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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Peko Peko

"Peko Peko" is Japanese for "Golden Yummy."

Okay, not really - but it might as well be.

I have been to Peko Peko (199 Smith Street, Collingwood) many times, but this was the first time I thought to blog it. I did my usual forget-photos thing, but I WILL get more. Promise. Mainly because it's so yummy I know I'll be going back soon. When I like a place, I go there over and over, and can therefore add new details from each visit (case in point: Three Bags Full. And Backstreet Eating).

Peko Peko is the Smith Street sista-from-another-mister... or just sister... to Otsumami in Northcote, whose reputation is generally top-notch. I've not been, but I'd like to, and I really like saying the name. OTSU-mami! Ot-su-MAMI! ("Sake-to-me!" Groooooaaaan.)  Like "Tootgarook", it's just too much fun not to say aloud.

I digress.

The best part about my recent visit to Peko Peko was the pretty, pretty sake. It's almost a shame to drink it because - imagine how valuable those bits of gold are!

The food is ALWAYS quality. What I like about it is that you get all the delicious traditional Japanese flavours and textures - light, sweet, soy, fresh - but they're not afraid to veer away from your bog-standard Japanese dishes served at every single Japanese restaurant in the whole world (it feels like).

For example, the agedashi tofu is beautifully cooked and presented, and there's not a lot you can do to mix it up:

Agedashi Tofu

But instead of your standard vegies, we had tempura MUSHROOMS (Oh. Em. Gee):

Tempura Mushrooms (all kinds). Mm hmmmmm.

We also had some delicious prawns - they were small, but peeled, plus there were heaps and they were soooo flavourful. (No pic... yes, I suck.)

The gyoza are a bit different, too: there's chickeny ones with coriander and stuff, and then some pumpkin ones. You can even get Nutella gyoza for dessert. There's black sesame ice-cream on offer, too, and I noticed on Otsumami's menu there are mochi available. I didn't see those on offer at Peko Peko but I would SO go there if they were. (Mochi are these funny squishy ice-cream thingies, available in all different flavours. They look kinda like blown-up macarons but are even DELICIOUSER*. Google-Images them, they're ahhhmaaaaazing.)

The vibe at Peko Peko is pretty chilled, and the staff don't talk a whole lot. They can be hard to flag down, but I have never found them to be rude. 

Design is simple: sparse, dark and warm. There are a few traditional Japanese touches, but nothing too cutesy or smothering. A tiered wooden shelving unit (resembling a staircase) provides a sort of mental divide between the kitchen and dining areas, and upstairs is a function room, visible from the ground level through a cut-out space in the wall. Modern! 

Out back is a sloping, bricked courtyard which houses the loos and some half-hearted fairy lighting. If the amenities weren't right there, it would probably be a lovely space to sit of a summer evening. 

It's not a large restaurant; definitely advisable to book, if you can. Most times I've been there it's been busy, and I've been turned away more than once. And not just because I looked like a hobo. (Wait, is that offensive? If so... sorry.)

Peko Peko is one of those places that I will mourn if it ever closes. It's just lovely. 

*New word. I said so.

Update: 11 January 2014 

Another recent-ish visit to Peko YUMMO afforded me the new knowledge that they also offer takeaway (awesome), and even drop food next door to Kent St Bar & Cafe.

I also thought it was worth nothing that our waitress was very artily dressed, but dour-faced, and the regular-dressed other waitress was much smilier. Must be something in those clothes putting your FROWN UPSIDE-DOWN, Arty Chick.

Additional pictures! (see, I TOLD YOU I WOULD)

Wooden staircase shelf thingy... storage too!

Cool placemats

Menu, for your visual and informational pleasure

Peko Peko on Urbanspoon

Monday, 29 July 2013

Mercy Bar + Eatery (closed)

*This venue is now closed* 

I'd been looking forward to this dinner for a long time - not only for the company, but also because I was keen to try Mercy Bar + Eatery (31 Flinders Lane, Melbourne), formerly known as Virginia Plain (see my previous blog post here).


In its former state, I'd tried the degustation with matching wines and been quite impressed. Word on the street was that, although Mercy Bar is still run by the same crew (owned by Marco Santucci, with Andy Harmer as chef and Mat Beyer running front-of-house), it was revamping in response to what the people wanted: a more casual eatery, with a 'less austere' ambience. It's still a great venue, but I'm not sure it has hit its mark just yet.

Sure, it's a little more colourful, with street-style art by Steve Cross and touches of bright neon lighting, but I was expecting more bar, less eatery - well, less 'restaurant' style eatery, anyway. I was kinda disappointed to see that the restaurant's layout is much the same: long bar down one side, kitchen at the back (though I guess that's harder to move), plus what's basically a hall full of low dining tables (srsly, this place is MASSIVE). The only major layout change I could see was a few communal tables in the front section.

I gather that Mercy is a popular business lunch venue, being smack-bang in the middle of Melbourne's CBD foodie zone (the Paris end, naturally, dahhh-link). It claims to have loosened its menu, introducing more snack-style options, and is planning to offer more beers on tap (which it may well have already done - I don't drink beer, so I wouldn't have a clue. I did, however, enjoy a lovely lemon champagne cocktail on arrival - a French something-or-other).

Frenchie cocktail

For a second time upon this site, I ventured into degustation territory - only to find it a VERY similar experience to the Virginia Plain degustation. Everything was delicious, but it felt like history repeating: soup, fish, meat taster, dessert. Déjà vu! Perhaps I should have requested a mix of the new menu items - but one would expect the degustation to have changed somewhat, well over six months later and with a branding revamp.

I also found the wine matching very strange. First course was a French onion soup - the onions had been caramelised for three days, we were told. With this, came a strong, dry sherry, apparently to cut through the sweetness of the caramelised onion. Whaaaa?! I'm not a sherry fan at the best of times, but I gave it a shot. It was definitely better with the food, but I'm still not convinced it was the best drink to begin with. The other wines were more 'normal', but I still found them too diverse and too strong in general. Yes, I like to try new wines, but food-and-wine-matching is a delicate art and I think, Mercy, you might be trying a wee bit too hard in this regard.

French onion soup


Then followed a DELICIOUS terrine - although it was so soft, it was more like a pâté - and a fish dish, possibly cod (??) that was nice and foamy. The meat tasting platter was yummy, but basically the same as last time, and the dessert was a HUGE improvement on my previous experience of Banoffee Pie (I HATE bananas... yes HATE them): this time, a delicious chocolate sponge with pear mousse. Ohhhh baby yes. 

Terrine, NOM

One of the better wines, happily served in a massive glass

Fishy goodness

Tasting platter of pork belly (I think), bone marrow, wagyu steak, potato stack

Chocolate & pear dessert... although it looked like poo, it did not taste like poo

The main benefit of a degustation is that you don't have to think. We definitely took advantage of this, and concentrated on our catch-up. The waitstaff were delightful in general: fun and flirty, there when you wanted them to be and absent when you didn't, and describing each dish in enough detail to enjoy it, but not to be bored by their dissertation! Mercy Bar also has a fun social media presence - clearly, interaction with customers is one of its stronger points.

I came away from Mercy Bar having enjoyed my dinner, but a little disappointed that it wasn't as different as I'd hoped. It's a very large space - which, admittedly, would be difficult to rearrange or redecorate. Although it's funkier now, I don't feel it's quite dropped the 'austere' tag. I believe a reshuffle of the layout - perhaps filling it with more STUFF to make it feel more knick-knacky and therefore casual, or dividing it into smaller sections - would go a long way towards creating the vibe they are hoping for.

Still well worth a look for a fabulous dinner or lunch, particularly if you are looking to impress.

Mercy bar + eatery on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 27 July 2013


So apparently Korean food is 'the next big thing'. I had never really tried it and, considering myself an early adopter (plus, being local to Collingwood), I was keen to try out BistroK (366 Smith Street, Collingwood) as soon as I could. I'd read a review that described it as inexpensive, with cheesy music. Sold!

Not a fan of the name. I originally read it as "Bistro OK" - let's put that down to excitement rather than stupidity or deteriorating eyesight - and I'm going to assume the "K" is to do with "Korean" - perfectly legitimate, as is the "Bistro" part. It's just not very exciting or memorable though, is it? It's a bit pissy. Doesn't really match the strong standard of food, service or decor provided within.

I coerced a willing friend into a midweek meal and we wandered north of Johnston (the dead zone of Smith Street) into basically an empty restaurant. It's all red brick and sexy designer lighting: not your standard traditional-style Asian decor at all -- a pleasant change. Apparently some aspects of the fit-out were custom-made overseas, specifically for the venue. I very much liked the front table with its overhanging lights reflecting in the front window. By the time we left, this table was filled with men (that wasn't why I liked it, though - promise); in fact, most of the front room had filled up. According to its website, the restaurant has "dining rooms" (plural), and Urbanspoon also cites "outdoor dining". I witnessed none of this, but found the front room charming: simple, spacious, modern and warm.

The wine list was limited, but that's not usually a problem for me. I should have tried something interesting and Korean, but I was feeling sickly (poor excuse), so a glass of something white, alcoholic and not particularly outstanding sufficed.

The food menu comprises 'Small' and 'Main' dishes. Being new to Korean cuisine, we looked for some guidance from the ultra-friendly waitress, such as recommended dishes, and although she was smiley and willing, it was a little like knocking our heads against one of the restaurant's walls. So we picked our own: a handful of the 'Small' dishes, to share.

You can read the menu much better on their website

...just sayin'

In retrospect, I wish I'd ordered a main, because the 'Small' dishes were indeed small, and also to get a better perspective of the chef's highly-touted culinary skills. Jae Park previously cheffed [yes, it's a word... well, it is now] at a five-star French restaurant in Korea and then at Melbourne's Nobu. His plating [did you first learn that word from MasterChef, too?] is highly regarded. After eating at BistroK, I can endorse this. Some elements on the plate appeared to defy gravity, and could be both rich in flavour and ridiculously light at the same time.

We had...

Prawn & scallop salad with black sesame & tofu mousse

Bulgogi (marinated sliced beef) salad

Grilled asparagus & baby spinach salad

Side of rice... innit purrrrtty?

Pork belly with dried apple & kimchi chips

It was all very nice, and reasonably priced for the quality - absolutely. Nonetheless, I was a bit disappointed - after having read BistroK was inexpensive, I had envisaged more quantity for my dollar. Also, my ears were not alerted to any cheesy music. Damned expectations.

Hey mister, you match the lampshades

I would recommend this place for a date or small dinner gathering. It's classily done: pleasingly modern, quality product, and something different. Just make sure everyone knows what to expect going in, because even though the food will look spectacular and taste delicious, you could still come out hungry.

Bistro K on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Hobart: Museum of Old and New Art (MONA)

Mona sounds like your great-aunt. Or someone with big hair that Craig McLachlan would sing about. It is also the snappy and memorable acronym for Hobart's newest - and so far, very successful - tourist attraction: The Museum of Old and New Art.

View from MONA Cafe

Opened in 2011 after a $75 million refurb of its former identity, the Moorilla Museum of Antiquities, MONA is happily situated among the Moorilla Estate winery on the Berriedale peninsula of Hobart.

Outdoor stage area

Australia's largest privately-funded museum, its artworks come from the collection of David Walsh, a Tasmanian millionaire and professional gambler known as quite a character (or, according to the MONA website, a "prick"). The art featured tends to err on the side of shocking, frequently referencing sex, death and violence, and apparently designed to challenge the viewer's sensibilities wherever possible.

In a nutshell, MONA is the must-see attraction of Hobart, 'flavour of the month' if you will, popular with young and old alike - particularly them kulcharel types. It is approximately 18 minutes' drive from the CBD, according to Siri, but visitors are encouraged to catch the MONA ferry via the Derwent. We drove.

Hire car heaven

Admittance is free for Tasmanians (I found it rather amusing to learn of the term Hobartians... just me?), and for everyone else it's a flat fee of $20.00 ($15.00 concession). Admission includes the provision of slick Sennheiser earphones and an iPod, complete with custom-built MONA tour guide app. The app pinpoints your location within the Museum by GPS and provides a list of nearby works, variously including technical details, descriptions and critiques, interviews and video clips, plus some completely irrelevant (although amusing) quotes and random information. Visitors are encouraged to 'like' or 'dislike' artworks, and the data is tallied for all to see. You can also choose to register your details to later access a reproduction of your tour saved on the MONA website, based on your iPod use.

