Sunday, June 25, 2006

Tandoori Den - Camberwell - Indian Cuisine (Tandoor)

Venue: Tandoori Den
Address: 261-263 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, ph: 9813 2598
Parking: On Road
Opening Hours: Lunch Tues-Fri from 12 noon, Dinner Tues-Sun 6pm-10:30pm. Take-away menu available.
Price Range: $6-$18 Entree, $10-$15 main meals, $2-$13 side dishes and breads ($4 rice for two), $4-$5 dessert. Minimum charge of $20 per person on Friday and Saturday nights. BYO wine, $2 corkage per person.

I met a lovely group of people from my place of work (and I'm not just saying that because one of them was my boss) at the Tandoori Den in Camberwell and the food was so fantastic that we all ate far too much and practically rolled out of the restaurant.

On a chilly Wednesday night I parked my car on Riversdale Road and made my way around the corner at Camberwell Junction to the Tandoori Den with my boss. The last time we all had dinner out together as a team was just before Christmas so it was high time that we had some quality social time together without interruption from our clients.

The choice of restaurant was given to the newest member of our team as he is currently reliant on public transport. The tram he catches to work each day goes past this restaurant which had been recommended by a friend and, I was led to believe, it is also in The Age's Good Food Guide which boded well for a fabulous evening.

Having looked up the menu on the web (see the link at the top of the page) in the week or so beforehand there had been major discussions of the dishes on offer while people made up their minds which dishes they wanted to try. Some people made arrangements to share dishes so that they could try a number of different things. We had a Vegetarian with us also and she was well catered for. On the day, one of the team especially wore pants with an elasticised waistband in preparation for the feeding frenzy. (We all take our food pretty seriously.)

The favourite dish of the night was the Coconut Crab. The recipe for this is posted in the window of the restaurant and the team was emailed a copy of it by one of its more enthusiastic consumers. (If anyone is interested I can post it as a comment?) The crab is mixed/blended with various ingredients (coconut, ginger, chilli and onion) to a paste-like consistency and this creamy paste is dolloped into potato skins to serve. I tried the Garlic Tandoori Prawns for entree - beautiful.

For main meal I had the Palak Beef - beef pieces cooked with fresh creamed spinach - and a Garlic Naan with a shared side of Saffron Rice. Other dishes ordered included the Vegetarian Dahl Masala with a side of Raita and more Garlic Naan, Chicken Malbari and a Kashmiri Naan, Makhani Lamb, Dahl Gohst and a couple of other things I lost track of on our heavily loaded table.

The Garlic Naan was some of the best I have ever eaten. It was fresh, light, not overcooked, buttery and garlicky and, not wanting it to go to waste, I probably ate far more of it than I should have. It had been freshly prepared in the Tandoor oven - the chef made the bread and cooked it in front of us. The Palak Beef was melt-in-the-mouth, moist and tender meat surrounded by a fragrantly spicy spinach sauce. Mm! I couldn't finish it all but I gave it a very good shot.

Of course I then had no room for a dessert of my own but was able to taste a piece of someone else's Pistachio Kulfi. Having never tried a Kulfi before, I was intrigued. Kulfi is a type of ice-cream but made with coconut milk/cream (I think) and the Pistachio version has crushed pistachio nuts while the Mango Kulfi has blended mango as the flavouring. (If there are any other traditional flavours, please feel free to let me know - I'm definitely interested.)

I was informed that the Pistachio Kulfi was not of a fabulous standard by some of the others at the table and the following week one of the team brought some in that they had made at home to their own recipe which was, I agreed, better than the one offered by the restaurant. The day after the Pistachio some Mango Kulfi also appeared at work and someone else had been inspired to cook some pappadums in the microwave. (I told you we take our food seriously.)

We all had an excellent dinner and enjoyed the evening immensely. The wait staff were attentive, the portions generous, the food amazing and the company was just lovely. It lived up to and exceeded our expectations. My only (minor) complaint is that the bathrooms were in need of a little fixing up - I like a cubicle door to close and lock easily - and if/when that happens they get five out of five. For now, though...

Four and three-quarters out of five Bollywood starlets.

Reviewed by Riss.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Co Do - Vietnamese & Chinese Restaurant - Richmond

196 Victoria Street
Phone (03) 9421 2418
Open 7 days (9am - 10.30pm)
Definition: Cheap & Cheerful

Finding a good meal at 9.30pm on a rainy Sunday night might prove problematic in some parts of town. But Victoria Street, Richmond (or Little Saigon as it's affectionately known), is always open with a stunning array of cheap and cheerfuls to choose from.

As J and I wandered up the street we came upon Minh Tan 2, which had been given a two star rating and quip "bustling vietnamese/chinese" in the Cheap Eats guide. Unfortunately I didn't think it lived up to it's Cheap Eats recommedation on this occassion. We stood at the "Please wait to be seated" sign for no less than five minutes. I made friendly "I would love to be seated" eyes at no less than six waiters/waitresses. But not one of them acknowledged our presence. Five minutes gives you a lot of time to look around a place, and when I noticed quite a few unhappy patrons, a grotty looking kitchen pass, an overflowing bin right in the entry and extremely sad looking dumplings in the display case, I decided that I really didn't want to eat at this establishment. So we turned tail and walked out the door.

Alas, not two shops up from Minh Tan 2 was Co Do, a charming little Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant that appeared both cosy and inviting. On entering the establishment we were warmly welcomed by staff, shuffled to one of the last free tables and promptly served a cup of steaming tea. There was a happy buzz about the place; uni students creating a ruckus in one corner, an extended Vietnamese family talking it up in the other, lots of mates getting together for a feed, a spattering of couples, and even a few singles.

The table accoutrement was quite utilitarian/amusing. On a small tray one found pots of chopsticks and spoons - a matter of help yourself and use as many as you like. There was the usual salt and pepper shakers, soy sauce and fresh sliced chilli. And then there was the stainless steel pot of chilli and oil, a lethal concotion that should be identified with a biohazard sticker. I fear the stainless steel receptacle was born out of necessity and not aesthetics. Next to this was a serviette tissue box, which I assume was to mop up any hazardous spills should they occur.

The menu here is huge. Whilst the Hue Traditional Vietnamese Style Chilli Beef Soup sounded scrumptious in title, the ingredient list made me think twice; sliced beef, pork, beef loaf, pork loaf, blood. Uh huh. Blood. Yeah I's all the same as meat at the end of the day. But the last time I ate blood I was four years old, and my Italian grandmother (who believed that pigs blood held some magical health property), tricked me in to consuming it by mixing it with chocolate/hazelnut Nutella spread. Urgh. Bleh. I'm scarred for life.

Anyway, I digress.

The menu covers everything from noodle soups (with or without blood), normal soups, rice dishes, rice vermicelli dishes, dropped rice noodle soups, rice noodle soups, egg noodle soups, fried rice or egg noodles - and that's just one side of the menu! Then you go on to pork, beef, chicken, prawn, squid, fish, scallop, duck, omelette, steam boat, combination and vegetable dishes. Phew!

So we decided to play it simple. It was 9.30pm and the stomach wasn't up to anything too adventurous.

Entree was a tasty batch of Vegetable Spring Rolls, served with a side of crisp iceberg lettuce and thai basil / mint. A beautiful sweet/salty/fishy dipping sauce was the accompaniment. J, who is a huge chilli connoisseur, decided to brave the stainless steel receptacle and try the chilli oil. Immediately on consumption balls of sweat appeared on his shaven head, his eyes started to water and turn red, and a big grin appeared on his face. He had found his match.

Not a minute after finishing the spring rolls, our main dishes arrived. First up, a tasty serve of Chinese Broccoli in oyster sauce. How can so simple a dish be utter perfection? Eating a dish like this with a side of steamed rice is what Nigella would term "temple food". Mmm.

Our other dish was Sliced Beef with Chilli and Lemongrass. The beef was super tender and gently spiced with chilli (...and yes, J reached for the chilli pot. Again). But what I really liked about the dish was that it was served with a mixture of stir-fried vegetables and crisp salad vegetables eg. cucumber, lettuce hearts and pickled carrots. I thought the vinegary carrots were a fantastic compliment to the dish.

The steamed rice was bottomless, as was the tea, and we were kept in plentiful supply of both without ever having to ask for more. Speaking of which, the front of house staff were quite something. Genuine smiles. Happy chats/banter. And most importantly they operated with that special "waiters peripheral vision". It is a commendable achievement.

All up our dinner cost $29.00, which I believe nominates it for Cheap Eats status. But I'll go one step further and nominate it for Cheap and Cheerful Eats status. It rocked.

Post originally published in tummy rumbles.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Rathdowne Street Food Store, Food Store-y Style (Modern Australian? Bit of Italian/French), North Carlton

617 Rathdowne St
Carlton North
Tel (03) 9347 4064
Mon-Fri 8 am – 10 pm
Sat-Sun 8 am – 5 pm
Cost: Breakfast/Lunch around $25+

It seems like I have been going to the Rathdowne Street Food Store my entire life. Actually, it's been roughly half, which is very good going in the inner city where rising rents have forced a lot of the original restauranters out of the game.
I used to get hot chocolates at the Food Store as a teenager when my mum worked across the road, we'd bring our own mugs in and walk down the street with them. Environmental, we were in the '90s.
And when I was slogging away through my honours year, and was really depressed in winter cooped up in my cold house trying to write about Virginia Woolf, I would go and get takeaway stew and mashed potatoes from the Food Store, and although it was ridiculously expensive for an arts student who paid her way by attempting to teach Koreans English and getting artists drunk on cask wine at openings, it was worth every cent for the comfort it brought.
And no matter how many times I hear they've gone downhill, or the food's not as good as it used to be, I always have an excellent meal everytime I go there.
So the other Saturday morning, post-Friday night housewarming party, I awoke at a frightfully early hour on my friends' single mattress on their living room floor. My friend Kate groaned from her own single mattress next to mine 'oh god I'm so hungover. How am I supposed to write today?' We both are no good at keeping promises to only have one drink and go home early to write that article/chapter we have to do by Monday. When we finally woke up properly, some hours later, our friend Mia was sitting at the kitchen counter, diligently tapping away at her laptop. Mia always goes to bed early and is a Very Good Girl. But then again, she writes about fashion so it's not really so hard, is it, it's more like fun, really.
Anyway, to shut us up mostly I think, Mia mentioned the words 'bacon and eggs' and I remembered it was my birthday. 'Forget B&E!' I shouted 'You all know my favourite food of all time, the entire reason I have a French boyfriend?' 'What has that got to do with bacon and eggs?' asked Mia. 'Isn't it obvious?' I demanded 'BECAUSE I was under the misguided impression that he would cook me SOMETHING everyday.' They looked fairly blank and not a tad unsure I wasn't going to suggest a nice breakfast of escargot and frog's legs. 'Continue' said Kate, cautiously. 'CREPES! Let's go eat crepes! Hell knows my boyfriend won't make them for us. Let's go out for breakfast. I know a place nearby.'
So we wandered out. Sasha found a great what she termed '50s/80s frou-frou skirt' (she's currently very into what she has termed '50s/80s frou-frou', she thinks she's inventing her own new style, or something) at a garage sale along the way. The French place on Rathdowne St didn't do crepes (unbelievable, and it's too forgettable for me to remember its name), so we went down to the Rathdowne St Food Store, with me insisting that I remembered some sort of pancake thing with lavender icecream. Thank god Kate has the imagination and food curiosity that she does, as Mia and Sasha tried to go into several places on the way, but we ignored their cries of 'I'm starving!' and persisted.
And boy am I glad we did. 'Were they still serving breakfast at 2 o'clock in the afternoon?' Yes, they were, they serve it til five.
That ALONE is good enough for me, but this, well, get a load of this:

Ricotta hotcakes with poached pear and lavender icecream

Seriously, what else could you want on your birthday? They weren't crepes, but they were just as good. There's something about the sensual combination of hot buttery hotcakes with the poached pear and the lavender icecream, which isn't strongly lavender-infused, but is more like vanilla icecream with a subtle hint of something sweet and flowery and damn right yummy.
They've been making them for years, and to me there's really something comforting about a menu that doesn't change much. Just a bit of seasonal variation then and there, but all the best stuff stays put, so when you most need it, on a cold Saturday hungover afternoon when you are turning thirty, it's there, just like it was when you were 19.
We had our own table in our own little section, which you want at the RSFS, as it's kind of the place where you meet your godmother for lunch, only she's having lunch and you're only up to breakfast.
You don't really want to be around all those well-dressed 50 something women who look down their noses at you and your unbrushed hair, and possibly stench of alcohol from the night before. You want your own little corner with your mates and the friendly waitress with the red lipstick who takes one look at you and tells you the fresh juices they've got (pink grapefruit and pineapple, orange and pineapple, yes please, just bring it, quickly), and places in front of you a strong coffee (good, strong, but not too earth-shatteringly so) without the usual weekend interminable wait.
Normally I sit outside under the trees and dream of living in one of the wonderful old unrenovated huge terraces next door, and of being able to pop next door to the Food Store for freshly baked muffins, croissants and their incredible bread (which my mother gets for free on her morning walks, they don't forget their old time customers) and god knows what other delicacies when writing gets too much, but in winter they've got a nice fire up the back and it's very cosy and sophisticated without being overly pretentious.
The other girls had a lamb soup and bacon and eggs, which they demolished in under 2 minutes, then helped me finish my hotcakes, which they were simply amazed by. Particularly the lavender icecream.
As we were leaving, Kate, unable to resist their 'wall of food' at the counter, a display of mouth-watering biscuits and pies and stews and cigar-shaped chocolates, bought me a neenish tart which was without a doubt the best neenish tart I have ever had.

Overall, Rathdowne St. Food Store will never change and I hope it will be there for ever and ever.