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Flinders Lane is home to no shortage of restaurants, and amongst these established restaurants (some of which are considered top restaurants in Melbourne) is a newcomer that goes by the name of The Grain Store. The restaurant recently opened its doors for the first time in April, and already appears to be making quite a splash. I was recently extended the invitation to attend their launch party, along with a generous plus-three, and would like to thank The Grain Store for a great night.
The restaurant and its menu boasts of fresh, healthy and organic produce, and I thought that this theme tied in seamlessly with its natural-looking decor. More so than any other restaurants I have encountered, there was an abundance of wooden tones and green plants. The pipes on the roof added to the interior’s eye-catching design.
From the description on their invitation, I was expecting only canapes and drinks on the night. But to our surprise and delight, The Grain Store went the extra mile to welcome and entertain guests with polaroid snaps and a Guess-The-Lemon game. We were also afforded the wonderful opportunity to enter the kitchen with Chef Ingo Meissner for a masterclass (more on that later in this post).
Grilled chorizo, with house made quince paste.
The sweetness from the quince paste worked well with the slight spiciness and sour saltiness of the chorizo.
Chipotle prawn, on garlic crostini, and pea & mint puree.
The prawn was fresh and tender, and the soft texture contrasted with the crunch from the crostini. The mint and lemon presence in the pea puree formed a refreshing and zesty flavour combo that spruced up the prawn.
Plum and apple tart, topped with black pudding.
The black pudding was well-cooked, and the usual rubbery texture of black pudding was quite subtle in this canape. The sweetness and creaminess of the sauce easily stole the show, and balanced perfectly with the lingering peppery spice from the black pudding. We enjoyed the crispiness of the pastry tart.
Potato fondant, with cheese fondue.
We all love potato and cheese, and so the melt-in-your-mouth potato casing with a gooey cheesy filling was easily one of our favourite canapes on the night.
Housemade potato crisps, with salmon and mint salad.
The potato crisps possessed a wonderful mix of delicate crunchiness (similar to Kettle chips) with soft mushy flesh. I was already happy with the potato on its own, but the fresh+thinly sliced salmon and salad components added freshness, flavours and textures that enhanced the potato crisp. I now feel the urge to pair potato chips with salmon…
Beef tartare on toast.
The symphony of flavours arising from the herbs and seasoning in the very tender tartare complemented the sweet butteriness of the crunchy brioche toast. We were all quite taken with the canape, and so we were thrilled when we learnt that the masterclass would be covering beef tartare. Win!
Ingo Meissner, the chef and mastermind behind The Grain Store’s menu, provided a very comprehensive demonstration on how to prepare his beef tartare recipe. Ingredients included finely diced beef tenderloins, mayonnaise, dijon mustard, parsley, french shallots, capers, gherkins, chives, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, Tobasco sauce, extra virgin olive oil, Grandier cognac, and salt+pepper.
The hardest part of preparing the dish seems to lie in getting the right balance between ingredients, but there appears to be some wiggle room as much of it is based on personal preference. I’ll definitely be giving this recipe a go some time!
Second to learning the how-tos in prepping beef tartare, the next best thing came at the end of the class when we were allowed to eat some more tartare. Yum!
Pulled pork cheek, covered in crunchy batter.
Think crumbed fish, minus the fish, and with tender pulled pork instead. If I had previously thought that pulled pork couldn’t get any better, then the added crunchy crumbs in this canape proved me wrong. The creamy and pickle-y tartare sauce brought another element that’s typical in a crumbed fish dish, but paired equally as well with the pork as it does with fish in this instance.
Parting gifts: baked goodies and a copy of their menu.
It’s hard to be wowed by a cookie and brownie but The Grain Store managed to do just that. There was a subtle minty taste in the brownie that balanced perfectly with the rich chocolate goodness in the rest of the brownie. The cookie was unbelievably soft and chewy.
After a quick perusal of their menu, dishes like the orange cured salmon & fried poached egg with truffle cream fraiche, and the rosemary range buttery beef cheeks immediately caught my attention.
“Have a seat” - It was our absolute pleasure to do so on the night, and we will most definitely be doing so again some time soon (orange cured salmon, get in my belly!). The tasty creations that we had sampled on the night demonstrated both the chef’s culinary ingenuity and the wonderfully fresh produce on hand, and if the canapes were anything to go by, then it’s no wonder the restaurant has been generating so much positive buzz in restaurant world.
Disclosure: the opinions expressed in this post are based entirely on my experience and observations made during the time of my visit.
The Grain Store
517 Flinders Lane,
Melbourne, Victoria, 3000.
(03) 9972 6993
Pamooola, who isn’t loved by dairy, is forever telling us about ‘great’-tasting dairy-free products. Her comments are frequently met with laughter, but I think that she may be right on the money when it comes to Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese. With Pamooola taking charge (she is the expert after all), we whipped up a dairy-free version of the standard cucumber and cream cheese sandwich during one of our three-way bake days.
Mint leaves, chopped
1. Spoon out the desired amount of tofutti into a bowl, and combine with chopped mint leaves.
2. Spread the tofutti-mint leaves mix onto two slices of wholemeal bread.
3. Add a layer of cucumber pieces to one slice of bread.
4. Cut into triangles and serve.
You may not be able to make friends with salad, but you can definitely do so with this tasty vegetarian-friendly and dairy-free sammich. The presence of mint complemented the freshness of the cucumber, and lifted the overall taste. I suppose you could easily swap out the Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese for actual cream cheese… but the point to be made here is that the Tofutti version was surprisingly just as tasty as the real deal.
As its name suggests, Panned Pizza sells pizzas. But despite frequent mentions of the eatery from several friends, I had no idea that pizza was actually sold here until my first visit one Friday night. In my defence, the restaurant’s name was never mentioned. There’s only one dish that has got everyone talking, and that’s their POUTINE. Hailing from Canada, Poutine is a snack dish comprised of french fries, gravy and cheese. I’ll bet you’re either salivating or horrified by the description…
There’s minimal seating, so I imagine the place would be quite full from the late-night crowd on Fridays and Saturdays.
Poutine (large) - fries, with hot gravy and melted cheese. Extras: jalapeños and sour cream.
Crispy chips, good. Gravy, good. Cheese, mmmmmm… so good. Throw all these great-tasting components together, and you have on your hands a not-so-good-looking dish that tastes oh-so-good. Oh, and it doesn’t get any prettier-looking as you eat it. The jalapeños brought a fresh dose of spice that added to the flavours. Shared between three, the serving of poutine didn’t seem too bad…
While my taste buds had a great time, the rest of my body wasn’t very happy with the number of jalapeño pieces I ate. A 30-minute run may have also taken place the next morning. Having said that, I would happily return for some more Poutine. And a slice of pizza or two probably couldn’t hurt…
234c Russell St,
Melbourne, Victoria, 3000.
(03) 9663 6339
I have come across many fish and chip eateries, as well as sushi bars, but never have I seen the two pair up in action. That is, until I encountered Sea Salt on Lygon St.
The fish and chips-meets-sushi combination proved to be quite popular, with all seats occupied when me and K arrived for lunch on a Thursday afternoon. There were throngs of customers who ducked in and out fairly quickly, exiting with sushi boxes or takeaway packaging in hand. You would definitely say that business was going… swimmingly.
The sushi selection was quite extensive. Health-nuts will be pleased with the brown rice varieties.
Unable to secure a seat, we opted for takeaway. But whilst waiting for our orders, a table opened up, and we were able to shotgun it immediately. Huzzah!
Fish bite catch - three fish bites, served with a side of chips.
K had ordered this snack dish on a previous occasion, so she must have enjoyed it for her to order it again.
Sea Salt burger - fresh fillet of fried fish of the day, cheese, salad mix, tomato and cocktail sauce, served with a side of chips.
There were a few burgers that had caught my eye, but I decided to go with the ‘Sea Salt’. Going by its name, I figured that the burger must be one of their signature dishes.
Most fish and chip venues serve up oil-laden foods that make you feel sick and heavy soon after consumption. However, to my pleasant surprise, my burger tasted anything but! The ingredients exuded freshness, and the combination of complementary flavours tasted very gourmet. Think gourmet version of a Filet-O-Fish with salad… The crumb on the fish was very well-textured and crunchy. The flesh was silkily tender. Instead of the typical tartare sauce accompaniment, the fish was paired with a sweet tomato-based mayo cocktail sauce.
Aside from the taste, another wow factor of the dish came in the form of the super cheap price tag. $9.90 for such a huge burger and generous serving of chips is a great deal. But $9.90 for such a delicious-tasting burger AND huge portion size makes it the bargain of the century!
We spotted the banner after sitting down: students get to enjoy 10% off the usual price every Tuesday and Wednesday, making their value-for-money prices even cheaper! Looks like we’ll have to pay a return visit some Tuesday/Wednesday soon…
364 Lygon St,
Carlton, Victoria, 3053.
(03) 9347 4777
Variations of the pork belly dish have been trending in Modern Australian and Asian/Asian-fusion restaurants alike, so needless to say, I’ve had more than my fair share of the dish. But there is one pork belly dish that stands out far above the rest, and that is Taxi Dining Room’s version. Thoughts of visiting the restaurant had crossed my mind since early uni days, but the restaurant jumped up on my to-visit list as soon as I took a bite of their sticky pork belly at the Taste of Melbourne festival. It has haunted my taste buds since, and relief finally came after a recent visit to the restaurant with Meow Meow.
The restaurant’s interior was extremely well-decorated and amongst the best I have encountered. It was modern, trendy and suave. The glowing blue shades of lighting provided a futuristic/under-the-sea vibe.
The surrounding floor-to-ceiling glass offered magnificent views of Flinder St, Federation Square, the Yarra River and South Bank.
Complimentary amuse bouche - Sichuan soup, with a dash of chilli oil.
We were offered a complimentary soup to get our appetites going, but it also served to warm us up on a chilly night. The flavours in the broth tasted quite rich, and was a cross between a slow-cooked beef stew and spicy mushroom Nong Shim noodles. The complimentary dish stood out as distinctive and hinted at what to expect with their menu: tasty dishes with flair and a ‘Taxi Dining Room touch’.
Bread with chilli-salted butter.
Further evidence of TDR’s penchant for bringing unique twists to the table was their chilli-salted butter. All eyes were on the butter and there were high expectations, but it turned out to be underwhelming. More salty than anything else, the chilli in the butter was very mild and difficult to detect. The subtle chilli component tasted like the flesh of chillies, minus the spiciness. Freshly-baked and served warm, I thoroughly enjoyed the bread.
Freshly shucked oyster & ponzu.
The oysters were perhaps a little teeny but the freshness and creaminess was immediately evident. The sour acidity of the lemon juice complemented the sharp sweetness from the ponzu sauce, and the combination did not overshadow the creamy oyster taste.
David Blackmore’s Wagyu 9+ aburi, with a teriyaki glaze.
My newfound fondness for wagyu beef was rewarded with TDR’s delicious take. It also made me mentally kick myself for how long it’s taken me to jump on the beefwagon. Super tender, the beef melted as soon as it was in the mouth. The teriyaki glaze provided a sweetness that blended perfectly with the smoky and seared taste. The balanced wasabi presence, biting onion and herbs, and vinegary rice worked in unison with the beef to produce a combination of flavours that wowed the palate.
Ginger spiced steak tartare, with confit egg yolk & kombu salt.
If I thought the wagyu aburi melted in my mouth, then the tartare by comparison was figuratively already a puddle before I even took a bite. The texture was very tender, and had a very slight but perfect amount of chewy resistance. The potent ginger flavour and sriracha sauce added an Asian spin to the French dish. The sharpness from the sprinkle of onion mince and the seasoning on the flaky wonton skin provided distractions to balance out with the strong ginger flavour. The dish could have done with one or two additional pieces of wonton skins, but we were happy to eat the rest of the tartare by the spoonful.
Sticky pork, seared scallops & red chilli dressing.
Aaaah, we finally meet again porky belly… Given the extent of how much the pork belly blew away my taste buds during the Taste of Melbourne festival, it was only a matter of time before I would encounter it again. In other words, it was a must-order dish. There was a possibility that the dish would pale in comparison to that first memory, but the second encounter was every bit as amazing as the first. Perfectly cooked, the pork was succulent and practically fell apart when cut into or bitten. The surfaces of the meat and the skin were crispy with a soft crunch. The scallops were firm and tender, bringing added refinement to a dish that was already perfect. The accompanying papaya salad was sweet, sour, subtly spicy and crunchy, tying in with the meatier elements on the dish p… perfectly. There goes that ‘p’ word again!
Crispy duck - with pumpkin daikon salad & 5 spice caramel.
The duck was well-cooked and thanks to the 5 spice flavour, the meat tasted very similar to the ducks that can be bought from Asian restaurants. Based on previous encounters with the duck+orange combination, it wasn’t surprising that the bursts of juicy and citrusy sweetness paired well with the meat. I was quite intrigued by the pumpkin when I first read the dish’s description, but thought its taste was masked by the stronger sweet and sour dressing. The salad was noticeably lacking in crunchiness thanks to the replacement of carrots with pumpkin.
Roasted Atlantic salmon - with yabbie dumplings, white onion puree & shellfish dressing.
The extent of cooking was consistent across the entire piece of salmon, with crispy skin and soft flesh. We had unfortunately left the dish for too long (my bad, I was too camera-happy), so the pasta/dumpling skin had not only lost its delicate silkiness, but was also a little gluggy in texture. The salted and peppery minced yabby at least tasted fine. Fennel and dill commonly appear side by side with salmon, so the combo definitely works. But in TDR’s dish, the flavours in the fennel salad soon faded after taking a bite to give way to the underlying sweet and sour Asian flavours of the shellfish dressing. While too sweet on its own, the onion puree worked well with the savouriness of the salmon and dumplings.
Complimentary palate cleanser - fennel and yoghurt sorbet, with fig and candied fennel leaves.
The yoghurt sorbet was creamy and consistently silky smooth in texture. The slight fennel taste detected amongst the delightful sourness and sweetness of sorbet resulted in a refreshing flavour that cleansed the palate indeed. The sugary crunch, dryness of the fennel leaves and biscuit crumb added much enhancement to both the flavours and textures present in the dish. We both enjoyed the cleanser, and had it been offered on their dessert menu, we would have happily ordered more.
Yuzu and white chocolate souffle - with mandarin and sake sorbet.
*Note: this dessert was part of their specials on the night.
It’s surprising how much of the citrusy yuzu taste was captured in the airy and foamy souffle, hitting the palate hard as soon as a ‘bite’ was taken. The citrus was very sharp, acidic and slightly bitter. There was no sign of white chocolate detectable other than from the whiteness of the souffle. The citrus flavour in the sorbet was milder compared to the souffle and tasted quite refreshing. I’m not the biggest fan of tart desserts, and so I found the spoonful of mandarin+sake sorbet more enjoyable. The tiny piece of freeze-dried mandarin that topped off the sorbet possessed a strong burst of sweet juiciness.
Complimentary chocolate macarons.
These adorable macarons were tinier than the average macaron, but the chocolate taste and delicate+chewy texture was spot on.
From the ambience of the restaurant, down to the wonderful service from the wait staff, all aspects of our dining experience at TDR rated very highly. The ingredients and flavours in each dish were well thought out and truly embraced the spirit of Modern-Asian cuisine. Bonus points came in the form of the exquisite presentation. I should probably add that while I did end up satisfying those pork belly cravings, they’re slowly starting to resurface again, along with cravings for that wagyu aburi and steak tartare. I suspect a future visit is imminent…
Taxi Dining Room
Level 1 Transport Hotel, Federation Square,
Melbourne, Victoria, 3000.
(03) 9654 8808
With one month to go until winter officially kicks in, the freezing cold has hit Melbourne with a vengeance. Comfort comes at the bottom of a hot bowl of soup or noodles. OR, as I had discovered on one particular cold Sunday night with a visit to Ayatana, a spicy Thai curry. I would like to extend my sincere thank you to owner Tony and Ayatana for the opportunity to dine at Ayatana as a guest.
There is a sleek elegance that fills the entire restaurant. It starts on the outside, with the swirly cursive ‘Ayatana’ that greets you upon arrival, and continues inside with the interior’s spiffy colour scheme and decor. Photos of Thailand’s scenery, spruced up by some photoshopping tweaks, were very eye-catching. The vibe inside the restaurant was very laid back, with lounge tunes playing softly in the background.
The menu was not lacking in choices, and featured both modern-Thai and modern-Asian dishes.
AND, to my surprise when I flicked over to the last page of the menu, they also had a kid’s menu! That’s the first kiddie menu I’ve seen in a non-fast food/ non-Italian restaurant.
Caramelised crispy pork belly - with chilli jam, lime, mint, coriander, red onion, and fried shallot.
The aromas wafting from the dish were sensational, with smells of South East Asian flavours hitting our nostrils immediately. The pork was extremely tender; we had no difficulties cutting into it with our knives, and the meat seemed to melt as soon as we sunk our teeth into it. The thick sweet and sour fish sauce-like sauce matched perfectly with the sweetness and fried crispiness from the pork belly. The salad added freshness and some crunch that rounded out the dish.
Medium hot minced chicken bao - with chilli powder, red onion, mint, coriander, roasted ground rice, lime juice, and fish sauce.
After picking up the baos, I almost dropped it in surprise. The bao skin was super soft… softer than MARSHMALLOWS! Much kneading must have gone into the preparation of that bao, and their efforts have resulted in the smoothest and fluffiest bao skin I have tasted to date. The pork mince was slightly chalky and chickpea-like in texture due to the roasted ground rice mixed throughout the mince. The coriander and chilli were strongest when it came down to flavour. The ‘medium’ level of spice had me reaching for the water glass at frequent intervals, but thehouseofem handled the heat just fine. Good thing we didn’t opt for hot!
Crispy soft shell crab & Tiger prawns - with a green curry, green beans, Thai basil, vegetables, and Kaffir lime leaves.
As with most of the other restaurants I have encountered recently, the soft shell crab option never disappoints. Ayatana’s serving was also delicious, and highly recommended. The soft shell crab was very crispy, and remained so even after being soaked in the curry. The thinness and saltiness of the batter reminded me of french fries - no complaints from me! Much like the other main dish we had ordered, the curry was very sweet, fragrant, and oozing of tasty Thai flavours.
Roasted duck breast fillets - cooked in a rich red coconut curry, pineapple, cherry tomato, holy basil, and vegetables.
While the coconut curry was very sweet, it also possessed a subtle and pleasant hint of spiciness. The duck could have been more tender, but the aromatic flavours of the duck, particularly in the skin, were spot on, and infused perfectly with the sweeter flavours from the curry. I enjoyed the soft tenderness of the cooked veggies in both curries.
The coconut element of the coconut rice was very potent. I did have my doubts regarding the added coconut-iness compared to usual coconut rices, but the sweeter-on-sweet rice-on-curry combination worked a treat.
We had overestimated how much curry and rice we could eat, and unfortunately had to pass on dessert. But there was a triple chocolate brownie that I had my eye on…
Many aspects of our Ayatana dining experience took us back to Thailand. Underneath all the twists and deviations from the traditional Thai recipes, the flavours and ingredients used were authentically Thai. Much like the Thai people, the owner Tony and wait staff were also super friendly and charming (they do call Thailand the land of smiles for a reason). With all the Thai flavours we had tasted and the smiley staff who had served us on the night, all that was missing to recreate the entire Thailand experience was the sunshine and blue waters. But hey, if you looked closely at the wall art, you could almost pretend you were there!
Disclosure: the opinions expressed in this post are based entirely on my experience and observations made during the time of my visit.
97 Chapel St,
Prahran, Victoria, 3181.
(03) 9533 8813
Just over a month ago, Pamooooola and I ran a somewhat gruelling distance of 15km for Melbourne’s annual Run for the Kids event. The day was particularly warm, and while some would say that it was perfect running weather, I would say bring on the clouds and overcast weather please… By the end of the run, I was not only feeling the usual discomfort from soreness and hunger, but also from dehydration. After a cup of icky blue Powerade that partially addressed the dehydration, we headed over to Giddiup in South Melbourne for our food fix.
We arrived at 12pm and unsurprisingly, the tables inside were completely occupied. There were still a few crate spots outside and we were at least able to sit+rest our legs while we waited for a spot. After 20 minutes of waiting and no progress in sight, we decided to eat outside. We realised that our plates would be placed on a crate that had most likely housed someone’s keister earlier, but this was preferable over prolonging our hunger any longer. An order for food was placed and the waiting game resumed.
Pamooola’s latte arrived within 10 minutes…
… but the tea took 25 minutes. And if I thought that the wait for boiling some water took long enough, I had another thing coming when it came to the food. An hour’s wait for food on any day is enough to get me a little annoyed, but after only two bananas for breakfast and a 900 calorie output? Needless to say, we weren’t feeling the least bit chipper.
Avocado, goats cheese, sea salt, olive oil & lemon on multigrain bread.
Pamooola immediately noticed that the avocado and goats cheese wasn’t served on multigrain bread as described in the menu. Instead, they were served on the same ciabatta bread that cropped up in the baked eggs dish. I tried a mouthful and thought the dish brought exactly what was stated, with nothing standing out as a wow factor. There was perhaps a bit too much avocado for two slices of bread.
The egg was perfectly poached.
Northern eggs (baked eggs with toasted ciabatta) - two baked eggs, spiced tomato & paprika baked Northern beans.
The eggs were served piping hot, and without realizing this (I ought to have learnt my lesson by now), I placed an entire forkful of saucy beans into my mouth… burning my tongue in the process. Fortunately, I did not kill all of my taste buds, and was able to taste and enjoy the rich herbed and spiced flavour from the tomato sauce in the bites that followed. The ciabatta bread was toasted perfectly, and the crunchiness from the crust brought some texture to the dish. As with the smashed avocado dish, the eggs in this dish were also perfectly cooked, with the egg yolk oozing out immediately after the slightest pierce.
The mushrooms were disappointing: great flavours but they were served cold. They didn’t even make the cut for the lukewarm category…
From our hungry states and what sounded like one tasty selection of food, we had high hopes that Giddiup would take our taste buds on one wild ride. Perhaps we came on a super busy day, but after too long a wait and too few hits with the food, the horsey failed to take us anywhere amazing.
269 Coventry St,
South Melbourne, Victoria, 3205.
(03) 9682 8820
Over a period of nine days back in late February, I had not one, not two, not three but FOUR oral presentations… Feeling super stressed out, I decided to squeeze in a quick baking session with an easy-to-make passionfruit and coconut whoopie pie. They’re not the prettiest looking when it comes to desserts, but the lighter flavours and the soft cake-y texture of whoopie pies make them one of my favourite sweet items to eat.
125g butter, at room temperature
1 cup caster sugar
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
1/2 cup buttermilk (substitute: 1/2 cup milk + 1/2 tablespoon white vinegar)
1/2 cup finely desiccated coconut
Passionfruit cream cheese filling:
250g cream cheese (1 tub)
80g butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 cup icing sugar
3 1/2 tablespoon passionfruit pulp and syrup
The whooooooooooopie pie.
1. Preheat the oven to 180 C conventional oven or 160 C fan-forced.
2. Combine the butter and caster sugar using an electric mixer until pale and creamy.
2. Add the egg, and continue to beat until the egg is incorporated into the mixture.
3. Sift in the bicarbonate soda and half the flour (1 cup). Using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix to combine.
4. Add the buttermilk, sift in the remaining flour (1 cup), and then stir to combine.
5. Spoon tablespoons of the whoopie pie mixture onto baking paper-covered trays, leaving at least 5 cm of space between each pie. Sprinkle the coconut over the top of the whoopie pies.
The batter was quite thick and didn’t spread at first, even after banging the trays against the counter a few times! But not to worry, they managed to do so in the end whilst in the oven. Phew!
6. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.
Whilst the whoopie pies are baking, start on the the filling.
The passionfruit cream cheese filling.
7. Combine the cream cheese, butter and vanilla essence using an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.
8. Whilst continuing to beat, gradually add the icing sugar, and beat until the sugar is completely mixed through the filling.
9. Add the passionfruit pulp+syrup to the cream cheese mixture, and use a spatula to combine.
10. Allow the pies to cool before applying the cream cheese filling. Sandwich the whoopie pies using the cream cheese filling.
The passionfruit flavour in the cream cheese filling was not overly sweet and worked perfectly with the crunch and slight sweetness from the coconut presence.
I’m not sure why they call these whoopie pies but perhaps it’s because one bite will make you go whooooooooopie!
When I think about my previous dining experiences in St Kilda, only a handful of eateries and dishes come to mind. There’s the gourmet pizzas and paper pastas at The Banff, peri peri chicken from Nandos, and of course fish and chips by the beach. I clearly haven’t done enough eating in the St Kilda area, but a recent addition was introduced to that list with a visit to U-Village Restaurant. I would like to thank owner Zhao Kai Yee, U-Village and Chique Events for the opportunity to visit and dine at U-Village as a guest.
U-Village is a family-run restaurant chain that has experienced much success in Malaysia, and the St Kilda restaurant is not only the first of the chain to open in Australia, but also overseas.
The abundance of woody tones and green pot plants injected an atmosphere of natural liveliness into the venue. I wouldn’t have been surprised if we had been served food in biodegradable and good-for-the-environment dining ware! The bright red gerbera daisies added a splash of colour to the sea of yellows and greens.
Guava, Lychee and Lime - guava nectar, fresh lime and lychee.
I was expecting a sugar-laden drink but was instead pleasantly surprised by the Boost Juice-like smoothie that we were served. The drink was refreshing and not overly sweet. The flavours melded together well, to such an extent that it was difficult for me to distinguish between the individual components.
Five-spiced prawn - with sambal, lime, caramel sugar, on perilla leaves.
U-Village’s take on battered prawns was tasty, and the first of the food set the bar high for the remaining dishes. The only qualm I had was that one per person was simply not enough! The batter was extremely light and delicate, and its presence highlighted, rather than overpowered, the firm prawn underneath. The dusting of caramel sugar had me raising my eyebrow (figuratively, since I can’t physically do it), but it worked! Both the sugar and sambal added a sweetness that balanced perfectly with the lingering five spice in the batter.
Duck san choi bao - with pomegranate, pine nuts & sweet soy dressing.
I’ve never been taken with san choi baos since it’s just lettuce and mince, but the lettuce parcels served at U-Village were quite enjoyable. Be warned though: the sticky broth/sauce was super runny and I found it impossible to eat without making a mess on both the plate and my hands… The flavour of the duck combined with the richness from the broth-like sauce and the earthiness of the mushroom+carrots took my taste buds straight to one of mum’s slow-cooked broths. The bursts of juiciness from the pomegranate brought a unique and fresh touch to the dish.
Thick red rendang curry - with soft shell crab, kaffir lime leaves, eggplant and mint.
We knew we were in for a treat even before taking a bite of the rendang curry; the flavoursome coconut aroma wafting from the curry had me and J salivating from afar. As anticipated, the coconutty sweetness along with the pungent lime leaves were immediately picked up by our taste buds. The sweetness soon faded to spiciness, and boy, did that curry pack a punch! J isn’t usually a fan of coconut-based curries, but he enjoyed U-Village’s rendang immensely thanks to the perfect ratio of sweetness to spiciness. The mint added some freshness that provided a welcome relief to the spice. The soft shell crab itself brought great crunch and a fried crispiness to the curry. Being one of their signature dishes and featuring great flavours with a super generous serving of soft shell crab, you can’t go wrong with the rendang curry.
24 hour sweet vinegar braised pork belly - with cinnamon, chilli and black peppercorns, served with mango salad.
Similar to most Asian preparations of pork belly, the braised meat was tender but not to the extent where the meat starts to fall apart. The use of sweet vinegar and cinnamon brought a touch of ‘east’ to the fusion dish, and paired nicely with the coriander. The heaviness from the fatty portions of the pork belly was offset by the crisp and mildly spicy mango salad. The pork was a pleasant dish overall, but it was the rendang curry that stole the show for both me and J.
Steam Thai Jasmine rice.
Black sesame and peanut butter parfait - with peanut crumble and tangy lemon.
Peanut, sesame… and lemon?! Just like the sugar on the battered prawns dish, I had my doubts about the flavour combination. But to my surprise and delight, the sweetness of the peanut sesame ice cream, the savouriness of the nutty crumble and the sweet+sour tang of the lemon drizzle worked perfectly with one another. Furthermore, the sharp citrus flavour from the lemon sauce helped cut through the richness from the peanut sesame ice cream. Peanut-enthusiasts will enjoy this dish - I harbor a dislike for most things nutty, but would happily order this dessert again.
Pandan creme brulee - with salted honeycomb.
Our night finished on the highest of notes with U-Village’s interpretation of creme brulee. I LOVE my pandan desserts (especially sponge cakes), and was swept off my feet by the fragrant pandan flavour in the brulee. Good thing I was already sitting, hey? The caramelised sugar layer was spot on, and resulted in that crunchhhhhh you want to hear when you first crack into a creme brulee. While the creme itself was perfectly light and creamy, it was a little too runny and probably needed just a short while longer to set. I was so blown away by the flavour of the pandan brulee that I ended up forgetting about the honeycomb until J reminded me half way through consumption. The contrasting saltiness of the honeycomb accentuated the flavours from the creme brulee, but its presence seemed negligible.
From the friendly and prompt service to their delicious twists and takes on Asian cuisine, U-Village easily matches up to the other top players in Melbourne’s Asian fusion restaurant industry. With other dishes like FIVE SPICED CHOCOLATE CAKE, crispy taro soft boiled eggs and deep fried silken tofu catching my eye, a future visit is most definitely in the books. Of course, I also wouldn’t say no to another serving of that rendang curry or pandan creme brulee…
Disclosure: the opinions expressed in this post are based entirely on my experience and observations made during the time of my visit.
1/29 Fitzroy St,
St Kilda, Victoria, 3182.
(03) 9537 1129