My partner and I headed to Melbourne for a friend’s wedding over the Easter long weekend (I flew to fit in a day of eating while he drove down). I really only had one day in the CBD to eat and shop so I tried to make the most of it, taking into account what was open that weekend. There were already dinner plans and dessert plans (at different eateries) with friends booked, so I carefully selected the eateries that sounded interesting and had small sharing plates. After the flight landed in the late morning and I’d checked into my hotel, it was midday and the food marathon was on – I planned to target 4 eateries in 6 hours on top of dinner and dessert.
1. Short Stop
I was all set to head to Doughboys Doughnuts after seeing several photos of the droolworthy donuts on Instagram, however one of my Melbourne foodie friends mentioned he preferred Short Stop. Short Stop was much closer to my hotel so I decided to make a short stop at Short Stop.
The shopfront is tiny with very limited seating. Serving coffee and doughnuts, that day’s selection included the hot cross doughnut, chocolate hazelnut, apple pie and cruller. I couldn’t go past the hot cross doughnut, since it was Easter and all, and the chocolate hazelnut doughnut.
The hot cross doughnut had a little bit of fruit inside and was a lot denser than expected but it was perfectly glazed. I’d prefer a regular hot cross bun or a regular doughnut over this. The chocolate hazelnut had yummy crunch and chocolate dough but again I found it was a little dense. Both cost $9.50 all up. I wanted to try the cruller but needed to leave room for the rest of the marathon. Staff are friendly – I’m offered a smile while ordering and when presented with doughnuts, and service is super quick.
Value for money 7/10
At the airport, I bumped into a foodie friend who was also attending the same wedding and had no specific plans for the day. He joined part of my marathon starting at my next stop at Andrew McConnell’s Japanese-fusion restaurant Supernormal. Walking up Flinders Lane, I found the pink neon sign outside and luckily no people queuing up for lunch. It is very spacious and open inside and I was surprised that there weren’t that many people. Maybe everyone had left Melbourne for the Easter long weekend.
There are touches of modern Japan decorating the restaurant such as vending machines dispensing different types of pocky, neon signage with ‘Everybody loves ramen’ (agreed!), and the obligatory Japanese noren (fabric dividers) hanging above the kitchen pass. We decided to sit along the bench in front of the kitchen to watch the chefs prepare the food. I find the precision and efficiency of the chefs mesmerising. Each seat has a white cubed light with the table number on it reminiscent of a nightlight. I’d already picked out what I wanted from the menu on the website and was glad to find that it was the most recent version. We received a small dish of roasted and spiced sunflower seeds while waiting for our food. Crunchy and with lots of flavour, I was already impressed with Supernormal. A great start!
First out was the tuna with avocado, apple and wakme ($18). The tuna was fresh and balanced superbly with a dab of avocado cream and thinly sliced apple. It came served in a gel-like translucent sauce that I could not put my finger on. Some sort of dried salty seaweed powder had been sprinkled on top for added flavour. Delicious.
The pork bao ($6) with tamarind sauce was another item I was keen to try. This came served with a mini deep fried pattie stuffed with plenty of pulled pork neck. Tiny but mighty, this was better than expected. The cucumber, sriracha sauce and coriander gave the necessary added oomph to make the bao all the better. No complaints about the bao itself – soft, fluffy and it didn’t break.
The New England lobster roll ($16) is served sandwiched in a brioche bun. Pricey for a small roll. There was actually a decent portion of lobster meat included but I thought the brioche was a little dry and just picked at the meat. I much prefer the pork bao.
I was looking forward to the prawn and chicken dumplings with chilli and vinegar sauce ($14 for 6 pieces). Unfortunately, I found they were overly salty and it overpowered the taste of the prawn and chicken. The dish looked like it had a lot of chilli but I’d rate the dish as medium in terms of spiciness. For dessert, I wanted to try the peanut butter parfait ($15). This is basically a snickers bar reinvented. Thick creamy smooth peanut butter parfait. What I thought was chocolate gelato was actually a very rich and thick chocolate mousse as it didn’t melt. Combine all of the elements, and it is magical. A snickers bar reborn. A dessert that can be shared as it was very rich, I doubt one person could finish it all. Super awesome.
So three great dishes out of five isn’t bad. It didn’t take long for the food to come out and I found staff were pleasant and explained the dish as it was brought out. I would definitely go back to try some of the mains.
Value for money 7/10
After a little window shopping, we headed to Wonderbao. I’ve read many good things about Wonderbao. It is not located on A’Beckett Street as the website address suggests since we walked past it multiple times without seeing an entrance. I sauntered into a small arcade with a few shops inside, and Wonderbao was the last one looking out onto Literature Lane. A very small shop set up with bao steaming away in oversized bamboo steamers.
The menu is short and simple. Split into two types of bao – gua baos (the open baos stuffed with different fillings) and choi baos which are completely enclosed with different types of filling (like the traditional BBQ pork bun at yum cha). There are three types of gua bao and we ordered one of each (all around the $4 mark). The braised pork belly bao came with coriander, cucumber and chopped up peanuts. The sauce that the pork belly had been braised in ran down my hand as I lifted this up to take the first bite. A bit of belly fat and then succulent warm pork goodness. WOW! Another highly noticeable aspect on the first bite is the bao. Something about it that really distinguished it from any other bao I’ve had. It was so fresh as if it had just been made that day. The bao at Supernormal was nice but Wonderbao blew me away. I reckon all the ingredients are roughly the same to make a bao (not that I’ve ever tried to make it myself), but there was a noticeable difference. A hint of coriander gave the bao a subtle spicy freshness. The tartness of the pickled greens cut through the richness of the pork. That braised sauce was ah-mazing. Foodgasm, oh yes! I love that moment when you discover something special (as I’m sure other Melbournian’s have discovered).
The roast pork belly bao was okay but no match to the braised pork belly. The differences between the two – the roast pork belly has less fat but is not as soft and juicy as the braised pork belly. And there’s no braised sauce that goes with it. The pickled vegetables are different too with carrot and cucumber in the roast pork belly bao. The fried tofu gua bao was excellent and a great option for vegetarians. The silky tofu is deep fried and seasoned well providing crispness and flavour to the otherwise blandness of tofu. I was really surprised at how good this was and will gladly order it again as well as the braised pork belly bao. There was no room left to try any of the choi baos, that will have to wait for another time. We both tried the soy milk drinks – one hot and one icy cold (less than $5 for both). I grew up drinking this sweet soy milk and it was just what I needed.
There are only a few stools by the window looking out onto the laneway’s graffiti art. Wonderbao is very small shop but the bao comes out quickly with baos constantly steaming away. Highly recommended! My first 30/30 score for fantastic food, friendly and extremely quick service and best of all, it’s cheap!
Value for money 10/10
I wanted to try to make Doughboys Doughnuts on the way to the Queen Victoria Markets but after some googling, realised both were shut by 3pm. Too late. Ah well, I tried 3 of my 4 so I was pretty happy with that. Time to walk around and work off that food before dinner.
4. Chin Chin
Dinner was booked at Chin Chin a few weeks in advance. Only group bookings are accepted for 8-10 people, otherwise you need to try your luck and wait at the door. As there was so many of us, we had no option but to order the ‘Just Feed Me’ banquet at $69 per head. There is no menu available and it’s the chef’s selection. Dietary requirements are taken into consideration. We told our waitress about my partner’s weird anti-coriander tastebuds and whether that could be left out, but to his misery, everything pretty much had coriander in it. It is mod Thai after all. Our waitress mentioned that the majority of coriander can be picked out so he decided to brave it and see what happened. Two large platters of sashimi came out first, one on each end of the table. I really liked it, fresh and juicy in a zesty sauce and plenty of coriander. An assortment of dishes came out quickly – fried chicken wings, thin pancakes with pulled pork and a mix of beansprouts, chilli and coriander to fill them, fried salt and pepper squid, steamed salmon wrapped in banana leaves (so soft! I could’ve had more of this if I was hungry), cold prawn salad with chilli and coriander, red duck and lychee curry, beef pad see ew and sides of rice and roti. I liked the pad see ew where the rice noodles were still rolled up into fat pieces rather than unravelled into noodles. The beef was of good quality and I think it was Wagyu. I enjoyed the cold prawn salad too – fresh, crunchy but it was slathered in mayonnaise. Tasty mayonnaise but way too much of it.
Then there was dessert. Three different desserts came out all at once. These were difficult to share between so many people. Everyone had to take one spoonful and pass it along. Luckily three serves of each dessert came out or there wouldn’t have been enough to go around. I tried the apple and pandan coconut jelly first. This was different. It looked great but the apple was too sour for me and I thought that it overpowered everything else. Not something I’d order again.
The palm sugar ice cream sundae was topped with crunchy honeycomb, though there was none left by the time I got to it. There were three scoops of ice cream and some hard palm sugar crystals at the bottom. The sundae apparently has lime syrup in it, but as this was a shared dessert, I don’t think there was any left as I don’t remember tasting any lime. It was essentially ice cream decorated nicely at the top. The coconut sago with puffed rice and ice cream was the highlight of dessert. The sago was not too sweet or rich, but refreshing with the sweetness coming from the single scoop of ice cream slowly melting into the dish. Simple and done very well. I wanted more but needed to leave room for my next stop.
It’s very very loud at Chin Chin. I could really only talk to the people sitting on either side of me while making hand gestures to those across from me and shouting ‘what?!’ before giving up. Maybe I’m getting too old. Service is good and covered all bases. Our waitress had good knowledge of the menu and was happy to pass on my ‘berry mocktail’ request to bar staff. It didn’t take long for drinks or the food to arrive. This was surprising as it was super packed. The food itself was pleasant but there was no wow factor for me. Favourite dishes of the night was the steamed salmon (so smooth, natural and plenty of it), the pad see ew (yummy beef, different take on the rice noodles) and the coconut sago. For modern Asian/Thai, this was okay but I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I’m sure you could get an equally good meal in Chinatown.
Value for money 6/10
5. Om Nom Dessert Bar and Kitchen
Om Nom Dessert Bar and Kitchen was my pick for dessert after a friend showed me photos of the dessert creations. Headed by Christy Tanya (one of the guest chefs on Masterchef), I had high expectations. I’d mentioned to a few friends where I was planning to go, and ended up making a group booking. The more the merrier! Located inside the Adelphi Hotel, I could smell sugar as soon as I stepped inside. For Easter, a pop up Easter store was available near the reception area with a few Easter dessert options to take away. A special Easter pop up menu was also available on top of the regular menu. One photo of the Raspberry Field dessert ($25) was enough for me to try the place out so that was a must try. This consisted of raspberry and lychee sorbet, baked meringue, raspberry pannacotta, lychee pearls that burst in your mouth. We were warned not to split the pearls on the plate as they are filled with liquid and are meant to pop open in your mouth. Although very pretty and a beautifully plated dish, this just didn’t do it for me. The sorbet was nice and the pearls did, indeed, burst in my mouth, but there was no wow factor or amazing flavours I’d expect for something costing $25. I am glad I got to try it.
I really wanted to try the ChocolaTerrarium ($28) which sounded unique and certainly not something I could get in Canberra. Filled with cinnamon sugared churros, chocolate gravel, pistachio and chocolate sponge, chocolate ice cream and valhrona manjari 64% mousse and milk foam. It came out in a large terrarium where I could lift the tall glass dome to reveal the dessert inside. It did look like a little garden terrarium with green pistachio cake foliage and chocolate rocks. The churros had molded together to make one big doughnut on the bottom – fatty and covered in sugar. The churros along with the sweet pistachio sponge, helped to offset the bitter dark chocolate elements in the mousse, ice cream and chocolate cup, as well as the tartness of the passionfruit curd. Very prettily plated and I thought the elements worked well together.
The mini ChocolaTerrarium ($25) was similar to the larger version filled with chocolate mousse, chocolate soil, caramelised white chocolate, flourless pistachio and chocolate cake, passionfruit curd and cherry pate de fruit on baked meringue. Very cute.
A friend ordered the Bombe Alaska ($20) of almond jaconde cake, mandarin and bitter grapefruit marmalade, passionfruit sorbet, raspberry ice cream, white chocolate crumble and popping candy. When this was brought out, some alcohol was poured over the top before it was set alight.
The mango alphonso ($25) is the famous dessert on Masterchef that contestants had to recreate. Consisting of choux pastry, mango mousse, shiso creameux, poached mango, coconut pearls, white chocolate crumble, kalamansi sorbet and lemongrass-ginger coconut foam, it looked great!
Another friend ordered the Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte ($25) with cherry griottine jelly, vanilla bavarois, valhrona manjari 64% chocolate mousse, hazelnut ganache, cherry pate de fruit and flourless chocolate cake.
I’m really glad I got to try Om Nom. The desserts do look fantastic. It’s a bit hit and miss with the taste though. Everybody at the table seemed to think their desserts were ‘okay’ but not fantastic. For the expensive price tag, I was expecting something better.
Value for money 5/10
6. Operator 25
The following morning, my next stop was Operator 25 for an early breakfast before checking out of the CBD to head to the wedding venue. We got to the cafe at 9.30am and managed to grab the last couple of seats at a communal table.
I had seen Instagram photos of the matcha green tea pancakes here and that was my entire reason for trying the place out. Sadly, the cafe had changed its menu just two days beforehand. No more matcha pancakes. This was a little devastating but I decided to stay and order something new. My partner and I couldn’t help but notice the cafe seemed filled with a welcoming hipster Asian theme. The barista looked like he knew what he was doing – steaming the soy milk along with the chocolate in my mocha.
It tasted sensational and I was happy to find that I didn’t need to stir in the chocolate. It had already been done for me. A lot of places have the chocolate sitting at the bottom or down the sides of the cup where I need to stir it in. It’s quite nice not to have to do that for a change.
First I tried the elderflower sago with chia seeds, rhubarb and strawberry compote, white chocolate foam and freeze dried mango ($11). Served in a glass, there were plenty of chia seeds in the sweet compote. I would have liked more of the sago to balance out the sweetness of the rhubarb and strawberry, but I still enjoyed it. The white chocolate foam was bliss and added an element of naughty to this breakfast. The portion is on the small side and I was still hungry after this (and yes I shared a little with my partner who wasn’t hungry enough to order breakfast).
It was a cold morning and I was interested in trying the three rice congee with pressed duck confit, pickled ginger, puffed buckwheat, lotus crisps and soy poached egg ($18). So second breakfast it was! The broth was beautiful and great for a winter’s day. The egg was perfectly poached and I let it ooze out into the broth. I was expecting pulled duck meat in the congee and was surprised to find thin slices of what looked like the duck version of spam – like a duck meatloaf. It wasn’t bad but I would have preferred regular duck meat. A modern twist to the traditional congee, I could have downed another bowl of this.
The front door of the cafe was left open so I felt a chill sitting inside the cafe. Other than that, service is warm and welcoming. The coffee and food didn’t take long to arrive and best of all, it tasted good. With two breakfasts in my belly, I didn’t need lunch and dinner was had at the wedding. Nevertheless, I was already planning where to go for my last meal in Melbourne the next day before driving home to Canberra.
Value for money 7/10
7. Top Paddock
It was logistically easier to stay south-side before the drive home to Canberra, so I decided on breakfast at Top Paddock in Richmond. Top Paddock was awarded Best New Cafe in Melbourne two years ago and I was keen to try it. A very large urban cafe with plenty of seating options on both the ground and mezzanine levels and outdoors. When we got there at 9.30am, it was nearly packed.
Coffees were ordered and came out about 15 minutes later. My soy mocha came in a large mug and my partner’s flat white in a small cup. We ordered from the same person so I’m not sure how the sizing is worked out. But I was happy with my mug 🙂 Velvety smooth coffee. I don’t know much about coffee but my partner and I both really enjoyed ours.
We couldn’t seem to grab the attention of anyone to order our meals. When we did get someone’s attention, we were told that they would ask the waitress looking after this ‘station’. That makes sense in such a large eatery. One person to remember their station’s diners and the food ordered = more personal service. I already knew what I wanted to try but then our waitress brought out a specials menu. The chilled raspberry chia pudding caught my eye, but I knew I wanted to try the hotcake. What to do? Order both. I figured the chia pudding would be served in a small glass similarly to Operator 25. I was wrong. Served on a regular sized plate, the chia pudding with raspberries, strawberries, figs, passionfruit labna and freeze dried white balsamic ($17.50) was a huge serving. A very pretty looking pink dish, it tasted great too and I couldn’t help but feel good and healthy inside. The passionfruit labna provided a nice tartness to the dish. I had to cut off the green leafy bits off of the strawberries. I guess I could’ve just eaten it but it felt wrong. I kind of wish I had asked for a take away container as I couldn’t finish it all.
The blueberry and ricotta hotcake with berries, organic maple, seeds and double cream ($18) was an impressive massive single hotcake. You can’t tell in the photo below but it was also very thick – about 3-4cm high. The thickness was a worry as there’s nothing worse than dense hotcake, but this was one of the fluffiest hotcakes I’ve ever had. How do they even make it so thick yet so fluffy? I loved the fact that the top had been drizzled in maple and had been left to soak in, but wasn’t drowning in it. The addition of sunflower seeds gave the hotcake the necessary crunch factor. The berries and figs on top were fresh and made the whole thing seem a little healthier. The only thing I didn’t like was that the green leafy bit on the strawberries were left on so I had to cut them off myself. Other than that, this was delicious. Even my partner commented at how good it was.
My partner chose a healthier option for breakfast – the grilled broccolini and sugar snaps with avocado, toasted almonds, poached eggs and heidi raclette on toast ($18). There was only one poached egg rather than ‘eggs’ as stated on the menu so he was disappointed about that. I was too busy with my own breakfasts to try this dish. It looked minimal but healthy.
My partner says Top Paddock is too hipster for him. All the waitstaff seem cool and are dressed in hipster fashion. So do most of the diners! It’s loud inside but as we were seated in the back corner, we had some insulation from the noise. I was really happy with my breakfasts and would go back to try out more dishes and the pastries available at the front counter. Yum!
Value for money 8/10
So there you have it. Not quite one full weekend of eating for me (I missed out on one lunch and one dinner to get ready and go to the wedding), but it should be enough to give you some ideas of the yummyness you can expect in Melbourne. So much choice! I would love to go back to Melbourne for more food adventures.
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