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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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

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

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

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