Saturday, June 15

Grill'd - Point Cook

About a year ago, Grill'd had this "no foodies" campaign. It sparked some anger and much discussion online, and in a way that's making your brand known and talked about. Humorous or not, with these posters sitting at every table, I personally wouldn't have photographed or blogged about the outlets. The strongly antagonist message doesn't sit comfortably either, for a company that portrays a friendly, chill and community centred image.

Ironically, it's from Grill'd that I was offered a voucher to dine and review their latest branch in Point Cook. I accepted the offer, having been an an occasional customer (eating at Melbourne Central, QV, Carlton, and Yarraville branches on previous occasions).

Location: The location given on the website (Cnr Main & Murnong St) isn't too useful if you aren't familiar with Point Cook Town Centre. The street address is 4 Main St, Point Cook, VIC, and the store is on the row of dining places, adjacent to Crust and Cold Rock.

Website: official website for Grill'd

Price: expect to pay about $15 with burger and chips, see full menu


Hot hombre (panini bread) - "Grilled chicken breast, chilli black bean salsa, tasty cheese, avocado, tomato, spanish onion & crispy tortilla chip." Never mind that I don't know what hombre means. Urban dictionary says it's a Spanish slang for "dude", more specifically for a "homie" or "punk".
Chicken was nicely done, tender but no pink bits. The chilli black bean salsa was tangy, surprisingly hot, and I assume the main flavouring here was Tabasco sauce. It took me to awhile to figure out why there was a hard taco with my burger - the texture was interesting, but it was hard and you need to be careful not to hurt your teeth. The combination of ingredients, topped with avocado, made the burger taste like something you might get at a joint like Trippy Taco (except this isn't vegetarian). Maybe they need to use the Mexican, rather than Spanish word for dude.
I haven't had Hungry Jacks or McDonalds for awhile now but Grill'd burgers do differ in that they use normal ingredients that you would use for your homemade burgers, in the burgers you buy at a cafe or pub. Not that Grill'd burgers are health foods, but it's a welcoming change from sweetish buns, plastic cheese, scant ingredients, heavy sauces and greasy patties. Fast food joints have been providing healthy menu options in recent years though, and they are cheaper.
Hot chips (snack size) -  see image above. Chips are crunchy and seasoned lightly with herbed salt. The three sauces here are herbed mayo, tomato relish, or sweet chilli mayo.

Grill'd bird & brie (wholemeal bread) - "Grilled chicken breast, brie cheese, thick cranberry sauce, salad & herbed mayo." I won't write much on this since this meal was from my first visit to Grill'd several years back! I love soft cheese and almost ordered the same burger again today.


Grill'd Point Cook was buzzing with life, with many young families, on the weekend. I don't expect much from "fast food" stores, but the service was attentive and friendly. The interiors were well thought out, with wallpapers and posters that you might expect from a cafe. I did realise however, that the lovely green pot plants on each table were plastic rather than real plants.

Rating: 3.5/5 it's not gourmet dining, but I enjoy the range of tasty burgers with interesting and "real" ingredients. Grill'd fills in an unusual place, halfway between fast food and brunch cafes - both in terms of the food serves, the decor, the service, and the customers it targets.

Grill'D on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 11

The Forge Pizzeria

Heard a lot about this place. Tagged along to a dinner gathering to try the pizza here.

Location: 1771 Sturt St, Alfredton, VIC (Ballarat) - the original outlet is quite a distance from the main "town centre" section of Sturt St, towards the East. However, there is a newer branch serving the same menu, located within city centre at 14 Armstrong Street North

Website: official website, and urbanspoon reviews

Price: average $15 for small, $18 for medium, $20 for large, but varies between each pizza. See website for lunch and dinner menus.


Artichoke - "artichoke, parsley, garlic, olives, shaved ham, tomato, mozzarella". I guess simply listing the ingredients is a convenient, and effective, way to go about writing your menu. The crust was thin, woodfire baked in an impressive looking oven (see above). I don't mind thin crusted, but this felt flat and reminded me of the "lazy pizzas" I used to make with Lebanese bread as the base. Unlike the "fast food" pizza joints, the tomato and cheese layer was mild instead of overwhelming. The shaved ham was in thin slices, and definitely tastier than the sliced ham I would have used for my pizzas. Olives I dislike, mainly because of its intense saltiness. By the way you can read more about why olives come canned and jarred. And the highlight of the artichoke pizza, was definitely the artichoke itself. I've never had artichoke before this, and wouldn't know how to cook or eat it. It had the pickled salty and sour taste, which was a great combination to the other ingredients. The texture was lovely too - the soft layers reminded me of bamboo shoots in Chinese cooking.

Pumpkin - "pumpkin, spinach, Meredith goat cheese, garlic rosemary, tomato, mozzarella, cracked pepper, topped with a sprinkle of pine nuts." The pumpkin was sweet and not quite cooked. My personal preference would be for thicker slices of softer, cooked pumpkin. Goat cheese - this had the taste halfway between ricotta and plain yoghurt. I'm curious to try goat milk. As you would expect, the spinach leaves didn't add much to the taste, but did add colour to the pizza.


The Sturt St (Afredton) branch is rather small, with only several tables available for dine-in. The place felt like a takeaway, or fish and chips store, rather than a restaurant for a sit-down meal. Majority of customers were getting takeaway, with the pizza folded in round pizza cardboard, rather than pizza boxes.  But there are plenty of seats in the newer branch at Armstrong St (town centre).

Rating: 3.5/5 the pizza was good with interesting toppings, but for over $15 per pizza there wasn't much pizza, and perhaps there are other restaurants that are more deserving of the number one spot on Urbanspoon Ballarat. Wouldn't mind trying some of the other flavours here, and there is no doubt that this is quality pizza compared to the filling but not particularly classy pizza at Domino's or Pizza Hut.

But, for the same price in Melbourne, you can buy great pizza Al Albero - which has a chewier, but still light and fluffy, and with delicious toppings. Plus more generous serves of toppings. And for cheaper options, everyday there is great thin crusted $4 pizza with interesting toppings at Bimbo Deluxe (Melbourne). Bimbos is quite dark and seedy though. Early one evening we hanged out in a dark dome called "the igloo" - we could barely see our food, and just outside was a couple making out on the couch. Or locally in Ballarat, I'm a fan of the Lake View Hotel's Wednesday night pizzas, which are charged by the hour from 6pm - that is, $6 at 6pm, $7 at 7pm and so on. Just saying, there are other options.

The Forge Pizzeria on Urbanspoon The Forge Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 7


Over the past few years West Melbourne has developed a growing cluster of Korean restaurants. Side-by-side on Victoria St is a row of Korean BBQ stores - Yeonga, Donwoori, Wooga, Hallah, Toudoori. A little further down Peel St is Chimac, which serves Korean chicken and beer. In Melbourne, Korean fried chicken has an immediate association with Gami, for good reason too, since Gami's outlets (near Parliament, Flagstaff, and now King St) have really popularised the concept. Chimac is less well known, at least for now. 

From a better angle, it would be chicken
Location: Shop 1, 39-47 Peel St, West Melbourne, VIC (opposite Victoria Markets)

Website: just an urbanspoon page. Urbanspoon is good, but I think any restaurant would do well to set up a simple webpage with opening hours, contact details and a menu, which would be particularly helpful for takeaway patrons.

Price: fried chicken is essentially the same price as Gami - $30 for whole. I actually like a simple two paged menu. Saves you from wading through pages and pages of unfamiliar items.


Sorry about the poor photo quality with these black walls and dim lighting.

Deep fried raw spaghetti - I thought this was table decoration, and wouldn't have thought to munch on it. But it's edible, crunchy, spaghetti. Interesting, but too salty and raw.

Spicy pork belly - from the "sizzling on iron" plate section of the menu. As far as I could tell this was your standard pork bulgolgi (dwaeji bulgolgi), and not particularly outstanding for the price of half a fried chicken. Bulgolgi is a common dish found in Korean restaurants, consisting of grilled marinated meat, usually cooked with onions in a sweetish soy sauce. Sprinkled sesame seeds is half the magic.

Seared tofu stack - "tofu, cheese and caramalised kimchi". We thought perhaps, they meant, tofu steak? I liked the texture of the grilled soft tofu and melted cheese. I think crisp sharp cold kimchi, as well as stews and soups made with kimchi are flavoursome and great. But the layer of kimchi with this dish tasted like soggy Chinese cabbage, and I didn't enjoy it. My main issue here too is that I don't understand how tofu is more expensive ($20+) than the pork belly sizzling plate ($15) because even a large slab of tofu can be purchased at minimum costs. And surely, you can't go too wrong with grilling tofu as there is no expectation of hitting a particular point on the spectrum between "rare" and "well done".

Spicy pork ta-kor (Korean style taco) - I wasn't sure what to expect, whether it would be soft or hard tacos, and I'm suspicious about fusion cuisine anyway. But this was delicious, and reminded me of the only dish I was really impressed about at Mamasita, which was the amazing $6 tacos. Lovely light wraps, hot spicy pork, crunchy salad, hot sauce and creamy mayonnaise. Will be back for more.

Half & half Chimac chicken - served with salad and pickled daikon. The chicken here is great, delightfully crunchy and juicy inside. It comes in three flavours - original, sweet soy, or Korean harissa. I'm not saying Korean fried chicken is somehow more acceptable than fast food fried chicken, but the original reminds me too much of KFC to really be enjoyable. Korean harissa, sticky sweet hot chilli sauce is my favourite. And sweet soy is rather tasty too. How does it compare to Gami? It's been awhile, but this batter seemed a little less dry and hard, but just as crunchy. 

On a side note, whilst reading about Korean fried chicken, I came across this fascinating "Food Lab" series. In this particular article, he systematically tries different mixture of batters and their outcomes. Similar to my friend's "Systematic Review of Marshmallows". Evidence based cooking is great.


Opening hours here are from 5pm to late. Staff was friendly, and my friend was rather impressed with the chef's playing-with-knife skills. I haven't witnessed it myself. One thing with the open kitchen on side is that whatever you wear become infused with the smell of oil. It's more tolerable than smoke from Korean BBQ's though.

Rating: 4/5 fried chicken at least as good as Gami. The tacos were a welcome surprise, and I'm keen to try some of the other "urban snacks" on the menu! I would avoid those first few dishes though.

Chimac on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 28

Vines Cafe & Bar

Quack quack. The original destination Blue Duck Hotel was temporarily closed. So we came to Vines. What pretty and colourful autumn leaves!

Location: located on the main street of the town at 74 Barkly Street, Ararat, VIC

Website: see user reviews on urbanspoon

Price: roughly $10 for pies and sandwiches (above), $20 for mains (below), $5-10 for slices and cakes


3 Cheese double baked souffle - with "pear, hazelnut salad." What is the difference between single and double baked? Well I don't make souffles, but for double souffles you bake, and store, then bake again with cream and cheese before serving - it's supposed to be more convenient and also producing more consistent results. I liked the texture of the souffle, airy and lovely. The cheese sauce was runny and too creamy, not sure if that was the consistency that it was supposed to be. Enjoyed the slightly chewy, sweetish cooked pear - wish there was more of it. On a side note it reminded me a little of the dried fruit "production" we had happening at college, many years ago now. Salad was largely rocket leaves and sliced onion. I don't think I saw any hazelnut with the salad?

Chicken pistachio terrine - with "pate, cornichons, pear relish." It's funny how a wooden serving board can make a dish look rustic, and rather special. Terrines and pates, old-fashioned French dishes from a time where preserving meats had to happen without refrigeration. Quite pretty it was, but not much taste on its own. The gherkins (cornichons) were crisp and light in flavour. The pate is hiding underneath the herbs. I had a brief period where I fell in love with pate and would eat the whole lump of it from the supermarket, in one sitting. It's been awhile, and I don't know if it tastes less amazing because of the taste itself, or whether it's because I know what pate is made of now. The relish was very sweet, but had an interesting flavour, with the ginger, garlic and onions within. Importantly, there was several slices of thick, lovely crisp and fluffy bread to dip into each side; it was a fun dish, like dipping crackers into various dips and cheeses.

Vanilla milkshake - fortunately for the cafe this came after the meal had already been served. Fortunate for them, because it wouldn't have made a great first impression. Big lump of ice cream, and too sweet especially towards the end.

Honey and nut slice - I didn't know the slice, is typically an Australian dessert. Top layer was mostly hazelnut and walnuts. Thick, sticky, sweet filling - reminiscent of the caramel slices we used to try to get our hands on, every week at medical grand rounds at the hospital. The sauce had a surprisingly strong lemony sourness. Overall the nuts, sweet filling, whipped cream and lemon syrup worked well together. It was just too sweet, to have much of.

Other: high ceilings, various paintings, plants, swords hanging on walls. So you can have interesting, without the typical run-down warehouse feel of many Melbourne cafes.

Rating: I'm glad we stopped here, walking along the shops on the main street, this looked like the best place for lunch after a tour of J Wards. Menu was interesting, food was pleasant, and there was a lively buzz of customers. But it wasn't amazing. So Vines scores 3.5/5 - I would come again, but I wouldn't be craving to.

The Vines Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 23

North Britain Hotel

Located on a street we must have driven past almost every day, I never noticed this hotel during the year in Ballarat. Well, it does look dingy on the outside, like your typical bogan neighbourhood pub. Brick walls, an ugly neon sign, corrugated iron for roofing. Foodie pub - what on Earth is that?

Location: corner of Doveton and Macarthur, at 502 Doveton Street North, Soldier's Hill, VIC (Ballarat)

Website: an old-school but nevertheless informative website, and user reviews on urbanspoon

Price: current menu and desserts menu, with mains ranging from $25 to $35. Also has a nice selection of kis menu goodies for under $8. There were a few items we had which were on an updated menu, and they had several other things on the specials menu too.


Eye fillet of beef - "big fat and juicy from only the best steers in the district." Served with blue cheese butter, inclusive of chips and salad (cooked vegetable option available). It's hard to see from here but the eye fillet was a really large chunk of steak, more than 5cm thick! Really enjoyed the beef - meat was consistently juicy and tender throughout and the blue cheese butter gave it an interesting flavour. For the salad there was a scoop of coleslaw, and one of garden salad. Chips were crispy and there was not much to complain about there expect some sauce or gravy to go with it would have been nice. Lastly, there was the strange addition of two buttered triangular pieces of bread! Now, I don't mind bread but perhaps crusty bread, or anything besides plain white sandwich bread would have better complimented the dish.

Regional Bullboars - "for only the serious sausage connoisseur, sourced regionally, and served with creamy mash and tomato relish, rich gravy." I thought my friend wanted to order "bullballs" - what? They do offer some dishes that don't feature in your usual pub menu, such as lamb's fry, which I've never had, or even heard of. Anyway, bullboar sausage does actually have a local origin. Apparently, it was first made by Swiss-Italian migrants in the region, using roughly half beef (bull) and half pork (boar), a variety of spices, and is supposed to be leaner than other sausages. I'm no sausage connoisseur but I think these qualities were reflected in the rather sharp and dry taste, which was not great, but balanced well with the gravy and relish. Loved the tomato relish, sweet and tangy. And see the swirl of creamy mash? There is a second, equally big swirl hiding behind the sausage.

Poached pear and butterscotch sauce - served with coconut ice cream and mascapone. Especially enjoyed the poached pear, soft, melting deliciously with the creamy sweetness of the sauce and mascapone. However, the coconut ice cream was too sweet, and the big chunks of dessicated coconut wasn't something that I was fond of.

Other: the pub area looks lovely and welcoming, with old-fashioned but not op-shop quality couches. Staff were helpful and pleasant. The light drizzle and cold fog outside, together with gentle yellow lighting and interesting wooden furniture, give a really special feel to the place. As if you are in a warm old house in the mountains, or ye olde pub, somewhere in Europe. Not that I've been to Europe.

Rating: 4.5/5 what a most pleasant find in Ballarat! Will definitely be recommending North Britain Hotel. Love the atmosphere and how it whisks you to a faraway place. The mains and desserts were good, with genuine pub-size servings. For each dish the main element was done really well, but perhaps they could work on creating accompaniments that are more thoughtful, rather than bread or salad that can be bought and served from the local supermarket.

North Britain on Urbanspoon

Talk of the towns

First post of 2013. Being sick towards the end of last year put me off writing about food for awhile. With new acquaintances and colleagues replacing familiar old friendships, I'm aware too that not everyone appreciates you taking food photos before tucking in. Besides, central Melbourne seems to both create and attract the bulk of food bloggers in the country - "talk of the town" places such as Chin Chin, and Mamasita have hundreds of blog post, not to mention hundreds more in diner reviews. Whilst there are some really exciting dishes at those places, time is limited and it makes more sense to me to write about less known establishments. So here goes explorations of 2013, which so far has largely been based in country Victoria.

Oh, and I'm still adamant that there are too many who feel obliged to talk about the latest craze. Or about how great the latest craze is, without judging on merit or pausing to form their own thought-out opinions. Actually food is one of the rare areas in  life where it matters little whether you ride the waves of popular opinion or think for yourself; but mindless raving does make for rather uninteresting reads, and tedious small talk.

Lastly, looking back, it's evident that tastes change. What makes food good, what makes for good dining? I still love a cheap, authentic, and delicious meal. But perhaps, I do enjoy aesthetically pleasing food presentation, mood lighting that is not too dark, cosy furniture, interesting decor, attentive but not over the top service, and such elements, more than I once did. Though none of that does much for a restaurant if the food is unspectacular. I wouldn't call say that my tastes have become more refined (how food snobs annoy me), or that high end is better than cheap eats. Nevertheless, as with many areas of life, priorities and preferences change. Not completely, but there are differences. Yet because you write and score, you are stuck with scores and opinions from a time past.

Anyway, happy eating! Yum yum (or should I get with the times, and say, nom nom).