The Age, Good Food
Simone Egger and Nina Rosseau, 12 March, 2013
Hottest cheap eats trends for 2013
WHEN DID WE ALL BECOME SO particular? For some time, we've hungered for truly authentic food, but that preference is now honed to specific regions. Where once we were satisfied with ''Italian'' as a qualifier, we now want to know from where in Italy: Bologna or Abruzzo? We want to know that it's in the Oaxaca style of Mexican or that it's an Argentinian barbecue.
A growing number of places are serving one dish to meet our taste for specialisation: places such as Wonderbao's steamed Chinese buns, Phat Brats' hot dogs and Huxtaburger. We want simple dishes done brilliantly and with premium, organic, biodynamic ingredients. And while we want our food to be honest, we also want it to be fun. ''Junk'' food and street food rule, and if it's both of those things, has its origins in the US and is served from a mobile truck, all the better.
Our under-$30 eateries are reimagining their regional expertise. They're adding a creative spin to authentic overseas influences and producing awesome fusions. Horn Please is based on the dhaba - a street-side, truck-stop restaurant in India. In essence it's Indian street food, but here vindaloo is made with free-range pork from Gippsland, and butter chicken is made with Bannockburn free-range chook.
Overall we've become less squeamish with our food, too. More of us have gnawed at a chicken's foot, tried pig's ear and gleefully ordered blood pudding with our brekkie eggs. And we've liked them. A lot.
Melbourne eateries that deliver a good meal for under $30 are sparking with resourcefulness and creativity. Here are 10 cheap eats that put the bite on 2013's trends.
1. Roti canai
It takes at least six months' training and a lot of dough to master making roti, but it typically takes 10 minutes tops before this feather-light, folded flatbread lands at your table. At Mamak (city), the roti chefs (usually two flinging and two grilling at a time) have the added pressure of an audience - their stainless-steel benches against the front window and the queue waiting for some roti canai. It's Malaysia's national dish, eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and often bought from a street cart. At Mamak, roti canai come with two dipping curries: a tangy tomato-fish curry and a lentil dhal, with sambal (spicy shrimp paste) on the side.
2. Something on the side
The quality and creativity going into some side dishes has made stars of sides. At breakfast: half an avocado with linseed-flecked wafer, half a lemon and a bunch of flat-leaf might accompany eggs. Or smoked tomato, fresh heirloom tomato, organic quark and basil. Excepting the portion sizes, everything on Small Victories' (Carlton North) carefully curated, seasonally adjusted sides list is so much more than just a side dish. For lunch and dinner, Rockwell & Sons' (Collingwood) sides from the south, such as Hushpuppies (deep-fried cornmeal dumplings), hickory-smoked onion rings, and mac and cheese, are at the centre of many a meal.
3. 'Proper' pizza
Pizza was hot a decade ago, right? Still hot? Damn straight. Only now we're distinguishing between the vast majority of thin-crust Neapolitan-style pizzas (wood-fired, made with ''OO'' flour and minimal yeast, fermented for 24-36 hours) and Sicilian-style, with thicker bases. Whatever the style, you can expect quality toppings, such as Berkshire pork sausage pieces, melted dabs of fior di latte, porcini mushrooms, parmesan and parsley (Non Solo Pasta, Docklands). Or asiago with enoki and oyster mushrooms; breakfast pizzas with egg and spinach; and Belgian chocolate calzoncino for dessert (Kaprica, Carlton). And classic combos, such as capricciosa using smoked ham, artichokes and Ligurian olives (The Way to San Jose, McKinnon).
4. Superfood salads
Some ingredients are bestowed superfood status for their high nutrition-per-kilojoule content. They often also come with a long history loaded with medicinal and healing worship. They're usually in a whole, unprocessed, raw state and positively beaming vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Some clever cafes are combining a number of superfoods and creating power-packed superfood dishes. Silo (city) does egg yolk with raw seeds and leeks, and a salad called 4 Grains, brimming with farro, quinoa, green lentils, foraged dune spinach, avocado and beetroot. Monk Bodhi Dharma (Balaclava) has a Bhutan salad that mixes goji berries, chia, hemp and sesame seeds, cashews, apple, beetroot, cucumber and quinoa with mixed lettuce. Kapowee!
5. Burgers of distinction
Brioche buns, wagyu patties, beetroot relish, slices of gruyere, smoked bacon, caramelised onion - these are the makings of today's ''classic'' burger, the top-quality ingredients responsible for bringing respectability, panache even, to the dish. But beyond classy classics, there are neat variations if you read between the buns. Bar Paradiso (Fitzroy) offers fried chickpea fritters and pressed pork cheek. In Fitzroy North, the Tramway Hotel's burger bar has a portobello mushroom and thyme patty burger with ''facon'', and a trevally, dill and caper patty burger with lime yoghurt and gherkin. At Jus Burgers (South Yarra), the roo and green-chilli jam burger is bonza, ahem, delightful.
