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

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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

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

The Meatball and Wine Bar

Let’s talk about balls. I mean, meatballs. Yes I have the maturity of a 10-year-old.

So, what makes for some great meatballs? They can’t be too dry, and have to be the perfect size with a good amount of garlic and herbs thrown into the mix. When done right, although simple, it’s what comfort food is all about.

With meatball in its name, I was ready to be hit up with some world class meatballs at The Meatball and Wine Bar. How many times can you throw meatball into a sentence? Meatball meatball meatball.

Beef Balls, Red Sauce, House Pasta

Anyway, balls for all is a simple but clever idea. Choose a ball, choose a sauce, and choose a sotto palle, i.e. something for your balls and sauce to sit on. The first combination we chose comprised of beef balls, red sauce, and house pasta, so essentially spaghetti and meatballs – but not really, because they actually do a version of this at The Meatball and Wine Bar.

Back to the dish at hand. The only ingredient listed under the beef balls was pasture-fed angus beef, and I get it, the chef’s gotta keep their secret and all, but seriously, list a few more things so I can at least attempt to make this at home! The beef balls were extremely flavoursome, benefiting from a generous use of herbs and spices, and the al dente pappardelle was the perfect vehicle for the balls and sauce.

Chicken Balls, White Sauce, Super MB Potato Mash.

I was worried that the chicken balls might edge on the dry side, but this was not the case at all. The chicken balls were milder in flavour compared to the beef, especially when put together with the creamy white sauce and the mashed potato, but it was still miles ahead of any ball you could have elsewhere. The pistachios in the balls added some texture, and all in all, this was a delightful plate.

Jokes aside, The Meatball and Wine Bar is the great place for date night. Dark and moody, pasta and wine, I can’t think of a better way to guarantee a second date. Restrain yourself from making too many balls pun though, that might not fare too well. Then again, if they don’t laugh at the word balls at least three times throughout the night, are they really the one?

Yup, this restaurant review has officially turned into some grade A dating advice, thank me later.

How to get here:
Meatball and Wine Bar has three locations across Melbourne, CBD, Richmond and Collingwood, I visited the CBD restaurant, located on Flinders Lane, seven minutes walk away from Flinders Street Station.

Meatball & Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fukuryu Ramen

It’s crazy to think that not that long ago, it was near impossible to get a good bowl of ramen in Melbourne. The situation is definitely a lot loss dire now, with ramen joints popping out all across town. Fukuryu Ramen was, however, one of the first decent restaurants that specialises in ramen, and I was interested to see how it fares against the newcomers some years later.

Red Dragon Ramen – $15.90

Wanting something with some kick, I went for the Red Dragon Ramen, which is said to be the spiciest ramen on offer. The noodles were slightly curly, and had a good bite to it. The soup was indeed, quite spicy, definitely capable of making you sweat as the heat builds up. Besides the spiciness though, the soup base was also full of umami, and quite thick, benefiting from a long and slow simmer of the pork bone broth. The trimmings of chashu were fatty and satisfying, and the egg was also cooked perfectly.

I’m happy to report that Fukuryu Ramen has stood the test of time, and is a reliable place to visit for a good ol’ bowl of ramen, especially now that we’re finally getting some cooler weather!

How to get here:
Fukuryu Ramen is located on Corrs Lane, which is just off Little Bourke Street; a short 7 minutes walk from Melbourne Central.

Fukuryu Ramen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

4 Fingers Crispy Chicken

The fried chicken search continues, and today we find ourselves in 4 Fingers Crispy Chicken, a fast food chain that’s headquartered in Singapore.

Both the decor and service were nice enough for a fast food restaurant, after ordering from the counter, we sat down waiting with a buzzer in hand.

3 Wings and 1 Leg (Mixed) Meal – $16.00

Wanting to try out the classics, I opted for the 3 Wings and 1 Leg option, adding $6 to make it a meal with a side of sweet potato fries and a can of sprite. The chicken were indeed, very crispy. Benefiting from a dry batter, the texture remained even with the addition of the soy garlic and hot sauce. The hot sauce was actually pretty spicy, and the soy garlic had that addictive balance of salty and sweet.

3 Wings and 1 Leg (Mixed) Meal – $16.00

The side of sweet potato fries fared well too. 4 Fingers has clearly mastered the use of the deep fryer, and these fries were light and crunchy, with a fluffy interior.

Fried chicken by itself may not be all that exciting, hence why 4 Fingers has ventured out into a range of burgers and rice boxes for variety. My overall experience at 4 Fingers was quite pleasant, and I would be keen to return for a quick meal and try out some of the other food on offer.

How to get here:
4 Fingers is located on Bourke Street, seven minutes walk away from Parliament station.

4 Fingers Crispy Chicken Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bodega Underground

A Mexican wine bar may not be what you’re expecting to find in Chinatown, however, this is Melbourne, and stranger things have happened.

The lowly-lit Bodega Underground is enigmatic to say the least, I can definitely see it as a place that all walks of life would be seen in. We visited the restaurant for lunch, and as always, food took priority for us over the drinks.

Elote – $6.00 each

The chargrilled corns were coated generously in a layer of cotija cheese, although it lacked the smoky flavour that I look for. With a fresh squeeze of lime however, each bite was bright and delightful, albeit messy to eat.

Pollo Mexicano – $14.00

Fried chicken is another must-order for me when it’s on the menu. The chicken itself were popcorn-sized, although crunchy enough from the batter, I didn’t find it particularly Mexican. The chipotle mayo did have a bit of a kick, and helped to add some flavour to the chicken pieces. The serving size though, was pretty small.

Quesadilla Frita – $14.00

The questionable serving size continues with the mushroom quesadilla. The presentation was not what I was expecting, rather than the traditional quesadilla, being two tortillas stuffed with mushroom and cheese and grilled, it was sort of like a mushroom salad or stew of sort, with two tiny pieces of tortillas thrown on. Flavour wise, this was also quite average, with everything sort of blending in together, but not in a good way.

Tacos de Camote – $11.00

We ordered two servings of tacos, with sweet potato being the first choice. The pickled beetroot and vegan jalapeno crema meant that the taco had layers of flavour, however it would have really benefited from some crunchy pieces of sweet potato instead of the soggy ones present.

Tacos de Pescado – $13.00

Crunch was not an issue with the fish tacos, fortunately. In fact, I really liked the contrast between the fresh cabbage slaw and the fried fish, and the green pea guacamole and soft tortilla.

I was rather underwhelmed by Bodega Underground. The menu seemed interesting enough, but I found it to be quite overpriced, even by both Melbourne and Mexican food standard. The high price were not redeemed by the lack of oomph overall in the dishes we had tried.

The meal cost $10 more than a similar spread I had at Mesa Verde, but we still left hungry, and therefore do not see ourselves returning.

How to get here:
Bodega Underground is located on Little Bourke Street, two minutes walk away from Parliament station.

Bodega Underground Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato