Saturday, March 9, 2013

Dresses, dumplings and DIY summer rolls - a blog amnesty post


I think I'm the only person in Melbourne who wants this heat wave to continue.  Reason being, I dragged my skinny jeans out of the cupboard the other day and hoo boy - less muffin top and more mushroom cloud!  As long as these days keep being sunny, I can stuff those pants at the back of the cupboard and keep swanning about in forgiving summer frocks.


As you may know, the Food Festival is upon us and it's been worth every popped button so far.  I want to share with you some of the brilliant events I've been to in the western suburbs, but first it's time to clear the decks with a smattering of tasty treats.  My first amnesty post was here, and I hope you enjoy another!


I'm not sure if this festive red shop, Victoria Restaurant in North Melbourne, is new but one dish on the menu piqued my interest when wandering past.

$24 (serves two)

These are do-it-yourself Nha Trang-style rice paper rolls.  Lengths of grilled nem nuong or minced pork patty, smoky and juicy, are supplied along with pickled carrots, vermicelli, mints and cooling sliced apple - an interesting and delicious touch!


You twirl the round rice paper wrapper through hot water, fill it how you like, roll it up and dunk in special, curiously orange Nha Trang-style sauce.  Quan Viet also make Nha Trang-style rice paper rolls with this same sauce - I know it contains pork, but that's the extent of my knowledge!

Pho bo tai, $11 (one size)

Victoria Restaurant also do pho, and are the first place I've ever seen in Melbourne that serves sawtooth coriander alongside the regulation Thai basil!  In terms of our other dishes, some were perhaps a little Anglicised - spring rolls came with sweet chilli, not nuoc mam cham - and I think they were unexpectedly busy as the last of our dishes didn't arrive until about 90 minutes after ordering.  I only had a sip of this pho but I'd like to go back and try it again.


Mama Bear is a new brunch spot that's popped up in this cafe blackspot, not far from Flemington Racecourse.


Their house brew is Gridlock's 7,000 blend, plus there are single origins.  A latte and a single origin short black were respectable, perhaps not as sublime as Common Galaxia or Wee Jeanie but good all the same.


There are loads of enticing menu options like eggs with apple cider hollandaise and slow-cooked beef cheek sliders.  I settled on this wild mushroom and taleggio tart with a pear and rocket salad, which was delish.  And for you fuss pots, there is an actual menu item called "I just want some eggs".  Love it!


From one mama to another...  There's probably nothing Melbourne likes more than a new dumpling house, and consequently Shandong Mama is getting epic amounts of buzz.  It is actually run by a mama from Shandong, and staffed by many gorgeous family members (we were served by her delightful son-in-law).

I mean, if that video doesn't make you scream and run around the room, you're not really a Melburnian.  So when I visited, to quote a friend who'd been a few nights earlier, I was expecting the second coming.


And therein probably lay the problem.  I think I'm the lone dissenter in all the hype in that Shandong Mama didn't blow my mind.  My impression is that it is really, really authentic, but out of the entire Asian gastronomic pantheon, I find northern Chinese dishes such as these the most difficult.  This "Sichuan pepper beef" was too much for me, the pieces very fatty and gelatinous.


Likewise I couldn't handle this homemade smoked fish, served cold with a thick, gooey sauce. 


I did really like this lovely, sweet cabbage salad (an authentic version of Chang's!) but an accompanying black fungus and sesame oil salad, with big sheathes of swollen, slightly rubbery black vegetable, didn't go down well with me.

$13.80 for ten

The dumplings were good but they just didn't reach the dizzying heights I was expecting.  We tried quite a few varieties and my favourite were probably these "Melbourne dumplings", a tasty mix of seafood, chicken, lemon zest, olive oil and parsley.  I must add that they had run out of so many dishes, ordering became somewhat farcical (a friend confirmed this too on another visit).  So it's back to Shanghai Street for me.  But try Shandong Mama for yourself and see what you think!


But whatever you do, DO believe the hype at city lunch joint Wonderbao.  Check out this great interview by Eat & Greet with funky young owner Andrew Wong - his fam had been making steamed buns in Braybrook for years before Andrew commandeered the family recipes, booted out the MSG and created an instant Melbourne classic.

$3.80 each

These are Taiwanese-style gua bao, steamed white bread enclosed around fillings to create what could be termed Taiwanese tacos.  Wonderbao do three varieties - braised pork belly, roast pork belly and crisp silken tofu, each spiked with different combinations of pickled mustard greens, crushed peanuts and more.  Make sure you get the house-made soy milk too - cooling, sweet and beany.  Wonderbao?  Wonder-wow!


And finally, if you were curious about the top pic in this post, Footscray's new creative hub venue The Colour Box is hosting SELF, or Sustainable Ethical Local Fashion.  It's a pop-up shop featuring duds by independent designers and cooperatives like New Model Beauty Queen (great name!), The Social Studio, Jude, and Twitch Women's Sewing Collective, a South Sudanese women's group in Dandenong.


Read more about Colour Box from its founder, the very inspiring Amie Batalibasi, who not only makes documentary films but also gorgeous bags and badges under her label Pretty WAK.  So I might just leave those skinny jeans at the back of the cupboard, get fitted with new duds at Colour Box instead, and keep enjoying life!


  1. Hmm, bummer about the Shandong Mama experience, cos damn, that fish dumpling vid is great. I live for the day that I can do that roll 'n flip with the baby rolling pin.

    1. Don't necessarily take my word for it mel - fellow restaurant hounds are going nuts about it. Hey, even a mediocre dumpling is still a dumpling, right?

  2. I didn't realise there was a connection between Wonderbao and that shop in Brayrbook which we love!! Thats the one opposite the video store right? I must admit that I did that typical asian screw up our noses at anything remotely fusion! But I am a regular at Roll'd so maybe I'm not so prejudiced after all!!!

    1. Temasek I *THINK* that is the one, but not sure. I really should call and ask! And c'mon, you can't screw up your nose at fusion when you're from Singapore - Peranakan, hello?! Although even I'm not so sure about Bao Now in Hardware Lane who do buffalo wing chicken bao and cheeseburger and bacon bao. That was fusion-ing it a step too far for me!

  3. haha I totally understand the winter fear - am feeling the same way. In extreme jean-fear times I even resort to wearing multiple pairs of stockings to avoid the reality of ill-fitting pants. Shame about shandong mama ! I'm a big fan of the fish dumplings and that cabbage salad - YESS please. I must check out Colour Box, it looks great.

    1. Multiple pairs of stockings, love it! I am sitting here in my gym gear after a session that I pray has shifted a gram or two! Glad to hear Shandong Mama hit the spot for you. The fish dumplings are certainly unique.

  4. Decided to try out a new Vietnamese restaurant in Springvale called Quan Bac over the weekend and was reminded of this post when I was served sawtooth coriander along with the beanshoots & Thai basil. First time I've seen it accompanying Pho myself. Wonder whether it's a regional things or whether there's some other rational to serving it ?

    Good to see you made it to Mama Bear. Had a lovely wagyu burger there the other week and there's a few other items on the menu that sound interesting.

    Hope you are feeling relieved after the blog amnesty post !


    1. Awesome Nat! Yes, I wonder. Have you seen Bryan's post about pho in Vietnam - the restaurant had piles and piles of herbs on the table, all different types, not just basil? And thank YOU for the Mama Bear tip. Remiss of me to not say so in the post. As always, I commend your sleuthing and passion!


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