HOT: Din Tai Fung, Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne

ding tai fung melbourne

Melbourne dumpling-lovers, start your engines. Din Tai Fung Melbourne has arrived.

This famous, and long-awaited, restaurant chain has taken up the whole of level 4 inside Emporium Melbourne. You can’t miss the entrance as there will be crowd of hungry people outside.
din tai fung melbourne

Inside the decor is a surprising combination of Scandi-chic with an Asian sensibility designed by Design Clarity.

din tai fung melbourne

It’s not often you spot filament lights in Asian restaurants and they combine together with other ‘hipster-cafe’ features such as an abundance of blonde wood, a long retro blue banquette, curved lines and wall-hanging greenery.

din tai fung melbourne

Particularly Asian elements still creep in though – waiters wield bag stands to protect your handbags and shopping and coat covers for the back of your chair.

din tai fung melbourne

You order by ticking off a paper menu with over a hundred items. Daunted, I call my (Chinese) mother to provide ordering advice (though there is a picture menu available to assist). She says ‘every visit to Din Tai Fung would not be complete without their famous xiao long bao’.

din tai fung melbourne

These darling 18-times pleated soup dumplings (6 for $10.80) are made by an army of mask-clad chefs in the large kitchen and then carried in a sky-high tower of bamboo steamers to be distributed to expectant folk.

din tai fung melbourne

Din Tai Fung’s XLB are superb. The weight of the piping hot broth, the thin pouch of dumpling skin, the the perfect balance of texture and flavour, all go towards making these some of the best xiao long bao you’ll find anywhere in the world. What’s amazing is the consistency of the product – I’ve had Din Tai Fung’s XLB in Sydney, Hong Kong and Shanghai and each time they send me into a food orgasm.

din tai fung melbourne

Din Tai Fung are also famous for their noodles, and my mum suggested trying the braised beef noodle soup ($16.80). It’s a steaming bowl consisting of a fat wad of handmade noodles sitting underneath four slices of beef shank in a flavoursome broth. The pliable noodles are a highlight though the beef could be more tender.

din tai fung melbourne

Finally, I try one of their steamed buns ($3). The vegetarian bun comes so beautifully pleated I don’t want to touch it. I take a bite and discover the fluffiest of pillows with a loose mixture of shredded vegetables and mushrooms nestled inside.

din tai fung melbourne

Din Tai Fung may be a global restaurant chain but it’s one that’s of consistently high quality and reasonably priced. It’s an exciting addition to Chinese dining in Melbourne and it was telling that on my visit 95% of the patrons were Asian, young and old. It’s safe to say they know a good dumpling when they eat it (and are willing to line up for it).

My final tip is to arrive 5-10 minutes before opening time. The kitchen is quick but each table still takes around 45 minutes to turn around. So if you miss the first tranche of the 230-odd seats you’ll have to hang around salivating over your paper menu until there’s room.

Din Tai Fung, Emporium Melbourne, Level 4, 287 Lonsdale St, Melbourne 9654 1876

Mon-Wed 11.30-2.30pm, 5.30-9pm

Thu-Fri 11.30-2.30pm, 5-10pm

Sat 11-3pm, 5-10pm

Sun 11-3pm, 5-9pm

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HOT: Smith & Deli, 111 Moor St, Fitzroy

smith and deli

The owners of popular vegan restaurant Smith & Daughters in Fitzroy have now branched out to a delightful Jewish-inspired deli just around the corner on Moor Street. Dubbed Smith & Deli, the new-age convenience store will be a haven for vegans, vegetarians and curious omnivores.

smith and deli

Smith & Deli is housed in an old brick factory and I love the retro feel to the place, from the mint-green furnishings thanks to Callum Preston (who also designed Smith & Daughters) to the 50s rock tunes.

smith and deli

Smith and deli

The store’s focus is on take away food, provisions, fresh produce and take-home meals and the shelves and cabinets simply groan with neat rows of tempting food.

smith and deli

smith and deli

I was invited to visit Smith & Deli ahead of their official opening this Tuesday 16 June and had a lot of fun sampling their goods. I should preface my comments with the fact that I’m not vegan – so I’m comparing vegan dishes with their non-vegan originals. If you are limited to vegan choices then I think Smith & Deli will be a gastronomical broadening of horizons. If you’re not vegan, it’ll be eye-opening though in some cases I admit I’d prefer to eat the non-vegan versions.

smith and deli

I was offered a pre-made lunch box to try ($15) consisting of a half a Reuben sandwich, a noodle salad and a slice of apple crumble slice. I also gave way to temptation to buy up their baked goods – a croissant, doughnut, dill pretzel, passionfruit tart, honey cake and challah.

The highlights were the spongy glazed doughnut with ‘custard’, the surprisingly flaky croissant and the bready but not too chewy dill pretzel. Let’s just say they got the tick of approval from a 4 year old omnivore!

smith and deli

I didn’t love the dry pastry of the passionfruit tart though the filling was creamy and sweet or I’d much prefer the chunky meatiness of a proper Reuben sandwich.

smith and deli

Intrigued by the possibility of a vegan take home meal I bought a ready made pastrami pizza and margherita pizza ($16 each). The pizza base was light and fluffy and the flavours were true – it was just the curious un-melted texture of the ‘cheese’ which signalled its vegan origins. My kids loved it…but give me mozzarella instead.

smith and deli

There’s no seating on site so it’s strictly take-away service. Whitlam Square and Condell Reserve all offer nice places to sit and eat and if you’re studying in Fitzroy Library it’s just a handy diagonal stride across Moor Street.

Smith & Deli is a unique concept – a friendly grocery store where dishes have been converted to plant-based fare without sacrificing flavour. I did think in some cases the texture of meat and dairy simply couldn’t be replicated, but I’m curious enough to return, especially for the house-made vegan pastrami and salami (their slicer wasn’t working yet).

Smith & Deli, 111 Moor St, Fitzroy

Tue-Sun 8am-7pm

Opening Tuesday 16 June 2015

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HOT: Lygon Food Store, 263 Lygon Street, Carlton

Lygon food store

Lygon Food Store was a pioneer in Melbourne in the 1950s. This iconic Carlton cafe and food store opened 63 years ago as one of the first suppliers of imported products from Italy and it was the first shop in Lygon Street to serve Lavazza coffee.

Lygon food store

This unpretentious establishment has long been a favourite with uni students and academics for a casual breakfast or a hearty lunch.

Lygon food store

Their huge ciabattas and baguettes are excellent value (all under $10) and the glass cabinet holds a rotating mouth-watering selection of Italian meals, soups and salads.

lygon food store

The cartoccio, an oval mass of pizza dough, squidgy mozzarella and laden to overflowing with antipasti and charcuterie, is one of their specialities. It’s big enough to share between two or three, making it an economical lunch for $14.50.

Lygon food store

About a month ago Lygon Food Store opened its doors for dinner on Thursday to Sunday evenings.

I was invited to sample some of the dinner menu, which has an emphasis on Southern Italian cuisine mainly from Puglia, the region that owner Pasquale Coco knows best. Some of the recipes are from his family, some have been devised by Pasquale who is also the chef.

Lygon food store

The highlight of the preview was the serves of pasta and the risotto Milanese, all cooked al dente and adorned with the simplest of sauces to highlight the freshness of the ingredients. All the pastas and stone fired pizzas are under $20.

Lygon food store

There are just four main dishes to choose from – a veal osso bucco, rockling fillet, crunchy eggplant polpetta with spicy caponata and couscous and in a nod to on-trend ingredients, a light quinoa salad. Again, each of the mains was very reasonably priced under $30.

Lygon food store

While bright new eateries ensure that Lygon Street is ever-evolving it’s always nice to revisit old favourites. Lygon Food Store is a Melbourne institution for a reason and now you can enjoy their wares (and do your deli shopping) morning, noon and night.

Lygon Food Store, 263 Lygon Street, Carlton 03 9347 6279

Monday – Wednesday, 7am – 6pm
Thursday – Sunday, 7am – 10pm

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HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Touche Hombre

In a city that’s chock full of Mexican restaurants, what makes Touche Hombre special?

For me, it’s the fun atmosphere, punchy flavours and super-quick service right in the heart of the city. I call it ‘Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am Mexican’.

Touche Hombre

The interior is all laneway brashness, with exposed brick, concrete, bar stools and kitschy touches. The hip hop playlist was from my era!

Touche Hombre

I was invited to try their new menu which launched earlier this month in time for their third birthday. It’s pretty much the same Mexican-for-gringos street food that you know and love and it all goes well with their Mexican cocktails. The zesty Tommy’s Margarita is their signature but I personally liked their icy horchata.

touche hombre

I think the best way to tackle the menu is just to go with the chef’s selection. For a very reasonable $40 you’ll be filled up with 1 Street Corn, 1 Starter, 3 Tacos and 1 Dessert.

Dive straight into the Touche fried chicken, spiced up with habanero cream and lime ($10/$25). The crunchy outer coating made with maize flour was a popcorn party in the mouth though I’d be sparing with the cream and generous with the lime to cut through the richness.

Touche Hombre

The spicy lamb ribs with merquin, coriander and honey ($13) were tender but far too fatty for our tastes so it was our least successful dish on the night.

touche hombre

Our plate of tostaditos (or crisp mini tortillas) had one of everything – blue crab, chicken tinga, tuna and pumpkin. The Asian-inspired tuna with candied peanuts, soy and black sesame was my favourite though of course the least authentic.

Touche Hombre

Next up, 6” soft shell tacos.  I highly recommend you douse them in hot sauce if you need a kick as I found the flavours of both the slow cooked pork cheek, habanero cream and BBQ corn salsa ($6.50) and the Chimichurri Chicken with melted Egmont cheese, toasted pepitas and coriander aioli ($6) quite mild. Other taco fillings include prawn, haloumi, fish and meatballs and the fillings are replicated in the burritos selection as well.

Touche Hombre

Dessert veers away from Latin flavours to ice cream sandwiches and doughnuts. We tried the chocolate, chilli and peanut butter parfait ($8) which had negligible chilli in it, so I say turn it up! The biscuit was also rock hard so the whole dish was a bit difficult to eat.

Touche Hombre has obviously carved out a niche in Melbourne’s Mexican wave as it was jumping on a Tuesday night. The dishes we tried veered from OMG amazing to ho hum in my nitpicking opinion, but add a few drinks and the rapid friendly service it’s a great way to kickstart a fun night out – you can even head right next door to Burro Teca (Donkey Disco, I kid you not)!

Touche Hombre

Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne (03) 9663 0811

Mon to Sat 12:00 pm – late

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HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

SONY DSC

If you like high tea then shoot down the rabbit hole into the Adriano Zumbo-created dessert wonderland called Fancy Nance.

fancy nance

Fancy Nance is this famous patissier’s new high tea salon that’s named after his mother, Nancy. It occupies the site behind his eponymous patisserie on Claremont Street and is the former premises of George Calombaris’ Mama Baba and Manu Fiedel’s short-lived Le Grand Cirque.

Can another celebrity chef make a go of this site?

Based on the spectacular high tea I tried today, I hope so. This is high tea unlike anything I’ve tried in Melbourne.

fancy nance

The setting is quite unique. The space is cavernous and the industrial framework can be quite cold (literally and figuratively). But the designers have carved up the centre into cosy plush booths to give it a bit of warmth. There’s a sleek brass cocktail bar with chic brass detailing once the venue opens in the evening.

fancy nance

fancy nance

fancy nance

Both ends of the room are book-ended by exuberant, psychedelic Alice-in-Wonderland inspired street art and you can watch the long open kitchen at work preparing your delicacies.

fancy nance

There’s no traditional three-tiered stand. Instead, you’re given three choices – $65 for twelve course degustation of sweets and savouries, $45 for seven mini savoury and sweet courses or scones with jam plus tea, coffee or hot chocolate for $15.

The courses come one after the other…and dessert comes first. I don’t have a problem eating dessert in any order during a meal but I did think it was curious…so I asked a waitress why the topsy-turvy approach. Apparently it’s just the way Zumbo likes to do it and in a traditional three-tier stand going from top to bottom you’d start off with sweets.

The ingredient combinations and attention to detail in presentation is quite stunning. Not everything was too my taste but 10 points for creativity!

To give you a rundown of the current menu:

fancy nance

Linzer cake with vanilla chantilly, grapefruit with white chocolate ganache, olive oil and shizo and a tube layered with passionfruit curd, lemongrass pannacotta, lime tapioca and coconut espuma.

fancy nance

Choux bun covered  in freeze-dried cherries and filled with…tarragon ice cream.

fancy nance

The dish is an wow-inspiring colour bomb but I can’t say I loved the savoury, anise flavour of the filling.

fancy nance

A deconstructed apple pie with a cinnamon marshmallow and sorrel leaf plus Zumbo’s signature macarons (or as he calls them, zumbarons).

fancy nance

There’s a reason these macarons are famous – the texture is just perfect, with a crispy-shelled but still moist biscuit sandwiching a not-too-sweet ganache. It also comes nestled on top of a WHOLE BOWL of chocolate beads which you can dig into at leisure!

fancy nance

The one concession to tradition – the scone – was perfect too, fluffy and light. [spoiler] What no one warned me about was that one of the jams was capsicum! I actually quite liked the unexpected peppery flavour and I worked out that one of the ‘creams’ was actually a whipped ricotta. The other jam is sweet (cranberry) and you can pair that with double cream…or cheese if you so wish!

fancy nance

The pastries are a segue into the savoury courses, with a petite pain au chocolat, a raspberry and coconut danish and a tartlet with caramelised olives and topped with smoked ricotta.

fancy nance

The traditional smoked salmon finger sandwich is turned into a cured salmon, crunchy rye, slices of fresh apple and creme fraiche. The other ‘sandwich’ is melting pork rillette inside a salt-flecked pretzel turned into a bun shape!

fancy nance

The final course is a cube of osso bucco decorated with delicate pea shoots. 
fancy nanceI really enjoyed my high tea at Fancy Nance. Their version of high tea is a playful take on an old tradition and you’ll be surprised at every turn. Given the menu changes periodically I can’t wait go down the rabbit hole again! Later the small space at the front will become a cafe and patisserie called ‘Little Frankie’.

Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra 1800 858 611

Wednesday – Sunday 11am-6pm

No reservations, walk-ins only

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HOT: Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton

queensberry pour house

Queensberry Pour House in Carlton is the kind of cosy hangout I wish I’d had back when I was a uni student.

While my uni days are long behind me now, I can still pretend I’m part of the cool crowd that use Queensberry Pour House for their caffeine fix, meetings and a quiet study session.

queensberry pour house

The small cafe is on the corner of a main street but it still feels tucked away, its whitewashed facade dwarfed by the modern steely colours of surrounding high rises. The place has a quaint, handmade feel to it and it turns out that the couple who own the cafe made their own ceramics and hand built much of the cafe’s furniture. I particularly love the distinctive sideboard now cash register and their bone-handled cutlery.

queensberry pour house

The coffee (black, white or short) is a rotating selection of single origin coffee that is roasted on-site every Sunday. The filter coffee is bottomless!

For non-coffee drinkers they make their own nut milk so it’s worth trying the nut milk smoothie ($7) with different flavours every week. Mine was green smoothie, a sweet and creamy concoction of spinach, kale, banana and nut milk.

queensberry pour house

The menu takes a simple and healthy approach. I go for the grazing bowl with a mixture of quinoa, chunky tabbouleh, roasted capsicum, smoky hummus and labne ($15.50). You can choose to add a soft-boiled paprika spiced egg for an extra $2.

queensberry pour house

I also try the mushroom toastie, inexplicably called the ‘Vladwich’. It’s a melting squish of provolone, grano padano, spinach, field and enoki mushrooms, spiked together with a jaunty pickle ($12.50).

The sweets cabinet was very enticing, with fresh cakes and biscuits coming straight out of the oven a few steps away. I dithered over the coconut muffin ($4) but decided that my stomach couldn’t handle any more.

Queensberry Pour House is a cafe full of cosy charm, a place to linger or hunker down with the books. The owners made and work in the place, and that care and consideration shows in the end result.

Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton 03 9347 1277

Monday to Friday: 7am – 4pm

Saturday: 8am – 3pm

Closed Sunday

Queensberry Pourhouse on Urbanspoon

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