I have always known Melbourne to be a food lovers’ paradise because of its vibrant multicultural and cosmopolitan lifestyle.
Melbourne’s infamous climate of having “four seasons in a day”can sometimes confine one indoors all day.
Some people believe this may have something to do with the proliferation of stylish cafes and restaurants around the city and its suburbs where a hearty hot chocolate may just be that tonic for a cold wintry Melbourne day.
In recent years, Melbourne’s vibrant cafe and restaurant scene has been vying for top honours with some of Sydney’s best. Celebrity chefs from Melbourne are not short on order as well.
What I have found is that many of Melbourne’s top cafe and restaurants do not have the breath-taking water views like some of Sydney’s iconic restaurants by the harbour.
A beautiful view can sometimes mask average food and many have claimed that some Sydney restaurants may lose a big part of their appeal if they were not located close to the water’s edge.
So on our trip to the “Garden state” last week, there were a couple of restaurants that Mysaucepan was determined to sample after hearing so much about them.
We are also excited because apart from our friends KG and Elaine who are always the most gracious hosts in putting us up at their home, we are also meeting up with my cousin YB and his wife who lives in Las Vegas. He is in Melbourne to visit his sister WY and being food lovers like ourselves, they are also eager to join us in trying out some of the cafes and restaurants in Melbourne that we have heard so much about.
There are no “killer water views” at many of these restaurants and the only determinant of quality is good, honest food on the plate.
We got a taste of some beautiful ingredients and fresh food when we made our visit to the Queen Victoria Market which is located within a 5-minute walk north of Melbourne CBD.
The sheer variety and freshness of the food reaffirms my believe that Melbourne’s food scene is vibrant and together with our friends, we are excited to sample some of the food this great city has to offer.
Food safari in Melbourne:
Here is a sample of the cafes and restaurants that we visited during our trip last week:
1. Jade Kingdom, Heidelberg Heights
2. De Clieu, Fitzroy
3. Pho 369, Fitzroy
4. Blue Chillies, Fitzroy
5. Pho Hung, Preston
6. Pantry, Brighton
7. Movida Aqui, Melbourne CBD (Read about our full review here).
1. Jade Kingdom, Heidelberg Heights
Jade Kingdom is one of my favourite restaurants in Melbourne. Located about 15km north of Melbourne CBD, we have frequented this restaurant time and again because it is within a 5-minute drive from KG’s house.
However, the close proximity is not the main reason because I believe the Malaysian style hokkien mee is arguably one of the best I have tried in Australia.
Thick silky slivers of noodles in its signature black caramel sauce is stir-fried with prawns, slices of fish cake, cuttle fish, cabbage and sprinkled with bits of crispy pork lard. This is one dish that I always think about whenever I visit Melbourne.
The nasi lemak with beef rendang is fragrant with its coconut flavour and the rendang is soft and yielding.
A Cantonese style stir-fried rice noodles is one of Mysaucepan‘s favourite. The noodles are nicely seared with good wok breath and it comes ladened with its classic thick eggy sauce with strips of pork, prawns and vegetables.
Styled as a “Malaysian & Chinese” restaurant, “Jadey” as I like to call it, does some pretty good Chinese dishes as well.
This deep-fried silken tofu with mince pork and preserved cabbage is a case in point. It has a nice texture outside while the interior is silken soft as it should be. The gravy is tasty and always a beautiful complement for steaming hot rice.
Another mouth-watering dish that goes well with steamed rice is the Nyonya style assam fish. A snapper is steamed with a blend of Nyonya sauce redolent of chilli, lemongrass, ginger and kaffir lime flavours.
Garnished with fresh coriander and strips of fresh red chillies, the tangy and spicy taste makes you more hungry with each mouthful.
A Peking style deep fried beef strips with broccoli is sweet and crispy with its syrupy sauce. Not quite my favourite dish but it seems to be disappearing quite quickly.
We have ordered way too much food for eight people tonight but Jadey is quite consistent and satisfying for all the times I have been to this restaurant.
233 Waiora road, Heidelberg Heights
Tel: +61 3 9458 3188
Lunch: Monday to Saturday
Dinner: 7 nights
2. De Clieu, Fitzroy
We met up with YB and WY for lunch and decided to check out the cafes and restaurants around Brunswick street in Fitzroy.
We settled upon De Clieu after a recommendation from Mysaucepan as this small cafe received numerous glowing reviews and write-ups.
We decided to order only a couple of dishes as we intend to walk the length of Brunswick street to see if we can discover other eateries on our food safari.
A sweet roated Berkshire pork neck with fried free-range egg, spring onion and BBQ sauce did not disappoint. We like this dish because the sweet gravy worked well with the tender piece of meat and the fried egg is an interesting combination with the slightly chewy roti.
Is this what modern Australian food is all about? I certainly think so.
Why wouldn’t a western style cafe make an honest attempt in combining a roti that is so similar to a crepe or a pancake in soaking up the delectable sweet gravy?
This is what is it right here – honest food with a bit of creativity and all for $16.50. Please take note, Sydney cafes.
The pea and ham soup with slow cooked hen’s egg is not only elegant, it is damn tasty too. I have always maintained that Melbourne, to me, is Australia’s most elegant city and this humble pea soup reaffirms my views.
The savoury ham and bacon is beautiful against a the wholesome soup and the thin slices of crispy croutons worked wonders with the egg.
My only regret is not taking a photo of its gooey yellow centre when we broke it open. It reminded me of yet another slow-cooked egg that remains in my mind long after I have tasted it.
Find me a Sydney cafe that can replicate this for $16.50 and I will be there in a flash.
The flat whites at De Clieu could be a little stronger but we came here for the food and we are impressed.
I wonder how many other cafes in Melbourne can dish out innovative food like this at such reasonable prices.
Thank you De Clieu, we shall return, with more friends next time.
De Clieu, Fitzfoy
187 Gertrude street, Fitzroy
Tel: +61 3 9416 4661
Monday – Saturday 7am – 5pm
Sunday 8am – 5pm
3. Pho 369, Fitzroy
We are extremely happy after that little prelude at De Clieu and start walking towards the multitude of cafes and restaurants along Brunswick street.
We finally settle at Pho 369 since YB is keen to sample some local Vietnamese pho as he laments that good Vietnamese food is difficult to come by in Las Vegas.
The usual beansprouts and fresh mint leaves are plonked onto our table as we eagerly wait for our bowls of piping hot pho to arrive.
Melbourne did not disappoint in turning on a cold and chilly morning so we thought a steaming hot bowl of pho would be a good answer for this weather.
The rare beef is tender and soft. The taste and flavour of the stock are quite average but what let this bowl of noodles down is that it arrives luke warm. We down our noodles as we feel a little peckish after our walk from De Clieu but we all felt we would not be back in a hurry.
369 Brunswick street, Fitzroy
Tel: +61 3 9417 3311
4. Blue Chillies, Fitzroy
“Have you been to a funky Malaysian restaurant in Melbourne?” my friend KG quips the next day.
“What is your idea of funky, belly dancers and gyrating movements while we tuck into a nasi lemak?” I asked.
“Not quite, but you will find some tasty Malaysian dishes with a bit of a twist that would tickle your tastebuds at Blue Chillies“.
On that note, the eight of us find ourselves on Brunswick street again to sample some tasty Malaysian food the next evening.
The humble lohbak is my perennial favourite for a Malaysian entree. Delectable chicken mince flavoured with five-spice powder is wrapped with tofu skin and deep-fried until crispy and golden brown.
Dipped into a mild sweet chilli sauce, these crispy nuggets will leave you pining for the mains in no time.
A plate of eggplant with dried shrimp and chilli is packed with spicy and robust flavours of belachan and curry leaves.
I love the soft gooey texture of the eggplant that is like a sponge in absorbing all the chilli and shrimp flavours.
A tangy bowl of chilli king prawns arrive with French beans, tomato and okra. The bright orange gravy is piquant and bold with chilli and Nyonya style flavours that complement the big crunchy king prawns.
I find myself eating more steamed rice that usual because of such bold and tasty flavours.
The assam fish curry with tamarind and lemongrass is spicy, sour and savoury at the same time where this sauce combines well with the deep-friend crunchy fish.
A battered okra is similar to a salt and pepper style dish where there is a big of crunch with deep fried onions and chilli.
The spicy pork ribs is another dish with a twist where there is no escaping without using your fingers.
Pick up a pork rib and start ripping off the meat with your chompers is the easiest and best way to eat these ribs, not forgetting a cold beer to wash it all down.
Blue Chillies is a commendable Malaysian and its point of difference is in strong and robust flavours.
Forget the once dish wonders like laksa and char kway teow, you would want to come here and try their dishes but you’ll need a fair bit of hot steamed rice to balance the flavours.
182 Brunswick street, Fitzroy
Tel: +61 3 9417 0071
Daily lunch: 12pm – 2.30pm
Monday to Thursday 6pm – 10.30pm
Friday & Saturday 6pm – 11pm
Sunday 6pm – 10pm
5. Pho Huong, Preston
On the following night, KG suggest we visit his friend’s casual Vietnamese restaurant right in the heart of the commercial strip along High street in Preston, a suburb 10km north of Melbourne CBD.
I have been here on numerous occasions and one of the tried and tested on the menu is the rare beef Vietnamese pho.
It’s cold tonight and this blooming Melbourne weather is good for this steaming hot bowl of comfort food.
The rare beef is succulent and the texture of my beef brisket yields like a tender slice of roast beef. The soup is piping hot and it cooks the raw bean sprouts within seconds.
KG tells me this restaurant is doing extremely well and I can see why with simple food cooked extremely well.
447 High street, Preston
Tel: +61 3 9470 1588
Lunch and dinner 7 days
6. Pantry, Brighton
After our episode with De Clieu, both my cousins YB and WY are pining for more cafe style food that is a little different. Upon the recommendation by Elaine, we head south for lunch at Pantry in Brighton on Mother’s Day.
Most restaurants are fully booked and we are chuffed when the restaurant said there is no booking but we should be able to get a table within half hour.
The restaurant was in full throttle when we arrived and after a forty minute wait, we are finally seated and have already read the menu.
Pantry is an interesting concept where chef Shane Delia combines hints of Mediterranean cooking with modern Australia style. Continental products such as olive oil are on display along the rack and both locals and tourists seem to be captivated by a menu that combines innovative cooking with the freshest of ingredients.
The restaurant also hold cooking classes as well as cooking shows which showcases some of the top chefs in Australia.
I spot a table having a Caesar salad and knew we had to order this dish.
A whole bunch of baby cos lettuce is drizzled with the classic Caesar dressing and topped with shaved parmesan, a whole poached egg, Italian style white anchovies, bacon that is caramelised with maple syrup and crispy croutons.
To me, this is a Caesar salad with an attitude and a creative point of difference.
A plate of linguine with king prawns and crab meat is boldly al dente. This simple dish is one of my favourites pastas to cook at home on a week night.
What makes this dish delightful is the fresh cherry tomatoes, a generous sprinkling of chopped parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice and good EVOO that combines all the flavours beautifully.
The dish that remains truly memorable for me during this food safari in Melbourne is the mushroom and pea risotto, confit duck and triple cream brie.
This risotto is the perfect answer to a cold wintry day in Melbourne, where the triple cream brie gives the rice so much flavour and substance. The duck confit is an added bonus when the meat is so flavoursome having been cooked in its own fat.
A slow-cooked pork ribs with cabbage salad revealed the Middle Eastern influences of this elegant cafe with its spices and aromas.
I found the meat a little dry although it is soft and tasty. I am thinking some kind of cumin and coriander seed gravy poured over these ribs would elevate it to another level.
Nevertheless, I carve up each rib and in no time, the four of us are licking our fingers and the large platter is soon replaced with cleaned meatless rib bones.
We finish our lunch with a chocolate pudding with a warm and melting centre. A dollop of ice-cream adds a delightful warm and cold feeling with each mouthful.
1 Church street, Brighton
Tel: + 61 3 9591 0393
Breakfast and Lunch
Monday – Wednesday 7.30am – 5.00pm
Thursday – Friday 7.30am – 4.00pm
Saturday 8.00am – 4.00pm
Sunday 8.30am – 5.00pm
Dinner & Takeaway
Thursday – Saturday from 5.00pm
7. Movida Aqui, Melbourne
One of the highlights of our food safari is undoubtedly my lunch at Movida Aqui with Mysaucepan. She had wanted to come here for a very long time and I can see why after the first few tapas.
Click on any of these photos of Movida Aqui and read about our lunch at this tapas bar that has given Melbourne food lovers so much to rave about.
I leave you with one of the most distinctive tastes that left a lasting impression on my taste buds during this food safari – that of the Anchoa from Movida Aqui – a tingling of the chilled smoked tomato sorbet against the salty sliver of anchovy complemented with the crispy crunch of a wafer-thin crouton.
Thank you Melbourne for a whirlwind few days of sensational tastes and flavours. We know that we have only scratched the surface of a gastronomic iceberg so we shall be back for more.
Level 1, 500 Bourke street
Melbourne (Access via Little Bourke street)
Lunch & Dinner:
Monday – Friday 12 noon till late.
Saturday – 6pm until late.
Sunday – Closed.
Tel: 03 – 9663 3038 for reservations.
So dear readers, have you been on a food safari and if so, where did you do it and what was your most memorable dish?