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Monday, 24 June 2013


Ocha (3 Church Street, Hawthorn) is something of a suburban legend. The Japanese restaurant built up a huge following at its original location in Pakington Street, Kew - so much so that it relocated to its current location in the revamped Beehive complex in 2010, effectively doubling its cover size from 35 to 70 plus. Comfortably settled in next door to schmancy gastro-pub Barkers Wine Bar (old-man-pub the Beehive Hotel in another life), Ocha is still notoriously difficult to get a booking at. I haven't tried their degustation ($120.00 per head), held on the last Monday of each month - but I imagine it, too, would be very popular. Ocha has even released its own ranges of dressings and sauces for home use. MERCH! My, that is confidence personified. Bottled. Whatever.

There to celebrate a milestone birthday, five of us rocked up on a Thursday evening, armed with lots of nice wine (of course). A delightful young chap was our waiter, most smiley and helpful, and he even remembered my request made at the start of the evening to bring out candles in the birthday girl's dessert at the end. Props, buddy! Special occasions are so much lovelier when everything flows right. Doncha think?

We requested a 'feed me' style menu, (a) to remove the element of having to concentrate, and (b) because everything is so yummy, it's really hard to pick. According to its website, Ocha aims to explore "the domestic theatre of great food", offering "contemporary Japanese flavours meticulously prepared" where "traditional techniques are combined with playful imaginative touches". I would agree with this assessment overall.

Now, clearly, it being a momentous occasion and all, much wine was consumed on this night, and as a result, my pictures were rather on the crapola side. But here they are anyway - and take my word for it: everything was delicious. It's also surprisingly fun to eat. (Must be the theatre aspect?!)

Grilled scallop with Ocha's hollandaise sauce

Salmon canapes (wasabi-infused salmon tartare on a potato crisp, with flying fish roe)

Ebi dango (crunchy prawn dumpling rolled in rice flakes, with green tea salt)

Sushi & sashimi platter


Mirin-marinated chicken

Aaaaaaand the kicker (i.e. MY FAVOURITE, nom nom nom):

Teriyaki duck with bok choy ....ohhhhhh baby

Ocha admits to its dining room being an "understated affair" - and simple indeed it is. However, it is neutral-toned enough to impart a luxe feel, with white tablecloths, mod lighting and snappily-suited staff. In any case, you don't go there for the furnishings. Wink, wink! *

Decorative wall panelling

Mod lighting

Dividing curtain

In addition to its main restaurant, Ocha also offers a "2 go" option [linguistic shudder], a takeaway sister venue based at 64 Burwood Road, Hawthorn. Surely popular with locals if it's anything like the main restaurant, I haven't yet verified the excellence of Ocha 2 Go, but I'd like to. Some day. A girl can dream. In the meantime, I am quite happy to endorse Ocha Restaurant's fine dining deliciousness. Please go. But don't steal all the bookings.

*Although I would usually be lewd enough to comment on the gorgeousness of staff members (which is in fact mentioned on the restaurant's website), in this case, I am actually referring to the food. Shocker.

Ocha on Urbanspoon

Friday, 21 June 2013

West 48

My former housemate, a chef, knows a few people in the hospitality industry. From what I can see, they all hang out together, drink together when they finish service at two in the morning, and give each other silly nicknames like 'Fluffy'. So as soon as one of them branches out to open their own venue, or changes to a different role, the news spreads like wildfire. That's how the buzz surrounding a new venue starts. A coupla press releases and launch events gets the ball rolling, foodie mags and publications do their initial reviews, food bloggers get onto it, the locals flood in, and hospitality legends are born.

When it's a quality new venue in a suburban location, the buzz seems even bigger. Such was the case with West 48 (48 Essex Street, Footscray), a cafe based in a quiet suburban street in Melbourne's inner west. I heard about it through my housemate - who knew someone working there or opening it or something - after which I promptly forgot about it. Then a different friend came a-visiting from Canberra and wanted to visit her friend who worked there.

Oh, alright... let's go to Footscray.

Prior to caffeination, I'm not the nicest person, so it was fortunate that my current housemate decided to join my Canberra friend and I for brunch and very kindly drove us there. We pulled up outside a nondescript storefront and waltzed in, only to find no indoor tables available - SAD FACE.

It was a chilly June morning, but we gallantly sat at one of the footpath tables, intently studying the menu to increase the gurgling sound in our stomachs, and periodically sneaking in to covertly check out how much food the other patrons had left on their plates, then stalk them until they left and donated us their table.

My Canberra friend successfully surprised her working-cafe-friend, who happened to be the owner. Hello! He was busy though, so we took our highly-sought-after-indoor-places at the end of the smaller communal table (there's also a big, tall, long, workers' bench communal table), across from these people:

Starving (SOB) - we flagged down a lady to place our orders. She was under the pump as they were understaffed that day, due to illness. But she was very nice and helpful and had a funky short haircut, which went very nicely with the industrial-antique light fixtures (I don't know what I mean by that, either):

Then, thank God (if there were one), COFFEE.

Apparently Allpress, the coffee was nicely made and served in spunky orange cups, which, along with a bunch of bright yellow flowers, added a nice colourful touch to an otherwise brown/grey interior. I liked the look they're going for though, which I would classify (with all my expert interior design experience, ha) as 'warm industrial'. Inoffensive (so, suitable for a suburban cafe), but definitely stylish and a little bit cutting-edge.

The food was quality and delicious, but simpler and served in smaller sizes than I'd expected (despite my pictures below managing to make them look quite huge). We all pretty much had variations of the same ingredients:

Egg ciabatta roll with hash brown

Egg roll with air-dried wagyu

Egg, spinach, hash brown, air-dried wagyu

For dessert, because brunch should always be followed by dessert, there was caramel tart, hot chocolate, and the MOST MASSIVE CUP OF COFFEE I'VE EVER SEEN - aptly named "Coffee in a bowl". YES PLEASE.

Caramel tart & hot chocolate

"Coffee in a bowl" compared to a normal-sized long macchiato

Then we loitered around the counter for a bit, while chatting was done. I didn't mind cos I could see all this:

West 48 is a schmick operation with quality food, coffee and service, perhaps only lacking in space due to its understandable popularity. Great vibe and quite possibly worth the trek. Recommended.

West 48 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, 17 June 2013

Rosa's Kitchen

Who is Rosa?

You know... Rosa! Rosa Mitchell. She's been on the Melbourne food scene for a while. Remember that Journal Canteen joint next to the library on Flinders Lane? Lotsa eggplant, meat, tomato... yummy, hearty Italian stuff, with Sicilian leanings? Yeah, that was her. She also wrote some cookbook, My Cousin Rosa, and did something-or-other foodie in Williamstown?? To the chagrin of her devotees, she kinda disappeared for a while. Turns out she's popped up again on Punch Lane, taking over the old Luccatini's bistro site with her trattoria, Rosa's Kitchen (22 Punch Lane, Melbourne). Saweet!

The front

Head chef Lucy David hails from such esteemed kitchens as Coda and Pei Modern, and there seems to be a MoVida link in there, too. Tucked down clean and cobblestoned Punch Lane (off Lt Bourke Street, next to Longrain), the site has been revised from its '80s pastels to industrial chic - think polished cement floor, chalkboard menus, low lighting and clean lines. A bustling kitchen heaves at the back, while smiling, apron-clad floor staff scurry between tables. 

Hustle and bustle

Wooden crates and alcohol boxes supply a degree of rustic charm to any venue

My lovely housemate and I arrived on a Thursday night, somewhat tipsy (ahem), to celebrate six months of domestic bliss (awww). This is not to say that our extremely high standards and discerning tastes were tempered by alcohol. Oh noooo, siree. But to ensure we were at least drinking in line with the Italian flavours, we asked for a wine recommendation. Unfortunately, the resident wine expert was absent that night, leaving our demure yet friendly waitress to apologetically recommend a bottle of red which ended up being delicious.

Wine mmmm wine

We shared an antipasto plate - all items were delicious, although there was one cakey, quichey thing that was a bit odd - and followed it with a beef shin ragu pasta and a special, lamb spezzatino, of which I unfortunately only managed to get a rubbish photo (below for your viewing pleasure, yep enjoy that one).


Beef shin ragu penne

Lamb spezzatino with peas and potato

The staff were obliging, the crowd business-y but young-ish and friendly, and the food was just what I'd hoped: honest, tasty, filling (although, just to be at odds, a guy I know went recently and did not find the food filling at all) and - most importantly - deliciously fresh. Google has revealed that many of Rosa's vegetables are seasonally sourced from her own Central Highlands farm. Ups!

I very much enjoyed the relaxed yet self-assured vibe of Rosa's, and I will definitely be going back. It's a welcome Italian addition to the heart of the city.

Leaving Punch Lane

Rosa's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Rice Queen

Equal parts vague, kitsch and regal in name, Rice Queen has been a staple of the inner north for years. Previously, it operated chiefly as the fun, cheap food option on the way up to Panama Bar on Smith Street. In its new(ish) home at 389 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy (which used to house St Jude's Cellars), it has undergone both a facelift and a personality shift, and seems to have settled into its ruling role comfortably.

Spruiked as an "Oriental Diner & Bar", I must say I prefer Rice Queen as a bar. I remember enjoying the food more at its Smith Street site. It was tastier, better value and more soulful. Now, whilst still tasty, it seems overpriced and trying too hard.

Side note:  I do realise I use several phrases repeatedly (as well as far too many adverbs and extraneous information in general) - and "trying too hard" is undoubtedly one of them. How can FOOD try too hard, you ask? Isn't it inanimate, and therefore incapable of any kind of action? Well, sure. But I am actually talking about how genuine and organic something is. I have a natural tendency to detest anything even remotely pretentious (and/or wanky, fake, manipulative or manipulated). Although I admire clever, I admire something more when it is naturally awesome (which in itself is potentially problematic in other ways, but WOWEE could we get deep here) - or at least gives off an easy, natural vibe. We could be talking atmosphere, decor, food, staff - and that's just in cafes, bars and restaurants. Don't even get me started on music, art, languages, politics, fashion, personal traits, media... gahhh, I'm getting hunchy shoulders just thinking about this stuff! 

Where was I? Oh, yes - food, trying too hard. The interior design, however, works seamlessly, with colours popping, floral motifs, bright lights and dark surfaces interweaving to create a strong, rich, moody space. I quite enjoy letting my eyes drift around the place, catching different bits and bobs. It's kinda like a candy shop for eyes.

Colourful liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiights

I digress. Again.

Fortunately, the 'eating' part of Rice Queen, towards the right and back of the venue, is fairly segregated from the 'drinking' section(s) at the front left. There are a few long tall bench tables which seem to be used for both purposes, but the bar tables at the left when you walk in, and the enclosed outdoor section which looks onto the street, are clearly 'drinks only' areas.

From the enclosed outdoor area, looking inward

Their sav blanc has the unfortunate effect of making me sneeze (damn sulfites again) but I usually ignore that and drink it anyway, because I'm not a big cocktails fan and wine is way more shareable. One time I asked a lovely young staffer for assistance in the matter, and bless him, he tried, but the other wines were not matching my tastebuds that day, so I sucked it up and suffered the sneezes later. Lovely boy also wrote down the name of a beautiful piece of classical music that happened to be playing that day. Wonder where that went. Hmmm.

Evil wine. Looks less evil when decorated all pretty-like

The staff on the whole are self-assured, cool and friendly - that is, when they're not so busy they look frantic with stress.

This place has a hidden feature that I am determined to try one day: a KARAOKE ROOM that you can hire out for private use. I assume you would then need to commit to a certain amount of food/drinks. But HOW COOL! (...Anyone??)

Rice Queen is easy to find - the 112 stops almost at its door - and is breathing a whoosh of fun nighttime air into the stretch of Brunswick Street that gets drier and slightly dodgy the further north you go. I vote you should give it a burl.

Rice Queen Oriental Diner and Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Little Big Sugar Salt

A new kid on the Victoria Street block, Little Big Sugar Salt (385 Victoria Street, on the Abbotsford side) seems out of place. Hey, I'm not going to lament another cafe within walking distance of mine, and I'm all for diversity. I'm hoping its arrival heralds the start of a subconscious social upgrade to the notorious drug centre of Melbourne. I don't always feel safe walking around the area, and believe a few classier shops and restaurants could raise help the bar. Upgrades to the Hive shopping centre and The National pub are also steps in the right direction, IMHO. But more on that another day. Maybe a rainy one.

Let's season the shit outta this

Fortunately, it seems LBSS has classy in the hand. Once you wrap your head around the name (c'mon guys, it may sound cool, but dayum, it's a mouthful), and associate the rather vague "LBSS" fluoro script on the corner of the building with the cafe you're actually trying to find, you can begin your transition into the hip new state of being: a Victoria Street hipster. (HA! did you ever hear of such a strange thing?)

Why yes, that is why I came!

The cool bit about this joint is its inherent coolness. An obvious statement, perhaps, but you'll know what I mean when you go.
The staff? - Sure, they're nice.
Interior design? - Yep, funky. All good.
Food? - Tasty. Trying to be kinda clever.
Coffee? - Pretty decent, on the whole.
Menu / website / little touches? - FRICKIN' AWESOME.


Seriously, I enjoyed the menu SO much. (It's also on their website. Check it out for more detail.) Politically correct... yeah, not so much. If you're a sensitive type - about say, drugs, or Nazism, or meat - you may find something on there offensive. Recent tongue-in-cheek signage by the cafe, likening coffee to heroin, did not go down well with locals (keep in mind this is from the ever-sensationalist Herald Sun). LBSS stepped up to the mark and decently apologised. Me? I like that kinda stuff.  <shrugs>

Example:  "NO DECAF. Just don't drink coffee."  Well -- quite.

Word on the street is this place is owned by non-hospo types, but more designery/writery/tradie types. Well, that explains the coolness.

Sound station

The coffee is Kiwi in origin (Peoples Coffee), and luckily the chef knows some stuff, so the food is edible, and - thanks to the awsballz menu - fun to choose. The idea is there's not a lot on offer, but something to suit most desires, or combinations thereof.

"Hash Cakes" - read: hash, kaiserfleisch, egg

"Scram and Ham" (it's not on the main wheel of the menu, but a little blob)

Housemate likes her breakfast burgers!

Don't think this is on the menu anymore, but it *was* delicious

Kawfee nom nom nom

We sat in a room with a big communal wooden table (niiiiiiice table) - so big, in fact, that our waitress had to squeeze around it to serve everyone. (And although she was slight enough to manage it, perhaps that particular spacial arrangement is not the wisest move, logistically speaking?) I'm not sure about other 'spaces' - will check it out again and update later.

There's art and stuff and arty stuff. Records, too. I liked it. T'was like someone's house that happens to have a cafe inside and a bunch of really cool shit.

Artwork on the cafe's walls

And to finish on wise words as quoted from previously-stated-awsballz menu:

"Every time you don't throw yourself down the stairs, that's a choice."


Little Big Sugar Salt - LBSS Cafe on Urbanspoon