Flinders Lane has arguably Melbourne CBD’s hottest eat street right now and one of the newest residents is Andrew McConnell’s Supernormal.
It’s hard to tell from the name but the restaurant specialises in Asian-inspired food. It’s mostly Japanese with a hint of Chinese and Korean, as you can tell by some of the signage and the little touches such as sesame grinders and a Japanese candy vending machine by the toilets! Downstairs there’s even a private karaoke room.
I went for lunch with my (Asian) parents and they were impressed by the food, not so much by the prices. While the mostly concrete interior design is stark, utilitarian and almost canteen-like, I think you’ll be hard pressed to eat a full meal and spend less than $40-$50 a head on just food.
Part of the reason is that we found a disproportionate amount of protein compared with the side dishes and starchy staples eg rice, buns, bao. So you have to order more to compensate (steamed rice at $4 a bowl) or eat pulled pork or duck meat on its own. This may be ‘paleo’ but it is anathema to any person brought up on Asian cuisine.
Nevertheless, the food was generally spot on. We started with some slippery prawn and chicken dumplings ($14) swimming in some a hair-raising chilli sauce.
The spicy eggplant was not the Sichuan dish that I was expecting but rather a cold salad of black-braised eggplant with spring onion, coriander and wobbling cubes of house-made tofu ($16). Full of flavour but not really my style.
We enjoyed our quarter of twice-cooked duck, crispy and juicy at the same time with a hint of star anise in its skin. The steamed buns (just three) were pillowy light and perfect for nestling bites of meat and cucumber.
The piece de resistance was the Korean BBQ pulled pork shoulder ($74). We were warned that it was huge and would take 20 minutes to come to the table. With anticipation mounting, a large steaming bowl of spicy/tangy/salty molten pork meat arrived at the table, accompanied by a bowl of kimchi and some perfectly domed steamed buns. We had a lot of meat left over after our bun intake so we ordered some steamed rice.
If you have enough people to share it with then this dish is a must-have at Supernormal. Luckily we were able to take the remainder of it home and it was delicious the next day wrapped in a tortilla with some salad!
If you have room try the avant-garde dessert of pink lady and miso soft serve icecream. Yes miso! Surprisingly the combination worked in harmony – nectar sweet apple ice cream with a hint of umami now and then on your tongue. The now defunct Golden Fields’ famous peanut butter parfait reappears on Supernormal‘s menu but I reckon it’s time to try something different.
Supernormal is an imaginative combination of fast food/fine-dining where the food and service will win you over. Go and enjoy it and just don’t gasp at the bill at the end.
Who would have thought there would be such a thing as a Melbourne meatball ‘scene’? Well, the latest entrant on the meatball market is Meatballs & Sons in Fitzroy.
I first dined at Meatball & Sons through an invitation but I liked it so much that I returned with my family a few weeks later for Sunday lunch. This review is based on the latter meal.
The restaurant has been designed by Kano Hollamby (who also designed the look and feel of Miss Chu) and the double storey building is inspired by one of the owner’s grandmother’s general store back in Old Blighty. The tall shelves are stacked with jars, flour canisters and bread baskets, with a tempting penny lolly jar beckoning the kids.
Period elements have been retained, from the fireplaces to the tinted glass windows. You’ll find timber panelling and pastel tiles as well as a huge blow up of a vintage poster of a Victorian era ride with the word ‘meatballs’ emblazoned on it.
The ethos of Meatball & Sons is a commitment to tasty, wholesome food. The meat is organic, grass fed or free range, produce is mainly local and there’s even a herb garden for the kitchen in the narrow gap along the outside wall.
When I think of meatballs I usually think of Italian food but on the menu at Meatball & Sons you’ll find international flavours, all $16 for 5 balls.
As a benchmark we started with the traditional meatballs of slow braised beef. The kitchen brought out all the elements separately in case the kids didn’t want to include the spinach or have the meatballs rolling in sugo. An unexpected surprise of oozing bocconcini was found at the centre of each meatball.
Next up with the Achiote Mexican beefballs with a mild chipotle chilli sauceand soft mini tortillas. The flavours of garlic, onion and coriander gave the meatballs an aromatic base topped off by a hit of chipotle chilli sauce. Not spicy at all if you fear heat.
My favourite were the Thai meat balls. The loosely packed meatballs contained the classic combination of ginger, coriander and lemongrass but the highlight was the slice of crunchy tempura eggplant on which each meatball was placed.
You can pair the meatballs with a classic pappardelle or even better go for the decadent whipped potato mash. For a more unusual greens combo try the succotash, a Native American salad of warm broad beans and corn. Incidentally, all of the sides are $4-5 which I thought was very reasonable.
Lighter options include sliders and salads though M thought her chicken salad was pretty small for $16 and it wasn’t particularly exciting.
The house soft drinks ($4.50) come from giant glass dispensers, with a pretty cherry and basil crush and a minty lemonade on offer.
Desserts depart from the ‘ball’ theme, except if you go for the Rickett’s Point Ice Cream Cones ($12, 3 cones). The presentation was stunning and it’s definitely a dessert to share – the difficulty is choosing between cherry ripe, vanilla caramel and chocolate orange. The cones had been dipped in chocolate and nuts and inside contained cubes of jelly.
Meatball & Sons have taken a simple, homemade dish and made it restaurant quality. It’s a great local to have – you can pop in for an after work drink and a bite, enjoy Sunday lunch with the family or have a party in the private dining area. They even deliver to locals when the weather’s too inclement to venture outside.
Ebi Fine Food is a Japanese restaurant tucked away in a suburban street in Footscray near the West Footscray side. It’s not a main shopping strip and you may easily miss it except for the Japanese lanterns fluttering enticingly, framing the doorway.
Inside you’ll find a tiny Japanese fish and chippery. Yes that’s right! You’ll find good ol’ fashioned fish and chips on the menu but you can choose from traditional battered fish to tempura crumb. Or go Japanese entirely (with an odd segue into Korean bibimbap).
During my lunch they did a steady takeaway trade. Just as well as the dining area is teeny – just a row of stools along the high dark wood counter (similar to those found in traditional sushi restaurants), two squashed tables inside and some outside seating.
To start I tried Ebi’s version of takoyaki – without the tako ($9 for 4). They call it a ‘vegetarian ball’ and it was the dish that launched Ebi many years ago when it was just a mobile food cart at festivals selling the vego balls.
The vege-yaki/vegetarian balls were lightly rolled balls of deep fried dough doused in soy, mirin and kewpie mayo. I think some flying bonito flakes are needed for extra appeal but they’re an addictive little starter.
For lunch there are a series of bento, nabe and rice dishes. I tried the bento with fish three ways ($18) which changes daily. On that day, the box contained eel cutlet kabayaki (a sort of sweet soy), panko crumbed salmon with red capsicum infused Japanse mayo and red miso barramundi. All of the fish was cooked fresh – as soon as it hits the pan or fryer it’s onto your plate.
The bento box contained pickles, a green salad, Japanese potato salad made with sweet potatoes and some cold vegetable dishes including a squishy eggplant topped with creamy miso, a cube of marinated fried tofu and a woody stalk of bamboo shoot. The steamed rice was actually a highlight, as it came garnished with some umami seaweed and bonito sprinkles.
Desserts continue the Japanese fusion theme and I decided on the tofu cheesecake, inspired by a recipe by Japanese Iron Chef Morimoto ($9). This was a highly whipped airy concoction of sponge base, tofu with a hint of cheese and citrus and garnished with sugared lemon peel. The soup spoon contained a maple and coffee syrup but I preferred the cake without its delicate flavours masked by the syrup.
For a suburb that’s surprisingly lacking in Japanese restaurants (given the proximity to numerous fishmongers in Footscray) Ebi Fine Food is a casual Japanese restaurant which serves Japanese food with care as well as reputedly producing some of the best fish and chips in the area. It certainly seemed to be a favourite with locals, who all knew the owner/chef and staff by the name.
Ebi Fine Food, 18A Essex St, Footscray (03) 9689 3300
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