HOT: Taste of Melbourne 2010, Royal Exhibition Building, 9 Nicholson St, Carlton

DSC06329v11 HOT: Taste of Melbourne 2010, Royal Exhibition Building, 9 Nicholson St, Carlton

It seemed that every foodie brought their taste-testing appetites to the Royal Exhibition Buildings this weekend for the four days of Taste of Melbourne (26-29 August).

The Taste festivals in Melbourne and Sydney are a chance for diners to create their own tasting menu from the selection of dishes offered by some of the city’s well-known restaurants. This year the Melbourne restaurants included oldies like The European and Stokehouse alongside newbies like Le Traiteur and maze. The idea is that you pay for entry ($27.50) and then you have to pay extra for ‘crowns’, the currency of the festival, which you then swap for dishes of your choice. About 30 crowns per head ($30) is needed for three small courses, so I was a bit dubious about the value-for-money proposition. As RM said ‘I don’t understand, couldn’t you just pay money to go and eat at these restaurants?’.

Anyway, we had managed to receive free entry tickets through a competition draw, so we just had to shell out $30 each for our crowns. Then, the decision as to what try from the 36 dishes on offer….

DSC06324v1 HOT: Taste of Melbourne 2010, Royal Exhibition Building, 9 Nicholson St, Carlton

Carlton restaurant Embrasse had a pop-up stall just for the Sunday, so I decided to try Mr Donati’s crispy pork belly, peas and wild sorrel coulis, purple potato, fromage frais and garden herbs (10 crowns). The pork belly was a melting cube of meat and juicy fat and I particularly liked the starchiness, not to mention the vibrant colour, of the mashed purple potatoes. And bravo for maintaining Embrasse‘s signature delicacy of presentation on a plastic plate!

DSC06326v1 HOT: Taste of Melbourne 2010, Royal Exhibition Building, 9 Nicholson St, Carlton

RM decided on the wild rabbit sausage roll with tomato kassundi (10 crowns) from The European. Flaky and meaty, it was a satisfying dish and wasn’t dry despite appearances.

DSC06337v1 HOT: Taste of Melbourne 2010, Royal Exhibition Building, 9 Nicholson St, Carlton

Next up, The Palace‘s Wagyu burger (10 crowns).  The burger patty was well-cooked and well-seasoned, and most importantly, the half-portion belied how filling it was. The queue for this dish denoted it as a definite crowd pleaser.

DSC06338v1 HOT: Taste of Melbourne 2010, Royal Exhibition Building, 9 Nicholson St, Carlton

RM had The Palace‘s eye fillet with potato mash and sauce Bordelaise (12 crowns). He said it tasted ok but was sadly cold. Cold steak gets zero points in my book.

Tweeps had also recommended Stokehouse‘s wagyu beef cigars with artichoke tapenade and horseradish, Longrain‘s yellow curry of wagyu beef with cucumber relish and Charcoal Lane‘s wallaby tataki with ginger, soy and horseradish.

At this point we decided to take break and to wander around the many producer stalls. Actually, this was how we ended up filling up most of our stomach, as we nosed our way to taste chocolate, relishes, dips and cheese. For drinkers this would have been a great opportunity to sip and swirl a lot of wine, beer and spirits.

DSC06347v1 HOT: Taste of Melbourne 2010, Royal Exhibition Building, 9 Nicholson St, Carlton

DSC06349v1 HOT: Taste of Melbourne 2010, Royal Exhibition Building, 9 Nicholson St, Carlton

The lineup of cookies and cakes from Sweet by Nature

DSC06350v11 HOT: Taste of Melbourne 2010, Royal Exhibition Building, 9 Nicholson St, Carlton

DSC06360v1 HOT: Taste of Melbourne 2010, Royal Exhibition Building, 9 Nicholson St, Carlton

Who can resist a chocolate fountain of Green & Black’s Organic chocolate? Not me.

For dessert I had planned to try the Stokehouse‘s Bombe of strawberry sorbet, white chocolate parfait and toasted meringue, but RM had ordered two flavours of Ben & Jerry‘s ice-cream and for four crowns he ended up with two generous cups of ice-cream. So my dessert was a huge portion of Phish Food, the best value deal in all the festival.

DSC06366v1 HOT: Taste of Melbourne 2010, Royal Exhibition Building, 9 Nicholson St, Carlton

DSC06371v11 HOT: Taste of Melbourne 2010, Royal Exhibition Building, 9 Nicholson St, Carlton

Looking to get rid of our remaining crowns, we bought a tin of Persian feta from Yarra Valley Dairy (which I’d discovered when staying at the Lost and Found Hotel) and a jar of blue mallee honey from Beechworth Honey.

In a haze from my inevitable sugar coma,  I stumbled home for an afternoon nap…to wake up to a lovely surprise. I’d won a gourmet hamper from Maria Island Walks and Red Feather Inn in Tasmania! I lived for some years in Launceston as a kid and I have many fond memories of Sunday lunches by the fireplace of Red Feather Inn. So I’m particularly delighted with this prize as I’ll be able to revisit an old haunt, which has been revamped in a French Provencal style, to try out one of their cooking classes. Thank you Maria Island Walks and Red Feather Inn!

DSC06381v1 HOT: Taste of Melbourne 2010, Royal Exhibition Building, 9 Nicholson St, Carlton

HOT Chat: Markus Bohm of The Langham

DSC05002v1 HOT Chat: Markus Bohm of The Langham

Markus chatting with Penny (Addictive & Consuming) and Sarah (Sarah Cooks)

You may remember a couple of weeks ago I was invited to The Langham to enjoy their chocolate indulgence high tea. Today’s your opportunity to find out more about the man behind the magic, Head Pastry Chef at The Langham, Markus Bohm. Thanks Markus!

Markus, tell me a bit more about your background and how you came to be the Head Pastry Chef at The Langham?

I was trained in Germany and worked as an apprentice in a pastry shop. From there, I went into hotels, leaving when I was 20 for Bermuda where I took up my first pastry chef position at the Castle Harbour Hotel (today this is the Marriott). I then spent ten years working as the Pastry Chef at the Plaza Hotel in New York, before moving to the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles – the best hotel in the world at that time.

I came to Australia eighteen years ago to open what was then the Sheraton Towers (now The Langham, Melbourne). I worked as a pastry chef there for three years, before leaving to open up the Le Cordon Bleu school in Melbourne.

Then, seven years ago, the Head Chef at The Langham called me and asked me to return to the hotel. I’ve been working here as the Head Pastry Chef ever since.

DSC04864v1 HOT Chat: Markus Bohm of The Langham

What do you consider to be your food philosophy?

My food philosophy would be using the freshest and best ingredients I can find. The ingredients in my desserts have to be good, and I particularly like dark, bittersweet chocolate.

What qualities do you believe a pastry chef has that are different to a regular chef?

I think that as a pastry chef, you have to be more creative and exact (for example at weighing out the ingredients) then a regular chef. You also have to be artistic and have an eye for beauty, and be able to draw. There is much more preparation involved when you are a pastry chef, and you need a lot of patience and even an understanding of chemistry.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your years as a chef? What advice would you give to someone who wants a career in the kitchen?

Aspiring pastry chefs would know that there are long hours involved and that they need to be committed. The starting pay isn’t very high either. But if they work hard and are committed, they can move forward in the kitchen and earn a higher pay. It is quite similar to ballet. The principal dancers get paid a lot while the rest of the corp don’t earn as much.

DSC04915v11 HOT Chat: Markus Bohm of The Langham

How would you describe the approach you’ve taken with the pastries and desserts at The Langham? What can customers expect to taste and see there?

The main approach for me is consistency. I’ve kept the popular favourites that guests are familiar with such as a crème brulee and crème caramel. But I’ve also introduced some unusual combinations such as chilli and chocolate and salt and chocolate, and I like to use avocado and goats cheese in my pastries and desserts. I think it is great for people who are adventurous with what they eat. They will be happy with the taste sensations!

Finally, you’re from Germany but now live in Melbourne. What HOT places and things do you love about your adopted home town?

One of my favourite places to visit in my downtime is Maris (15 Glenferrie Rd, Malvern +61 3 9500 0665). I love going there for lunch. They do funky light food with Mediterranean, Morrocan and other influences, and they have a small wine list but it’s packed with excellent wines. They also make their bread fresh, and everything is prepared on site.

Another favourite of mine is David’s (4 Cecil St, Prahran). I love their Shanghai style dim sum, and they have an excellent tea menu there.

For more chats with interesting Melburnians, click here.

Ask the Doctor: Small dishes for big eating

P1040320v1 Ask the Doctor: Small dishes for big eating

Help me Doctor!: We are in Melbourne for a long weekend next week and want to fit as many great eateries in as possible. Can you suggest ones that serve smaller dishes so we can visit more than one a night/day/meal? Thanks – Louise

Your prescription: Hi Louise, great to hear that you’re planning your Melbourne eating in advance :–)

My suggestions for eateries that serve small dishes (all of which I’ve reviewed except the last one):

Hope that helps! – Jetsetting Joyce

HOT: Hellenic Republic, 434 Lygon St, Brunswick East

Thanks to great reviews and of course the Masterchef effect, George Calombaris’ casual Greek eatery Hellenic Republic has been humming steadily ever since it opened in 2008 – and I’ve only now managed to get there.

A warning: if you want to eat Sunday lunch at Hellenic Republic, give yourself a good 2 months to ensure that you can get a booking.  Also note that on Sundays (and possibly other days of the week as well) there is a 2 hour turnaround time for tables. Table-turning is a practice that I dislike immensely, especially as I would like to be able to enjoy a leisurely Sunday lunch, but if stuffing myself steadily for 2 hours straight is the only way I get to eat at  Hellenic Republic, then I guess so be it.

Our group of 12 gathered to sample the $55 Trapezi meze sharing menu (which is required for groups of 10 or more). To confirm the booking I was asked to complete a comprehensive list of the guests’ dietary requirements – when they say they cater for all dietary requirements, they really mean it! Gluten and dairy free alternatives were prepared especially for certain guests, and nowhere else have I seen ‘pescatarian’ acknowledged as a dietary requirement.

The Trapezi is a multi-course tour through most of Hellenic Republic‘s menu. I’ve been told it is excellent value for the amount of food you’re served relative to a la carte. It certainly left me full enough that I didn’t need dinner that night.

MEZE — CHEFS SELECTION OF SMALL TASTES
Local and Hellenic olives
Kefalograviera saganaki – a real winner of pan fried salty saganaki balanced with sweet dollops of peppered figs.

DSC05712v1 HOT: Hellenic Republic, 434 Lygon St, Brunswick East

Two housemade dips – a rich and smokey eggplant dip and taramasalata without the fake pink food colouring
Seriously moreish warn pita bread
Seasonal salad of cucumber and olives
Rosettes of cured Hellenic meats (oh and the wine is served in shiny red carafes)

DSC05717v1 HOT: Hellenic Republic, 434 Lygon St, Brunswick East

Htapodi – octopus doughnuts!
DSC05722v1 HOT: Hellenic Republic, 434 Lygon St, Brunswick East
PSARI — GRILLED FISH
Char grilled fish of the day (ours was swordfish) with latholemono, or a dressing of oil, garlic and lemon
Thalassino youvetsi – braised seafood in a tomato-based sauce with tiny rice-like kritharaki pasta and feta
A super-fresh Cypriot grain salad of freekeh, coriander, almonds, raisins and yoghurt
DSC05735v1 HOT: Hellenic Republic, 434 Lygon St, Brunswick East
PSISTARIA — MEAT FROM THE SPIT
As you can see, here the amount of food starts getting a little out of control. Wish I hadn’t had so much pita bread at the beginning….
Succulent marinated lamb and roasted chicken. We couldn’t finish a lot of it so it ended up as home care packages. My takeaway container lasted me for the next three days and was delicious sandwiched in pita bread with the cabbage salad.
DSC05726v1 HOT: Hellenic Republic, 434 Lygon St, Brunswick East
Hand cut potatoes cooked in olive oil and oregano, presented in a bowl lined with Greek newspaper, a nice touch.
Tzatziki (cucumber, dill, garlic and yoghurt)
A refreshing Lahanosalata, crunchy shaved cabbage salad with an olive oil and lemon dressing.
DSC05740v1 HOT: Hellenic Republic, 434 Lygon St, Brunswick East
Unfortunately at this stage we had to be turfed from our table – but the staff were very understanding and packed up a lot of the leftover meats and salad along with our dessert, a colourful selection of fresh fruit including watermelon and strawberries.

Despite the unceremonious end to our meal, I really loved the convivial atmosphere and massive amounts of food served for lunch at Hellenic Republic. Writing this post has made me hungry all over again, and I can’t wait to return.

minilink HOT: Hellenic Republic, 434 Lygon St, Brunswick East

HOT: Mezzo Bar & Grill, 35 Lt Bourke St, Melbourne

I’ve blogged about Mezzo Bar & Grill previously when I tried their Monday night Pasta Al Giro menu but this was the first time I’d tried their standard menu.

RM and I decided to go for a pre-theatre dinner on a Saturday night using the voucher that I’d won from the Menu for Hope raffle. We didn’t realise it until we were given the menu but Mezzo have a very good value pre-theatre deal, 2 courses for $35 and 3 courses for $45. Not just two or three dishes to choose from either, but a broad selection from the general menu excluding some of the more expensive dishes.

I decided to go for the pre-theatre option and RM went a la carte. Cavatelli di messina with meatballs, broccoli, potato, herb and pecorino sauce ($32) was one of my favourite dishes at Pasta Al Giro and unusually for me, I decided to repeat the experience. The pasta dish is definitely well worth multiple visits – springy coils of cavatelli, marinated meatballs and cheesy goodness without being overwhelming.

P1050858v1 HOT: Mezzo Bar & Grill, 35 Lt Bourke St, Melbourne

RM selected his old standby favourite, pumpkin and ricotta tortellini, yellow tomato salsa, wild artichokes and chilli oil ($31). The dish presented fat, generous parcels of sweet pumpkin wrapped in silky pasta, with the smoothness offset by just a hint of chilli heat.

P1050856v1 HOT: Mezzo Bar & Grill, 35 Lt Bourke St, Melbourne

For dessert, I chose the gelati (banana and hazelnut that day), again remembering how good it was at Pasta Al Giro. It didn’t disappoint, but once again the slightly soggy accompanying crostini did. RM reluctantly shared some of his excellent Sicilian doughnuts dusted with sugar and accompanied by a creamy, fruity cassata ($14).

P1050861v1 HOT: Mezzo Bar & Grill, 35 Lt Bourke St, Melbourne

The restaurant was busy but not headache-inducing hectic, and the service was brisk and friendly. It has a casual yet slightly dressy vibe which means that friends, couples and families with young kids all felt at home there on a Saturday night. A lovely place serving lovely food, especially pasta – well worth a visit.

For other excellent pasta in the CBD, try Grossi Florentino Cellar Bar, Italy 1 or Journal Canteen (Rosa’s Kitchen).

minilink HOT: Mezzo Bar & Grill, 35 Lt Bourke St, Melbourne

NOT: Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Sumner Theatre, 140 Southbank Boulevard, Southbank

657354 thumbnail 280 Melbourne Theatre Company Dead Man s Cell Phone.v1 NOT: Dead Mans Cell Phone, Sumner Theatre, 140 Southbank Boulevard, SouthbankWay back in January this year I ordered my usual 3-play mini subscription for the Melbourne Theatre Company. As July rolled around, I realised that I had tickets to see Dead Man’s Cell Phone….and I had no idea why. The blurb for the play stated:

“A surrealist fantasy. Dancing out of the light-footed imagination of Sarah Ruhl, Dead Man’s Cell Phone traces one woman’s accidental quest to make a few people feel just a little bit better about themselves.”

Surrealist. Fantasy. Two genres of theatre of which I’m not particularly fond. And ‘making people feel a little bit better about themselves’ sounded twee and contrived.

Anyway, tickets had been bought, the date had been fixed, so RM and I trooped along with relatively low expectations.

The story begins with Jean (Lisa McCune), a lonely woman sitting in a cafe who becomes embroiled in the life of a dead man whose mobile phone she answers. She seeks out his mistress, his wife, his mother and brother and tries to bring them all comfort and final words while untangling the lies of his life.

Was the play supposed to be a meditation on life, death, family and the way we’ve lost the ability to connect to other people on a human level due to technology? Hard to say as I found the text generally lacked focus. I also didn’t like the slow pace, the loose prose and mostly the switching from magic realism to film noir to slapstick. I did like the laundromat set design and the cast’s general performance.

Dead Man’s Cell Phone was neither funny nor dramatic nor exciting nor excruciating. If you already have tickets for it, then go ahead and see it and you may have a pleasant, though relatively forgettable, theatre experience. If you don’t have tickets, then I’d say don’t bother spending $65 and 2 hours on this play.

To read other reviews, check out Sometimes Melbourne and Theatre Notes.

NOT: Terrace Bar & Bistro, Art Series The Cullen, 161 Commercial Road, Prahran

P1050824v1 NOT: Terrace Bar & Bistro, Art Series The Cullen, 161 Commercial Road, Prahran

The Cullen is a glamorous boutique hotel in Prahran which has been inspired by artist Adam Cullen, and it’s one of the series of Art Hotel popping up in Melbourne.

While a hotel is not an obvious location for dining out, a high-end boutique hotel does have a certain reputation for quality to uphold, and that extends to its food options. On one side of The Cullen is the heaving branch of CBD’s Hutong Dumpling, while the other side is flanked by the much quieter Terrace Bar & Bistro.

The Terrace Bar & Bistro offers middle-of-the-road Mod Oz/Mediterranean fare at mid-range prices. The extensive menu spans antipasti, pasta/risottos, pizza and mains and there’s nothing particularly unexpected or unusual about it.

The décor is also uncontroversial, featuring polished floors, screen printed lamp shades and an open kitchen. The vibe is informal, the service friendly, there’s nothing really to complain about.

So why the NOT? Well, because I thought it was all a bit yawn-worthy.

P1050818v1 NOT: Terrace Bar & Bistro, Art Series The Cullen, 161 Commercial Road, Prahran

I had the antipasto plate ($18) with items selected by the chef. Normally it comes with cured meats or fish but feeling virtuous I asked for vegetarian items. Very pretty to look at, but no real taste sensations (and maybe that’s my own fault for discarding the meat and fish). Nice toasted ciabatta with drizzled with olive oil.

P1050817v1 NOT: Terrace Bar & Bistro, Art Series The Cullen, 161 Commercial Road, Prahran

The mushroom risotto was liberally dotted with mushrooms and looked very hearty. D described it as ‘good’. I have no idea what was dotted on top but given how creamy it looked already I’m not sure whether another dollop of dairy was necessary to add richness.

P1050822v1 NOT: Terrace Bar & Bistro, Art Series The Cullen, 161 Commercial Road, Prahran

L had a rib eye with red wine gravy ($35) but had to order sides separately, so she went for the huge mound of buttery mashed potato. Main course meats or fish that come with nothing are a personal pet peeve of mine, but I know it is very common practice.

P1050826v1 NOT: Terrace Bar & Bistro, Art Series The Cullen, 161 Commercial Road, Prahran

The baby roast chicken looked the most appetising of the bunch but the meat was a little bit too dry and the plate was drenched with too much oil for J.

We shared an impressively large bowl of fries ($8) with tomato sauce and aioli which unfortunately consisted of mostly soggy chips. I hate soggy chips.

The Terrace Bar & Bistro was pleasant enough but left no real impression on me such that I would be hungering to return, telling you all about my amazing time there. I’m sure many others will disagree with me and tell me how great their pizzas are or their chocolate pudding or whatever, but it just drives a path that’s too safe for my personal preference. It’s arguable that my impression was coloured by the kind of dishes we ordered, but honestly our choices were very typical of the kind of food on offer generally. Just call me a food snob for that night! Meh.

minilink NOT: Terrace Bar & Bistro, Art Series The Cullen, 161 Commercial Road, Prahran

HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, David’s Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

DSC05178v1 HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

What’s the best antidote for coldest day in Melbourne in 10 years? Why, bunkering down for dinner at David’s Restaurant in Prahran.

Thanks to David’s, RM and I, along with some other journos and the lucky winners of a Herald Sun competition, were invited to chat and dine with David Zhou, owner of David’s Restaurant and the Oriental Tea House, to celebrate the restaurant’s Winter Menu. Over several hours, we were treated to five delicious courses of traditional Shanghaiese dishes, a particular thrill since RM and I had only recently returned from eating very well in Shanghai and China generally.

