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Gastronomical ramblings

Food adventure @ Otsumami

Otsumami has been on my to-visit list since 2012, but given its location in Northcote and how little I frequent that side of Melbourne, it’s taken me quite a while to get around to visiting. The opportunity came up recently whilst deciding on a meet up venue with Dr M, who happens to be working practically around the corner. Huzzah!

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Salmon Harumaki - salmon, cheese and nori spring rolls, served with wasabi mayo. 

The spring roll wrapper sported much crunch, but it was quite tough and chewy in texture and lacked that delicate crispiness you look for in wrappers.  The salmon itself was overcooked and the distribution of cheese was uneven. The bites with all elements, however, really highlighted how well the flavour combo worked. That hint of wasabi and sweet teriyaki sauce were particularly enjoyable. 

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Kani-age - soft shell crab marinated in soy, mirin, ginger & garlic, deep fried and served with chili mayo dipping sauce. 

No complaints from either of us with the soft shell crab. The batter was crispy and delicate (unlike those spring rolls!) and also well seasoned without being overly salty. The flavouring from the creamy sweet chilli mayo accompaniment really rounded out the dish.  

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Sweet potato gyoza (left) and tori niku gyoza (right). 

The combination of sweet potato in a gyoza was intriguing, so we decided to give our taste buds the chance to explore something different. Fortunately, it wasn’t all sweet thanks to the addition of chive, giving it a savoury sort of taste. The blend of sweet potato was silky smooth and just melted in the mouth. The wrappers for the chicken gyozas were quite wonton-like. The tender chicken filling was aromatically sweet, and further sweetened by its pairing with a tangy soy and chilli vinegarette sauce. 

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Hotate - scallops pan seared in soy, butter and balsamic, with bonito flakes. 

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The scallops were gorgeously cooked, translucent in its colouring. Its flavour profile was defined by the fishy bonito flakes, subtle wasabi presence and creamy potato mash. It was quite different to what I have encountered with other scallop dishes but oh so delicious. 

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I had been looking forward to Otsumami for quite some time, and the real deal did not disappoint. With only one negative in one of the dishes and big positives encountered with the rest, I would happily drive out of my way for a return visit at some point! 

Otsumami on Urbanspoon

Otsumami

257 High St,

Northcote, Victoria, 3070. 

(03) 9489 6132

http://www.otsumami.com.au/

Food adventure @ Din Tai Fung, take five.

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Aaah Din Tai Fung, we meet again. It’s been too long! With cravings for their xiao long baos and chilli oil wontons, we made sure to schedule a visit on the first day of our visit to Sydney. 

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Strawberry mocktail. Ordered by Mr. Awks, who refused to let me photograph him with the drink in hand haha!

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Xiao long baos (steamed pork dumplings). 

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Food adventure @ Dumplings Plus, Highpoint

I’ve been to Highpoint maybe a handful of times since the opening of its new ‘high-end’ shopping area, and during each visit, it was impossible to miss the insanely long queues/crowding outside Dumplings Plus. Which got me wondering, why? Curiosity got the best of me during my last visit, and so I decided to check out the dumplings joint.   

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Still quite full at 9pm (closing time of the shopping centre). 

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The glass windows surrounding the preparation area offers diners and passers-by a full view of the hard work that goes into prepping the dumplings. 

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GIANT STEAMER BASKET OF PRAWN DUMPLINGS. So much NOM.
Sneak peak from Zhou Zhou Bar launch party.

Food adventure @ Oriental Teahouse, South Yarra

If there’s two things that Oriental Teahouse is renown for, it’s for their abundance of teas and their serving of YUMCHA at NIGHT. Mid-week cravings for yum cha have resulted in afterwork visits to the Melbourne Central establishment on several occasions. But with a recent invitation to visit the South Yarra restaurant, I saw and experienced Oriental Teahouse in a whole new light… I would like to thank Oriental Teahouse and Harvey Publicity for the opportunity to visit Oriental Teahouse South Yarra.

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Save for the location and the restaurant’s dimensions, the Chapel St restaurant looks similar to the one in Melbourne Central. 

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Some refreshing chilled teas to start. 

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Prawn Hash Browns - breakfast favourite of the Orient, with prawns and Asian greens. 

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The hash brown tasted like a variation of the deep fried prawn and bean curd dish typically served at yum cha, but with more flavour and less flaky crunch. The fried pieces of kale added to the dish’s crispiness. 

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Chicken Dumpling & Quinoa Salad - leafy greens with mixed quinoa, chicken dumplings, broad beans & red onion in tangy ginger dressing. 

This salad completely disproves the theory that you don’t make friends with salad. Hearty and full of flavour, as opposed to light or refreshing, the ginger presence in the oily dressing brought much aroma. My lips gradually became slick with oil, but this was easily forgiven thanks to the taste. Both the skin and filling of the chicken dumplings were soft and tender. 

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Chilli Wagyu Dumplings - wagyu beef marinated in kaffir lime, served with homemade chilli sauce. 

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Give me silky dumpling skin and chilli oil sauce, and I couldn’t care less about the filling. But for the record, the filling was very similar to the chicken dumplings in texture, with the natural taste of wagyu beef pairing well with the chilli sauce. 

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Main share dishes, served with rice. 

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China Fried Chicken Ribs - chicken ribs tossed in pepper, garlic salt & chilli.

Thanks to the abundance of seasoning, these ribs were packed with flavour. In fact, there were times when it seemed as though there was too much flavour, with the crispy crunchy batter coming across as very salty. Luckily we had some rice on hand.  

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Confucius Says, “Eat Your Veggies” - a wholesome bowl of stir fried string beans, carrots, barley, black fungus, bok choy, edamame & baby corn studded with with goji berries. 

While the variety of veggies looked sensational on the plate, the taste was fairly average. 

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Chinese Wonka Dumplings - fried sesame & sticky rice spheres filled with melted chocolate, served with vanilla ice cream. 

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I’m not the biggest fan of Asian desserts, but may need to revise that mindset given the amazing sweets we were served… 

There was a great contrast between the flavour and texture of the crunch from the sesame shell and the chewy doughiness of the sticky rice layer. The oozy, melted chocolate brought much of the overall sweetness. The creamy vanilla ice cream was the cherry on top, tying together all the elements perfectly. 

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Signature White Chocolate Dumplings - ‘amazeballs’ stuffed with white chocolate, topped with white chocolate & peanut praline. 

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While I was already blown away by the sesame dessert, critical levels were reached with this signature dessert. Picture this: a condensed ball of white chocolate with a nutty explosion of peanuts and coconut. Again, each component worked wonderfully with one another. I can’t help but agree with their ‘amazeballs’ description. 

With many of the dishes bringing something new to the table (here’s looking at you, quinoa salad and dessert balls), there’s now even more reason to visit Oriental Teahouse asides from the late night yumcha fixes. Seriously… amazeballs… get on them! 

Disclosure: the opinions expressed in this post are based entirely on my experience and observations made during the time of my visit.

Oriental Tea House on Urbanspoon

Oriental Tea House

455 Chapel St,

South Yarra, Victoria, 3141. 

(03) 9824 0128

http://www.orientalteahouse.com.au/

Food adventure @ Shandong Mama

With some remaining cravings for all foods Asian since returning home from my European adventures, the sister and I decided to hit up a dumpling joint for dinner one weeknight. Having made quite a splash with diners and dumpling lovers since landing in Melbourne some time last year, visiting Shandong Mama was an obvious choice. 

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Much like many of the restaurants in the same area, you take one look at the interior and know that you’re in the heart of Asia town. In other words, the interior was very simply decorated, with the occasional token red and gold Chinese trinket. 

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Spring onion egg roll pancake. 

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The edges were rather crispy, while the centre tasted like a cross between an Asian pancake and omelette. The let down of the dish was the flavour, which was quite bland and dull. Bring on the soy sauce and chilli! 

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Dill-icious pan-fried pork dumplings - pork mince with fresh dill, spring onion, ginger, dried shrimps and sesame oil. 

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There was such a strong lemon and dill presence in the flavouring of the overall dumpling that my taste buds expected the fishiness of salmon to follow. It took a while for my palate to adjust to the combination of pork, lemon and dill, but the playful flavour pairing was a refreshing change to the usual dumpling flavours. It may not be for everyone though; the sister didn’t enjoy this dish in the slightest.

With the wrapper left open, the juices from the filling are allowed to seep out, mix in the pan and consequently add to the flavouring of the dumpling wrapper. 

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Boiled pork and cabbage dumplings. 

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Expect a delicious blend of flavoursome pork mince and cabbage, wrapped in a silky light dumpling wrapper. What really won me over was the rich-flavoured soup inside the dumpling.

While noodles, rice and main dishes also make an appearance on their menu, it’s the dumplings that run the show at Shandong Mama. With no shortages of dumpling restaurants in Melbourne, Shandong Mama shakes up the game with their unique open fried dumplings and intriguing flavour combinations. 

Shandong Mama on Urbanspoon

Shandong Mama

Shop 7, Mid City Arcade

200 Bourke St,

Melbourne, Victoria, 3000. 

(03) 9650 3818

Food adventure @ Harbour Inn Chinese Restaurant

One thing that I hadn’t anticipated on getting out of my European travels was a massive craving for Asian food. After returning home, I spent my first day back with J, and in one of those spare moments where our food cravings actually synced, we found ourselves in Altona for a yumcha lunch at Harbour Inn. 

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Don’t expect a typical Melbourne yumcha experience here. Cosier than many of the yumcha establishments around Melbourne (Gold Leaf, Shark Fin House and Plume to name a few), there are no trolleys here. Instead, orders are taken using a pen-to-paper system. Efficient in some ways, but it also means that the food takes longer to come out…

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The fried…

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While the texture of the pan-fried bean curd with prawn filling was crispy, it wasn’t as delicate as usual. 

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The prawn rice roll wasn’t the steamed version I was expecting but came in the form of a crispy spring roll instead. I do love my steamed rolls (har cheong) but didn’t mind the fried version at Harbour Inn. 

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The skin of the pan-fried pork dumpling was light and soft. Its filling tasted quite sweet, and paired well with the equally sweet soy sauce. 

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The steamed… 

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The steamed prawn dumplings were very generously sized. The taste was no different to the har gows from other yumcha restaurants. 

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The skin of the steamed prawn and chive dumplings was spot-on gelatinous in texture, and again, the sizing was very generous. 

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Unfortunately, the best was not saved for last. There was no soup explosion when I bit into the xiao long bao, and there was also too much meat filling, deviating from the correct ratio of filling to soup to skin.  

Based on what I had spied whilst lunching at Harbour Inn, the restaurant has established quite a local fan base. While our experience was okay, the 40 minute wait for the food was just too long. Doing the quick maths, some of that wait time could have been spent on driving out a little further to the usual yumcha locations. 

Harbour Inn Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Harbour Inn Chinese Restaurant

52 Pier St,

Altona, Victoria, 3018. 

(03) 9398 3725

The staple of all yumcha meals: har gows (steamed prawn dumplings)

Food adventure @ Night Noodle Markets

Having had a successful run in Sydney over the past few years, the Night Noodle Markets have finally come to Melbourne. As part of The Age’s November Good Food Month celebrations, the inaugural event is currently being held at the Alexandra Gardens, and will run at the scenic riverside location until Saturday November 30th. 

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The event kicked off on Monday (the very same Monday night on which I had to fly out), but after receiving an email from Exposure Public Relations and Marketing on behalf of Rekorderlig Cider, I decided to squeeze in a quick one hour visit.

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Upon arriving at 5pm, the grounds were fairly empty, devoid of the crowds that would soon start to stream in not 30, 40 minutes later. Many of the stalls were still setting up at this point and didn’t have any food ready. 

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Fast forward 30 minutes later and there were crazy queues that seemed to go on and on. Not so good for me given the time frame in which I had to get myself home and to the airport. 

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Located pretty much just after the entrance of the markets, and with an attractive and stylish design, alongside the live tunes churned out by a DJ, the Rekorderlig stand was one of the more popular stands that drew in the peeps from early on. And with the sun shining bright and the mercury hitting 30 degrees, a glass of chilled (complimentary) cider couldn’t have come at a better time (thank you to Exposure PR and Rekorderlig). It took me a good minute to mull over the extensive range of cider flavours under Rekorderlig’s belt before deciding to go with their new summer release: the Apple-Guava. 

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The guava presence brought a zesty, tropical tang that really complemented the apple. It may have been due to the use of ice, but the cider actually wasn’t as overly-sweet as usual, making it more refreshing to drink. Combining the refreshing quality with its tasty flavour, this new flavour will definitely give your taste buds a taste of summer. 

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K Mangz and I decided to hit up the Let’s Do Yum Cha stall for a dose of dumplings.

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Pork dim sims and prawn+chive dumplings. 

The elastic texture of the dumpling skin had been achieved perfectly and made the final product very enjoyable to eat. Meanwhile, the wrapper for the dim sims were silky and delicate. The filling for each was tender and very well-flavoured. While costing almost an arm ($10 for five pieces!), the taste and quality of the dumplings and dim sims almost justified the price.

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Given the name of the event, we thought it’d be a good idea to try at least one serving of noodles. But where from? We decided on a less-known stall, Shallot Thai, in hopes of a faster-moving queue, but to no avail; we still ended up waiting a good 35 minutes for some pad thai and egg noodles. 

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Pad thai. 

Unfortunately, there was nothing spectacular about my pad thai order, and the only thing that did stand out was the noticeable puddles of oil. 

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K Mang’s Pad mee. 

With the warmer weather hitting Melbourne and the selection of tasty delights from many of Melbourne’s top restaurants, the Night Noodle Markets provide a great atmosphere for a summery picnic. It’s a shame I didn’t have the time to do any more exploring of the other stalls on the day or make a return visit some time during its two week run, but going by the success witnessed on its debut night, I’m fairly certain that the markets will be making a reappearance in Melbourne next year. 

Night Noodle Markets

Alexandra Gardens, Melbourne

November 18-30th, 2013

Mon - Tues: 5-9pm, Wed: 5-10pm, Thurs - Fri: 5-11pm, Sat: 4-10pm, Sun: 4-9pm

http://melbourne.goodfoodmonth.com/nightnoodlemarkets

Pan-fried dumplings, served with chilli oil and soy sauce. 

Food adventure @ Ramen Ya

With winter now well and truly upon us Melburnians, I have noticed a marked increase in my consumption of all things warm and soupy. During one Friday night dinner with J, my bowl of something warm and soupy took on the form of a bowl of ramen noodles at Ramen Ya. 

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While the venue was quite cosy, possessing limited seating, extensive seating was also available in the outdoors area. Despite the wintery cold, keeping warm in this area would have been hardly a problem thanks to strategically-placed heating units and the donning of the winter coats. However, we opted for a seat indoors due to the improved lighting for taking photos. 

Green tea. 

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Our selection of sides. 

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Gyoza - pork pan-fried dumplings (seafood option also available).

The gyoza dumplings packed a tad more cabbage than pork, but the flavour was spot on. The dumplings were pan-fried to a perfect extent, adding much crispiness to the dumpling skin. 

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Chicken karaage - Japanese style fried chicken, with mayonnaise. 

The chicken karaage was well-crumbed and seemed more crunchier than usual. The mayo paired well with the fried chicken, while the zestiness from the lemon presence in the mayo helped to balance out the heaviness from the deep fried crumbs and creamy mayo. 

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Charshu ramen (house specialty) - with sliced marinated pork and tonkatsu (pork) soup base. 

Tofu salad - tofu garden salad with house dressing. 

The ramen was ordered in a set, which included a cup of green tea and a choice between 3 gyoza or a tofu salad. 

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The bowl of ramen was an instant hit, and wowed my taste buds from the first bite to last. The similar-to-what-I-had-tried-at-the-Ramen-Museum-in-Japan tonkatsu flavouring in the soup, combined with the slight chewy resistance in the texture of the ramen noodles, took my taste buds on a trip right back to Japan. Or somewhere close to it at least… The thinly-sliced pieces of pork belly were super tender and seemed to ‘melt’ into the soup when consumed. 

The house dressing on the tofu salad was quite sweet, but paired well with the fresh salad. The tofu itself was a distinct, cold ‘blob’ that sat on top of the garden salad, and the overall salad could have been improved if the tofu was cut up into smaller pieces and dispersed throughout the salad. 

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Whole King prawn dumplings, with noodles, in a delicate soup. Served with a side salad. *This dish was offered as a winter special. 

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For those of you who have tried CP Authentic Asia’s microwave King Prawn Wonton Soup with noodles (available from Costco), the resemblance in taste and composition between the microwave meal and the dish served at Ramen Ya was uncanny. Fortunately, I have always liked the CP Authentic Asia version (the soup is quite flavoursome and the wonton skin is particularly delicate), and was happy with my meal selection. 

Ramen Ya serves a decent ramen, with its rich and authentic flavours sitting close enough to the quality of ramen dishes that comes out of the ramen kitchens in Japan. Either that or I need to return to Japan some time soon to ‘refresh’ my taste buds…  

Ramen Ya on Urbanspoon

Ramen Ya

Shop 25G, Melbourne GPO

Bourke St/Elizabeth St

Melbourne, Victoria, 3000. 

http://www.ramenya.com.au/