Embla

You know that feeling when you’ve saved a restaurant in your head for a special occasion, and when that day comes, it’s all you could think of all day. And then the moment you step inside, everything just kind of falls into place. As cheesy and rom-com as it sounds, that’s how I felt on the night I had dinner at Embla.

Embla has been on my radar for a few years now, being a wine bar that manages to also hold a reputable menu. When deciding it was time to pay it a visit at last, I ensured that we arrived just before 6pm, and snatched up a couple of the remaining kitchen bar seats, which actually turned out to be the best seats in the house.

Seeded Sourdough, White Soy Cream – $5.00

Although the bread wasn’t complementary, it was well worth the affordable price tag, and really set the tone for the night – simple, sophisticated, understated, without being pretentious.

Seeded Sourdough, White Soy Cream – $5.00

The sourdough was warm and chewy, but the true delight was the white soy cream. Airy light and full of umami, you could smother an obnoxious amount of it onto the bread and watch as it melts away, before savouring the umami with every bite.

Sea Bream, Green Olive, Finger Lime, Horseradish – $18.00
Sea Bream, Green Olive, Finger Lime, Horseradish – $18.00

The almost transparent dices of sea bream was place in a perfect disc on top of a bed of green olive, finger lime and horseradish, and it was light yet decadent. The freshness of the fish was complement by the surprising pops of acidity of the lime and brininess of the olive, all rounded off with the horseradish cream.

Spring Cabbage, Elderflower Hollandaise – $15.00
Spring Cabbage, Elderflower Hollandaise – $15.00

The kitchen counter seats ensured that we saw the full preparation process of each dish, and watching the chef slather the spring cabbage with the elderflower hollandaise was all that was needed to convince me to order the dish myself.

Spring Cabbage, Elderflower Hollandaise – $15.00

The smokiness of the cabbage, coupled with its natural sweetness, as well as the nuttiness of the hollandaise, made this one of my vegetarian dishes to date.

Lamb Neck, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Anchovy – $32.00

The heavy duty main that we shared next was the lamb neck. The lamb was fork-tender, and the accompany anchovy cream was a surprising pairing, yet the saltiness really brought out the flavour of the lamb. There was also a crunchy herb mix on top of the lamb that I couldn’t get enough of adding an additional texture to the plate.

Treacle Tart, Ginger Ice Cream – $15.00

Thank god we still left enough room for dessert, as that meant we could try the treacle tart. Although I’ve seen it in Harry Potter a million times, this was the first time I’d actually seen it on a menu. The rich combination of biscuit and golden syrup meant that the seemingly small piece of treacle tart was more than enough for sharing between two. The ginger ice cream brought a good level of spice to counteract the tart’s sweetness.

Embla was everything I wanted and more. From the unique food offerings, the relaxing atmosphere to the attentive but not intruding service, it really is as great as they say. The only regret I have is not visiting sooner, and I’ve already got my next visit in sight, needing to try the chickpea pancake as well as the Sunday lunch menu. You know, for research purposes.

How to get here:
Embla is located on Russel Street, catch any tram from the Swanston Street side of Melbourne Central and get off at Bourke Street/Swanston Street, and the restaurant is five minutes walk away.

Embla Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Guilty Moose

I thought for the longest time that The Guilty Moose was called The Guilty Goose, and couldn’t understand what the goose did wrong. But now my new question has become – what did the moose do to feel so guilty about?!

Animal questions aside, The Guilty Moose is a quint little neighbourhood cafe located in Albert Park, with a fun menu and a cute courtyard to boost.

Turmeric Latte – $4.50
Turmeric Latte – $4.50

Knowing that we were going to be indulging on a selection of savoury and sweet dishes, turmeric latte was my drink of choice. The drink was warm and comforting, and a great way to start the meal.

Cauliflower Rice

The health theme continues with the cauliflower rice. For those who may not be keeping up with all of the latest health trends, cauliflower rice is essentially cauliflower being passed through a food processor, resulting in small pieces resembling rice. Although it may not look like the most exciting dish, the mixture of cauliflower rice and quinoa was actually quite tasty, benefiting from the additional of crispy kale and other nuts.

