Fond of Fusion

Walking along Glenferrie Road in Malvern, Fond of Fusion Cafe (FOF Cafe) certainly stands out from the rest of the eateries along the same street – it doesn’t look like a cafe, or any food establishment for that matter.  IMG_6355

First striking me as an upmarket furniture shop, I soon realise that FOF Cafe is probably the only restaurant along that stretch that has a somewhat more unique restaurant layout – inside and outside.  I mean, look at those comfy armchairs on the sidewalk!

FotorCreated Seeing the luxuriousness of the furniture and setting of the restaurant, I thought I was walking into one of the most expensive Asian meals of my time in Melbourne.

Wildberry Juice (L) & Spice Apple Juice (R)
Wildberry Juice (L) & Spice Apple Juice (R)

Jeffry and I started off with these two juices, which I pleasantly found out were made of all-natural ingredients.  Each glass contained either fresh berries or apple cubes, and for the apples, they still retained a slight crunch to them, indicating that they didn’t come from a can, and the addition of fresh mint made the juices really refreshing on a hot day.  I’m normally not a fan of these juices (like Boost Juice – I’ve only had it once, and that was when “Andrew” was the name of the day), but both juices were really good, so for all the juice haters out there, give either a try!

Now for the food… Owner Joanne is no stranger to the kitchen, having grown up around restaurants in New Zealand run by her mother.  Working closely with her Taiwanese chef, they have developed a small but diverse menu, stocking proteins like beef, pork, chicken and fish though limited to 8 items for the mains.

I was also really surprised to learn that everything is made in-house, down to the sweet chilli sauce for our deep-fried organic tofu and sesame dressing for the salad.  Having worked in a number of Asian restaurants, it is quite rare to find one that actually makes it own sauces.  Despite all the effort to provide customers with the freshest ingredients cooked to the highest standard, Joanne keeps her prices low, though her staff, and even customers, sometimes tell her that the food could fetch a higher price.  This place is a must-try in Melbourne, I kid you not.

FotorCreated
1.3kg pork knuckle cooked in traditional Taiwanese flavours, served German-style – $18.50

Just take this pork knuckle for example, sold at a mere $18.50 for a massive 1.3kg serve.  Each pork knuckle is weighed to ensure that it hits the 1.3kg mark, says Joanne.  Based on my extensive experience in eating frozen-thawed-cooked meats, I’d reckon this pork knuckle was never acquainted with a freezer.  The meat simply falls from the bone, and that knife could easily be replaced by a spoon.  Cooked in traditional Taiwanese flavours, and served on a bed of raw baby spinach and an accompanying sauce, this dish needs no further marketing.  It was the dish of the day.

Tapas tasting platter - $19
Tapas tasting platter – $19

This is a real bargain for $19.  The sweet potato chips and chicken bites in the “flower pot” were really good, but the real hero of the dish is the tofu.

Deep-fried organic tofu with homemade sweet chilli sauce
Deep-fried organic tofu with homemade sweet chilli sauce

This is the tofu I was talking about earlier.  Organic tofu coated in a light batter deep-fried to perfection, dressed with homemade sweet chilli sauce.  I think I secretly ate more than half the plate, only taking one at a time to give off the impression that I wasn’t taking that many.  Not to be missed.

Top left clockwise: Steak with noodles, meatballs, Curried lamb with purple rice
Top left clockwise: Steak with noodles, meatballs, Curried lamb with purple rice

Using the same beef in traditional Taiwanese beef noodles, Joanne serves it as a whole steak with a serve of noodles, and a garden salad.  As for the meatballs, they are the largest I’ve ever seen.  180g of mince wrapped around glutinous rice – somewhat like a reversed bazhang.  If you don’t know what a bazhang is, Google it – it ain’t a dumpling.  Ha gao, jiao zi, wanton, xiao long bao etc are all already translated into dumpling, so let’s not add to the list.  Lastly, the curried lamb.  Finally, a spicy dish that is actually spicy.  The purple rice is spiced with green chilli, and the curry carries some light spiciness.  I absolutely dislike those “Asian” restaurants which mark their entire menu with chillies to indicate spiciness levels, only for me to find that their spiciest dish is as spicy as extra hot Japanese curry.

