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Shanghai Dumpling, Old Town Kopitiam & Orientalism

October 11, 2009 2 comments

One of the greatest things about Melbourne is the abundance of cheap “ethnic” food, especially of the Asian variety. Shanghai Dumpling is an old haunt of mine and I’ve been to Old Town numerous times but the presence of Lainie always somehow makes me want to take pictures of things and blog about them. Guess she has that effect on people.

David & Camy’s Shanghai Dumpling House
25 Tattersalls Lane,
Melbourne, 3000
(03) 9663 8555

Shanghai Dumpling is one of those Melbourne institutions. I have a love/hate relationship with the place. The love is mostly related to the awesomeness and cheapness of their food. We’re talking like $6.50 for a plate of 15 delicious fried pork dumplings and something similar for a big heap of awesome fried noodles. I won’t lie, when I get to know a place well I have my staple dishes which I order all the time. At Shanghai Dumpling it’s always 15 Fried Pork Dumplings and either the Dan Dan Noodle or the Shanghai Fried Noodle.

As for the hate, it largely stems from the clientele. I don’t want to sound like a hater, and I realise that I too am a white man in an Asian restaurant, but some of the Aussies that frequent the place are just so very annoying. Sample conversation: “Omg the dumplings here are so good and cheap and like the service is really shit and the weird Chinese man screams at everyone and they keep playing Celine Dion over and over… it toooootally adds to the character, hahahha, let’s all laugh at the weird Chinese man.” Umm yeah so Orientalist much? It really irks me how Melbournians like to point out odd things about other nationalities and then comment that it “adds to the character” and that it amuses them. There is nothing respectful about turning others into a circus act for your enjoyment, it doesn’t mean that you’re tolerant because you don’t hate them, it means you’re racist. Sorry.

But enough of the rant and onto the food. Shanghai Dumpling is one of those places which I’ve been going to for so long that I always order the same thing. In this case, it’s always a plate of 15 fried pork dumplings and either the dan dan noodle or the shanghai fried noodle. Below you have the aforementioned, fried pork dumplings, your humble blogger believes them to be the best fried pork dumplings in Melbourne (having tried Shanghai Noodle House, Shanghai Village and HuTong), which, for $6.50, is a mighty meal.

Next up we have the Dan-Dan Noodle, the sauce for which is a wonderfully spicy (though I remember it to be spicier somehow but perhaps my tolerance was just not as high as it is nowadays) pork mince with whole chillies and bok choy.

Overall Shanghai Dumpling is still the original and still the best when it comes to dumplings, and the selection of other Northern Chinese food on the menu is still super-delish. Because of the place’s cult favourite status, you will have to deal with annoying clientele, and because of its brusque, rude services and definite lack of hygiene, you will have to deal with a less-than-stellar “dining experience” (unless you think it’s all part of the ‘charm’ and ‘character’ and then write a romanticised book about it), I’ve also heard some horror stories about people being kicked out randomly before receiving their food on account of the kitchen closing, I’ve seen cockroaches there for sure and several of my friends have seen waitresses stealing dumplings off the plate before it’s served (count your dumplings!) So all these stories aside, the place still comes recommended due to the quality and cheapness of their food.

Old Town Kopitiam
195 Little Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9639 6098

The second restaurant I visited with Lainie was the Old Town Kopitiam on Lt. Bourke Street. I’m a bit of a coinnoseur of Sinagporean/Malaysian food (if I do say so myself), on account of the many trips I’ve made to the countries and the amount of meals I’ve had at kopitiams, food courts, restaurants, mamaks and the whole shebang. Trawling around Melbourne looking for good Malaysian food is sort of a pastime, and a rewarding one at that since, due to the diaspora here and the abundance of Malaysian international students, it can fairly easily be found.

I’d been to Old Town before (no idea if there’s any connection to the chain in Malaysia itself) and remember being fairly impressed with their Char Kway Teow. For those not familiar with the humble CKT, it’s a Malaysian classic and the name literally translates to “Fried rice-cake strips”. The dish consists of flat, wide rice-noodles stir-fried over very high heat with light and dark soy sauce, chilli, whole prawns, deshelled cockles, bean sprouts and liberally chopped up Chinese chives. Variations abound, the Penang one, fried in the dark soy sauce, being a mainstay and favourite. It is stir-fried in pork fat, with crisp croutons of pork lard, giving it a characteristically rich taste. My favourites usually appear sans cockles and include fried egg and Chinese sausage (Lap Cheong), fishcakes are also prominent. The Old Town version included all my faves minus the cockles, awesome.

The place was trying to go for the whole old-school Ipoh-style old kopitiam vibe, complete with the cups featuring blue designs, as in Ipoh and the many copycats all over Malaysia. We had the cham, a mixture of coffee & tea, much like the more well-known yuan yang of Hong Kong.

So that’s it from me this post guys. Soon I’ll be posting about Dead Man Espresso and Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. In the meantime, check out the new google map I’ve created for the Melbourne Zeitgeist, it’ll include all the places I blog about and other cool places that are must-see, must-drink, must-eat, must-try in Melbourne… because you know I have impeccable taste 😛

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Outpost

October 5, 2009 1 comment
Outpost
7 Yarra Ln, South Yarra
(03) 9827 8588
outpost[at]stali.com.au

Word around the traps was that St. Ali had opened a new cafe called Outpost on Yarra Lane, the small street off Toorak Road right next to South Yarra station. A friend has an apartment near there so I had noticed before that there was some construction going on, I was hoping for a good cafe, as I always do, but didn’t expect one would eventuate – yet lo & behold, it did… as Lainie and I discovered one warm spring afternoon.

Outpost is literally tiny, it looks like it seats around 10 people on it’s two tables (one inside, one outside) and around another 5-8 if crammed on the barstools around the joint. Obviously it’s going to cater more for nearby corporates who want to get a take-away cuppa (sort of like BBB does).

The decor of the place is pretty cool, at first glance it seems like the usual minimalist, shiny-surface-heavy modern cafe style, all glass and metal, but upon closer inspection, the attention to detail is quite commendable. For example, the colours chosen in this corner, pastel greens and mosaic tiles, potted plants and old wood, give the place a comfortable feel, like you’re in your neighbourhood auntie’s kitchen. Then there’s that beautiful vintage French stove you see there, that stove is just amazing.

Coffee-wise, this being a St. Ali cafe with St. Ali beans, of course it didn’t disappoint. Our coffees were served by 2009 cup tasting champion and fourth-place (I think?) barista Aaron Wood. First up, I had a strong 3/4 latte which was perfect, a nice rosetta being the icing on the cake.

Next up was an espresso which I didn’t photograph, but believe me it was delish, perfect, very well balanced, crema-dominated and loverly. And after that Aaron treated us to some of their cold drip coffee. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how the thing works, all I know is that the coffee is extracted cold and that it works well with coffee that’s a little old (like maybe 14 days since roast). It tasted very different to regular espresso coffee, or siphon even, but not all together unpleasant. Here’s a pic of the contraption.

All in all, full marks on the coffee, the service and the place. I suggest you all go down and check it out.

Victorian Barista Championships

September 29, 2009 2 comments

The final weekend in Melbourne is normally dominated by the AFL Grand Final on Saturday and parade on Sunday. Most people were thus glued to their TVs, in pubs or at the footy itself on Saturday and many turned out for the parade (I assume) on Sunday. Though I like Aussie Rules and if the Bombers had been in involved in the Grand Final (fat chance), things might have been different, but my love of coffee prevailed over any feelings I have for the Cats or Saints and I chose to spend the weekend away from all the footy at the AASCA Victorian Barista Championships held at the Melbourne Showgrounds as part of the Royal Melbourne Show.

First, a note on said Show. Normally when I hear that Australia has an obesity problem, I wonder where it lies. Walking around the leafy inner-northern suburbs, the affluent south and the CBD (the places I generally spend the most time in) you really don’t see many obese people. I discovered where they are however, they are all at the Royal Melbourne Show, jostling for Bertie Beetle showbags and dagwood dogs. Seriously, this many fat people i have never seen all in one place! Rolling along with their fat children, fat spouses, fat hands with fat fingers clutching fat sausages and donuts, dripping in sugar and fat. If this seems like a tirade, it probably is. I hear some people are genetically pre-disposed to obesity, I also am no saint when it comes to healthy eating (or living in general) but sometimes, it really is unhealthy and quite disgusting.

Rant aside, we were mostly safe at the barista champs from the onslaught of the general public at the Show. Not good for AACSA but good for me, I guess. The competition stretched over two days with latte art and cup tasting on the Saturday and the barista competition proper on the Sunday. I missed the latte art, never being a fan of early Saturday morning rises, but witnessed the cup tasting and most of the barista comp on Sunday.

At the cup tasting, each competitor had a formidable set of 24 cups of coffee in front of them (don’t worry they didn’t have to drink them all, merely a spoons-worth from each one that they could spit into a spittoon!). They were in groups of three, with each group having two coffees that are the same and one that was different. The task was to pick the odd one out and they were judged on the number correct as well as the time taken to complete the set.

A flurry of frantic slurping, spitting, raising and shuffling ensued! Pictured below is Luca Costanzo from Coffee Review Australia.

The winner on the day was Aaron Wood from St. Ali with a total of six cups correct in the heat and four in the final (out of 8 in each, yes it is harder than it sounds), with Remy and Hamish (who’s from St. Ali) coming in second and third respectively.

Now onto the main event.

While I did hear a few whispers of things here and there about the quality of the coffee on offer by the venerable baristi participating, I didn’t get to try any, as that was the domain of the judges. I do have some photos I took, having infiltrated the big-lens-equipped, DSLR-wielding photographer pack at the front with my humble point & shoot Canon Ixus.

The structure of the competition involved each barista serving up four cappuccini, four espressi and four signature drinks to the judges (of which there was an imposing panel of six for each candidate, two being dedicated technical judges).

The first competitor, and a personal favourite, was Talor Browne from Seven Seeds/BBB fame. She has got to be the rockstar candidate among baristi, with her brilliant sense of style, coffee plant tattoo and million-dollar smile. Her signature drink was served in a cupcake holder! Her presentation was themed around airplane service, her playing the air hostess and the soundtrack being soft jazz. Is she the coffee-wielding Girl from Ipanema?

The next barista I saw was Jake Sullivan from Auction Rooms in North Melbourne, with his dainty bow-tie and the green-bean-coffee-sack apron addition being a rather nice touch if I do say so. His signature drink was procured from a siphon (which you can see in the background of the pic below) and his proud boss was also in the front row, awww.

Next up we have Ryan from WA’s Five Senses with a Sumatran bean.

Followed by Kris Wood from South Melbourne stalwart St. Ali‘s cohort.

Followed by Caleb from Five Senses

Last up was Josh from Coffee Beat who’s signature drink looked amazing, though I forget what was in it.

In between, we were entertained by Will from Cafenatics in QV who won the Latte Art competition the day before and was randomly pulled from the crowd during a delay… and well his latte art was pretty awesome, including a cup with four rosetti (the one pictured below is the one with bubbles).

After Josh came time for the decision. A brief delay ensued, an issue was raised by the technical judges and they had to get the head World Barista Championships judge on the phone for it to be resolved. But we were soon to know who the top 3 would be! In 3rd we had Talor Browne from Seven Seeds, 2nd was Kris Wood from St. Ali and the winner was Caleb from Five Senses!

I enjoyed writing this blogpost over an espresso and two magics at surely the best cafe in Melbourne, Seven Seeds – how very fitting. If you guys want to see more of my pics from the event, check out the facebook gallery. 🙂

Kwak – A Fine Belgian Beer

February 9, 2009 4 comments

Considering how much time I’m spending here in Brussels (and Belgium in general), it makes sense for me to post about some of the things I like/love here. Eventually I will do the whole top 5 posts for things like beers and cafes, but those will come at the end of the trip… in the meantime, one beer that has attracted my attention is the Kwak

 

Kwak is brewed by the family-run brewery named Brewery Bosteels in Buggenhout, Belgium. The same brewery also brews another Belgian beer that I happen to like called “Tripel Karmeliet“. Having read a few Beer review websites its disappointing that Kwak only gets a B from them, but hey, I’m no coinnoseur and have no idea about half the crap that they’re talking about. All I know is that I like Kwak and can’t describe the taste much unfortunately apart from that it’s full-bodied, sweet and coloured a medium amber. It doesn’t have much bitterness and is a very pleasant beer to drink any time of year.

 

The other cool thing about Kwak that tourists here in Brussels love is the unique glass that it is served in. It is a round-bottomed, hourglass shaped glass which is held upright in a wooden stand. I was typically confused by this contraption and opted, at first, to take the glass out of the stand and drink it, for fear of spilling it. On later attempts I grew more emboldened and actually gripped the stand by the wooden handle and drank it that way, this proved to be, for some reason or other, a lot more satisfying. Beer is beer you say, and perhaps it is, but I am also a sucker for interesting design. So here’s to Kwak, one of my favourite Belgian beers.

Categories: Europe, Food & Drink Tags: , , ,

5 Cool Cafes in Europe

February 5, 2009 6 comments

The reason why this blog has been so quiet of late is that I’ve been travelling. I recently returned from a 2 week trip to various European cities including: Cologne, Berlin, Dresden, Munich, Bonn (Germany), Prague (Czech Republic) and Ljubljana (Slovenia).

Normally people blog about their travels which seems to make sense and I felt the best topic to blog about would be cafes, seeing as that occupies the bulk of my time when I travel. That’s right ladies & gents, I’m not much of a sight seer. A normal days travelling goes like this. Wake up in hotel room at around 1pm (12pm if I’m lucky) and proceed to grumble & complain about having to wake up, consider going to a major sight/main attraction. Shelve that and head for the nearest cafe. Spend around 2 hours sitting there reading a book, the paper or my reader items (if the place has wi-fi and I have a laptop). Possibly eat something by way of breakfast (or whatever you’d call a meal at that time) and then grudgingly head out to catch something important in the dying light of the day. Spend 5 minutes at said attraction marvelling at how old, big and beautiful it is, take a photo or several and then head back to the cafe (or a new cafe) for more relaxation.

So thus, of course, the first & most important blog post I could write about travelling is going to be about cafes. Here are 5 cool ones that I happened to come across on my recent travels, in no particular order.

1. Cafe Slavia, Prague, Czech Republic

Smetanovo nábřeží 2
110 00 Praha 1, Praha, Czech Republic
+420 224 218 493

Although I mentioned that these cafes appear in no particular order, I have to say that this was probably my favourite cafe of the past 2 weeks’ travels. Prague is rich with cafes and it was my absolute favourite thing about the city, and the reason why I extended my stay here to 6 days. Many of the cafes have a rich history, having originated in the time of the Austrian Empire and none carry a richer history than Cafe Slavia.

The cafe is quite large and located across from the Narodi Divadlo (National Theatre) of Prague, right on the banks of the mighty River Vltava. It has a grand history – opened in 1881, the same year as the Theatre and became a meeting place of artists & intellectuals, including former president Václav Havel, who was a frequent visitor during his dissident years.

The place is brimming with character, on the wall you will find Czech painter Viktor Oliva‘s most famous painting “Piják absintu (Absinthe Drinker)” and it is staffed by very polite (something I’m told that is not normally characteristic of Prague service) waiters in uniforms, containing an ample smoking section for the nicotine-addicted among us, the Slavia is a perfect place to relax any time of the day (it is open quite late until 11pm). You can get a cup of decent coffee here, sit by the huge windows admiring either the Vltava or the busy Narodni Street and simply read a book or perhaps do some writing. There is also a wi-fi connection, a live pianist in the evenings, and a very decent menu including sweet and savoury crepes and some excellent Czech foods (the Prague goulash is recommended).

2. Einstein Cafe, Bonn, Germany

Am Hof 2653113 Bonn 
+49 228 9459145

Thanks to flickr user JochenThe first and most important thing that struck me about this cafe upon entry was the gleaming La Marzocco machine sitting on the counter top. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had arrived (thanks to the recommendation of a friend). I knew I was finally going to get a good, satisfying cup of coffee. Now those of you that have travelled in the part of the world known as Benelux and Germany will know that a good cup of coffee is not easy to come by, nay, it is certainly not the specialty of this region. You can get a fantastic beer in any dive bar in town but a good cup of espresso is as rare as hen’s teeth.

The design and interior of the cafe itself is largely unremarkable. It is done up in the common modern style of many cafe chains around the world, all soft colours and square objects. One cool addition is that you can sit on small square cushions placed strategically along the huge windowsills upstairs, meaning you can sit directly in the window giving you a good view of goings on in the street below. The music is likewise unremarkable, they were playing generic chill out music during my whole time there.

The coffee, on the other hand, was remarkable indeed. Though nothing of Brother Baba Budan standards, it was by far and wide the best cappuccino I had had since leaving Melbourne on November 29th.  The froth was perfect, the espresso extracted to perfection and coming through fantastically, it was super duper awesome. A quick browse of their website shows that they have other locations around Germany (rejoice!) and they are also a micro-roaster (explains the quality of the coffee). These people know what they’re doing. If you need a good cup of coffee in Europe, go to Cafe Einstein.

3. Kavarna Meduza, Prague, Czech Republic

Belgická 17, Prague, Praha 2

222-515-107

Kavarna Meduza is one of those cafes that feels like somebody’s living room. Old bric-a-brac furniture, lamps and old carpet are the adornments here but if you look a little harder, many of the pictures on the walls are, in fact, not random at all but part of a gallery featuring photographs and paintings of mostly Czech artists.

This Kavarna was very close to my hotel so I ended up coming here almost every night for around an hour before they shut, it was a perfect respite from the day’s events, to be able to just sit and read a book or write in my journal. The place feels very welcoming, nobody judges you and you are free to do whatever you feel like pretty much. The beer was cheep and plentiful and so the cafe comes with a high recommendation.

4. Thalia, Dresden, Germany

Görlitzer Strasse 6, 01099 Dresden

0351 / 6524703

Thalia is in fact a very small arthouse cinema with only one cinema hall that fits only 75 people. We, unfortunately, weren’t able to actually watch a movie here, although we really wanted to, but we did hang out in its superb cafe for a few hours. Firstly, the tagline is “Cinema. Coffee & Cigarettes”, which should tell you enough about the place really. While many celebrate the rise of the anti-smoking culture, and of course it makes absolutely perfect sense, it is hard not to love the old film noir charm of the old cancer stick. Those of us that are still fighting our nicotine addiction can at least come to a place like this and get some respite from the anti-smoking propaganda that surrounds us elsewhere.

The place has some history, originally opened in 1889 under the “Apollotheater” name, renamed “Thalia” in 1911, it was completely destroyed during the bombing of Dresden in 1945, and has since been restored under another guise.

The place itself is also very pleasant, the girl who was staffing the place was extremely friendly and helpful, the coffee was pretty good and the ambiance very conducive to reading, writing and chatter. The bohemian vibe of the place is created by the dim lighting, photographs of artful nudes coquettishly holding cigarettes, and the intelligentsia-type clientele all sitting enjoying their fags and conversations about this, that & the other.

5. Le Petit Cafe, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Trg francoske revolucije 4, Ljubljana

+386 (0)1 2512575

This packed and popular Old Town cafe in sleepy Ljubljana is one of those see and be seen places, it seems. The exposed brick walls, and artificially (but tastefully) frayed vintage French posters spill across two large rooms and onto an outside terrace. The coffee selection is varied and decent, as is the food (good sandwiches). The place is obviously inspired French Bohemian, possibly taking its cues from Montmarte. Everything from the menu, to the decor, to the ambiance, to the location (French Revolution Square) is nicely (but not arrogantly) French. 

So that’s 5 cool cafes to track down if you’re visiting the above parts of Europe, all come with hearty recommendations. It should also be noted that, apart from cafe, they all serve food and, with the exception of Einstein, they also all serve alcohol (if you are in need of an alcoholic beverage). Enjoy and let me know if you’ve been to any of them and agree or disagree with my sentiments.