The HOT List: Where to celebrate Chinese New Year 2015 in Melbourne

chinese new year

This year the Lunar New Year is Thursday 19 February 2015 and it will be celebrating the Year of the Goat (or Sheep).

Even if you’re not of Asian descent it’s a great time in Melbourne for festivities and yummy food!

Here’s a list of free Chinese New Year events in Melbourne in date order:

  • Victoria Street Lunar Festival Richmond – Sun 1 Feb, 11am-10pm. While technically the Vietnamese celebrate Tet there’s a large enough Chinese-Vietnamese population for Victoria Street Richmond to hold a CNY celebration. It’s very popular and gets a bit crowded but the street is closed off for food stalls and performances.
  • East Meets West Lunar Festival Footscray – Sun 8 Feb, 10am-10pm Hopkins St Footscray. This is the celebration we’ll be attending as it’s in our neighbourhood! Food stalls, games and rides will fill the street.
  • Crown’s Riverwalk Hawker’s Bazaar – Fri 13 Feb – Sun 22 Feb 11am-11pm Outside Crown Complex, Southbank. Chinese street food and entertainment by the Yarra. Some Crown restaurants will also have special CNY menus.
  • Box Hill Street Festival – Sat 14 Feb, 1pm-1am Market St & Main St, Box Hill. Box Hill is another Asian enclave in Melbourne and they’ll be celebrating CNY with cultural performances, game,  amusement rides and food.
  • Springvale Lunar New Year Festival – Sun 15 Feb, 9am-9pm Buckingham Ave, Springvale. Springvale has a large Vietnamese/Chinese population and this CNY festival coincides with Australia Day, so two holidays in one! See martial arts displays, lion dances, folk dancing and of course lots of Asian food stalls.
  • FCA Melbourne Chinatown Chinese New Year Festival – Mon 16 Feb – Sun 1 Mar. The big celebration in Melbourne, with the opening ceremony on Sun 22 Feb followed by the Dragon awakening ceremony and parade.
  • Prahran Market – Sat 21 Feb 163 Commercial Rd, South Yarra. The Market is offering a range of free cultural activities including children’s cooking activity, lion dance, Chinese music.
  • Chinese New Year at Noble Park Racecourse (Sat 21 Feb – Sun 22 Feb) – Chinese Lion Dance, Firecrackers, Traditional Folk Music, Dancers, Martial Artists and much more.
  • Chinese New Year at Federation Square (Thu 26 Feb – Sun 1 Mar) –  interactive performances, make your own dragon and free Tai Chi and Health Qigong demonstrations, mahjong lessons and a full stage program on 1 March with live music, dancing and a colourful performance.
  • Glen Waverley Chinese Lantern Festival – Sun 1 Mar, 10am-9pm. Kingsway, Glen Waverley. International food stalls, cultural performances and activities.

Also try these Chinese restaurants for a special CNY meal:

David’s 4 Cecil Street Prahran

Tao Tao House 815 Glenferrie Rd Hawthorn

Golden Dragon Palace 363 Manningham Rd Lower Templestowe

Shark Fin House 131 Little Bourke St Melbourne

How will you be celebrating The Year of the Goat in 2015?

HOT: Agathe Patisserie, Rear 97 Chapel St, Windsor (Entry via Artists Lane ) and Prahran Market, 163 Commercial Rd, South Yarra

agathe patisserie

You know the reason why I could never be (willingly) gluten-free or sugar-free? Because I’m a pastry FIEND. And I love discovering French patisseries in Melbourne, with my newest find being Agathe Patisserie in Windsor.

agathe patisserie

I have been stalking and drooling over Agathe Patisserie on Instagram for a while and finally had the opportunity to visit Agathe at her little artisan stall at Prahran Market, where she sets up on Saturdays. The rest of the week she bakes in a pop up store/lab in Windsor.


When I threatened to buy one of everything I wasn’t kidding. It was really, really hard to choose what to buy (with a major case of FOMO given I don’t get to Prahran very often) so what the heck!

agathe patisserie

In the bag went a plain croissant, a salted caramel brioche/croissant ball, a croissant square with  almond cream, raspberries and pistachio, a chocolate croissant, an escargot, an almond coated croissant with chocolate inside and a canele.

Of the selection my choices were the almond croissant, with its beautifully flaky centre and sticks of dark chocolate, and the plain croissant.

agathe patisserie

Just look at those airy layers – it was so buttery and light that I ate it unadorned. Didn’t want any jam weighing it down!

agathe patisserie

I had high expectations of the canele but I found mine just a little bit too dense, though the outside was beautifully caramelised. Given other people have rhapsodised about them I’d give them another go (twist my rubber arm!).

Agathe Patisserie make her cakes to order and her items are only stocked in a few select locations at the moment. So set aside some time in your diary to make a visit and don’t miss out!

Agathe Patisserie, Rear 97 Chapel St, Windsor (Entry via Artists Lane )

Friday and Saturday from 8 to 12

Prahran Market, 163 Commercial Rd, South Yarra

Saturday 9 to 4 (or until sold out)

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HOT: Hobba, 428 Malvern Rd, Prahran


Hobba is in Prahran, the other side of town for me, but it’s a testament as to how good it is that I would happily cross the river to eat there. It was one of the 3 star award winners in 2014’s Good Food Under $30.

The cafe is set in a huge warehouse space in Malvern Road. The former tyre factory is not in a shopping strip but it’s still busy (there’s often a line up on weekends) as it’s a dining destination.


The fitout aims to bring some cosiness and warmth (literally and figuratively) to the gritty, industrial space. Ceiling heaters emanate a red glow down on diners huddled in the padded plywood booths. There are tables with high stools lined up against one wall and standard height tables and chairs near the back, along with a tree taking root in the centre of the space!


Hobba‘s menu contains cafe classics for the more conservative patrons but there are exciting dishes to be found too.


It’s not often you see duck confit and mushroom croquettes with white bean truffle puree on a breakfast  menu. At Hobba you can try these crispy gems with a gelatinous 62 degree poached egg, salad greens and a slice of sourdough toast. The combination of textures was superb and the heady aroma of truffle enhanced the earthy flavours in the croquettes. At $20 it was an expensive breakfast dish but I didn’t begrudge the price given the quality of the ingredients.


For sweet tooths you can’t go past the buttermilk hotcakes ($17). Two super-fluffy pancake rounds came bedecked with seasonal berries (though I wished they used fresh and not freeze-dried raspberries – like toffee on the teeth), vanilla and lemon mascarpone, house made maple syrup and honeycomb crumbles. It was an extremely filling dish which was all about unadulterated sugar, so it might be better shared. The dish used to offer THREE hotcakes which would be an almost impossible digestive feat.

The coffee at Hobba comes from Five Senses and the coffee station and kitchen were pumping with at least half a dozen staff early on a weekend morning. It does a brisk trade in take away too so if you want to guarantee yourself a table at this popular breakfast/lunch spot then I suggest you get in early.

Hobba, 428 Malvern Rd, Prahran 9510 8336

Monday to Saturday 7am to 4pm

Sunday 8am to 4pm

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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

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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: Atico bar and Fonda Mexican, 144 Chapel St, Windsor

Atico and Fonda Mexican, 144 Chapel St Windsor

By the looks of the ceaseless stream of people waiting to eat at Fonda Mexican on a weeknight, Melbourne can’t get enough of this Mexican wave we’re riding.

Atico and Fonda Mexican, 144 Chapel St, Windsor

So much so that Fonda Mexican has branched out from its small Richmond digs to skip across the river to Prahran. The second Fonda Mexican is bigger, brighter and bolder than its little sister, while the menu remains mostly the same. The Prahran outpost has also recently opened up a clubby attic bar called Atico as a holding pen for the buzzing restaurant below (which doesn’t take bookings).

Atico and Fonda Mexican, 144 Chapel St, Windsor

Don’t shiver in the Chapel Street wind tunnel, climb the vertiginous stairs and cosy up with a sharp little wine list, some tequila or the best priced cocktails in town ($12-$16) until you receive that text message telling you ‘ping’ your table is ready. I recommend the La Paloma with Tromba Blanco tequila, grapefruit soda, lime ($12) and a twist on the classic margarita with Tromba Blanco tequila, freshly squeezed lime juice, agave nectar ($16).

Atico and Fonda Mexican, 144 Chapel St, Windsor

Just be very careful when you head back downstairs, the stairs are narrow, carpeted and steep – I’d even recommend a sideways parallel descent so you don’t slip!

As for the food at Fonda Mexican, it’s what I’d call Mexican for the masses. It’s quick, filling, tasty and consists of the kind of Mexican cuisine that most of us are familiar with – tacos, burritos, quesadillas, plus a few snacks and sides.

Atico and Fonda Mexican, 144 Chapel St, Windsor

We tried a cob of charred corn, super sweet with a hit of heat in the chipotle aioli ($4). It was good but dare I say not of the same knock-your-socks-off amazing as that other Mexican joint starting with ‘M’. I would have preferred more charring on the kernels – perhaps this was a function of the fact that the corn arrived quick as a flash after I placed my order at the counter.

Atico and Fonda Mexican, 144 Chapel St, Windsor

Of the soft-shelled taco selection my favourite was the fish taco, a nugget of sweet rockling nestled with shards of cabbage and pickled carrot and onion, with that chipotle aioli making another appearance ($6 for one). If you’re not a fish fan then try the braised pork dripping with juice and tucked into the taco with some scrapings of fresh pineapple, slivers of onion and coriander ($6 for one).

Atico and Fonda Mexican, 144 Chapel St, Windsor

Pork is also the star ingredient in the pulled pork quesadilla, an extremely filling cheese and meat melt with smoked chipotle and tomato ($13). This is a dish to be shared as four quadrants of the quesadilla will be too much for most appetites. It also benefits from a dose of house made hot sauce to cut through all that cheesiness. Jane Fonda is the mild(er) bottle while F**k you has a good kick of heat without breaking you out into an uncontrollable sweat.

The least successful dish was the grilled chicken burrito. While it’s impressive that the tortilla dough is prepared daily and the tortillas are pressed to order, we found the quinoa, corn, queso fresco and cabbage filling to be too dry and frankly just too much with every mouthful ($14).

Atico and Fonda Mexican, 144 Chapel St, Windsor

If you’ve had enough of the alcoholic drinks from Atico try the non-alcoholic options in the restaurant. The huge jam jar of horchata made from a traditional Mexican family recipe of rice, water, cinnamon, vanilla and evaporated milk, is my new favourite drink ($4.50). And don’t be dismayed by the pond water appearance of the pineapple, young ginger and mint ($4 or have it with tequila for $12) as it’s sweet and refreshing and will go down well with all that chilli.

Fonda Mexican has obviously hit on a winning formula of Mexican food with flair that’s not too ‘out there’. Combined with the buzzy atmosphere and smart interior (love the light fittings referencing the iconic Acapulco chair), it  provides a dining experience that’s cool without being cooler-than-thou and which is very reasonable on the wallet.

Atico and Fonda Mexican, 144 Chapel Street, Windsor +61 3 9521 2660
Mon to Sun 5:00 pm – 12:00 am

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Fonda Mexican on Urbanspoon

HOT: Opening Weekend, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2013


The weather gods looked benevolently on Melbourne on the weekend as people celebrated food and wine as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

Rather than bombarding you with a load of posts at once, here’s a potted summary of my HOTs and NOTs over a packed weekend of wining and dining. Some of these events I was invited to, some of them I went off my own bat. If you didn’t have a chance to get to these events some of them may be repeated at a future date and some of them are held in locations that are open year round and host a calendar of foodie events.

