HOT: Neapoli, 30 Russell Place, Melbourne

neapoli melbourne

Neapoli is an all day eatery in Collins Street Melbourne that is many things to many people.

neapoli melbourne

By day, a cosy cafe and meeting place for nearby office workers (who particularly like the big boardroom table upstairs). By night, a sexy wine bar with interesting food to share.

neapoli melbourne

I visited on shadowy winter’s morning and the ambience was just right for the weather – dimly lit and with hidden corners for a quiet tete-a-tete. I loved Neapoli’s curving oak bar with leather stools but decided I wanted to sit somewhere less conspicuous and headed upstairs.

neapoli melbourne

Both levels benefited from the light glinting off the glorious black-framed curved wall of glass which fronted onto the terrace.

neapoli melbourne

For easy navigation the breakfast menu was divided into fruits and grains, toast and bagels and eggs, plus a range of sides. I decided to start with and egg and bacon bagel with tomato relish ($12.50) mainly because the menu boasted that the bagels were steamed and baked in house.

neapoli melbourne

The dish was possibly the most beautiful version of an egg and bacon butty I’ve seen. One barely fried egg, a generous slice of bacon, a festive frill of baby spinach leaves and a slick of sauce opened up between two crusty slices. The texture of the bagel itself was quite interesting – not quite the chewy, Eastern European variety I’m used to but more of a bready, almost brioche-like cakiness to it. Even if it wasn’t an authentic bagel it was delicious.

neapoli melbourne

Based on the successful bread venture I decided to try the banana pancakes too ($15). These were gorgeous fluffy discs with a crisp border presumably created by an egg ring. The three pancakes were topped with a classic combination of banana and maple syrup. Unbeatable.

A glance at the vast lunch and dinner menu invites to return – it’s a list of old-school Italian favourites and unexpected segues into Greek, Thai and Mexican cuisine. I love the idea of all day dining too, as often I find myself eating lunch at 11am and dinner at 5pm these days.

Neapoli epitomises the best of alleyway dining in Melbourne – a culinary destination that’s relaxed yet sophisticated, the perfect place to read the papers solo or enjoy long boozy chats with friends.

Neapoli, 30 Russell Place Melbourne +61 3 9650 5020

Mon – Fri / 7am to late

Sat – Sun / 8am – late

Neapoli on Urbanspoon

HOT: Ruyi, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne

ruyi

At first glance Ruyi looks and sounds like a Japanese restaurant. Its laneway windows display  blond wood furniture, handmade ash and concrete light fittings (from France), white tiling and small gold details. The Japanese-style aesthetic continues with the custom handmade crockery by Melbourne ceramic artist Andrei Davidoff.

ruyi

But this cool, serene laneway restaurant is actually a modern Chinese restaurant. It serves mostly Cantonese favourites, with some Sichuan and Shanghai dishes thrown into the mix.

ruyi

We visited on a weekday lunch when it was fairly empty. A shame because their set lunch menu of $18 is great value and you’ll definitely come out full. Not to mention soothed by the quiet and subtle interior and the friendly service.

ruyi

The two of us shared one $18 set menu and one $35 set menu, which included some overlapping dishes. First up was the soup of the day fragrant duck and tofu broth, with tangles of eggwhite swirled throughout. It was warming and hearty without being heavy and flavours of all the various elements shone through.

ruyi

From the $18 menu came one ‘bao bao’ with a curious combination of chicken, mayonnaise and coriander. The bao itself was feather-light marshmallow so on balance still a winner.

ruyi

From the $35 menu came the lettuce cup with a choice of waygu, chicken, seafood or vegetarian fillings. The frilled lettuce leaf was daintily presented in a specialist egg-cup style plate and the filling was on the verge of being too soggy – but overall not bad.

ruyi

Back to the $18 menu came some fried chicken wings. They looked blackened and burnt but in fact the crust had retained the juiciness of the meat and they were an unexpected highlight of our meal.

ruyi

Another highlight were the handmade chilli wontons, fat slippery parcels in a soy and vinegar based broth. They were not just stodgy meatballs wrapped in dough but elegant parcels of pork and prawn and our waitress advised us to scoop the leftover sauce onto our bowls of steamed rice.

ruyi

Our least favourite dish were the thickset, heavy pan fried pork and chive dumplings, a stark contrast to the lightness of the wontons.

ruyi

The main course from the $35 menu was a choice of kung pao chicken, citrus pork, oyster beef steak or vegetarian. Our kung pao chicken was not overly fried and not too sweet or sour. But without the numbing heat of Sichuan peppercorns it detracted from the authenticity of the dish, so I’d describe it as a lightly-flavoured sweet and sour chicken instead.

ruyi

As one of the owners noticed me taking photographs she offered one of their desserts for us to try. We each received a serve of warm sticky rice pudding ($12) with a mound of warm sticky rice, a drizzle of coconut sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream sprinkled with pistachios. It was a dessert that I’d not normally order but it was very good – not too sweet thanks to the relatively bland rice and a playful contrast between hot and cold on the plate. My only gripe would be that the ice cream could have been better quality – no evidence of vanilla beans in the making of the commercial product that I could see.

Overall we really enjoyed our lunch at Ruyi. The Hecker Guthrie decor is to die for – a polished Scandinavian palate with hints of warmth and lots of beautiful little details. Everything has a feeling of being handcrafted and handmade and its a space that’s obviously been built with love. The food was just as well presented and included many familiar Chinese dishes done without fluorescent artificial colours, excess grease and throat-drying MSG. Ruyi is a refined experience and a fresh take on our traditional perceptions of Chinese food in Australia.

Ruyi, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne 03 9090 7778

Monday – Wednesday 12:00pm-3:00pm, 6:00pm-10:00pm

Thursday – Friday 12:00pm-11:00pm

Saturday 6:00pm-11:30pm

Sunday CLOSED

Ruyi on Urbanspoon

HOT: High Coffee, The Waiting Room at Crown Towers, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank

waiting room high tea

If you’re lucky enough not to work Monday-Friday then quickstep to The Waiting Room at Crown Towers, where they are offering their twist on high tea – ‘High Coffee’ – for only $40 per person on weekdays.

The Waiting Room is the lobby bar of Crown Towers and it is the exact opposite of a sterile doctor’s waiting room. In fact, it’s opulent Art Deco meets glamorous disco-fabulous, sort of like the Baz Luhrmann version of The Great Gatsby.

The Waiting Room is open from 6:30am to late for snacks and drinks and afternoon tea is served daily from 12pm-5pm. I was invited to try their new ‘High Coffee’ menu which highlights Vittoria coffee as the drink of choice rather than traditional tea.

waiting room high tea

In fact, other than the fact that the delicacies were presented on a three tier stand, nothing was particularly traditional about this afternoon tea. For starters, the stand was a glossy Art Deco mirrored square shape, unlike any other cake stand I’ve seen at other high tea venues.

waiting room high tea

The food was all classic with a twist. There were four savoury sandwiches to choose from, with my favourite being the smoked salmon and herb crepe roulade.

waiting room high tea

The next level was of hot savouries – creamy crab and leek tarts and fluffy ham and cheese croquettes.

waiting room high tea

The desserts were just as dazzling – all beautifully presented and very inventive. My favourites included the bittersweet chocolate glazed éclair with espresso cream and the chocolate and Nutella layered cream cake (notice the chocolate theme?) while I didn’t particularly enjoy the tartness of the vanilla vodka jellies with sour cherries and basil seeds. Applause for creativity though!

waiting room high tea

Only after hoovering through the three tiers did I realise I should have saved room for scones! Both plain and raising buttermilk scones were offered, cuddled in a nest of napkins to keep them toasty warm. Delicious slathered with clotted cream and homemade jam.

waiting room high tea

Apparently sorbet is a usual ending of High Coffee but I had to depart before I could try the burnt caramel and pear sorbet. Probably a good thing too as I had to cycle home!

Don’t worry, if you’re not a coffee drinker The Waiting Room’s High Coffee can be served with Jing Tea, Vittoria Coffee or a flute of sparkling wine. You can also choose to pay extra and have a liqueur coffee or a signature coffee cocktail from The Waiting Room’s drinks list.

I think The Waiting Room at Crown Towers provides one of the best afternoon tea food offerings in Melbourne. For $40 you won’t find many high teas of such a high standard, with so much food, for a similar price. If you want seclusion then there are dark nooks to hide in within The Waiting Room though I think its location means it’s a fantastic opportunity for watching the comings and goings of the Crown Towers Hotel – you might even spot a celeb or two!

The Waiting Room High Coffee, Crown Towers lobby, Ground Floor, +61 3 9292 5777

Weekdays 6.30am – late

Weekends 10.30am – late

High Coffee available weekdays from $40 per person until 31 July. Bookings recommended.

The Waiting Room on Urbanspoon

HOT: Isabella’s at Rochford Wines, 878-880 Maroondah Hwy, Coldstream

rochford winery
The Yarra Valley is one of the favourite destinations for Melburnians in search of a country drive and I always like to combine a day trip there with a delicious long lunch.

On my most recent excursion to Coldstream I visited Isabella’s at stunning Rochfords Wines with an invitation to try their new autumn menu by head chef Ciaran Butler.

The restaurant is enormous but is divided into a bar, cafe and restaurant. All the windows are floor to ceiling and offer panaromic views of the vineyards and the surrounding countryside. Ask for a window view if you can!

rochford winery

At lunch time Isabella’s offer a la carte as well as a two course ($55) or three course ($63) lunch where you can choose your dishes. We opted for the two course option – it was an easy decision as none of the five entrees particularly appealed to me but many of the desserts did! So we started off with oven baked fillet of salmon with Port Phillip Bay mussels and local Mallard confit duck leg with smoked duck breast.

rochford winery

On first glance both portions were very large and artistically presented. My fish was cooked right to the point of doneness, so it was still juicy and not dry and flaky. The delicate Rochford Chardonnay Marinières sauce was frothy and lightly fragrant and balanced well with the delicacy of the fish. I also enjoyed the detail of the potato ‘stones’ – potatoes boiled or steamed and coated with fine grey ash. My only very minor quibble was that the skin of the ocean trout was not crispy and I think it was intended to be, but all the other elements were excellent and outweighed this detail.

rochford winery

Both cuts of the duck was also cooked perfectly to retain the moisture of the rich meat with no hint of stringy dryness. The confit leg in particular forked off the bone with little effort. The accompanying pickled red cabbage was unexpectedly sweet due to the addition of blackberries and its rich burgundy hue gave the dish a luxurious look.

My highlight was the dessert. RM’s ‘Death by chocolate’ was described as chocolate sponge, Belgium chocolate ganache, griottine cherries, hazelnut praline powder. What appeared was a moderately small slice of rich chocolate delice scattered with berries. A delicious but fairly run of the mill ‘fine-dining’ chocolate dessert.

Isabella’s at Rochfords Wines, 878-880 Maroondah Hwy, Coldstream (8)

In contrast, my tiramisu could have easily been a dessert for two or three people and the presentation of it in a flower pot was cleverly whimsical. The contents of the terracotta pot were just as delightful – marsala soaked sponge, lashings of mascarpone and a top layer of chocolate ‘soil’ to lend textural interest to the mix. I think the tiramisu in a pot is, or will become, a signature dish!

rochford winery

Our experience at Isabella’s at Rochford Wines was excellent, from the food to the service to the ambience. To work off your lunch you have a ramble in the vines or do some shopping in the cellar door and produce store of local goods.

rochford winery

It’s a great stopping point for a day out in the Yarra Valley which affords scenic skylines, fresh air and great wines just an hour from Melbourne.

Isabella’s at Rochford Wines, 878-880 Maroondah Hwy, Coldstream 03 5962 2119

Open 7 days
Cellar Door: 9am – 5pm
Isabella’s: 9am – 5pm every day
9am – 10pm Saturday

Rochford Winery Restaurant on Urbanspoon

HOT: Romulus and Remus, 648 Bridge Road, Richmond

romulus remus richmond

Romulus and Remus are characters from Roman mythology – which quickly gives you an idea of the kind of cuisine you can expect from this restaurant in Bridge Road Richmond.

I was invited to sample some items from their broadly Italian menu which is all about ‘modern day feasting’. This translates to sharing plates, hearty food, generous serves and convivial surroundings.

If you didn’t know that Romulus and Remus was there it’d easy to miss. While Bridge Road is renowned as a shopping strip there are not the kind of shops or restaurants to invite foot traffic down the bottom end of Bridge Road before it crosses the Yarra.

romulus remus richmond

romulus remus richmond

Romulus and Remus is open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week. You can choose to sit at the bar (where there are a selection of beers pouring from the custom made glistening copper taps), take a curvaceous booth for a romantic date or draw a chair at one of the super-long communal tables for a long lunch.

romulus remus richmond

I particularly liked the square planter boxes turned tables which basked in the sun’s rays and through which spindly olive trees grew. On the other hand the moody private dining room for 12-14 diners evoked a breezy autumn, with wheat sheafs as a decorative feature and a huge photograph of a golden tree overlooking the table.

romulus remus richmond

The head chef Matt English has worked in various Italian restaurants around town and the menu lists fuss-free, traditional Italian food. I tried one of the signature dishes, crispy gnocchi served on a pea puree with chorizo, goat’s cheese, drizzled with truffle oil ($25).

romulus remus richmond

The pan-frying created a crisp little outer shell on each fluffy nugget – I’ll never eat boiled gnocchi again. The classic pairing of peas and chorizo made this a very satisfying and hearty dish for an autumn day, all at a very reasonable price point. The only very minor quibble was that I couldn’t really discern any aroma or flavours of truffle present with the truffle oil.

romulus remus richmond

I was also offered a heaving platter of salumi, freshly sliced from the shiny cabinet ($26 for 3). Most of the salumi is imported from Italy while the antipasti is marinated in-house – together with some crusty bread you really can’t go wrong.

romulus remus richmond

The menu also includes pizza, main dishes and large cuts of meat to be shared, such as a whole suckling pig for 10-12 people. The darling little cakes in the cabinet come from nearby Humble Patisserie in Hawthorn.

romulus remus richmond

The experience I had at Romulus and Remus makes me hope that they can make a go of the huge industrial space that they’ve inhabited (which used to be an indoor golf range!). There’s something for every Italianophile there. So bring your appetite for the feast!

Romulus and Remus, 648 Bridge Road Richmond (03) 9429 3042

Mon to Thurs 12pm-10pm
Fri to Sun 12pm-10.30pm

Romulus & Remus on Urbanspoon

 

HOT: Éclair Affair High Tea, Lobby Lounge, The Westin Melbourne, 250 Collins St, Melbourne

westin melbourne high tea

Melbourne offers a high tea option for just about every sweet desire and The Westin Melbourne has just launched an afternoon tea service which pays homage to buttery, fluffy, choux pastry – it’s an Eclair Affair!

I was invited to sample Éclair Affair and settled myself into a fat leather chair one sunny afternoon while I watched the passing parade of Collins Street in the clubby feel of the Lobby Lounge.

Every season The Westin Melbourne changes its high tea menu and for autumn it’s all about these delicate Parisian treats. What you receive are eclairs as the sweet nibbles most of us are familiar with – but then you also have savoury fillings sandwiched the eclairs.- well, instead of sandwiches.

westin melbourne high tea

No high tea would be complete with scones. Here you receive two – one vanilla bean and one fruit – with cream and strawberry jam. All of it comes out beautifully presented in an Art Deco inspired three tiered stand.

Westin Melbourne high tea

The high tea comes with a choice of a glass of Domain Chandon, or a Vittoria coffee, hot chocolate or Jing tea. Having cycled to the venue (and had my bike valet parked!) I opted for a tall glass of ice tea sweetened with lychee, a refreshing counterpoint to the treats on offer with its delicate flavours.

westin melbourne high tea

Out of the five savoury eclairs my favourite were the more simple options – goats cheese with basil pesto and Ham, comte cheese, confit tomato and Dijon aioli – as I felt that they paired better with the delicate choux pastry.

westin melbourne high tea

As for the sweet options they ranged from a very sweet strawberry and lime to a delightfully bitter chocolate caramel and the almost savoury pistachio and fig.

The Éclair Affair High Tea at The Westin Melbourne is on until June 30. It’s a charming afternoon tea with a Parisian twist and if you like pastry this is the place to indulge!

Éclair Affair, Lobby Lounge, The Westin Melbourne, 205 Collins Street, Melbourne 03 9635 2222

 $49 per person with Vittoria coffee, hot chocolate or Jing tea

 $59 per person with 1 glass of Domaine Chandon, Vittoria coffee, hot chocolate or Jing tea

Available now until June 30.

Lobby Lounge on Urbanspoon

HOT: Charlie Dumpling, 184 High St, Prahran

Charlie Dumpling
Charlie Dumpling
In a former life I used to live around High Street Prahran and there was not much going on there – a dry cleaner, a stationery store,  some furniture shops.

Well, the corner around High Street and Chapel Street has been revamped to become a cool eating and drinking precinct. The latest addition to the casual and funky restaurant strip is Charlie Dumpling. A cool place where you can drink cocktails and eat late night (and lunchtime) dumplings.

I was invited to the launch of Charlie Dumpling. The narrow space was crowded with people holding Mr C Sheen cocktails – a flirty pink mix of gin, watermelon, lime, and agave festooned with perky umbrellas – with one hand and popping toothpicks of dumplings with the other.

Charlie Dumpling

While it’s not all dumplings the menu is all savoury or sweet snacks that you’d have with drinks – so if you’re starving it could get expensive. The dumplings themselves are not authentic – more a modern interpretation of lots of Asian flavours – and the inventive combinations are a trade mark with chef Dylan Roberts (formerly Cutler & Co., Ezard, Claremont Tonic).

Charlie Dumpling, 184 High St, Prahran

So instead of traditional har gao you get a more thickset version stuffed with bamboo shoots and topped with a drizzle of chill oil. Of the non-dumpling options choose the salmon tartare on airy nori crackers which is like eating sushi on a salt and vinegar chip! Extremely moreish.

Charlie Dumpling

The best dumplings of the night was a gyoza wrapping container water spinach and squid. Drizzled with curry leaf kewpie it was spicy and juicy and not a dish you’re likely to find elsewhere.

Charlie Dumpling

For dessert we have mochi filled with a lemon tart sorbet and salted almond caramel. These little orbs of icy tartness were a highlight and spying the other dessert dumplings on the menu (chocolate with raspberry sorbet and doughnut!) my advice is definitely leave room for sweets.

Charlie Dumpling

Charlie Dumpling‘s fitout subtly harks back to South Asian origins – lobster pot lamp shades, bamboo steamers on the shelves and rustic seaside window shutters as a wall feature. If a noisy, crowded Gen Y hangout is not really your scene then try taking a peek upstairs where you’ll find a giant lobster adorning the wall of the private dining room. The room seats 8 and stands up to 28 people and provides a great view of High Street from the tall sash windows.

Charlie Dumpling

Charlie Dumpling will no doubt be very popular given its winning combination of drinks and food – so keep an eye out for their takeaway service, coming soon.

Charlie Dumpling, 184 High St, Prahran 03 9510 4213

Monday 5:30pm-12:00am

Tuesday – Sunday 12:00pm-3:00pm, 5:30pm-12:00am

Charlie Dumpling on Urbanspoon

HOT: David’s Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

David's Prahran

Melbourne’s Lunar New Year festivities are still happening this week so this weekend is a good opportunity to sneak in a last Chinese New Year feast at David’s Prahran.

This bustling ‘Country Shanghai’ Chinese restaurant has great value sharing menus which are perfect for groups of diners and eliminates the need to make difficult decisions from the a la carte menu. We were invited to try the sharing menu, which can be organised for 2, 4, 6 and 8 people – though if you turn up with an odd number (like us – 3 people) then it’s easy for the kitchen to make adjustments by reducing the number of dishes. 

David's Prahran

To start we had gently poached chicken marinated subtly in Chinese rice wine and topped with a handful of edamame. The meat was almost marshmallow soft and the crunchy soy beans provided the dish with some textural contrast. 

David's Prahran

In contrast the other meat entree was a punchy concoction of thinly sliced lamb, dry-fried and tossed with chilli, garlic, spring onions and shredded iceberg lettuce.

Davids Prahran

One of the ‘must-eat’ dishes at David’s is their DIY shredded duck and veggie wrap (their version of Peking Duck), which pairs crispy duck with some delicate rice flour pancakes. I suggest asking for more pancakes as there’s lots of filling to go around and you don’t want to overfill your wrap and make it soggy.

David's Prahran

One of my favourite dishes were the ‘one bit’ soft shell river prawns, a generous earthen bowl full of crispiness tossed in a sweet/sour sauce. The prawns are great on top of rice or just on their own.

Davids Prahran

The other main dishes also paired well with the simple ‘Buddha’s’ fried rice with bok choy and egg as they were more akin to stews.

David's Prahran

Firstly, the ‘country comfort’, a rustic soy-braised dish of pork belly with chat potatoes which is a rib-sticking cold weather dish. Then a classic Chinese dish of cubes of silken tofu brimming with shiitake, button and enoki mushrooms. Other than the mushrooms vegetables come in the form of green soy beans and diced bok choy stir fried with chilli for spice and colour.

David's Prahran

 

For dessert you receive a traditional gelatinous hemisphere of black sticky rice flavoured with osmanthus and red bean. It’s a bit of an acquired taste in terms of its gluey texture as well as the not-quite-sweetness of the red beans. Even though I’m Chinese I can’t say I’m a great fan and it can sit heavily in your  stomach after a large meal.

davids prahran

If you order from the sharing menu at David’s then I guarantee that you won’t be able to finish everything! The sharing menus are $70 for 2 people, $140 for 4 people, $210 for 6 people and $300 for 8 people. Fortunately they are very accommodating with take away containers, making the dinner even better value when you can enjoy leftovers the next day. 

David’s also offer all you can eat $35 yum cha on weekends, another great way to sample lots of dishes and leave with your stomach full, rolling out the door.

David’s Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran +61 3 9529 5199

Mon-Wed 12pm-3pm & 6pm-10pm
Thu 12pm-3pm & 6pm-10.30pm
Fri 12pm-11pm
Sat 11.30am – 11pm
Sun 11.30am-10.30pm

David's on Urbanspoon

HOT: Lee Ho Fook, 92 Smith St, Collingwood


lee ho fook

Happy Year of the Horse! Celebrate Chinese New Year at possibly the hottest Chinese restaurant in Melbourne at the moment – Lee Ho Fook.

When Lee Ho Fook opened in October last year expectations were high as the head chef, Victor Liong, had previously worked at Marque and Mr Wong. Now that the initial hype has died down the small one room restaurant is still going strong.

lee ho fook

The space fits only around 50 people at the bar and on tables and the room is sparsely furnished. There are no dragons or gold leaf in sight – in fact, nothing on the exterior or interior that would really alert you to the fact that it’s a Chinese restaurant, even if you noticed that the shape in the smoked-glass window was a panda.

lee ho fook

The menu is similarly understated with its Chinese origins. Every dish is Chinese-with-a-twist, which didn’t agree with my (Chinese) parents every time but still makes for delicious food. Plus I think what they’ve done with a traditional cuisine is pretty inventive.

We visited Lee Ho Fook with 7 people and when you book for over 6 diners you are forced to order a set 8 courses ($48 per person) or 10 courses ($68). The set menus are a sort of greatest hits selection and when the bill was toted up the set menu was better value than the dinner for two my parents had ordered the night before. We were all big eaters and we didn’t feel you needed the 10 courses to be satisfied.

lee ho fook

To start, we had the ‘Chinese Huxtaburger’ – addictive mini sliders of steamed milk bun skewered with a crispy hunk of candied pork, a slice of salted cucumber and fluffy pork floss.

lee ho fook

The prawn toast was just as awesome, finely minced prawn sprinkled with black sesame and domed over crispy toasts. It was served with some fresh butter which was an unnecessarily rich, Western, ingredient and no one touched it.

lee ho fook

Next up was the raw ocean trout and jellyfish salad served raw. It was an update on a classic Cantonese new year dish with sashimi-grade slices of fish, shredded jellyfish and topped with coleslaw and fried wonton crisps for colour and crunch.

lee ho fook

Another highlight was the crispy skin Shandong Chicken. Shandong chicken is basically crispy skin chicken that has been twice cooked (boiled then deep-fried) and served in a black vinegar, chilli, soy sauce and coriander sauce. It was like Chinese KFC and just as addictive. Crunchy, paper-thin crackled skin covering juicy meat on the bone and served with the classic Shandong dressing.

lee ho fook

More crispness in the form of lamb belly fried with chilli and garlic. A high impact, flavoursome dish perfect with steamed rice but a little too fatty for my liking.

lee ho fook

The best dish of the night for me was actually the most straightforward Cantonese dish that you’ll find in most Chinese restaurants – steamed barramundi with ginger and shallots. What was different here was that the fish was filleted, Western-style, meaning no bones or fins or popping eyes. It was steamed to perfection, with no hint of rubber and with the clean freshness of the seafood enhanced by the aromatics.

lee ho fook

The dessert was the most removed from traditional Chinese fare. Each person received an artistically laid out platter of miniature desserts – a subtle jasmine tea custard with burnt caramel, sort of like an Asian creme brulee, plus osmanthus jelly with a gently sweet white peach sorbet.

Lee Ho Fook is Liong’s first restaurant and it’s a great debut.  It will be moving to new premises in Duckboard Lane, CBD next year. I imagine that rents are higher in the city than in Collingwood (even eat-street Smith Street) so you may find prices will necessary be going up. Just in case, I recommend that you book yourself a seat at Lee Ho Fook before it decamps south.

Lee Ho Fook92 Smith Street, Collingwood (03) 9077 6261

Wed to Thurs 5pm – 11pm
Fri 12pm – 11pm
Sat 5pm – 11pm
Sun 12pm – 11pm

Lee Ho Fook on Urbanspoon

HOT: Public Inn, 165 Barker St, Castlemaine

Public Inn Castlemaine

The frontage of Public Inn Castlemaine is restored gold rush circa 1850s but the inside is now a modern bistro and bar.

The eatery moves from formal to casual seamlessly. You can choose to sit on some drinking chesterfield couches by the fireplace, at the relaxed bistro tables or in the formal restaurant area overlooked by a magnificent wine barrel and stone mosaic wall by local artist Helen Bodycomb. The natural wood/Danish inspired decor creates a calming neutral colour palate.

Public Inn Castlemaine

At lunch time there are several options available at Public Inn. There’s the a la carte lunch menu, a 2 course set menu (available 12-3pm 7 days) and an all-day bar menu of pub favourites from small bites to substantial plates. This makes Public Inn a great all round eating house – especially if you’re trying to find a place open for an early dinner or just want some snacks to match your drinks.

Public Inn Castlemaine

To start we ordered a sharing plate of entrees ($28) consisting of piping hot Istra prosciutto croquettes with a squiggle of creamed sweet corn, mounds of rabbit rillette and my favourite, circlets of smoked Skipton eel wrapped in kaiserfleisch atop some sweet beetroot puree.

Public Inn Castlemaine

To mix it up we then had two courses from the $39 ‘INN and Out’ menu, which included a glass of regional Sangiovese from the barrel wall. The barrel wall is unique because wine is poured directly into goldfields style carafes at various volumes and because the wine is made less than 100 miles from Castlemaine it doesn’t need to be bottled, corked or packaged. They also serve local beer, wine and ciders and on our visit (during a summer heatwave) they even had a spiced radler on top – apparently a refreshing drink sort of like a mix between cider and iced tea.

Public Inn Castlemaine

From the set lunch we picked an entree of turkey breast terrine served with a grape and chilli salsa, dehydrated berry and coriander. The flavours were inventive but the texture of the terrine was too firm for my liking – you could pick up the whole thing with a fork, like a steak.

Public Inn Castlemaine

I much preferred the more classic dish of tender confit of rare Tasmanian farmed Atlantic salmon, served with a blanket of watercress and a shaved citrus and fennel salad.

Public Inn Castlemaine

The highlight of our meal was definitely dessert. Our chocolate plate had three types of chocolate mouse – dark, milk and white – resting on a sprinkling of chocolate soil and crunchy ‘aero’ chunks. One person would have struggled to finish it and it was only $15.

Castlemaine is a great day-trip or mini-break for Melburnians and  I recommend Public Inn for sophisticated dining in a relaxed environment. Because you don’t want to work too hard when you’re dining out on holiday.

Public Inn, 165 Barker St, Castlemaine 03 5472 3568

Open 7 days from 12pm till late

 
Public Inn on Urbanspoon