Sunday, 5 May 2013

Review - The Ivy

The Ivy
540 Mount Dandenong Tourist Road

Cuisine: Italian
Taste Rating: 7/10   Value Rating: 6.5/10

Sat, 4 May 2013

The Ivy on Urbanspoon

Another lovely spring day in the Dandenong Mountains. We went for a drive up the winding mountain road lined with autumn foliage of reds and yellows highlighting the green. Stopped for a late lunch at The Ivy, situated literally at the corner of Mount Dandenong Tourist Road and Olinda-Monbulk Road. First impression was good. A cottage style white and blue building. 

 Entrance facing Olinda-Monbulk Road.

 Entrance facing Mount Dandenong Tourist Road.

Walking in from the crisp air, we felt the warmth from the open fireplace on one side of the dining area. On the other side of the dining area were two rows of tables, with tables placed closed together within each row. The waitress seated us at one of these tables. I was wondering if the tables near the open fireplace were "closed" as only one table was occupied and the others stayed empty while we were dining there.  One waitress told us that these empty tables were reserved but we could sit on the couch area. Another waitress told us that the open fireplace area "is open all the time" but they fill up the rows of tables on the other side first as "it is easier for us to serve". It seems a pity to leave this cosy area empty while filling up the other half of the dining area, especially as both sections are right next to each other in the small dining area. Dining is about the ambiance as well as the food.

Cosy Fire on a Crisp Autumn Day. 
Other side of dining area.
View out the window of Olinda-Monbulk Road and shops

The menu looked good, especially the wood-fire terracotta pot dishes. However, these were only available after 6 pm. I was going to order the seafood pasta linguini, one of my  favourite pasta dishes. However, the waitress pointed out that this too was available after 6 pm. She suggested the Specials Board. So we ordered Pescatore pizza from the regular menu and Pappardelle from the Specials Board. 

It was a late lunch and the place was about one quarter full. Service was reasonably fast. It took about 15 mins for the pizza to arrive, followed by the pasta about 5 minutes later.

Pappardelle (top). Pescatore Pizza (bottom).

The Pescatore pizza is listed on the menu as "Seasonal Seafood, Garlic, Parmesan, Mozzarella, Parsley, Extra Virgin Olive Oil in bianco". Bianco in this context means 'no tomato'. The look of the pizza is tantalising - plump prawns, scallops, mussels, generous octopus chunks. All on a thin pizza base. The taste is not bad - a bit bland but then you want to be able to taste the seafood, not seasonings. The outside edge of the pizza base had the texture and taste of cracker biscuits - this bursts into messy crumbs with the lightest touch so it was not easy to pick up a pizza slice by the edge. Not a problem for me as I used the cutlery but it requires some dexterity if you are eating by hand. The cracker biscuit taste did not complement the overall pizza taste. 

Pescatore Pizza 
Thin Pizza Base with good-sized chunks of Seafood
Pizza Crust all around is crumbly when lightly touched

Pappardelle is listed on the menu as "Porcino Mushrooms, Pine Nuts in a creamy pesto sauce, topped with parmesan cheese". The serve was quite large with a good amount of pine nuts and reasonable amount of sliced mushrooms. The mushrooms did look more like button mushrooms than porcino mushrooms. The dish was fairly tasty and would have been bland without the salty lift provided by the cheese.  The table did have a small condiments dish but the little bit of leftover salt flakes and pepper didn't look appealing.

Pappadelle Pasta
It is interesting that water is served in plastic cups. Looking around, we saw that this is the same for the other tables. It feels strange to be sitting in a restaurant sipping from disposable cups. 

There are signs for live gigs on Fridays and Sundays. I believe this takes place in a separate part of the building called the Lounge Bar area.

Overall, we had a reasonable lunch here.  Prices are pitched at the higher end. The Ivy website  mentions that ingredients are sourced from Italy. It would be good if the menu or the staff could describe or promote the Italian ingredients in the dishes - this may allow the customers to better appreciate the quality or authenticity of the dishes. There are more menu choices in the evening than for lunch, with interesting sounding main dishes which are not available until 6 pm. The restaurant exterior is aesthetically pleasing and the interior is nice while not outstanding. The outside environment is great as can be expected in the Dandenong Mountains. 

