Archives for category: Travel

It really sunk in only when I got out the subway exit onto Nathan Road. This was Hong Kong, where Chow Yun Fatt and Tony Leung reined. It was where WKW freeze framed Aniki Jin and made him eat pineapples. Where girls looked like Maggie Cheung, Lin Ching Hsia or Cecilia Cheung. In some ways, it felt strangely familiar, as I half expected, my childhood and teenage years having spent some time immersed in the cultural export of this former British colony. This was where one grandad and 2 grandmas came from so in some sense, it’s the OG motherland. Random fact: I’ve even got this nephew who lives in Hong Kong who I don’t know who’s 15 years my senior somehow.

I loved the grittiness of the place. The density and the immediacy of life struck me but let’s be honest I’m way too chilled to wanna be a hustler in the fragrant harbour. I suppose that side of HK, the materialistic side I didn’t enjoy quite as much. But the chaos was enthralling. I was mesmerised by the crazy multi level highways and pedestrian crossings and mish mash of tunnels throughout the sland side. Then on Kowloon it’s still madhouse with tight streets and neon and signs sticking out way over the street and mad throngs of people, relentlessly moving, writhing.

Every which way I looked I saw humanity trying its best to eke out a living. Everywhere I went I felt the hustle. It’s either mad cheap or ridiculously expensive. Case in point is possibly over expanding Tim Ho Wan which just swung the doors open at its Sydney outpost. I’ll say that in Hong Kong we spent 136HKD or 23AUD for two people. Not stuffed but enough. Yet despite that paltry figure, I completely agree with the Michelin inspectors that it deserves a star. It may be hyped to death and all that but I loved it and it is fantastic value. The money we spent is like 1 dish at Mr. Wong in Sydney. And yet I reckon THW is way better. You can argue about different countries costs etc but you can’t fight good flavour. Spare ribs > perfect rendition. Shumai > brilliant. Hargow > superlative. Because you’ve eaten all these classics it’s easy to miss the perfect textures or delicate seasoning. They’re really good. For the record I think the charsiu bao are overhyped.

Onto Yung Kee. Awesome awesome roast goose drenched in drippings. Charsiu > nonevent. But $50ish for a goose drumstick even if its massive is pretty damn steep. I think Joy Hing quoted my mom $60 for a whole goose. Aud. It is good, no doubt about that but my moms surprise at the gold clad three storey building of today compared to the humble store of yore that she remembers is testament for sure.

I also had a mini egg tart hunt, mostly around Wan Chai. I liked Kum Kee the best. Just don’t get Tai Cheong, which has branches everywhere. The main difference with egg tarts in HK and everywhere else is they’re served piping hot and there’s less sugar. So you basically get this balance between unctuous hot custard and crispy rough puff and it’s quite delightful.

I’m sure there’s loads more food in HK than the little I’ve discovered but I’m also relatively certain that I’m more into the Tim Ho Wans and Sun Kee cheese pork neck noodles or Australia Dairy Co scrambled eggs or Sing Kee congee with awesome pork liver. I wanna delve more into stuff like that and less into restaurants that swop my plates out when they’re full of bones and shit.

Also my Chungking Express dream was mostly a wash. I did however discover a lovely walk from the top of the mid level escalators down to the peak tram station.

All in all I gained much insight as to just what makes HK HK and how it produces people like John Woo or Alvin Leung or Li Ka Shing.

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So I had 2 days-ish in Osaka. I managed to visit the main foodie/touristy area, which is Dotonburi, home to the Glico man etc. Plus also, there’s Doguyasuji, which is like Osaka’s version of Kappabashi in Tokyo. There, you’ll find Ichimonji Chuki and whilst they have really pretty mirror polished mizu-honyaki yanagis for like a few grand a pop, it’s not my deal. I just wanted to go to Sakai.

As a chef, knives are my primary tool. Ferran Adria once said his favourite piece of tech in the kitchen was a knife. I thought that pretty apt even if I know the guy just uses ceramic Kyoceras that I used to think were good. Anyway, I already have all the knives I needed prior to this trip. Whatever I was buying was because others had asked me to help em out. I got a colleague a 270mm Stainless Wa Gyuto from Sugimoto’s CM series, which ran me over 32000yen, which is a lot of dough. The knife wasn’t ground with a super even bevel but I didn’t wanna disappoint my mate, so I got him the better of the two I was shown. I think it’s just about barely passable. I actually asked them for an unsharpened one and they said they didn’t do that. Oh well. I also got another guy a Tsubaya VG-10 Sujihiki for around 17000yen. The storeowner also threw in a peeler and a nail clipper FOC! My girlfriend got herself a Misono Molybdenum 150mm Petty at my suggestion. It ran 4400 yen so it’s cheap and good. Plus she got her name engraved in English by this super nice French/Japanese staffer at Kama-asa in Kappabashi, Tokyo.

By the time I got to Sakai, I was done shopping for knives but I still wanted to go and probably drop some moolah anyway, just because. I got more than I bargained for. I started off at the knife museum. My dad and brother were a little transfixed staring at this TV showing the forging process in English. The knife museum is actually a pretty nice store with a decent selection of stuff you can find in Sakai. What I remembered was they stocked Ashi Hamono, Aoki Hamono/Sakai Takayuki and Hide amongst many more. Prices are basically what you see on the makers’ websites, if they have em.

By the way, there’s absolutely fuckall in Sakai. Knife shops and distribution centers and factories and makers are aplenty but scant else. There’s a few tourist “attractions” but it’s really all about the knives. There’s not much in the way of food either. Just knives. Ok, there’s the house of Sen no Rikyu, the tea ceremony dude but I missed it. I was there for one thing.

I went round the back of the knife museum and found Aoki Hamono but I think the staff were going for lunch and honestly, their “store” was probably more like a distribution center. So we took the tram up a few stops, to Ashi Hamono, OEM makers of many knives but they produce their own Ginga brand of knives, which are particularly popular on knifefora online. My own colleagues also use these knives so I’ve been able to try em out in the flesh before. I knew I wanted a gyuto and a petty whilst my dad also wanted to get something for himself. Ginga fit the bill because they had, well, pretty kanji, great detail in the finish plus the girl who apologetically let us into the tiny workshop space was just too nice, as was the main dude who was surprised to see us. My dad ended up getting a 180mm Stainless Wa Petty plus a Log knife, which is a outdoorsy knife with a wood handle made out of a single branch. I got my housemate a 240mm Stainless Wa Gyuto. The cool part was picking out our own handles but the even cooler part was when we were offered a 20% discount on top.

So the 240mm gyuto is priced at 17150yen plus another 2300yen for the saya. I got it for 16020yen. $160AUD. You can buy it online from Japanese Knife Imports for $250USD excl. shipping and that’s a good deal on a good knife. What I got was a steal.

Happy with our purchases, we said our goodbyes and I wanted to look at some other stuff as well so I parted company from my family and went about knifeshop hunting on my own. Most of the knife shops are in a walkable line down the main street, where the tram runs. Ashi Hamono is right at the top, in a totally separate area.

With a tethered connection from my phone, I used an iPad to find my way around. The first store I got to was Ikkanshi Tadatsuna. I’d read a bit about their knives and them being one of the first popular brands of laser knives. When I inspected the knives, I found that I didn’t like the handle as much as I’d thought I would. The pin just doesn’t look all that good up close. The knife was also pretty pricey and it looked like it came out the Ashi Hamono workshop too. I skipped.

The next place turned out to be at random, when I walked past Mizuno Tanrenjo. Here, they probably forge their own stuff, as evidenced by the fact that the shopowner passed me a couple of amazing honyaki yanagis to check out. I was totally embarrassed because I was mad palm sweating so I apologized and thanked him before leaving. There’s no way in hell I’m dropping more than a G on a knife no matter how pretty it is. I’ll probably never do it either.

I meant to hit up Suisin, partly because I’m still drawn to the hype about the Inox Honyaki line but ultimately, I couldn’t quite find it so I kinda gave up. I did find Sakai Yusuke though. I had a short chat with the store guy and asked for a 270mm Stainless Gyuto. Unfortunately, no saya! Now I can’t remember the exact price because I didn’t buy it but I do remember it being as much of a steal as the Ginga. However, the reason why I considered the Yusuke was because online, the price was the lowest for what is a comparable knife. The Ginga was always more expensive. But then when I was there, with the 20% discount, it was just ridiculous. The Ginga was more than cheap. I couldn’t go about it any other way. I could try to find Suisin and maybe drop close to half a thou on a knife or I could go back to Ashi Hamono and kop more shit for a bit less than that.

So I did. I walked back up to the tiny little workshop. The guy was surprised but I told him I went round, looked at other shit and came right back. This time, I added another 240mm Stainless Wa Gyuto for my girl, a 270mm Stainless Wa Gyuto and a 180mm Stainless Wa Petty for myself, all with sayas. Picked out my own handles and watched as they heated up the tang and slotted the knife into the handle. At this point, the toasty smell of burnt wood and epoxy fills the air and then the sound of the hammer knocking the bottom of the handle to slot the knife in tight. I wasn’t just able to buy the knife that I thought I wouldn’t afford. I got to pick it out and watch it get finished. That was cool and you don’t buy that, nevermind get a discount for it.

Anyway, they also had to fit the sayas which would take a bit of time, so the nice dude who was doing my knives asked if I wanted to look at the factory floor! The storefront isn’t really a storefront. It’s a cabinet with some knives and a steepass staircase leading up to the finishing floor, where they stock the blades, handles and also finish off the Western handles plus fit Wa handles and sayas. It’s the woodwork department more or less. Downstairs, behind the solitary cabinet is the metalwork floor, with a small mezzanine for polishing. The forging work is done elsewhere but here, I was shown the hydraulic stamp press that cut out the basic shape of the knives I’d bought. Then, the knife is heat treated and rough ground. Then the face gets convexed before it’s polished up and the edge is set. To be honest, the factory edge isn’t super ultra sharp but it’s pretty damn sharp anyway. Back home, I used my dad’s petty and it just zipped through these small Korean melons. Suffice to say, if you’re an experienced sharpener, you’ll still want to finish it yourself.

But regardless, my pilgrimage to one of the knife capitals of Japan turned out to be an incredible experience. I was humbled by the hospitality, by the steep discount and the attention to detail and quality. Did I mention the 20% yet? I got 20% off. A total of 62000yen or so for 3 gyutos and a petty, all with sayas. Mad steal. I saw the factory floor. I saw tubs of green anti-liquid. I shamelessly took a few photos but nothing too obvious. I saw a shelf filled with stamps of various brands, recognising a fair few as well. It was like, way cool. I made a promise to return.

If you do ever go to Sakai. Do make the trip up to Ashi Hamono. They are the OEM makers for a lot of other brands and at the retail price they quote on their website, it’s already great value. I wanted to pay them more really but they kept refusing me. Their stuff is just top notch. Good steel, good balance, good heat treat, good grind and profile plus it’s finished well and looks sexy. I can say that I don’t mind missing out on kopping a Suisin or a Ikkanshi Tadatsuna or Mizuno. In terms of bang for buck when it comes to Western style knives (gyutos, sujis, pettys etc), you really can’t beat Ginga.

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When I holidayed in Tokyo, I stayed at the Citadines Shinjuku, which is more like some service apartments than a regular hotel. The rooms are bigger than average but the location isn’t that awesome. Or so I thought. Foodwise, it was probably better than the quiet streets let on. It’s also a stones throw from Kabukicho one way and Yotsuya the other. Anyway, I was looking for a tonkatsu place somewhere in Shinjuku. Turns out I was in luck because there are a few good options in the area, including Katsukura, Saboten and Suzuya plus a few more. The first featured grind your own sesame seeds for the sauce. The second apparently pioneered the rolled sliced version of tonkatsu, with 25 layers of pork and the last features chazuke tonkatsu. Regardless, I didn’t even want to bother to muster up the willpower to walk more than 100m that night, so I kinda lucked it by picking out a place with a 3.5+ rating on tabelog at the time I ate there. It was like 50m away. Perfect.

That little place turns out to be Katsusei and it was to become my best tonkatsu ever. We enter on a weekday night, there’s only one table of 4 enjoying themselves whilst we, a group of foreigners come in and the husband and wife realize we can’t speak much Japanese at all. Thankfully, they’ve got fake food on display, so we start to think, kurobuta probably. My dad kinda wanted to get the mixed set, with some prawns but eventually, this guy from another table suggests we don’t get the kurobuta for 2500yen and get the Iwate pork instead for just 2000yen. The chef also agrees and tells us it’s basically the #1 pork in all Japan. So why is it cheaper?

I dunno but we end up getting 3 Iwate and 2 kurobuta. Then comes the surprise. I tend to like small restaurants which do things very simply and Katsusei falls into that exact category. They do a few options besides just tonkatsu but I’m sure their tonkatsu is the main draw. Anyway, the chef starts to pull out these massive slabs of pork loin from the undercounter fridge and slices an inch thick portion each time. 3 Iwate, 2 kurobuta. I can’t really tell too much of a difference looking at the raw meat but I can tell they’re extremely firm, there’s absolutely no discolouration and there’s a healthy marbling of fat. Also, he fucking portioned it to order man! Nobody does that! Maybe in Japan they do but not many I’m sure. That’s definitely one way to reduce spoilage and retain quality of meat. Keep it whole.

Anyway, the guy crumbs the stuff and drops them into the fryer, marking out the kurobutas with toothpicks and then apologising and imploring us to be patient as it takes some time to cook. I know good tonkatsu takes time and I’m just exploding with glee from ogling the produce he’d produced earlier anyway. It takes like 20+ minutes and that’s just the low temp. fryer first. He then transfers to the higher temp. for crisping up and finishing but the colour is a very pale golden and exceptionally clean in appearance and smell. Meanwhile his wife is plating up the rest of the stuff, which includes some nice pickles, rice, soup and cabbage. The sauce is nothing fancy, pretty standard tonkatsu sauce served in a big plastic jug on the counter which you help yourself to.

I turn over a piece of pork and take some photos but I really just wanna smash that shit right there. It looked so good. It tasted so good. Oh man. Iwate pork. I don’t know if it’s the best but it was pretty damn bloody good in my book. I really really liked it. It wasn’t fall apart tender. It had bite, it had some chew and it had just about the perfect proportion of fat to meat. It was sick. I couldn’t believe this shit was 2000yen. Last year, I went to a big chain, Maisen, which is pretty famous and popular and it was double the price but what was pretty much straight up inferior and even then, that was already awesome. This Iwate pork though, from little Katsusei, was nothing short of better. The kurobuta, on the other hand, had more fat but also a bit of sinew to counter. Maybe it just felt chewier because there was more fat so you notice the sinewy tissue between the meat and fat more. It was good but by golly, the Iwate was on another level. Seriously, pay less and get better concept!

If you ever find yourself in the vicinity of Shinjuku-gyoenmae, you owe it to yourself to skip the big joints and go to Katsusei, which is run by a Harley obsessed gentleman who’s clearly not bothered about pushing a profit. He’s just in it because he’s passing time and enjoying his twilight years and you should enjoy that too.

More than the absurd value proposition that the meal offered, I had a great time because of the hospitality of the owners, which was friendly and jovial despite the language barrier. The old dude was reminiscing about trying to fit his Harley into the shop but it was too big to get through the doors. He must’ve knew I really enjoyed my meal. My face must’ve said it all when I put that first piece in my mouth, eyes closed, nose hissing in delight and a smirk growing across. Shit is that good son. Best get prepared.

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Right after my annual dinner for my uni mates, me and the girl flew off to Bangkok for 5 days. It was a chance to unwind by ourselves and there’s not many better places than Bangkok, where a dollar takes you pretty damn far. So cue shitloads of shopping and eating and bits of sightseeing. We did some of the usual shit, like visiting temples (Wat Po) and traipsing up and around the Siam area not to mention join the throngs at Chatuchak.

Before I left, I tried a little to find out where to go and particulary where to eat. Previously, I didn’t have the most spectacular dining experiences in Bangkok. I do remember sharing an excellent pomelo salad with my mom and some lightly steamed fish with chilli and lime plus a few other odds and ends but I was young and didn’t know better. So this time, I thought I was gonna try to find something “good”. Of course, most of the best food experiences in Bangkok are probably street food. The information available on specifics though, is scant, or at least I was a little too lackadaisical to scrounge on google in the 3 or 4 hours before my flight.

