Saturday, February 27, 2010

Vindaloo Against Violence: Namaste Indian Restaurant

Namaste Indian Restaurant*
104 Lygon St

Carlton VIC 3052

(Corner of Lygon St & Queensberry St)

Telephone: 03 9654 0550

Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30am - 2:30pm, 5:30pm - 11:00pm; Sat & Sun 11:30am - 11:00pm

*The original branch is Namaskar in Malvern.

I type this while on a break from the throes of academic assessment to bring you another kind of lesson.

Gandhi had hunger strikes and um we've done something same same but different.

And while the debates rage on as to whether our singular supping experience makes any kind of social stand, you don't need to tell me twice to get my rotis on against racial intolerance!

Thus, on Wednesday, seven of us (and two very latecomers) trooped to Namaste Indian Restaurant on Lygon to show our tandoorous support for this cause.

It was an evening of firsts. The first time I've ever ordered goat, and also, *pauses to preen* the first time I've ever been interviewed by a journalist.

To be fair, I've had goat heaps of times before - I've just never ordered it. And by 'I've' been interviewed, I mean our entire table. And um every other table in the restaurant. But still! Life's more fun without qualifiers. They should put that on a slogan somewhere.

Enough paratha, let's talk food.

The menu here has a very helpful grading system for the spiciness of their dishes, ranging from none (for chilli chickens*) to two ("Aloooooo go-bi!"). No that didn't make any sense to me either but it sure was fun to say out loud!

*Incidentally, the Indian chilli chicken (see later) is a fiery double-chilli hit.

Goat Dum Ki Biryani - An aromatic combination of tender goat and basmati rice spiced and cooked by the Hyderabadi 'DUM' method ($10.95)

As I've just mentioned, this was my order. Very nice, and a deceptively huge serving. It was as tender as described, which was pleasantly surprising as goat can be a real doozy to cook. And who can resist melting chunks of meat in layers of saffron rice - like little jewels nestling in grains of gold. A had the Kacchhi Ghosh Dum Ki Biryani - identical, but with lamb ($9.95). Grade of spiciness: A respectable one chilli each.

Don't go past the Garlic Naan here. I know the one in this picture is particularly charred, but believe you me when I say that everyone wanted a piece of the action - it was that crisp, warm and tasty-garlicky. $2.95 gets you two of a kind.

YS & VL, chilli aficionados extraordinaire, couldn't go past two kinds of curry -

The aforementioned Indian Chilli Chicken - Diced chicken marinated in spice, rolled in herbs and deep fried, finished with fresh chillies, yoghurt, onion and curry leaves ($9.95)

Baigan Masala (Eggplant) - Eggplant cooked with onion, tomato and a heavenly combination of spices ($9.95). And because carbs and curries make most pleasurable partners, they also ordered Jeera Rice, i.e. boiled rice sauteed with ghee (that's the stuff) and cumin seeds. Really rich and rib-stickin' ($7.95).

I can't vouch for them personally, as I didn't get to sample either, but I think the proof is in the eating - both curries were polished off quickly, and the rice down to the last grain. A word of caution though - the remnants of the chilli chicken appeared very oily, so probably not the most health-conscious choice!

G had the tandoori chicken. Two thigh quarters for $9.95. Colour and flavour was excellent on this one, I thought it was great value. My only gripe is that it was ever so slightly dry - you know when you pry open the meat on the bone and it's all moist and warm and steamy within? Yeah, that didn't really happen, which is disappointing. In all fairness though, I've never actually had a piece of tandoori chicken that did that - I've often wondered if this was just a result of the way it's grilled. It's not a significant flaw, however, the chicken was still really lovely and tender enough and I wouldn't write it off completely on a re-visit.

Other orders that weren't photographed include the Butter Chicken (perfectly satisfactory, and perfect for the spicy-averse) ($9.95); and the Beef Vindaloo ($10.95 and two chillis), which ironically was the least-enjoyed meal of the night.

So to the important questions:

1. Did we make any kind of social change?

I don't think I'm qualified to respond! But to our end - we had very good intentions. And more importantly, we took a stand. If you think otherwise however, I'd be happy to linger over lassi to discuss it with you. More than happy, in fact!

2. Would we come back?

Yes, definitely. Ultimately there were some service issues in terms of speed, but they remained exceedingly calm and friendly attending to a fantastically full house, and the food definitely had more hits than misses!

In the indubitable wisdom of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon Ph.D:

Good rice, good curry, good Gandhi - let's hurry!

I credit learning about this place to I-Hua, who adores it.

Namaskar India on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Old Kingdom: Go Duck Yourself

Old Kingdom
197 Smith St

Telephone: 03 9417 2438

Opening Hours: As Seen On Screen

Old Kingdom is the kind of Melbourne stalwart that gives the finger to anything fancy, frivolous or frou-frou.

The method of dining here is simple and wouldn't you know it - lyrical too.

You book for luck
You come eat duck
You leave your buck.

Yes. I rhyme.

The menu here is extensive. I'm not sure why, I've never used it (and nor has anyone I've ever observed in all the years I've been coming here). This is because all the ordering is done over the telephone when you make your booking.

"Are you coming at 6pm or 8pm?"
"How many people?"
"How many ducks?"

Easy. And releases early dinner conversation from the painful and political process of tentative "what-would-you-like-s" when dining in a group. Rule of thumb: order one duck per two persons if they're of the vociferous edibilus variety, three if they are of normalus appetitus.

If you're a Kingdom virgin (salute my days as a gaming geek), you'll be subjected to the initiation process of how-to-place-your-duck described to death everywhere and even YouTubed here.
All the servers have been trained to do it, but the inaugural delivery may be attributed to ol' Simon, so if it's his you desire you'll need to go on a Friday night. Sometimes Saturday.

Otherwise, you may waive such foreplay and get straight down to the dirty-dirty.

$55 per duck will get you three courses, and a choice of where you want to sit.



Preface: Service is very efficient here but sometimes friendly and sometimes not which, unfortunately, is the wont of many Chinese restaurants. I find that if they recognize you from previous visits, they're nicer. But when I leave the family behind and go incognito with others, my filial-lessness is occasionally punished with a 'tude.

Either way, your experience begins and ends with an empty plate.

A smokin' hot duck is brought out from the kitchen in full, unadorned glory.

To demonstrate the crispiness of the duck, the head is snapped off. Viewer discretion is advised.

A whirr of knifing ensues. Slices of caramel-crisp skin crack open to reveal moist, yielding fat and flesh.

These are shaved onto the plate as the duck is split, quartered and laid to bare before its remains are coquettishly whipped away to be made up and returned in other guises.

Paper-thin sheets of crepe are provided to cover up the modesty of your meat. And the sweet sauce, spring onion, and cucumber make fantastic bedfellows.


The second course is a fun, fried frolic of flesh in a field of beansprouts. It's not rocket science, but it is rollicking! You have the option of a refillable rice accompaniment to your stir-fry for an additional $1.80 per person.

And finally, as you stretch back in satisfaction, the third course arrives. A light, reassuring duck broth which I always think is wasted on bulging bellies as it's really very good but never fairly enjoyed. I imagine it's meant to be a palate cleanser, but it doesn't skimp on flavour! And of course, I adore anything with tofu added, anything at all.

Spill out on the street later for a post-coital smoke if you must, but remember that Old Kingdom is old faithful. Take advantage of the complimentary carcasses - as many as you can carry - and bring them home to meet the parents! Useful for stock, or you know - a lonely night with the lights turned low!

Come again? Over and over!

Old Kingdom on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Crêpe Showdown: Through Thick and Thin! (Part Two)

Aix Café Crêperie Salon
24 Centre Place
Telephone: 03 9662 2667

Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 6:30am-5pm, Sat 8am-5pm

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth
Robert Frost

Of course the path to Aix is hardly the road less traveled [sic]; Centre Place has been pounded down plenty. If you've been in Melbourne for anything longer than 5 minutes (and especially if your guide is a university student) the second phrase you will invariably hear is "You should totally check out Degraves. I know a place that does great crêpes..."

(The first phrase is "I'll take you to Lygon St." But that's a different story on a different blog.)

Anyway, true to form when fellow foodie and ex-colleague MT and I were scheduling a catch-up session after a gruel-ing winter's work in Hong Kong, he suggested we head to Aix. It's so nice when other people make the choices you want so you can appear all sweet and accomodating.

And speaking of sweeeet, check out this selection of
crêpes. If Aix can one-up Le Petit Francais
on anything, it'll be on pure variety and originality. Orange Blossom Honey? Rosewater Yogurt? Blood Orange and Burnt Sugar?!

Which is why I'm almost ashamed to show you my order.

Nutella and Cookies (with added ice cream) - $7.00

I'm SORRY. Except...I'm not really. Because it was great! Huge dollops of melting nutella, 'thick' layers of
crêpe in between, and hidden, suicidal teddies popping their little heads up all over. Superb comfort food! In my defense, I'd actually ordered a slightly more interesting Nutella and Coconut, but presumably I was misheard, and I didn't want to kick up a fuss. Especially since I haven't had teddy cookies in I don't know 15 years?! How have I lived?

Now I usually cop it when I'm lunching with lads because I like a light lunch but can never resist a dessert. So my solution is often to skip the meal altogether and have a dessert as my main. This never goes down well and not without some measure of strident explanation to an incredulous expression.

So it's always nice to meet a man who understands. MT's

Sticky Date with Caramel Sauce & Double Cream (with added ice-cream!) - $8.50

Not being a 'sticky date' myself, I didn't try this (I lie - I'm actually just not a fan). But MT really enjoyed this - he wiped his plate clean in less than half the time it took me to finish.

The view from our table. We were 'all the way in the back'.

Now, my description of Le Petit Francais as spacious, bright and airy was no mere sputtering of adjectives. Aix is cramped, dark and slightly stuffy. But you can't deny - it's cool.

My only pickle is that ice cream is clearly not their forté. Watching them spoon some out of one those big, blue, commercial tubs, I nearly choked in dismay. To be fair, however, ice cream doesn't feature anywhere on the menu - and it's only because we asked that we got any. I suspect they just stock it for drinks.

The Verdict? It's a bit like comparing Marie Antoinette to Moulin Rouge . Thin crêpes are really lovely in their light texture and delicate taste. Thicker crêpes are less refined, but at the same time you get a more intense mouthful, voluptuous and indulgent. This comparison is probably reinforced by the locations of the respective crêperies - Swanky South Yarra versus the Bohemian rhapsody of Degraves (which also explains the marked price difference).

Personally, I appreciate beauty (and flavour!) in all shapes and sizes, so it boils down to whatever I'm craving at the time. S'il vous plait, anywhere you go - let me go too! That's all I ask of you.

Aix Café Creperie Salon on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Crêpe Showdown: Through Thick and Thin! (Part One)

Le Petit Francais Crêperie and Café
307 Toorak Road
South Yarra

Telephone: 03 9826 3830

Opening Hours: Mon, Wed-Sun 10am-3pm, 6pm-10pm

I am a hugee Francophile.*

*(Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in there because apparently he too is an unashamed Francophile and also I really liked 500 Days of Summer).

And as a French lover in Melbourne (oh how I wish!), I maintain a respectful appreciation of all crêpes, great and small.

Or rather, thick and thin, as the title of this post suggests.

Therefore when I zipped down to South Yarra a few days ago to visit my sister at her very unfashionable job in this very fashionable district, she insisted on taking me to her favourite crêperie in the area, naturel-ly.

