump with an aromatic mollasses sweetness, strongly alcoholic and delicious.

MoVida Next Door’s quail legs marinated in pedro ximenez, the waitress placed it there showing off the MoVida cookbook

Finally, we go with tostadas de bacalao. Bacalao (Spanish) or Bacalhau (Portuguese) is the word for salted cod, which needs rehydration to be used in cooking. Tostada is a popular way of serving food, with a toasted peice of bread or similar with any type of topping. I usually find bacalhau a bit too heavy with salt and being so dry, it also usually absorbs a lot of oil in the cooking process. Unfortunately, MoVida’s version was not as light as I had hoped, with a bit of an oily mouth feel. The flavour is strong and salty and the texture is creamy and contrasts well with the crunchy tostada. I am not sure if I should fault MoVida for the dish, or perhaps I found an ingredient I am not too crazy about.

tostadas de bacalao

In any case, my trip to MoVida Next Door was a huge success. After returning to Sydney, I was aching for a similar experience and attempted to go to Bodega in Surry Hills in extremely rainy conditions, only to be turned away at the door, as they were full to capacity. Looked too la-di-da anyway! MoVida Next Door has really set the standard for me, so Bodega, watch out, you have had a bad start. If you are in Melbourne, you have to go there and try it for yourself. If the owner reads this and wants to hire, I’m available!

Eating Melbourne in three days – Maha Bar and Grill Review

By | Maha, Melbourne, Reviews | 3 Comments

This blog entry is part of a series. Read Part 1 here.

Now I am not an expert on the subject of Melbournian chefs, but if there is a subject I AM an expert on, it would have to be Middle-Eastern food, with a particular focus on Lebanese. After all, I am from there (not that that gives me any qualifications)! This means that I am constantly on the look for talent in that space. If a chef has published a book, or achieved some form of accolade, my interest is roused, but until I try the food, I attempt to go forward with an open mind. Maha Bar and Grill is for sure, a place that caught my attention. Given a chef’s hat by The Age, Maha is run by Shane Delia, a Maltese chef with a Lebanese wife and backed by George Calombaris from The Press Club, and now judging Australian Masterchef. Lebanese, Maltese? Same! (in joke, and I’ll get Ludwig to tell you about Charlie later).

Finding your way on the backstreet does not prepare you to what you will experience. Maha is a super cool venue with a partially open kitchen, professional staff, a well formulated menu using high quality, fresh produce, and producing a set of sexy looking dishes, that deviate only slightly from the Middle Eastern originals.

So, off the back street, and down the stairs to an underground space, to be greeted by a well dressed, well spoken maitre d’. Elaine and I are not looking the part as our comfortable travel attire and bright green Crumpler backpack clashes with the background, and the SLR digital camera hanging around my neck is loudly screaming “TOURISTS!!!”. I sense a slight hesitation on behalf of the maitre d’, but we are taken to our tables, and neatly tucked away in the corner, away from the dimly dressed Melbournian business people, happily eating their way through the financial crisis. The spot is nice however, as it gives me a good view of the room. The room itself has a dim, underground feel to it, exaggerated by the dark wooden tables, but I mean that in a good way. I will not harp on about the space, as it is more than comfortable and elegant, but I’m there for the food. We are explained that apart from the a la carte, there is a set menu, here called Soufra which roughly translates to banquet, or food table. You can go with the 2, 3 or 4 course Soufra. The 2 course is for a quick lunch, the 3 is the popular one, with mezze, mains (Sahn Kbeer, meaning large plate) and desserts. The 4 course menu adds an additional course of oven baked items. Each course, the waiter explained, is expressed by a sharing platter. The chef chooses what to include, and ensures it’s enough to make you full. After making sure we do not have any dietary requirements, and confirming that we are going for the 3 course menu, the waiter takes our orders, and pours some sparkling mineral water, informing me that the cost for that is fixed, so no big bills for sparkling.

The first course comes, the Mezze.

the mezze course. anti-clockwise top right, marinated olives, muhammara, stuffed pimento, marinated eggplant, Turksih yoghurt with carrots and marinated beetroot (center).

This course is a basic one, albeit quite pretty. The olives nice and plump, the muhammara (red pepper, bread, pomegranate mollases, walnuts, garlic) tasty, but a bit watery. My preference is for a more dense, spicier version with more walnuts. The pimentos are stuffed with kafta, and topped with yoghurt, which was interesting, but not mind blowing. The rest was ok, nicely flavoured dishes, but a bit too boring and traditional. And did I mention it was all cold. I like my kafta hot.

Next, came the mains, or big plate as they put it here.

anti-clockwise from top right, baba ghannouj, Iranian couscous, lamb skewers, fattouch, butterfish

This was certainly more substantial, and much more interesting. The presentation was fantastic and I hope the picture gives it justice. The baba ghannouj was smoky and creamy, and the Iranian couscous were simply breathtaking, buttery and creamy, with a playful texture, contrasted with pinenuts, and the richness offset by sweet dried currants. A winner for sure. The lamb skewers were beautifully and strongly spiced, tender, but bold with heady flavours. A good fattouch with very fresh produce ate well, and healthy chunks of fresh butter fish were generously seasoned with salt and fried in butter, topped with pinenuts and grapes. Very very nice. Good portions that left room for dessert.

anti-clockwise from top right, oowamat (Lebanese donuts), chocolate panacotta, laban semifreddo and raspberry sorbet

How nice does that look! Perfect balls of oowamat, a traditional Lebanese dessert made on Ghtas, the feast of Baptism (not sure what it is called in English). Basically, these are balls of dough, deepfried and doused with sugar syrup. This version is not very far off. The balls are rounder, filled with Turkish Delight, and much less sugar is used, and the lot is topped off with a pinenut praline, which sticks to your teeth like crazy. This is a fun dessert, but is quite stodgy. The marsala strawberries on top of the chocolate pannacotta was better, and to me, macerated strawberries are the only way to eat strawberries with chocolate, otherwise, the juiciness makes the chocolate chalky. The laban (yoghurt) semifreddo tasted of fresh sweet yoghurt and I loved it. The raspberry sorbet, I’m happy with or without.

I hope I do not sound overly critical. It’s just that I know very well what it takes to get a chef’s hat. I do believe Maha deserves a chef’s hat from the Age. The food is not greatly better than Sydney’s Middle Eastern scene, but I think Maha would have scored points for the ambience and service. Overall, a 15/20 for me.

Eating Melbourne in three days – Books for Cooks

By | Books for Cooks, Fitzroy, Melbourne | 2 Comments

This blog entry is part of a series. Read Part 1 here.

As chance would have it, two doors down from Gertrude Street Enoteca sits a bookshop. Standing infront, window shopping, a realisation came over me. This is no ordinary bookshop. Every single book or poster in the window is about food. A quick glance at the name and my dreams come true. A bookshop purely for the pleasures of cooking and food!

window shopping gives me a swift realisation

I ran inside, and I did not know where to look. Stacks upon stacks of books, all calling out to me, whispering sweet nothings into my ear. I was like a foody kid in a Valrhona store. A quick chat to the owner told me that Books for Cooks has been open for around 10 years now. I made a joke about finding somewhere that had more cook books than I did, and was quickly shot down even further, told that there were two other rooms packed full of books!

Another room full of books

There also was going to be another shipment of books coming in soon. The great thing about Books for Cooks is that they have a mail order service, and you can send them an email to check if they have your favourite book. So if you are in the market for a specialist food book (as I often am), which is rare, or out of print, get in contact, and they should be able to sort you out!

And another room full of books

Books for Cooks
233-235 Gertrude Street
VIC 3065
T: 61 3 8415 1415

Eating Melbourne in three days – Gertrude Street Enoteca Review

By | Fitzroy, Gertrude Street Enoteca, Melbourne, Reviews | 4 Comments

This blog entry is part of a series. Read Part 1 here.

The Gertrude Street Enoteca
229 Gertrude St, Fitzroy 3065 VIC, Phone: (03) 9415 8262

View of Gertrude Street Enoteca from with my back to the courtyard

Leaving the hotel and heading right, a 2 minute walk will get you to Gertrude Street Enoteca.
The word enoteca is Italian. Breaking down the word, you will see that it sounds like biblioteca (library) , having the suffix “teca” in common which means case or box. The “eno” prefix refers to wine, and so, putting 1 and 1 together, we have a wine library.

enjoying my coffee!

Unfortunately, it was only 10 am, and I did not feel the need to start loading up with wine, regardless of the setting. So Elaine and I ordered coffee and cake, kicked back and enjoyed the surrounds. The coffee was fantastic, and the cakes fresh and tasty, and oh how good it was to have real cream with real vanilla seeds dispersed throughout, slightly sweetened with some caster sugar. We both agreed that even though the chocolate hazelnut torte was extremely good, the lemon cake won hands down. There is nothing like a simple, buttery cake, a small side of cream to make the heart happy.

hazelenut and chocolate torte (front) and lemon cake (back)
with gertrude street in background

Try Gertrude Street Enoteca for a light lunch, or come for dinner where there is a limited menu with usually some form of meat (a bird or something similar). The focus is on local produce, and you can buy some hampers. The floor stocks some nice local products, but the room is tiny, so be early, or try to book.

Eating Melbourne in three days – Introduction

By | Books for Cooks, Fitzroy, Gertrude Street Enoteca, Greg Malouf, Maha, Melbourne, MoMo, MoVida Next Door | 3 Comments

Since I’ve arrived to Australia in 2001, I’ve had the chance to see the food scene in Sydney blossom and grow in inverse proportion to the size of foam bubbles in cappuccinos. Getting a good feed around here is getting easier by the day, what with all the fantastic chefs we have opening new restaurants and seducing us with thoughtful, concentrated and enticing menus. However, if you follow this blog, you would agree if I said that it is not my habit to review restaurants (not online anyway). So in the coming few entries, you will see this change somewhat. My trip to Melbourne has injected me with tonnes of excitement, and my camera is packed with some delicious photos. But let me step back first, and make it clear that my intention is not review Melbourne’s restaurants, but rather share an amazing weekend away. The restaurants I’ll be discussing are integral to my experience, as they were the focal point, and if it the place was not worth it, I am not going to include it.
April 26th 2008: Lainy and I have just tied the knot, and are in the hotel waiting to catch a cab to the airport, for a 4 week culinary journey to Japan and France. All cashed up with the generosity of friends and family and about to have the best month of our lives.
April 24th 2009: One year later and Lainy has not left me yet! Hurrah! This year, the trip will be domestic, and Melbourne is the destination. Sydney’s top foodie (and I mean that honestly, but no name dropping here) had provided me with tailor made lists of restaurants that are a must for our trip, but the main reason why Melbourne is the city of choice was simple: Greg Malouf. A few months back, I was reading through Greg’s fine book, Saha. I can not stress the importance of this book enough. This is a unique travel log by one of Australia’s finest, documenting the impressions and emotions that the food cultures of Lebanon and Syria can impart on a man whose mind is ready to take it all in, and draw and mix those experiences with the expert eye and knowledge of a master chef. And it was as I was reading through that I decided to email Greg and express my admiration. Unbelievably, Greg answered my email, and extended an invitation for me to visit him at his Melbourne restaurant MoMo. Greg had only recently reopened MoMo and there was a lack of literature on this new venture, so I was not sure what to expect, but I knew one thing, it was going to be worth the trip to Melbourne. And boy was it worth it! Now, I don’t want to jump ahead of myself, so let me list down the places that I will be covering in the next few posts.

Gertrude Street Enoteca
Books for Cooks
MoVida Next Door
• MoMo

Following a friend’s suggestion, and gratifying my well loved hatred for hotels, we decided to base ourselves in arty Fitzroy, in a little Victorian bed and breakfast called the Brooklyn Arts Hotel:, 48-50 George St Fitzroy Melbourne, Australia
Telephone +61 3 94199328

Our room at The Brooklyn Arts Hotel

This cool little space is run by Maggie who is possibly the friendliest person you will ever meet, so if you are ever in Fitzroy, make sure you stay there. The hotel has a very communal feel to it, very befitting the area of Fitzroy, which is very similar to Newtown, with the difference that you can get some fine tipple even at cafe’s, which are abundant. So, for a morning coffee, having just arrived from the airport, first on our list is Gertrude Street Enoteca.