HOT: Chocolate Buddha giveaway winners!

Thank you to everyone for your entries for the Chocolate Buddha giveaway!

I’ve dipped into the Kitchenaid of Fortune and here are our two winners of a $50 voucher each to dine at Chocolate Buddha:

Gem (Eat Drink Stagger)

    Please send your postal address to to collect your prize and have a great weekend!

    Thanks again to Nuffnang and Chocolate Buddha for sponsoring this giveaway.

    HOT: Singapore Chom Chom, 188 Bourke St, Melbourne

    One advantage of living in a multicultural urban centre like Melbourne is the myriad of opportunities for trying out new cuisine with friends of different ethnic backgrounds who can guide you through the menu maze.

    On my first visit to Singapore Chom Chom, I was glad that S, a Singaporean, was on hand to explain some of the more unusual dishes on the 200+ item menu. S credits Singapore Chom Chom as cooking some of the more authentic Singaporean dishes in Melbourne, with many dishes not available anywhere else.

    With her culinary background, our party of six non-Singaporeans pretty much just let her point out some interesting dishes and resorted to ordering by number. We selected:

    #1 Loh Bak ($8.30) I think meat wrapped in deep fried bean curd? Though it also came with some fried tofu.

    #15 Rojak ($8.80) a cold dish of cucumber.

    #41 Nasi Lemak Special ($9.80) with…um…I can’t really tell. Fried egg? Fish cake? Peanuts? Curry?

    #57 Bah Kut Teh with Rice ($10.80), a pork ribs dish served in a broth. The kind of home-cooked dish that Singaporeans/Malaysians seem to wax lyrical about but not something obviously appetising for me.

    #67 Assam Fish ($10.80), a sour-ish fish dish served with rice.

    #95 Mee Hoon Kueh ($9.50), a kind of hand-torn starchy noodle topped with crunchy fried fish which is time-consuming to make and hence not readily available in restaurants. I’m glad this was my choice, definitely the kind of soup noodle I like.

    #138 A decent Char Kway Teo, though lacking a bit of variety in colour in my view ($9.30).

    Washed down with some sweet barley water, a Kickapoo ‘the original joy juice’ (like a lemon squash with a cool name), Sarsi sarsparilla and my childhood favourite, Yeo’s chrysathenum tea.

    It was a hearty and super-cheap meal, coming to a grand total of about $18 per head. I’d definitely return to try more dishes, but only on recommendation – I don’t feel confident enough navigating that menu on my own  and I certainly don’t want to be lumped with Westernised Singaporean food!

    To read more reviews, try Addictive & Consuming. For more cheap Asian eats nearby, try Izakaya Hachibeh (Japanese), The Grand BBQ (Cantonese) or Ghin Khao (Thai).
    Singapore Chom Chom on Urbanspoon

    HOT: Stellini Bar, 198 Little Collins St, Melbourne

    Stellini Bar is small, buzzy and crowded eatery dropped in straight from Milano and filled with office workers and uni students alike.

    As you’d expect from the owners of The Mess Hall, it serves ready-made sandwiches, piadinas, calzone and easy Italian favourites, 7 days a week from breakfast till late. There is also an unexpectedly broad selection of dainty homemade sweet treats in the glass cabinet, ranging from biscotti to berry cheesecake to chocolate and walnut brownies.

    I headed there at lunch time with the sole purpose of trying out their pork and fennel lasagna (with insalata mixta, $15.50). I manage to squeeze myself onto the marble-topped bar as the small tables and the central communal table were all full to the brim. Waiters rushed around, the tiny kitchen was frantic and conversation volumes were high. All in all, a comfortable place for a solo lunch.

    My lasagna came out quickly accompanied with a large handful of super-fresh salad and a huge bread roll. It was a perfect for a wintery lunch – soft melting bechamel squeezed between pasta sheets, fresh tomato sugo and just enough meat for depth of flavour. I normally eat side salads out of duty, but the super-fresh collection of rocket, fennel, cherry tomatoes and carrot was crunchy, crispy and cleansing.

    The large plate left me no room for dessert. As the waitress took away my plate she said ‘you didn’t have the bread?’. I blinked. ‘Um…I’m quite full actually.’ She replied ‘Oh, it’s really good bread….but I’m not going to make you eat it’ – by which point I was gesturing for her to return the bread plate to me.

