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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
Famous for their super cheap $4 pizza deals (which haven’t changed in YEARS) and their ability to not skimp on the size or quality of the pizzas, most Melburnians know about the restaurant duo Lucky Coq and Bimbo Deluxe. It’s been years since I first heard about the restaurants but I have only just visited Lucky Coq for the first time. Talk about being slowwwwwwwww…
Located on the corner of Chapel St and High St, the colourful building that houses Lucky Coq was quite distinct. The inside possessed all the makings of a standard pub/bar. There were a few tables outside on the High St side, and these spots seem quick to go on a sunny day or warm evening. My visit with thehouseofem took place on one such night, and we were fortunate enough to secure a table outside.
Chat patata - oven roasted potato chunks, with rosemary and salt.
Feeling super hungry, we decided to order the potatoes to nibble on just in case the pizzas took a while (it didn’t matter anyway since everything came out at the same time). Served hot, the surface of the potato chunks were crispy while the interior was velvety soft. The flavour was bursting with each bite as the rosemary hit the nostrils and taste buds hard. It was a little too salty for my liking but easily rectified by shaking off the excess salt flakes.
Pollo diablo - spicy chicken, garlic, brocolli and capsicum.
The chicken pizza should perhaps undergo a name change to garlic pizza. It possessed plenty of garlic: garlic mince and WHOLE cloves of garlic (as shown in the above photo). Needless to say, I didn’t have to worry about encountering any vampires after that meal! The chicken was succulent and had a very subtle but pleasant spice that, unfortunately, paled in the presence of that overpowering garlic flavour. As with the other pizza we had ordered, the crispy and thin pizza base was enjoyable to eat.
Lo zenzero prawn - prawn, ginger, garlic, chilli, coriander, caesar dressing, lemon, and bean sprouts.
While the previous pizza had me thinking that’s what you get for paying $4, this pizza had me thinking the complete opposite. It was every bit as refreshing and flavoursome (pleasantly so) as I had anticipated after first reading the description on the menu. The lemony tang and creamy mayo-like caesar sauce matched perfectly to the crisp bean shoots, coriander and occasional ginger encounters. The pizza also delivered on the spicy element, with the sparing use of chilli lingering to spice up the remainder of the pizza. Great Asian flavours captured on a pizza base.
Next on the to-visit list: Bimbo Deluxe!
179 Chapel St,
Windsor, Victoria, 3181.
(03) 9525 1288
We all know that Lygon St is home to many of Melbourne’s top Italian restaurants, but there’s one restaurant that stands out as the absolute best when it comes to a particular Italian dish… Spoiler alert: the restaurant is obviously Trotters, but you’ll need to read on to discover the dish!
My first visit to Trotters took place a few years earlier with fellow lab members in celebration of JP’s wedding. Upon first hearing the name of the restaurant, I had my fingers and toes crossed that we weren’t going to be served trotters and various cuts of meats… I was relieved to see no signs of trotters on the menu! Skipping forward three years to present day, I returned to the restaurant with K following her raving review of this one particular dish ‘it-that-must-not-be-named-yet’.
Drum roll… Are you ready to see the dish that has been enjoyed by many, is often referred to as one of Trotter’s signature dishes, and still haunts my taste buds to this very day?
Gnocchi - house-made pan-fried gnocchi, with roasted butternut pumpkin, baby spinach and pine nuts, drizzled with burnt sage butter.
… gnocchi! Hmmm, well that seemed a little anti-climatic but I can assure you that this won’t be the case when you try that first bite of melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi. The fluffy pieces of gnocchi were consistently smooth in texture and not dense or heavy like the typical gnocchi dishes I have tried to date. The fried pumpkin pieces were sweet while the sprinkling of melted cheese added a salty and aromatic element. Even more flavoursome yet was the burnt sage butter and crisp pieces of fried sage, forgoing the need for sauce. All the ingredients worked perfectly together - I even enjoyed the pine nuts, which added a gentle crunch. The dish was, without a doubt, the best gnocchi dish I have tried to date and one of the tastiest dishes I have tried in 2013!
Toasted spelt piadina - chicken, tomato, taleggio, oregano & pesto.
The piadina wrap was offered as part of their special lunch menu on that particular day. (The menus actually change THAT frequently - I requested to look at the menu at 3pm and was told that they had already been thrown out!) The toasted wrap wasn’t bad but it paled in comparison to the heights reached by the pumpkin gnocchi. The toasted areas were quite firm and added great crunch to each bite. I found the taleggio cheese unpleasantly strong, with its taste even overpowering the pesto and oregano! I ended up scraping most of the melted cheese off, and while I could still detect traces of its flavour remaining on the tender pieces of chicken, it was at least tolerable.
I found myself in a position similar to K in the weeks following our visit to Trotters, raving on about the pumpkin gnocchi to anyone who would listen. Not surprisingly, the gnocchi dish had also been ordered/tasted by those who had been before, and they too had only glowing reviews. While three years had elapsed between my last and previous visits to Trotters, I’m pretty sure that this will no longer be the case after tasting the best gnocchi dish in all of
Lygon St Melbourne and beyond.
400 Lygon St,
Carlton, Victoria, 3053
(03) 9347 5657
Hi, my name is Maggie and I’m a NCD. Non-coffee-drinker. Which is a shame since Melbourne is a city that prides itself on offering some of the best-tasting coffee. I generally do okay minus the perks of caffeine, but there are days when getting through the afternoon hours with my eyes open and brain functioning are particular difficult to achieve. It’s days like these where a visit to Carte Crêpes provide just the pick me up I need to beat 3-o’ clock itis.
The crêperie is located on the side of South Lawn that’s closest to Grattan St. For the folks who are not familiar with the campus: enter gate 10 from Grattan St, walk straight towards the stairs that lead up to South Lawn and turn left before reaching these stairs (ie. after walking underneath the arch way). Open for quite some time now, the stall used to be more ‘cart’-like but has since undergone a renovation to become a more permanent fixture.
For the coffee-drinkers, they also make coffee! Other beverages included tea, hot chocolate and juices.
The crepe production process.
Salted caramel crepe & Nutella crepe.
On this particular occasion (there have been several), we ordered a salted caramel crepe and Nutella crepe. I have only recently jumped on the salted caramel bandwagon, so I thoroughly enjoyed the salted caramel experience captured in their crepe. Spread onto the warm and freshly cooked crepe, the oozy salted caramel melted further. It essentially tasted like Werther’s Original candy in crepe form. There’s also a Snickers option, which combines salted caramel, chocolate and nuts!
Not a fan of salted caramel? Well, you can’t go wrong with the basic Nutella option, especially when paired with strawberries or banana! Understandably so, this seems to be the most popular option; they have over 20 jars of Nutella!!
All this talk has left me with a serious hankering for crepes, and with 3 o’ clock looming, it’s likely that I will be paying the crêperie another visit today!
The University of Melbourne
(Behind John Medley West Building, Grattan St, Gate 10)
Parkville, Victoria, 3052.
One of our recent lab lunch adventures took us to The Mess Hall, with the occasion serving as a farewell to NT who has since left the lab temporarily for greener pastures. Literally, since I hear rainfall is quite frequent in the UK? Unable to make a booking for such a small group of people, we made our way to the restaurant at 12pm with our fingers and toes crossed. Mine were anyway, since the restaurant had been on my to visit-list for a while and I was eager to try their food.
Upon our arrival, we looked in to see a filled out restaurant… save for one table at the back! And with just the right number of spots. Huzzah!
Chicken panini - marinated grilled chicken, avocado, mozzarella, rocket & mustard mayo.
The avocado, mayo and chicken combo wasn’t anything new - I have eaten many variations from different restaurants/cafes. After a while, they all seem to taste the same. And yet I was very impressed and taken with the version served at The Mess Hall. The marinade on the chicken and sprinkle of herbs were very aromatic, matching perfectly to the sweetness from the creamy mayo and the buttery freshness of the avocado. I even enjoyed the thin layer of rocket (this coming from someone who harbors an immense dislike for rocket), and thought that their presence brought a subtle bitterness that enhanced the other contrasting flavours. Throw in a super crunchy panini and you have on your hands one perfect chicken sandwich.
Saffron risotto - with smoked mozzarella & vincotto.
KM thought her risotto dish was quite buttery but bland. I should probably mention that KM wasn’t feeling well at the time, and her taste may or may not have been affected.
Lasagne alla bergamasca.
Polenta chips - with parmesan, herbs & roasted garlic aioli.
Spinach gnocchi - with pork and fennel ragu.
NT said the rosemary stood out as the dominant flavour and thought the fennel was non-existent.
Bread & proscuitto dumpling - with chicken broth.
Nothing like the typical Asian dumplings I was used to, the bread and proscuitto dumplings were essentially balls of flour with herbs and salted proscuitto. I will admit that I wasn’t too impressed when I first laid eyes on them but they turned out to be surprisingly tasty. Thanks to both the strong herbed flavour and the texture of the dumpling, it was as though we were eating balls of stuffing straight from the inside of a cooked chicken! The broth tasted comparatively bland next to the dumpling but when consumed in the absence of dumpling, the bombardment of veggies and the distinct pea+corn flavour combination were quite light and enjoyable.
Overall, lunch was enjoyable but perhaps a little on the pricier side for what it was… I would, however, happily return for that chicken roll.
The Mess Hall
51 Bourke St,
Melbourne, Victoria, 3000.
(03) 9654 6800
One of the reasons why I’m willing to push my way through a huge crowd of Asians and risk the chance of food poisoning (it has happened before!) during the Lunar New Year festival celebrations is for that glorious moment when I get my hands on some Vietnamese grilled pork (nem nuong) skewers. Fortunately for me, eating nem nuong isn’t a once-a-year occasion as my parents prepare them on a regular basis. There are many variations of the recipe, and while my parent’s version doesn’t taste completely identical to the ones sold at the festival, it’s still delicious nonetheless. Plus, they never make me sick! Read on for the recipe:
Like most people, my mind will conjure up images of bread buns sandwiching a meat patty and veggies when I hear the word ‘burger’. But this is not the case for the burgers at J Cafe. Home to what may be Melbourne’s only SUSHI BURGER, J Cafe prep their burgers with not bread but with sushi rice ‘buns’ and two nori (Japanese seaweed) sheets. As the name succinctly suggests, it’s a sushi in burger form.
For those of you looking for a quick getaway or if the tables in the cosy space are all occupied, a takeaway option for $1 less than the dine-in price is available during the lunch and afternoon hours. We arrived at 6.30pm for dinner on a Thursday night and we were able to easily secure a table for four people in the back area.
Their sushi burger sets offer great value for money and will ensure that you leave the restaurant full.
Spoilt for choice, picking a meal was difficult enough… but then we had to also choose the burger. First world problem, I know! It took a while but we finally managed to place our order.
Our meal sets allowed us to choose between a bowl of miso soup or a canned drink. With the cooler Autumn weather starting to kick in, we all ordered the miso soup.
Ebi fry - deep fried crumb prawn.
I had previously tried the ebi (prawn) mayo sushi burger and loved it. This time around, I was told about the legendary soft shell crab burger and as a result, I couldn’t choose between the two burgers. Solution? Order the prawns as part of the meal set, with a soft shell crab sushi burger. I was disappointed to see what looked like ordinary tempura prawns when the dish was first placed in front of me, but I was in for a pleasant surprise. The batter was the crispiest and crunchiest I had ever encountered. A dip into the creamy mayo and a thick teriyaki sauce, plus a squeeze of lemon juice provided the perfect flavour combinations for the prawns.
Agedashi tofu - deep fried tofu, served in a special dipping sauce.
J Cafe’s reputation for tasty sushi burgers may need to be revised to include other Japanese dishes because their Agedashi tofu was also among the best I have tried to date. The batter on the exterior actually possessed some crunch before softening in the presence of the dipping sauce. The tofu was tender and silky. The serving size was extremely generous. The only thing that would have made this dish even better would be some rice.
Soba salad - Japanese cold buckwheat noodles, with special dipping sauce.
The soba noodles possessed a light but aromatic sesame oil flavour that teased the palate with each bite. This dish is highly recommended if you’re after a light and refreshing selection.
Now for the sushi burgers…
Presenting, (drum roll), the soft shell crab sushi burger.
The burger was made up of the following components: rice patties, soft shell crab, lettuce, teriyaki sauce and tartare sauce.
The word legendary often follows with disappointment when high expectations are not met. While the soft shell crab burger wasn’t bad, it also wasn’t mind-blowingly awesome. The batter on the soft shell crab was crispy but lacked that fine and delicately crumbed texture that is, what I think, a crucial feature of great soft shell crab. Thanks to the presence of two huge dollops of mayo, I thought the rich creaminess and sweetness of the mayo overpowered the crab and rice in the first few bites. The remainder of the burger tasted fine, and the light soy sauce-like teriyaki sauce and brief encounters with wasabi brought out the best of the burger.
Spicy tuna sushi burger.
Now THIS was a sushi burger worth raving about! I have only recently acquired the taste for raw fish but raw tuna had remained on my dislike list. After trying this sushi burger, I may have to reconsider! The fresh-tasting tuna was tender and soft, and the natural flavour of the tuna was spruced up by the perfect ratio of spice to creamy mayo.
If you like sushi as well as burgers, then the sushi burgers at J Cafe are a must-try!
J Cafe Restaurant
167 Exhibition St,
Melbourne, Victoria, 3000.
(03) 9650 9877