HOT: Market of Eden, Prahran Market

Cider, particularly as a summer drink, is starting to gain a foothold in Australia’s bars and pubs as a substitute for beer – but I c0nfess I don’t know much about it other than the fact I very much enjoyed my first plastic cup of pear cider at Glastonbury Festival eons ago.SONY DSC

So I was curious about how you could match cider with food – I guess why not given that you can match wine with food and beer with food? On the weekend at Prahran Market they set up the ‘Market of Eden’, a hay-strewn long table in the middle of the fruit and veg hall where you sat on (rather itchy) bales of hay to sip four diffreent apple and pear ciders creations from Napoleone and Co paired with four French tasting plates designed by chef Walter Trupp using market produce.

Opening Weekend, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2013

In terms of drink, as expected I enjoyed Napoleone’s Regular Pear Cider the most as it was probably the sweetest of all the varieties we tried. The cider is made by winemakers Punt Road Wines in the Yarra Valley and as such they apply many wine making techniques to their cider creations.

And of course you pair pear with pear! So we got a large portion of chunky pear chutney along with a hunk of oozy white mould raclette sliced onto sourdough.


In terms of food my highlights were the crispy skin Berkshire pork belly, slow-cooked for 16 hours at 68 degrees and paired with a classic green apple and tangy rocket salad and a cider vinegar dressing and the starter of creamy squash vichyssoise served with cheddar cream, cheddar and fresh hazelnut shavings and hazelnut oil. Both of the dishes were matched with apple ciders which cut through the richness and creaminess of both dishes.


HOT: Chan’s Dumpling Festival, Treasury Gardens

I think Chan’s Dumpling Festival was probably the best value paid event in this year’s program and hence it sold out very quickly. For $20 a head 771 people joined in a Guinness World Record attempt to create the World’s largest Outdoor Yum Cha, sitting down at communal tables to partake in a 5 course dumpling service in Treasury Gardens.


The gardens looked spectacular, with giant Chinese lanterns floating into the azure sky, a smattering of stalls, kids activities and traditional musicians.


During the lunch we enjoyed live performances and I particularly enjoyed the lion dancing and kung fu demonstrations. And at the end everyone got to take home goodie bags filled with a small bamboo steamer, ingredients and a dumpling recipe book.

Opening Weekend Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2013

It was lucky that the weather was so beautiful and people were generally in a happy and festive mood, as the general consensus was that the food took too long to arrive. While it’s understandable that it’s hard to pump out so much food in a short period of time, it was particularly disheartening to watch trays move past you while you sat twiddling your chopsticks. I was at the festival with kids and had to leave early as they simply couldn’t wait 30 minutes for each course to arrive.

Overall I think the event was well run for a first go and the entertainment and setup exceeded my expectations. I hope that they’ll repeat it again in future while ironing out some of the logistical kinks associated with feeding that many people at once in an outdoor space.

NOT: Events with mass produced food generally

After this weekend I think my tip for selecting food and wine festival events in the future is not to go anywhere where the food will be mass produced. The events always seem to run late while your stomach growls impatiently and the quality and consistency of dishes declines as numbers grow. Marco Pierre White would flip out! (‘How long? How long? How long? Send it back! Send it back! Send it back!)

For instance, take my experience of the Bursaria Luncheon for about 250 people. I love Abbotsford Convent, I buy Warialda Belted Galloway Beef, I support the premise Slow Food Melbourne and I’m all for showcasing fresh, locally produced, seasonal produce. But all this positivity was marred by the fact the first course of a two course lunch didn’t arrive until over an hour after we were seated and the dessert came at the event’s designated finish time. I wasn’t the only one to have to gulp down my food and make a hasty exit after dessert – a pretty vanilla and rose panna cotta with a drizzle of bright pink pomegranate syrup and pistachio and biscotti lending crunch.


I hope they sort out the timing issues for future events as the Rosina Function Space is absolutely beautiful especially with sunshine streaming through the leadlight windows onto the polished floorboards. And I loved the hanging decorations on the high trusses and table settings using plants and twigs and leaves. In fact, if I was getting married this would be my choice of wedding venue!



David’s Restaurant Christmas Giveaway!

It’s only 2 weeks till Christmas, how did the year go so fast???

To help you celebrate the Christmas season one of my favourite Chinese restaurants David’s (see several of my previous posts here) have created some special dishes such as Drunken Whole King Prawns, Shanghai steamed ginger Tsingtao whole crab and their unique take on the classic Sweet Corn Chicken Soup. I’ve made my booking for Christmas Eve dinner as I actually don’t fancy a turkey and roast spuds this year.

If you’d also like to experience a festive feast that’s a bit different then David’s are offering 1 x $100 voucher valid for lunch or dinner up to Monday 31 Dec. To win all you have to do is leave a comment and the winner will be drawn randomly on Friday 14 December 5pm. Good luck!

HOT: Ladro Greville,162 Greville St, Prahran

I’ve previously stated that Fitzroy’s Ladro makes one of my favourite pizzas in Melbourne and until now I’ve not veered away from Ladro Gertrude to visit its sister restaurant Ladro Greville in Prahran.

Ladro Greville is a bigger, glossier version of the original restaurant. The antipasti/pizza/pasta/roast menu is familiar, as is the easy conviviality of the dining room and the friendly staff. Ladro Greville has the advantage of a much larger courtyard area and more space and thus is more suitable for children and large gatherings – plus of course more seating means less of a wait for a table.

I was invited to sample Ladro’s new menu by Italian chef Niko Pizzimenti. The owners hunted for over 7 months for the right person to come along – they wanted someone brought up in Italy and obviously with a passion for the cuisine. While his menu is firmly rooted in his home country and his family’s traditions, it uses ingredients which are 75% sourced locally and 25% imported, in keeping with the owners’ philosophy of using local produce where possible (they even have beehives on the roof!).

We started with antipasti with a modern twist – wagyu bresaola with walnuts, horseradish and orange oil ($15.50), an artful pile of creamy 16 month aged San Daniele proscuitto paired with a sweet rockmelon jam ($15.50) and cold smoked bufala mozzarella the size of your fist ($15.50). Can’t go too wrong with good quality cured meat and cheese but I recommend saving your appetite for other things.

The calamari fritti ($13.50) used to be fried with a traditional breadcrumb batter but after so many requests from customers the kitchen have perfected a gluten-free flour mixture, making them a hit with the gluten-intolerant. The calamari is caught from Port Phillip Bay and it was tender, the casing light and perfect dipped in the lime and garlic aioli.

Our last small-sized dish was in the form of a juicy chargrilled Moreton Bay bug tail resting on a pool of thick Tuscan and tomato bread soup ($12.50).

As always, Ladro’s pizzas were excellent. I particular favour their chewy, bubbly charred crusts and the toppings, though simple, are allowed to shine. No ‘super supreme meat lover chicken teriyaki’ horrors here and each pizza is made to order – it takes one minute to make one pizza using a team of 3 people.

Case in point – the chef’s favourite is the Bianca which is brazenly simple. Sliced onion, bufala, fior di latte and proscuitto – nowhere to hide. The bufala from Carlton’s La Latteria is so fresh that sometimes it arrives in the kitchens the same day it is made.

My favourite pizza is topped with fat slabs of fresh porcini, snap frozen and air freighted from Italy, the earthiness of the mushrooms heighted by the smoked bufala ($21.50).

For those who are gluten intolerant all the pizzas can be made with gluten-free bases. The bases are made every second day using a mixture of soy, rice, corn and tapioca flour and are proved, risen and rolled in a way similar to traditional bases. The kitchen is completely cleared out when the gluten-free bases are made and stored in a separate area to minimise the risk of contamination.

Given that I only ever order pizza at Ladro I was blown away by the pasta. The filled pastas are made fresh every day by Niko’s Zia Piera – an exacting Italian lady who works 5 days a week to turn out the pasta for the two restaurants.  The dish of the night for me was the basil tortellini filled with fresh blue swimmer crab, fragrant basil, cherry tomatoes and a hint of chilli ($26.50). Also try the baked gnocchi al forno (alla Sorrentina) which is the chef’s family recipe, the sort of thing eaten at a Sunday gathering ($23).

To finish off we were offered two of the menu’s stalwart dessert dishes – bomboloni and pannacotta (both $11). As I’ve said before, Ladro’s lightly fried bomboloni with vanilla bean ice cream and blood orange syrup are not too be missed.

The perfect orbs of sugared fried dough are the kind of dish that would cause a riot if ever removed from the menu. Such is its iconic status that even the excellent pannacotta with salted caramel and poached pear pales in comparison.

Finally, make sure you take a bathroom break! Co-owner Ingrid Langtry used to design bathrooms and I loved the white diagonal tiling (apparently a joke on having too much wine and seeing things lopsided) and hand-spun metal basins from a foundry in Coburg. I felt daft taking my camera into the loo with me so you’ll just have to go see it for yourself!

Ladro Greville,162 Greville St, Prahran  + 61 3 9510 2233

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HOT: David’s Restaurant Weekend Yum Cha, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

David’s Restaurant has previously been voted one of Melbourne’s favourite yum cha destinations. They’ve recently revamped their interior design and menu to incorporate a more homely, country Shanghai style. That translates to a beautiful space awash with white and light (a modern interpretation of a Shanghaiese river cottage) accompanied by a menu of family favourites.

The relaxed ambience is reflected in their DIY approach to cutlery, crockery, drinking water, vinegar and soy (by the way, good to see that they use the brand of vinegar and soy that my mother stocks in her kitchen!).

I was invited to try their new weekend lunch offering – all-you-can-eat yum cha for $35 a head (children eat free). There are two sittings 11:30-1:30pm and 1:30pm – 3pm and the savoury food comes out as soon as you are seated, with desserts around 45 minutes before the end of the sitting. We arrived at 12pm and there was only one dish repeated during our time there, so there’s plenty of variety.

David’s  is a bit different from your usual yum cha experience in that you’re likely to encounter non-traditional dim sum. In fact most of the dishes are not Cantonese in origin as they stem from the main menu of Shanghaiese dishes. Some definitely fall into the fusion category.

My top dish is the Peking Duck pancake – thin flour pancakes encasing a generous slab of meaty duck and traditional hoisin, spring onion and cucumber filling. Other unmissable items include pan-fried spring onion pancake, the small pots of sticky pork belly, the fluffy buns, glutinous rice (which includes prawn, unusually) and finger-lickin’ good fried chilli chicken.

As for dumplings I suggest going for those with the translucent skins such as the fresh scallop dumplings, as my sampling of the other type of dumplings such as the xiao long bao were that in the main they were too heavy for my taste.

The desserts are unusual and definitely not traditional, incorporating Western ingredients such as chocolate. If you have room try to squeeze in a serve of white chocolate glutinous rice balls.

The other way in which David’s differs from your usual yum cha experience is that the food is carried out on trays by friendly, helpful staff who are happy to explain ingredients, a far cry from the surly non-English-speaking trolley madam. It also means that for some dishes you don’t have to commit to a whole plate or a whole steamer – you can just have one morsel. It’s a good way to try new things, as if you don’t like it there’s not as much wastage.

Note that on weekends it’s a popular destination for families with young children so noise levels can be boisterous. I think it’s a winner for a multi-generational family lunch – a place where everyone can eat what they like, when they like. We’ll be back!

David’s Restaurant Weekend Yum Cha, 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

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