DSC05186v1 HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

First up, Double Boiled Chicken Soup. While my murky photo doesn’t do the soup justice, it was a very nourishing concoction of the kind my mum or grandmother would make, consisting of shredded chicken combined with wolfberries and bamboo shoots. Apparently it helps strengthen the immune system, an important side benefit for the onset of winter.

DSC05188v1 HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

Second course was individual steamers of pork siu mai. I’m normally not a huge fan of siu mai as it can often come out as one solid meatball, but these were very nice morsels of juicy pork encased in a thin silken pastry.

DSC05200v1 HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

Third course was a stir fry of shredded Peking duck meat with bean sprouts, shredded carrot and capsicum in sweet plum paste. This was the kind of tasty and hearty dish which was perfect with steamed rice. Though if I’d known what was coming up next I would’ve reduced my intake of rice.

DSC05208v1 HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

DSC05213v1 HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

The piece de resistance, Beggar’s Chicken. This dish is very hard to find in Chinese restaurants in Australia, as it’s time consuming and tricky to execute. The legend goes that a beggar stole a chicken. Chased by officials and with had no stove to cook it on, he wrapped it in leaves and mud and lit a slow underground fire. The fire caused the mud to form a tight clay crust and when the crust was cracked open, a tender aromatic bird was revealed. The beggar began to sell the dish to villagers and a Qing dynasty Emperor was so impressed with the dish that he ordered that Beggar’s Chicken be added to the list of dishes served at the Imperial Court.

DSC05220v1 HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

These days, it’s a marinated chicken stuffed with a fragrant glutinous rice concoction of shrimp, pork shiitake mushrooms, ham, spring onion and carrot, all soaked in the juices from the chicken. The chicken is then wrapped in lotus leaves, bound and encased in a clay crust. This whole chicken (yes,  each person received a whole chicken!) was served with beautifully colourful stir-fried bok choy, broccoli, plump shiitake mushrooms and carrot, which unfortunately had to play second fiddle to that impressive bird. The dish was truly groan-worthy, both in taste and size.

DSC05239v1 HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

Thanks to several pots of David’s specialty tea, we squeezed in the dessert, three fried wontons filled with banana and a smear of red bean paste, dusted with crushed black sesame sugar.

As expected from a one-hat restaurant, the meal was truly delicious. What made the night particularly memorable for me thought was the very interesting conversations with David Zhou. I found that he has a lovely restaurateur’s demeanour – he’s friendly and personable, quick to joke, remembers customers (one of our number had held his birthday party at David’s 10 years ago and David still remembered him!), is attentive to detail and infectiously enthusiastic about Chinese food and culture. In particular, he is extremely knowledgeable about Chinese tea. I was intrigued to hear him speak about the aromas and flavours of tea and the varieties of tea leaves in the same way most people are used to hearing sommeliers speak about the qualities of wine and grapes. If you’re after high quality tea, often with medicinal properties, then after that dinner I am convinced that Oriental Tea House is the place to source it.

The Jetsetting Parents are arriving for another eating fiesta in a few weeks, and I’ve already raved to them about this menu. It’ll be interesting to see whether they’re as impressed with the Beggar’s Chicken as RM and I were.

Thank you to David’s Restaurant for inviting me to the event.

minilink HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

P1050814v1 NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

Bokchoy Tang is a contemporary high-end Chinese restaurant which holds a prime position facing Federation Square and ACMI. The long narrow restaurant is impressively decked out in expensive-looking cabinets and feature tables, and a window table is a pleasant place to bask in the afternoon sun.

I haven’t been to Bokchoy Tang in years and was keen to try their weekend yum cha menu. You can choose between a la carte dim sum and other dishes, or go for a yum cha banquet. Their menu states that they use only free range eggs and poultry, some ingredients are organic and no MSG is used.

Between three people we shared the following items:

Steamed hand-made shao mai of pork, prawn & black fungi ($5.50 for 3). A bit solid and bland for my liking and to be very picky, the dumplings were not exact replicas but were slightly haphazard shapes.

P1050803v1 NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

Northern Chinese spring rolls filled with Beijing duck & garlic chives ($8.50 for 4). This was billed as a Bokchoy Tang speciality and it was disappointing. I liked the idea of crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside, but the filling was again bland and the outside had a thick taro-like texture which I personally don’t enjoy.

