Sunday, December 4, 2011

Melbourne Series - Food Glorious Food

I thought I'd just put together a post on the food that I had the pleasure to enjoy on the trip to Melbourne... Now, I love food, but I'm no foodie gourmet.... perhaps a gourmand (driven by the excess of eating and drinking....). I am certainly not someone that actually enjoys going out (especially to restaurants or nice cafés) by myself. So normally when I travel I'm a cheap eater. I thought this time around I might like to explore some of the eating places around Melbourne - a city that enjoys a reputation for good food experiences.

I arrived late on Sunday evening, and didn't have much time to find a good place to eat... and I was sort of keen to start my photography. So I took ran into the Ajisen Ramen on Bourke Street. Now I've been to Ajisen Ramen here in Adelaide, and we had mixed feelings about it (which you can read here). But I thought I'd give them ago... and after 9 there wasn't too many options for a quick meal.

I ordered the 'Chasyu Ramen' ... that should most probably be Chāshū by the way... which is like a roasted pork. Ramen often comes with 1 of 2, but this dish has a extra helping or two. Yummy. Ramen's a wonderful noodle+broth dish that's very easy to eat. Especially when washed down with some Yebisu Ale.... lovely. I have to say though, once again, this Ajisen Ramen was also Chinese owned and influenced. The flavours aren't quite the same, but they're quick and relatively inexpensive. If you've never had ramen before, then give them a try. Oh - and ramen is often used to describe noodles in general in Japan, rather than a specific type...

And here's where it is..
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Changing tact for a second, another sort of favourite watering hole is the P.J. O'Briens pub on the South Bank precinct of the Yarra.

Ok - I know - Irish Pubs are so 2000's....and the world has moved on a bit from then. But, there's something nice about a good Irish Pub... espeically the use of wood and metal finishes.

And of course there's the beers and ales. You can still buy Guinness there, but they realise they now have to diversify a lot. Though Carlton Draught on tap?.... very disappointed. 

This is just a short walk through Flinders St Station and across the river. If you're in the vicinity, pop in and have a Guinness for me.  Now that's got to be a convincing reason to drink beer if ever there was one. And yes, you can buy a meal here as well.
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The next place I was going to mention was Izakaya Chuji Restaurant - where an Izakaya is sort of a Japanese eating pub. It's where you go with lots of friends, eat, drink and be merry. Melbourne has quite a few, but this is the closest I've found to the real thing. It's not particularly attractive, but there's a truly excellent selection of traditional (and modern) izakaya-style foods. 

The one problem I have however is that because these dishes are best enjoyed sharing among a group, it can be difficult to get the right mix when it's just yourself. This night I went with a mix of favourites and something a little different.

First off the yakitori was nice - but not the best dish. I sort of regret buying this, as yakitori should ideally be cooked right there on a special grill, and this looked like it was cooked normally in the kitchen. Still they went down very nicely.

I then went with the geso karaage - or deep fried squid served with a delicious mayonnaise (by the way, seriously, Japanese mayonnaise is sugoi oishii). Normally I'd grab the chicken karaage, but the squid was just as yummy. I was quite satisfied with this dish.

The next dish was gyutan shioyaki (ox tongue grilled with salt). Now, before I met my wife I would never have eaten ox-tongue, but now I love it. As long as it's cut thinly enough. And Chuji's way of cooking was spot on. This is the sort of dish that really is nice to share.

Now - I love gyoza. There's no two ways about it. However, I don't know why I buy this, as I honestly think my wife's gyoza is the best I've eaten. I always end up being a little disappointed. And whilst these gyoza were nice, they didn't come close to home-made ones. Of course, not everyone has the benefit of having my T-chan cooking for them... so... please try.

As I mentioned before, this is quite an authentic Japanese restaurant - and definitely Japanese chefs. I don't want to sound snobbish about this, but it makes a world of difference in Japanese food preparation. Of course, you might prefer more Chinese or non-traditional flavourings to your Japanese dishes; but for me I love the authentic tastes.

And the one thing that Japanese love is fresh ingredients - and it's encouraging when they put their ingredients out front and centre. Shows you the freshness, as well as adds a wonderfully exotic ambiance. I will definitely be taking my family here next time we come to Melbourne together. It is however a little on the pricey side, so not so much every-day food if you know what I mean. Also - I discovered one thing about myself...I really am indecisive when it comes to choosing food. Especially for myself.

You can find Izakaya Chuji on Lonsdale Street in the CBD. It's a great authentic Japanese-style restaurant.

Now the last one I'll mention is the Taiwan Cafe on Swanston Street. On Monday tuesday night I tried to get in here (looked kinda interesting) only to find that the place was sold out for the whole night. That was ok... I asked if I could make a booking for the next night. "sorry no bookings". Hmmmm - this piqued my curiosity, so the following evening I came about 10mins before opening only to find about 40 people waiting outside. Seriously - this cafe has amazing support. I waited in line (ok it was more a mob than a line), and when it eventually opened (late) there was already another 10-20 people outside waiting to get a seat only 5 mins later. And then they started issuing numbered tickets. Mind you, this is on a regular Wednesday night. Amazing. The sort of popularity that even McDonald's (right next door) can only dream about.

The food is a good mix of different Taiwainese "street" food, and the flavours are all there. I was curious to try a more Chinese/Taiwanese style gyoza, or dumplings. Not so keen... there's something about eating food that looks like one thing, but tastes quite different. In my head, this should have been oishii gyoza... but it wasn't. It was definitely Chinese. Der! It's a Chinese restaurant you idiot! Still... my head is now hard-wired.

I was also convinced to try the special Crispy Chicken (from the photos outside) which looked so yummy my stomach just about ate through my body to get to it. However... the reality when it came out was quite different. It wasn't bad at all - but didn't quite live up to my expectation. The chicken was huge (perhaps too much so), and it felt like it needed a sauce or something. In this case, a bottle or two of Tsingtao would have to do.

So I have to admit that I was just a little disappointed with the dishes - and it just goes to show how expectations can be a double edged knife. But given how popular this place is - and given how hard it would be for the kitchen to handle such a sudden mass of orders, I was happy to be a little generous. I do wonder however if this is a case of popularity of quality?.

Despite my luke warm review, I would definitely come back - but perhaps try out the lunch-time option (they close between lunchtime and dinner, which nominally starts at 6pm). I am interested in trying some of the other dishes, as the menu looked wonderful. And remember - expect to be lining up whenever you come.

I couldn't find a web-site for them, but it's pretty easy to find... just look for the crowds around the corner of Swanston and Lonsdale.

And that brings my food journey through Melbourne to an end. Unfortunately I couldn't do much for lunch (a work thing) but it was nice to get out and about in the evening. I also did pop into a place called Funky Curry on Bourke Street for a late night curry as well. The place didn't really seem that photogenic, and the food was served on what looked very much like (what I would imagine) gaol food is served on. Ok... jail for all those people that use US spelling. Whilst the place looked a little ordinary, the curry was very yummy and very cheap. Would recommend giving it a try... even with gaol plates.

POSTSCRIPT - now many people would often think food in Melbourne would be greek or italian - and would go to Lygon Street, Acland Street (St Kilda) or any number of other locales. That's the good thing about Melbourne... there's so much to choose from. But they will have to wait for perhaps another trip to Melbourne.


  1. Melbourne is the food capital of Australia and we are spoilt with the amount of different cuisines we have and the fantastic restauarnts available. Some great write-ups AdeliadeBen and love the maps you have supplied with the restaurants. I'm really keen to try Ajisen Ramen on Bourke Street now :)

  2. I'm curious J_A, have you been to Izakaya Chuji?... and if so, what did you think (and where would you recommend for good izakaya experience in Melbourne)?