Monday, January 30, 2012

The Hardware Societe - (Melbourne)

  I was acutely aware of the constantly high ranking of this Café on Urban Spoon,  although I was only starting to become aware of Urban Spoon in 2011,  which might be a bit late by everyone’s standard because I was more of a person back in the days   -  as a blogger who is not really a blogger but constantly out of sync with reality due to the lack of spare time to write properly  (I do have a private and working life as a priority mind you).    That’s unless I am writing an article for a magazine once in a blue moon and when I do actually proof-read and try to write as maturely as an adult.    I often use my personal space to express what I really feel deep-under but may be sometimes I become a little evil and whinge just a little bit too much! Smile with tongue out   I write on my blogggg only for the sake of having fun rather than becoming all pushy and trying to be the ultimate food snob blah,  which is totally uncool..   However it might seem unfair to the shop nevertheless,  I personally thought that this shop was slightly too hyped up to live up to expectations.   I thought it was enjoyable yes,  but in my mind there were a few shops which were better than here and deserved equal if not more praise than the rating suggests.   *This is not to mention our suspicions that someone is illegally trying to jack up the ratings online, to generate more noise and therefore turnover behind the background,  which is not totally implausible.



There is a Queue here -
Truth be told,  the quality of this Café is good in general. 
However I think I expected more in the end,  as I had already locked in my favourites in town…


Display Fridge -


Menu is Average,  by 2011 Melbourne Café standards -
Still interesting, but predictable..  Although this is in my opinion only! Smile




Cidre Au Manoir du Kinkiz -  $7.5
From Southern Brittany in France,  this was a less farmhouse like cider than I’d imagined.  Which is a positive thing for the 1st drink in the morning!   


Cocotte Eggs, Crab Meat, Salmon Pearls, Spinach, Crème Fraiche, Lemon -  $17
Cocotte was spelt incorrectly as Cocette here on the menu.  Look, let’s not be anal about spell checking because I carry a lot of typos too until I bother checking,  although I don’t receive any profits from my blogging either.   But when this arrived,  this looked anything but like a French Cocotte but more like a Spanish Cazuela dish.   Call me being particular about details,  but after 2 separate false starts I was beginning to suspect whether they do care about sticking to their philosophy or recipe.  This is not helped by something else I noticed afterwards.    Back to the dish?   The egg was cooked well and the crème fraiche was a little too watery.   The crab meat was sweet and worked with the spinach well.  The bread with olive oil was the highlight,  surprisingly.  I liked this dish’s taste,  bar the wateriness,  but the question keeps coming back to my mind as to how much they did even bother to adhere to their intended recipe and presentation and consistency  ~  7/10




Cappuccino  (Blend by Padre Coffee) -
The coffee is the same as the 1 out of 3 House Blends offered at The League of Honest Coffee, but here it was more caramelly rounded instead of imposing or making a statement.    Coffee quality was good but not totally exceptional I guess.  But could drink this all day!  ~  7/10




Remember I mentioned above,  the spelling typos,  and questioned whether they do vehemently stick to their recipes and abide by them!    The look of these Caneles convinced me finally -  look how out of shape they look and totally wrong…   These are probably the worst caneles I’ve seen in my whole life and shouldn’t even be presented to the customer.   A carefully QC’ed kitchen even from a café would never have let these out for sale.    My Egg Cocotte dish above might have been tasty,   but just like the caneles,  it was presented hastily without much thoughts or quality control,  or paying enough respect to the customer.   





Price: AUD $25
Coffee:  ♕♕♕♕
Food:  ♕♕♕ 1/2

Opening Hours -
Mon to Fri: 7:30 am - 3:00 pm  (Operating Hours are a bit early)
Sat: 8:30 am - 2:00 pm

Address:  120 Hardware Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
Ph: (03) 9078 5992

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Atlantic - (Melbourne, Australia)

  The Atlantic is located in a busy corridor of the Melbourne Crown Casino and it will inevitably catch your attention.   The front window display is filled daily with the biggest fishes you can imagine in your wildest nightmare,   their jaws jacked wide opened and their tongues sticking out in protest  -  did u realise a fish tongue can be bigger than a human’s?   Haha I didn’t either!!    A quick browse of the menu during a walking-by session and my instant conclusion was perhaps rather judgmental?   A big rip off,  touristy prices,  totally not on my agenda to visit,  ever.   But as luck will have it,  some family members decided to host a birthday gathering here and although I wasn’t the one to foot the bill I still felt a great sense of guilt for the person who shall eventually pay for it.    I was so certain that this would turn out to be a mediocre experience but at grossly inflated prices!    This assumption was only half correct in the end -  the final bill was still exorbitantly high and not so justified,  but the food quality nearly matched the money.    It turned out in hindsight that this is operated by a locally famous chef Donovan Cooke,  who used to run other 2 hatted restaurants and this casino restaurant has just been awarded a 1 Hatted Status as well.  

    Whether it is worth its status or not is not the pertinent question however,  as celebrity or well known chefs in town have proven to always receive a consolation prize or two by default either way,  perhaps due to mutual respect and the Aussie way of interpreting their mateship in the culinary world  -  the problem with the restaurant ratings in Melbourne is generally opposite to Hong Kong’s Michelin situation.  The latter Michelin Guide gives them out too laxly sometimes (bar the odd omission of a few obviously neglected choices,  but there are other reasons for that).   In Melbourne, some establishments really deserving their due recognition are hardly given a 2nd chance to regain themselves and be elevated to a Hatted Status.   The media darling chefs, or the rare restaurants that came up first with an exotic menu that fits in with the local food trend are the only chance and accessible way of becoming promoted to a higher pedestal level.    The Good Food Guide is tethering on the brink of losing its credibility  -  often failing to recognize the real genuine gems in town  and it is lately losing it fast too,   as year in and year out,  only the same restaurants or chefs are being featured,  yet the neglected ones are still becoming kept silently in the background despite being of true International standards.   Donovan Cooke and his food might be worthy of being 1 hatted,  but I can at the same time think up of many others in town which can also feature brightly and unashamedly on an international scale,  laying claim to becoming promoted.  These really ought to be treated without bias by the judge panel.   Customers follow our prestigious guides to eat around town,  and the guides must also judge them all with fairness and understand it’s on their onus and responsibility to prove to the proprietors and the customers, those whom should be appreciated and to keep the culinary circle running on its gears.   More reviews of those deserving ones to come soon just for comparison!…  



P1170213Gigantic Fishes and Tongues -
A sight indeed!



Dinner can still be a bright dining event,
when facing the Yarra River during spring time




Bread with Spanish Olive Oil -
The olive oil was really good actually,  with a full bodied mouthfeel and heavy in Olive essence.



Moulting Bay Oysters (Tasmania) – AUD $4.5 each
Sweet and creamy,  but not exceptional compared to the below.  I think Australian pacific oysters are too ‘clean’ and sweet tasting in general,  except for the odd ones or two which are exceptionally salty!   ~  6/10


Blackmans Bay (Tas) – AUD $44
These surprised me a bit as they don’t taste like normal Australian pacific oysters,  but were distinctively fresh in its crisp, sharp and minerally character.  There are sometimes artisanal rock or angasi oysters grown in Australia which are also great but this is the first time I’ve encountered Tasmanian pacific oysters of this quality.  Pleasantly surprised.  *For Hong Kong people,  these are now sometimes found at City Super supermarket nowadays.    ~   8.5/10




Atlantic Seafood Cocktail -  $32
Spanner Crab, Scallop, Moreton Bay bug,  Prawn, Iceberg lettuce with Rock Melon, Basil, Soft boiled Quail Eggs.  This was quite boring,  as it was mainly too mayonnaise like?  The seafood quality was fresh enough.   Just a little too creamy overall  ~  6.9/10



