Saturday, October 29

Ballarat Lakeside Farmer's Market


On the second and fourth Saturday of each month, there is a farmer's market held at Lake Wendouree. The market occupies a small stretch of the lake, and is quiet especially on those cold wintery Ballarat days. Nevertheless, it's a pleasant place to visit on a Saturday morning. For fresh fruits and vegetables, there are two or three general fruit and vegetable stalls. The market is a great place to buy sweet juicy persimmons when they're in season. Our most interesting find was... (read more)

Wednesday, October 26

American Doughnut Kitchen vs Olympic Doughnuts


Trams are confusing nowadays with route a's and d's. According to the website, part of it is an attempt to allow mysterious/phantom routes to provide a service, whilst repositioning them on the network. Anyway, after a meal at Kinfolk, we caught tram 55a, which stopped at the markets. So, we snacked whilst waiting. Because I ate a doughnut in the same week at Footscray, I will write both reviews here. Also click for further discussions on the "best" doughnuts in Melbourne.

Location:

American Doughnut Kitchen: Queen Street, Queen Victoria Market (between the food court and ATM area)

Olympic Doughnuts: just outside Footscray Station, 51 Irving St (see map)

Website:

American Doughnut Kitchen: page on the QV Market website and more interesting history (apparently this is a family store that has operated in the same van since the 1950s). Amazingly the Doughnut Kitchen has its own urbanspoon page, and pretty blog reviews.

Olympic Doughnuts: an age article with a direct comparison of the two doughnuts. Its own urbanspoon page and a photogenic blog review.

Price:

American Doughnut Kitchen: $6 for 6, although apparently the people serving you can sometimes be charmed into giving you more. Sadly, it didn't happen this time.

Olympic Doughnuts: from memory, similar price of about $1 each (will stop to check exact prices next time I'm there).


Food:


American Doughnuts (image above) - I remember buying the 6 donuts in the past and only being able to finish one. Personally, I find jam donuts too oily, and the jam too sweet. But I invited the solipsist, a long-time fan of this store - "sweet outside, doughy inside and the delicious smell, the feeling of biting into them and getting warm sweet jam alongside the dough... wonderful." However, on this occasion he was disappointed with the batch of donuts that were hard outside and with a tough, rather than fluffy, dough.

Olympic Doughnuts - didn't have a photo to compare, but the doughnut I was served the other day was brown, even more oily than usual, and the dough tasted terrible. According to the Age (which conveniently has a good photo of the Olympic Doughnut) - the difference is cosmetic, but I would say the American Doughnut was much more palatable. I had a bite at Footscray that day, threw the rest in the bin and felt unwell for awhile. This is surprising as many people seem to have had good experiences with the doughnuts there. Maybe the moral of the story is that quality of doughnuts vary from batch to batch.

Other: not to be confused with the van serving jam doughnuts, at Victoria Markets there is a van called the "Spanish Donut Van", which serves churros.

Rating: 3/5 for the one at American Doughnut Kitchen and 1/5 for the one I had at Olympic Doughnuts (maybe churros are more my type of oily, sweet snacks).

American Doughnut Kitchen on Urbanspoon Olympic Doughnuts on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 25

Kinfolk


We attended the Global Perspectives Summit at Melbourne University, and were introduced to social enterprises - which are "organisations that applies business strategies to achieving philanthropic goals." Kinfolk relies on a few core staff, providing training and experience for a bunch of volunteers, and distributes its profits between four projects, in Rwanda, Ghana, Palm Island and Melbourne itself.


Location: 673 Bourke St (across the road from Southern Cross Station - see map)

Website: Kinfolk's cute and informative official website, a blog review with photos, an interview with the manager and many more reviews on urbanspoon.

Price: generally ~$10 for lunch mains (although the lamb was $13), sample breakfast and lunch menus are available online.

Food:


Lemongrass and ginger tea - served in a cute teapot, aww.


Chai latte - very milky, not too sweet (which is good, because the last chai latte I had from a different cafe was too milky and sickly sweet). However, there wasn't much of the "chai" flavours.


Braised lamb shoulder - "cous cous, roquette, currents and minted yoghurt." The lamb was warm, flavoursome, and soft. Never had currents or dried fruit with my braised lamb before, but the flavours worked fairly well, with the plain cous cous and the slightly bitter rocket. Small portion. There were also a few large chunks of lamb fat, and a mysterious squishy meat part that reminded me of fish ovaries (I still don't know what it is).

