Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Gong de Lin

This is a commissioned post by the Australian Mushroom Growers' Association for "Mushroom Mania".  The Mushroom Mania campaign is on for all of July 2013 and highlights the amazing mushroom dishes on offer at cafes, bistros, clubs, pubs and restaurants across Australia.  Check out their competition where you can win one of 40 $100 restaurant vouchers!  Full disclosure at end of post.


Don't judge a book by its cover.  Or in this case - a restaurant by its elevator.


To get to Gong de Lin, you enter Swanston Street's Noodle Kingdom, take an abrupt left-hand turn and hit the button for the lift.


The doors open to reveal this long, peculiar, almost windowless pearly-white room, which - combined with your slow, rattling ascension here - feels rather otherworldly.


The spot to nab is one of the booths in the window, where you can gaze down at the trams and people rushing about below, as if you're some sort of benevolent spirit.


Gong de Lin is a unique Chinese restaurant serving Shanghai-style, Buddhist vegetarian fare.  Western diners often report being somewhat perturbed at Asian vegetarian restaurants like White Lotus and Bo De Trai as the focus is primarily on mock meat, with non-mock meat vegetable dishes somewhat of an afterthought.


There is a good range of mock meat dishes on the menu at Gong de Lin but there is also a strong showing of vegetables in their natural particular, mushrooms.  "Hedgehog" mushrooms, "mountain" mushrooms, gold, black and morel - it seems like every denizen of the forest floor has a foothold on this menu!

Deep-fried shredded black mushroom with sweet and sour sauce, $12.80

If your kids have never eaten a mushroom, get this in front of them post haste.  These are shiitake mushrooms, sliced, deep fried and tossed with a toffee-like coating.  It's not your local shopping centre's sweet and sour, but much more reduced, deeper in flavour and with delicious tang that I think comes from Chinese black vinegar.  "Black" or shiitake mushrooms have a particularly rich, deep flavour that held up perfectly against the crackly sweet shell.

Diced hedgehog mushrooms with macadamia nuts, $18.80

See the feathery chunk at the left of the dish?  That's a hedgehog mushroom.  The pieces had a soft, almost fluffy texture that was quite recollective of delicately cooked fish.  The name relates to its appearance, having an underside covered in soft "spines" rather than the longitudinal gills of many mushroom cultivars, like field (see a pic here).  The flavour was mild and combined with the light sauce, fresh vegies and crunchy macadamias, this was a very pleasing dish.  (Not a fan of the bright yellow gingko nuts which are really bitter, but they're a cinch to pick out!)

Cold wonton in Shanghai style, $5.00

Dumpling time!  Apparently one top pick at Gong de Lin is their beancurd dumpling which actually has a skin made from tofu instead of dough.  We went off piste with some cold Shanghai-style wontons, but it was a bit of a dud run.  They were filled with some sort of green pickled vegetable and served with vinegar and sesame dipping sauces, but the straight-from-the-fridge chill put me off.  I'm sure they're authentic but next time I'd rather try the "Jade Buddha temple vegetable baozi", which look like fluffy char siu pork buns.

Barbecue boletus edulis, $18.80

You know how tomatoes are technically fruits?  Well, mushrooms aren't technically vegetables.  They are, of course, fungi, which makes their nutritional profile completely different than vegies.  For instance, did you know that mushrooms are the only non-animal source of vitamin D?  The specimens above were "boletus edulis", also known as the mighty porcini.


Porcini mushrooms (centre in the above pic) have large, thick stems and are most often seen dried.  After the fluffy, delicious hedgehog mushroom (left), I wasn't such a fan of the coarser, slightly leathery boletus.  Despite very different menu descriptions, both dishes were prepared similarly, which was a bit disappointing.  Anyway, I had eaten way too much of the specimen on the right - the deep-fried shiitake slices.  Trust me - so good!


So much food excitement and I forgot to mention drinks.  Loved this sweet, hot soy milk...