6. Tacos, sopes and pupusas
You might have heard of these tasty little things called tacos. The South American street-food explosion started with Mexican, then reverberated out to other specialities. Radio Mexico (St Kilda) turns out jaunty soft-shell tortilla tacos and tostaditas (crisp, two-bite tortillas) in festive margarita-fuelled fashion. Mexican taqueria Los Hermanos (Brunswick) specialises in tacos and sopes (chunky corn discs), maybe topped with chipotle chicken. Los Latinos (Ascot Vale and Maidstone), a puperseria and Latin American cafe, offers a range of dishes, including thick house-made tacos and pupusas - El Salvadorean ''pancakes'' made with maize flour and stuffed with cheese.
7. Fried chicken
Melbourne's fried chicken is the ringleader of the ''junk food'' trend. Our fried-chicken frenzy partly comes under the star-spangled banner of our love for American food. The B.East (Brunswick) and Builders Arms(Fitzroy) bar menu are just a few places to find buttermilk-brined chicken. But you'll also find a fix at Japanese joints such as Ajitoya (Seddon), whose karaage (fried chicken) has a potato starch coating for crunch and a soy, ginger and garlic moistness in the meat. And Gami (city) is the go-to for KFC - Korean fried chicken, which comes with a choice of sauce, with cabbage and, often, a jug of house beer.
8. Eastern-flavoured sweets
Flavours from the East are adding a fresh dimension to traditionally European desserts. Purple Peanuts(city) is building an impressive range of Japanese-French sweets and chocolates. It uses premium green tea in its green-tea brownies and green-tea creme caramel, and real yuzu (citrus) in its yuzu cheesecake and yuzu chocolate. LuxBite (South Yarra) makes macarons flavoured with pandan, green-tea pistachio, bamboo oolong tea, and lemon, ginger and pineapple. Nama Nama (city) changes its desserts with the seasons, but could include a Japanese tiramisu with umeshu-soaked sponge and mascarpone dusted with hougi-cha (green-tea powder), or a sundae with macha cream, rice puffs and strawberry Pocky sticks.
9. Hot, hot - as in spicy
No longer satisfied with a little token warmth from our chilli, we want the real deal, such as the singeing Sichuan heat of Shanghai Street's (city) spicy fishball clay-pot soup - it stays hot even after it's gone cold. Thai cafe Middle Fish (Carlton North) has a super-spicy pork-rib curry, a traditional southern Thai dish that's not mellowed with coconut milk but charged with chilli, lemongrass, garlic, pepper and turmeric. Indian restaurant Aashirwad (Beaumaris) puts a ''very hot'' qualifier against its fiery vindaloo, available in pork, prawn, fish, veg and beef.
There's magic to meat that's been licked by fire and shrouded in smoke, or coal-cooked to seal in juices. Lebanese cafe Bayte (Collingwood) offers its pomegranate-glazed chicken skewers served with barbecue potato. Japanese sumiyaki bar Maedaya (Richmond) charcoal-grills (no flame) skewers of eel, chicken and shiitake, with sake-matching an option. Senor BBQ (Balaclava) serves cuts typically found on the street carts in Argentina, such as beef brisket, or a mixed grill of chorizo, chicken wings and beef ribs with a side of chimichurri.
7 January, 2013
Doubtless you’ve heard that Melbourne has inherited its own branch of Mamak – Sydney’s famed house of Malaysian roti breads, curries and epic queues.
In which case you’ll know this is where you need to come at lunch for a frosty iced tea and a nasi lemak – a blank canvas of coconut rice to which you adhere whole toasted peanuts, chilli-seed ridden sambal, cucumber, boiled egg and ikan bilis (tiny dried anchovies) till you’re adequately amused. But did you also know this easy-to-wipe-down, high-turnover cafeteria does late night supper?
Praise the heavens drinking fans, because Mamak offers the stuff beer dreams are made of.
Roti, if you’re not familiar, is a pan-fried flatbread with layers like sheets of translucent, buttery, tissue paper. They serve it here in all its forms – savoury, with pools of fragrant and fluid curry sauce, and an equally giving lentil mix for running the soft bread through; sweet, as a delicate towering sugar-coated cone with fresh banana slices and a melting blob of ice cream, or stuffed to the seams with minced pork, cabbage and egg (murtabak).
Use the plain flatbread as a pincer for plucking tender hunks of lamb from a kari kambing where it bobs about with thick cinnamon quills in its spicy liquor, or ditch the carbs and go for the chicken satay – a drinker's best friend being sweet, charred and smoky and served on a stick for easy application to ones face via piquant peanut sauce.
Add a mug of half-coffee, half-tea cham (crazy, but it works) and consider yourself sober.
The Age, Good Food
Dani Valent, 8 January, 2013
Quiet city, noisy eats
Address 366 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, 03 9670 3137
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)
Melbourne is quiet, but some restaurants don't know how to take a holiday, and those of us who are town-bound in January are glad about that. The diners' part of the deal is to hit these restaurants hard to keep the wheels spinning. For a busy Malaysian hawker restaurant like Mamak, slowing down might feel like a space-time glitch and we don't want that to happen - rotis are at risk here, people!
The Mamak crew started making rotis (flatbread) at a Sydney market; they then spun their popularity into a restaurant in Sydney's Chinatown in 2007. In September, they brought their happening hawker style to Melbourne.
Mamak is a big, bustling no-bookings place that often has (fast-moving) queues. While you're waiting, watch a roti master stretching dough, splashing it with more oil than you should probably witness, folding it, grilling it, and fluffing it up with savage dexterity. Or watch them make the roti tisu, a crisp clown's hat of golden roti that's served with curry or ice-cream. It's mouth-watering theatre, especially when coupled with the wafts of shrimp paste, chilli and coconut rice that whack you in the face like a glass door.
It's OK if you're starving when you finally sit down because ordering is done via telepathy. Yes, you do tell a brisk but friendly server what you've chosen from the short menu of rotis, curries, rice and noodles, but it arrives on your table faster than you can imagine them delivering the order. The flavours are big and shouty; the napkins and bills small.
I love the rojak salad, a big, satisfying pile of shredded yam bean and cucumber, tossed with spicy peanut sauce and scattered with juicy prawn and coconut fritters, fried tofu and boiled egg. It's probably big enough for two so come with a crew so you can try more dishes.
The sambal udang - stir-fried tiger prawns - comes with a spicy sambal that's addictive at first hit. The mee goreng is a good rendition of a classic, with adequate wok heat and fresh bean-shoot crunch.
There's roti for dessert, but in summer, I like the cendol - green noodles, coconut milk and shaved ice. It's a race to eat it before it turns to sludge but Mamak isn't for lingering. Wait, eat, swoon, roll home.
the (melbourne) magazine
Larissa Dubecki, 25 January, 2013
How do like your roti? There are plenty of versions to choose from now that Mamak's in town.
Some things in life are preordained: death, taxes and Sydney import Mamak being swamped since it opened in Melbourne. Crowds worthy of the latest iPad launch form orderly but impatient queues on Lonsdale Street for the bookings-free home of roti, where the flaky Malay staple is served in its many shape-shifting forms. For the past five years, Mamak has been once of those when-in Sydney things - a Harbour City site of pilgrimage since the first shop opened off the popularity of a Chinatown market stall courtesy of Malaysian trio Julian Lee, Alan Au and Clement Lee. They added a second Sydney site in 2010. Now Melbourne. Bless them.
There are some things worth waiting for - the pain of queuing shouldn't be too acute. Mamak is a quick turnover place, a cafeteria dressed in modern clothes where paper napkins are anorexic, water comes in plastic cups and glass tumblers go with any wine you've brought - it's BYO only. It's big (120 seats) and noisy and getting to your seat can involve becoming intimately acquainted with your neighbours as you squeeze onto banquettes and perhaps rearrange some furniture in the process.
For newcomers to Malaysian hawker food, Roti 101 tuition has been thoughtfully arranged starting with the queue, the front of which comes into alignment with chefs working frenetically on the other side of the window. It's edible performance art as they deftly make the oiled, multi-layered flatbread on a hot griddle, stretching the dough impossibly thin and folding and folding it on itself with quick-fire work on the metal spatulas before it puffs up on the grill. If that doesn't get the appetite revving, you have no business being here: give the seat to someone with priorities in better order.
Roti is a shoo-in to make the dais of the world's greatest breads. It's a meal unto itself as it arrives on a metal tray, all crisp on the outside and fluffy on the in. Try the original roti canna, a scrunched lotus flower of variegated tissue-thin petals for tearing off and dunking into ladle of fish curry gravy, another of lentils, or a thick dollop of a rust-red sambal that stirs olfactory memories of south-east Asia, all pungency with a fiery undertow.
How else do you like your roti? A menu that brings that line about the Eskimos' 34 words for snow offers six savoury versions, including the roti telur, coated inside with a thin layer of egg, roti planta, described as "rich, buttery", which might make you wonder how the hell that differentiates it from the other members of the roti family. Come dessert time it changes stripes easily, the biggest attention-grabber of the four options being the roti tissue. a sugar-crusted conical wonder that turns heads as it passes through the crowd.
There's other stuff to love, all of which arrives at breakneck speed from one of the fastest-working kitchens in Melbourne. Chicken curry is sweet and fragrant with cloves; fish curry fleshed out with okra and tomatoes answers the big flavours of Spanish mackerel with tamarind and chilli. Grilled beef satay carries the smoky char from the grill; the peanut sauce with the skewered meat has the right balance of sweet and salt, and there's the crunch of raw vegetables for dunking as well.
There's a palpable feeling of homesickness among a good portion of the crowd, Malaysian students who sip on glasses of tea tarik (frothy tea made with condensed milk) and whose sweet-centric palates embrace the cendol - luridly coloured noodles made from pandan leaves that grace a slurry of crushed ice flavoured with coconut milk and palm sugar. As off-putting as the colour is, the bright green worms aren't too bad at all - for anyone without the relevant childhood memories, they're a novelty rather a reason to return, but likeable. The only reason you need to return begins and ends with roti. Join the queue.
The crowd: Young, student-y and Asian.
Everybody's ordering: Roti canai.
Noise: A cafeteria babble.
Wine list: BYO for a cheap night out.
The verdict: HOT