    So the meal ended with my pulling apart a lovely chewy bread roll. Talk about carb-loading.

    I liked the atmosphere and the food at Stellini Bar so much I’ve already earmarked what I’m having on my next visit. Warm pearl cous cous salad with poached chicken…or maybe the aracini…hmmm polenta chips…and definitely tiramisu.

    • Stellini Bar, 198 Little Collins St, Melbourne +61 3 9654 5074

    Stellini Bar on Urbanspoon

    HOT: Chocolate Buddha, Federation Square, Melbourne

    Sponsored by Nuffnang

    When Federation Square first opened back in 2002, Chocolate Buddha was the hottest place to eat and drink. It was the first of the communal Japanese dining halls in Melbourne (before the advent of places like Wagamama) and at night there were queues for the rows of communal tables and bar area.

    Over the years, the fickle Melbourne restaurant crowd has gone to chase the tails of other hot new restaurants, but Chocolate Buddha has remained busy  – now from what I can tell mainly from domestic tourists and families. And so it should. The large restaurant holds prime position in one of Melbourne’s most iconic spaces, with uninterrupted views of the big screens from the outside tables and a light-filled dining room serving quick and easy Japanese food.

    On a Saturday afternoon, the place was swinging with hungry visitors ending their trip to the Tim Burton exhibition at ACMI and the NGV Australia’s Ian Potter Centre. Chocolate Buddha presents a non-intimidating atmosphere and familiar favourites menu for those who are not looking for haute Japanese cuisine. For that reason I think it’s particularly well suited for urbane kids who are used to eating, or are up for being introduced to, sushi, sashimi, yakitori, ramen and donburi. The communal tables make the restaurant noisy and convivial and there are lots of decorative elements to look at, such as the row of Buddhas that give the restaurant its name, making it the perfect the space for families.

    The menu has been revamped beyond the original paper menu placemats featuring rice and noodle dishes. There is now a sushi and sashimi selection (with the fresh slabs of fish presented uncut in a glass case, very encouraging), noodles, donburi and most impressively, a whole page of gluten free options. The menu incorporates free range eggs and beef and organic chicken.

    RM and I decided to sample the Ebi Tempura ($18.80) from the Zensai (light dishes) section, then a Ton Katsu Kare Don ($19.80) and a Bento box ($28.50) consisting of beef skewers (though I requested chicken), nori rolls of the chef’s choice and Tori Tatsuta, all washed down with individual pots of T2 Gen Mai Cha Sencha, green tea with roasted rice ($5 each).

    The Ebi Tempura came out quickly and the king prawns were so huge they were a bit unwieldy when dipped into the fresh ginger, daikon and dashi dipping sauce. The prawns were very fresh although I found the tempura batter to be a bit floury in the centre.

    The Ton Katsu Kare Don was a huge bowl of rice topped with a deep fried panko crumbed pork loin cutlet and vegetables and a liberal ladle of curry sauce. I do not enjoy having my food doused in any sort of sauce so if you’re like me and you’re going to order this dish then I would request half the amount of sauce or to have the sauce on the side (not authentic I know, but so much more pleasant). Japanese curry is very mild and this was a good representation of the dish.

    The Bento box was equally enormous. The chicken yakitori marinated with a sticky mirin-soy sauce was very juicy and perfectly accompanied by the rice. My favourite, however, was the Tori Tatsuta (deep fried ginger and teriyaki chicken pieces) because of the piquancy of the accompanying wasabi mayonnaise. Wasabi mayonnaise can often be a bit wussy and this version’s pleasant kick cut through the batter of the chicken. In contrast, the pumpkin nori rolls were bland – perhaps I would have been better off with the raw fish options.

    Both the Ton Katsu Kare Don and the Bento Box were served with a bowl of steaming miso soup, which really tipped us over the edge with no room to try dessert.

    If you’re visiting an exhibition or gallery at Federation Square, then I recommend Chocolate Buddha as a pleasant location for a meal or tea break. Don’t expect cutting edge dishes or challenging ingredients, but its offering of Japanese staples in a pleasant environment is a cut above some of the other offerings in the vicinity.

    WIN! To be in the running for one of two $50 vouchers for Chocolate Buddha, just leave a comment before 5pm Friday 30 July. The winners will be randomly drawn out of the Kitchenaid of Fortune.

    Thanks to Nuffnang and Chocolate Buddha for inviting us to lunch. The fee for this sponsored post has been donated to STREAT, a social enterprise organisation that runs a mobile food cart at Federation Square.

    Chocolate Buddha on Urbanspoon

    NOT: Crown Metropol, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank

    Today we have a guest post from Foo of the Melbourne-based blog Frugal Foo, which is all about finding great value in food, travel, shopping or anything. Really quite invaluable information, and my favourite posts are Melbourne’s Food Court Underbelly and Where to eat in Melbourne for under $30 a day.

    Foo has written up a review on his recent stay at Crown Metropol…which didn’t quite live up to expectations. Thanks Foo!

    The Crown Entertainment complex (or just “Crown”) has become a living, growing organism, spreading it’s girth and gaining strength each time a new international hotel suckers itself to the main host. The newly opened Crown Metropol hotel is the third international hotel to join this mega entertainment precinct. The bridge across from Metropol’s Whiteman Street address, forms another artery into mother Crown and seals a symbiotic relationship exchanging a vital flow of clientele. On the Crown side of the bridge, the stream of passers-by circulate through yet more shops, cafés and a reborn food court. Mr and Mrs Foo spent a night at Crown Metropol to check it all out.

    The location has a lot going for it. One could easily spend a weekend being fully immersed within the insular world of Crown casino and the adjoining cinema, bars and restaurants, not stepping outdoors even once.

    Crown Metropol Room with a View

    Crown Metropol is a modern hotel. The spacious lobby sets the tone with few frills and an uncomplicated neutral colour scheme. Rich timber veneers and woven wicker textures extend into our room which is a corner suite overlooking Southbank and the bay.

    Toilet with a View

    Gone are the sentimental trappings of yesteryear such as tea and coffee-making facilities, or a fully enclosed private bathroom. This is a hotel for the 21st century. Rooms feature large flat screen TVs, iPod docking stations and motorised curtains. Sliding panels surround the bathroom forming, at best, a semi-private place to answer natures sudden demands. That’s fine if you’re on your own, but honeymooners will receive more information about their new life partner than they may have been expecting so soon in the marriage.

    Bathroom with a View

    On level 27 is the swimming pool, plunge pool, gymnasium and Isika Day Spa. If nothing else, head up there for the views overlooking Melbourne.

    For an extra charge, you may head up to the private lounge on level 28. Here a privileged few will sample drinks and nibbles on winter evenings while gazing over the city skyline. A special “28” button in the ground floor lift lobby suggests a sense of priority befitting top level access. Breakfast is also served on level 28 for those who have opted for the $120 upgrade.

    Sunrise Over Southbank

    In-room dining comes from the kitchen of Maze restaurant downstairs. The menu promises to deliver a Gordon Ramsey experience without leaving your room. And no, that doesn’t mean you’ll be subject to a narcissistic tirade of abuse and bullying.

    The in-room dining service was slow but we were kept informed of progress. My starter, the beetroot and mache salad was simple, inoffensive but a little boring. The beetroot was no different to that which I would pull out of a tin. For main, the rib eye steak served with a béarnaise sauce was better. Some effort had obviously gone into selection of produce before being expertly prepared by a chef at Maze Grill.

    At $8 for a coffee from the in-room dining menu we where beginning to wish the room had instant coffee-making facilities. Curiously, there is an electric jug in the room, but no milk, tea bags, coffee, sugar or cups.

    Gordon Ramsay's Maze Dining Room

    For the great unwashed who don’t have access to level 28, breakfast is served at Maze on Level 1. For $35 you can eat an array of hot, cold, fresh baked and toasted goodies until you explode. It’s standard fare for a hotel like this. There is no chef assigned to cooking eggs to order, but all manner of eggs are readily available from the servery scrambled, poached or fried. I also recommend the smoked salmon.