On a side note - yes I had to look up if rocket and roquette were the same vegetable. Sure enough, they are. It feels pretentious when cafes use fancy words to replace common ones, but I suppose it works in helping people imagine a fancy delicious meal which in reality is quite simple.


Frittata - "Sliced cauliflower, zucchini, aged goats cheese frittata with salad and relish". I've invited our guest, the solipsist to give a verdict "not great but not terrible… somewhat flavourless, but with a nice texture. I can forgive the lack of flavour because the relish was nice. Overall, I've had better, though. The salad was also a bit salty." Also a small serving.


Other: a variety of tables and chairs for seating. Some were quite communal benches, which is different if you're not used to it. The crooks and crannies were filled up with artsy bookshelves, handwritten book covers with poetry and the likes. A lovely atmosphere to sit and chill. After your meal you will be given a coffee bean to choose which project you would like the profit to be distributed to.

Rating: 3.5/5 Kinfolk has generally positive reviews with 92% likes on urbanspoon (currently)! Like others, I do really like the concept of the socially conscious business, equipping volunteers with employable skills, and donating to community projects. However, the quality of the food was just average. From other reviews, the coffee seems to vary from good to very bad. For $13, I would expect a slightly larger bowl of lamb. We did have to go for a second meal elsewhere, which always drops my rating for a place. In summary - do visit, for the lovely atmosphere and the unique business concept, but make sure you're not too hungry on the day.

Kinfolk on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 22

Don Tojo (and Don Don)


I remember the first time I discovered Don Don (next to Melbourne Central). A store with signage that was barely noticeable, yet the store was popular and bustling. The inside heating was reassuringly warm as I queued for a dine in meal, and the food appeared faster than fast food. Plus it was cheap. Oh, how I love cheap meals. I just noticed, there has been quite a number of Japanese-styled cafes already!


Don Tojo serves exactly the same menu as Don Don (hence I will just write one post for both), but is a more recently opened branch in Carlton - a few minutes from Melbourne University. The seating area is definitely a lot more comfortable and spacious, plus Don Tojo is also serves alcohol and offers good prices for beer - so says the reviews, I wouldn't know.

Location:

- Don Tojo is located at 164 Cardigan St, Carlton (see map)

- Don Don is at 321 Swanston St, Melbourne (see map)

Website:

- The urbanspoon reviews for Don Tojo (not many), and a Weekendnote review.

- Or, for way more blog reviews, pictures etc, Don Don at urbanspoon.

Price: $6.50 to $8.90 (see menu below)


Food:


Rice - which comes with all meals, after all the places are called don something. And donburi, or don refers to rice bowl dishes, where a dish is served over rice.


Beef sukiyaki (dondon box dish 1) - "beef slices in a sake soy sauce", caramelised onions, and sprinkled with bright coloured pickles. It's nice, tasty, sweetish. It's hard to get sukiyaki wrong.


Teriyaki chicken (dondon box dish 2) - "pan grilled soy chicken". This photo isn't great, but the sauce really was blackish from the burnt parts of the grilled chicken. Slightly charred is okay, but a strong burnt taste makes me think carcinogens. Sauce was also too salty.


Salad (dondon box dish 3) - the dondon box we ordered came with rice, the teriyaki chicken, sukiyaki beef, and this salad. Great value! Usually these would come in one bento box, but I ordered takeaway today. Salad, or really, the fruits, were pleasant. A piece of tofu, cucumber, apple and orange.


Sashi don - "salmon/ocean trout sashimi on rice", with pickles, marinated dried shitake, salad and tofu. Tasty and refreshing. A short lesson on fish. I've always been confused on the difference between salmon vs ocean trout. My sources say that both are part of the salmonidae family, and either can be served raw or cooked. The texture and taste is supposed to be different. I might take a guess and call today's raw fish trout, because it was mild rather than the creamy salmon taste. And the sources say that the difference between the rainbow trout I often buy whole in the local supermarkets, and ocean trout, is that ocean trouts are reared in saltwater.


Other: Don Tojo/Don Don would have to be one of the well presented takeaway meals I've had in recent times. For both dishes, rice was packed separately with sprinkles of seaweed. The sashimi and salad was reassuringly cold, whilst the rice and meats were hot (food poisoning prevention). The two meats were also packaged separately in small containers, and that meant the tastes weren't mixed up or soaking through the rice. Unfortunately not great for the environment with all the plastic containers though!

Also, this meal is a lighter, healthier option compared to some of the greasy (but tasty) Asian cafes nearby.

Rating: 4/5 I'm a big fan of both branches. A no frills, limited menu. But a perfect student meal with filling, well presented, healthy and value for money meal. Only problem I have is that there's several items on the limited menu that I've tried and wouldn't order again - the burnt teriyaki chicken, some of the curry dons (eg. the chicken curry seems to be the same meat as the teriyaki chicken in a big bowl of Japanese curry sauce).

Don Don on UrbanspoonDon Tojo on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 20

Rakuzen Simple Japanese


I used to live on Grattan St and tried nearly every cheap place along the way. I've had takeaway sushi from Rakuzen several times, but decided to dine in this time.

Location: across the road from Melbourne University, at 149 Grattan St, Carlton (see map)

Website: no official sites or reviews that I could find, just an urbanspoon link.

Price: ~$10 mains, $2.50 sushi rolls (many types including "Peking duck")

Food:


Miso soup - from memory it was complimentary to the meal. Way too salty, with not enough tofu or wakame (seaweed). Not very nice.


Dumplings - tasty pork filling, tasty and pan fried the right way. Yummy.


Unagi with rice - generous serving of unagi, with an egg omelette with onions on side. I thought all unagi came in a pre-prepared state and taste roughly the same. But the taste does seem to vary from restaurant to restaurant, and this wasn't the best one I've had. Seemed to be extra greasy too (maybe from the egg?), and I ended up not finishing the dish.



Chicken bento - chicken, with spring rolls (not very nice), and a potato salad on side. Chicken tasted dry.


Tempura with udon - the tempura (above) came with the udon (below). Udon was normal, with a decent shoyu soup. Tempura was hot and crunchy, but the batter was too dense.


Other: indoor environment was pleasant and comfortable. Outdoor seating on hard metal chairs and tables for those who prefer to sunbathe. We noted that the menu was written in English and Chinese (not Japanese).

Rating: 3/5 a so-so meal. Come for a good fill, not for the food itself. I've mentioned before that I don't mind imposter Japanese restaurants, as long as the food is good. But as my friend pointed out, this was using Chinese cooking methods to make Japanese food, which didn't work out well. Plus it was salty.

Rakuzen Simple Japanese on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 13

Leanyer Recreational Park


Being the hot place Darwin is, outdoor water parks can be great places to visit all year round. Leanyer recreational park, also commonly referred to as the water park is a popular destination for both young children and teenagers. The park is just off Vanderlin drive, and is easily accessible by bus or car. Entrance is free, and the opening hours vary with school and public holidays... (read more)

Wednesday, October 12

Lake Wendouree


Historically, Lake Wendouree has been a popular spot for boating for years, and was even home to the 1956 Olympic rowing events. However, this ceased for many years as the lake remained completely dry due to the drought. And indeed, a dry bed of grass is all I could see of the "lake" the first time I visited Ballarat in 2007. Fortunately, the cold rainy weather we endured for many months in 2010 meant that by this year, the lake has filled again to its original levels... (read more)

The travels

When I originally started the blog I had planned to write both travel experiences, as well as restaurant reviews (yup, the name says it all). That didn't happen, due to time constraints.

However, recently I have been writing reviews for Weekend Notes (weekendnotes.com) on activities to do, places to go and see etc. I'm not a fan of duplicating the Weekend Notes articles to suit the blog format, so I will just provide a link to those articles.

Now you can find the best places (or worst places - save it for the guy you want to politely reject?) to eat, or to visit and see, yay!

Monday, October 10

Noodle House - Mitchell St

Darwin has a handful of Chinese restaurants, and we keep circling them, year after year, after year, like a never ending game of musical chairs.


Location: 84 Mitchell St, Darwin (see map). Confusingly there is another Noodle House in Darwin CBD around the corner on Knuckey St owned by the same family. The Mitchell St establishment is the newer branch.

Website: official website with a photo gallery of many of their dishes, a variety of reviews on tripadvisor. Amazing, Darwin has urbanspoon too (with minimal activity though, seems to be dominated by bestrestaurants.com)!

Blog reviews about Darwin restaurants are hard to come by (if you have reviewed any of the restaurants here contact me and I'd happily link you, provided your review has a few pictures and decent writing). On a side note, interestingly I've discovered a group of reviewers at Darwin foodies and a Darwin blog about places to eat and shop, and things to do in Darwin.

Price: ranging around $10 for soups and entrees, $25 to $35 for mains (more for seafood). The meal described below was approximately $35 per person. The website has a full lunch, dinner and takeaway menu.

Food:


Whole fish fillet with Thai chilli sauce - I think they meant, whole fish (not fillet) with Thai chilli sauce. This was their medium sized red emperor, which was gigantic. And delicious. Deep fried and crispy on the outside, fresh tasting white flesh, and a sweet chilli-like sauce. I'm not a fan of the garlic taste that is inevitably part of sweet chilli sauces, but the sauce suited the dish. "Seasonal prices" for the dish equated to approximately $55. It's nice not having to count the dollars when you're eating out with family.


Chinese vegetables with mushroom - generous serving of tender buk choy, with yummy shitake mushrooms and a starchy sauce that was just right. A simple dish that was beyond my expectations.


Spicy salted squid in chilli flavour - I have good memories about this dish in other restaurants. It's the Chinese version of salt and pepper calamari. The Noodle House version of this dish was terrible. Flavouring was too salty, not spicy enough, the squid was chewy and overcooked. The outside didn't have a crunchy, and was partially burnt. Maybe it would be nicer if it was cooked fresh rather than reheated.


Combination bean curd in a clay pot - we inevitably order this dish no matter which Chinese restaurant we go to. Not recommended, at least not here. The fried beancurd wasn't particularly nice, vegetables were average, and the BBQ pork and few pieces of meat didn't make a great combination.

Boneless chicken with lemon sauce - this dish arrived later so I didn't get a photo. Chicken with a crunchy (but heavy, oily) coating. Tasty, fairly good dish, But I would prefer if the chicken wasn't re-fried until almost brown. I'm not fond of dishes that are obviously not fresh.

Other: environment is nice, colourful interior with a bar adjacent to the dining area. There is a choice of outdoor or indoor seating, square tables or round tables (for larger families and groups).

Rating: The restaurant itself - 2.5 out of 5 (but a five star reunion with the family, aww...) The fish was delicious, and I was impressed by the vegetables. The environment is nice. But this was overshadowed by a few disappointing dishes that were just not fresh, or had been reheated (to some extent many restaurants do this, but it's not great when it's obvious upon tasting). Pricey too.

Noodle House Mitchell on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 4

Irish Murphy's

The Ballarat farewell meal from months ago. Another pub meal!


Location: 36 Sturt Street Ballarat (towards the Bridge Mall end, see map)

Website: official website

Price: ~$12 for student priced meals (bring your student ID along), ~$10 for entree, $20 for mains on regular meals (see lunch and dinner menus)



Food:


Fried calamari - "crumbed calamari rings lightly fried until golden brown served with salad, tartare and lemon." Mmm delicious, hot and crunchy outside, plus it was exactly golden brown. Bouncy white calamari inside, complete with a strange tartare that was green in colour.


Potato skins - served with sweet chilli sauce and sour cream on the side. Strange potato wedges that were massive in size. As you can probably guess from the photo, the wedges weren't crunchy at all, disappointing.


Caesar salad (student menu) - a beautifully runny fried egg, with warm crispy breast meat on salad. The sauce was flavoursome but too rich that it became impossible to finish towards the end. Less dressing, less parmesan cheese would be good.


Our own Irish stew (student menu) - "prepared in our own kitchen to a traditional recipe served with potato floater and a slice of chunky bread." An interesting stew, with carrots and potato, hearty food for a cold day.


Chocolate spud cake - "served with warm chocolate sauce and cream." A moist chocolate cake with a nice chocolate sauce. Well balanced in sweetness and texture, when served with the ice cream and caramel. Yum.


Other: Comfortable and spacious seating, we sat in one of the little coves, with soft chairs and bright lighting. Surprising, pubs are usually dim. Maybe it was the time of the day we went, but it wasn't rowdy or annoyingly loud inside either.

Rating: 5/5 Great food, except for the soft wedges. Otherwise tasty, nicely presented, good value for money (if you're a student). Better quality food compared to other such restaurants in Ballarat. Really enjoyed the meal, and the good company.

Irish Murphy's (Bar and Restaurant) on Urbanspoon