Tonka – One of the ”Big 5”

For Valentines night, love was in the air and my ever organised (darling) girlfriend had booked well ahead of the crowd to get a table at Coda’s new (ish) sister restaurant. I didn’t know what to expect but being Valentines night I let my girlfriend carry me down the scary back alley that leads to Tonka. On first impressions there are similarities between the two restaurants but Tonka has a more clean and fresh look about it.

Pani puri, crispy parcel filled with spiced potato, mung beans, date and tamarind chutney with aromatic water

In Melbourne we are spoilt, unlike anywhere else I’ve been in the world, you’d struggle to go to a high street cafe or restaurant and get a bad meal, generally speaking you have to really pick at things to find negatives. There are however times when I go to places and they blow me away, it’s never a full meal, but just one dish which turns off the part of my brain that regulates saliva production, normal speech and the ability to swallow. I like to call them the big 4;

  • Gelato Messina – Fitzroy – Salted Caramel and White Chocolate Gelato
  • Chin Chin – CBD – Massaman Curry
  • Red Spice Road – CBD – Pork Belly, Apple Slaw, Caramel & Black Vinegar
  • Niche – Bridge Road – Corn Fritters, Avocade Mouse, Cajun Creme Fraiche

Chargrilled Western Plains pork belly, chickpea, pork crackling and pickled radishOne thing I love about Coda is the impeccable service, this is replicated in Tonka; we were unsure what to order so the extremely knowledgable staff said they would bring a spread of their favourite dishes. The sommelier then liaised with the waitress to give us an option of 3 wines which would go well, again, he knew his stuff and had been to a number of the vineyards.

We started with Pani puri, crispy parcel filled with spiced potato, mung beans, date and tamarind chutney with aromatic water, as well as Hervey Bay scallop with sweet peppers, spiced cauliflower and pancetta, both dishes were good, nothing amazing but a solid start.IMG_2556

The next thing that happened took me by surprise, extremely similar to the first time I got intimate with a lady, something completely unexpected happened, it came out of no where and unfortunately was over all too quickly. The soft-shell crab pakora with pickled cucumber, lemon, chilli and mint came out, it didn’t look the most appetising dish, however, it makes it onto the ‘Big 5.’ The crab was soft and cooked to perfection, the light batter around the outside had beautifully subtle indian flavours and took me somewhere special.

The next couple of dishes didn’t really stand a chance, like putting Wayne Rooney next to Cristiano Ronaldo, both footballers but very different looking. The chargrilled pork belly we felt was overpowered by the charred taste, it tasted of ash and unfortunately wasn’t quite to my taste. We also had the lamb curry with roasted coconut, black cardamom and white poppy seeds which was delicious as well as the Rajasthani duck, cucumber, mint and buffalo milk curd with a side of fried cauliflower, garam masala salt, fenugreek and yoghurt dressing, again, exceptional food but standing in the shadow of the soft shell crab.

IMG_2557All in all I would whole-heartedly recommend Tonka, taking Indian food to the next level is a tough ask, aspects of Tonka manages this and the attitude and knowledge of the staff is exceptional. We didn’t feel rushed even though we were dining on one of the busiest nights of the year and we had the best seat in the house. Based solely on cuisine and personal choice, I think I preferred Coda, however, would be more than happy to revisit Tonka.

Price – 7

Quality of food – 8

Atmosphere – 9

Take a look at my review of Mr Carsisi!

https://pleasesirbyoliver.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/mr-carsisi/Tonka on Urbanspoon

ISIT Cafe

It’s tennis season in Melbourne which means you can bet your last dollar on a few things that happen every year;

  • There will be hangovers
  • Bernard Tomic will let himself down on the court
  • Bernard Tomic will let himself down off the court

It’s the morning after the day before; a day of intense background tennis, multiple drinks and some 40 minute food queues and we decide to try out an eatery that we have heard about but never tried; Isit Cafe in Prahran, a witty name that Is(n’t) it?

DSC_0286We’re seated outside as it’s a nice day and my (albeit limited) attention is spent trying not to fall off the front step that my seat is precariously balanced on. I order a fresh orange and an iced chocolate which unfortunately is the best thing I do all day, the iced chocolate is like a stairway to heaven, a big hangover free heaven.

Unfortunately I ordered the Chorizo and smoked cheddar on seeded toast with poached egg, avocado, chipotle hollandaise and salsa, I was disappointed and heaven chewed me up, slowly opened and through me down to earth. Although on paper and the plate the whole meal looked like a dream, it had the finesse of a bull tap dancing in a china shop. i\It was seriously heavy, the chorizo and toast were dry and teamed with the hollandaise was a real struggle from start to finish.

Chorizo, Cheddar, Poached Eggs with Chipotle Hollandaise
Chorizo, Cheddar, Poached Eggs with Chipotle Hollandaise

Jax had the Chunky avocado & Persian feta with fresh chilli, mint & blistered cherry tomatoes on seeded toast, again this looked stunning and by all accounts was delicious. Verity had the Eggs Benedict with braised ham hock on a toasted english muffin & hollandaise, again, I stole some when she wasn’t looking and this too was great.

Chunky avocado & Persian feta with fresh chilli, mint & blistered cherry tomatoes on seeded toast
Chunky avocado & Persian feta with fresh chilli, mint & blistered cherry tomatoes on seeded toast

Maybe I ordered badly, maybe the chef had been at the tennis, maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind, but unfortunately it was an ‘It’s not’ from me.

Price – 7

Quality of food – 5

Atmosphere – 5

ISIT Cafe on Urbanspoon

St Ali – A turning point in a man’s life

There comes an important time in any man’s life when your attitude to a relationship St Ali roasted coffeechanges; this isn’t the first kiss, the introduction to their parents or even your wedding day. It’s actually the first day you share your food with your partner. As a young, naive boy I was always worried about someone stealing my share of food, I lived my life in the shadow of Joey Tribbiani’s ‘Joey doesn’t share food’ mentality; going out for Tapas was like the war on oil. Until one day there was an epiphany; what if she doesn’t like the dish? What if she gets full before me? What if she orders better than me? This was the day I started sharing food, and all was going well until St Ali.

I have a soft spot for St Ali as it’s one of the first places I ate at when arriving in Melbourne. It’s trendy warehouse feel, booming atmosphere and pioneering coffee (which they roast themselves) add up to a great experience.

In the spirit of sharing I ordered the Koo Coo Ca Choo – Crispy potato hash, mushroom duxelle, Koo Coo Ca Choopoached eggs, aged cheddar, stuffed flat mushrooms & truffle vinaigrette. As you will see this was a master-piece, for a moment I felt like I was in a bad chocolate commercial, mmm-ing and arrr-ing, reminiscent of a bad night in a hotel with paper thin walls in Echuca (different story, another time perhaps). The mushroom duxelle was beautifully rich (probably too rich for a lot of people I must admit) and the eggs were oozing all over my hash, I was on top of the world for half a dish… until it was whipped away and..

Jax’s Corn Fritters, halloumi, kasundi and poached eggs was slapped in front of me. This Corn Frittersis the problem with sharing; you have to share the good times and bad times and roll with your partners orders. This was that time, the very first time. The halloumi was good, the kasundi was delicious, light and fresh but the main event could have caused arguments. The ‘secret recipe’ corn fritters were stodgy, lacked flavour and there were too many for that consistency. After the second dish I was disappointed, I used to be able to eat what I liked in the days of a six pack and muscle definition, I walked out of St Ali feeling and looking like a pregnant Middle Park mother.

All in all, the coffee was incredible but the dishes were poles apart and not particularly cheap when compared with other similar cafe spots;

Price – 5.5

Quality – 7

Atmosphere – 9

St Ali on Urbanspoon

Penny Farthing

IMG_1880Penny Farthing – A tale of two Brunch’s

Penny Farthing, based in Northcote in Melbourne’s Northern Suburbs is a funky little cafe on High Street. Whilst house-sitting and with a bit of time away from work I decided to try out the local eateries! I was so impressed by the food and coffee, I decided to take the missus back the following day for some brekkie… BIG mistake. Penny Farthing went from a big hit on the Friday to a distinct average the following day, a bit like following the Richmond Tigers.

Friday

I arrived, took a spot outside to watch the world go by and ordered a long black and scrambled eggs on sourdough with harissa and a side of balsamic glazed mushrooms. The coffee arrived along with a map and description of it’s origins which I thought was a nice touch, it turned out to be beautiful. IMG_1873Within a few moments the main event arrived which was delicious too, fluffy eggs, a crispy door-wedge of sourdough and beautiful, sweet harissa which really complimented the dish. Not forgetting the balsamic glazed mushrooms which had great flavour, if not slightly dry but all in all, a fantastic breakfast which like a kid wanting show off his new toy I wanted to take the missus.

Saturday

We arrived at Penny Farthing and had been recommended the Corn Fritters with capsicum relish & wood smoked bacon with a poached egg and rocket; now the thing about corn fritters is that they are either arousingly, table lifting deliciousness or a complete lead balloon. After yesterdays confidence boost we both decided to go for them, with a side of marinated feta and the mushrooms, I also went for a fresh orange and the cold drip coffee (pictured above). A bit of a bug-bear of mine is freshly squeezed orange from cafes should be exactly that…freshly squeezed, maybe I’m fussy. Unfortunately our’s came in a bottle and I didn’t really enjoy it, too tart for my precious, princess of a palate! The cold drip coffee on the otherhand was divine, a delicious subtle, rounded coffee taste served cold over ice, a real crowd pleaser.IMG_1884

When the fritters arrived, they looked great, I tackled the egg which was perfectly runny and then it happened again… I got excited, too excited… prematurely…. before the main event… the fritters. The fritters were not fantastic, they were distinctly average unfortunately; heavy, stodgy and didn’t taste of much, what a let down. The saving grace was the capsicum relish which tasted good, the bacon which was real crispy (just how I like it) and the mushrooms which were good as well. I just couldn’t get past the fritters which were sub-standard.

All in all, maybe I picked badly, maybe the kitchen had a bad day, maybe I had hyped it too much. Unfortunately though, overall I was disappointed.

Price – 6

Quality – 6

Atmosphere – 8


Penny Farthing Espresso on Urbanspoon

Josef Chromy

Firstly, a history lesson.

Czech Republic; a country I’ve visited a few times and I still know little about, 4 things I have learnt however include;

  1. Well known for inventing socks and sandals
  2. Cheaper beer than water
  3. Takes tram etiquette seriously
  4. Don’t mix 2 with 3

Little did I know that a chap called Josef fled war torn Czech Republic in the 50’s to set up camp in Tasmania and revolutionise local wine making. Described as a legend and a local hero, he has set up wineries such as Jansz, Bay of Fires and Tamar Ridge and it seems he loves a job with a view.

We sat at his flagship ”Josef Chromy” restaurant in the Tamar Valley and was greeted by a man in dungarees (Czech). He showed us the menu which boasted ” Freshly shucked oysters” and ”waiters well versed in the world of oysters,” they can bring you todays oyster news which I imagine to be a simple read.

Quail on Black Pudding
Quail on Black Pudding

The surroundings were beautiful and I started with the quail; roasted on a generous doorstep of black pudding, shaved apple and fennel salad; a starter that took me back to the UK eating game and black pudding in a country pub. Jax went for the buffalo mozzarella with tomato pesto and pear, again, a fantastic start with stunning presentation.

Lamb Cutlets
Lamb Cutlets

I backed this up with lamb so rare it took me back to a long-line of cavemen. This came with king brown mushrooms, asparagus and black olives. I loved it, cooked to perfection for me, however, I’m sure it would put off the faint hearted who aren’t cut out for working in an abattoir. Jax went for the braised beef check on polenta with salsa verde and balsamic; she loved it, a huge hunk of meat (like myself), that you could tear with a fork and the flavours were beautiful.

All in all, a top draw meal, with some great views and some authentic European service.

Price – 7

Quality – 8.5

Atmosphere – 8

Josef Chromy Cellar Door Cafe on Urbanspoon

Mr Carsisi

I consider certain things in the world to be cool for example David Beckham in his jocks,a

Monkey riding a Segway

tailored three-piece suit and a monkey riding a Segway (check it out on youtube). After a trip to Mr Carsisi there was a potential new kid on the block, I made my excuses to go back and make sure.

I’ve been to Kyneton several times and haven’t a clue what else is there apart from beautiful Piper Street. Piper Street is the home of Mr Carsisi which is nestled between niche shops, cafes and restaurants (check out Pizza Verde for a delicious, organic pizza from their wood-fired ovens) and Annie Smithers which is slightly more gourmet. On first impressions Mr Carsisi puts you at ease with it’s tin roof and homely furniture; a far cry from some of the more wanky restaurants in Melbourne’s big smoke.

I decided to revisit Mr Carsisi after an outrageously moorish first attempt, this time for the girlfriend’s birthday lunch (yes, I know, I put other guys to shame with my good looks, witty humour and thoughtfulness). This time we decided to share a couple of the mezze plates, we went for halloumi & mint fritters and Dawson’s orange blossom honey as well as fried calamari, radish, pomegranate & olive salad, Tahini & garlic dressing.

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When the starters came, in order to curb the table next-door’s food envy, I tucked straight into the calamari. Deliciously soft calamari with the freshness of the radishes and pomegranate bringing out the flavour, a big tick from me. Next up was the halloumi and mint fritters; halloumi and mint a match made in heaven, I expected big things! Unfortunately like the England cricket team in this years Ashes they didn’t reach my high hopes, the halloumi was great, salty, well cooked and the batter was light, however, I was hoping for a good boot of fresh, minty aftertaste to go with the sweetness of the honey which unfortunately didn’t arrive.

Next up, we both chose the (lamb) sour cherry & almond Khoresht, pistachio crusted double lamb cutlet, braised spinach, carrot & currant pilav. Again this came out and looking stunning.

The lamb was cooked beautifully pink (as requested) with a wonderful crunch from the pistachios and other fatty goodness, this couldn’t be faulted, but the real winner was the Khoresht. Slow braised lamb which melted in your mouth with the crunch of almond and hint of cherry, a fantastic combination. The rice was nice as an accompaniment, all in all an amazing dish.

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So to sum up, a fantastic meal, a great atmosphere (even at 1pm on a Monday) and a cool (without being über trendy) place which although surrounded by some of the best regional restaurants in Victoria I will recommend to friends.

Price – 7

Quality of food – 8

Atmosphere – 8 (for Monday lunch)

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Mr Carsisi on Urbanspoon