A La Carte Menu

Specials Board

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Review - Hare and Grace

Hare and Grace
525 Collins Street 

Cuisine: Modern Australian
Taste Rating: 7.5/10   Value Rating: 7.5/10

Tues, 30 Apr 2013

Hare & Grace on Urbanspoon

Hare and Grace nestles the side of  The Rialto, the iconic building at the corner of King and Collins Streets. You walk up a short flight of stairs from Collins Street, turn right into the outdoor eating area, then left down several steps leading to the entrance. 

Outdoor Dining Area

Entrance  to inside dining areas
The first dining area as you step inside is called the Mini Bar. Here, there are several tables and a bar. Further inside is the Restaurant. The ambiance is subdued lighting with an interesting ceiling feature of hanging branches. Windows look out onto King St.  

Mini Bar dining area
Looking out onto King Street

Eight of us had lunch here on "Steak and Frites Tuesday". It didn't take much arm twisting for everyone at the table to decide they wanted to order the steak and fries.

Cutlery and tea towel Napkin

Good first impression. The french fries were piled high in terracotta pots lined with grease-proof paper. The 180g steak is a nice size for a meal where you don't want to overdo the meat food group. Dark green parsley completes the ensemble. 

Steak and Frites (French Fries)
French Fries

For the steak, we were told there are only 2 choices of done-ness - medium or well done. 
I chose 'medium'.  As you can see from the photo below of my meal, the meat is quite pink and nudging medium rare. I liked the flavour of the steak.  A member of the party found his steak had a large portion of girstle. Mine did have slight gristle on one side but overall it was tender and juicy. I would order this dish again.

The fries were nicely done - crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. 
The waitress brought around the table a choice of Dijon mustard, English mustard and Seeded mustard. For those who like tomato sauce, there was Heinz tomato ketchup on the table.

Medium Steak, Dijon Mustard, French Fries, Parsley garnishes

The service was friendly, prompt and attentive. Glasses of water were provided and then refilled without having to be requested. The meals arrived quickly, and at the same time, so we could all start eating together.  

Overall, Hare and a good place to have lunch. The food is good, based on today's meal. Prices are not low, but are consistent with the other venues close by.  The ambiance is cosy. The staff are friendly and efficient.


Sunday, 28 April 2013

Review - Olinda Tea House

This place is closed. Note on their website says "From the 31st JAN 2014 onwards, the Tea House will be closed until further notice. For wedding and functions venue hire, .. "

Olinda Tea House
86a Olinda-Monbulk Road

Cuisine: Modern Australian, High Tea, Tea
Taste Rating: 7.5/10   Value Rating: 7.5/10

Sat, 27 Apr 2013

Olinda Tea House on Urbanspoon

We drove along the single-lane road winding up into the Dandenong Mountains. It was a beautiful autumn day. At this time of year, it is normally cool in the mountains but I didn't need a jacket today, even when outdoors. The sun shone through the lovely autumn foliage. Yet there was plenty of shady greenery from the grand trees and huge ferns along the road. It was the best of both worlds, creating a sense of cool and calm as we cruised along. Our destination was Olinda Tea House.

First impression was good. Lovely old trees with autumn leaves and dappled sunlight overlooked the car park in front. 

First Impression
Dappled Sunlight through the trees
Next was the feature wall with a gateway. I had not read anything of the history of this place before this visit. There is a subtle oriental feel to the place upon entering the gateway.  It was only later when I spoke to the lady at the counter that I learnt this tea house was a family-run place, with her parents and her working there. Later, I read a short history on the Olinda Tea House website of how this place came to be.

Wall with Gateway

Front Entrance

We arrived about 2.30pm on a Saturday. I had made a booking as the person who answered the phone said they were very busy. Sure enough, the place was bustling, even at this late hour. We were running late and our table had been re-allocated to someone else - which is perfectly understandable as they would have needed all the tables that day. We waited about 20 mins before a table was allocated to us. I believe the kitchen closes at 4 pm for main meals, but scones and tea are still available after that. There were people arriving as we left about 4 pm.


Front Counter

The inside dining room has plenty of natural light. Tables near the windows would have a view of the beautiful tree views surrounding the restaurant. There is a dining area on a balcony outside but we were told by a staff member that there were a few wasps about so we opted for the inside dining area.

We ordered the duck confit, pan-fried salmon and rump lamb. There were a good number of staff working and they all seemed very busy taking orders and delivering meals to tables. Our meals arrived about 30 mins after ordering. More than enough time for me to take photos of the surroundings. I have to say the meals were worth the wait. All three dishes were delicious. The attention to detail is good and little touches make the side salads and accompaniments interesting.

I had the confit duck with braised puy lentils and pancetta, with a salad of pear, rocket and blue cheese with hazelnuts. I enjoyed this meal. Even though confit duck is a rich dish, this meal feels healthy with the lentils and salad. The duck was well cooked with flesh that falls off the bone, with crispy outer flesh and skin. The salad was nice with a variety of flavours and textures. Leafy and crunchy. The puy lentils were interesting with the colour of pebbles and a firm texture, almost like chickpeas in texture and taste. The pear strips were crispy and sweet. Surprisingly, the hazelnuts were crunchy even though they were covered with the dressing. The only thing I didn't like was the pancetta - but that is only because I don't like fatty meat. Oh, and I am not a fan of raw onion rings which were in the salad but again that's a matter of personal taste, and these were finely sliced. Blue veined cheese is not my first choice in cheeses so it turned out well that I couldn't detect this in the salad.

Confit Duck
Duck Confit - another view
The pan-fried fillet of salmon was served with buttered baby leeks, saffron potatoes and salsa verde. Though not mentioned on the menu, the salad also includes slices of ruby  grapefruit which gives a nice tangy touch. There was a generous large juicy lemon half, not the tiny lemon slices that some places give you. They even shaved off the bottom of the lemon half - I assume this is so that it would sit properly on the plate without rolling off. As I mentioned, attention to detail. The salmon was well-cooked and tasty. The salsa verde is not bad - a touch salty but works well with the dish. The saffron potatoes were a big hit.

Pan-fried fillet of Salmon

The rump of lamb was served with a salad of broad beans, peas, mint and fetta cheese, and rosemary roasted kipfler potatoes. The lamb was cooked very well - tender and juicy - and was well appreciated. The thinly sliced potatoes were not bad but would be nicer if sliced thicker so they are softer on the inside while crunchy on the outside. 

Rump of Lamb

Overall, the prices are what you would expect to pay for a good meal in beautiful surroundings, and are not more expensive than what I pay in several city or suburban restaurants minus the view. The dishes were delicious and well presented.  Factor in extra time on busy days for your meals to be served. I would be happy to return, and also to bring guests for a day out  in the Dandenong Mountains culminating in a nice meal at Olinda Tea House.

Menu - Salad, Mains

Inside and Outside Olinda Tea House

Rock sugar, with mini tongs
Nice touch - your bill arrives in a tea cup and saucer like these
Pond near the Front Entrance
Tea Varieties
Tranquil Balcony

Peaceful Autumn Scene at the back of Olinda Tea House
Colourful Toadstools - POISONOUS, DO NOT EAT!

Monday, 11 March 2013

Review - Red House Asian Kitchen

Red House Asian Kitchen
1389 Ferntree Gully Road

Cuisine: Asian
Taste Rating: 7.5/10   Value Rating: 7.5/10

Sat, 23 Feb 2013
Sat, 23 Mar 2013

Red House on Urbanspoon

Sat, 23 Feb 2013

Red House Asian Kitchen opened on 8 Feb 2013. It is a welcome addition to this shopping strip in Scoresby. Nearby are Cinta Raya Malaysian restaurant and Shirley's Asian Grocery, a good-sized grocery shop. There is parking at the front and the back of the restaurant, or further along the shopping strip.

Front of Red House Asian Kitchen

Red House specialises in Asian-style meats like roast duck, roast pork belly, BBQ pork, soya sauce chicken and marinated cuttlefish.  The menu also has a large variety of dishes, as well as special dishes on the wall written in Mandarin.  

Meat Menu above Counter

Ducks, Pork Belly
Photo courtesy of Daniel from Red House.

Roast Duck
Photo courtesy of Daniel from Red House.

Opening the door as we arrived for dinner, I expected the place to be quiet as it had opened just two weeks ago.  Surprise! The restaurant was bustling with wall to wall diners. While we were there, most of the diners were Asians - this is what most people use to judge the quality of an Asian restaurant. So far so good.

One of the owners, Simon was managing front of house. We were served by friendly and helpful Daniel, who I assumed is the head waiter.  We were told that the chef used to work for one of the upper end restaurants at Crown Entertainment Complex. From the A La Carte menu, we ordered Peking Duck pancakes, Lamb Spring Rolls and Special Fried Rice. From the special dishes on the wall menu, we ordered Lamb Spare Ribs Hotpot, and Yellow Chives with Calamari, Octopus and Vegetables.

The dining area is not huge. The tables are arranged in such a way that you may find yourself zig-zagging if you want to walk from one end to another. There was a good number of waiters working that night. They seemed to do a good job navigating around the tables. The service was good and quick. 

So what was the food like? The Peking Duck is made with roast duck, as is the case with most Chinese restaurants, unless you go to a restaurant that specialises in Peking Duck. Red House specialises in roast duck and I must say the duck tastes nice here - lean juicy meat, with glistening reddish caramel duck skin. For those who like duck fat, there is a sweet layer of duck fat under the skin. I don't like fat so I remove it. The pancakes were assembled in the kitchen, not at the table.

Peking Duck pancakes

The Lamb Spring Rolls were interesting - I have never come across lamb in a spring roll before. The spring roll skin was crispy. The lamb was minced and had a slightly spicy flavour, possibly of cumin. The filling was slightly oily, with a fair bit of juice. The taste was quite nice - it reminded me of lamb souvlaki!  

The Lamb Hot Pot gravy has a nice rich flavour, although it is a bit salty. The lamb is very tender, yet retains its flavour without leaching it into the gravy. It does not have a strong gamey taste, which is how I like it. The only negative for me is that there are thin layers of fat between the meat. I can't stand any fat in meat, however other people will likely find these thin layers of fat add to the character of the dish. This hotpot comes with a side bowl of chilli oil, which tastes similar to that for Shanghai dumplings.

Yellow chives with calamari, octopus strips, snow peas, carrots, celery and button mushrooms. The calamari was tender and the octopus had a nice chewy texture. The flavours are nice. Compared to the other dishes, this was a bit on the pricey side at $25.80  for the ingredients.  The overall look and feel of the dish is messy with small pieces of vegetables overshadowed by the larger pieces . The button mushrooms are out of place in a Chinese dish.

The Special Fried Rice is nice. There is a good amount of egg which I always look for in a fried rice. The prawns are larger than normal for SFR. The BBQ pork is nice. 

Overall, we were happy with the meal and the friendly service. There is a good variety of dishes on the Red House Asian Kitchen menu, better than the average restaurant in the suburbs. We would like to try the other dishes here.

Sat, 23 Mar 2013

We went for a second visit to Red House, this time for lunch. It was a larger group of 16 people. Our two tables were tucked into the back corner. The place was busy. Service was prompt and friendly. The food lived up to expectations, with positive comments from the group. We ordered double serves of each of the following main dishes, and 4 serves of the dessert red bean pancake, as photographed.

 Assorted BBQ Platter (3 choices) of 
Soya Sauce Chicken, BBQ Pork and Roast Duck. 

Assorted BBQ Platter  (another view)

This is a good way to try the roast meats at this place. The duck was nice as before. The soya sauce chicken was good too. As I don't like fatty meat, the BBQ Pork didn't appeal to me as much.

Enoki Mushrooms and Dried Scallops with Spinach.

I liked this vegetable dish.  Nice flavours, nice texture. The spinach was fresh and easy to eat. The enoki and dried scallop provided a nice contrast in texture. 

Pan-fried Pi-pa Beancurd

This minced beancurd dish is good. Nice size, tasty and not obviously oily. Watch out when you bite in as the tofu is piping hot! I don't like the Chinese sausage mixed in with the tofu mince but this is a personal preference as others like this ingredient. Pipa is a Chinese musical instrument. I like how this dish is made by using a Chinese soup spoon to shape the tofu mince into a pipa shape before steaming and frying.

King Prawns (in shell) coated with salted egg yolk.

I liked this prawn dish. The egg yolk batter is tasty. You can order this dish with or without prawn shells. Having tried this with prawn shells on, next time I might try it with prawn shells off, just to see which one I prefer.

Pork Belly with Taro in Hotpot

A nice dish enjoyed by most people at our tables. Again my dislike of fat pork meant I only tried a bit of the lean part of the pork, and more of the yam slices and the rich gravy. 

Red Bean Pancake

Red Bean Pancake (Close up)
We didn't ask how big a serve of red bean pancake was, before ordering four serves. It turned out that each serve was cut into 16 pieces! So we had plenty to share. The pancake is oily but nice. Indulge and feel guilty at the end of the meal!

Oranges to finish the meal

Complimentary oranges at the end of the meal, which is a nice touch from Chinese restaurants. It used to be more common but not many places do this nowadays.  

Front part of the dining room. Lunch is over and the other tables have been reset.