P1050791v1 NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

Prawn balls with glutinous rice ($8.50  for 3). A not entirely successful dish consisting of mashed prawn and soft rice. Bland and the overall mushy texture was not very pleasant.

P1050798v1 NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

A tasty pork and prawn fried rice ($12) and great value for $12, although curiously to be plated onto flat ramekins which made it very difficult to eat. It got a bit oily towards the end too but I think that’s just a function of restaurant fried rice, which will inevitably contain more oil than the home-made version.

P1050810v1 NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

San choi bau – wok-fried chicken with finely chopped Chinese vegetables combined with Bokchoy Tang soy sauce & served in a crisp lettuce cup ($8). Nothing particularly remarkable though pretty to look at.

P1050808v1 NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

Poached jiao zi of pork mince, prawn and garlic chives ($12). This lumpish mass was actually the most successful dish for me, as the pastry skin was thick (as per Northern style) without being gluey and the filling was flavoursome. I think a single plate of these with some Jasmine tea would make a good filling lunch.

P1050804v1 NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

To end, egg tarts ($8 for 4). A beautifully flaky pastry holding a soupcon of sweet egg custard. But again, a little too much of an oil slick aftertaste.

P1050813v1 NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

All in all, our experience at Bokchoy Tang wasn’t so terrible that I’d never go back again, but based on our meal I certainly wouldn’t be rushing to recommend it. The setting is very pleasant but every dish, with the exception of the jiao zi and the fried rice, just didn’t quite hit the mark, and the prices are a little higher than usual. If I am to have yum cha in the future I’ll stick to my staple Shark Fin House or for high-end dim sum I’d rather go to David’s.

minilink NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

HOT: The Italian, Level 6, 101 Collins Street, Melbourne

The Italian HOT: The Italian, Level 6, 101 Collins Street, Melbourne

Today we have a post from a new guest blogger, Huy – man about town, fine dining aficionado and on a mission to collect as many Michelin stars as possible. Take it away Huy!

Entering the foyer of 101 Collins Street never fails to take my breath away. Nothing gets my heart racing like water features and walls covered in gold leaf, and this building has both in spades. And tucked in the back of the building towards Flinders Lane is The Italian, a moody, sexy restaurant befitting of this prestigious address.

In terms of design, The Italian is pretty much faultless. I loved the dark wood floors, white linen and soaring double heighted ceilings, and the high backed red leather booths where our party was seated provided some welcomed privacy in the exposed space at the back of the restaurant. The elegant Tolomeo wall lamps that softly lit the booths turned the intimacy dial up a few more notches. All that dyed cow hide and flattering lighting makes this restaurant a superb date place. Not that I have yet lived to find out – I road tested The Italian (on the recommendation of Jetsetting Joyce) with the family.

I like Italian food, but don’t often find myself in Italian restaurants when I dine out. It’s sad, but I have begun to associate Italian food with the slap dash pasta dishes made with dried pasta and Dolmio sauces that have become a staple of my home life diet. You see, I’m male, in my early thirties, single – and I usually want a break from routine when I’m eating out. And so it was a joy to be reminded of the variety, sophistication and plain deliciousness of Italian cooking at The Italian.

I have always found the length of Italian menus laughable and The Italian’s menu continues the tradition of offering so much choice that I was a bit lost about what selections to make. The specials that night threw an additional two starters and three mains into the mix!

This is the point in the review where the wheels come off a little – I cannot remember the details of everything our party of six ate. I do recall that we weren’t particularly hungry and decided to share a few plates of fish topped bruschetta to start. It was heavenly, and a testament to the wonders of what good ingredients can do for a simple dish.

For my main, I had pappardelle with duck and mushrooms (one of the specials) which, despite being over salted, was still a very satisfying melt-in-your-mouth, stewish pasta dish ($26). The rest of the family also enjoyed their mains, with the most vocal praises being heaped on the char-grilled rib eye with shitake and oyster mushrooms ($39) and the grilled Yellowfin tuna with potatoes, asparagus, olives and basil ($37).

Take a hot date to The Italian. Don’t skip the starter because chances are that your date will be so impressed, you’ll probably wind up having “dessert” at home.

minilink HOT: The Italian, Level 6, 101 Collins Street, Melbourne