Friday, August 31, 2012

NICE BUNS @ Wonderbao

  The Fried Silky Tofu Gua Bao and Choi Bao

 In typical Melbourne fashion, Wonderbao is a neat little servery, tucked down cobble-stoned Literature Lane. I was keen to try some Chinese food that wasn’t super-fine dining, but wasn’t your run of the mill, beef and blackbean, sweet-and-sour pork style venue either, and Wonderbao seems to fill this gap by adding a Chinese flavour to the easy eating food trends we're seeing right now. They are also the first Melbourne eatery that I’ve heard of that are jumping onto the boa train that is really taking off in the US.

Wonderbao's set up is pretty cute with its stamped steamers and clip-board menus. The venue itself is quite intimate with only one bench to eat on and a handful of stools - although this probably isn’t a huge issue though because the food is quite take-away friendly and comes out quite fast. You can also see the goings on in the kitchen, which suits the casual vibe of the place. The staff serving us were pretty relaxed and didn’t mind explaining to a uncultured white person (that was me!!) the deal with the buns. They also played some tasty beats, so extra points for that. 


I ended up ordering the choi bao with shiitake mushrooms, tofu and vegies (pictured above) and the fried silky tofu gua bao. The choi bao was good and hearty (although it was a little plain) but I really enjoyed the tofu gua boa, which was beautifully presented in its little cardboard container and tasted fresh and light. I’m not really in to doughy foods, so I didn’t looove the buns, but the gua boa was a pleasant surprise (kind of what you'd get if you crossed an asian taco with a pancake), and was really, really tasty, bursting with colour while the tofu inside was well cooked and nicely textured. 

My friend ordered two of 'da pork boa'. She demolished them and told me they were ‘just like Grandma used to make’ which was nice because she grew up in China. These little boas are carb-loaded and super stodgy, but I wish I’d had room for a sweeter, dessert style one.

Much like my post on Fonda with the horchata, I particularly liked how Wonderbao had a drinks fridge filled with a variety of ‘F.O.B Drinks’ (their words, not mine) which kind of added to the Chinese experience and gave me the opportunity to try a cold lemon tea which I probably wouldn’t have sampled normally- it was delicious. They continued with the theme with cups of warmed soy milk, which I hadn't tried before and ordered but didn’t really dig. I think I really just needed a coffee.  

The prices here are really, really reasonable, almost too reasonable, and because of this, it will be hard to hold yourself back. The bao's rang from $1.70 to $3.80, which is crazy good.  Despite only having two serves each, both of us were stuffed by the time we left so it’s probably a good idea to pace yourself as you enjoy your little buns.

Wonderbao is a great little place to visit if you find yourself hungry and with a couple of gold coins in the CBD. The menu is succinct, but sufficient and I would say that most people would be happy with the choice of boa's on offer. It would be great to see some extending to the menu, but Wonderboa's team is doing a great job at introducing their wonderboa's to Melbourne.

I had wanted to go to Wonderbao for a few weeks before I finally made it but each time I tried, neither google maps or iPhone could find it. It might have been super easy for some people, but if you struggled like I did, I found the best way to get there was via little LaTrobe Street, and down Literature Lane where you can see Wonderbao from the end of the street. It’s super close to RMIT and Melbourne Central, but as Literature Lane is reletively new, I don’t think it’s appearing on many online maps.   


Shop 4/ 19-37 A'Beckett Street 


(Enter via Literature lane, off little Latrobe)

Good for: A quick and easy lunch or snack while in the city. They open from 8am, so I suppose you could visit Wonderbao for a quick and easy breakfast, if you like, too.
Vegetarians: Are catered for with a couple of options on a pretty small menu.
Wait time: We nabbed some stools by the window at around 2pm on Wednesday. It was quiet, but got busy and then went quiet again, so I think the crowds come in waves.
Food waiting time: Minimal- probably about 5 minutes. 
Cost: At $2 + $3.80 for my two buns and $2.80 + $1.60 for drinks, my total sat at $10.20 - a new Record for Poor Student Eats!

Wonderbao on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Naked for Satan was a name I had heard flying around for a long time before I dragged my two friends in last week. On entering, you can see the menu, sitting on trays by the bar and it quickly becomes clear why the Brunswick Street locale has become such a popular venue.

 My first impression was that Naked for Satan is a cross between a drinking hall and a buffet-style picnic. There are no menus, and no table service. The deal is that you select which ever little pintxos (you call them ‘pinchos’) you like from the trays on the front counter. A little research afterwards told me that this is actually Spanish inspired eating, and pintxos are Spanish style finger food, like tapas, that are intended to accompany a drink. 

 Each pintxos sits on a slice of baguette, and the fillings consist of a cold selection of cheese, vegetable and some meat or seafood-based options. There is also the option to select from the-fresh-out-of-the-oven pinxtos that staff carry on trays to each table. These ones are the best, so don’t fill up on bread, but it would have been great if they had a couple more 'hot' options on the night we visited.  Because there are so many great variations, NFS will appeal to both meat-eaters and vegetarians, hopefully providing the opportunity for both to try something new.  You can also sample the dessert style pintxos, like the blueberry cannoli and the chocolate truffle.

   Our favourites were; the Squid Ink Risoni with Grilled Calamari, Cauliflower with Manouri Cheese & Garlic Prawn, Seafood with Prawn & Capsicum, Chorizo, Cream Cheese & Green Chilli, the Tortilla with Aioli, Smoked Chicken & Corn Relish and the Eggplant chip with Blue Cheese & Honey.

The premise of the venue is that everything available to eat comes with a toothpick in it, and when you’ve had your fill, you bring these toothpicks to the counter and pay. Having never been there before, we were lucky that we arrived on a Monday night where each toothpick costs $1, instead of the usual $2. Later I learnt that this is a Monday - Wednesday dinner thing (Monday to Friday for lunch, 12pm- 4pm), with the price increasing towards the weekend. There is no beating $1 pintxos!


I did enjoy Naked for Satan. The guys working were friendly and attentive, making sure we knew what the deal was with the place. The bar’s vibes were good and casual with a young, but not too young crowd. Naked for Satan is quite large, so space was plentiful which is kind of what you want on a Monday night, and we found a table right away. At about 7pm, the place wasn’t packed, but wasn’t empty either which made it easy to duck to and forth from the bar.

All in all, Naked for Satan makes for an interesting dining experience, and it was unlike anywhere I had been before, which we liked. If you are going out with the expectation of a hot meal, then there are better places to go on Brunswick Street. But for us, the smallish feed before we went to see a friend's gig was perfect, especially because of the self serve policy at NFS which meant were never going to have to wait for our food. Realistically, in comparison to a restaurant, the food is not that great, but the selection and range of pintxos available means that it out-does almost any other bar and is a must-visit if you are visiting Melbourne.



285 Brunswick St

Good for: Cheap dinners or light eating, catching up with big or small groups of friends or smaller dates. Although I didn’t drink, I can imagine it would be a really good place to meet before a big night, as the bar seemed really well stocked and they also had their own infused vodka mixes sitting on the bar. Naked for Satan also has plans for a rooftop bar, which opens this November, just in time for summer. They have a tumblr documenting its progress here.
Vegetarians: Will be able to eat well- the vegetarian selections are just as substantial as the meat-options.
Wait time: We walked straight in without issue around 7pm on Monday
Food waiting time: Nil.
Cost: As I ate 10 pintxos and got a non-alcholic drink, I paid around $13. Cheapest dinner so far!

Naked For Satan on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


I'm all for hitting the town hard on Friday and Saturday nights, but I'm going to be honest and tell you that I'd much rather wake up fresh faced and early so that I can sink a million lattes in a cafe and not feel like I've wasted the day. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen too often and usually by the time I wake, brunch time is over. Last Sunday however, was the exception and my friend Antonia and I visited Manhattan in Toorak Village for an early morning breakfast. I hadn't been here before but it always looks busy when I drive past on my way to work, so I was kind of keen to check it out.

 Without being chaotic or child-ridden, Manhattan on a Sunday morning is a busy place, but we got a table out the front and arrived just before the real breakfast crowd hit around 10am. We kept it simple by ordering smoked salmon bagels (The 'Lox on Bagel') and avocado and goats cheese on toast- pretty classic breakfast dishes. I was pleased to see that they didn't skimp on the salmon and my meal was just as I would have wished, but made better with the accompanying lemon and rocket. 

The staff were cheery and upbeat, which is always a winner- even if they brought out our coffee after we'd received our food, which is probably my biggest peeve in a cafe. But the guys serving us were friendly and fun, which is nice during their brisk Sunday morning trade.

All in all, brunch at Manhattan was a pleasant experience. The biggest qualm I have with the place is that the menu wasn't exciting and I didn’t get that nice little feeling of anticipation that I like to get when I order (this probably sounds really sad, but look, I just really love eating). I know that this isn’t the most substantial of issues, and for an area like Toorak, keeping Manhattan’s menu as a conservative one probably works well. However, Manhattan is an upmarket 'eggs and bacon' eatery. They are catering for the 'classic' breakfast experience, which makes it hard if you are vegetarian. Vegans on the other hand- don't even bother, unless you're willing to make some serious adjustments to dishes as almost everything has eggs, cheese or meat in it.

Although I wasn't dissatisfied with my meal at Manhattan, the experience did make me think about eating out for breakfast, and I realised that the more that I go out for breakfast and brunch, the more I've come to expect something a little different to choose from, instead of a dish I could create myself at home.

I do see Melbourne as a town that thrives on ‘food surprises’ and I’ve come to appreciate, and rely on creativity in a menu- especially as vegetarianism and to some degree, veganism are now no longer considered unusual. Now, it's almost a basic requirement now to cater for these eaters in a way that is both filling and interesting, instead of resorting to making substitutes within a classic breakfast fry up. We noticed this particularly here, as I have been avoiding meat since my jaunt to Huxtaburger, and my friend doesn't eat eggs which gave us some serious limitations when trying to make a selection.

But perhaps (actually, there is no doubt) I am spoilt for choice in Melbourne, and if you're looking for a classic breakfast experience I can recommend mornings at Manhattan to you.



Good for: Family breakfasts, coffee and 'the bacon and eggs' experience.
Vegetarians: Should be fine, but you won't find anything super innovative for you. Vegans, don't bother- there are better places to eat.
Wait time: We walked straight in without issue around 9.30.
Food waiting time: Maybe 20 minutes- not bad as the restaurant was filling as we arrived, but our coffees did arrive after our meals.
Cost: I paid $19.50 for a latte and my salmon bagels. My friend paid $18.50 for latte and avocado and goats cheese on grain.

Manhattan Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 17, 2012

SOUTH EATS @ Hanoi Hannah

I'd been looking forward to visiting Prahran's Hanoi Hannah for while before I made the trip in with two of my friends last week. Not having been to South East Asia, most of my experience with Vietnamese food is limited to cheap phở restaurants on Swanston street, so I was keen to see how this young restaurant had jazzed up Vietnamese fair.  It turns out that I was right to be, and the people behind Hanoi Hannah should be proud of their innovative take on Vietnamese food, modern and contemporary with some western touches.

The Tofu Sliders: I could feel some pretty fierce food envy coming from my eating companions

Hanoi Hannah’s menu was one of those where everything reads as amazing, so I settled on two dishes. The first were the tofu sliders, as above. Sliders are an American thing, mini hamburgers that I hadn't had since I was in Hawaii early this year. Arriving as a pair, they were delicious and looked adorable, too good to eat.. almost. The tofu had been cooked so that it was crunchy and was well complimented by the mayonnaise and salad within the bun. Honestly, if you're going to make the trip in to Hanoi Hannah, get the sliders. They also have a pork belly version if meat is more your thing. The second dish was the chilli squid, which came lightly seasoned and not too chewy, as squid can sometimes be. It was a little bland, but to be fair, was just what I ordered.

The perfect amount for a light dinner

My friend ordered the tofu salad with basil and tomato. I tried some of the tofu, and like the sliders, it was deliciously crunchy, similar to the texture of a hot chip. My other friend settled on a Vietnamese classic, phở for his meal which arrived with the token side plate of Vietnamese mint and bean shoots. Phở doesn’t shoot very well, but it always smells great and was a good choice for a winter night. I read after our visit that this phở is MSG free, which is good to know, considering I didn't know phở and MSG mixed regularly. Hmm.

We arrived at Hanoi Hannah at 6pm on a Wednesday night, and the restaurant had only just started filling up. Pretty soon into our meals though, it got busy, the bar was packed and all the previously empty outside tables had been filled - this should be a pretty good indication as Melbourne was freezing last week, yet there was a whole crowd of people ready and willing to brave the weather and eat outside.

The tofu salad

Staff were friendly and attentive, popping over every so often to make sure we were okay. It was also nice to have table service, which after the last few restaurants, I'd kind of missed. All in all, I thought it was a great place to go for an easy dinner with one or two friends- any more and I think you would be pretty cramped, but it was perfect for the three of us. The venue's vibe was upbeat and lively and the music fitting, but not too loud to have a conversation. 

It may be just off Chapel street, but the crowd are low maintenance and the prices more then fair for an area that makes quite a lot of money from not amazing food. All up, I was really impressed. Hanoi Hannah was well fitted in to my budget, and the food was refreshingly interesting. I work on Chapel Street, so it's always a pleasant surprise when something a little left of centre pops up. The popularity that we witnessed shows that even though it’s just celebrated its six month birthday, I wasn’t the only one still keen to enjoy this Prahran gem. 




Good for: Small groups of friends, dates, easy and quick dinners or lunches.
Vegetarian Options: Are well represented and are balanced out alongside meaty dishes.
Wait time: We arranged to meet at 6pm on a Wednesday night and had a table as soon as we walked in to what felt like a quaint little restaurant and bar. By 6.30, it was packed, there were people waiting at the bar and outside.
Food Waiting time: Not long with the food arriving around 15 minutes after ordering. Dinner all up, probably took a little under an hour.
Cost: Each dish cost around $10. I got a small amount of change from my $20 for my two dishes. The salad was around $12, and the phở was $10.

Hanoi Hannah on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

MEX-WE-CAN @ Fonda Mexican

A friend of mine had raved about Fonda for a while, and as I hail from the eastern suburbs, I'm a big fan of any place that means I don't have to travel across town to eat. So, on Sunday night, we hit up this fun little Richmond cantina.

I'm not so into fashion 'trends' but I love food 'trends' and Mexican is peaking in Melbourne right now. I remember reading an article a few years ago on food trends, which used the then-current example of how Mexican was everywhere in New York. I found that really hard to believe; what could be done with burritos, nachos and tacos that hadn't already? Since then, I've learned that Mexican cuisine is a lot more expansive then those three menu items, and that they are just the tip of the iceberg. 

Icy horchata made the meal 

Now however, Melbourne has well and truly embraced the innovations within Mexican cuisine.
What was once associated with soggy nachos and stodgy enchiladas, has become a food-style based around fresh ingredients and easy eating. One article even termed Melbourne's version of Mexican food as 'Mel-Mex'. It's easy to see why we've taken to it; the small sizes of each dish, and the shareable nature of Mexican also means the price isn't out of the question for most people. Fonda, which sits somewhere between Mamasita and Touche Hombre, is the perfect place to begin exploring the new wave in Mexican food.

Perhaps it was the effects of a big weekend, but my friend and I weren't particularly daring when it came to selecting our meal. I've heard good things about Fonda's kangaroo burritos, but as I'm back on the (pescatarian) wagon that wasn't going to happen. I settled with one of the fish tacos, and a pickled cactus quesadila. The tacos were really, really good. Fresh, crumbed fish and light mix of chipotle aioli, carrot, onion and cabbage and left you feeling keen and ready for more, probably like a good taco should. At $6 each, I have no regrets.

Ordering more out of curiosity then from the heart, the pickled cactus quesadilla reminded me of a Mexican version of pizza. Although it was hearty, with lots of cheese, beans, tomato salsa and some background spice, it was tasty, but wasn't as exciting as I might have hoped. I still wish I'd ordered the corn, at only $3.50 it was super cheep and looked delicious covered in cheese.

My favourite part of the meal though, was the fact they serve Horchata. Horchata is a Mexican drink, similar to a very lightly spiced milk, that I had had once before with Mexican friends in Japan. It manages to be both refreshing without being super sweet and should you have hit the chilli bottle too hard, takes the edge of any spice in your meal. Horchata is delicious and if you like cinnamon, I highly recommend you order one here too, but they also have Jarritos soda, which are cute. 

As somewhere to hang out with a close friend for a casual meal, I really liked Fonda. It wasn't too loud to have a conversation, and the 'vibe' was casual and easy. There was no pushing us out the door, even though the food arrived not long after we ordered. I also appreciated the size of the restaurant, not awkwardly small or dauntingly large, and each table has a good amount of its own space. The staff were also friendly, and food came out quickly, which made it the perfect Sunday night eatery.

These tacos are the best thing I've spent $6 on in a long time. 

248 Swan Street

Good for; Meeting with friends, dates (depending how busy it gets on the night you are in), catching up for dinner before a gig or going out, take away or a quick bite.
Vegetarian options: Are there, but aren't as expansive as you'd hope.
Wait time: For seating, we walked straight inside to a table at around 6.30 on a Sunday night.
Food Waiting time: Not long at all, less then 10 minutes.
Cost: I think I paid about $22.00 for the taco, horchata and the quesadilla. Although it did exceed the $20 I usually set aside for meals, I really, really loved that they had horchata. Despite the Mexican-food invasion in Melbourne over the last year or so, Fonda are the first Mexican joint that I have seen serving it and I  appreciated this dedication to Mexican eating.

Fonda Mexican on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 12, 2012


To go with the burger theme we're running with right now, I thought I'd start things of with one of Melbourne's dude food friendly eateries, Huxtaburger.  

 Chef and owner of Huxtaburger and Huxtable, Daniel Wilson is obviously a big Cosby Show fan. When ordering your burger, you can choose from; the Denise, the Rudy, the Huxtaburger or the Bills.  I thought this was the greatest idea ever.

I must have been the last person in Melbourne to get to Huxtaburger on Smith Street, and my short-lived pescaterianism was halted when I made a visit to the burger bar a few days ago. It's a good budget-friendly alternative to Huxtaburger's older brother restaurant Huxtable, which sits watching a very loyal crowd pile into the burger bar from across the road.

Huxtaburger exemplifies the 'dude food' movement that is currently lining Melbournes' stomachs, and I wasn't disappointed. This is THE place to go for a serious intake of iron, and you're going to feel it for a good few hours afterwards. Sure, they may appear all fancy with their brioche buns and wagyu patties, but that's where the wankiness ends, and the classic burger appears in all it's juicy, calorific glory.

 'The Theo'

Not wanting to half-ass the experience, I ordered the 'Theo', which goes the whole way with two beef patties, bacon and cheese on a fantastically orange brioche bun. I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to call a burger 'amazing' but I've certainly had my share of bad ones, and the Theo was pretty great. Without being excessively oily, the wagyu patties were fat and juicy, and had just enough cheese, bacon and barbeque sauce to keep the classic burger combination interesting. The crinkle cut chips (how retro!) were really good; just enough crunch to make a satisfying side. My friend got the eateries namesake menu item, 'The Huxtaburger' which is the restaurant's take on the classic burger, and although she had trouble eating it (I love watching people struggle with food), she seemed to dig hers a lot too.

I'm not sure if my photos truly capture how wonderful these burgers looked when they arrived (forgive me, I'm still practicing) but I'm not exaggerating; they are the burgers you dream about when you get crazy, insatiably hungry. I think I even took a picture for my instagram account- they looked that good. Make no mistake, in the flesh, these burgers are beautiful things.  

Staff were surprisingly friendly for peak hour in this popular and hip Melbourne eatery. The wait time for a table wasn't long for 6.30 on a Tuesday night, I think we were there for about five minutes before something came up outside. However, by the time we left, people were falling out of the shop, and lining up against the outside window because there wasn't enough room to wait inside. Once we'd ordered, we had a short, but not too short wait for our meals.

'The Huxtaburger' came perfectly stacked. 

All up, I paid $17.50 for the burger, a small chips and coke. Realistically, $17 is a lot to pay for a burger and fries, but the meat was delicious, the vibe was easy and if i can get change from a crisp 20, I'm really not complaining. By themselves, the burgers range from $8- $11.
106 Smith Street, Collingwood

Cost: $17.50
Table waiting time: Less then 10 minutes.
Food waiting time: Around 15 minutes.
Good for: Catching up with friends, dates with long term partners (don't come here on a first date, no one looks sexy manovering a burger around their mouth) or a quick bite by yourself if you get in early. As there is no meat-free burger option, your vegetarian or vegan friends probably won't like this place as much as I did, unless their eating morals are as flaky as my own.

Huxtaburger on Urbanspoon