Original Chai Stall, Melbourne CBD

Having both grown up in India, Apoorv and Gauri sorely missed the comfort of good, unadulterated chai when they moved to Australia. Nostalgia soon gave birth to a passion to bring an authentic street-side chai experience to Melbourne. To help recreate the atmosphere of the chai stalls in India, the pair have even imported a cart all the way from India. They source their tea leaves from Assam and combine it with their spice mix, following their mothers’ recipe to create a wonderful cup of natural, wholesome chai, just like back at home.

Patrons can even buy a kullad to have their chai in instead of a regular paper cup. Gauri explained that in India these clay cups are unfired so that they can be smashed on the ground afterwards – no need for a recycling bin! I probably wouldn’t recommend doing that in a typical Melbourne street though; re-purposing these hand-made pieces might be a better idea.

Masala Chai

Masala Chai

To go with their chai, they also offer home-made treats such as laddu (made by Gauri herself), cumin cookies and roasted spiced chickpeas. Today’s laddu selection included amaranth & palm sugar, cardamom and coconut and date, almond & pistachio. The laddu were quite sweet, but a good energy booster, whilst the buttery cumin cookies were crumbly, slightly sweet, slightly salty and a great accompaniment to tea.

Today they also had live Sitar and Tabla music producing a wonderful ambience and a pleasant space in which to enjoy a nice cup of tea. There was some lovely warm weather today too (well, lovely apart from the blustering winds which were wreaking havoc on nearby stall displays) so they also had some iced chai on hand.

After running the stall by hiring temporary spaces all over the market, the Original Chai Stall now have a permanent home in the I shed together with the organic produce. As a further expression of their commitment to share a piece of India with us, Original Chai Stall also do catering. Packages of tea leaves and spice mix can be purchased if you wish to make it at home, though of course, you’d be missing out on the full experience. Apoorv and Gauri’s dedication to this project really shows – whether you just want to quickly pick up a good cup of chai, or sit and truly appreciate the flavours of the brew whilst being temporarily transported to India, Original Chai Stall have you covered!

Original Chai Stall
I Shed (Organics Shed)
Queen Victoria Market
Melbourne, VIC, 3000
https://www.facebook.com/OriginalChaiStall
http://www.qvm.com.au/shops-and-stalls/original-chai-stall/
Original Chai Stall on Urbanspoon

Disclaimer: I was invited to visit Original Chai Stall as a guest, however, opinions expressed here are purely my own and not influenced by them in any way.

The Borek Shop, Melbourne CBD

Still going strong, the borek stall in Queen Vic Market (simply named  ‘Boreks’) has been cooking up a variety of boreks, gozleme and wraps for many years. They offer quite a number of fillings with their borek now including spicy potato and veggie, chicken and veggie, cheese and spinach, and even a sweet option (today it was cherry and apple). I couldn’t go past one of their best sellers: the spicy lamb borek. The tasty lamb and onion was encased in a crispy, fluffy dough, though I did find the dough a little thick in some parts. At only $3 it’s a quick and cheap snack.

The Borek Shop
Shop 95, Deli Hall
Queen Victoria Market
Melbourne, VIC, 3000
(03) 9328 1223
http://www.qvm.com.au/shops-and-stalls/borek/
The Borek Shop on Urbanspoon

Fifteen Pounds, Fairfield

What a lovely day for a get-together! With sunny warmth that Melbourne hasn’t seen for a while, it was perfect weather for the AFL grand finals. The cafe was actually closing early today for the big game, but we managed to sneak in for a quick bite before lunch service wrapped up.

The sweet potato wedges were a little different from what K and C imagined, being more like chunky pieces of baked sweet potato rather than the chip sort of wedges. Despite this, they were pretty tasty, coming with some aioli and topped with chili flakes and cheese. I thought they were a little nicer without the cheese, but then, I’m not big on melted cheese on anything really (I’m weird, I know).

