Monday, July 30, 2012

A fortnight of AZN feasting

I've been fairly slack on the bloggings and what I will blame on 'forgetfulness' is just an excuse for laziness - so I've decided to bundle all my well intended posts into one. It's been quite an Asian-centric fortnight of consumption having revisited some old hot spots and also unchartered territory in Footscray.

First cab off the rank Old Raffles Place in Collingwood.

Old Raffles Place
Wellington St
Open: Tues dinner, Wed - Sun,  lunch + dinner
BYO: $$$$ to BYO but there is a cheap and cheerful selection of beer and wine

The Old Raffles Place on Urbanspoon

I remember the first time I visited Old Raffles Place was over a decade ago when I was down in Melbourne for a classic whirlwind Vic Market --> Victoria Street shop and feast. My parents have a dairy farm in King Valley - bringing true meaning to the concept of a whirlwind journey, having to drive 3 hours to Melbourne after milking the cows at 4am and returning immediately post-lunch to milk the cows at 4pm. My parents would fill numerous big foam boxes with a seafood bounty and enough asian groceries to feed a small army. Mum, originally from Singapore, went completely bananas when she found out there was a Singaporean restaurant specialising in hawker style food close to Victoria St. And so began my love affair with Old Raffles Place. Conveniently, when I moved to Melbourne I was living in Abbotsford for years and Old Raffles Place became my go-to spot for Hainanese chicken rice.

See, I don't need no fancy SLR - check this 'art' out

It was Weazelby's first time so we shared a bunch of entrees to maximise the flavour spread. Not typically a winter dish, we started with Whampoa Drive Rojak $12. This was a classic Singaporean fruit style rojak - a piquant combination of fresh crunchy cucumber, tart Granny Smith apple, sweet juicy pineapple, you tiao (chinese donut sticks) and tau pok ( tofu puffs). The clincher of this dish is the sweet, sticky and salty sauce, made from a combination of belachan (shrimp paste), lime juice, palm sugar, lime juice, chilli and crushed peanuts. This style of rojak is quite unique to Singapore and I find it slightly reminiscent of Thai style sweet, spicy and sour salads.

Whampoa Drive Rojak $12 (Don't let this unappetising photo fool you - it's dayum good!)

The other favourite for the evening was the Kallang Roti Beef Murtabak $8. Crisp, flaky roti encasing lightly spiced curried beef, peas, eggs and onion. The murtabak was accompanied by a classic style mild curry sauce. I love this thin style, rich oil based curry - it is almost like a soup, and there are times when I do want to just guzzle it down - however it works best in delicate-lady-like smatterings.

I wasn't so crash hot for the Penang Char Koay Kak $12 - stir fried Penang style radish cake with bean sprouts, egg, chives and sticky kecap manis. This is usually a pretty solid offering from Old Raffles, however the salt factor was extreme - to the point where I couldn't finish this dish (SHOCK!). I'll let this one slide..

I must say I have noticed a fairly handsome increase in prices over the last few years, which is the antithesis to hawker food -  although I do think it is (mostly) worth it. I would recommend sharing as many of the starters as you have the stomach room for as they encompass all my favourites and are reasonably priced - the lobak is the best I have had in Melbourne.

Next up on the AZN trail is Thien An in Footscray.

Thien An
32 Irving Street
Open: 7 days, all day long
BYO: Hmm.. footage not found
Thien An on Urbanspoon

My folks were down in Melbourne staying with my bro and sister in law (and the most adorable little dude Quinn!) so we all met up for a Sunday market wander and meal in Footscray. I found Mum and Dad prodding and sniffing durian in Little Saigon. "Why would we come to Footscray and not buy durian", proclaimed Mum. I'm a bit dubious on durian still.. scarred from childhood.

On the hunt

I quickly jumped on my gadget and looked up the wonderful Footscray Food Blog and half-eaten; my go to guides for all things West. With Mum heckling me for suggestions where to eat I decided on Thien An - a quasi Anglofied Vietnamese restaurant on Irving St, quite close to Footscray Train Station.

I won't labour over all the dishes. The stand out dish for me was the banh xeo - Vietnamese pancake with pork and prawn $12. The panacake batter was delightfully thin and crispy with a strong hint of coconut. I loved the accompanying mustard greens - not the typical accompaniment to Vietnamese pancakes I have had in the past.

Another interesting, yet slightly bland, dish was the taro wrapped prawns ~$8 (for 3).  I liked the texture of this dish, the taro added quite a firm crunch - however the inner prawn was a little on the scungy small side.

The service was lacking a little with a couple of dishes left off our order - although the wait staff were proficient and apologetic when informed. Don't be scared off by the "White:AZN" ratio (that I used to consider a good marker of an 'authentic' spot) - Thien An has been around for a while now and has a solid, deserved following.

Finally - not the most adventurous spot, but certainly not to be scoffed at: Cookie.

Curtin House
252 Swanston St
Open: 7 days, lunch until the wee hours
BYO: Nada.. but the drink list is quite formidable
 Cookie on Urbanspoon

Weazelby and I had a couple of hours to burn before watching The Dark Knight Rises at THE EXTREME SCREEN (! yes I know) so decided to pop into Cookie for a late afternoon lunch.


My favourite dish was the steamed fish & coconut custard in a banana leaf basket $17. Don't be dissuaded by it's dainty size, this packed a flavour punch. Smooth, creamy coconut egg custard, with flecks of juicy white fish entangled in Thai basil. Bloody brilliant! I've been inspired to toy around with cooking savoury custards at home now.. watch this space.

 Another winner was the quail, pickled watermelon rind & mint salad $17.50. Crispy, deep fried quail with hints of five spice topped with a chilli, vinegar and palm sugar infused salad of pickled watermelon rind. English mint was interwoven between the crunchy rind. What a fantastic use of watermelon rind - watch out summertime - bring all yo watermelon scraps to my house!

I haven't been particularly impressed by some of the service at Cookie in the past.. yes you are busy.. yes I am asking for ALL the drink menus because I do not know what I want to drink.. and yes I know they are 'too much to read'.. something something scowl face. I don't think the best rule for service is trying to convince a customer NOT to look through drink lists so they can find something they want. Anyway.. the waiter who took our food order was a breath of fresh air, personable and cheerful.

The food is consistently good at Cookie - however I must recommend you check out the more humble sister restaurant Colonel Tan's, at Revolver in Prahran. The menu is similar, albeit cheaper - and if you live in the area Thursday night is Local's night - with half price entrees and main (1 per head). BARGAIN!

P.S. Seriously, how effing good is Little Saigon?

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