and… Part 3.

This birthday blog trilogy certainly has taken awhile and I’m feeling rather sheepish. My apologies once again for the lack of blogging. It really should be much easier, I’m surrounded by food all day and it’s all I think about but I digress, I’m here to bring you part 3 and a promised recipe of “Chicken, Leek and Bacon Pie”, which is perfect for a cool Winter’s day. (There’s still one more day so ssshh)

Last time I left you I was making my way back from country Victoria to the big smoke. If there’s one thing you need to know about me is that the Asian in me CANNOT go without rice for too long. Side effects includes grumpiness and an unwillingness to cooperate that rivals that of a child due for a dentist appointment. So back in the city, I go in search of Asian food or anything that comes with a side of rice.

First stop is Heirloom. I’ve walked past this restaurant no more than a few dozen times and almost every time, their brunch menu will catch my attention. Their breakfast and brunch menu is divided into two sections, Eastern and Western. Their Western menus are much the same as most other places, bacon and eggs with a generous offering of sides. The Eastern brunch menu is what peaks my attention because it’s Asian inspired with a modern twist, including chawanmushi and congee. I love chawanmushi, it brings back a lot of happy childhood memories. (Chawanmushi is essentially steamed, scrambled eggs)

On my visit however, it was too early for brunch but luckily their breakfast menu is very similar. No chawanmushi but they did have “Steamed Eggs with Tofu and Tamari”. When this dish arrived in front of me, I was surprised because it wasn’t what I was expecting. I guess I was still secretly hoping that I’d receive “steamed, scrambled eggs”. Scrambled or not, this dish exceeded expectations, it was a little slight and could’ve come with a side of rice but the flavors were beautiful. The creamy yolk mixed with the nuttiness of the tofu and the sweetness of the tamari was genius.

Next stop for dinner and as a conclusion to my birthday feast, which feels like forever ago now, is Wabi Sabi Garden in St Kilda. The interior of this restaurant is breathtaking and the feel is very authentic. I don’t remember when the Japanese claimed the potato croquette but this isn’t the first Japanese restaurant to have it on the menu. My boyfriend Aleks, is crazy about croquettes so this dish is a must order every time, along with Sake of course.

I LOVE a good pork belly and there’s no better way to cook or eat this piece of meat than braising it. The meat is so tender and juicy, it melts in your mouth and the braising liquid gives whole new meaning to word ‘rich’. I could have easily had this dish to myself with a bowl of rice.

Tempura Flounder served the best way possible considering the form of the fish. The flesh is filleted from the skeleton and sliced into small bites before being coated in tempura batter and deep fried. The whole skeleton of the fish is then deep fried and used as a garnish and as you can see, to also serve the fillets on. Tempura flounder lacked a little salt but everything else on the table was so flavorsome, it probably wasn’t a bad thing. Back-handed comment? You decide…

Wagyu Beef Meatballs. Again, I’m at a loss at how authentically Japanese this dish is but this one was a crowd pleaser. I saw a photo of this dish on the website and my exact thoughts were “I have to have that NOW!!” and it didn’t disappoint. In true Wagyu style, the beef was soft and flavorsome.

So here concludes my excessive birthday feast!… PLUS my chicken pie (recipe next). All this and more in a week, even I’m impressed with myself. This truly was one big eating session and it was EPIC! I’ll be happy to report that I haven’t stopped and there’s more yummy food pics and recipes.

Heirloom and Wabi Sabi Garden both get 3.5 nom noms out of five.

NOM NOM NOM NO…..

Even if it weren’t worth all the calories, it’s a little too late now.

Stay tuned for the recipe.. Love Lee Lee x

Dainty Sichuan – South Yarra MLB

The dinner invitation promised “Hot Pot”. A supposedly very well done “Hot Pot” at that, which is no surprise that I was feeling a little flat and underwhelmed to discover that my punctual friends have made the executive decision to not have hot-pot and order off the a la carte menu instead.

The restaurant is divided into two levels. The ground level of diners get to experience the AMAZING, bubbling steam boat. The level above is reserved for patrons who want to diminish their rights to order a hot-pot because these facilities are simply not available on that floor.

The four of us were escorted to a table upstairs and given… an a la carte menu. I only have a couple of issues with this arrangement;

(One). you can’t change your mind even if you wanted to…

…and (Two). you can’t even have a peak at what you’re missing out on (which probably works better for the restaurant because then you have incentive to come back).

I get it, it’s a safety thing, I’m not completely ignorant… moving along!

Opening the menu, all I’m seeing is CHILLI! Chilli Chicken, Chilli Beef Jerk and even Chilli Cabbage. After sifting through all the chilli, offal and Chinese delicacies like Chicken Feet and Pigs Ear we finally decide on one cold dish of garlic cucumbers, four hot main dishes of Gong Qing Chilli Chicken, Stewed Lamb Ribs, Chilli Fish Fillets, Green Beans with Pork Mixture and two types of buns, Xioalong Bao and pork buns. (Xioalong Bao’s are only called dumplings outside of China.)

This cold dish of Cucumber and Garlic is an old favorite of mine, I grew up with it and when I make it at home I add chilli oil for extra kick. There’s not much that can go wrong with this dish unless you’re using rotten cucumbers. As pleasant as this dish is, there’s a little too much garlic but for nostalgic reasons I will eat all of it unashamedly.

Our first main of Gong Qing Chilli Chicken definitely lives up to its name. The dish hits the table in a mound of dry chilli and sichuan pepper, if you poke around a little you might even find some chicken underneath. When I do find chicken it’s 50% bone and the other half is deep-fried meat. The taste is delightful like anything fried in oil, the flavors are typically Sichuan, numbing my mouth but in a pleasant way. So far it’s tasting like Sichuan usually does…

The Stewed Lamb Ribs is the next to arrive. I knew I’d like this dish as soon as it hit the table. I could smell the aromas of star anise and a braising liquid that could only be achieved with patience and nothing short of a secret recipe. It came in a cast iron pot surrounded by wood and the lamb was bubbling away as if you were going to sneak a spoonful directly from the stove.

This was the turning point for me, the juicy, tender lamb meat melted off the bones. The sauce was to die for because it had so much depth to it and it wasn’t just dried chilli and peppers. It reminded me of a Taiwanese goat hot-pot (Yang-Rou) I use to love as a kid and still love now, but with richer flavors. This one was a winner.

All of a sudden I didn’t even mind the chicken hidden in the mound of chilli, it was exciting going back and forth between the two dishes, the flavors actually complement each other.

You’ll have to forgive me for this photo of the Chilli Fish beside the Gong Qing Chicken taken from my phone camera instead of my point and shoot. To be honest, this was the recommendation I was least looking forward to. I’ve had a dish very similar to this one and it just tasted like chilli oil with a fish texture. Not pleasant, I know! So when this dish came, my expectations were not high. It looked like fish fillets bathing in chilli oil and bean sprouts. It even came with a slotted ladle so that the fillets can be drained before being dished onto your plate.

There are a few things that could go wrong with this dish. One in particular is the delicate flavor that can become lost in the chilli oil. Why is this a problem? Because fish needs to taste like fish, otherwise you should just drink the oil!

The first bite of the fish… is surprisingly not too bad. The fillet of fish melted in my mouth revealing the sweetness of the flesh with a hint of chilli at the back of the throat, but then the heat spreads and I’m left wanting more. I’ve got to give credit where credit’s due… this is not the healthiest of choices but the fish is done well. I may not be back for it but I was content with it.

Green Beans with Pork Mixture is a trusty, old dish. I love it and if it’s on the menu, I will order it every time. Beats eating and paying for overpriced Bok Choy in oyster sauce.

The beans were cooked perfectly, the way green beans should be cooked, dry fried in a wok. The pork mixture on the other hand was too salty and I assume it’s because the preserved vegetables that are stir fried with the pork mince was not rinsed properly. Eaten together, it was heavenly but needless to say there was a generous layer of pork and preserved vegetable mix left behind on the plate.

The Xioalong Bao’s were delicious and perfect. There was consistency in the thickness of the skin, which is important because when it’s too thin they break too easily when being picked up and the soupy goodness leaks out. When that happens, a little part of me dies because the “bao” is now flawed… so luckily that didn’t happen or I wouldn’t be able to write this post for you.

The Pork Buns are not the typical Chinese ones with the sweet BBQ pork filling but with the same pork mixture as the green beans but not as salty. Downfall for this dish is that there’s too much casing and too little filling. I found myself tearing off chunks of the bun so I could get to the filling. It could be a great and cheap lunch time meal because you get four per serving, but for dinner it was a little too much. It probably didn’t help the situation that it was one of the last dishes to arrive and we were all extremely stuffed. The serving sizes at Dainty Sichuan are very generous.

The evening turned out to be extremely pleasant and I left wanting to come back again with more of my friends. I will definitely be back to try the Hot Pot on that first level and maybe a side of that Lamb Stew that I’m still thinking about. I give Dainty Sichuan three NOMS out of a possible five!!

NOM NOM NOM

and yes… it WAS worth every calorie.

Love Lee Lee =)