Bar on bottom level. MONA's three levels are built into cliffs

Designed by architect Nonda Katsalidis, MONA is built mainly underground, cut into the natural cliffs of the area, and, mixed with careful lighting, omits a moody, cavernous vibe. A spiral staircase spins, seemingly neverending, from the bright reception ground level down to the bar and lowest exhibition level. (A glass elevator, a la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, also runs through the centre of the staircase.) The building's three levels are amibiguous, each nook and cranny accessed through multiple staircases and suspended walkways. My housemate described navigating the Museum as like being in a "choose your own adventure" book. The space is cultivated well, neatly showcasing the huge assortment of artworks, from entire massive walls to miniscule prints.

Massive wall of looping electronic-y data signals

We visited Hobart during MONA's Dark MOFO (13 to 23 June 2013), its annual winter solstice festival. One of its most obvious - and heralded - features was "the blue light", an overpowering and yet oddly calming installation by Japanese electronic/sound artist Ryoji Ikedaspectra [tasmania] comprised 49 custom-made Xenon searchlights, collectively beaming white/blue light 15 kilometres into the sky from their base on Hobart's Cenotaph. Ikeda has designed similar installations in Buenos Aires, Nagoya, Barcelona and Paris.

Wherever we went in Hobart at night, this magical blue beam demanded our attention.

spectra from our hotel window (over Collins Street)

spectra from Battery Point

spectra at the end of the road

spectra from Salamanca Place

spectra from the chimneys

Driving past the Cenotaph and the base of spectra

Although a huge (literally) part of Dark MOFO, spectra [tasmania] was fortunately not the only artwork we were privy to. Our visit also coincided with the start of The Red Queen exhibition (18 June 2013 to 21 April 2014).

Red Queen-style tennis court at MONA

We spent a good few hours wandering the floors of MONA, absorbing the art. Expecting to be really shocked, I was surprised at how nonplussed I was about the works themselves. I think, among all its hype, I had forgotten that MONA is essentially an art gallery. I guess I was both disappointed and relieved to find that the experience still involved the convention of walking around, looking at each piece and forming a personal reaction. (Then again, what did I expect? for the artworks to be flashed subliminally through my brain?!)

I'm not going to look up the name of each work or artist (hey - just GO!), but some of the artworks I remember or enjoyed the most were:

  • Overhead lightbulbs that flash out your pulse, via a hand reader
  • Drawers you open to hear sound snatches of different ways "I love you" can be said (pretty cool)
  • A life-sized, stuffed cloth sculpture of a sprawling woman giving birth, complete with placenta
  • A computer which leads you through the process of death by lethal injection 
  • Flashing electronic signals and data across a huge wall (mesmerising)
  • A massive lumpy ball thing that you look inside of to see floating sort of currents and random items
  • Two facing giant buddhas: one armoured and intact, the other crumbling and decrepit (this one felt really meaningful, but I didn't think about it too hard)
  • A stone-walled maze room with ancient characters, culminating in a surprise overhead mirror
  • A 'white library': room filled with shelves, tables and books, all completely white and blank
  • Giant beanbags you lie on underneath ceiling-installed screens, showing loops of what looked like goopy vaginas and squelching body parts (not my favourite)
  • A giant trampoline-style structure with weird vibrating musical noises going on 
  • Pinball machine restyled in a horror theme 
  • Just go. 

Human pulse-driven lights

After browsing through all the amazing art, we re-caffeinated in the Museum cafe. They have their own coffee blend - not a shock, I suppose, considering they have their own wine. 

Specific-to-MONA coffee

The cafe looks out over the river and you can see the incoming MONA ferry. 

The MONA ferry is painted grey camouflage-style 

We then decided we hadn't had enough wine this weekend (ha) and moseyed over to the Moorilla Cellar Door. All the wines were pretty spectacular, and we had some interesting chats with one of the winemakers. We finished up the day - and our Tassie adventure - with (more) Moorilla wine and cheese, listening to jazz in the basement bar of MONA. Pretty awsballz, really. 

These things make the world a better place

So, should you go to MONA? Nah... it's shit.