Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bar Italia at the Gold Coast

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Bar Italia
3240 Gold Coast Highway, Surfers Paradise

Last weekend involved bonding with mum and dad over a fling at the coast. I did my first Toowoomba to Surfers direct route drive and proudly arrived at the destination after following hastily printed out Google Maps directions.

Because I'd driven there straight after work, I was feeling more than slightly peckish after we checked into the hotel. Luckily we were located right near Cavil Mall so we went down in that general direction.

I wanted to go to Bar Italia because it was a cafe I had noticed on several other occasions at the coast but never got the chance to try. I like the location of the cafe because it's facing out towards the street and if ever there was a good place for people-watching, Surfers Paradise would be it.

It was an odd time - 3pm or thereabouts. I wanted lunch but my parents had already eaten (like normal people) so dad specified 'food to go with beer. And get me a beer'.

Iced coffee and Fat Yak

Drinks arrived first. Mum got a bit indulgent by choosing an iced coffee. I ordered a Fat Yak for dad.

Belini of some kind

For myself, I got a peach belini but there was no peach so they told me it was mango... but I thought it tasted like orange belini (if there's such a thing).

Vegetarian open sandwich

I ordered a vegetarian open sandwich for myself. It contained 2 fat slices of toast with marinated capsicum, cheese and beetroot relish squished in between. I'm aware that doesn't sound extremely exciting but it was actually quite tasty!


As for dad's beer treats request, I ordered antipasto for one. It contained olives, proscuitto, arancini, two types of cheese, calamari and an artichoke flower. Dad loved it. The proscuitto was a bit old but the rest was exactly what he wanted.

We had a good time at Bar Italia. It was a nice combination of food, drink, atmosphere and hanging out with family.
Bar Italia on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chutney Mary in Toowoomba

Chutney Mary

When deciding where to have my birthday meal in Toowoomba, we noticed that the choices were pretty much limited to pub food, Thai or Indian. Since we just had Thai for Mochi's birthday, I opted for Indian.

There was a night, a couple of weeks back, when we tried to eat at Chutney Mary but found that they were closed from flood damage. A couple of my work mates told me it was back up and running so I thought 'SWEET, lets give them a shot'.

The restaurant was completely empty when we went in, granted it was very early on a weeknight. The interior was not unpleasant. I was expecting plastic chairs and a bright-colored takeaway store vibe but it had the usual Indian decor thang going. Plus a flat screen TV showing Bollywood clips.

After being seated, we perused the menu and started comparing whether it was better to get a banquet or order separately. Banquets used to be the be all end all of special occasion ordering but now we're finding that it's more fun, and equally as feast-like if we order exactly what we want.

We chose a curry each and as Birthday Girl, I got an extra pick. It didn't occur to us that 4 curries between 3 people might be too much, after all, we had Byron on the team.

It didn't take long for the curries to start arriving. Our table was small, which was bad in that every time a plate came, we had to rearrange all the cups to make room. At the same time, it was kinda good because it made our table seem very crowded and happenin'.

Plain naan and wholemeal paratha

Mochi and I got some plain naan and wholemeal paratha to accompany our meal. After analyzing the difference, it seems that naan is flufflier and more buttery wheras the paratha is flat with a rougher texture (probably because it's wholemeal). I quite liked both.

Lamb korma

Lamb korma is one of our must-orders and it was PERECT. Mochi asked 'what is korma supposed to taste like?'... Well, this is a difficult question to answer because everywhere we go, there's a different version. My idea of a good korma is that it's creamy, thick, nutty and sweet. Byron reackons that korma is a curry that isn't supposed to have curry in it but this one did. Not sure if that disqualifies it from anything but it definitely fit my bill in terms of taste and awesomeness.

Palak paneer

The palak paneer came around the same time. On its own, I thought it was bland and uninteresting. I hate to say it but it tasted a bit like packet paneer (the kind you get from a cardboard box and then microwave). I would have liked bigger/more abundant cheese chunks. When combined with the korma, however, it was fine. Then again, maybe anything combined with the korma would have been delicious.

Goat masala

I ordered the goat masala because it is a Chutney Mary house special. I liked that it was different to most Indian curries I've tried. Mochi hit the nail on the head when she described it was 'tomatoey'. It was indeed very tomatoey with lots of spices. The curry wasn't creamy and the goat chunks had bone... both these factors put me to mind of South-East Asian curry. I did like it though and the serving was enormous. This alone is unusual for an Indian restaurant, where curry portions tend to be miniscule.

Butter chicken

Our final curry was the crowd favorite, butter chicken. It was a special butter chicken - I liked that the chicken had a distinct char-grilled tandoori flavor. I didn't like that the sauce was watery. Not even just a bit watery... way too watery. It was a shame because the actual flavor in the sauce was good.

Chutney Mary did well for my birthday feast. The small table forced our dishes to be crowded which leant to a very feast-like feel. We were happy with our choice, in particular the lamb korma. I had some goat curry and naan left over and the next day, had that reheated and the naan toasted. It was even better the next day!
Chutney Mary on Urbanspoon

Perk Up for Breakfast in Melbourne

Perk Up

Breakfast is not something I take lightly but on the Sunday we were in Melbourne, we had just one requirement: a place that was open at 7am.

We made our way to Southern Cross Station and Perk Up was literally the only place with its lights on. Bar Maccas. The window display looked promising so we were eager to stop off for some morning fuel.

I was settled on a vegetable roll when I saw that they had the 'original' bircher muesli. Long time readers of this blog would know that I used to be a muesli fanatic. I HAD to try it. I also bought a ham, cheese and tomato toastie to balance things out. And a coffee... of course.

Kat ordered a toastie of her own and a hot chocolate.


I got my coffee first. It wasn't outstanding but hey, it was pretty good, and at that hour of the morning, it certainly did the trick.

Bircher muesli

The bircher muesli came in a little takeaway container. I tried some and thought 'oh okay'. It was quite different to the one I used to make and I couldn't put my finger on why. After much analyzing, I figure it's because they put a lot of lemon in it so it's very sour, and also that there aren't any nuts (none that I could find) so the texture is quite monotonous. I didn't want to finish the container but I could appreciate how this was probably very healthy.

Ham, cheese and tomato toastie

The toastie looked like a little, flat brick. It hot and crunchy but a bit dry on the inside.

Inside of my toastie

I think it lacked butter, which is probably not a bad thing for the waist line.

Egg and cheese toastie

Katherine reported that her egg and cheese toastie was dry too.

Inside of Kat's

Her opinion was that there didn't seem to be enough cheese.

I asked about her hot chocolate and she grunted without enthusiasm. Apparently it was better than the powder + water stuff we got on the plane but not by much.

The food wasn't terrible but what really got us down about Perk Up was the service. The ladies making coffee were friendly but the girl we got kept confusing our orders and her attitude was very cold and unpleasant. We like a place that does breakfast early on a Sunday but it would be nice if the service was more cheery.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cookie in Melbourne

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Cookie Bar and Restaurant

After our wonderful Japanese meal at Shoya, we did the food blogger thing of variety > loyalty and traversed to a different location for dessert. Kat didn't like the prospect of walking for miles in heels so I Urbanspooned somewhere close by.

As it happens, Cookie was on our list of destinations in our previous Melbourne trip so it made sense to give it a go.

When we finally made our way onto Swanston Street, we saw the little sign that marked where Cookie would be - Level 1 i.e. up a flight of stairs. Reaching the top of the stairs enabled us to see just how packed the place was.

Getting a table was out of the question. We were told that if we sat in the bar area, we could actually order desserts at the bar. I was thinking of heading elsewhere (I'm not at one with large crowds) when a tiny space opened up before our eyes and we were able to land 2 stools.

Kat bravely fought her way through the masses to ask for a menu at the bar. She was handed the food menu. After clarifying it was desserts and drinks she wanted, she got the dessert menu and the wine menu. She then had to trade the latter for the cocktail menu. So word of experience: Cookie has about 7 million menus so be sure to specify what you want.

We decided to keep things simple. One cocktail and one dessert each. The cocktails sounded irresistable. In fact, it was a whole mini novel of delicious cocktail descriptions organized into sections. I didn't even bother scanning through the whole book and just chose the first nice one I laid eyes on.

As we waited for our orders, I felt that the atmosphere had something missing. After a while, I figured out it was music but then noticed they did have music on... it was just impossible to hear over the talking. This is definitely not a place for quiet drinks.

Our desserts didn't take a long time to arrive. I know these photos are terrible but frankly, I think I did alright considering it was a bar environment where dim lighting is considered a must. At least you can just about make out what we're eating.

Sago and sweet corn pudding with mango ice-cream

I ordered the sago and sweet corn pudding with mango ice-cream. The pudding was good for a few bites but after a while, I started craving texture. Something with a bit of crunch. I think it would have benefited from a wafer or toffee exterior. The ice-cream was good but put together, it was all too sweet for me. I gave up after a few mouthfuls.

Sticky rice pudding with black bean sauce

Kat was feeling daring and ordered the sticky rice pudding with black bean sauce and coconut ice-cream. I was apprehensive when I read black bean sauce but luckily, it just has the colour of black bean and none of the metallic pungency. The sticky rice pudding was quite nice, not as sweet as mine which I found refreshing. The coconut ice-cream was good too.

Our drinks

Our cocktails took an extremely long time to arrive. We were told upon ordering that it would be a roughly 20min wait. It ended up being over 40min before the cocktails were placed down in front of us. They looked gorgeous but on first tasting, both Kat and I screwed up our faces and simultaneously said 'bad?'

About all that was edible in mine was the frozen blueberries and for Kat, it was the Maltesers. I managed to skull mine but she didn't even attempt hers.

I think it's a case of bartenders being too busy to even taste what they're producing.

The drinks were just awfully unbalanced and overwhelmingly alcoholic.

I'm not sure what I think about Cookie. I wasn't overly impressed with the dessert, the wait or the cocktails but it must be some kind of good because of how busy it is. Well, maybe you have to be a local to 'get it'.
Cookie on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Shoya Restaurant in Melbourne

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Shoya Nouvelle Wafu Cuisine

Japanese is my flavor of the week. Out of all the restaurants I could have tried in Melbourne, I decided on Shoya. It was based purely on one recommendation I found in Vogue forums. I had gotten to the point where I didn't want to think about where to go anymore and figuratively just closed my eyes, spun around and selected the first thing I came across. Shoya won that lucky draw.

We were booked in at 7pm, which is my 'usual' time for dining out. What really got me confused was that it was 7pm in Melbourne (6pm Brisbane time), yet the sun was high in the sky. Kat and I were gussying up in the hotel room because the plan was to dress up for cocktails after dinner.

Honestly, I felt like a tool once we got onto the street, clomping around in a strapless silk dress and 6in Marc Jacob wedges whilst is was very much still daytime. Is it just that we're a couple of pensioners in how early we do things? I take it that the hot young things these days don't even think about leaving their homes till after 9pm.

Well, whatever. We wanted food!

After a short journey to Market Lane, I was excited to spot some other Melbourne 'it' spots for food. Flower Drum and Hu Tong Dumpling House are all squished with Shoya on Market Lane. For me, spotting these Age-reviewed joints is the equivalent of spotting the Eiffle Tower or Statue of Liberty for normal tourists.

We entered the restaurant after a struggle with the front door and my first impression was 'small but cute'. This soon gave way to 'huge and stylish' when I realized that the floor seating area we first laid eyes on was actually part of a giant split level complex. Indeed, Shoya goes more up and down than it does across. We were lead up one set of steps and invited to sit at the traditional tatami seating. Heels were gratefully removed.

Shochu lemon lime bitters and shochu sunrise

Kat and I started our evening with drinks. We decided on a Japanese spin on some of our bar favorites. Shochu lemon lime bitters and shochu sunrise. Girly and drinkable. We were very happy.

The thing with eating with girlfriends is you can't go crazy ordering a lot of things. When I'm dining out with Byron or Hien, I just think that whatever I can't finish, someone will be able to. With Kat, we were more conservative.

We ordered 3 entree-sized dishes and a plate of sushi to share.

Broiled duck - thinly sliced and delicately cooked duck with tangy home made sauce

The first that arrived was the beef tataki and broiled duck. With the duck, you pop a bit of the wholegrain mustard in the sliced duck and eat it. It was delicious. The duck had a smoky flavor and the texture was firm, ideal for a cold duck starter.

Beef tataki - lightly grilled beef with plum and grated radish

The tataki beef was also a good pick. The beef was very tender and tangy from the radish. It was described as 'nice with drinks' and I agree. It was served with a raw quail egg and I wasn't very sure what to do with that... but even without, the beef was good. Kat commented that the salad was nice and whilst leaves are normally boring, I also liked the salad.

Kani ravioli - full flavored crab mix in thin flour skin

Our next dish was the kani ravioli. I was anxious about the term 'ravioli' but it was really more like a steamed dumpling served in little soup spoons with a light broth. Very delicate and tasty.

Tempura prawn sushi

The 'main course' was tempura prawn sushi. It was 4 large rolls (they were described as medium but they were huge to me) and plenty for the 2 of us. I didn't expect the sushi to be much different from well, regular sushi. But it was actually much better than regular sushi! What stood out wasn't the prawn, which was good, but actually the rice. There was something about it that was very special.

We had a lovely time at Shoya. Kat and I thought the restaurant with all its split levels was fantastic. Our waitress was sooooo friendly and helpful and sweet. The food was small and yummy and went very well with our drinks and gossip. It was great for starting our girly night out in Melbourne town.
Shoya Nouvelle Wafu Cuisine on Urbanspoon

The Cupcake Bakery in Melbourne

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The Cupcake Bakery, Collins Street

I did Sydney on a whim in February so it was fair to give Melbourne a whirl too. I saved it for March so I could use my birthday as an excuse and so here's another example of how I've dragged my birthday out.

It was an EVEN SHORTER trip than Sydney so we literally flew in, had dinner and left the hotel at 8am the next morning.

I was armed with Kat, my BFF of 10+ years (we did our 10 year freniversary in 2010, also in Melbourne) who, like me, was keen for a sugar pit stop on our way to the hotel.

We spotted The Cupcake Bakery from across the street and made a bee-line for it.

This will be a relatively short post because we ordered a cupcake each and there isn't too much to waffle on about when it comes to cupcakes.

Sample cupcake that I took a photo of because it was pretty

I've never been a huge fan of cupcakes for TASTE. Sure, they look adorable but there are better things for my palate. One day in Toowoomba, I was made to doubt this opinion because a work friend brought in cupcakes she had ordered for her 21st and they were very delicious. Very moist with a perfect topping.

Tiramisu cupcake

Well, these cupcakes weren't that. The cupcake base was dry. Not stale but not moist and squishy either. I had one with a tiramisu cream top. The tiramisu part was pretty good but nothing to write home about.

Choc peppermint cupcake

Kat got the peppermint chocolate and I think it's a similar story there.

The shop is cute and the cupcakes are eye candy but that's all I really have to say. I wasn't a huge fan of the service either. We got our sugar rush and left in a jiffy, onto bigger and better things.
The Cupcake Bakery on Urbanspoon