I’ve heard that FOF Cafe’s previous menu wasn’t really fusion – it was more East meets West on a plate, yet clearly defined.  The menu has clearly evolved since their renovations.  Take the meatballs or the steak with noodles for example.  I’d say the fusionness lies with the size of the meatballs (180g x 2) – most steaks are around 300g.  As for the steak with noodles, the fusion on the plate is obvious.

Our meal couldn’t have been complete without dessert, so we got the brownies.

Dark chocolate and white chocolate brownie with homemade berry compote and butterscotch cream
Dark chocolate and white chocolate brownie with homemade berry compote and butterscotch cream

The brownies weren’t that moist like most brownies are, but that was fine with me because I don’t like how brownies stick to my teeth.

Overall, my dining experience at FOF Cafe surpassed all my expectations.  From expecting an expensive menu I found myself looking at really reasonable prices, made even more unbelievable considering the high quality ingredients and impeccable taste, not to mention the labour that went into preparing those dishes (the presentation is amazing!).

FOF Cafe is the product of owner Joanne’s dream of having a cafe/restaurant decked out with rustic furniture and serving fantastic food.  Joanne’s passion was unmistakable during our interactions with her, and with food that could give Lucy Liu (along Oliver Lane in the Melbourne CBD) a run for her money , I’m sure FOF Cafe’ll become the talk of the town one day.

If I wasn’t leaving Melbourne for good on Thursday, I’d certainly be a regular customer at FOF Cafe.  The pork knuckle was just THAT good.

Fond of Fusion Cuisine on Urbanspoon

 

Early Christmas Feast

Whenever April organises a dinner, she always whips up some really delicious Western food, and this early Christmas feast was no different, as she served up a sumptuous meal of mussels, stewed beef, and roast pork, accompanied with a side of roasted potatoes in duck fat and balsamic vinegar.  Needless to say, April, being a fan of Jamie Oliver’s recipes, followed his recipes for the mussels and the potatoes, though I’m not too sure about the other two proteins.

And.. here we are!

Here we are! L-R: Sumay, April, David, Heidi, Damien, Me
L-R: Sumay, April, David, Heidi, Damien, Me

As always, the photo shows me not looking at the camera, but I thought I was!  For our entree, we had mussels in a yoghurt-bacony broth, with a generous serve of parsley stirred through at the end.

Mussels
Mussels

The mussels were very fresh and nicely plump, and while some did not open, I didn’t want to let them go to waste and so I pried them open and ate them anyway – they tasted just as good!  Parsley is one of the foods on my do-not-eat list, but I am learning – for this dish, it adds another dimension to the flavours, like some sort of freshness to the richness of the broth.

Boeuf bourguignon
Boeuf bourguignon

Our first main was the bouef bourguignon, but even after eating it, I still don’t really know what it is.  Wikipedia tells me that it is beef burgundy, a well-known traditional French recipe, so I’m going to go with that.  The chuck was braised beautifully, and retained its moisture, while the slight crunch of the onions gave the dish some texture.  It went really well with the roasted potatoes!

Roasted potatoes with duck fat and balsamic vinegar
Roasted potatoes with duck fat and balsamic vinegar

Our other main was the roast pork, and it was surrounded with a moat of gravy and roasted vegetables, consisting of celery, carrots and mushrooms.

Roast pork
Roast pork
Roast pork crackling!
Roast pork crackling!

The roast pork was juicy and succulent, and the crackling was just right.  I could munch on a bowl of cracking all day :P  I actually took home some of the roast pork, and after reheating it in the microwave for about 2 minutes, the crackling still remained just as crunchy as the day before.

Heidi's famous chocolate tart
Heidi’s famous chocolate tart

For dessert, we had Heidi’s famous chocolate tart.  Nowadays when Heidi says she’s bringing “a tart”, there’s no need to ask what tart she’s making.  This is it.  A buttery digestive biscuit base with a chocolate filling and glaze over the top.  Mixed berries go best with the tart, but as they were out of stock, we had frozen strawberries instead – and they were really nice, somewhat popsicle style.

And.. here we are again!

Happy days!
Happy days!

Thanks for the sumptuous meal April!

 

Pork ribs night

This week is certainly Food Gatherings Week, with two dinners at my place and one at April’s.  On Wednesday night, I invited some brethren from church to my place for dinner.  I thank God for bringing all of them into our midst at Bethel BP Church, and for the fellowship that we can share.  As April, Jill and Su Shiang are preparing to leave Melbourne, there was no better (or other) time to invite them to my place for a meal but now.

Back row L-R: George, Thays, Su Shiang, Jill, April, Me.  Front Row L-R: Candy, Ben
Back row L-R: George, Thays, Su Shiang, Jill, April, Me.
Front Row L-R: Candy, Ben

The beef rendang on Monday night turned out pretty good, so I thought that I’d cook it again.  The other dishes were vinegar pork ribs and cabbage with mock abalone and mushrooms.

Beef rendang
Beef rendang

The beef rendang was a hit!  Though some preferred the pork ribs to the rendang, George preferred the vegetables.

Cabbage with mock abalone and mushrooms
Cabbage with mock abalone and mushrooms

I used half a head of cabbage, 1 can of mock abalone, and five dried mushrooms.  The soaking liquid of the mushrooms and the gravy from the mock abalone made up the main flavour of the dish, and I guess that’s what appealed to George!

Vinegar pork ribs
Vinegar pork ribs

Because I didn’t bring enough money to Queen Victoria Market, and didn’t want to queue up for the ATM, I had to resort to buying smaller ribs instead of the normal premium ribs that I would like to use for this dish.  I think April liked this dish the most, but unfortunately I didn’t measure out any ingredients – I cook and adjust the flavour of the dish by tasting it along the way.  But this dish holds a special place in my heart, for it is my mother who taught me how to cook it.  She’d always cook it for me when I’m back in Singapore, so before coming back to Melbourne I asked her to teach me, and since then I’ve cooked it regularly.

Almond-meal tart with chocolate mousse and strawberries
Almond-meal tart with chocolate mousse and strawberries

Su Shiang’s food is generally gluten free, so I decided to make a tart base with almond meal instead.  Ms EL was off from work that day, so she joined me in the preparation for the dinner.  While I was cooking the pork ribs and preparing the vegetables, Ms EL was working away at the pastry for the tart.  Ms EL is a really good baker, so it was our privilege that she baked the pastry for us!

And finally, as it was Candy’s birthday the next day, Jill asked that we celebrate Candy’s birthday as well.  It was a slight surprise, as April popped the candle on just as everyone had finished taking their photos of it, and I lit it up with my blowtorch (a bit over the top, I know, but that was the only fire-producing thing I had apart from the stove)!

IMG_6299

I really thank God for the fellowship that we can have with brethren in Christ, and especially for the mid-week city Bible study, where we delve into the richness of the Word of God to learn precious truths from His Word.  As the hymn goes..

Thy Word is like a garden, Lord,

With flowers bright and fair;

And everyone who seeks may pluck

A lovely cluster there.

Thy Word is like a deep, deep mine,

And jewels rich and rare

Are hidden in its mighty depths

For every searcher there.

Looking forward to more dinners like this in the future, and for the blessedness of Christian fellowship!

Rendang Night

Rendang: A spicy dry meat curry (andrewandhisfood, 2014)

Some weeks ago, Julian mentioned to me that he really likes rendang, so I thought, why not have rendang at my place one evening?  Now that uni is all over, assessments are submitted, results are coming back, and some are graduating, there is no better time to have a dinner gathering!  For the dinner, I had the pleasure of the company of fellow applied linguists Julian, Dai Wei, Lan Anh, and Simin.

L-R: Dai Wei, Lan Anh, Simin, Julian, Me
L-R: Dai Wei, Lan Anh, Simin, Julian, Me

The dishes featured on Rendang Night included beef rendang, homemade teriyaki chicken, and kailan with mushrooms.  For dessert, we’d have dark chocolate mousse tart with strawberries.

Beef rendang
Beef rendang

I used my favourite cut, oyster blade, for the beef rendang.  Oyster blade has this incredible texture to it, and it never dries out after hours of cooking.  And it gets better – oyster blade only requires 1.5 to 2 hours of simmering to tenderise, though I normally cook it for about 3 to 4 hours.  Moreover, oyster blade has a streak of marbling down the middle, and I always slice it diagonally so every single piece of meat in the rendang has a bit of marbling.  Rendang is also best eaten the next day, so I cooked it the day before on purpose to let the flavours intensify overnight.  I have to thank Ms PL for her rendang recipe, without which I would not be able to even cook this dish!

Kailan with mushrooms and fried shallots
Kailan with mushrooms and fried shallots

Kailan is my favourite vegetable of all time.  The stalks are crunchy if cooked properly, and the leaves have a texture similar to kale, also on my top 5 veggies list.  For this dish, I used some dried 日本白花菇, or Japanese white flower mushrooms.  I don’t know why they are called white flower mushrooms, but my mother tells me that the more the mushroom looks like a tortoise’s shell, the better the mushroom is.  I avoid buying the cheapest kinds of dried mushrooms or canned mushrooms, because the yummy mushroomy flavours are often not present.  The dried mushrooms have to be soaked in hot water for at least 30 mins to soften them for slicing.  It would be a great shame for the soaking liquid to be discarded, so I always use it as the base of my sauce for the vegetables, adding to it salt, light soya sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar, to counter the bitterness of the kailan.  The fried shallots add another dimension to the dish with its flavour and texture.

Homemade teriyaki chicken
Homemade teriyaki chicken

I am so thankful that in Australia chicken drumsticks are really cheap, because I love drumsticks.  The only disadvantage of using drumsticks is the deboning part, but after cooking many, many drumsticks, I’ve become quite proficient at drumstick deboning.  My aim, however, is to learn to debone chicken marylands.  Watching the butchers to it in under 15 seconds is simply amazing, and one day I hope I’d get to that standard.  I marinade the drumstick fillets in only salt and pepper, then pan fry them.  The teriyaki sauce is made with cooking sake, mirin, light soya sauce and brown sugar (thanks to Ms PC for her recipe!).  I only flip the chicken fillets once, and when they’re almost done in the pan, then I drizzle the sauce on to further caramelise the chicken, and let the alcohol evaporate.  Adding the seaweed was Ms EL’s idea, and the contrast in colours really makes the dish so much more appetising.

Dark chocolate mousse tart with strawberries
Dark chocolate mousse tart with strawberries

This has to be the tart that I make most often.  The only other type of tart that I’ve made is a custard tart.  I use Nestle Plaistowe 70% cocoa for the mousse, giving it a rich chocolatey flavour that can be countered only by the fresh strawberries.  As for the strawberry arrangement, my limited creativity only allows me to arrange it in such a manner, although I wish I had made the circle in the middle a little rounder.  The crust is also homemade, as I have found that frozen shortcrust pastry is absolutely atrocious, like eating dehydrated compressed cardboard.  The recipe for the tart can be found here.

IMG_0153

It was really nice to have friends over for dinner, and as responsible applied linguists, conversation topics of the night revolved around bilingualism, language testing, and transcultural communication.  As some of us will be graduating in a couple of weeks, opportunities to have such gatherings are coming to an end, so I hope to have another one soon!

 

Night Noodle Markets – Melbourne

IMG_1960Hearing about the Night Noodle Markets in Melbourne this year, I was really excited.  Apparently they were held last year too, but for some reason I was completely unaware of it.  I was also really glad that it was set up at Birrarung Marr, just a five-minute walk from Federation Square.

Jio-ing Ms EL to join me on this noodle adventure, we visited the markets on one of the last few days, and thought that perhaps there wouldn’t be many people, but how wrong we were!

IMG_1969

IMG_1968

Here is the list of stalls that were there.  Am I the only one who is uncomfortable with the names allocated to the different areas of the park?  I mean, there isn’t an ounce of Asianness in those names.  Do you see sections of Queen Victoria Market labelled as Wallaby Corner or Kangaroo Lane?

IMG_1961

Before going, I looked up the map of the place to check out the food that was available, and I must say, that I was somewhat encouraged by the way the stalls were classified – Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese etc., instead of the usual “Asian-style” (which means what exactly? Asian food is so diverse!), which even many good restaurants have on their menu.

IMG_1964The first dish that we had was the Chilli Soft Shell Crab from Pasar Malam.  Chilli Crab is one of Singapore’s most popular dishes, so I had to give it a go.

IMG_1966

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a hint of authentic chilli crab flavour in this dish.  The sauce seemed to be made mostly out of sweet chilli sauce, and the soft shell crab was nothing to shout about.

IMG_1975

Thankfully, the chendol I had after the disappointing crab was rather good.  For $5 it wasn’t a bargain, but I don’t think it is too expensive either.

IMG_1973

These “donuts” were perhaps the best tasting dish of the day, after the chendol.  Chilli caramel pork encased in fluffy bao goodness with a plum-ish glaze.  They were also the most reasonably priced, at $2.50 per donut.

IMG_1982

Then we had the Beef roti roll (on the right), and the veg pan roll from Lankan Tucker.  However, both rolls failed to impress, and the flavours weren’t anything special.

IMG_1983

Here is the letdown of the day.  Lao taco #1.  I’ve never tried Lao food before, and so was really keen on trying something from this stall.  Ms. EL told me that it wouldn’t be great but I insisted on having something, saying that I’d regret it if I didn’t.  I now regret that I bought the taco.

IMG_1986

If the cooks had really added some spice into the beef it certainly didn’t come through, and I wish some of the coriander was replaced with the chilli as the menu states.  To call that motley salad “lao slaw” certainly deserves this year’s Overstatement Award.  It was nothing more than raw cabbage, tomato and red onion.  That this dish is called Lao taco is the biggest insult to Lao cuisine.  I won’t even get started with the corn roti.Overall, most of the food I tried at the Night Noodle Markets was majorly disappointing, especially the chilli crab, which was an absolute embarrassment to real chilli crab.

If you’re into overpriced and inauthentic Asian food, head to the Night Noodle Markets before they close on the 30th of November.  If not, just continue on with your plans for the weekend as if the markets didn’t exist, and enjoy better Asian food elsewhere.

Porter Republic

All the cafés I’ve visited so far are in metropolitan Melbourne, so when I needed to visit a campsite in Phillip Island, I immediately searched Google and Urbanspoon for cafés around the area.  I stumbled upon Porter Republic when reading the reviews of another café in the area, which happens to be closed on Wednesday, so Porter Republic it was.

IMG_1785

The sliding doors of the café were certainly appreciated on the day of my visit, but perhaps some sort of spring action slide should be installed, so that they close automatically – I found that some customers did not pull the doors shut after entering/exiting, allowing the cold wind come in.  Located just by the bay area, the sea breeze can be rather chilly.

IMG_1787

Once we entered the café, a friendly staff member greeted us (later we found out it was her first day!), and showed us to a table.  Table service was not available at the time of our visit, which seemed to be inevitable given that they were understaffed.

IMG_1795

I read in one review that one menu item called The Royale was really good, but unfortunately they had a new menu in place which didn’t feature that dish anymore.  Instead, the closest to it was PR Benny/Florentine, but I don’t like hollandaise, so I gave that a miss.

I ordered a long macchiato, and Ann ordered chai.  I found it interesting that the lady who seemed like the owner (or at least the most senior staff member) was not familiar with the chai on the menu and had to check with the barista prior to confirming my order.

IMG_1803The long mac was excellent, and could not be faulted apart from the fact that I’d prefer if it was served in a cup.

 

 

 

IMG_1811

The chai was exceptional, and Ann was so impressed with it that she was grinning from ear to ear.

Ann originally intended to get one of the pulled pork menu items, but after seeing another customer order the Breaky Trifle, she changed her mind.  The Breaky Trifle was served elegantly in a glass, with layers of granola and yoghurt, topped with strawberries and sliced apples.  It was accompanied by a mini bottle of milk.  I find the spelling of “breaky” slightly odd though; I’d have gone with “brekkie”.

IMG_1830

Ann was really impressed with what she ordered, but unfortunately my pulled pork burger failed to live up to the standards set by her brekkie and our drinks.