    Crown Metropol Cold Breakfast

    Crown Metropol Hot Breakfast

    Coffee is delivered to the table in a plunger ready to poor. Not that I mind filtered or plunger coffee, I have become accustomed to it on my travels at three star bed and breakfasts, but this was Crown Metropol. We asked the waiter about the possibility of a cappuccino, and after a perceptible nanosecond of inner deliberation, he explained that there would be a good 15 minute wait. Perhaps the barista was busy with orders from the level 28 set. Not wanting to create a fuss we settled for the plunger coffee as I’m sure most other level-oners who know their place would do.

    Checking out is not a quick process on this Sunday morning at the Crown Metropol. The lifts at that time of morning are all full. At least one lift was not in operation while others seemed to linger endlessly at other floors. There are long queues at reception for check out. Express checkout is a better alternative.

    As a romantic night away, or for a special occasion, Crown Metropol is NOT sizzling hot.  I have not given it a HOT rating since I don’t think it stands out as above average for the price I paid.  There’s just no soul here – nothing to make you feel like you have stepped out of ordinary life and into a world of indulgence.  Bathrooms need to be private and in this country tea and coffee-making facilities are standard even in the most basic motels.

    Crown Metropol does recover some respectability with its functional approach toward the overall experience.  Customer service is efficiently delivered to a formula. Perhaps you might consider the Crown Metropol as a convenient place to stay in Melbourne if you can snatch a good last-minute deal from the likes of WOTIF.COM and if your favourite colour is brown.

    HOT: Liaison Cafe, Monaco House, 22 Ridgway Place, Melbourne

    I must be the only food blogger, nay the only Melburnian, who doesn’t drink coffee.

    Sometimes it can really hinder the completeness of my reviews, especially when I go to a place that specialises in coffee, like Liasion. Liasion is the sixth cafe run by Danny Colls of Cafe Racer fame, and from what I could tell, in the morning everyone heads there for their first coffee before heading to the office. There’s really no sit-down breakfast menu to speak of other than Danish pastries, toast and muesli.

    I perched myself at the high window bench and ordered a muesli with yoghurt and fruit ($11), a lovely toasted concoction of large whole nuts. With no coffee for me, Danny suggested I try a glass of chai ($4) ‘the best chai you’ll ever have’. Well, it was very creamy and fragrant and made with brewed tea, not powder. Definitely one of the most comforting cups of chai I’ve tried.

    I liked the cosy atmosphere of the cafe housed in the crazy jagged Monaco House, from the U-shaped bench surrounding the coffee machine, the Urban Crop tulips suspended from the ceiling and red Perspex figures designed and made by Danny – to represent that Liasion welcomes all people from all walks of life.

    Coincidentally I ran into Suzanne from Essjayeats lining up for her coffee. She told me that she goes to Liasion for its consistency – Danny makes every coffee and as a result he knows the orders of his regular customers very well. Apparently if he’s sick or away, the cafe closes. That kind of dedication to quality is very admirable.

    For more details about the actual coffee-drinking at Liasion, check out Melbourne Gastronome.

    Liaison Cafe on Urbanspoon

    HOT: Ladro, 224 Gertrude St, Fitzroy

    Ladro was one of the restaurants at the forefront of the designer pizza craze that swept through Melbourne about 5 years ago. It’s still going strong despite the departure of one of the original owners/chefs Rita Macali (who’s sprouted another pizza joint called Supermaxi in North Fitzroy), expanding to a new outpost in Prahran recently.

    I literally haven’t been to Ladro since it was the hottest place around town and nigh on impossible to get a table in the tightly-packed brushed concrete room. Fortunately the crowds have eased a little (although definitely still bustling) and they’ve branched out into cosy back courtyard seating.

    Our party of 6 met up for dinner on Sunday night with a 730 booking and we couldn’t actually sit down until 730pm as the table needed to be turned. Testament to the restaurant’s continuing popularity.

    Naturally you go to a pizza joint to eat pizza. Unfortunately I’d completely forgotten that J was gluten intolerant and thus he was relegated to eating a good but not-very-exciting rib eye ($34) while the rest of us dug into the starring items. J was surprised that they didn’t offer a gluten-free pizza base, and based on his experience do not go to Ladro if you can’t eat wheat pizza bases. Sorry J! Ladro now offer gluten-free bases!