Or there are also fancy teas like chrysanthemum, served in gorgeous teapots.  Just be sure to stir it while it brews to get the full flavour profile.  And speaking of flavour, Gong de Lin use no MSG.  The prices are a bit steeper than your average city Chinese joint, but I reckon the unusual dishes and unique ingredients make it worth it.

Gong dè Lin on Urbanspoon

Gong de Lin
Level 3, 264 Swanston Street, city
Phone:  9663 7878

Disclosure:  This post is the second in a series of two for Australian Mushroom Growers' "Mushroom Mania" campaign.  I had free choice of any Victorian restaurant and was required to choose at least one dish in which mushrooms were the "hero" ingredient.  I am being paid a flat sum for my writing which does not include meal expenses.  Reviews could be completed anonymously or with prior notice; I visited Gong de Lin anonymously and without prior warning.  Australian Mushroom Growers and Gong de Lin have not sought nor been given any editorial control of this post.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Soi 38

Thai food - so often reduced to what Phil Lees once memorably termed "traffic light curries".  Well, ignore the lights, put your foot down and take off on a tour of Thai noodle soups with Soi 38.


Noodle cart Soi 38 began life in Andy Buchan's backyard where he slowly perfected his Thai 'boat noodles' (very loosely comparable to Vietnamese pho).  He's now teamed up with Top (left), formerly of Tidlom Thai Antique.  Their mission is to introduce folks to popular, authentic Thai dishes that are under-represented in Aussie Thai restaurants.


To this end, the lovely Huda (above) from Sketch and Tulip in North Melbourne is hosting our noodle soup crusading duo for the next six Friday nights.


Andy and Top had a "family and friends" night which I popped into to try a couple of freebie bowls of boat noodles.  They are wickedly good, with a dark, smoky broth just covering a pile of rice vermicelli, water spinach, slow-cooked beef chunks, pork crackling and just-cooked rare beef.  Each table has a caddy of fish sauce, white sugar, pickled chilli and dried chilli.  Even though the broth is so tasty and balanced, give it a sprinkle with the toppings as they really send the flavour profile into hyperdrive.


Noodles are a most excellent $5 a bowl (they're just small, so you'll probably need two or even possibly three to fill you up).  There's also Doss Blockos beer for $7.50 a pop.

Check out the full itinerary below, plus Soi 38's website and Facebook page.  First stop is boat noodles this Friday night, July 19, from 5 pm, then come back each Friday until August 23 for a different authentic Thai taste each time.

Soi 38 page 1

Soi 38 page 2

Sunday, July 14, 2013

123 Cake - Melbourne's first cake-decorating cafe!

Leaving things up to your kids' imagination can backfire badly.  Once, waiting at the international terminal to pick up their dad from a long trip away, I asked my oldest who she thought we were waiting for.  "A dinosaur?"  No.  "A herd of dinosaurs?"  No.  "Santa!"  No!  Smooth move, Mum, I thought - she is going to be so disappointed when her boring old dad walks through the doors.


So, deep in the school holidays, when I said, "Where do you think we are going?  PS:  It's somewhere AWESOME!", I did consider that the eager anticipation might surpass the end result.  But despite the kids' valiant and creative guesses, they were still screeching with delight when we walked into 123 Cake.


123 Cake is a cafe where you don't just eat your cake - you make it too!  In fact, you could say it's the Korean BBQ of cake.


Choose your base cupcake (flavours include red velvet and chocolate mud, plus gluten-free choices like vanilla spice) then power up with flavoured icing, ready to go in piping bags, and sprinkles galore!




All the decorations have different price points, from 50 cents to $2, and there are deals for three or more of the same colour.


Bare cupcakes are $3.50 and icing bags $2.  It might seem dear at first but if you have a few people and can share, it works out quite well and is more fun - for five fully customised cupcakes and two coffees, we paid around $28 which I think is quite reasonable for such a fun outing.


And boy, did we have fun.  I thought the kids would just knock back the pots of decorations like whiskey shots, but they were actually very careful and methodical.


You can reach for the sky...


...or be a smooth operator.  Spatulas are provided, as well as tweezers to get everything just so.  123 Cake also offer larger cakes to decorate which would be perfect for a birthday party.


Jing Jing and Natalie are the fresh faces behind 123 Cake.  They are high school mates and modelled the idea on South Korea's themed cafes.  (Other favourites in Seoul include cafes where you can get kitted up in full bridal regalia, and cafes full of cats which you go to be ignored, I mean, pat!)


123 Cake is open from 11 am till 6 pm Mon-Wed and until 9 pm Thurs-Sun evenings for good clean fun.  Well, until you try to lever your magnificent creation between your jaws!

123 Cake on Urbanspoon

472 Victoria Street, North Melbourne
Phone:  9329 6450

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sicilian rosticceria at L'Angolo Italiano

This is a commissioned post by the Australian Mushroom Growers' Association for "Mushroom Mania".  The Mushroom Mania campaign is on for all of July 2013 and highlights the amazing mushroom dishes on offer at cafes, bistros, clubs, pubs and restaurants across Australia.  Check out their competition where you can win one of 40 $100 restaurant vouchers!  Full disclosure at end of post.

Imagine you've just landed in Melbourne and, wide-eyed, take the Skybus to the CBD.  Hearing of this city's marvellous food, you decide that what there is a lot of must be the city's most iconic food - and so your first meal in Melbourne is a Pie Face pie.  (What in the world do they use to draw those faces on - it grosses me out thinking about it!)  Luckily, if you applied the same logic when arriving in Palermo, I have it on authority your first meal would be a heaping plate of rosticceria - and your face would be a very happy one.

Rosticceria in Capri

Rosticceria are carb-based snacks that are a Sicilian obsession.  Rosticceria (also the name of the shop) exist throughout Italy, differing between regions, but are basically always some form of "slow food takeaway" where food is precooked and ready to eat immediately.  In Naples there might be hot stuffed zucchini, in Venice creamy salted cod - but in Sicily it is all about the dough.


L'Angolo Italiano is Melbourne's first Sicilian rosticceria, where chef and owner Dario Montemaggiore makes every variety from scratch daily.  There are mini pizzas ("pizzette"), calzones, crostini (deep-fried ham and cheese sandwiches - OMG WOW) and crusty arancini (risotto balls).  For something sweet, there are Italian-style croissants (cornetti) filled with Nutella.


They are sold by weight ($30/kg, working out to about $1.50 each) and they are completely delicious!  In Sicily they might be eaten as a quick breakfast, or just a snack at any time of day.  At L'Angolo you can get two with a coffee for $5, or just get them to load up a plate with as many as you'd like.


Here's Dario, the chef and owner behind L'Angolo Italiano.  His father owned a rosticceria in Palermo and he has continued the family tradition here in Melbourne.  See how rosticceria are made with "Cooking with Dario" !

I had previously written about L'Angolo Italiano for Time Out, and thought Dario's rosticceria would be perfect for this year's Mushroom Mania campaign, put on by the Australian Mushroom Growers' Association.  Dario's other passion is homemade pasta, so I got in touch to see if Dario could whip up a mushroom special for me.


These pizzette or mini pizzas were loaded with creamy spinach, tomatoes and gorgeous, glossy field mushrooms.  Mushrooms, Parmesan cheese and tomatoes are just some of the sources of naturally-occurring glutamates, compounds that act like natural flavour enhancers.


Dario is a classically-trained Italian chef (one of his past jobs was as personal chef to the Italian ambassador in Budapest) and dough really is his passion.  Hot tip:  The printed menu at L'Angolo Italiano has a lot of "cafe classics" to appeal to the locals (think carbonara or big breakfasts).  Bypass it and look to the specials board, where Dario will always have a home-made pasta on offer - think squid ink linguini or classic Sicilian pasta with sardines.  This saffron pappardelle was deliciously al dente, the pleasantly thick pieces all tangled up with sliced button mushrooms.  I love that you can now get Swiss Brown button mushies in shops now - they have a richer flavour than their mild white button cousins that I grew up on.


Surprise extra dish!  Dario makes the piadina (wraps, essentially) in house daily.  Apparently they are a regular bread dough cooked in a pan like chapati - totally trying this at home.  They would normally be made up ready to go in the window but he zhooshed this one up.  The filling of mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese and sauteed spinach was nice but really I just wanted to eat the soft piadina by itself, it was so good.


Moonee Ponds has been a tough nut to crack for Dario and Lidia.  It's tricky as they feel they have to offer "Aussie" stuff like wedges but in my opinion that dilutes the Sicilian fare that is their strength.  Anyway, make the trip and try the rosticceria - it's fantastic.  Plus, did you know the tram from Footscray goes almost to their door?

L'Angolo Italiano on Urbanspoon

L'Angolo Italiano (Facebook)
19 Pratt Street, Moonee Ponds
Phone:  9077 6735
Hours:  Tue-Sun 7.30am-5.30pm

Disclosure:  This post is the first in a series of two for Australian Mushroom Growers' "Mushroom Mania" campaign.  I had free choice of any Victorian restaurant and was required to choose at least one dish in which mushrooms were the "hero" ingredient.  I am being paid a flat sum for my writing which does not include meal expenses.  Reviews could be completed anonymously or with prior notice; I had previously completed an anonymous review of L'Angolo Italiano for another publication and chose to let Dario and Lidia know I was coming in this time.  Dario wouldn't let me pay for my meal but I insisted on leaving some money!  Australian Mushroom Growers and L'Angolo Italiano have not sought nor been given any editorial control of this post.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Cheesesteaks and more at Cafe Cui

Know the phrase, "A big fat waste of makeup"?  Well, some meals are a big fat waste of stomach space.  The first cheesesteak I ever had was kind of up there - sliced beef that struggled valiantly to be heard, buried under oodles of cloying cheese.  Its only redeeming quality was that it was indeed eaten in Philadelphia.  Now, our beloved Footscray might be a long way from Philly, but newcomer Cafe Cui sure do make a tasty cheesesteak.  Read on.


This spot was previously the F. L. Y. sandwich bar - a rather unfortunate choice of moniker, and perhaps unsurprisingly it never really took off.  It's now taken shape and become the very smart Cafe Cui.


I first popped in on a Sunday morning.  Walking through the almost-empty streets, dotted with only a few pedestrians, it was a treat to step into a bustling cafe.


Coffee is Di Bella on a Wega machine and is pretty good.


This is "the Omelette Arnold Bennett" ($12), an open-faced omelette with creamy bechamel and - instead of the classic smoked haddock - smoked salmon.  Decadent and delicious.


Don't you love the Footscray lunch dilemma - banh mi, thali, giant bag of donuts?  Now you can add this tasty behemoth to the mix.  Cafe Cui's cheesesteak ($14) is yummo - warm, thinly-sliced beef, mushies, mozzarella and provolone all tucked into a warm, crusty roll.  Crinkle-cut chips and spunky little gherkins complete the picture.


Cafe Cui's lunch menu also includes pork sliders, plus salads like spiced chickpea with roast pumpkin and feta.  There are also well-priced foccacias and wraps at $8.


This is Phuoc Duong, Cafe Cui's proud owner.  He's a Sunshine boy and certainly has an eye for a top spot, setting up right opposite the tram terminus and train station.  Read more in Charlene Macauley's article in The Star.


What I'd like to see in Footscray is continuing diversification of businesses.  (Hairdresser or $2 shop, anyone?)  I am loving our newest cafes, Cafe Cui and Guerilla (PS:  Evan and Jag are now serving some hot brekky items, including a lovely hummus and avo number, the hummus made by a bona fide Lebanese grandma from Footscray Market Deli).


Indeed, there's been a sudden bloom of cafes in downtown Footy - Cafe Roha in the old Royal Hotel site, Kaldi on Irving Street, and another in Paisley.  My favourite is the halal butcher in the Mall which now has a coffee machine.  "Almond croissant $1.50.  Goat 1 kg $7.99."  ONLY IN FOOTSCRAY! 

Cafe Cui on Urbanspoon

58 Leeds Street, Footscray
Phone 9687 6967
Related Posts with Thumbnails
Related Posts with Thumbnails