IMG_1835

We requested the mayonnaise to be served by the side, and thought the apple and ranch slaw would also be served separately, but it still came all in the burger.  Not wanting to make a fuss, I just ate it as is, although I generally do not eat mayo.  The chipotle mayonnaise which was meant to be served by the side was non-existent.  The pulled pork was the letdown of the day, being dry and flavourless.  I don’t think it was freshly cooked on the day.  Moreover, I am led to think by the quality of the burger that the kitchen’s standards are not too high.  The brioche bun was burnt around the edges and the underside, but yet was still served to a customer.  Despite this, I did not send it back, because our orders had already taken around 20 minutes to arrive though there weren’t many customers, so I couldn’t bear to wait while they prepared another burger.  The shoestring fries sounded nice on the menu, but when they arrived they looked like they came out of McDonald’s.  The burger was also served in a black plastic basket, which didn’t seem like it fit with the café’s style.  The only redeeming feature of the dish was that the fries were seasoned with flaked sea salt.  If only the pulled pork was seasoned too.

If you’re looking for a great coffee around the San Remo area, look no further than Porter Republic.  I guarantee you’ll be able to get your coffee fix here.  But if you’re also looking to have some food, I’d try someplace else.

Porter Republic on Urbanspoon

Nora

While I know that new cafés pop up around Melbourne all the time, I’ve never gotten the chance to visit any while they’re still new.  Only when I was on my way to the post office about a week ago did I pass by Nora.  I’m not sure what shop was there previously, but Nora was definitely somewhat new.  So I decided to go and get a takeaway coffee, as I didn’t have my dslr with me then to take pictures of the food.  Then I found out they were only open for a month and a half!!  Finally, I’ve come across a new café!

So I suggested to April and Ms JQ that we go there one day.  To make things better, it is walking distance from my place :)  And it so happened that Ms EL and Ms YL were able to join us too!

IMG_9836

Arriving at Nora, we were happy to see that there was still space for the 5 of us.  As typical Singaporeans, we chose to sit inside rather than outside.  What baffles me, though, is that Nora chooses to place a table at the front, taking up almost half the shop space.  Although that table does showcase Nora’s speciality – charcoal tarts, I still feel that that space could be better utilised with perhaps a larger sharing table that is present in other cafés (eg. Bluebird Espresso or Top Paddock).

IMG_9823 IMG_9820

 

Nora’s menu is somewhat quirky, with dish titles which, at face value, seem completely unrelated to the dish itself.  Perhaps there are stories behind the dishes.

IMG_9829

For my coffee, I got a long macchiato as usual, but it turned out to be a long black with some milk.  The strength of the single shot was somewhat similar to the takeaway coffee I had a week ago, and wasn’t anything to shout about.

 

I forget the name of my dish (testament to its arbitrariness, or perhaps my bad memory?), but here it is.

IMG_9847

The ox tongue was tender and flavourful, and the kale was crispy.  I’d say the let down of the dish was the cured egg yolk, which contributed hardly any flavour or texture to the dish.  I don’t understand why it has to be scattered about, instead of being used in a capacity where it can be enjoyed with the dish as a whole.  Even my efforts to mop it up with the ox tongue yielded no significant results.

Each dish is served with yorkshire pudding and chinese cabbage (wombok) with some kind of curry sauce.  I can’t seem to find my photo of it, so if you’d like to have a look please visit April’s post here.  The wombok with curry dip is exceptional, but the yorkshire pudding lacks a sauce and doesn’t really fit.

We definitely had to try their charcoal tarts, so we ordered one of each flavour – strawberry and tamarind cream cheese, lemongrass and ginger, and sour cherry and kaffir lime cream.

IMG_9848

All the tarts are served this way if you have them in-house, so I only took one photo.  If you want to see a whole, uncrushed tart, you’d have to order them takeaway.  The tart flavours were unique, and they tasted good, but at $5 a tart I think they’re a tad expensive.

Overall, while the coffee failed to impress, the mains were good, but I’d say the best thing I tasted at Nora that day would definitely be the wombok with curry dip.  I could munch on a whole wombok with that dip over a good movie.

Nora on Urbanspoon