Other things ordered by the table were the Asian pork belly sandwich, a crispy chicken sandwich and a salad with lentils, pumpkin and balls of sesame-covered, soft cheese. Everyone seemed quite happy with what they ate.

My pearled barley risotto was one of the lunch specials. The lamb shoulder and beef were cooked until soft, matching with the tender barley. The peas and beetroot jus gave it a touch of sweetness and the accents of sourness from the herbed whipped goats cheese went particularly well with the lamb.

Located right next to Fairfield train station, Fifteen Pounds looks small from the front but actually has a lovely and spacious outdoors area as well. It has an interesting menu, and with good food like this it’s likely to become a local favourite.

Fifteen Pounds
21-23 Railway Place
Fairfield, VIC, 3078
(03) 9482 4481
http://www.fifteenpounds.com.au/
Fifteen Pounds on Urbanspoon

The Last Jar, Melbourne CBD

Since 2011, The Last Jar has been serving up traditional Irish cuisine out of the former Royal Artillery Hotel building, which was previously home to The Arthouse. Having originally met whilst working together at Michelin-starred The Commons in Dublin, Siobhan Dooley and Tim Sweeney now co-own and run this Irish gastropub. Sweeney has an impressive CV, working at other Michelin-starred restaurants including Petrus and Thornton’s (by Gordon Ramsay) and also Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant.

The Last Jar (51)edit

The kitchen at The Last Jar makes as much as possible from scratch, from the bread and butter to the sausages, bacon and smoked fish. We took our seats in the dining room and were given two varieties of house-baked bread: potato bread and also soda bread with oats and fragrant hints of treacle (or perhaps honey).

Recently introducing some new items in time for Spring, the straightforward menu categorises dishes under the headings: oysters, snacks, soup and small dishes, vegetables, fish, meat and sides. The whiskey-cured salmon had a gentle sweetness to it and, to my delight, came with more of that delicious soda bread.

Some people recommend avoiding specials-of-the-day, but on this occasion the special ended up being our favourite dish. The tender ox tongue was almost melt-in-your-mouth and accompanied by garlic puree, sorrel, spring onions and tasty braised peas. It was a pleasure to look at and a joy to eat.

Grilled Ox Tongue w. Wild Garlic, Wood Sorrel, Braised Peas and Spring Onions ($14)

Grilled Ox Tongue w. Wild Garlic, Wood Sorrel, Braised Peas and Spring Onions ($14)

The salt ling potato cake was topped by a crispy, oozy, battered egg and a apple and watercress salad. Mum thought the potato cake was a tad dry, but I thought it was fine with the egg yolk and moisture from the light and refreshing salad.

Salt Ling Potato Cake, Battered Egg, Watercress & Apple Salad ($16)

Salt Ling Potato Cake, Battered Egg, Watercress & Apple Salad ($16)

Salt Ling Potato Cake, Battered Egg, Watercress & Apple Salad ($16)

Salt Ling Potato Cake, Battered Egg, Watercress & Apple Salad ($16)

Seaweed might be something people are more likely to associate with Asian cuisines but it’s actually used traditionally in some Western countries as well, including Ireland. A barramundi fillet was wrapped in seaweed, served on a bed of kale and smoked mussels and paired with mustard cream. The barramundi was cooked perfectly and went wonderfully with the light mustard sauce.

The Last Jar also has a charming beer garden upstairs, which is equipped with both heaters and shade sails, providing an inviting space in which to pass time with good company.

I loved the fact that the menu showcases both the hearty Irish fare people tend to think of when they first picture Irish food, but also fresh, delicate options. Friendly staff, a variety of different settings, and food much better than run-of-the-mill Irish pubs combine to make The Last Jar a great destination for a variety of needs and a great time.

Disclaimer: I was invited to dine at The Last Jar as a guest, however, opinions expressed here are purely my own and not influenced by the restaurant in any way.

The Last Jar
616 Elizabeth St
Melbourne, VIC, 3000
(03) 9348 2957
http://www.thelastjar.com.au/
The Last Jar on Urbanspoon

Interview: Q&A with Joe McCanta

Joe McCanta, the Global Brand Ambassador for Grey Goose, recently hosted the first Taste By Appointment events held in Australia. Originally a trained jazz pianist, Joe has since delved into the world of drinks, becoming a sommelier and mixologist – an expert in the complexities and pleasurable sensations of taste. Despite having a busy schedule that takes him all across the globe, Joe was kind enough to answer some questions about his intriguing life.

Grey Goose Taste By Appointment @ St Crispin (72)edit

How did you come to the position of Grey Goose ambassador and what do you love most about your role? What has been your most memorable event to date?

I actually started out as a jazz musician in my formative years. I was raised in southern California, but I moved to Boston to study music at the New England Conservatory with Fred Hersch (a five-time Grammy nominee). During this time, I worked in restaurants to support my music career, but as fate would have it, I started working with an award winning wine expert, Joshua Wesson. He taught me the art of taste and ignited my passion for identifying and combining complex flavours.

After years of working as a sommelier and mixologist in New York, I set up my own consultancy, which took me to Europe and exposed me to different spirits including Grey Goose.

I first started working with the brand after creating a Greenhouse bar concept – a working bar with living plants that could deliver fresh, organic, sustainable cocktail ingredients. Soon after, I was invited to work with Grey Goose full-time as their UK ambassador and later, as the global ambassador.

What I love about my job is that it takes me all over the world. I have travelled to some of the most incredible places and met the most amazing people. Meeting bar tenders who have the same passion as me to learn new things and try the unknown really makes me love my job every day.

My most memorable event to date has to be our 2012 Grey Goose Winter Ball to benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation. It was hosted at one of most experimental and renowned restaurants in the world el Bulli, where we collaborated with such outstanding chefs to make it one of the most memorable evenings of my life. Serving over 600 people cocktail pairings and edible cocktails alongside the world’s greatest restaurant and in the name of a good cause is a memory I will hold close forever.

What makes Grey Goose stand out?

Grey Goose is built from the ground up to express the true, natural flavours of the ingredients we use – the finest wheat from Picardy in France, and pure spring water from Cognac.

We only distil Grey Goose once, which is different from most other vodka bands who distil numerous times to remove impurities. When you start with the best once is enough.

We also have a human touch element, which is unique for a global brand. Our Maître de Chai (the creator of Grey Goose), François Thibault, still tastes every single batch of Grey Goose produced! Tough job.

What do you think makes a great bar? Can you name one or two examples that really stand out to you?

Three things:
1.  Passionate and knowledgeable staff
2.  A great atmosphere and
3.  A real focus towards hospitality.

A great bar needs to put their guests first at all times.

Two stand out bars for me are:
1.  Artesian at The Langham Hotel in London because of its attention to detail
2.  Paris Bar in Rio De Janeiro because of its incredible bar tenders, cocktail list and awesome location, its in a colonial mansion near the beach, just stunning

What are your tips for creating a great cocktail?

Start off by knowing the base spirit.

When I start making a new cocktail I will taste every ingredient individually. Every day the taste of your ingredients will change; lemons or limes are different each day.

Slowly build up your taste and don’t be afraid to tweak it as you go along and until you get the balance exactly right.

What would be your advice to someone seeking to develop their taste matching expertise?

Research! There are a lot of great books out there, which will help develop your taste.

Look up The Flavour Thesaurus written by Niki Segnit. It is a wonderful book. Or check out foodpairing.com – this site will help you play with flavours and match ingredients.

Constantly pay attention when you are out and about and be aware and observant when you are on your travels and when you eat out.

Do you still spend any time as a jazz pianist? Is it something you would consider revisiting in the future?

Yes I play; whenever at home I play.

I’m very lucky that as I travel I get to play in bars.

We also have an unbelievable grand piano at Le Logis, home of Grey Goose so I can practice there.

Would I consider it professionally given the opportunity? Sure why not.

The Grand Richmond Dining Room, Richmond

Our (late) Father’s Day dinner involved a trip down to the Dining Room of The Grand Richmond. Aiming to serve simple and authentic Italian food, the Dining Room was small and intimate and the service there was incredibly pleasant, friendly, informed and attentive.

We started off with some warm bread and a variety of olives. Of the two types of bread I particularly enjoyed the…yellow one. I forgot to ask exactly what it was, but there was a faint aroma of herbs, slightly crunchy crust and a soft, almost cake-like fluffy texture to it. It reminded me of focaccia.

One of today’s many specials (which were all impressively recited and described by the waiter) was mussels with garlic, lemon juice, white wine, tomato and a hint of chili. These were hearty and delicious and in the process of our enjoyment, showed our appreciation of the dish by displaying some tablecloth artistry. We were also thoughtfully provided with a second round of bread to soak up that lovely sauce, which was preferable to having it soak into linen.

There was a slight hiccup when we were brought roast potatoes instead of sauteed cauliflower, but this was promptly corrected and we were also left the dish of potatoes free of charge.

Mum and dad both picked two other specials for their mains. Mum’s prosciutto-wrapped rabbit loin came with a smooth cannellini bean puree and tasty sauce. The rabbit was done well – not tough or chewy and not gamey at all. Dad’s lamb cutlets were cooked nicely as well, coming with some carrot puree, charred baby eggplant and a scattering of brussels sprout leaves. I went with something off the regular menu: the pan-seared venison loin. Some parts of the sauce seemed slightly more bitter than others, but this was negated when mixed properly. I particularly loved the sweet, tender miniature king oyster mushrooms, which looked so charming on the plate and were equally pleasurable to consume.

Our experience at the Grand Richmond was a positive one, and with such a great range of specials, there might always be something new to try.

The Grand Richmond Dining Room
333 Burnley St
Richmond, VIC, 3121
(03) 9429 2530
http://www.grandrichmond.com.au/
Grand Hotel Dining Room on Urbanspoon

Miku Japanese Dining, Doncaster East

I used to live nearby, but since moving I rarely frequent the area so it was nice to return. Miku is on the BP station end of the shopping strip on Blackburn Rd, near Taipan. There was both a special lunch menu and a regular menu on the table, but for some reason I completely forgot to look at the regular menu and missed out on the 6 for $6 uni sushi…My choice from the lunch menu today was the sushi burger platter. Of the options available I picked soft shell crab sushi burger with mini udon. The sushi burger came nicely wrapped in waxed paper – handy for the rice ‘bun’ which did fall apart a bit, particularly because of the tasty sauce/mayo in the burger. A seared salmon sushi burger was also available and that looked rather good too. The mini udon in soy broth wasn’t bad and came with a few other ingredients including carrot, shitake mushroom and a piece of fried tofu (the sweet, flat type that comes with kitsune udon).

It would be difficult for me to come back to try some of that sushi, but if I happen to be in the area I’d consider dropping by!

Miku Japanese Dining
298 Blackburn Rd
Doncaster East, VIC, 3109
(03) 9841 4822
Miku Japanese Dining on Urbanspoon

Peko Peko, Fitzroy

There’s quite a number of Japanese eateries to choose from when dining on Smith St, between Johnston Street and Victoria Parade. Today’s outing was to Peko Peko. It was a quirky yet cozy place with an upper level that had an huge, open ‘window’ that looked out over the ground floor and small kitchen.

The menu is neatly organised into small, medium and big dishes, offering the usual favourites as well as a few twists like sweet potato gyoza and chili tofu soba.

Peko Peko’s version of sashimidon was salmon and tuna marinated in soy and garlic. The soy and garlic marinade was delicious and they’d added enough of it so it soaked through part of the rice, making for a simple but satisfyingly tasty dinner.

Sashimidon - Salmon & Tuna Sashimi Marinated in Soy and Garlic, Served on Sushi Rice w Nori, Shiso, Wasabi ($18)

Sashimidon – Salmon & Tuna Sashimi Marinated in Soy and Garlic, Served on Sushi Rice w Nori, Shiso, Wasabi

Peko Peko
199 Smith St,
Fitzroy, VIC, 3065
(03) 9415 9609
Peko Peko on Urbanspoon

Suda, Melbourne CBD

Relatively young, Suda is a modern Korean restaurant tucked away inconspicuously into Healeys Lane. Suda also has a very simple and modest frontage, so the easiest way to identify it is to look for the large purple snail logo on its shop sign. It’s quite a small, cozy place so bookings are recommended, especially for large groups.

Suda’s menu combines tapas-style dishes alongside more substantial options such as pasta, rice and meat dishes and a fair variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. We were recommended the $25 banquet because there were so many of us and it would relieve the pressure of deciding on dishes to share. I was pretty happy because it meant I could try much of what was on offer! I didn’t actually know how many courses were included in said banquet, so once we got beyond 8 dishes I was pleasantly surprised each time a new one was brought to the table. All together we had seven tapas dishes and five mains. Many of the dishes, especially the mains, had a spicy kick. No dessert was included in this particular banquet, though there is an option that has dessert if so desired.

The brioche bun in the mini tteok-galbi burger was quite airy and crispy, reminding me of the small, round and puffy biscuit cookies I so often ate as a kid. The tteok-galbi was sweet and savoury at the same time and the fresh lettuce helped offset its strong flavour.

We received enough popcorn chicken for one plate between two or three people, which was more than the portion size for the other courses. The waitress’s rationale was ‘because it’s very popular’. Indeed, it was consumed rapidly because of its juicy, tasty goodness. The crispy seafood pancake was one of the other favourites from people around the table, the crispy breadcrumb topping making for something different and obviously crowd-pleasing. The tteok and haloumi was an interesting combination. We were instructed to eat the chewy yet crispy rice cakes and the grilled halmoumi at the same time.

Though quite a number of us were pretty full after our seven tapas, mains were also well received. Of note was the kimchi gratin with tteokgalbi, which was like a lovely hot, cheesy comfort food.

I’m no expert on Korean food, but all the dishes today were very good and everyone felt that the banquet presented great value, both because of the quality of the food and the quantity provided. Suda is certainly one to be earmarked for a return visit.

 

Dishes included in our 12-course banquet:
– Soft Tofu Salad – Silken Tofu, Sesame Dressing, Spring Onion, Chilli, Tomato
– Lotus Root Chips w. Spicy Mayo
– K+popcorn Chicken – Korean-style Crispy Chicken, Peanut, Spring Onion, Sweet Chili Sauce + Tteok & Halloumi – Crispy Rice Cake, Grilled Halloumi, Plum Honey, Seeds
– Tteok & Halloumi – Crispy Rice Cake, Grilled Halloumi, Plum Honey, Seeds
– Gorgonzola Garlic Pizza – Gorgonzola, Garlic, Plum Honey, Seeds
– Crumbed Seafood Pancake – Spring Onion, Seafood, Bread Crumb
– Mini Tteok-Galbi Burger w. Brioche, Mayo, Cos Lettuce
– Tteok-Galbi & Kimchi Gratin – Kinchi Pilaf, Cream Sauce, Mozzarella
– Bulgogi Pasta w. Shitake Mushrooms, Shredded Egg
– Bibimbap – w. Vegetables, Chili Paste, Egg, Bulgogi
– Kimchi Pork Belly Stew w. Potato, Tteok
– Spicy Tteokbokki – Rice Cake, Spicy Soup, Boiled Egg, Dumplings, Panko Prawn

Suda
Healey’s Laneway
550 Lonsdale St
Melbourne, VIC, 3000
(03) 9942 6422
Suda on Urbanspoon

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