Hong Kong Phooey – $17.50

Congee is a classic breakfast for me growing up, and the rendition at The Guilty Moose did not disappoint. The rice were simmered long and slow, resulting in a sticky comforting bowl of goodness, made even better with the soft poached egg hidden underneath the crispy wonton skin.

Getting All Mushy and Stuff – $19.50

Mushrooms remain high on my list when it comes to brunch dishes, and the roasted mushrooms here were juicy and plump. The garlic and thyme whipped feta is a great way of adding in the flavours of those two elements, which works so well with mushrooms, without overpowering the mushrooms themselves.

Cinnamon Toasted Granola – $13.50

Besides being pretty as a picture, the cinnamon toasted granola was also a healthy and light dish for those who are craving something sweet first thing in the morning.

Cinnamon Toasted Granola – $13.50

The tried and true combination of toasted granola and yoghurt was dressed up with some sliced bananas and stewed rhubarb.

From top to bottom: Hong Kong Phooey – $18.50; Getting All Mushy and Stuff – $18.50; Everything’s Gone Pear Shaped – $18.50

I have somehow managed to fail to snap an individual shot of what was probably the most photogenic dish of the day, everything has indeed gone pear shaped. The gingerbread infused brioche was soft and fluffy, topped with a generous serve of butterscotch and red wine poached pear. The flavour combination sounds a bit unusual, but the richness of the butterscotch sauce actually went really well with the toned down pear, and the warmness of the brioche was a good base of flavour for everything else.

Apollonia – $17.50

And at last, we have ourselves the apollonia, i.e. apple pie that came in the form of an oversized spring roll. The classic flavour combination of apple and cinnamon was a winner, and this is an innovative way to serve up the humble apple pie. The ice cream on the side cooled down the apple mixture, while the walnut, apple and raisin salad added some crunch.

The menu, although short, was full of unusual twists on more classic dishes. Throw in the pet friendly courtyard and friendly service, it’s no wonder why The Guilty Moose is a favourite amongst locals.

How to get here:
The Guilty Moose is located on Victoria Avenue, catch tram #1 and get off at stop #31 Graham Street, and the cafe is right outside the tram stop.

I dined as a guest of The Guilty Moose.

The Guilty Moose Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hawker Hall

Hawker Hall is part of the ever-growing Lucas Group family, and it’s been on my radar for the last couple of years, along with the rest of Melbourne. Based on the name alone, it’s not hard to see where Chris Lucas drew inspiration from when it came to Hawker Hall, the bustling hawker centres that are sprawled across Malaysia and Singapore of course. Being partial to Singaporean food myself, I had high expectations for Hawker Hall’s offerings.

Given my lack of enthusiasm when it comes to lining up in the colder months, we decided to go for lunch on a Sunday, and were able to snag up a couple of seats at the bar in a flash.

Milk and Coconut Crush

Since we were sat at the bar, I expected the drink to be the first thing that landed on the table, so it was a little weird that the milo and coconut crush only arrived after almost all of the savoury dishes.

Timing aside, the drink was a nice twist on the traditional milo dinosaur, and went quite well with the heavier set of dishes we had ordered.

Salt & Pepper Tofu Fries w/ Sesame Mayo – $9.50

The salt and pepper tofu fries sounded interesting on paper, but it was an unfortunately bland delivery. The tofu themselves were pretty flavourless with none of the salt and pepper promised, the epitome of a subpar tofu dish in my opinion. The batter also left me wishing for more crunchiness. The sesame mayo was average as far as dipping sauces go, but was definitely the best thing on the plate.

Nyonya Style Fried Popcorn Chicken – $14.50

I’ve never had Nyonya food myself, but my friend has, and said that acidity was a prominent flavour in the cuisine, which left me feeling a little wary of how the popcorn chicken would taste. They tasted, um, like popcorn chicken I guess? But not the good kind. Again, it didn’t have any particularly strong or unique flavour coming through, and the batter was a little too floury with not enough crispiness to boot.

On another note, for almost $15, I expected more than a barely filled bowl of fried chicken.

Butter Chicken Curry Puffs – $11.50

The butter chicken curry puffs was another one that sounded interesting on paper. The pastry was quite flakey, and the butter chicken mixture inside was decent enough without any punch per se.

Roti Paratha, Eggplant Tomato Sambal, Smoked Yoghurt – $9.50

The roti paratha was probably the best of the savoury dishes, but is that really saying much at this point? The flaky pastry was topped off with a tangy eggplant tomato sambal, which could have been elevated by a kick of chilli. The smoked yoghurt tasted a bit like Greek yoghurt, and would have made more sense had the sambal been spicier.

Fried Apple Pie w/ Chai Ice Cream – $14.50

We were quite full by this point, but we had our eyes on the fried apple pie since the beginning, and given the low probability of us returning at this point, we decided to bite the bullet and order the dessert to share.

This turned out to be a great move, as the fried apple pie was hands down the best dish of the day. The large chunks of stewed apples with a good hit of cinnamon was encased in the flakey roti pastry similar to the butter chicken curry puff. The chai ice cream was also a winner, with enough ginger, cardamom and clove flavour coming through and complimenting the sweetness of the apples and the richness of the pastry.

As you can probably tell by this point, I found the whole experience at Hawker Hall to be quite underwhelming. The food was average at best, with the apple pie being the saving price, and none of it could really justify the hefty price tag attached.

I’ve only really heard good things about Hawker Hall, but it all just seemed a little too extra and pretentious to me, exactly the opposite of what comes to mind when I’m thinking of Singaporean and Malaysian street food.Maybe our approach to select some smaller plates to try didn’t work out in our favour? Regardless, I am in absolutely no rush to return.

How to get here:
Hawker Hall is located on Chapel Street, three minutes walk from Windsor Station, or catch tram #6 and get off at High Street/Chapel Street, and you’ll also be three minutes walk away from the restaurant.

Hawker Hall Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dukkah Restaurant

It’s no secret by now that Middle Eastern food is one of my all-time-favourite cuisines. Dips, pickled goodies, and all the grilled meats that are on offer makes for a hearty meal any day of the week.

Egyptian food is a strand of Middle Eastern cuisine that’s a little harder to find in Melbourne, and something I’ve always been wanting to try since reading about it in one of my favourite Chinese author’s travel journal. And this is where Dukkah comes in, with its one-page menu having a mixture of familiar and comfortable options and dishes that I couldn’t pronounce, it was the perfect place for me to dip my toes into Egyptian cuisine.

Trio of Dips – $17.00

Starting things off, we had the trio of dips. The turmeric and dukkah added some interest to the humble hummus, and the beet labneh had just the right amount of acidity to whet the palate for what’s to come. My favourite though, was the fel-fel, an Egyptian campsicum dip that was based off a family recipe, it was nourish with a hint of sweetness, and I could have eaten a tub of this thing on my own.

Cheese Cigars – $12.00

The cheese cigars were piping hot and reminiscent in shape to spring rolls. We were warned to wait a couple minutes before digging in.

Cheese Cigars – $12.00

The mixture of halloumi, feta and mozzarella meant the cigars were tangy, rich and satisfying, and the cheese pull was just as visually pleasing as I had expected.

Mixed Grill – $24.00

Onto the larger dishes we go. The mixed grill is a good option if you are as indecisive as we are and want to try a bit of everything. On the plate we had lamb kofta, chicken shish tawook, and spicy beef sausage, accompanied with rice pilaf, garden salad, and plenty of lemon and garlic tahini to drizzle over everything. The grilled goods all had something different to offer, and my favourite was the lamb kofta, which was extremely tender and flavoursome.

Chicken Shawarma Tagine – $22.00

The chicken shawarma tagine is something that I’d never seen before, and knowing that it was a specialty at Dukkah, it was a must-order from the get go. This was a winner in terms of both flavour and texture. The layers of perfectly grilled 24-hour marinated chicken shawarma and saffron rice was rich and tentalising, with the roasted almonds adding some crunch, and the pops of pomegranate lifting the flavour profile. If you’re a fan of spicy food, be sure to ask for some harissa paste on the side to round off the experience.

Om Ali – $12.00 with Vanilla Ice Cream – $3.00

Despite being quite full at this point, we couldn’t pass up on the dessert, and settled on sharing one between the two of us, because we are sensible adults.

Om Ali – $12.00 with Vanilla Ice Cream – $3.00

We were tossing up between the two dessert options, but Om Ali had us at bread and butter pudding but better. I was confident we could finish this when it was first brought to the table, however, the rich combination of cinnamon milk and puff pastry had us beat. I did enjoy every single monthful that I could manage though.

Melbourne is certainly not lacking in restaurants that serve great food, but on top of the food, what made Dukkah a standout to me was the overall experience. It’s clear that a lot of love and care went into every part of the restaurant, from the menu that boasts flavourful dishes meant for sharing, to the space that accommodates for small and larger groups alike.

Dukkah brings something different to the food scene at South Kingsville, with regular live music events and a range of wine and beer on tap, it’s not difficult to see why it’s become a local favourite in the span of a year. I’m already planning my next meal down the other side of town to try out the lamb tagine!

How to get here:
Catch bus #432 from Yarraville Station, which is on the Werribee train line, and get off at Vernon Road/Brunel Street, and the restaurant is right by the bus stop.

I dined as a guest of Dukkah.

Dukkah Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Little Sichuan

Little Sichuan is another creation under the Dainty Sichuan group, and it started off by offering maocai and ganguo, two variations of Sichuan dishes that are similar but not quite the same as Malatang.

It’s since jumped on the malatang train though, and has a similar setup to other malatang restaurants. You’re given a bowl to fill to your heart’s content at $3.28 per 100 grams, choose a soup base out of the five options, and grabbing a number to bring back to your table.

Pan Fried Pork Buns – $10.80

Little Sichuan also have a number of flour-based dishes, and we couldn’t go past the pan fried pork buns. The buns were fluffy on top with a crispy bottom, and looked straight out of a movie. The little warning flag wasn’t kidding, these buns were bursting with juice, and is seriously a burning hazard!

Malatang

Onto the star of the show, the Malatang! I picked Sichuan spicy as my soup base. Some of my favourite toppings at Little Sichuan that are not commonly found include the home-made fried pork and wide sweet potato noodle. I also really liked the fried peas on top, they added a nice crunch to the Malatang. Although the soup smelt great, there was a lot of oil on top, and the soup itself was quite thin, this meant that I pretty just picked all the goodies from the soup without drinking much of it.

We visited Little Sichuan after scoring a deal on EatClub, and the truth is, I probably wouldn’t be rushing back. Sure the pork buns were delicious, but I’ve had better Malatang elsewhere, and the slightly higher price tag just wasn’t worth it.

How to get here:
Little Sichuan is located inside QV, which is right opposite Melbourne Central.

Dainty Sichuan - Little Sichuan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Foodstore Cafe

The Foodstore Cafe recently launched their Autumn menu, and we were excited to try out all the new things that were on offer.

Iced Latte – $4.50

The iced latte was well-rounded and refreshing, there was some additional milk on the side that you could use to adjust the coffee, but I thought it was fine as is.

Soy Flat White – $4.50

I really appreciated the latte art on my soy flat white, considering that soy milk is much harder to froth to a thick consistency similar to regular milk’s. Besides the superb presentation, the coffee did a great job waking me up too, which a strong nutty flavour coming from the soy milk.

Big Breakfast – $19.00

Although the big breakfast seems less exciting than the other dishes on the menu, each element was done well, and the freshness of the quality ingredients were able to shine.

Salmon Omelette – $18.00

There was a generous serving of salmon in the omelette, and if you’re looking for something protein-heavy, then this is the perfect thing to order. I did think that the salmon was a little dry though.

Corn & Pumpkin Fritters – $18.00

Corn fritters are some of my favourite things to eat, and the addition of pumpkin gave The Foodstore Cafe’s version an Autumnal touch. The fritters were sweet and crunchy, with additional crispness coming from the fennel and zucchini slaw. The fritters were lavished with lime tahini yoghurt, adding some earthiness to the dish.

Mushroom Toast – $18.00

Being a huge fan of mushrooms, I find it hard not to choose a dish that prominently features mushroom when it’s on the menu, and I’ve gotta say, this is probably the best mushroom dish I’ve had in awhile. The mushrooms was perfectly cooked with a good hit of thyme and garlic, and they were perfectly plump without being watery. The spiced cauliflower added some Middle Eastern flair to the dish, and the hummus was creamy and flavoursome. The toppings of pomegranate and mixed nuts reminded me of the famous grain salad from Jimmy Grants, and added both texture and flavour to the already action-packed dish. There may seem to be a lot going on, but everything on the plate was well thought-out, and this was hands down my favourite dish of the day.

Chicken and Halloumi Salad – $18.00

The elegant presentation continues with the chicken and halloumi salad. The chicken was grilled perfectly, and paired well with the fresh slaw underneath. What really stood out to me though was the grilled halloumi, having been made in-house, the halloumi was a lot softer and less salty than the store-bought variety, and is a testament to the level of care and patience that the kitchen takes in the execution of each dish.

Eggs Benedict – $18.00

The eggs benedict came on top of a sweet potato rosti, which was a nice low-carb alternative to the traditional English muffin.

Eggs Benedict – $18.00

The slow cooked brisket was juicy and tender, and the lemon zest hollandaise had just enough of an extra acidity kick than your average hollandaise to balance out the richness of the beef brisket. And yes, the eggs also delivered in the #eggporn department.

Middle Eastern Lamb Salad – $18.50

The Middle Eastern theme returned with the lamb salad, the chunks of lamb were juicy and flavoursome, and there were enough on the plate to make this a substantial salad.

Middle Eastern Lamb Salad – $18.50

Although I didn’t try the roasted carrots, being a carrot-hater and all, I have it on good authority that the carrots were even better than the lamb, and that’s saying something.

Orange Blossom Pancakes – $18.00

Last but certainly not least, we ended the meal with some orange blossom pancakes.

Orange Blossom Pancakes – $18.00

The red colour of the pancakes lured us into thinking that it’s red velvet flavoured, however, one bite was all that was needed for us to taste the citrus note and realise that they were the much less commonly seen orange blossom pancakes instead.

Orange Blossom Pancakes – $18.00

Although it looks just slightly over the top, the pancakes were sweet without being too sweet, and the fresh strawberries certainly helped in adding some dimension of flavour to the dish. This is probably one that’s best for sharing in order to be sensible, but go ahead and order a whole plate for yourself if you have a sweet tooth. Life’s too short for sensibility when it comes to pancakes.

The Foodstore Cafe ticks all the boxes when it comes to the quintessential neighbourhood cafe – friendly service, interesting and reasonably priced menu, and some outdoor tables to bring your furry friends when it’s not raining. If you’re ever wanting to try a cafe that’s a little more hidden away, then The Foodstore Cafe is the place to be.

How to get here:
The Foodstore Cafe is located on Auburn Road, catch bus #624 and get off at Airedale Avenue, the cafe is a minute walk away.

I dined as a guest of The Foodstore Cafe.

The Foodstore Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melina on the Rooftop

Melbourne has entered into the depth of Winter without a warning, but here I am, still clinging onto rooftop bars. Although it’s nothing like bathing in the Summer sunshine with a cocktail in your hand, there is still something charming about sitting snugly under some heaters with a view. All that is to say, we decided to have dinner at Melina on the Rooftop recently.

Crispy Saganaki Cheese – $18.00

We decided to grabbed a few dishes to graze on, with the first being the crispy saganaki. The crunchy batter on the saganaki added some texture to the soft cheese, and the sweetness from the drizzle of the balsamic glaze paired nicely prevented the saganaki from becoming overly salty.

Fries – $12.00

The shoestring fries was golden brown, and the Greek season on the fries were quite addictive. The feta cheese dip on the side was an interesting addition, although the crumbly texture and the thinness of the fries meant that it wasn’t the easiest to dip in.

Antipasto – $34.00

The antipasto had your usual suspects with a Middle Eastern twist with the addition of some grilled halloumi. The meats were all quite average, with the smoked ham seriously tasting like it was bought from a supermarket deli. It was nothing really worth writing home about altogether. The bread served on the side was also quite dry, and the balsamic glaze drizzled over top seems like more of an afterthought.

There’s no question that the vibe is quite intimate and romantic at Melina on the Rooftop, definitely a place that’s good enough to take a date. That being said though, I did find the food to be quite overpriced, especially considering the portion size. We made a booking on EatClub, which took 30% off our bill, making it quite reasonable. I still think that the food was quite average even after the discount. All in all, Melina on the Rooftop might be better suited for a couple of drinks after dinner than a proper sit-down meal.

How to get here:
Melina on the Rooftop is located on Lonsdale Street, a 5 minutes walk from Melbourne Central.

Melina on the Rooftop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato