Saturday, 28 July 2012

Review - Sonex Cafe

Friday, 16th March 2012    (visit 1)
Thursday, 19th April 2012 (visit 2)

Sonex Cafe
324-326 King Street 

Cuisine: Vietnamese, Asian, Western Breakfast

Taste Rating: 7.5/10   Value Rating: 7.5/10

Sonex Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sonex Cafe looks like a milkbar. From the outside, it looks dark on the inside. Most people probably hurry past this place at the corner of King Street and La Trobe Street. The menu pasted on the front window gives a clue that they serve food. Looking in through the windows, there are people seated at the tables at lunch times.

Not knowing what to expect, we went for lunch on a Friday, our first visit. The menu is basic and sits on the top of the counter. There are a few photos of the food decorating the front of one of the counters. There are a few tables,  mainly for two persons, but can be combined. It looks like a family run business and the people are friendly and helpful.

The menu has Vietnamese dishes but also what looks like Malaysian and Chinese dishes. There are 10 'cooked to order' main dishes on the menu, plus rice/noodle combinations from the bain-marie. There are also salads, sandwiches, party pies, quiches and sausage rolls.

We ordered Laksa and Beef Salad with Vermicelli.

What a surprise! The Laksa had beautiful colours (see photo) and tasted great! It could probably be called a Malaysian curry laksa. The Beef Salad with Vermicelli was tasty, with nice slices of beef.

Happy with the food, we came back for a second visit the following month, with a third person. We ordered Beef Noodle Soup, Chicken Curry and Beef with noodles (from the bain-maree) and Crab Meat Noodles.

The Beef Noodle Soup turned out to be Beef Pho. It was good.  One of the mint varieties used for the pho was Cinnamon Mint (Shiso family); the taste may suit others but I found it bitter.

The Chicken Curry and Beef were selected from the pre-cooked food in the bain-marie. These tasted quite ordinary.

I had high hopes of the Crab Meat noodles. I ordered this from one of the photos pasted under the counter; this dish was not on the printed menu. The crab meat was not easy to distinguish in the broth. It seemed to be in a mince-type omelette. This wasn't a memorable dish.

Overall, we will come back to try the other dishes, as well as order the curry laksa, beef vermicelli and beef pho again. This is a simple, unpretentious place with a few gems on the menu at reasonable prices. Worth keeping in mind for lunch times.



Beef Salad with Vermicelli

Beef Noodle Soup (Pho)

Cinnamon Mint from the Beef Pho

Chicken Curry and Beef with Noodles

Crab Meat Noodles
Inside the Cafe

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Review - Aloi Na!

Monday, 27th Feb 2012

Aloi Na
61 Hardware Lane 

Cuisine: Thai, Asian

Taste Rating: 7/10   Value Rating: 7/10

Aloi Na on Urbanspoon

It was a drizzly and humid day with a maximum temperature of 30 deg C. High humidity is not the norm in Melbourne where summers are very hot but tend to be dry. We were in Hardware Lane  looking for a place to have lunch.

Hardware Lane has a stretch of restaurants which sit shoulder to shoulder. Most of the restaurants here have outdoor as well as indoor dining.  A common sight is  city workers lunching under the outdoor umbrellas or awnings. Several restaurants have spruikers in the lane touting for business from pedestrians.

We walked down Hardware Lane and popped our heads into a few restaurants while trying to pick a restaurant. For some reason, most of the restaurants were uncomfortably hot inside. Were they caught unawares with the hot humid weather or did the air-conditioning in Hardware Lane break down en masse? 

We finally decided on Aloi Na, for no particular reason. The restaurant was stifling inside so we picked a table under the outside umbrellas. The wait staff were dressed in black uniforms and seemed lethargic, presumably due to the heat. Our waiter had sweat running down his face! Overall service was slow, especially when it came time to pay as no one could be found at the cash register and after waiting a long time, I finally had to go and look for someone to take our payment. Was it because it was a Monday? Our waiter, however, was helpful enough when required during the meal.

The menu consists of Thai dishes but also has Indonesian, Indian, Japanese, Malaysian and Chinese dishes. There is the risk of an identity crisis with too diverse a range in a small menu. Or it could be a good attempt to please as many people as possible!

We ordered  Lamb Lemongrass with Jasmine Rice and Thai Fried Rice with Chicken.

The Lamb Lemongrass was tasty. The sauce had a medium chilli hotness. The lemongrass flavour was too subtle, however. You could only taste the lemongrass if you actually bit into a piece of the lemongrass. 

The Thai Fried Rice was not savoury enough for a Thai dish. There were big slices of chicken which were good. However, the vegetables were cut too chunky for a fried rice, with big pieces of carrots. You could get away with slices of meat but big crunchy pieces of vegetables sit oddly in a fried rice. The slices of cucumber and tomatoes as garnishes at the side were okay.

Overall, the dishes we ordered would be more suited to someone looking for a more Westernised taste. So while the prices were not overly expensive for a restaurant meal, you would feel let down if you were after a more authentic Thai taste. To be fair, we have tried only two dishes and the menu does have other Thai dishes. Then there are the dishes from other countries, as well, if that is your preference.

Hardware Lane

Aloi Na!

Lunch Menu

Page 1

Page 2

Lamb Lemongrass with Jasmine Rice

Thai Fried Rice with Chicken

Window looking into Aloi Na!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Review - Malaysian Kitchen

Saturday, 25th Feb 2012

Malaysian Kitchen
910-912 Doncaster Road 
Doncaster East

Cuisine: Malaysian, Asian

Taste Rating: 7.5/10   Value Rating: 7.5/10

Malaysian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Malaysian Kitchen is beside busy Doncaster Road. We went for a very early dinner, walking in as the door opened at 5.30 pm. Parking was easy to find as there was a car park around the corner at the Jackson Court Shopping Centre, and also street parking in front of the restaurant.

We didn't have a booking but being early there was no problem getting a table. At this early time on a Saturday, there were about five tables of diners which would roughly be about 1/3 of the downstairs dining area.

The menu has a large number of dishes. The restaurant is called Malaysian Kitchen therefore, as expected, the majority of the dishes are Malaysian  - Satays, Curry Puffs, Lobak, Hainanese Chicken Rice, Laksa, Nonya dishes, Malay curries, Malaysian Indian Rotis, Nasi Lemak, Bak Kut The,  assam dishes, balachan (or belacan) dishes, different types of Malaysian fried noodles, dishes with curry leaves, dishes using pandan leaves and so on. This is the first place I have seen  Sarawak Tomato Kway Teow on the menu; this is like Char Ho Fun/Sar Ho Fun/Wat Tan Hor, but instead of the cloudy scrambled egg gravy, it comes in a tomato scrambled egg gravy. 

The menu also has a variety of dishes from other Asian countries. Malaysian cuisine has similarities with cuisines from these countries and there are cross-cuisine influences (Alright, I made up the word cross-cuisine!)  There are dishes from Thailand (Green Curry, Thai Chilli Fish, Pad Thai, Tom Yum Noodles, Thai Fried Vermicelli), Indonesia (Gado Gado) and China (Duck Sang Choy Bow, Kung Poh Chicken, Peking Duck, Sizzling Beef), to name a few.

We ordered Pandan Scallops, Spicy Calamari and Balachan Kang Kong.

I really liked the Pandan Scallops. The scallops were large, plump and juicy. They were in a crispy batter made of oats, which is a popular style in Malaysia. Fried fresh cut chillies were scattered over this dish. For a fried dish, it was not oily. There was a side serve of fresh lettuce instead of the pickled vegetables which was listed on the menu. A very nice dish at a reasonable price of $18.00.

The Spicy Calamari was also in a crispy batter and not as oily as you would expect. This dish can be overly salty in other restaurants but not here. In a nice touch, fried curry leaves were mixed into this dish, giving it a nice spicy fragrance.

The Kang Kong was a big serve of young vegetables with crunchy stems. There was a good sambal flavour. Sambal or balachan is a traditional Malaysian prawn paste. It is also a common ingredient in Indonesian dishes. The Kang Kong dish was not chilli hot, which is a surprise as sambal aficionados look for a chilli kick in their sambal dishes.

Overall, we were satisfied with the food and will come back to try the other dishes. There is a good variety of Malaysian dishes in the menu, enough for a few trips back.

Front of the Restaurant

Menu with simple logo

Menu - Pandan Scallops

Menu - Spicy Calamari

Menu -  Kang Kong

Pandan Scallops

Balachan Kang Kong

With a generous sized bowl of rice

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Salmon XO Sauce

Hi Everyone,

Wandering around Woolworths, I came across this sauce in the Asian food section.  Salmon XO Sauce. Made in Australia by ilovesushi. A good name for the iPhone era!

It is one of my favourites! It is yum on just about any savoury dish. I even put it on pan- fried Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon - salmon on salmon! Also great on omelettes. Or as a dip. It can even be used as a sandwich spread.

Salmon XO Sauce has a rich taste, like seafood, but not fishy like fish sauce. It is slightly sweet with a mild chilliness. There is a generous 63% Salmon in the sauce, according to the ingredients list. The salmon is finely cut (or pounded) with almost the texture of pork floss (if you are more familiar with pork floss). It sits in a layer of oil in the jar.  The sauce colour is a rich deep red.

At around AUD7.00, this sauce in the little jar stretches far!

Front Label

The sharp-eyed reader would have noticed that
Protein, Fat, Carbs and Soduim
add up to 120.8g per 100g serve!

Serving Suggestions


Review - China Red

Friday, 24th Feb 2012

China Red
Shop 6
206 Bourke Street,

Cuisine: Chinese

Taste Rating: 7.5/10   Value Rating: 7.5/10

China Red on Urbanspoon

This is my second touch screen restaurant in the last couple of months. China Red is in an arcade between Bourke Street and Little Bourke St. It is next to Jalan Alor, a Malaysian restaurant which I have been to several times. 

China Red is usually busy at lunch times therefore we made a booking. The place was busy when we arrived just before 12.30pm . The touch screen was mounted on the wall beside our table. It was quite easy to use the menu to look for dishes and order. There is a photo of each dish and it was reasonably easy to navigate through the different steps.

A tip for the unwary. 'Are you sure you want to take this order?' is not just a polite message on the screen! Once you select the Yes tick, the order for that dish is transmitted immediately to the kitchen, as we found to our surprise! We were still looking for the submit button at the end when the dishes started arriving at the table. So, be warned that you are ordering each dish as you select it, and not at the end, as the touch screen system does not wait until you have selected all dishes.

We ordered Shanghai stir-fried noodles, Chicken in Szehuan chilli and Yangzhou marinated Duck. 

The Shanghai noodles were tasty and had a nice texture. The sauce was sweet which may not be to everyone's liking. I would have liked move vegetables in the noodles. Also, there was a small amount of meat, which is fairly typical of this type of noodles.

The Chicken in Szehuan chilli wasn't as tasty.  The gravy was thick and seemed to have a lot of corn flour. The flavour was a mix of sour, sweet and salty.

The Yangzhou marinated duck had a caramel tasting sauce. The meat was lean. It is a cold dish so may not suit all tastes.

Overall, there is a large variety of food on the menu and I would like to try a few more dishes. The touch screens are a novelty the first time but are also convenient for regulars especially if you don't need to ask questions about the dishes.

China Red
With Jalan Alor sign reflected (backwards)

Nice Impromptu Pose!

Making Dumplings

Menu - Touch Screen on the Wall


'Are you sure you want to take this order?'
Select the Yes tick and the dish order
is transmitted immediately to the kitchen

Menu - Chicken in Szechuan Chilli

Menu - Yangzhou Marinated Duck

Shanghai stir-fried Noodles

Chicken in Szechuan Chilli

Yangzhou marinated duck.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Review - Yami Yami

Saturday, 11th Feb 2012

Yami Yami
1D Bank Street,
Box Hill

Cuisine: Korean

Taste Rating: 7.5/10   Value Rating: 7.5/10

Yami Yami on Urbanspoon

I am guessing many people seldom venture down to this part of Box Hill which is away from the main shopping centre. The location is a small strip of shops in a quiet street facing the railway line, near the Station Street pedestrian underpass. We found ourselves there very late on a Saturday afternoon, after doing some shopping. Standing facing these shops, we saw there were a couple of small eating places. Which one should we go to? On a whim, we went into Yami Yami.

It was quiet when we entered and we easily got a table. Later, the other tables started filling up fast, probably for an early dinner. Several diners seemed to be regulars as they knew exactly what they wanted to order, with several sharing hot pots cooking on portable stoves on the table.

I did not know anything about this place and had no pre-conceived ideas before dining here.  It was one of those occasions when you don't expect much, especially given the hidden location, complete with an abandoned atmosphere and the odd grafitti. To my surprise, Yami Yami served good food.

The first indication was the menu itself. The physical appearance of the menu was better than those at some larger restaurnants - glossy, good photographs, quality material, clean.

We ordered Hot Pot Bibimbap, Spicy Squid on Hot Plate, Seafood Pancake and Haemul Tang (seafood in spicy soup in hot pot).

We were happy with all these dishes. The standout for me was the fabulous Seafood Pancake. It was a huge pancake filled with tasty seafood. The bibimbap was about average, especially for the price. The spicy squid was not bad and there was a generous amount. The spicy seafood soup was really good with a variety of seafood and mushrooms, including crab legs sticking out of the soup to give it interest.

The service was alright, with the waiters helpful in answering questions and obligingly fetching items when requested. The place is small but tidy and clean.

Overall, a surprisingly good eating place in an unexpected location. The portions are a good size, the food is attractively presented and most of the prices are reasonable. If I find myself near here again, I will be happy to try more dishes, maybe one of the shared hot pots.



Menu - Bibimbap

Menu - Haemul Tang

Menu - Seafood Pancake


Seafood Pancake

Spicy Squid on Hot Plate

Haemung Tang

Rice in a metal bowl,
Preserved Condiments & Bean Sprouts

Other Diners
Place filled up quickly