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

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Tanghuo Kungfu

I went back to China for a month at the beginning of 2018, and that’s when I realised that Malatang has taken over the world by storm. Combined with meal delivery apps and ride-sharing services, those three things helped me in surviving one of the coldest winters in Nanjing, with more snow than the city had seen in decades.

Malatang joints started popping up in the suburbs with a high concentration of Chinese population first in Melbourne, before taking over the city, to the point where there are pretty much a Malatang restaurant every 50 metres in the CBD.

The idea of malatang is quite ingenious really, I like to think of as hot pot for one. After grabbing a large bowl and a pair of tongs, choose from fresh ingredients including vegetables, meats, seafood, soy-based products and all the balls you can think of are. Once you’ve put in way too much food in your bowl because you want to try a bit of this and a bit of that, walk to the counter where you’ll be asked whether you want everything served in a soup or have it dry, and choose the appropriate spice and tingle level (the sensation that Sichuan peppercorn leaves on your lips), pay for your goods by weight, and then settle back at a table, and before long, a bowl of piping hot Malatang will be set in front of you.

Tanghuo Kungfu hails from China, and was one of the first Malatang restaurants in Melbourne, having opened its Box Hill location in 2017, and expanded into the city last year. The city location is sleek and a lot larger than other Malatang restaurants, complete with a sauce station and self-serve water dispensers. There is no shortage of food selection, and the service was very friendly, with staff greeting you at the door.

Left: Rose Oolong – $5.00
Right: Cherry Blossom Green Tea – $5.00

Tanghuo Kungfu has an additional tea station, which makes a lot of sense, as Malatang can be on the heavy side due to all the spices, and sipping on green tea throughout the meal helps to lighten things up. The bottles are also cute and portable, meaning that you can take it with you once you’re done and use it as a makeshift water bottle!

Malatang – $3/100g

Regardless of variety, everything goes for $3 per 100 grams, with the minimum spending of $12 per bowl, making the maths quite easy. I chose the traditional Malatang, with high spice level and medium tingling level. The soup is what differentiates each Malatang restaurant for me, and the version at Tanghuo Gongfu is quite good. It has clearly been boiled for hours, resulting in a complex depth of flavour, and there is a sweet after taste. My favourite toppings to add to malatangs include tofu puffs, seafood money bags, Chinese cabbage, crown daisy, sliced lamb, pork and mushroom balls, bamboo shoot, quail eggs just to name a few. It’s always fun to pick and choose from the selections available, but watch out, as things can get out of hand really quickly!

Malaban – $3/100g

We also tried the Malaban for the sake of variety. The dressing that all the goodies are doused is primarily made of sesame and chilli oil, and the sweet after taste that I really liked in the soup rendition did not fare as well here, being overly sweet to the point of cloying. We both agreed that Malatang was the better choice in this case.

Malatang is great both as a quick lunch or a late night meal, its versatility being its biggest selling point. You can make it more substantial by adding in some noodles, or keep it light by choosing mainly vegetables, the choice is completely yours. With Tanghuo Kungfu opening from lunchtime to the early hours of the morning daily, it is definitely somewhere worth trying out Malatang at!

How to get here:
Tanghuo Kungfu is located on Elizabeth Street, a short five minutes walk from Melbourne Central.

I dined as a guest of Tanghuo Kungfu.

Tanghuo Kungfu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Donut Shop

Melbourne’s obsession with donuts continues, and although I’ve already found a go-to, the simple and laid-back interior of Donut Shop drew me in when I had a few hours to kill in the area, and I decided to try them out.

Mocha Crunch – $5.00

At the friendly suggestion of the waiter, I settled for the mocha crunch. The donut was very soft and airy, which contrasted well with the biscuit crumbs on top, and wasn’t overly sweet. This is one of those donuts that light enough that you don’t feel too guilty after having one as an afternoon pick-me-up.

Donut Shop is a great place to catch up with friend over some coffee and donuts. There was one weird thing: the place is named Burgers & Donuts on Zomato, and as far as I’m aware, no burger appeared on the menu. Mystery aside, good luck deciding between those donut flavours, may the odds be ever in your favour.

How to get here:
The Donut Shop is located on Gertrude Street, around a 12 minutes walk from Parliament station.

Burgers & Donuts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Colourful Yunnan

Colourful Yunnan was a pioneer in bringing Yunnan cuisine to Melbourne. Starting off with its Carlton location, the restaurant has since expanded into the suburbs. Even in Box Hill, where there are Chinese restaurants sprawled in every corner, Colourful Yunnan has found its footing, and attracts a moderate following on any day of the week.

Pao Lu Da – $6.50

As far as I’m aware, Pao Lu Da can only be found in Colourful Yunnan. Originating from Thailand and Myanmar, the coconut drink contains sago and torn pieces of baguette, which soaks up the creaminess of the drink. If you’re a fan of coconut, this is definitely worth trying.

Rice Noodle Soup with Stewed Pork Intestines – $13.80

Now this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but pork intestine, when done right, is something that I am quite fond of. The intestine can be a bit fatty at times, however, the spiciness of the soup does a good job of balancing that out. Although I wish there wasn’t so much chili oil floating on top, which I actually scooped out into a bowl so that I’m not drinking oil the whole time.

With its updated interior and expansive menu, it’s easy to see that Colourful Yunnan has found a winning formula of a restaurant. However, I do think that the quality of food is better at Tina’s Noodles right around the corner, with each variation of soup having a distinctive flavour at a similar price point.

How to get here:
Colourful Yunan is located inside Box Hill Shopping, get off at Box Hill Station and head upstairs, and the restaurant can be found in the same complex.

Colourful Yunnan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sonido!

Sonido! specialises in Colombian cuisine, something that I don’t have too much experience nor knowledge with. The small cafe is vibrant and colourful, offering a glimpse into the tenacious Latino culture.

Iced Coffee

Starting off with an iced coffee, the tall glass of drink was quite acidic but easy to drink nonetheless.

Chorizo Arepa – $14.00

Arepas is sort of like bread made from corn colour, meaning that it’s gluten free for the celiacs out there. The arepa was soft and a little chewy, being the perfect vehicle for the chargrilled chorizo. Speaking of which, the long slice of chorizo was juicy and flavoursome, probably one of the best that I’ve had. Paired with the cool salsa and guacamole on the side, this was a simply but satisfying plate.

I was too full by this point to try out the Portuguese tart, which I’ve heard great things about. Guess that just means I’ll have to return with a bigger appetite.

How to get here:
Sonido! is located on Gertrude Street, ten minutes walk from Parliament station.

Sonido! Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Punjabi Curry Cafe

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Curries is one of the ultimate comfort food in my book. Meat and vegetables cooked down in a large pot, with a variety of herbs and spices, and paired with plenty of rice and naan, ticking off everything that’s needed to create perfect Winter dinner. Punjabi Curry Cafe certainly looked promising, with its dark and sleek setting, and a tandoor situated towards the back of the restaurant.

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Pani Puri (8 pcs) – $7.99

Pani Puri is a common street food in India. The delicate puri shell is filled with a mixture of potato, onion and chutney.

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Pani Puri (8 pcs) – $7.99

Although small, each bite created a firework of flavour inside your mouth.

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Clockwise from the top: Beef Masala – $15.99; Butter Chicken – $14.99; Punjabi Kadai Paneer – $14.99
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Beef Masala – $15.99

I really enjoyed the beef masala, the gravy was thick and fragrant, and the meat were very tender.

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Butter Chicken – $14.99

I use butter chicken as my benchmark for all Indian restaurants, and the rendition at Punjabi Curry Cafe, although creamy, was nothing to write home about. The pieces of chicken were a little dry, and although there was plenty of sauce, it was quite run of the mill, for lack of a better term.

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Punjabi Kadai Paneer – $14.99

We wanted to try something a little more adventurous and landed on the Kadai Paneer, the sliced paneer were cooked in a thick tomato based gravy with a heavy hit of spices, Kadai masala in particular. It was definitely an interesting dish to say the least, and its lightness was appreciated considering that the other curries were on the heavy side of things.

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Saffron Rice – $4.99

The fluffy saffron rice was the perfect vehicle for all of the curries.

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Garlic Cheese Naan – $7.99

Fresh the tandoor, the greasy garlic cheese naan was delicious on its own, and even better when dipped into the sauce of the curries.

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Pista Kulfi – $6.99

We ended the meal with some pistachio kulfi, i.e. Indian ice cream. The ice cream had the texture of a solid sorbet, and the pistachio flavour was quite prominant.

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Punjabi Curry Cafe is what you would expect from a neighbourhood Indian restaurant, the curries were of decent quality, and it would be a great place to hit up whether you’re feeling like a heavy-duty Indian dinner out, or just looking to grabbing some takeaway on the way home.

How to get here:
Punjabi Curry Cafe is located on Johnston Street, catch tram #86 Waterfront City Docklands to Bundoora RMIT and get off at Johnston Street/Smith Street, and the restaurant is a short three minutes walk away.

I dined as a guest of Punjabi Curry Cafe.

Punjabi Curry Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mesa Verde

There’s a lot of good stuff sprawled across the floors of Curtain House, and Mesa Verde is one of them. The drinks menu here is endless; it’s a no brainer then for the restaurant to be a popular choice for after work drinks, but we were here for the food.

Mesa Verde appears to have had a menu change since I’ve visited a couple of months ago, apologies in advance if you see something that you particularly fancy that isn’t on the current menu!

Tortilla Chips – $12.00

The house made tortilla chips is much better than the supermarket variety, with some added thickness that ensured it wouldn’t crack even when you’re scooping up an obscene amount of guacamole with it. Speaking of, the guacamole was creamy with a zing, and there was more than enough to go around with the chips.

Salmon Tostada – $7.00

Tostadas are great, first of all, it’s just a fun word that rolls off your tongue, and secondly, it’s essentially a crunchy taco, need I say more? The tostadas at Mesa Verde were topped off with the creamiest avocado, that had a mousse-like consistency, which went really well with the plump and fresh slices of salmon. Although this was messy to eat, the flavours meant that it was worth it.

Charred Corn – $8.00

I love charred corns, especially when they’re smothered in morita mayo and cotiya cheese, all lightened up with a squeeze of lime. Again, messy to eat, but well worth it.

School Prawns – $9.00

The school prawns were coated in an addictive layer of spicy seasoning, and would have definitely went well with a margarita. The pickled green chilli hiding behind the prawns had more than just a kick to it, so eat at your own risk.

Pork Taco – $7.00

To finish things off, we shared a couple of tacos. First up was the pork taco. the shredded pork lacked the oomph that I was looking for, but the chilli salsa did help it out, and the pickled radish gave it some texture.

Baja Fish Taco – $7.00

The baja fish taco was my pick of the night, although it took a ridiculous amount of time to pick off all the corianders. The fish itself was cooked in a light batter, and was perfectly tender inside. The herb aioli was quite mild, I think I would’ve preferred the smoke marita mayo here instead.

Given that drinks takes centre stage at Mesa Verde, it was nice to see that the restaurant did not neglect the food either. The bill does add up with tacos here and charred corns there, but it did have a groovy vibe (is this still a thing? asking for a friend), and I can certainly see myself returning and trying out some of the drinks.

How to get here:
Mesa Verde is located on the 6th floor of Curtain, on Swanston Street, just a short five minutes walk from Melbourne Central.

Mesa Verde Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato