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

P1050568v1 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).

P1050573v1 HOT: The Cupcake Bakery, Cnr Flinders Lane and Elizabeth St, Melbourne

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.

P1050569v1 HOT: The Cupcake Bakery, Cnr Flinders Lane and Elizabeth St, Melbourne

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.

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

NOT: Jolimont Expresso, Federation Square, Melbourne

P1050847v1 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.

minilink NOT: Jolimont Expresso, Federation Square, Melbourne

HOT Chat: Carley Andrews of Ujamaa Hostel

Today’s HOT Chat is the first time I’m interviewing a Melburnian who actually no longer  lives in Melbourne. Melbourne-born Carley Andrews now lives in Tanzania with her husband, running a hostel focusing on providing volunteer work opportunities. I was inspired to interview her after reading about her new project, a childrens’ home, which she has just started with Melbourne lawyer Lucy Bradlow. Thanks Carley!

IMGP3060v1 HOT Chat: Carley Andrews of Ujamaa Hostel

Carley, tell me a bit more about your background, how you ended up in Arusha, Tanzania and came to run the Ujamaa Hostel?

I first volunteered in Kenya in 2006 and loved the experience, but I went with large company, paid lots of money (none of which went to the project) and was disappointed with the level of support.

A year later I went to Tanzania to volunteer with an independent company, I intended to stay for about a month,  but I never left! I met my husband (who is Tanzanian) when I was volunteering in a town called Moshi, which is about an hour away from where I now live.

We decided to move to Arusha and set up the Ujamaa Hostel because we both love volunteering and helping other people. We also wanted to provide a cost-effective and safe way for others to volunteer in the local community.

What is the philosophy of Ujamaa Hostel?

“Ujamaa” is the Swahili word for “familyhood” and is based on the community working together for the good of the whole. Many of the big companies charge huge amounts of money to volunteer and none of the money goes to the projects. We wanted to change that. We believe that if you spend your money coming here and give your time to help others, then you shouldn’t have to pay to volunteer. And if you have extra money to donate, it should go directly to the projects, not to an off-shore company.

When you volunteer with us the only cost is your accommodation. We spend time sourcing reputable and worthwhile local projects where volunteers can spend their time and we provide them with a range of in-country support.

IMGP3245v1 HOT Chat: Carley Andrews of Ujamaa Hostel

Your first project is the Ujamaa Children’s Home, which you started in conjunction with Melbourne lawyer Lucy Bradlow. What inspired you both to start this project and what is the purpose of the Ujamaa Children’s Home?

I have worked with and managed many projects over the years and have learnt a great deal from these experiences. I have always wanted to create my own project, but I felt that I needed to spend time on the ground here learning the culture and the language before I could effectively run my own project.

I met Lucy when she was working in Arusha at the Rwanda War Crimes Tribunal and she volunteered with us in her spare time. Our goals and beliefs were so similar we started working together and fundraising for different projects. We decided to create our own project after seeing others being mis-managed and we felt that we have the experience, dedication and commitment to build a successful and long-lasting Home for children in need.

Our relationship works really well because I am able to manage the Ujamaa Children’s Home on the ground in Tanzania and Lucy is able deal with the fundraising and legal aspects back in Australia.

What have you found to be some of the most interesting or challenging aspects of living and working in Tanzania?

Tanzania is different from many other African countries because it is socially and politically stable. There are over 120 tribes here and they all live together in harmony. They are proud of their tribe, but they are more proud to be Tanzanian. Tribal beliefs are strong and well-maintained and while Swahili and English are the official languages you can’t go a day without hearing many other tribal dialects.

The culture here is incredibly rich and interesting, but it is very different from Australia. First and foremost, there is “Africa time”. There’s no hurry in Africa and everything happens at its own pace. You really can’t force things to happen at a normal “Western” pace and if you do, you’ll just end up frustrated and things still won’t happen any faster. This also allows for setting your own work hours and relaxing into a lifestyle that can be reasonably stress free.

There is a lot that is available here, but nothing quite works the way you’ll expect it to, so everyday is an adventure…which is sometimes a bit tiring! There are regular power and water cuts, but generally I live a fairly normal life.

The scenery is incredible and I live just an hour away from Mt Kilimanjaro and a couple of hours from the world’s greatest safari parks. There are often monkeys around town too.

For the most part I feel safe in Arusha, however you cannot walk around at night and we do have Masai Guards at the house 24/7.

The poverty level here is high and there is so much need, but you just do what you can to help and you have to understand that you can’t fix everything.

IMGP3425v1 HOT Chat: Carley Andrews of Ujamaa Hostel

What are your next plans for Ujamaa Hostel and the Ujamaa Children’s Home?

Ujamaa Hostel continues to expand and we are working with a range of different projects including an orphanage, a Nursery School and some Vocational Training Centres for disadvantaged youths. We love having our volunteers and are so lucky to be able to provide people with this experience. It really has a profound effect on people and it’s awesome that we get to be a part of that.

With Ujamaa Children’s Home, firstly we are looking to gain steady financial support so that we can take in more children. We currently have 5 amazing kids in the house and we’d love to help more.

Our next goal is to raise money to buy land and build a proper house for the Home. We’re currently renting a house which is fine for now, but we want to build a house that is designed specifically for our needs.

You’ve live in Tanzania for nearly 3 years but many of your family and friends still live in Melbourne. What are your favourite places to visit or things to do when you return to Melbourne?

I love coming back to Melbourne and visiting friends and family. My Mum’s cooking is always top of the list and I often spend a lot of time in the Supermarket, there just isn’t the same variety in Arusha.

If I’m eating out, I always go to Rococo (87 Acland St, St Kilda +61 3 9525 3232) with my brother, they have the most amazing salads, breads and pastas. I can never get Mexican food in Arusha, so I make sure I go to Amigos (7/478 Chapel St, South Yarra, +61 3 9826 1653) as well.

The food in Australia is great, because it’s always fresh and quick, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get it.

The London (92 Beach St, Port Melbourne +61 3 9646 4644) in Port Melbourne is my parent’s “local” so we always go there for a meal and a drink. Awesome steak sandwich.

If it’s summer, we’ll go to The Local Taphouse (184 Carlisle St, St Kilda East, +61 3 9537 2633) or The Railway Hotel (29 Chapel Street, Windsor +61 3 9510 4050).

I really love just walking around town and getting a coffee with friends. There are no shops in Arusha that sell new items, so I’m always stocking up on clothes and DVDs.

I also love to get some acupuncture at Vitality in Albert Park and to stock up on organic products (282 Richardson Street, Middle Park +61 3 9682 8866).

HOT: Ghin Khao, 242 Swanston St, Melbourne

Ghin Khao is the second of my Soup Noodle posts, this time recommended by Billy of food blog Half-Eaten.

Obviously I have been up and down Swanston Street a million times, and do you know I have never even noticed Ghin Khao. Mysterious actually, given that the frontage is plastered with laminated pictures of Thai dishes and at lunch time the narrow two-storey restaurant is busy rotating a stream of office workers and students.

The menu is almost comically large, both in size and content, but on Billy’s recommendation I went straight for the Chang Mai noodle ($10.90) while C had the Tom Yum with prawns ($11.90) with noodles (extra $0.80).

Both noodle dishes were presented in beaten metal saucepans, an interesting touch.

P1050828v1 HOT: Ghin Khao, 242 Swanston St, Melbourne

C felt her dish was a bit small – for $13 you’d expect more than a handful of noodles and I think she’s right. The broth was flavoursome though and ingredients fresh.

P1050831v1 HOT: Ghin Khao, 242 Swanston St, Melbourne

My noodles, one of Ghin Khao’s signature dishes, were very interesting, as I hadn’t expected a nest of fried noodles as well as soft noodles in the coconut-based soup. So in reverse, I actually felt like I had a lot of noodles, but only a few scant pieces of chicken. The broth was quite nice but I think it’s too creamy to eat on its own once the noodles are gone.

Other reviews on Urbanspoon have indicated that the service at Ghin Khao leaves a lot to be desired. Well, we had perfunctory, functional service as you’d expect for a get-up-and-go Asian joint, and didn’t feel particularly well-served or ill-served.

Overall, C and I agreed that based on what we ordered, what was available on the menu and what we saw other people eating, Ghin Khao gets a HOT. We were sufficiently encouraged by our lunch to return, but would avoid the noodles in future given the cheaper, larger noodle options on offer nearby (such as Ramen Ya and The Grand BBQ).

To read about the other dishes available at Ghin Khao, check out The Chronicles of Ms I-Hua and Sweet Like Chocolate.

  • Ghin Khao, 242 Swanston St, Melbourne +61 3 9663 3345

minilink HOT: Ghin Khao, 242 Swanston St, Melbourne

HOT: Izakaya Hachibeh, 143 Bourke St, Melbourne

P1050836v1 HOT: Izakaya Hachibeh, 143 Bourke St, Melbourne

Izakaya Hachibeh is new contender for my favourite quick-and-easy CBD lunch spots.

The relaxed and fuss-free Japanese restaurant spans over two levels on Bourke Street, with a rather nondescript frontage and the standard red-lantern izakaya decor. I would never have gone in if my friend J hadn’t suggested we meet there for lunch. She wanted to introduce me to an unusual menu item – the ‘Hachibeh Ladies Lunch Set’ which is strictly for ‘lady only!!’.

Is this something that’s common in Japan? Perhaps to cater for the bird-like frames of the petite female population?

I was very intrigued to see whether my mini don (or mini chirashi sushi for an extra $3)  plus mini udon/soba would satisfy my larger-than-average lady’s appetite. When it came out on the laquer tray, I was very impressed with the size of both the dishes. In fact, I’d argue that neither of them were particularly mini. So who knows why it’s for ‘lady only!!’.

P1050843v1 HOT: Izakaya Hachibeh, 143 Bourke St, Melbourne

The udon was bouncy and silken, just the way I like it, and the soup served with it was a lovely clear broth that I actually finished (and I don’t normally finish soup noodle broths). My gyudon was a good hit of carbs and protein – the beef was a little dry and the taste wasn’t amazing but it was certainly hearty and filling and I polished off the whole bowl.

If you are a lady, I highly recommend this option for lunch – it’s a bargain for $9.50. If you’re not a lady, then the next best value lunch item appears to be the Hachibeh Original lunch box, a large bento box where you get to choose 3 dishes for $12.  J sampled fresh mounds of sushi, prawn salad and freshly fried agedashi tofu, with unlimited miso soup.

P1050839v1 HOT: Izakaya Hachibeh, 143 Bourke St, Melbourne

As J said ‘It’s not like the food is revolutionary but it’s a very good city lunch deal.” Methinks the lady is right.

minilink HOT: Izakaya Hachibeh, 143 Bourke St, Melbourne

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

HOT: The Bell Jar, 656 Smith St, Collingwood

P1050776v1 HOT: The Bell Jar, 656 Smith St, Collingwood

Occasionally I have readers tipping me off about places to go and I recently received an email suggesting that I try  The Bell Jar.

So one cold, blustery afternoon I decided to trek up the nether-regions of Smith St (I rarely go past Johnston Street) to have a look. The cafe is quite hard to miss because it’s not really in a strip of shops, nor does it have a particularly noticeable frontage. I peeked through the window and thought that maybe they just did sandwiches for lunch (which I didn’t really fancy), but the whitewashed terrace house interior looked cosy and welcoming, so I decided to step inside and take the risk of eating stuff with bread.

P1050778v1 HOT: The Bell Jar, 656 Smith St, Collingwood

I’m so glad I did, because it turns out that they have quite an extensive menu of breakfasty things, lunchy things, sandwiches and sweets, from what I could tell all made on premises. I settled myself in the back room, with the huge communal table and a striking autumnal floral feature which I’m going to pinch as an idea for my own house.

P1050779v1 HOT: The Bell Jar, 656 Smith St, Collingwood

I decided on the corn cakes of the day, which came with smoked salmon ($14). I asked whether they could do a vegetarian option, maybe with some avocado instead, and the friendly waitress said no problem. The young chef then came out with a plate a two thick corn cakes, piled with a vibrant avocado salsa and topped with a fresh salad. For some reason I thought the dish had an almost Vietnamese scent to it, maybe because of the cucumber and red onion, but that freshness contrasted perfectly with the smooth avocado and unexpected pops of sweetness from the pomegranate seeds. I told the chef that he should keep it on the menu permanently! He said that in fact the toppings for the corn cakes, along with the ricotta hot cakes, change every few days or so, to give him a chance to experiment.

As for the corn cakes, personally I prefer them with more corn and less batter, but they were by no means a bad version, especially smothered with that to-die-for topping.

photo 23 HOT: The Bell Jar, 656 Smith St, Collingwood

I decided to stay on for something sweet. There were quite a few options available, from cake to Anzac biscuits, but I could sniff something chocolately coming out of the oven so asked for that instead. So, for $5, a plate of still-warm oozing chocolate brownie with a hint of coffee, served with a tiny doll’s jug of chantilly cream. I could have eaten a whole baking tray of it!

By this time, the rain had really started bucketing down outside and I didn’t have an umbrella. The staff offered to lend me an umbrella that I could just return ‘whenever’, which just goes to show the trust and care they show their customers. I opted to sit in the front window to wait for the rain to subside as I was feeling particularly contented and relaxed, just ‘being’, at The Bell Jar.

I very much hope that The Bell Jar continues to do well in it’s slightly out-of-the-way locale. The food is prepared fresh, there is an obvious care in using good quality ingredients and the atmosphere is welcoming. It’s the perfect little neighbourhood cafe.

For other fabulous cafes in Collingwood, try Proud Mary and Cibi.

  • The Bell Jar, 656 Smith St, Collingwood +61 410 336 019

minilink HOT: The Bell Jar, 656 Smith St, Collingwood

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: Felice’s, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy

P1050712v1 HOT: Felices, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy

Just last week I discovered that tucked in behind a lurid kebab shop on Smith St is the other-worldly Felice’s. The retro wood panelling and black laminex bar is reminiscent of an old-fashioned Italian social club, while interesting touches such as the giant model aeroplane suspended from the carved ceiling take the cafe out of the 50s and into contemporary Fitzroy.

P1050714v1 HOT: Felices, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy

The vibe inside is homely and friendly. Friends gather around big tables (or the table football), families with young kids tuck into pasta and pizza and regulars slide themselves onto a bar stool and share some banter with the staff.

P1050717v1 HOT: Felices, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy

L and I met there for a late lunch. The one-page menu is mostly bread or meat based – pizza al taglio, calzone, foccacia, fusilli with polpette, sausages, with the odd salad here and there. We ordered a slice of pizza with olives and boccocini ($5.50) and a ham and mozzarella calzone ($6.50). We had hoped to try some blood orange juice too, but it was sold out by 2pm.

P1050726v1 HOT: Felices, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy

P1050722v1 HOT: Felices, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy

Our food came out promptly, without fanfare. The pizza was delicious, with simple yet punchy flavours and a lovely soft base. The calzone unfortunately was not a worthy match and the dry crust suffered from the reheating.

P1050724v1 HOT: Felices, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy

For dessert we tried a slice of the delicious-looking baked ricotta tart and the last of the miniature chocolate cannoli. The ricotta tart was nice, not to sweet, but best shared, as it was quite dense. The cannoli’s pastry was also dense, and filled with a rather tasteless chocolate custard. I think it’d just been pulled out of the fridge and that fridge-chill made the pastry quite disappointing.

L and I debated whether Felice’s was HOT or NOT. I didn’t love all the food at Felice’s but I did love the atmosphere and the fit-out. I will return to try some other items on the menu and to go back for a slice of their delicious  pizza, so for that they scrape a HOT. Given my experience, I would suggest that you time your visit earlier in the day too so as to ensure you can order the dishes that you want with a better chance of freshness.

  • Felice’s, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy +61 3 9939 6267

minilink HOT: Felices, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy