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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.