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
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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

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

Grand Lafayette

Grand Lafayette has relocated from Port Melbourne to Prahran late last year, taking over a large industrial space and expanded its menu to include an all-you-can-eat Japanese dinner option. We visited for Sunday brunch on this occasion, saving the dinner menu for another day.

The cafe was extremely airy and well-lit, with plants and pops of colours scattered through, making it sophisticated and stylish, a perfect place to brunch the weekend away.

Iced Green Tea Latte – $8.00

The dark green colour of the iced green tea latte looked promising, and upon mixing it through, it was a well-rounded drink, with a good amount of earthiness coming through from the matcha.

Soy Cappuccino – $4.50

The soy cappuccino, though less visually stunning, also hit the spot with its caramel and berry notes.

the full spread
Chicken & Waffles – $22.80

Chicken and waffles has become one of my go-to dishes whenever I can find it on a menu, the combination of sweet and salty is just right up my alley. Grand Lafayette’s take on this American classic is definitely one of the most extravagant I’ve seen to date. While the waffle was more on the soft side, the batter on the fried chicken was substantial and crunchy. The most surprising part on the plate though was the berry coulis, making it a combination I hadn’t seen before. It’s a clever twist on the traditional maple syrup, and although it may sound a bit strange at the beginning, I actually really enjoyed the mixture of flavours. This is definitely not a dish for everyone, but if you are a fan of chicken and waffles with just maple syrup, I’d say give this one a try.

Confit Duck – $26.80

Confit duck is an extremely time-consuming and technical dish, so I was keen to try it out. The crispy broccolini had a nice charred flavour, and the black rice was well-seasoned with diced chorizo and onion mixed through. The star of the show was certainly the duck itself. The meat was falling off the bone, yet the exterior was extremely crispy, offering a juxtaposition of textures in every bite. It was a much more refined plate than the chicken and waffles, and was more a lunch or even dinner dish than brunch, making me feel like the heftier price tag was justified..

Braised Pork Belly Gua Bao – $10.00

We also got some cute little gua baos on the side. The soy-braised pork belly was tender and flavoursome, and the pickled greens helped to cut through the richness of the meat.

Although the two dishes we tried at Grand Lafayette both were at a higher price-point than what I would pay for brunch typically, I can appreciate that they were probably more labour intensive than say, smashed avo, which is actually $16.80 at the cafe, making it fall within the reasonable range price with, which is also the case for all other non-signature dish brunch options.

Price aside, I did have an enjoyable brunch at Grand Lafayette, and it might be a place to visit if you’re looking to splurge a little and treat yourself for a nice and relaxing meal on the weekend.

How to get here:
Grand Lafayette is located on Clifton Street, a seven minutes walk from Prahran station.

I dined as a guest of Grand Lafayette.

Grand Lafayette 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