I did find a few higher end restaurants and was particularly taken by a place called Bo.Lan. It’s run by a husband and wife team who used to work with David Thompson so I was hoping that it’d be a good barometer of a modern Thai restaurant that focused on local produce. Of course, I went on Monday night, when they were closed, so we went somewhere else.

We ended up at this mansion of a restaurant with bean bags and a bar set in the hugeass front lawn. The menu was some mod-Thai fusiony shit that mostly had me worried. Ultimately we had a decent pomelo/prawn salad, some BBQ Pork Ribs and a strange croquette version of Massaman curry. The food was ok but I certainly left wishing I’d spent my time in some roadside shithole instead.

I also spent an afternoon at an upmarket cafe in Siam Paragon. I’ve been twice before and had enjoyed myself but it was 7/8 years ago. I guess my palate’s changed a lot or the place has got worse. The menu though, is curiously pretty much exactly the same. I had like a ravioli dish that was all broken and overcooked but worst of all, overseasoned. Again, I wanted to move for upmarket food and got punished by the food gods.

Thankfully, my entire trip didn’t involve getting super disappointed spending loads of money in Bangkok. The best meal I had in Thailand, ever, was probably the night we went to On Nut night market. It’s a small night market and pretty local, with a smattering of shops selling clothes and shit and also an adjacent food center. There were a fair few sleazy white guys chillin’ with some Chang beers and shit but I think most people were local.

The first thing I saw was this awesome budget version of an Anti-Griddle. This girl was like making some kinda cold dessert on a freezing cold steel plate thingamajig. I actually forgot to give it a go but I remember thinking that Grant Achatz and Polyscience might’ve ripped Bangkok off. Anyway, we did have some nice fried chicken. It’s almost requisite for me to eat fried chicken regardless of where I am. The only place that doesn’t have a lot of a good fried chicken is Sydney and I live there so maybe that’s why. After that little snack, we watched as this lady batch cooked a massive amount of Pad Thai. Her trick involved frying prawns in oil first, turning the oil bright red. This prawn infused oil then becomes the basis for the flavour of the Pad Thai and it’s only effective with a massive batch of prawns. Anyway, we also noticed the crowd that was waiting and the ticket system for orders and promptly put ours in. It was a bit of a wait but for 40Baht, it was fucking awesome. We also shared some salt roasted whole fish, Pla Pao, which came with lettuce, nam jim and herbs. The accompaniments were unexpected but hugely welcome because you make a little wrap and the mint and basil just pops in your mouth with that bright acidic and spicy dressing. The other thing we ate was a earthy, peppery version of a seafood glass noodle sala, Woon Sen Talay which was again, cheap and good. The balance of flavours was just superb and overall, I had an excellent meal with a few beers for like less than $10 or something stupid like that. I was stuffed.

Chatuchak also turned up some good food offerings. We had this chicken soup noodle for lunch which was good but it was really the snacky shit that got me. I really regret not buying a bag of roast pork belly to chomp whilst I was shopping. I’ll readily admit that the Thai’s have a very strong roast pork game and I’m Cantonese. I did have an excellent scoop of coconut ice cream with peanuts and glutinous rice. You actually get to pick 2 toppings from a range of sweetcorn, coconut jelly, atap chee and more and it’s served in a coconut shell too. It’s also easy to find anywhere. My best drink in Thailand was a big cup of iced milk tea from this old lady who took her time, making each cup to order. The tea was sweet, as is standard for Thai tea but it was also a very good, strong cup that packed in the flavour.

I also enjoyed myself immensely at Or Tor Kor market. Located next to Chatuchak, this is where rich Bangkokians come to shop for food and whilst it’s nowhere near the size of Tsukiji, it’s still really nice to visit and not particularly touristy. When we went, it was maybe a slow day/time but there was lots of space to browse the myriad vegetables, dry goods and shellfish. There was loads of shit I’d never seen before like Bael fruit or Roselle, which is commonly used to make drinks in Thailand. Some stuff I still don’t know about. I highly recommend a trip here because the food court looks awesome and just getting to ogle good fresh produce is a dream for anyone who likes food. It’s also a great place to take photos.

Two modern/trendy spots I did enjoy were Mango Tango in Siam Square and Mr Jones’ Orphanage in Siam Center. The former serves mango with sticky rice and related shit. The menu is just a mish mash of the same repeating ingredients in different orders. I got a platter with mango, rice, pudding and ice cream. It was good but I really just went because I passed by it and basically the place was teeming with tourists waiting in line. Mr Jones’ on the other hand, is a whimsical and ultra girly cake shop replete with ridiculous decor like army men fringing the booths and wooden gears hanging off a low ceiling or teddybears and toys and whatnot all over. The cake selections include classic American style shit like red velvet cakes or more modern oreo cookie cakes and shit. You also get your water in little enamel mugs. It’s not particularly the most impressive gourmet experience but it certainly feels fun having some cakes in a ridiculous setting. It’s just got this Thai sense of style/humour going for it.

I’m sure I hardly skimmed the surface when it came to the food scene in Bangkok. I’m convinced that there’s plenty of places that are amazing. If Sydney has awesome eateries like Chat Thai, Spice I Am, Home and House just to name a few, then Bangkok would surely have more than the few places I randomed onto. Perhaps I’ll be rewarded more generously next time if I do a little more homework but regardless, I did learn one important lesson in Bangkok. Spend less, not more.

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Bronte is a beach suburb on the Eastside of Sydney. What this means is that you’ll find a lot of cashed up white people with bad tans and melanoma, insane house prices, a beautiful beach and great cafes. Bronte’s beach doesn’t have the finest, whitest sand and it’s a pretty small patch really. Here, the water’s edge rides up a relatively steep incline and the surf and tide can get a little stronger than your average Sydney beach. This is one reason why a good few surfers come down here. It isn’t maybe the best place for surfing though since it is pretty small and the waves aren’t the most well known. If you’d like, you can always jump into the public baths, which are connected to the ocean by way of a staircase. The scenery is pretty gorgeous. Houses sit atop cliffs that surround the beach on both sides and the water is so damn beautiful. If you think Sydney beach, Bronte has to be one of those iconic ones.

I can easily imagine wasting away, roasting into an even shade of vermillion with a stubby in my hand. But then you can also visit the nearby cemetery, which is full of interesting looking graves and shit and isn’t the least bit creepy. Also nearby are a few good foodie havens. In my opinion, this is a great suburb to introduce to a visitor. It’s way better than going to Bondi for sure. One of the best walks in Sydney is the Coogee to Bondi one and Bronte is smack in the middle of the two. If I was doing this bloody walk, I’d stop in Bronte for breakfast or lunch for sure.

Three Blue Ducks has made a lot of press by now and has been hit up by every surfer/hipster/foodie in Sydney. I’ve been here a couple times now myself and I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t like it the first time. I think I had a baked egg dish that was underseasoned but I’ll put it down to the fact that they were bloody busy at 11:30 in between services. Technically, they do brekkie until 11 but after waiting for half an hour, they let us order it anyway. It took a good while to arrive even after the table after us got their food. I was somehow determined to change my impressions though.

The kitchen is run by three guys who met by way of Tetsuya’s, although the name of the cafe only references one of them. But this is why they have a bit of rep; because they have 3 qualified chefs who once worked in an iconic Sydney restaurant. As a dude who has works in kitchens and knows a fair few people who do the same, I know that just because you worked at here or there doesn’t mean you can cook worth a damn. Not to disparage the trio of Darren Robertson, Shannon Debreceny and Mark LaBrooy because they can clearly cook. This is evidenced by my second trip there. Also, they got a chef’s hat in 2012. They’re a bloody cafe!

This time, we went on a Tuesday afternoon. The place wasn’t packed to shit with prams in your face and babies screaming. They’d expanded into next door and gone are the tables in the laneway. Still remaining though is the cafe garden where they grow their own shit and instead of the pop up dinners they had when they started, they now run a full on lunch as well as a more refined mod oz dinner menu. One thing I’m glad to see again is the Single Origin Roasters coffee. If you can get in quality stuff from SOR and you appreciate it, you’ll probably try to do well by it. The food, I have to say, impressed me. I ordered a Quinoa and Fig Bircher ($14). My girl got the Avocado Toast ($16) with sides of bacon and poached eggs. The avo toast was well seasoned and just bang up delicious. It’s simple but when you have good ingredients, that’s all you need. One well charred slice of Iggy’s sourdough is topped with sliced avo and roast tomatoes with a herb salad. This by itself is great but I think throwing in the eggs ($3 for 2) and bacon ($3) just makes it better. My “bircher” wasn’t what I was expecting. It came like a composed salad of individual components and looked amazing. Instead of a bowl of mush, you get a visual and textural feast. In the middle was the quinoa, possibly steeped in poaching liqour. Next to it yoghurt, fresh berries, toasted coconut, the peaches and toasted peanuts adding a nutty toasty depth. On top of it all, one caramelized fig cut in two. The presentation was unconventional and you could see and taste and feel every ingredient. It was a revelation for me, I think. It also tasted super. I think I’m just gonna stick with that really. Except I saw this dude order the rather boring sounding Bacon and Egg Roll ($14). Of course, he cleverly added a side of black sausage ($6) to give it some next level shimmy. It looked awesome. Then again, if you have Iggy’s incredible bread, you automatically win. Back for more even though I don’t live in the neighbourhood. Actually I think my girl wants to move here and pointed out a few fancy houses to make her point.

Three Blue Ducks
141-143 MacPherson Street Bronte Closed Mondays, Dinner Bookings Only Wed – Sat

But yeah, Iggy’s bread. The dude we’re talking about is Igor Ivanovic. He came to Sydney via Boston though he was born in Yugoslavia. There are two small bakeries, both in Bronte. The one that’s easier to access is the one next to Three Blue Ducks, on MacPherson Street. There’s also a little bit more to see there, with the cemetery nearby and the main drag there too. Bronte Road Bistro is down a bit. I’ll just say this straight up. Iggy’s bread is the best I’ve had in Sydney. Bar none. I really like Sonoma’s Miche but Iggy’s is #1. Why? Let’s talk about their signature Country Sourdough. First up, it’s baked in the size of a massive wheel. It’s huge and you can get a whole, half or quarter. A quarter is round about the size of a regular loaf elsewhere, give or take a bit. It costs a little over $3. It doesn’t require the least bit of oil, butter or salt. It is scrumptious as is and I can sit in front of my computer and smash one quarter if I had one, even at a semi stale stage. The crust is crispy, dark and thin. It’s incredible. You have to see the cross section to appreciate the beauty of the thing. The texture of the insides are soft, moist, springy and flavourful. I’ve had a good amount of great bread down under but nothing comes close to Iggy’s flavour. This is bread that just tastes amazing. It’s arguably good enough that I’d recommend anyone visiting Sydney to go down to Bronte just for the bread here. Iggy’s also do bread sticks and a variety of other stuff. There’s an American bakery of the same name that I think is actually the one that Iggy himself started and left back in 2008. Sydney is kowtowing to the man for doing so.

But don’t take it from me about the bread. Take it from places like Three Blue Ducks or people like Colin Fassnidge. In the past, Iggy’s had a smaller production and struggled to keep up with demand so they had to be a little picky with who they supplied to but nowadays it’s a little more readily available. The shops still do sell out very quickly of all the good stuff though and long queues are common. This is what it means to have good shit. If you can’t dice with the possibility of not getting your daily bread, you can cry and miss out. I, for one, would just accept my fate and try again. It’s that bloody good and it’s only bread.

Iggy’s Bread Of The World
49 Belgrave Street Bronte Tues-Sun 7am – sold out
145d MacPherson Street Bronte Tues-Fri 7.30am – sold out Sat – Sun 8am – sold out

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My mom came over to visit for a couple days and she asked me for suggestions on where to go. This is a list of places I like, mostly involving nommage.

Touristy Shit – You wanna see “the sights”? These are the only good ones.

  • Opera House – great iconic building with a nice view that’s free. chill out at the Opera Bar, think about eating at Quay.
  • MCA – right near the Opera House is where you can check out a lot of contemporary art.
  • The Bridge – Walking across the bridge is great for a view and it’s also totally free.
  • Ferry Ride – for a few bucks, you can get a great tour of Sydney Harbour.

Beaches – Sydney is a beach city and there’s touristy ones, ones that belong to Brazilians and quiet ones and ones where people go surfing and shit for real.

  • Balmoral – my fave beach. quiet and relaxed. chill at Bather’s Pavilion and enjoy the beach right outside with a beautiful view, fine white sand etc etc.
  • Northern Beaches – any one of Dee Why, Freshwater, Palm Beach, Whale Beach and more are all relatively unspoiled and spectacular, especially in the morning. Freshwater is also home to some excellent Sardinian food from Pilu at Freshwater.
  • Bronte – great city beach. go here and hit up Three Blue Ducks.

Coffee – Possibly one of the few world class things Sydney can lay claim to. There’s lots of fantastic places but I usually go to just 3. If I happen to be in Newtown, I might get an affogato at Campos though.

  • Single Origin Roasters, Surry Hills
  • Mecca on King St, CBD
  • Coffee Alchemy in Marrickville

Sourdough – Sydney has some good bread. I like 2. Sonoma’s Miche is relatively easy to obtain, either from dining out at a lot of good restaurants or simply buying a round at a few grocers or dropping by one of their cafes. Iggy’s also supplies a few very good restaurants and has an outlet in Bronte. It’s arguably the best sourdough in Sydney.

Surry Hills – Home to my favourite eating and drinking places in Sydney, Slurry is where all the hipsters live. So many small bars popping up I can’t keep track.

  • Single Origin Roasters – straight up fave cafe in Sydney, with Shoji Sasa (Barista Of The Year 2012) pulling the shots at the sideshow and tasty, simple food
  • Bourke Street Bakery – original outpost of a growing mini empire, I eat pork + fennel sausage rolls like they were dai baos back in SG, two at a time
  • Bodega – great modern South American meets Australian tapas bar
  • Porteno – great Argentinian grill joint run by Elvis Abrahanowicz and Ben Milgate, the same dudes who run Bodega
  • Bentley – modernist food Brent Savage style
  • MoVida – the only Melbournian import warmly accepted by Sydneysiders
  • Via Alley – curios, fashunz and photography shit
  • Title – arthouse music, books and film
  • Formaggi Ocello – providore of fine Italian cheeses, hams and suchlike
  • Absinthe Salon – small bar serving ONLY absinthe, no flames on sugar, just water dripping from vintage gear
  • Low 302 – great vibe, great cocktails
  • Monster Children – street art gallery
  • Outre Gallery – modern graphic art
  • Urban Uprising – more street art!
  • Somedays – fashion and art retail store
  • Pop Shop – silly gifts and shit

Thai Food – Outside of Thailand, I reckon Sydney has the best Thai food. These are my faves, populist though they may be.

  • Chat Thai, Haymarket – get some skewers, get some whole fish, some sum tom, some sticky rice + mango and wash it down with a blended watermelon ice
  • Spice I Am, Surry Hills – get the pad prik king and the massaman
  • Home, Sussex St CBD – you can watch them steam dumplings on muslin cloth out front

Vietnamese/Marrickville – Pretty good Vietnamese can be found in Sydney too! The real stuff is a little more out of the way, like in Cabramatta but the stuff in the city is still good and Marrickville isn’t that far away plus it’s got aforementioned Coffee Alchemy nearby. Get someone with a car to bring you.

  • Pasteur, Haymarket – cheap ass pho, grilled beef, sugarcane prawns and spring rolls
  • Miss Chu’s, several outlets, including one on George Street – simple and trendy street food
  • Marrickville Pork Roll, Marrickville – banh mi
  • Pho Bac Hai Duong – pho
  • Any other Vietnamese joint in Marrickville is bound to be at least decent and probably really good

Sweets – There’s plenty of good sweets in Sydney that are not Tim Tams.

  • Gelato Messina, Darlinghurst – The main and original store, with a cool little patisserie style store next door. Cheap as well. I recommend the hazelnut/pistachio.
  • Pompei’s, Bondi – the chocolate is by Amedei and it is pure sex. the fior di latte is also excellent as are the nut versions. pizza ain’t bad either.
  • Black Star Pastry, Newtown – brilliant pastries from Christopher The.
  • Zumbo, Balmain – Australia’s most famous patissier is probably a little overhyped and shit but he still makes nice sweets. lotsa locations but the first one was in Balmain. I think the one in The Star is the most accessible.
  • Meetfresh – a Taiwanese import but man those sweet potato/taro gnocchis have an awesome texture. get the Signature with herbal jelly, pearls and taro balls, the triumvirate of AZN awesome. *edit somehow they’ve removed the fucking pearls from the signature dessert. at least in the chatswood store. I am miffed. get anything with the herbal jelly though, it comes with a herbal jelly syrup based granita.

Since late June, the Biennale of Sydney’s 18th iteration has been on display at the various museums around town plus Cockatoo Island, opened up to the public with free ferries and art on display. I got told by my ex exec chef about it being a wonderful thing to do and he went on about this Japanese paper cutting woman being amazing. Turns out that woman is Sachiko Abe and really, all she does is cut paper quietly. Super thin strips of white paper endlessly, in a room. You can watch if you want but all she does is cut paper in a small space. I think I missed her performance because of parking issues but yea.

You can take the free ferry that is Captain Cook Cruises at wharf 6 or pay money for Sydney Ferries to take you over or even a water taxi if you’re feeling rich. The free ones run every 45 minutes or so and there’s really only one boat. The island itself used to take turns at being a shipyard as well as a prison so it’s full of warehouses and old buildings and factory space and tunnels and stuff. It’s interesting to just take a day out and have a picnic there because you get to explore a place that isn’t normally easy to access and free no less. You also get a great view of Sydney Harbour and stuff, which is nice. It’s kinda in between ANZAC bridge and the harbour bridge.

There’s art and performances all over the island itself and I reckon the place is a goldmine for photographers and painters and stuff. The main display building looked like a place you should film some horrible action C-movie in. It was interesting just to be out of the confines of my regular slog. Finally, it feels like there’s something to do in Sydney. I liked one exhibition by Li Hongbo, which had a room full of this colorful paper that had been glued together at points in a honeycomb such that the fan out into larger, 3D structures. The work was called Ocean Of Flowers and you kind of walk through this pretty paper garden until you reach the end, where there’s these wooden crates and some singular pieces that you can touch and then you realise the shapes are all guns and bullets and bombs in 2D. I dunno if anyone gives a shit but it was interesting.

Fujiko Nakaya also had this fog thing called Living Chasm going on. She basically installed some fog machines that go on at certain times over this gorgey passage area that feels like a cloudwalk. I missed it but I snapped a mother bird feeding her babies. Then there was Peter Robinson’s Gravitas Lite; styrofoam chains in a massive display over some old shit in the shipyard warehouse that makes you wonder how he made it until you step up closer. There was this outdoor exhibit of little wooden boxes with stones on top and the drone of what I now know to be bees. They’re like beehives labelled with the various stock exchange acronyms by Alec Finley called Swarm (ASX) that I found kinda corny. Jonathan Jones had 2 things I saw. One was Oyster & Tea Cups which was as the name implies, a pile of oyster shells and English tea cups, a juxtaposition of the natural and local versus the colonial foreign. He also put up some pretty lights in one of the tunnels. A little James Clar-esque.

It runs until the 16th of September and the website has all the deets if you just can’t miss the papercutting or whatever nonsense or you can go to the MCA, AGNSW for more shit.

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Alright so, my housemates have left and I went out to dinner at a place called I Love Pho 264 in Richmond, which serves up massive bowls of value deal pho, with toppings that include beef fat, tripe, ox tail and more. You can order whatever you want and it’ll probably never breach $15 somehow. It was also really good. When I had it, I made the comparison that it was kinda like Pasteur in Sydney, just cheaper, bigger and with better toppings. The most awesome thing they had was this jar of chilli sauce that was the bomb. Apparently, they sell em for $25 bucks a pop. It’s so good, I want the recipe. They also sell t-shirts which is something I think a lot of Sydney could learn to do better, merchandising.

Dessert time was Helados Jauja, Argy style gelato owned by a Malaysian! To be honest though, it doesn’t matter who owns it anymore, it’s really good but a touch pricey. I like the flavours they have on offer and really enjoyed the Yerba Mate the most. Texture, flavour and quality were all really good and there’s also some Malaysian stuff too, like durians. All the fruit flavours are actually made with real fruit too and I totally tasted Queensland Thai Mon Thong in a sample. I think it was $11-12 for 3 scoops. Worth it for an indulgence.

I spent the next morning working at Luxbite, with a coffee at The Final Step nearby, which was pretty pretty good. It reminded me a lot of Barefoot Coffee Traders in Manly only with better beans. It’s a tiny little place and they do coffee plus some bagels and sweet stuff. Lovely local place with an exceedingly high standard of coffee. I then pop into Luxbite, where I get to work, giving the guys a hand with whatever simple jobs I could do.

Lunchtime arrives! Or rather, it’s time for me to buy Luxbite lunch. So it’s off to Smith Street in Collingwood and Huxtaburger. Huxtaburger is the burger outpost for Huxtable. It’s a tiny little place, with a little bit of counter seating, like 8 I think, and a few tables outside. For the most part, people just takeaway and there’s always a queue. The menu is explicitly small, just 5 types of burgers (one kid’s sized), all using the same wagyu beef patties, the same buns (apparently outsourced from Breadtop!), and variations in size and toppings that include jalapeno, sriracha mayo, egg, bacon, beetroot… They also do crinkle cut chips that you can get sprinkled with chipotle for a bit of a spicy kick.

I got the regular Huxtaburger, which is just lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo, ketchup, mustard and a single pattie. The burger isn’t really big but at $8, it’s good value. Actually, would’ve been better value to get the Theo, which has double patties, double cheese and bacon + BBQ sauce at $11. Flavour wise, it’s a good, sloppy style burger. Nothing special, nothing amazing, just a decent burger. Personally, I’d pick these guys over Rockpool Bar & Grill any day of the year. As a side, I also got some chipotle chips, which were pretty good with a can of beer. You gotta love the American diner style decor, even if it’s extremely minimalist. Actually, the place looks very low cost with the exception of the stainless cladding on the walls that have a puffed diamond pattern on it that might cost a bit more than just paint. This is like one of those weekly visit places for me.

I order more burgers but instead of waiting, I walk down a little to Proud Mary, which serves some damn fine espresso. I think out of all the Melbourne coffeeshops, Proud Mary is one of the best for me. I just had a double rizzo which had distinct malic acid/apple type flavours particular at the end that wasn’t overtly sour. The place itself is hella busy, loads of people crammed into the kinda industrial chic decor that plagues modern Melbourne but at the end of the day, it’s still cool regardless and is another weekly type of joint for me if I lived in Melbourne. You gotta spread out the coffee.

At round 4pm, my mate hustles up and we head out to get some groceries at Prahran market. I like the place, it’s big and bright and you really get to see the colorful produce. It definitely doesn’t feel anything like a market in Sydney, which tends to be a lot more drab. Here, there’s flower shops mingling with fresh fruit and veg and the seafood and meat are segregated away. The food looks decent to good with maybe only the seafood not as good as Sydney and a mite pricier too. I also loved Market Lane Coffee. I had one 2 strong lattes and 1 double rizzo plus one more double rizzo here, which was brilliant. I would come again tomorrow, just for the hell of it and had a short conversation with the barista about Melbourne and light roast coffees. It’s not really my thing but I know what they’re driving at. When I mentioned I preferred it big bang up dark roasted, he kindly suggested Atomica, which I will surely do so in future. One interesting thing about Market Lane is that they use Schulz milk, a boutique dairy producer from Victoria that does organic, small batch, high quality milk. Somehow, I managed to pass up drinking it and only got a sip of my mates latte, which was sweeter than usual even if there was no sugar in it. This is another one of those weekly visit joints yo. Almost forgot to mention the 6 group Synesso, custom formed by joining 2 3 groups together. It’s massive.

If you’re sensing a trend, you’re correct, there’s a shitload of amazing quality coffee in Melbourne. Sydney might have Single Origin, Mecca and Coffee Alchemy to name my faves but Melbourne has… a shitload. The following are places I’ve been hugely recommended but not had the opportunity to try: Atomica, St. Ali, Brother Baba Budan, Seven Seeds, Naked Espresso… I’m sure there’s heaps more I just haven’t collated everything yet. Melbourne is like insane level coffee geekery across the board. I can’t say that Sydney’s best are any poorer but I can say, across the board, the sheer number of great, not just good, places for coffee in Melbourne is simply astounding. I suppose it is kinda hipster in the extreme but hey, if young people wanna get serious and make some good joe, I ain’t got no probs with that.

For dinner, we head to Richmond again for some Japanese this time, at a place called Maedaya. I’m told the owner just got in some blue beer from Japan and I was like seriously? That Abashiri beer? Yes the one and the same and I introduce the owner to the green and red ones too. Small world concept. Maedaya is pretty much an izakaya where you can store your bottles of sake in the wall and eat lots of stuff, some on skewers, like the complimentary chicken skin skewers we got or the tsukune set of 5 chicken ball skewers with a variety of sauces. Then we had nanban chicken and piri kara chicken as well as some roast buta, gyoza and tofu. All in all a pretty decent meal. I mean, it’s good and reasonably priced but the biggest thing to get there is really the sake, which we skipped cos I’m driving.

But we did at least get one drink in, at The Melbourne Supper Club, one of the few places open late with good food. My friends demolish an assorted entree platter with stuff like fried polenta sticks to foie gras to prawn lemongrass wontons which all seemed pretty decent. I just swooshed down my highly drinkable 2011 Clonakilla Viognier Nouveau. Really good mouthfeel and texture, peachy on the nose and mouth and just so easy.

Ah my final day in Melbourne. I was supposed to do a coffee course here but couldn’t get into contact with the school, so I decided it was better to just spend time doing nothing. I wake up late and get some brunch at a place opposite Luxbite, it’s called French Fantasies and rather than Audrey Tautou lying naked next to some frites, I saw croissants and the like. They are a bakery/cafe after all. I settle for some tea and a croque monsieur. Pretty damn hefty at $11 for a ham and cheese sambo even if it was nice.

Next up is another trip to Prahran market and Market Lane with a popover at Luxbite just for kicks. I get another coffee and it’s bloody good, a doppio as suggested by the helpful dude behind the counter. I wish I had a place like that, just making simple stuff and feeding it to people and talking about all and sundry. I chill out and contemplate my future culinary adventures and soon, it’s time for the last hurrah, a trip to the city and Cumulus Inc.

Of course, it’s friday night and Cumulus Inc. is one of the hottest tickets in town at the moment. Andrew McConnell is the “man with the magic touch” who is responsible for this casual eatery with a focus on shared plates and a relaxed atmosphere. I’m been told shitloads about this place so it was gonna be the big splash this trip. Well, at the end of the day, it was quite affordable really and money well spent if you ask me. But we had almost an hour to kill whilst we waited so what else do we do but head to one of those hidden laneway bars Melbourne is so famous for. Eau de Vie is in this nondescript little lane through this rather large door with an ornate handle but otherwise nothing else to yell out it’s location. Inside is like some kinda 1920s speakeasy or somesuch. I didn’t much care for the seats, which were awfully uncomfortable but the place had a nice vibe. The menu is mainly cocktails and pretty big. Every one comes with a bloody story and it felt like reading a book. I ended getting suggested their house martini, which is really a liquid nitro cooled martini. I suppose it tastes colder and less diluted than a martini and it is sorta fun maybe but it’s a bloody martini. Elsewhere, my other friend gets a massive tropical trophy shaped cup.

I guess it’s the sort of frivolous fun bar that I wouldn’t mind going to but I was kinda expecting infused whiskeys or smoked this or nitro poached that. Maybe too much to ask? Sure there must be one of these places in Melbourne. Anyway, it’s Cumulus Inc. I’m really interested in. Ok, so we get seated, four to a tiny table. The service is ok, the waiter stuffed up a coupla minor things but whatever. The concept is shared dining so you’re supposed to fight fork and knife with your companions for the stuff. For drinks, we get some San Pelle and a bottle of 2005 Chateau Lucas Cotes de Castillon which is a pretty biggish red. Good but could probably wait a little. Onto the food! We start with some nice bread, then move onto some oysters. I didn’t really care much about my rather tasteless claire de lune oyster but apparently it’s from Moonlight Flats, which is a small premium oyster producer with branded oysters like the one I just had. Next! The grilled octopus arrives with basil mayo and paprika and it’s a tasty little number. The texture of the occy is pretty good for grilled, not tough in the slightest but it’s the flavours of the dish together that are what makes it good. I can tell already, this is the type of meal I’ll enjoy. It’s not classic Italian or mediterranean, it’s mod aus but it’s the type of mod aus that isn’t shit. It actually tastes good and is just really simple. Next! We get some onion and cider soup with smoked ham hock. Really good. The front end feels like regular onion soup but then the cider kicks in and you get this slightly appley bend to it and the brightness comes out so the soup changes tastes. The ham just adds the necessary savouriness to marry everything. Ok, some raw fish now. Big chunky tuna with peas and goat’s curd. Not a combo I’d immediately go for but it’s pretty nice, clean and refreshing with the curds and the tuna is nice and fresh. But one of the stars has to be the foie gras parfait, which arrives with four triangles of brioche that we ask for more of. The parfait is exactly what one should taste and feel like. Just enough sherry/brandy to give a certain sweetness and it spreads wonderfully smooth. My good friend wishes he could have this shit every morning for breakfast. I could too but I ain’t got that money son. Back to reality now, we get to share a plate of ox tail, grilled with some pickled chilli and parsley and I love it. It’s cooked well, to a great texture, good bite but not chewy. The flavour is good too and this actually goes reasonably well with the big wine.

Then finally, the piece de resistane arrives at last. It’s the slow cooked lamb shoulder. One massive hunk of meat cooked in the oven for 12 hours until fork tender and just goddamn tasty. It’s really simple and it’s really good. It comes with some lemon and sliced spanish onions left to marinate in lemon juice for a bit and it goes really good together. As a side, we got a plate of brussel sprouts with butter and parmesan and it is awesomesauce. My favourite savoury thing this trip. Cooked till crispy and dark, possibly deep fried even, it’s just bursting with flavour and the umami bang of the cheese. It’s so good we get another plate. I am stealing this one broseph. To finish, we get one single dessert to share because we are stuffed. It’s baba au rhum. The waiter comes with a havana club and leaves it on the table first. We contemplate shots but they come back with the cake, well baked with a barely burnt top and fluffy interior sitting on a bed of chiboust. You pour as much rum over it as you want. Since I was busy taking photos, I ignored my friend asking me to say when so we end up with rhum au baba. It’s really nice and light but it’s not the kinda thing I’d die for. The brussel sprouts though, shit son, I’mma whack some up myself soon.

But all good things must come to an end, it’s been a fun 6 days or so in Melbourne and I gotta head back to Sydney, alone, at 110km/h on the Hume highway. So we get one last drink at a bar called Campari house, then a nap and then I wake at 6.30am, pick up macarons from Luxbite and hit the road.

So from Cumulus Inc.’s brussel sprouts, I progressed naturally, onto McDs and KFC until I finally reach my detour, a pilgrimage of sorts to Clonakilla winery in the Canberra Hills district. I bring home a bottle of 2011 Viognier Nouveau that I loved from before, a bottle of 2011 Viognier, which was oaked and has a much more complex smell and different character. The last bottle was an 2010 O’Riada Shiraz. Now unlike most other shiraz in Australia, Clonakilla makes a strikingly different, transparent light maroon, cold climate shiraz. It’s still got peppery notes and spices like cloves and nutmeg but it feels closer to a pinot noir. This 2010 version clearly needed some time to mature but it tasted really good already. Also, at $35, it’s a fucking steal. Unfortunately, the timing of my trip isn’t the best and I obviously missed out on their Shiraz Viognier, which is their flagship wine. They had magnums available but they are also $190 and a very serious wine.

So I drove to Melbourne under the influence and I return to Sydney under the influence. Well, if you consider a sip and spit under the influence. I actually got stopped by a cop just before the winery visit so perfect timing. I didn’t dare swallow too much though. Real pity. Going back when they release next year’s stuff if I can.

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Ok, this is a straight up plug by my Melbourne mates, the crew behind Luxbite. Bernard and Yen are the co-owners who run this little patisserie in South Yarra that’s doing cakes, sweets and lotsa macarons. They open 8am-8pm 7 days a week and serve hot food until 12pm. The guys are all about the good stuff. They used to work at Pier, Quay and Rockpool just name a coupla places so that’s where they gleaned their skills and abilities.

Their inspirations have to be the French patisseries, like Pierre Herme and Laduree. In fact, they do a version of Herme’s Ispahan at their shop. They also travel often to Japan, to eat a lot of stuff, buy a lot if kitchen gear and just generally get inspired. I like the attention to detail they put into everything, it’s clear these two know what it is to make something special.

The macarons have to be one of the stars of the show. The texture, quality and colour are all brilliant. The flavors, have a heavy Malaysian bend, with stuff like pandan or kaya on offer. They also like to put 2 flavours into a macaron, like peanut butter and jam or banana chocolate so it feels cohesive. I had the pleasure of eating some macarons in Japan from big pastry shops recently and these are about as good I’d say. The significant difference is that Luxbite feels a lot more fun, full of youthful vigour and optimism. I’ve tried a fair few macarons and with their current menu, I’m a fan of their peanut butter/jam and hazelnut ones the most. It’s not overly sweet and the texture is just superb, crumbly, gooey, ooey delish.

I got the insider’s tour partly because I gotten drafted as a slave. So I worked a few hours in the morning pulling macaron shells off silpat mats and cleaning them. I’m not a pastry chef but I’m a chef nonetheless and quality is paramount regardless of whether you’re braising pork or baking cakes. They use really good chocolate, really good almond meal and just really good everything. They don’t skimp on cost in the slightest. The hot chocolate incidentally, they quenelle a teaspoon of it which you dunk into the cup and stir. It’s good shit. The almond meal, I had a hand sifting a 10kg box. It took me like an hour and a half or so. I also got to check out their piping machine, which is super cool and pipes out stuff according to specifications so they can make big shells for their cakes and smaller ones for the macarons. But other than this baby, everything else is painstaking, time consuming stuff and you’ll often see the guys working from 8am til 10pm.

I gotta say, I’m totally jealous of these guys because they’re younger than me but running their own thing and done up really well and sticking to their guns. If you’re ever in Melbourne, pick up some macarons. You won’t be disappointed.

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Being unemployed means I can while my days away driving 10-12 hrs from sydney to melbourne with my housemates. The gf is also unable to make it this trip so I get some time alone. Everything that could suck sucked on the drive. Two of would share driving duties and we left home round 12.45am or so. This was gonna be an epic overnight rally kinda joint. To be honest though, the Hume highway that connects australia’s biggest two cities is reasonably decent and probably already australia’s best highway. It’s not impossibly narrow and there’s even lights from time to time. Another plus: the big divider for the most part between opposing lanes. It’s relatively straightforward, not too much weaving around. Cruise control would make things really easy.

But I was on about how it sucked. First we left past midnight and I’d maybe closed my eyes for an interrupted hour and a half or so prior to departure. I was probably not in the best physical condition. Next it was foggy as all hell. I’d put the high beam on and I’d see less. The fog just reflected the light back. So tired dark plus low visibility at 110km/h. I must be foolhardy. The music selection shifted between a mix of kpop faves like Busker Busker and Big Bang to an English poprock mix of Adele, Oasis, Maroon 5 and Coldplay. Not really my thing. The last time I drove 10 hrs was a trip to Coff’s Harbour where I almost fell asleep to Portishead beacause someone thought I’d appreciate it. I dunno why I never raise any complaints. Then there were the dead animals. Possums and birds and rabbits and shit all over the place. The worst was a kangaroo higher than a hump that had me really worried as I went over. The fog meant I saw it really late and I almost panicked and swerved but opted to just go with it instead. I think I missed the main body. That’s probably the first kangaroo I saw on the roads in australia. The thing that irked me the most though were the endless mumbles of fear from my passengers everytime I had to put the brakes on or when a trailer passed right next to us. Hey I was trying to stay calm and careful but them panicking was seriously annoying.

Eventually I make it until sometime just before 5am with a stop at 2am and a messed up detour at 3am. I thought i was gonna find a rest station but it ended up being closed and the road didn’t send me back on the highway. Shoulda probably turned around but I followed the GPS which is a useless POS. I get an hour or two of rest and then takeover for the rest again, driving til noon when we reach the Yarra Valley. Here to add to the potent mix of tiredness, lack of sleep, depression and uncertainty, I added a good dose of alcohol.

We hit up 3 wineries in total. Yarra Yering is pricey but interesting. I got a bottle of chardonnay that was brisk and appley peachy. Next was a big producer that sucked. Cats piss heavy on the nose pinots that were kinda naff. Also pricey at over 30 bucks for what tasted like 10-15 dollar bottles. Then we got scolded by another big producer when we accidentally went into what was private property. I blame them leaving the gate open and not stopping us until we got all the way inside. The last stop was Coldstream Hills where I picked up a bottle of their reserve pinot, which was textural and delicious, still tart acid but will surely mellow. Dude behind the bar was also hella nice which is always a plus.

We finally arrive in Melbourne unscathed but I am bushed. Our accommodation is a special hookup, a room inside a house in a suburb half an hour from the cbd. The house had a big for sale sign outside which left us wondering if it was right. But it is and I get to slum it on a mattress on the floor with my mate while the girls took the bed. To be honest, I was fine with it given it would cost all of us $65 a night and the toilet was clean.

Anyway, we get a little bit of a rest and make our way towards South Yarra, where we’d finally get to meet our friends in Melbourne. Some friends of mine run an awesome little patisserie shop, Luxbite and another friend helps them run the breakfast. I’ll detail more about them in another post but you should go there if you have a sweettooth. So we get doled out free drinks and macarons and an eclair which we smash before going for dinner across the road, at a place called Red Hot Wok. Melbourne has a reasonably large Asian community and in particular, there’s quite a lot of Malaysians and Singaporeans who call it home. Red Hot Wok is the kind of slightly dingy, unmodern Malaysian Chinese style eatery where we consumed stuff like sambal kangkong, flaming pork ribs, Thai basil eggplant and the more curious apple chicken. It’s good, delicious and straighforward. The ribs really do come flaming, with a gentle glowing blue flame enveloping the meat, which is dumped onto some aluminium foil.

Dessert was a short drive into Chinatown, where we hit up Dessert Story, a Taiwanese style dessert shop that’s all the rage in Melbourne at the moment, not unlike Meetfresh in Sydney. You can get taro and sweet potato gnocchi, shaved ice desserts, herbal jelly, red bean soup, glutinous rice soup and more but we get a coupla snow ices to share. Unlike regular shaved ice, snow ice is a lot finer, like uh, snow. One of the mango snow ice desserts comes with mango juice/puree plus a mountain of snow ice, some jelly and shit but best of all, little balls of spherified mango. I don’t know for sure if it was really spherified but it was fun.

Day 2! We’re in Melbourne and after 12 hours or so on the road, we’ve finally reached our destination and what do we decide to do? Drive again! Woohoo! It’s another 3 or so hours as we head towards the Great Ocean Road and the famed 12 apostles. But before that, we at least have the sanity to get breakfast, at a wonderful little place called The Duchess Of Spotswood, which is actually in Spotswood. It was recommended by our mates so it had to be good. The place itself is on a quiet street with tree lined streets and little traffic. The front facade has full glass windows and a framed glass door so you can see clearly in and out. There’s a table outside but it’s bloody cold so inside’s the best right now. A La Marzocco lines the coffee counter and there’s a small display for cakes etc plus there’s a small space for the chef’s to work. In the back, there’s a much bigger prep kitchen plus outside, there’s even a space for a BBQ and the toilets are brand spanking new. It really feels like you stepped inside someone’s house, only someone’s house feels like a little British bistro. The Candyman house blend coffee is roasted by Small Batch and they also offered another option, a single origin if you wanted. I got one of each and didn’t much care for the Candyman but the standard of coffee was top notch. One of us got a scrambled eggs with green tomato chutney and chilli/pork/fennel sausages. The rest of us got pork jowl with fried eggs and truffle jus. I got myself some black pudding on the side. The food was delish. Just really good, rich and hearty fare. It was the kinda joint I would eat at like once a week if I could. I could eat the whole menu, from the sweet stuff to the savoury. They’re even open for lunch and dinner too. I just loved the place. It felt close to perfect for what I wanted for my own in the near future.

Once fed, we hit the road son. Long, winding, bumpy and horrible once you get to the Great Ocean Road. You’re not always driving next to the ocean but it is remarkably beautiful. At times, the crashing waves threw up a foamy substance that looked like god just did his laundry. Some of it got thrown onto the road in one or two spots. We stopped halfway for a gander at the big blue beyond and it is really beautiful. The drive winds around from hugging the coastline to tucking into lush forested areas and little beach towns and such. We finally arrive at the 12 apostles where the 2 girls decide to take the helicopter ride for $95 each and fly around a bit. The guys, decide to grab a drink and chill. So The Apostles aren’t even apostles at all. They’re limestone rock stacks formed by erosion as the waves crash against the land. They used to be called the Sow and Piglets. Then they changed the name to get idiots like us out here to the middle of nowhere and throw money at helicopters. There’s not even 12 stones. There’s only ever been 9 and one collapsed so there’s 8 now. Honestly, why did you lie to us Australia?

Alright, we head back but instead of using the dreadful Great Ocean Road, we use the highway, which is a lot faster and simpler. I still get the girls screaching when trucks pass but it’s become numbing at this point. A quick feed at McDs works wonders as we head back towards the city. Dinner was gonna be at Rockpool Bar & Grill but before that we head to Lygon St, home to a zillion Italian joints. I swear I ate at one of these places when I was 14, on holiday with the family. Anyway, we go inside Brunetti, a very famous Italian Dolce shop that has everything from cannolis to gelato and macarons. It looks alright and it’s also massive. But really, we’re not gonna eat anything. This is just a meeting place for the girls to meet their friend and have dinner on Lygon St whilst the guys grab a beer and meet up with the Luxbite crew to head to Crown Casino. We park outside and walk over into the very posh building and inside the very very dark Rockpool. I’ve got this on/off thing with Rockpool. Neil Perry isn’t my favourite chef. I don’t hate him, I just don’t like the ponytail and the Chinese food. On the other hand, he’s not really cooking all that much. It’s really the guys under him that do and I know a few who have worked there and they’re all pretty cool people. When you walk into the place, the only significantly lighted areas are the meat displays with loads of aged beef and shit and the kitchen itself. The rest is super dark and perfect for evil plotting. Anyway, the menu is this massive A3 sheet of paper with a cow printed on one side. It’s also a big painting on a wall. The menu is nigh unreadable so we pop our phones to see better. I was told this was a burger party so I order the Full Blood Burger for $24. They also offer a Mishima burger at $22. Other people get a pie, a steak, some fish and we share some onion rings. The onion rings were supposed to be good but really, the tomato sauce it came with was good. The burger was alright, pretty big and all and they even ask for preferred doneness. I opted for rare. They said it’s kinda thick blah blah. Rare girl, rare! Ok. I find it isn’t charred or seared enough to my liking. The flavour and toppings are good. The brioche bun is good but the whole is alright. Certainly not worth $24 for me. Dessert was a pavlova and a chocolate tart. The tart is tiny. Like one of those $4 ones you can get at a really nice pastry shop. But it’s $23. Comes with some choc sorbet but it’s $23. It was very nice, with light crispy shell topping and all. But it’s a ridiculous $23. The pavlova was the perfect version of a classic pavlova but it’s $21. This stuff isn’t anywhere close to being worth it. Despite the fact that we had regulars in the party, I felt the service was a little sub standard. I didn’t get asked if I wanted a drink and the waitstaff were a little pushy when putting plates down. Sure most of us were going for the bar menu but still, I got excellent service in a breakfast cafe in the morning. If I’m paying $23 for a tiny tart, I want good service to go with it.

Day 3! Today’s the last day really. We go into the city again. Breakfast is at The Auction Rooms, which is hipster central. I mean, everything from the decor, to the beanie donning, plaid sporting coffee dudes to the Johnny Depp-ish waiter to the crowd and the Bon Iver soundtrack screamed too cool for school. Thankfully, the coffee was good. Again, they had the Candyman from Small Batch but I opted for the other option, some Columbian SO. The food was like yesterday morning, quite awesome indeed. Less British pubfood, more elegant but still big and bold. I got a lamb stew which came with two poached eggs and some flatbread, olives and fetta. The heat from the stew melted the fetta into a gooey mess which you mopped up with the bread. Someone else had brioche with poached quince and complicated sounding but simple tasting anglaise. It think it was supposed to be pear, walnut & espresso but it really tasted like regular anglaise. The dish as a whole went nicely together. The vege option turned out to be braised silverbeet, beetroot relish, poached eggs and toast and it too was very good. The only dish that came close to besting my stew had to be the two strips of Kaiserfleisch encasing a piece of toast and dropped into this creamy onion soup with two poached eggs. The maple glazed fat bacon strips were just too good. On the whole, everything was presented really nicely and the service was superb, for a cafe. Considerably a much better experience than Rockpool last night even if their margins are that much smaller.

The Queen Victoria Market, where every tourist goes to buy macadamias or some shit is closed so we walk towards Flinder’s St and check out the laneways of Melbourne. There’s some nice graffiti on the walls, lots of little lanes and all, tucked away from the main thoroughfares and it’s this bit of urban Melbourne that you can say has a distinct character. There’s guys belting out rhymes on a microphone and a set of speakers over some cool beats and there’s Asian dudes with high shaved sides and ponytails sipping coffees. It comes off feeling quite alright. Hip to the core and so cool, I feel like I’m out of it all at last. The one thing I felt most was how much realer it felt compared to Sydney. Maybe it’s cos I was on holiday and going to all the cool places but there’s just something about Melbourne. Maybe it’s the trams and the hook turns and the people getting off in the middle of the road. Maybe it’s the multitude of great, not just good coffeeshops and cafes. Maybe it’s the myriad amount of low to mid end dining options that astounds. Maybe it’s the State Library of Victoria, which is splendid, inside and out. There’s a big grassy lawn with people laying about. Inside the architecture is a seamless blend of old and new, with the wonderful La Trobe reading room right in the middle. I wished I coulda spent time in places like these when I was in uni. We saw a Ned Kelly exhibition as well as some other stuff about Melbourne’s history in general but I’ll be honest and say I didn’t read shit. Just looked at stuff and moved on. Opposite the library is one of the RMIT buildings, Building 8, which is covered with some green shit. It looks funny but much of Melbourne feels the same, just more colourful and more fun.

Lunchtime is MoVida time. It’s right near Federation Square and it’s in an alley where the walls are all painted over and stuff and their signboard isn’t immediately obvious. Thankfully iPhones work well in this regards and we find ourselves seated in a rather inviting interior. Chic, modern but not uberly hipster, MoVida does tapas. So there’s a few parts to the menu. The tapas you can order in ones. Like you say you want three of these or five of them or even just one is fine. The raciones, are little shared plates that run from small to big. Then there’s specials and other stuff too which the Asian waiter rattles off too fast for me to remember. We start with some bread and I get a glass of Paco & Lola Albarino (stone fruit, quaff status, delicious) and it’s quite good. The first thing to arrive is the squid ink croquettes, lightly crumbed, sat on some aioli, micro basil and draped round with a ribbon of squid with some black salt to top. It was sublime. Really good shit. The cerdo, some crumbed pork with garlic and a pickled chilli confirmed that again. Then they brought out a single serve of pollo escabeche, like a spicy chicken mayo sandwich filling placed between two thin croutes. Next up was the cold smoked Spanish mackerel, which came in a tiny little cast iron pot with a lid. When they lifted it, the smoke spilled out and you see this little slice of translucent mackerel along with pine nut sorbet and pint nuts. I’m gonna go ahead and guess they used the smoking gun with this one. Even though I only got a tiny bite, I thought this was superb. The last tapa was some salt cod/potato fritters with a lemon emulsion. Again, just beautiful. Halfway as the tapas came round, we got the plateful of slow cooked baby leeks with butter and garlic, super simple yet super delicious. The last thing we got was some wagyu tartare, a spicy variation served with a tiny quail’s yolk and a generous number of wafer thin croutes. The tartare was clean, well seasoned and just bang up good. Actually, MoVida was just awesomesauce. We pop into Outre gallery and I ogle the shit by Heisuke Kitazawa and Kozyndan but buy nothing.

After this, I sent my housemates off to the airport, they’re gonna have the easy option home. Me, I’m staying a few more days and driving solo. Hehe.

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