Quite unlike the tiny, cramped crêperies of the Melbourne CBD, Le Petit Francais is spacious, bright, airy and get this - provides ample seating.

And I had an agonizing time poring over their very tantalizing menu!

As I've admitted previously, my bird-like eating habits mean that it's not often that I can get both a main and a dessert without having to share at least one. No such problem here - damn.

Thus I present to you, Crêpe Contender No. 1: Skinny Crêpes!

Who wouldn't love a gift wrapped like this one? All the savoury crêpes arrive this way:

This is my sister's order, as the sauce stain reveals (I do apologise and hope that you consider bright orange aesthetically pleasing). The Orientale - Merguez (North African spicy lamb sausage - what a mouthful), mushrooms, tomato, egg, and gruyere cheese ($14.50).

And within:

She thoroughly enjoyed this one - the spiciness of the sausage was a robust break from the usual saus-pects. An interesting note about the crêpes with eggs - the yolks are kept intact but hidden in the centre, much like sunny-side-ups, so my OCD-esque sister primly and expertly ate round and around it until it was all that was left on her plate so she could enjoy it in its untainted perfection.

Not me - I dug straight into mine.

(It occurs to me that I should say clawed, rather than dug, given the tissue-thin crispness of the crêpe. In fact, now that I think about it, the texture and 'thick'ness of these thin crêpes are quite reminiscent of roti tissues!)

Anyway - this is mine, a plain jane sausage version called Paysanne, with sausage, mustard, mushrooms, egg, and gruyere cheese ($12.50). I honestly thought that I wouldn't finish this, because the way I eat my crêpes is to open up the 'parcel' and break off the crisp edges, which I then dip into the yolky-cheesy-melty goodness, eschewing stodgier bits of crêpe with cooled cheese melded to it. But when I picked up those rejected bits while waiting for my dessert crêpe to arrive, they actually tasted pretty good despite the textural transformation - I attribute this to the excellent quality of the Gruyere.

And my favourite part of every meal - dessert! A far-from-boring Nutella with added ice cream (how could you not?!) - $8.50.

Warm, light, sweet with a generous dollop of nutty chocolate and quality vanilla ice cream (note the ever-elusive vanilla bean flecks!). So addictive that although the initial plan was to share one, we ended up having one each! Judging is evil.

Would I come back? Oui, oui - good grub, good service! I will say however that it's quite a bit more expensive than the afore(and to-be)mentioned tiny city crêperies. Does the different atmosphere justify the wider profit margin? And will vanilla beans in vanilla ice cream ever become a permanant fixture? The exciting conclusion and more in my next post - where we delve into a very familiar CBD favourite with a very different demeanour!

Shellie's 'fiery' review here. I did not receive caramel lollies - the injustice!

Le Petit Français Crêperie et Café on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 8, 2010

New-Age Valentine's: Ladies Who Do Dinner

...And we cook!

Absolutely cannot resist putting pictures up from the very fancy and fantastic girls-night-in with gorgeous friends A (whose debut appearance on this blog occurred here) and YS, of pretty pink party infamy.

Rule of the night: No boys - and putting what our mamas gave us on display!


A's smoked salmon and mango salad (with balsamic vinegar dressing)

Freshly-shucked oysters with lemon

The main: My crispy-skin salmon (insanely easy, and I can't claim credit for the technique, but guaranteed to impress!):

YS' side of roast mushrooms, aubergine, onion, capsicum, tomatoes, potatoes and carrot (yeah the lady worked hard!):

To finish: Estrogen-fueled chocolatey desserts (of course!):

My now-stalwart chocolate fondant, with Sara Lee French Vanilla ice-cream

YS' to-die-for chocolate strawberries

Lethal combination. Enough said.

And then we wiled the night away with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens (read: curious card games and tantalizing talk). Like all good girls in white dresses and blue (satin) sashes should of course.

Ahh ladies, best (early) Valentine's Day dinner ever! Hi-fives and knowing smiles all around - hurrah for being girly girls!