Trio of Crudo – $28
With Kingfish, Yellow Fin tuna and King Salmon,  served with pickled cucumber, daikon, horseradish and lime.   Sliced and plated quite messily,  there is no doubt the fishes are fresh,  but anyone could get access to the so-called sashimi grade fish.  Almost any Italian crudo dishes I’ve had looks better than this,  so why don’t I just go buy some and do it myself at home? Confused smile  2/10




Spanner Crab,  Curry Scented confit Butternut Pumpkin, Candied Ginger,
Pumpkin Sorbet, Curry Oil and Green Mango salad -  $28
This was more interesting unlike the above seafood cocktail,  although the curry and pumpkin is probably a little too sweet and overpowers the not-so-strong spanner crab flavour especially when it doesn’t have much tomalley/roe.   The green mango is refreshing and worked with a Thai slant.   ~    7.5/10



Warm Salad of Smoked Eel, frisee, Garlic crouton, slow cooked Free Range egg, Smoked bacon and Mustard dressing -  $25
This was quite smoky in both sauce and eel but without the bitterness/sour taste sometimes associated with these smoked food,  and it worked really well with the egg and frisee salad.  Didn’t think it was out of this world in recipe, but the taste was impressive  ~   9/10



Steamed Spring Bay Mussels – $27
In a Chorizo, Saffron, Tomato, Sherry and Basil broth,  this was decent but not so overly memorable.  The mussels didn’t had as much sweet mollusk flavour as I had hoped for, which is surprising since I remember having better mussels in 2 other local restaurants in town.  The soup was a little weak as well.  Overall however this was still acceptable ~  6.9/10




Caramelised Crispy Skin Berkshire Pork Belly -  $28
Surprisingly small in portion,  comes with pineapple cumberland sauce, micro coriander, spring onions and soy beans (green bears).   This was decent but a little under roasted as the fatty flavours hasn’t been yet released and then penetrate back into the meat.  Garnishes were ok but were a little tired in formula nowadays.   Not the worst ones we’ve tried, marginally decent ~  7/10



Wood fire grilled King Fish (Port Lincoln, South Australia) = $48
Green and white asparagus,  prawn and citrus vinaigrette.  This was cooked really well and had a strong wood fired flavour,  which this same smkoy taste carried across to all other items that were wood grilled tonight.  The sauce was quite simple for a 1 Hatted status restaurant however,  and there are no pretty plating or good garnitures to accompany the fish.  Taste wise however was still good albeit predictable ~  7/10



Steamed Wild Barramundi  (Gladstone, Queensland) -  $45
Confit fennel and cucumber, Tempura Oysters,  Oyster Veloute scented with Truffle.  The fried oysters were a little bready and limp,  but the fish was cooked very well and the oyster veloute was judged right enough to not overpower the fish.  A bit on the small side though for the price.  ~  8/10




Wood Fire Grilled Flounder (Hawkes Bay, New Zealand) -  $52
The above fish portions were tiny,  but out came this gigantic flounder!   Again there are no garnitures to go with this – which to me makes it not necessarily better than any other seafood restaurants in town.  The taste of this fish however  could hardly be faulted.  Grilled nearly spot on with a wholesome smoky trait (but smelt burnt nearer the fin areas too),  I actually thought this was too smoky and overpowered the fish’s flesh.  But it was high quality fish and even came with attached female fish roes.   ~    7/10




Red Apple Salad – $12
Rocket,  Parmesan, Honey and Black Pepper,  but not much signs of the apple and the sauce was downright poor,  being lacking in quantity and taste,  and the big parmesan pieces on the side distracted from the eating itself.   ~   3/10



Thrice Cooked Russet Potatoes, Rosemary, Garlic and Sea Salt – $11
A lot of restaurants stuff this simple side dish up and often hand out soggy messes of potatoes most of the time,  but this was done really well for once.  Floury and crispy and seasoned well,  thanks to triple cooking.  Execution,  like a lot of dishes here was great, but the recipes can be rather old school and it’s not exactly cheap either..
~  8/10



Not everything tonight was destined to be seafood ..


P1230230-1Geoff Merrill Merlot 2007 -
Violet fruitiness with fruitcake and spice with a distinct newish cedar oakiness,
this is a very balanced Aussie wine.  If this had more vegetal or earthiness and also cut back on the forward fruits and oakiness,  it can be quite French Bordeaux in style.   A nice Aussie wine indeed.




Darling Downs Wagyu Scotch Fillet 300g -  $42
My scotch/rib eye did not look like a scotch to me but a sirloin.   Nice grill marks but the surface looked a bit pale.  Cooked just past medium rare (photo looks redder than it really is),  but the beef and wagyu fat flavour was decent but not exceptional.   Nice wood fired flavours however.  Overally the steak was a little dry but still enjoyable enough,  although Rockpool has better steaks.   ~   6.9/10



Their Seafood Platter for 2 -  Around $190
We decided to skip this, as you could get these in buffets,  and there is little cooking skills involved in such platters.    Expensive, plus. how else can we test the kitchen’s true cooking skills!!  Smile




Food Wise -
Definitely turned out to be surprising in two ways.   The recipes are boring and out of fashion,  but at the same time the execution was mostly spot on,  bar the Crudo dish which really looked out of place for a seafood fine dining restaurant and not better than the Waterfront Restaurant it had replaced on the same spot.   I definitely thought this was just deserving of a 1 Hatted Status based on execution and seasoning alone -  but there is no doubt that there are many more restaurants in town which are equally deserving of being elevated.   Places like Attica and Royal Mail Hotel got promoted for no real reasons this year, why not some other proven institutions in town as well?


Price: AUD $100 to $125 /person
Food:  ♕♕♕♕ 1/2  to  ♕♕♕♕ 3/4  (Pricy,  but great executions.  Lobster is way overpriced at $3xx for half a size.  You must be out of your mind,  The Atlantic.  )

Opening Hours:
Lunch: 12 noon – 3pm
Dinner: Monday to Saturday from 6:00pm – 11:00pm
Sunday from 5:30pm – 11:00pm

Address: 8 Whiteman St Crown Entertainment Complex, Southbank, Melbourne Victoria
Ph: (03) 9698 8888

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dukes Coffee Roasters - (Melbourne)

  When people ask me for advice on where is the best coffee, I often find that question uneasy to answer as my preferences might not be the same as your tongue, so I need to guess what they like based on what they already like!   Plus,  our palates probably evolve with age and is work in progress,  and there are simply too many other variables involved.   Any café can have irregularities and whilst to me a less than optimal experience might be acceptable once or twice,  to another customer they won’t be returning so soon!    Dukes Coffee has made me some of the best coffees I’ve ever drank in my life (and I’ve perhaps drank really too many here or at some other particular cafes),   but if you come to order a normal Caffe Latte and expect a miracle,  it probably won’t wow you as much as they have wowed me,  because I also drank a lot of black coffees here which were utterly amazing and I honestly think their milk coffees need to be ordered as strong here!    There is however one thing that I can wholeheartedly recommend here because when it comes to this food item we all speak the same common language -  their egg dishes here are simply astonishingly good,  and it will make Bill Grangers in Sydney worry,  especially when he unbendingly insists on only serving mediocre quality scrambled eggs too diluted with cream.   Australian Dairy Café or Wah Sing in Hong Kong has better scrambled eggs,  but Dukes Coffee Roasters is in a league of its own and trumps them effortlessly… 




Roasting beans regularly on site..



Breakfast Items are only served before 12:30pm on Weekdays




This Kees van der Westen designed, La Marzocco Mistral -
Is also used in Sydney’s Mecca Espresso and shares similarities to The Mirage at Toby’s Estate,  and all of these not surprisingly resembles the look of the original Speedster..  The quality of the cup is very good,  it seems to have a bigger body but also the clarity of a Synesso.




House Blend Espresso -  
This was a beautiful daily type of espresso shot, a God Shot level of shot and remembering that for every coffee drinker,  attaining that elusive God Shot level in our eyes has been on the rise for the last few years !!   It was really balanced and well structured carrying a little bit of everything.  No sharp drop offs encountered either way.  ~  10/10




Panama Los Lajones Estate  (Siphoned) - 
With a mixture of Pacamara, Caturra, Yellow Catuai, Geisha, etc,  all honey processed.  This is a highly rated non-Geisha Panama,  but for me this seemed a bit muted.  I’m not a fan of honey process as of late for same reason for filtered coffee,  whereas Espresso usually seems fine   ~  6/10



Dairy Fridge -
Mostly locally made and quality ingredients.  Enviable.


Mount Zero Salt flakes -
This company also makes Olive oils.   A little more about marketing than taste IMO.



Windsor ‘Chivito’,  our version of Uruguayan classic steak sandwich – $19
Note how they disclose properly that this is the Windsor version not necessarily the traditional Uruguayan version,  which is what any responsible shop should do as otherwise it misleads the customers!    This like the original version is served with a Churrasco beef fillet,  and sandwiched between around 8 layers of ingredients so expertly sliced thin,  including shaved ham, egg, steak, tomato, beet, lettuce, rocket, cheese, pickles, etc.  This was a very sophisticated sandwich and even the bun was surprisingly aromatic !    ~   9/10




Potato Roesti and Scrambled eggs on Sourdough Toast -  AUD $13.50
The scrambled eggs here are done expertly and still slightly runny and subtly herbed,  and the egg yolk is very orangey (carotenoids?) and has great flavours.  Now this is what I call good scrambled eggs,  it is so different from Bill’s, which are overly creamy like the hotel buffet versions.  The potato roesti lost out to the ones served at say Proud Mary or Dead Man Espresso,  as it was too dense and not crispy at all.   ~   8/10




Normal Cappuccino (House Blend) -
This looked pretty and with such a great espresso above,  I expected a lot.  But the espresso was too balanced and mild to cut through the very velvet milk.   This is a little weak and more of a morning drink.  Which goes back to what I said before -  artisanal coffees are too good to be drank with milk,  hence sometimes loses out to commercial or Italian coffee in my opinion.  Solution?  Try ordering strong first or a smaller drink, like Piccolo Latte.   ~   7/10




P1210847-1Panama Los Lajones Espresso -
Same as the siphoned coffee above,  this was better with more obvious tropical fruits but still seemed a little muted.  When comparing orange to orange,  read non pure-Geisha beans from Panama,  the also highly rated Panama Elida Natural  drank at Mecca Espresso was much more interesting.    ~   6.5/10 



Sidamo ‘Guji’ Operation Cherry Red,  Espresso -
God Shot, 2 in 1 visit.   The aroma within this coffee could be smelt from 3 feet away,  it was that intense!   The OCR beans have a distinct character in the nose which reminds me of the top Panama Geishas but less lemony.   Having tried this bean at so many cafes,  the Dukes Coffee roasted version was easily the odd out one and really brought out it’s true potential.  This was easily 3 times the intensity of the next best OCR shot I’ve tried,  and this carried over to the Siphoned version as well.    ~   12/10




Coffee Rack - 


Sidamo ‘Guji’ Operation Cherry Red, Siphoned -
On another visit, came back to try their amazingly roasted Guji OCR as a siphon.   Notice the reddish with a purple tinge colour of the drink,  because the same coffee drank in Taiwan/Hong Kong is much more yellow and the flavour profiles are quite different.   This had an intense aroma of Cascara like fruit,  and in the mouth it is very well balanced between berries, orange, rose and was almost tea like but pungent.  The clarity for a natural coffee was just so intense in this cup.  The really strange thing is that drinking the same lot of beans roasted in Asia tasted so different from its full potential so far...   ~   10/10



Truffle Poached Eggs, Pan Roasted Asparagus,  Asparagus Crudites, Salmon Roe,  Brown Butter Emulsion, Ciabatta Croutons – AUD $18
This dish isn’t very Dukes to me as it is a bit too fanciful,  but the egg as you can see was again amazing and cooked neatly.  The butter emulsion with the truffled background and salmon roe was decent,  the 2 asparagus textures working well.  But the croutons were a bit too hard,  and without proper bread it wasn’t overly filling.   ~   7.5/10


El Salvador la Batalla COE,  Espresso -
Ranked around no. 5 to no. 8 in the COE program.  Under the hands of Dukes,  this was simply another amazing God Shot!  There is a floral note to a subtly spiced,  muesli like background to a champagne like acidity beneath,  which left a grape acidity finish for a long long time.  Its acid will freak out a few people but I just found this shot very educational,  as it was actually ‘balanced’ somehow but so long lasting!    ~   12/10



Daily blend of Guatemala, Brazil and Sidamo,  Espresso -
This was decent,  tasted quite similar to the house blend.



Caffe Latte - 
A bit weak again



Johnny Appleseed Blend,  Long Black -
Was told this blend works better as a long black.  Thought this was not as good as some of the best siphoned or espresso cups above.


Scrambled Eggs with Mushroom -  $13.5
Yes more eggs.  Slightly more creamy and therefore quite a bit too runny this time,  but still decent.  ~   7/10



Avocado Hummus Toast, Poached Eggs, Honey Candied Bacon and Dukkah spice – AUD $18
Friend ordered this and it was addictive.  The Avocado with Hummus as a spread and the candied bacon especially.  Eggs were still cooked well as expected.   ~    8.5/10




House Blend Piccolo Latte -
A little stronger in performance



Costa Rica Herbazu,  Espresso -
This is a Red Honey processed Pulp Natural bean,  which leaves even more mucilage left on and therefore visually the external parchment dries to a reddish colour.  This seems to be popular but this cup was to be was good rather than as amazing as the other shots above,  so excuse me as I can’t remember much details anymore.  Still decent but not memorable anymore...  

Strong Cappuccino -
Ordering strong milk coffees is the way to go here.


Dukes Breakfast – $18
Scrambled Eggs again,  great quality bacon,  spinach, mushroom, roast tomato.  The other things don’t stand out so much compared to other cafes,  but the eggs here always do.   ~   8.5/10


Poached Eggs,  Thyme Hollandaise, Spinach and Bacon on English Muffins -  $17
Thank God someone is doing Benedicts on muffins not sourdough toasts!   Huge difference in the final taste.  The bacon and spinach were top quality,  the hollandaise sauce was also nice and tangy and eggy,  topped with micro herbs.  Definitely one of the best Benedicts in Melbourne.   ~   10/10



Panama Los Lajones,  Espresso -
Again.  Just to see if the above 2 siphon or espresso of the same beans were duds.  But this espresso also remained lacking in characters to me.  I think I’ll stick to their House blend,  Sidamo Guji OCR or their El Salvador La Batalla. 


Panino of Slow Braised Beef Cheek, Mustard and Daikon Slaw – $15
The above Chivito sandwich was excellent,  and so was this Panino which came with pickles that reminds me of Basque guindilla.   The cheek was cooked and seasoned perfectly,  and the daikon slaw a perfect pairing to go in the panino bread.  The mustard was a little strong but it was interesting with the strongish beef cheek.   ~   9/10

Strong Cappuccino -
How many coffees have I had here?   I am always exploratory !


Strong Caffe Latte -
Another one.  Remember to order strong!


…Memories of their Coffee Beans
As take-away.



Greatly missing their Dark Coffees the most,
Their Scrambled or Poached Eggs (available before 12:30pm weekdays, all day Weekends),
and their superb Sandwiches.   The milk based coffees meanwhile are more ordinary due to the nature of their focus on great single origin bean coffees.




Price: AUD $35 per person
Food: ♕♕♕♕♕
Coffee: ♕♕♕♕♕ – ♕♕♕♕♕♕  (depends on what I ordered!)

Opening Hours:
Mon – Sun   7am - 4pm Daily

Address:  169 Chapel Street, Windsor,  Melbourne VIC 3181
Ph: (03) 9347 2998


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