Cabinet Bar & Balcony

It is no secret by now that Melbourne has lots of hidden gems tucked between laneways or up a few flights of stairs. Although how hidden are those places really? Sure, you won’t be able to spot it from a main road, but with the prevalence of online reviews and just social media in general, it’s near possible for a place to remain truly hidden.

I ain’t complaining though, because without recommendations of the internet, how would I come to find a place like Cabinet Bar & Balcony?

The bar is sleek and moody, with the best seats located on the, you guessed it, balcony! Being one of the minority of restaurants that still offers bookings, it made it much easier for my friend and I to secure a table on the balcony on a weekday night.Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

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The L-word – $13.00

We started things off with some champagne cocktails, and my choice of the night was rather fruity and light, thanks to the addition of cranberry juice.

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Pouring Rayne – $13.00

Pouring Rayne (ha!) on the other hand, was more subdued and more of an adult drink imo.

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Cabinet Popcorn Chicken – $13.50

Although short, the menu had a fresh take on your average bar food, and the popcorn chicken was an example of that. The bite-sized pieces were juicy and crunchy, and I loved dipping it in the tangy mayo.

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Eggplant Chips w/ Aioli – $13.00

Eggplant chips is something that I’ll always if it’s on the menu. The version at Cabinet faired quite well, with large strips of eggplant cover in a thin layer of panko crumb, and fried to perfection. My only complaint would be that it lacked some seasoning, however, the aioli on the side certainly helped with that.

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Chorizo, Olives, Feta + Basil Flatbread – $10.00

Being a Wednesday night, we had to take on Cabinet’s offer of $10 flatbreads, and after some intense discussion, we settled on the chorizo one. This was a healthier take on yourย  traditional pizza, being on a much thinner base of flatbread, leaving us with more room to indulge on the toppings. The thickly-cut slices of smoky and flavoursome chorizo were undoubtedly the star of the show, and the simply yet classic combination of flavours made the flatbread an overall winner.

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Mini Chocolate Fondue w/ Croissant, Strawberries and Marshmallows – $12.00

Cabinet keeps its dessert menu short and sweet, with only one item on it – the mini chocolate fondue, so it was a good thing that my friend and I were both keen for it. The melty pot of chocolate was perfect for dunking all the other goodies in, I especially enjoyed the buttery croissant.

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Cabinet certainly carries its own charm, as showcased by the constant flow of diners throughout the night. I always enjoy a bar that puts some serious effort into its food menu too, and Cabinet does just that.

And with events like $10 flatbread Wednesdays, $10 Aperol Spritz Sundays, and $10 Margherita Mondays, it’s guaranteed that no matter when you visit, it will always be a good time.

How to get here:
Cabinet Bar & Balcony is located on Rainbow Alley, although it’s visible from Swanston Street, it is a 10 minutes walk from Melbourne Central.

Cabinet Bar & Balcony Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Very Good Falafels

Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetMiddle Eastern food is one of my favourites. Grilled meats all piled high on a plate, with dips and pickled goods on the side, and everything can be wrapped up in a pita bread, what’s not to love?Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetVery Good Falafels do things a bit different here, as the name goes, they have a focus on serving up some of the best falafels in town, coupled with a rotation of house salads that can either be served on their own, or topped off with falafels.

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Falafel Plate – $10

I went for the signatory falafel plate, piled high with goodies ranging from pickles, trio of dips, and a simple salad, with three falafels and a large ladle of tahini to finish the whole thing off. To say that the falafels were very good is an understatement, they are probably the best that I’ve had to date! They were freshly made to order, and you can definitely tell by the crunchy exterior, and a soft interior that still had some bite to it.

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Falafel Plate – $10

I loved that I could assemble this plate however I wanted, whether it was pairing the falafel with one of the dips or throwing a bit of falafel with some vibrant vegetables in the pita bread to freshen things up a little.

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Salad – $10

Very Good Falafel has three or four house salads at one time, and unfortunately I failed to write down the options available on the night we visited (I know I know). However, I have it on good account that they were all better than your average house salad, with the beans salad (?) being my friend’s favourite of the night.

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As you can see, we wiped our plates clean. Very Good Falafel exceeded my expectations in the best ways possible, I was happy to see that something I often view as a side to mains that are much more exciting being the star of show. The tahini and hummus were also phenomenal, I had thought that nothing could beat home made hummus prior to my meal, but the silky and nutty blend here is much better that I could whip up in a food processor.

I had wanted to bring a tub home, but it was sold out at this point. Oh well, guess I’ll just have to go back.

How to get here:
Very Good Falafels is located on Sydney Road, catch tram #19 from Melbourne Central or Flinders Street Station, and get off at Stewart St/Sydney Rd, and the small restaurant is a minute walk away.

Very Good Falafel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Miznon

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Has anyone tried Israeli food? If the answer is no, then you’re not the only one. Miznon promises to bring Israeli street food to Australia, and I was keen to see what it was all about.

Although Miznon is a new addition to the Melbourne food scene, the restaurant has already set up shop in Paris, New York, Vienna, and Tel Aviv. Opened by Israeli Masterchef Judge Eyal Shani back in 2011, its worldwide expansion meant that I went in with some high expectations.Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetUpon entering the restaurant, we were taken away by the lively and buzzing atmosphere, and the extremely friendly kitchen staff.

We got some of the best seats in the house, the table being right next to the free nibbles station, which included pita off-cuts, sauerkraut, tahini, tzatziki and some sort of chilli sauce. It was also a dangerous spot to be in, it was extremely hard for us to stop ourselves from eating the endless supply of pitas.

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The first of many oops

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White Spritz – $12.00

We had some cocktails to accompany the pita. The mixture of rose, soda and orange made the White Spritz a light and refreshing drink.

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Red Spritz – $12.00

The Red Spritz, on the other hand, was a lot more intense, with the addition of Campari, and the fresh plucked sage leaves.

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Clockwise: Sweet Potato, Calamari Plate, Sabich

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Sweet Potato – $8.00

Onto the food. We started off quite simple with a piping hot sweet potato straight from the oven, it was tender and sweet, and I’m so going to steal the idea of eating it with sour cream on the side, as it prevented the sweet potato itself from getting too heavy.

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Sabich – $12.00

Sabich is a traditional Israeli dish, featuring eggplant, topped with tahini, tomato perfume, and a sliced hard boiled egg. Sabich actually reminded me of the Japanese dish, Nasu Dengaku, i.e. miso glazed eggplant. Though the cooking technique is somewhat similar, Sabich had a much more earthy flavour, especially because of the tahini. The chilli on the side, though unassuming, was very spicy, so tread with caution.

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Calamari Plate – $15.00

The calamari plate was exactly that, lightly grilled calamari served with a salsa of sorts, made up of cucumber, tomato, onion and parsley. The dish was extremely refreshing, and the calamari was cooked perfectly. Although quite simple, the elements all complimented each other, and it was executed with care. My friend hates seafood (I know), but she actually ate a few pieces of the calamari, an indication of how good it was.

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Baby Cauliflower Flower – $13.00

The baby cauliflower flower is sort of a legend at Miznon, being featured heavily in its instagram feed. The whole head of cauliflower is boiled the grilled until tender, and every part of it is edible, including the leaves, which I liked more than I care to admit. The cauliflower falls apart at the prick of a fork, and after dipping it in some tahini and Atlantic salt, it’s simply irresistible, even if you’re not usually a vegetable lover.

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Clockwise: Pita with a Bone, Sac de Coque

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Pita with a Bone – $19.00

Although we were already becoming full at this point, more food were on its way. The pita with a bone is another dish I had been looking forward to all night, being a big fan of well-cooked lamb. The bones were plucked out with minimal effort, and the meat was so soft and juicy. The pita bread itself was perfectly airy, having earlier been deemed as the best pita I’ve had, based on the off cuts alone. Although I wished there was some sort of spice or acidity to lift the flavours a little, this was still a very satisfying experience.

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Sac de Coque – $14.00

Sac de Coque is Miznon’s take on a chicken salad, or at least that’s how it felt like to me. The pieces of the roasted chicken were a little dry, but it was made better by the aioli. Although this was not a stand out salad, it was a good way to sneak some green leaves into the meal to make us feel better about ourselves.

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Miznon was everything I expected and more, from the lively kitchen yelling out orders all night, to the prominent use of lunch bags and cardboards over plates, it had an extremely welcoming atmosphere. The flavours of the food were also top-notch, and I was happy to tick Israeli cuisine off my list. The only drawback is probably the price tag; for a restaurant that features street food, it certainly is on the higher end of things.

Although the menu at Miznon is only one page long, the variation of exotic dishes and pita pockets means that a future visit is required; maybe when I am no longer stuck in the full time student status.

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

 

How to get here:
Miznon is located on Hardware Lane, a short five minutes walk from Melbourne Central.

I dined as a guest of Miznon.

Hochi Mama

I love the idea of tapas, nothing beats getting to try a range of dishes without breaking the bank. That’s probably why I was so taken by Rice Paper Scissors a few years ago. After hearing that the restaurant next door – Hochi Mama has a menu in a similar fashion, I was very excited to visit it on a balmy weekday night.

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The menu is divided into smaller, larger, side, and desserts. For the $59 for two deal that we went with, you get two selections from smaller, two from larger, and one side, all to share.

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Rice Paper Rolls w/ Grilled Eggplant and Fresh Vegetables

Given that our other choices were more substantial, it was a good thing that we started with the DIY rice paper rolls.

The grilled eggplant were undoubtly the star of this dish, having been marinated in a tentalising paste, with just the right amount of char coming through.

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetThe perks of DIY rice paper roll is that you can choose what you want to put in it, and how much of each ingredient you’d like. Being a somewhat picky eater, this was definitely a positive for me, as it meant I could neglect the carrots altogether.

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Hochi Chicken Bahn Bao

Onto the fried things. The chicken was as good as fried chicken goes, crunchy but light batter, and juicy meat on the inside. I especially loved the fermented chilli beans on top, a nod at the Chinese cuisine that baos originate from.

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Hanoi Style Crispy Beef Ribs

This is the first time I’ve tried fried beef ribs, and it did not disappoint. Continuing to showcase the kitchen’s control of the deep frier, the meat certainly was succulent and falling off the bone with very little batter involved. The salad did seem a little thrown together to me, on the other hand, but offered a palate cleanser nonetheless.

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetI somehow lost the photo of the last larger dish that we had – the Southside Tofu Curry, so you’ll just have to have a look at the group photo for now. Being a fan of a wide variety of curries, I did enjoy the sweeter version here at Hochi Mama. The large amount of sauce was also appreciated, as it went well with the side of Coconut Rice.

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Being situated next to Rice Paper Scissors is a double edged sword for Hochi Mama, especially when they’re both serving up some sort of Asian fusion. Although the restaurant was quite filled up throughout the night, it does not have a huge line extending onto the alleyway like Rice Paper Scissors.

It might come as a surprise to some, but I actually think that Hochi Mama is just as good as Rice Paper Scissors, if not better. The prices of each individual dish also meant that getting the $59 deal actually can save you up to $20. So next time when there’s a ridiculous wait time next door, why not head into Hochi Mama and see it for yourself?

How to get there:
Hochi Mama is located on Liverpool Street, get off at Parliament Station, and the restaurant is three minutes walk away.

Hochi Mama Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Moon Dog Brewery Bar

The end of Summer means that there is an exponential decrease of number of outdoor activities that is available. Other than the real outdoorsy ones – hiking and camping –ย  I will also miss is outdoor cinemas, rooftop bars and cosy breweries.

Breweries are something that I’ve only started going to last year. They’re fun, relaxing, and creates a vacuum of endless conversations. The most recent brewery that I had visited is Moon Dog, which specialises in a number quirky flavoured beers. We went on quite a warm day, and the intimate almost lounge room-esque area was filled out by people.Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

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Son of a Spritz – $15.00

Sunny days calls for refreshing cocktails, and Moon Dog’s version of the classic Aperol Spritz was perfect for the occasion. A little more tart than the traditional version, it was hard to stop at one with this drink.

Processed with VSCO with hb1 presetFood wise, on top of the free popcorn available from the bar (just ask, they have an addictive seasoning!), there’s a pizza truck outside of the lounge area.

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There ain’t no mushroom in this town for… – $16.00

We started off with the cheesy and earthy mushroom pizza on the menu. Mushrooms are some of my favourite ingredients, and the trio of field, shimeji and porcini mushrooms really hit the spot. Being on a garlic base further accentuated the umani coming through, and the dough was thin and crispy enough, but still held onto the toppings quite well.

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Pimp My Marg – $14.00

A good margherita pizza is deceptively simple, but full of flavour, and this was a prime example of that. The vibrant combination of tomato, basil, ricotta and mozzarella really came together. The dough was slightly thicker, which was perfect considering the toppings were considerably more weighty compared to its mushroom counterpart.

The laid back atmosphere at Moon Dog stood out to me from the get go, and the quirky drinks available on tap ensured that everyone can find one that suits them. Whether you’re looking for a destination for pre-dinner drink or spending a relaxing few hours playing Jenga while gauging on popcorns, Moon Dog is the place to be.

How to get there:
Moon Dog is located on Duke Street in Abbotsford. Catch tram #109 from Parliament station towards Box Hill, and get off at McKay St/Victoria St, and the brewery is a short 3 minutes walk away.

Moon Dog Brewery Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dexter

I know I know, I’ve been gone for the longest time. Let’s leave that aside for a second and focus on the topic at hand – the amazing meal I had at Dexter.

The American-style eatery featuring various types of BBQ has been on my list to try for a while now (what’s new), and after a lackluster meal my friend had there (not because of the food), I made it my mission to visit the joint as soon as I was back in the country (travel post coming up soon I swear).Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

The location was quite discrete, in fact, the only thing that gave it away was the X above its door. The warm and romantic lighting, minimal designs incorporating the airy space, and the overall sophisticated atmosphere certainly is not what I had in mind for a American BBQ restaurant, but I was pleasantly surprised. Upon realising that there were only seats available at the bar in the indoor area, we opted to eat outside instead.

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KFC (Kentucky Fried Cauliflower) – $9.00

This was our healthiest dish of the night, I mean yes it is deep fried, but there are large pieces of cauliflower being encrusted in the batter, definition of a balanced meal. Although extremely crunchy, the cauliflower was actually a little bland, but the red sauce on the side did help to bring some flavour to the dish.

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Hot Meat Donuts – $12.00

Here they are, the oh-so-famous meat donuts. The concept sounded pretty magical, but it wasn’t until I took my first bite into the sugar-dusted donut that I knew what I was in for.

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Hot Meat Donuts – $12.00

The tender and juicy beef brisket was as delicious as it can be, and the light donut batter took the whole thing to the next level. The concept of the hot meat donut kind of remind me of Chinese meat buns, or the dim sum Ham Sui Gok, but obviously with a American BBQ twist. The flavour and texture of the donut and the meat filling worked so well together that it took some serious self-restraint to order another 3.

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Cured Pork Neck – $27.00 and Caramel Short Rib – $32.00

Moving onto the more substantial dishes, we ordered two of the large dishes to share. The caramel short rib was hands down, the best ribs I’ve ever had. The complex combination of the caramel marinade and the the smokiness of the rib meant that the flavour had seeped through every bite of the meat. It was also very tender, but not too much so.

The cured pork neck was overshadowed by the short rib, but then again, what wouldn’t be. Being a less fatty piece of meat, its flavour was not as rich as the rib, but it was still delicious nonetheless, especially after being doused in the gravy.

Although the meats are the star of the show, the accompanying sides were also distinctly more tasty than your run-of-the-mill mash, pickles and bread. My favourite was the bone marrow mash, the bone marrow adds so much flavour to the smooth mash, making a simple dish into a decadent extravaganza.

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Shoestring Fries – $7.00

The fries were tasty, but I don’t think even the best of fries could reach the unbelievably standard set by the previous potato dish. The serving was quite generous though, and they didn’t charge us for extra sauce, which is always nice.

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My dining experience in Dexter was better than I could ever imagined, it challenged my understanding of what American BBQ is, and how tasty it can be, in the best ways possible. I would happily return and try some of their other meats, but it’s going to be hard to not order the caramel short ribs every single time.

Given the limited space of the restaurant, I’d highly recommend to book ahead, and while I’m handing out tips, ditch the fries and order an extra serving of the bone marrow mash, you won’t regret it.

How to get here:
Dexter is on High Street in Preston, catch a train on the South Morang line and get off at Preston, and the restaurant is about 7 minutes walk away.

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

Jaidee Thai

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Thai food seems to be a bit of a hit and miss in Melbourne; whilst a pad thai is available in every food court, authentic papaya salads are hard to come by. One of my Thai friends gave a glorious recommendation of Jaidee Thai, and I was more than willing to give it a try.

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Som Tum Thai – $12.00

Piled high with thinly sliced papaya, with pieces of of tomato, snake bean and peanuts mixed through, this papaya salad is probably my favourite rendition of the dish. The dressing was very balanced, with hints of acidity, sweetness and heat. The little pieces of roasted peanuts were my favourite, adding more dimension to the salad.

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Nam Thok (Pork) – $15.00

The grilled pork salad was something I had never tried before. The pork were a bit dry than usual, according to my friend, however it was still quite flavoursome, with the help of the sweet and sour dressing. The mint leaves and red onion kept the dish on the refreshing side, and it helped to lighten up some of the heavier dishes we had ordered.

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Green Curry with Chicken – $14.90

Can you really go to a Thai restaurant and not order the green curry? Not in my book. The curry sauce was light and fragrant, with a good amount of fresh vegetables thrown in, and the large portion was another plus, which went perfectly with the coconut rice on the side.

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Coconut Rice

Speaking of which, the coconut was rice was a bit overcooked for my liking, however the coconut flavour was quite prominent, and there was even coconut meat thrown into the mix!

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Pad Se Ew with Chicken – $14.90

More carbs came in the form of the Pad Se Ew, and it was a much more exciting affair. The stretchy and thick noodles provided the perfect base to soak up all the flavour of the soy based sauce, and the fresh Chinese broccoli ensured that we felt good about eating our vegies.

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Mango with Sticky Rice – $7.50

Even though we were pretty full by this point, some dessert never hurt anyone. The simple mango with sticky rice, drowning in coconut cream, was the perfect way to end our meal. The sticky rice was a bit salty, which helped to offset the richness of the cream, and the slightly hard slices of mango rounded the dessert off.

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Jaidee Thai may seem like a run of the mill neighbourhood Thai restaurant at first glance, however its extensive menu and authentic flavours have won me over. In fact, I am willing to overlook the lackluster service to try out other items on the menu. The restaurant stayed relatively quiet during our visit, so if you’re ever in the area and don’t feel like waiting for Jinda Thai, this is a great alternative.

How to get here:
Jaidee Thai is located on Victoria Street, catch the train on the Hurstbridge and South Morang line, and get off at North Richmond, and the restaurant is two minutes walk away.

Jaidee Thai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato