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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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

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

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

Radio Mexico

Situated right by the beach, Radio Mexico is a great place to hit up for dinner after a day in the sun. In saying that, the changing weather at Melbourne didn’t stop us from satisfying our taco cravings.

Guacamole – $10.00

Radio Mexico is said to have some of the best guacamole in town, making it a must-order for us. The guacamole was probably some of the smoothest I’ve had, and was also light and refreshing. The homemade corn chips were delightful too, but really, I would eat that guacamole all on its own off a spoon if I could.

Hongos – $7.50

I love anything mushroom, and this mushroom taco was definitely a winner. The roasted mushrooms were dark and flavoursome, with the creaminess from the crema poblano acting as its perfect counterpart.

Carne Asada – $7.50

The BBQ hanger steak was juicy and tender, and although less intense in flavour when compared to the Hongos, it was a simple but delicious taco nonetheless.

BBQ Pork Belly – $7.50

There was definitely plenty of crackle to go around in the BBQ Pork Belly taco, giving it a giant boost of texture. Pineapple is a common partner of pork in Mexican cuisine, and it did a great job of adding some sweetness to the taco.

Babacoa De Res – $17.00

Radio Mexico’s take on nachos came in the form of chilaquiles, and we went for the slow cooked beef option. The beef packed some heat thanks to the ancho chilli, and the lettuce helped to cool it down when things got a little too spicy.

Roast Chicken – $20.00

The ever humble roast chicken was not so humble at Radio Mexico, being served in a mushroom and jalapeno broth, which was absolutely delicious, and great to spoon over the green rice.

Pork Belly Al Pastor – $24.00

We knew that the pork Belly Al Pastor would be good after the pork belly taco, however, this still blew my mind away. The dark broth was full of flavour, and the meat, having been roasted first and then placed in the broth, was able to take on the flavours extremely well.

Radio Mexico has been a popular dining spot for both locals and tourists, and it’s not hard to see why. Serving up some of the best Mexican food I’ve had to date, it’s definitely a place I’d venture out to more often, especially when Summer comes around again.

How to get here:
Catch tram #16, heading towards St Kilda Beach, from Flinders St or Melbourne Central, and get off at Luna Park/Cavell Street, and the restaurant is two minutes walk away.

Radio Mexico Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Papa Gino’s

Papa Gino’s is a no-frill Italian restaurant in a sea of Italian restaurants on Lygon Street, and we decided to drop in for a quick lunch on a weekday.

Ai Funghi w Penne (Entree) – $14.50

Feeling like a white sauce, we ordered the mushroom in creamy sauce with penne. The penne were perfectly al dente, and although the mushroom sauce was quite run-of-the-mill, it was reminiscent of a comforting home-cooked meal nonetheless.

Capricciosa (small) – $13.00

The capricciosa was also quite pleasant. Its base was crispy enough to create texture, but sturdy enough to not sink under the topping of mushroom, ham, olives and cheese. Again, nothing to write home about, but it did the job.

Papa Gino’s does not pride itself in offering gourmet and authentic Italian food, however, its selling point are its family-friendly atmosphere, no-frill menu and friendly service, making it perfect for large gatherings of sorts.

How to get here:
Papa Gino’s is located on Lygon Street, catch any of Swanston Street trams heading out of the city from Flinders Street Station or Melbourne Central and get off at University of Melbourne, and Papa Gino’s is 5 minutes walk away.

Papa Gino's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato