Friday, March 31, 2006

The Malvern Hotel, Malvern, pub grub

Malvern Hotel
1117 Malvern Road
(03) 9822-3582
Pub grub - mains $18-$31

Last night, having been relentlessly hassled by my co-bloggers, we finally left the house to eat. Not wanting to venture too far, we went to our local pub, the Malvern Hotel.

Hugo, my PU#1* and I arrived at the Malvern around 8pm, and were seated in the front bit of the dining room, which although it has a lovely view of the National Security Agency and passing No. 16 trams, is a little drafty for a coolish March evening. I was glad I'd taken a jumper. Our somewhat ditzy blonde waitress brought us a giant blackboard of specials, but didn't explain anything other than the fish.

The Malvern Hotel has a long history - apparently, it's been there since 1857. I think the cheese twists they served as an appetiser may have been too. They came in a plastic packet, along with some warm olives. Hugo speculated that they may have been warm due to being pulled off someone's half-eaten pizza, but we wouldn't suggest for a moment that was actually true. The place seemed very clean and hygenic indeed.

We ordered steak (me), calamari (PU#1) and a rabbit pie (Hugo). It was approximately 8.10pm. At around 8.40pm, the crowd from the Blue Mountains (in town for the Commonwealth Games) were getting increasingly well-lubricated and, er, loud, but the natives were getting restless as our dinners hadn't arrived. At around 8.50pm we asked where our dinners were and the manager explained to us that there'd been a lot of orders at once (er, yes, and your kitchen staff ought to be able to cope with that). At around 9pm, PU#1 suggested to our waitress that perhaps we wouldn't have to pay for the food, since it was taking such an inordinately long time. At 9pm and 1 second the manager reappeared to tell us that it was coming, very, very soon, and that he'd love to offer us free hot drinks at the end of our meal to make up for it (hmph). At about 9.05pm our food finally arrived.

Now. Correct me if I'm wrong, folks, but a simple pub meal (and I have my steak blue, so it's not like it takes a long time to cook) shouldn't take an hour to arrive. Anyhoo. The steak was tasty (but I probably would have eaten a slab of raw walrus and pronounced it tasty by that stage, I was so hungry). The calamari was also nice, and not tough, and came with a lime mayonnaise, which tasted very mayonnaisey (i.e. not like the cheap Australian crap - Kraft, Praise, etc, etc), but not at all limey. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that it was a pale green colour, I would have doubted the limeyness. Actually, it may have been food dye.

Hugo's rabbit pie was disappointing. Bunnies are vermin, after all, and one would think there were enough of them (200-300 million is the estimated population) to fill a pie. But no! While he pronounced the bits of bunny there were delicious, he was left with a pie dish full of soupy liquid quite quickly. Not enough rabbit, too much stock was the overall verdict.

The portions were generous enough, however, and we found ourselves unable to contemplate dessert, although we did take the kindly manager up on his offer to supply us with free hot drinks. PU#1 ordered a short black, H & I had hot chocolates.

Now, there's really not that much you can do wrong with a hot chocolate. Or so you'd think. Personally, I like mine rich as Croesus, topped with cream, thick with marshmellows, lots of chocolatey goodness. But it's not essential. Milk, chocolate and possibly marshmellows are all the essential elements.

The manager brought over our hot drinks himself, still apologising for our tardy meals. Our hot chocolates had "artistic" swirls of chocolate topping on top of the foam. Ugh. Foam is just plain wrong, and chocolate topping taste disgusting to anyone over the age of about nine. Possibly ten if they're a late developer.

Hugo asked for a marshmellow. The manager scuttled off to get some. About ten minutes later he reappeared, highly apologetic but sans marshmellows, explaining that he'd actually gone across the road to the service station to try to buy a packet when he realised they didn't have any.

Bad planning, slow food (and not in the good slow food way), average pies... it's all not adding up to somewhere you'd want to eat dinner. There are great pub meals a-plenty in Melbourne. Give this one a miss.

*PU#1 stands for Parental Unit Number 1, and is used to refer to my mother. My father is PU#2.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A & V Lazar Charcoal Grill - Fitzroy

Entree: $7-$12Mains: $25-$29Dessert: $7-$12
Payment accepted: MasterCard, Visa, Diners Club, American Express and Bankcard
. Wine is available by the glass. BYO (wine only) no corkage fee.
Vegetarian options available
This venue accepts bookings. It is advisable to make a reservation ahead of time. Group bookings are supported.
Seats 200
Wheelchair access
Limited parking
Steak glorious Steak. There are few foods in this world (and possibly any other) better than a perfectly cook steak - by perfectly cooked I mean anything from medium to blue and mooing. Don't ever tell me a well-done steak is perfect, it's not and those who like it well done should stick to drive through.
A & V Lazar Charcoal Grill is a Melbourne institution - they have been around for more than 35 years and quite frankly as far as they are concerned, they are the steak place in Melbourne. Just ask the pictures of cattle on the day-old-blood red brick walls, or the blackened grill sending squeals from the plump sausages - or maybe just ask Alojz Lazar and his sons, your waiter is likely to be one of his sons.
For some reason the building reminds me of a great big brick oven - not because it's hot, quite the opposite really, it's big and airy - feeling more like a Swiss mountain cabin, or what I think a Swiss mountain cabin should/would feel like. The furniture is comfortable and no nonsense - there is a bar and an okay wine list, but let's face it, you're there to eat meat so no frou frou over the drinks - just sit down and forego the offer of a menu and tell them you want the 'Beef Banquet'.
Beef banquet gives you four sumptuous courses - a delicious beef broth, which, in winter, is just the thing to start warming up the chills in those bones. Believe me when I say you will crave that beef broth at the oddest times. Follow the broth with those meaty snags (not the waiters, jeez!) oozing their juices and begging for a smudge of homemade mustard.
This will lead you to what you're there for - MEAT. You would have requested rump, porterhouse or fillet from your cheeky waiter when you gave him your drink order. A word of caution - if you don't want your steak hanging over the edge of your plate, stick with a fillet. Of course the meat is well hung as in well aged so that the flavour is intense and optimum at time of cooking. It's a good thing when you chew your steak and your eyes roll back in your head from the explosion of meaty goodness without the unnecessary sauces and garnishes to detract from the taste of beef.
You do get a bowl of salad on the table with the banquet - crisp leaves, fresh flavours and a spoonful of creamy zesty potato salad. You don't have to eat it, but hey, some people do. Remember - you're there for the meat!
If you have room for dessert, it's included in your banquet - pretty much pancakes with strawberries and icecream will be your best bet. It's a nice nice way to end a glorious feast of the beast. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery - City - Chinese, Vegetarian

Name : Fo Guang Yuan (FGY) Art Gallery
Address : 141 Queen Street, Melbourne 3000, Australia
Ph: 61-3-9642 2388 Fax: 61-3-9642 3288

I worked in the building directly across the road from this place for over 6 months and never realised they were there. Would you believe 7 months? What about <insert own line here>? Anyway, it's all very low profile. No obvious signs at all outside the entrance to indicate there is an eatery there. Not sure why this is so. It's always pretty busy everytime I go there though.

In addition to their regular menu, they have 4 daily specials. These change from day to day. For example, the beef rendang, which is my favourite, is one of these specials, so you can only get it on the day it is featured. And the day it is featured? It varies. It was on Thursday last week. Not sure when it'll pop up again. It's possible they're promoting that pokies mentality that is so prevalent these days.

Generally, the food is served in some bento style box, where in the various compartments, I got a sweet potato cake (very tasty), some vegetables (bean shoots, cabbage), some diced fruit (apple and orange bits) and steamed rice in a separate wooden bowl. The rendang had a bit of bite to it (ie. spicy but not overly so) and would you believe you could see and feel the fibre of the beef. Incredible.

My companion had the chicken drumsticks. He was really impressed. Ice-cream paddles were used in place of where the bone would normally be. I've had most of the specials they offer and they're all really tasty too. I dont like calamari, but the fake stuff is really good. And the cod is not fishy at all. It's just great!

I've never really ordered from their regular menu as I usually order one of the daily specials instead. However, I am led to believe that their laksa is pretty good as well.

They have a large selection of tea (more than 10?). You must try the Kumquat tea. It is quite unusual but is very soothing and calming to the nerves. My companion described it as 'like warm cordial' which was ambiguous enough, having never tried warm cordial myself. But he said he'd order it again though. So he must have liked it.

Ambience? It's a very grand building/room. Reminds me a little of that library in Indiana Jones number 3. The place also offers Buddhist meditation so there is that peacefulness and calmness that one associates with this. Though I could sense some impatience in the queue when paying cos they were a little slow in that department. There are lots of exhibits (trinkets and the like) that line the display cabinets along the walls as well as odd statue of Buddha which adorns the entrance (from my creaky memory).

Prices? Of the 4 daily specials, 3 of them costs $8.50 each and the 'special' special is $8.801. From memory, the main menu dishes are around these sort of numbers. The tea was $5.50. Alcohol? Pfftt... They had some sort of cake for dessert but visually, it looked quite poor. I didnt try any. I understand food like this is very labour intensive, hence the prices are really good, plus if you see the premises, the rent must be astronomical.

Photos? D'oh.... forgot. Sorry. I'll add this retrospectively, if I remember, said the goldfish.

I've brought a few avowed carnivores here before and they all thought the food was good and all were very sceptical about it not being real meat ie. they didnt miss the meat component at all.

If everyone ate like this, there would be no need for any abbatoirs in the world. Can you imagine that?

Anyway, this place comes very highly recommended, even after discounting the novelty factor.

Note that the meat is not real meat, for the unenlightened.

1The number 8 in Chinese is supposed to be lucky. Phonetically, it sounds like the word 'prosper'.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Tolarno - St Kilda - modern Australian & Malvern Fish & Chips - Malvern - deep fried food

A tale of two hamburgers

Cuisine: modern Australian
42 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, 3182
Phone: (03) 9525 5477
Hours: 6pm til late
Prices: bargain burgers, moderately expensive other food

Malvern Fish & Chips
Cuisine: "for the best hot food in town"
1380 Malvern Rd, Malvern East
Phone: (03) 9822 3886
Hours: dinner every day except Sunday
Prices: cheap!

I once read a description of a Tolarno burger as "the undoubted king" of bar burgers, and being a burger afficionado, I naturally had to set out immediately to sample said burger.

We arrived at the bar somewhat earlier than the kitchen staff arrived in the kitchen, and began with some aperitifs. Okay, tap beer. Whatever.

The kitchen didn't open til 6pm, and although the bar has a super-cute mini burger (if you care to look above, ladies and gentlemen, you will see it pictured here for your diversion), which is bargain priced at only $4, we were hungrier than a burger that's only half the height of a beer, and wanted a full Iain-Hewittson-sized burger. The man himself was sitting at the bar, so at 5.30pm, when our stomachs were in imminent danger of eating their own lining, we could wait no longer, and so told him we were going to leave if burgers were not served, forthwith!

Tolarno gets full marks for the obliging nature of the owner, who in response to three lovely ladies asking for burgers, promised us they would be ON THE TABLE at 6pm if we didn't leave for less hungry climes, and when the burgers had not arrived at 6.01pm, for using absolutely shocking language at the top of his lungs to the hapless kitchen staff, who then had the burgers on the table at 6.02pm.

The burgers are fat, and come with or without bacon (I'd recommend with bacon, as pigs are both intelligent and tasty), non-optional cheese, salad and beetroot (and although I normally despise beetroot and all its works, this is not the dreadful tinned stuff and is actually delicious) and optional chips (for an extra $2.50 - bringing the total, I think, to $12.50, although by the time we had a bottle of wine the total bill was around $75 for three of us).

The French waitress looked at us in a snooty manner when we asked for mayonnaise to go with the chips, but eventually made good with a bowl of aioli.

The problem is, the burgers taste like actual food. You can tell that the meat is meat, the vegetables are vegetables, and the bacon is bacon. A burger is not supposed to be able to be reduced to its component parts. A burger is supposed to be an indivisible whole of squishy goodness, tasting of nothing and everything. Plus, the chips have to taste like the same fat has been used since time immemorial.

Which brings us to the second hamburger. This hamburger - from our local fish & chip shop, Malvern Fish & Chips.

As you can see (above), the burger from Malvern Fish & Chips definitely scores points for having the requisite squished factor* (especially once it has been carried home in a calico bag containing a whole lot of other stuff). Like Tolarno, Malvern Fish & Chips also gets points for having an obliging owner -and no snooty French waitresses - our fish & chippery man will deep fry items brought from home on request. Last night Hugo fancied a battered and deep-fried banana (apparently this is called a "banana fritter"). The shop had run out of bananas, so we took our own banana with us.

Here's our man deep-frying it for us:

The chips get points for tasting as though the cooking oil has not been changed since the shop opened. Bonus points for the most massive potato cake I've ever seen. And extra bonus points for the whole thing costing $15.50 for two of us, and our man not charging us to deep fry our banana. Next time we are going to take a wheel of brie with us, and see if he'll batter and deep-fry that.

The Malvern Fish & Chips burger is highly recommended. But if you want your burger to taste like actual food, Tolarno's is a pretty good one. Plus, they've got a really nice bartender called Barney, and the Mirka Mora murals, which I admittedly don't have in my living room.

However, I'd like to see what Tolarno would do if you took your own foodstuffs in and asked them to deep fry them for you. If you want to try it, make sure you let me know the results.

*note the horsey that I drew on this plate when I was in Grade 2.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Moroccan Soup Bar - North Fitzroy - Vego/Middle Eastern

Moroccan Soup Bar

Cuisine: Vegetarian, Middle Eastern
Address: 183 St Georges Rd, Fitzroy North
Phone: (03) 9482-4240
Hours: Dinner only (6-10pm) Tue-Sun
Prices: Very cheap!

The striking looking owner comes over to the table with little glasses of sweet mint tea. She kneels beside us and asks, “Have you been here before?” For newcomers there is a preamble about the menu being verbal, yes there is soup, but also a range of dips, vegetable and grain dishes and Middle Eastern pastries. For regulars it’s easy, she asks you to gauge how hungry you are and then brings a stream of tasty food. This is the banquet, which can be lacto or vegan according to your requirements and from mint tea through to the shot of Moroccan coffee with dessert it will cost you about $16.50.

Dips are usually yoghurt or tahini based and come with some pickles, olives and pitta bread. My favourite is one made from cauliflower and was good to see it still on the menu when a group of us ate there recently. The spread this night for mains included – fried eggplant and spicy rice, chickpeas in a tangy yoghurt sauce on pitta, couscous with large chunks of vegetable in a flavoursome stew, a potato based dish with of lemon and tahini and finally a plainer rice and lentil plate. The amount was judged perfectly. The noninsomniacs followed it with the strong, sweet thimble full of coffee and we all tasted the dainty pastries. Other than baklava the stand out was a finger shaped biscuit spiked with rosewater and filled with a figs.

The Moroccan Soup Bar is tasty and cheap but I have a few minor niggles. Only groups of 6 or more can book a table and being a small restaurants it means unless you turn up before 6.30-7 pm it can be a long wait. There is no ‘bar’ to sidle up to, as this is a tea total (Muslim) establishment. On that note, men should be careful to not accidentally touch the women working there as that breaks some cultural taboos.

Friends from across the Yarra who may feel uncomfortable in the eclectically shabby surrounds might prefer the more up market Middle Eastern locals (Zum Zum or Najla). But for the rest of us, the Moroccan Soup Bar will do just fine for feel good, healthy food with a twist.

Review by another outspoken female