    As for the rest of us, we chose a pizza each – the famous Babading with provolone, pork sausage, oregano, fresh chilli, basil ($20.50), Boscaiola with fior di latte, porcini, field mushrooms and thyme ($21.50), classic salami with tomato, mozzarella and basil and requested extra topping of olives ($20) and sardine pizza (sorry no price). Everyone had slightly different food likes/dislikes so we decided not to share, and for me this was a tactical error.

    The wood-fired pizzas are very large and while I enjoyed the thin, chewy, bubbly and misshapen crusts and my salty sardine hits, it was super boring to eat a 20cm round of the same thing –I found myself just feeding pizza into my mouth mindlessly towards the end.  My parents have always intoned the very sensible Chinese proverb to me – the more you eat, the less flavour; the less you eat, the more flavour – and it was certainly true in this case as my taste buds went to sleep after about the third slice.

    I know lots of people are very protective about their own serves of food and being Asian could explain my aversion to non-sharing, but I think everyone should learn to share pizza too, if only for portion control!

    Anyway, the second tactical error was possibly having dessert. Lordy we were way too full after individual pizzas to be eating more, but those Bombolini with vanilla ice cream and blood orange syrup ($11) just sounded so darn appetising. And they were. Fried doughnuts dusted with sugar, filled with chocolate custard and paired with icecream slicked with blood orange syrup. Delicious! And only a little sickening after I hoisted myself up from my chair.

    Service was a bit slow as the restaurant was busy and the staff looked a bit overrun, but we didn’t mind too much as we continued our conversations.

    I’m not willing to call myself an aficionado of pizza so I can’t really say whether Ladro produces the best in Melbourne. I do think that their upmarket pizzas are still as good as I remembered and it’s so close to my house that it’s definitely worth returning. Next time though I’m entering with a better strategy – definitely not one single pizza per person and saving enough room comfortably for those delicious bombolini again.

    • Ladro, 224 Gertrude St, Fitzroy +61 3 9415 7575

    Ladro on Urbanspoon

    HOT Chat: Bec van der Sluys of Curious Kate

    Some of you may already know Curious Kate, but for those who don’t it’s a sweet weekly newsletter headed by Bec van der Sluys about all that’s cool, interesting, and of course curious about Melbourne for the week.  I think it’s a little Michi, a bit ThreeThousand. Thanks Bec!

    Bec, tell me a bit more about your background and how you came to write Curious Kate?

    I have business degree majoring in marketing and have worked in hospitality, event management and retail, amongst various other roles. I have also travelled extensively and wanted to incorporate all my skills and my curious nature in an online business.

    Curious Kate was developed when I recognised a gap in the market for an eNewsletter that was informative, different and catered for women and men not only in their 20s but in their 30s and beyond.

    Curious Kate also includes Harriet, a lovely girl in her 20s studying to be an actress who works on Curious Kate in her spare time. I work with her because she brings a younger knowledge and depth to the Curious Kate posts by enabling us to cover a wider selection of information. She has her finger on the pulse! She shares the same values and ideas as me and we have the same taste, so it works well.

    What is the philosophy of Curious Kate and how do you decide what curiosities to feature every week?

    There is certainly a random nature to Curious Kate‘s curiosities. We wanted to drop any pretence and find interesting and different things to feature. We like hearing from all sorts of people and if their event or product or website is relevant to our subscribers, then we’ll feature it. Harriet and I generally split the curiosities work load.

    The Curious Kate website contains some original hand drawn artwork from Melbourne based artist Eveline Tarunadjaja. How did you find Eveline?

    Eveline was recommend by a friend whom was doing some graphic design work for. I had also seen her work featured in Frankie magazine and thought she’d be the perfect fit for the Curious Kate concept.

    What are your next plans for Curious Kate?

    We are building an online directory to list and feature our curiosities and other relevant people and businesses. This will help our subscribers easily find things they are looking for and help the people and companies we feature to promote their businesses and assist in their Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) campaigns. We are going to make this national rather than Melbourne/Victoria centric and hope to roll out targeted newsletters to each state in Australia.

    Out of all the Curious Kate curiosities, what are your favourite places to visit or things to do in Melbourne?

    My favourite place to shop is at Katani (330 Beaconsfield Parade, St Kilda Cnr Pier Rd 1300KATANI), recently opened last summer, they have a great range of labels, accessories & beach lifestyle products. Located right on the beach, the view is awesome and the staff are friendly and helpful; they also run a kiteboarding school.

    Next to Katani, in the same building is West Beach Bathers Pavilion (330 Beaconsfield Parade, St Kilda Cnr Pier Rd +9593 8833), a great place to grab a bite to eat for breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea. It has a totally different perspective of West Beach, St Kilda and Melbourne. A relaxed atmosphere where you can relax and chill out with friends.

    For more chats with interesting Melburnians, click here.

    HOT: The Cupcake Bakery, Cnr Flinders Lane and Elizabeth St, Melbourne

    Where can one find the best cupcakes in Melbourne?

    This is a question which seems to occupy a lot of space on places like the Vogue forums, and the opinions are wide-ranging and strongly held.

    I don’t really have anything to contribute to the debate as frankly, I think the best cupcakes in Melbourne come from my kitchen, courtesy of the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. But failing that, I think the cupcakes made at The Cupcake Bakery rank pretty well.

    Red velvet cupcakes are my favourite flavour and The Cupcake Bakery‘s version consists of a moist chocolate sponge, just the right amount of not-too-sweet cream cheese icing and a pretty sugared red heart ornament ($3.80 each).

    I first popped into the The Cupcake Bakery to check out their wares after I decided to give each guest at my launch party for CycleStyle a little cupcake thank you.  They sure know how to feature their goods well, luring passersby with a window of neat cake shelves and tiers of sugary treats styled artfully on pastel stands. It’s dangerously close to my work, but except for that one occasion I’ve manage to resist its charms by averting my eyes away from the marching rows of cupcakes.

    The ladies at The Cupcake Bakery on Flinders Lane were great to deal with for my bulk order of 3.5 dozen boxed cupcakes ($42 per dozen, $0.50 per box). For the Saturday party I placed my order on the Wednesday before, paid the money, they measured out the size of the ribbon that I needed to secure the boxes and the cakes were boxed and ready for pickup Saturday morning, no fuss.

    Best of all, the little gift surprised and delighted my guests. Oh and I had leftovers from the party, so I can attest that the cakes hold up well even after being in the fridge for a few days and later defrosted from the freezer.

    The Cupcake Bakery on Urbanspoon

    NOT: Jolimont Expresso, Federation Square, Melbourne

    I think that Melbourne has an amazing cafe dining scene. So when I encounter a below-par cafe, it makes me wonder how they are able to survive with the above-average level of competition and a clientele of highly discerning diners.

    What’s even more surprising is that Jolimont Expresso (why not espresso?) is busy. The city is chock full of wonderful places to eat and drink, yet we had trouble finding a free table on a Saturday afternoon. Is it because it’s in Federation Square and mainly caters for tourists and a captive audience of gallery visitors? I have no idea, but I’d rate my lunch there as one of the worst in recent memory.

    I met up with K and B for a quick lunch stop and between us we ordered two serves of poached eggs with various accompaniments (all day breakfast menu) and for myself warm felafel with toasted bread and homemade dips.

    I was too shy to take photos of K and B’s food (they’re not used to my blogging habits yet) but the general consensus was that the eggs were not bad but the toast was soggy and generally the dish left a lot to be desired.

    My felafels were dry crumbly nuggets of compacted grain, as hard as golf balls and about as appetising. The toasted bread consisted of two hard slices of baguette and a dry pita pocket, of the kind normally found in supermarket bakeries in packs of 8. The homemade dips were avocado (the best thing on the whole plate) and some sour cream and sweet tomato sauce swirled concoction, a condiment you would’ve expected to see at a 50s dinner party. I pushed it aside and gamely continued choking down a pita pocket filled with avocado, the salad and a few crumbled up bits of felafel golf ball just so I could get some protein into my hungry belly.

    Spending $15 on a half-eaten plate left a bitter taste in my mouth. If you’re in Federation Square and in need of a quick feed, please do yourself a favour and avoid Jolimont Expresso – leave it to the poor unwary tourists.

    Jolimont Expresso on Urbanspoon