Saturday, January 29, 2011

Eat. @ Hu Tong Dumpling Bar

14-16 Market Lane, Melbourne - (03) 9650 8128

A Hu Tong is the laneway (or neighborhood)  that is formed by a row (or rows) of very geometrically laid out courtyard residences commonly found in Beijing.  Likewise Hu Tong Dumpling Bar is found in a little laneway off Chinatown.  Sitting opposite Flower Drum, Hu Tong has obviously become a firm favourite of locals and visitors alike, judging by the busy opening and closing of its front door!

After spending a pleasant afternoon in the city, we decided last minute to eat out and not bother cooking, and rang Hu Tong when we were just around the corner.  I explained how many of us there were and that we had a pram, and was pleasantly surprised to be given a table by the manager, with the condition that we finished our meal by 8pm (it was 6pm).  No problems I said, and off we went.  Unfortunately the manager had missed the bit about my pram and our table was on the 3rd floor, with 2 flights of steep stairs.  It was a bit of a nusiance but we managed to make it up to our table, and the waiters were polite and offered us help.  Fortunately all the effort was worthwhile as our meal had some of the best Shanghai Cuisine we had ever experienced!

Their Shao Long Bao (or XLB as they're popularly known!) are famous for a good reason.  The outside skins were perfectly steamed, safely delivering the delicious soup inside the dumpling, yet were not too thick. 


The Pan Fried Dumplings however were not so great.  The skins were too thick which made the whole thing rather ordinary - you can get this done just as badly at any yum cha restaurant.

Pan Fried Dumplings - you can SEE how thick the skin is!

The Noodles with Shredded Pork and Pickled Vegetables in Soup turned out to be very pleasant and "easy going" - very flavoursome, with lovely noodles, in a very smooth and delicious soup. 

The Shanghai Fried Noodles were some of the best I've had.  Good amount of vegies (made me feel better about how "shiny" the noodles were) and not too salty.   

Shanghai Fried Noodles, shining with "goodness!"

The waitresses were some of the friendliest and most helpful we've met.  Extra bowls and cutlery were brought to us with a smile.  Again as we left the waiter offered us help with the pram.  The service was extremely efficient and we were done in about an hour.  Although most of the tables around us were filled with hip young things having a meal before partying the night away, there were a few families with older kids.  The price of the food was also quite reasonable, notably cheaper than most of our lunches at cafes and other kid friendly restaurants!

Thank you Hu Tong for a wonderful dinner, and ensuring that I will never want to eat Shanghai Cuisine anywhere else in Melbourne again!!  

Edit - Okay, Hubby reminded me that I actually like Bamboo House better.  Sigh.... has been so long since I've been there, now I want to go again soon...!!!!
Eat.Play.Shop. Recommends :  The Shao Long Bao (not surprisingly) 
Give it a Miss : The Pan Fried Dumplings, also if you want to bring a pram, ring ahead and see if you can sit on the ground floor, although there is pretty limited sitting there and the front door will be opening and closing the whole time you're there.  We would not want to bring a pram to the 3rd floor ever again!

HuTong Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Regretably we did not stay for long enough to "experience" their toilet facilities or look for a change table.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Eat. @ Ramen Ya

Shop 25G, GPO, 350 Bourke St, Melbourne 3000 ph : (03)9654 5838
Mon - Tue 11am-5pm, Wed - Sat 11am-9pm, Sun 12-4pm

Because of my love for Kenzan at GPO, I often overlook Ramen Ya, which sits right beside Kenzan in that little laneway between the GPO and the new Myer Building.  I also used to giggle at their sign which claims they are "Melbourne's Best Noodle Restaurant" (still on the header of their homepage!) and boasts of "Melbourne's Best Ramen" .  Surely with a claim like that you're looking to have someone shoot you down, as those are certainly big boots to fill! 

Having sampled their ramen a few times, (and now that they seem to have taken down the "Best Ramen" sign), I have to say that, much like Momotaro Rahmen , Ramen Ya may not serve THE best bowl of ramen you've ever had, but they can certainly do a decent enough one at a price that won't break the bank!
Bowls of Ramen and Bento boxes are all $10 at Ramen Ya, which is pretty average for a bowl of noodles in Melbourne these days.  Their "specialty" is a charshu ramen. There are 3 soup bases to choose from : tonkotsu, miso and shoyu.  The kids shared a charshu ramen in tonkotsu soup (which of course I tried!).  The was a good size bowl of noodle with a pleasant and smooth tasting soup base.  The charshu was thinly sliced and ticks all the boxes.

Charshu Ramen with Tonkatsu Soup

Their Gyoza Ramen came with steamed gyozas.  They were quite nice but the pan fried ones were far superior - fortunately we had also ordered a side of those.  The dipping sauce was a perfect balance of salty and sour, which lots of places don't get right in their gyoza sauce.

Gyoza Ramen with Tonkotsu Soup

Side serve of six gyozas with plenty of dipping sauce
I felt like rice on the day so I went for one of the bento boxes.  The Katsu Curry Bento Box is not spectacular but the curry was a very pleasant Japanese curry that even my kids liked.  The side of 3 gyoza were above average.  The "vegetable" was some marinated seaweed, and although my kids love this and stole the side dish from me, it would have been more fitting to have a side salad to offset the curry.

Katsu Curry Bento Box

There are plenty of tables and the set up is much like that of Kenzan.  You can just pull the pram right up to the tables.  Again their main patrons are business lunchers, and we've only ever been on the weekend, but the staff were happy enough to get us spare cutlery and crockery, and the other patrons were quite tolerant of the kids being around.

Eat. Play. Shop. Recommends : The Charshu Ramen and the Bento Box we sampled were both very nice.  You can "upsize" for an extra $4 for a side of 3 gyozas or salad, and a green tea.
Give it a Miss : if you want anything else but ramen or bento box.  As you can see there really isn't much else here!

Ramen Ya on Urbanspoon

Toilets : Around the corner, down the lift to basement toilets, with change facilities
Highchair : Nope, but they have these great disposable bibs, the ones they give you at rib houses.  Great for kids learning to eat noodles....!!!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Shop. @ Daiso

The Hive, 313 Victoria Street Abbotsford VIC 3067ph : (03) 9429 4567

I love Daiso.  $2.80 for everything???  Absolutely appeals to the bargain hunter in me.  And
I grew up in the era when everything from Japan is just that bit cooler, trendier and just plain better, than stuff from anywhere else in the world.  Daiso is the biggest chain of 100 Yen stores in Japan and in 2010 its first store opened in Australia.  And for $2.80, those Japanese people sure have lots of ideas for little gadgets (yes, another one of my loves!)

Look away if you're a dentist!

Situated in The Hive, a new mini-shopping centre in the heart of Victoria St, Abbotsford, Daiso's first store is an average sized store on the second level of this building.  It is jam packed full of stuff!  There are isles of stationery, lollies and drinks, health and beauty products, storage boxes, cooking utensils, cleaning products, cutlery and crockery, toys and craft items.  I could keep listing but you get the idea, or better still just have a look at the photos!

Colorful stationery, my kids could stand here all day!

All sorts of hair ties - they don't get restocked often, so buy it if you want it now!

Rows of Japanese Crockery, not quite "Made In Japan", but quite a bit cheaper!

It's very easy to fill up your basket with stuff thinking it's only$2.80 for each item!

Storage solutions galore, enough to make you want to get organised!

Toys Toys Toys!

There is parking available in the basement, and the first hour is free if you validate your ticket at Aldi or Woolworths (and I presume you have to buy something there....)  Otherwise it's $2.90 for the first hour, and $6 for two.

And my very own periodic table mugs from a previous visit!
Very "Dr Sheldon Cooper" of me, I know! (PS - Geeks rule!)
Now if only they would open a Muji here.......

Eat. Play. Shop. Recommends : their children's craft stuff and stationery, their food cutters for creating interesting sandwiches and bento boxes
Give it a miss : if you have to bring a pram, the aisles are pretty narrow and I've seen parents barely get a stroller in, especially when they're busy and the aisles are packed.  Use your baby bjorn/sling instead.

Check out the blog post on Daiso at Home Made Home Baked here.

Edit : 26th May 2011 - Woohoo!!!! Daiso has arrived at Westfield Doncaster.   Check out my post on it here!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Eat. @ EARL Canteen

500 Bourke St, Melbourne CBD ph : 03 9600 1995
Brekkie from 7:30am - 10:30am Lunch 11am - 5pm Monday to Friday

EARL Canteen serves up fabulous gourmet baguettes and sandwiches from its shop in the Lt Bourke St Courtyard of 500 Bourke St.  As you can tell by the address and hours of operation, its target patrons are mainly business lunchers, so I did not look like one of the usual crowd when I lined up to buy lunch.  Nevertheless I thought we'd give it a go as we were heading out for a picnic, and gourmet baguettes and sambos sound pretty great to us!  I'm sure there aren't that many reviews around from picnicking mums with kids as their taste-testers!

(On a side note, I've always been secretly jealous that my chosen career has never allowed me to work from an office in the CBD with a choice of lunchtime getaways!)

The shop was brightly lit, with some seating mainly occupied by the business lunchers.  I chose 3 baguettes - their famous Pork Belly, the 12 Hour Lamb, and the Duck Confit.  These were made to order and were ready for me in ~10 minutes, all in a "strong" environmentally friendly bag.  There were lots of other options for roll fillings, and also a selection of salads, little cakes, drinks and coffee which will have to wait for another tasting opportunity.

The "Pork Belly" was "Crisp skin Ottway pork belly, apple, cabbage & fennel coleslaw, wilted silver beet, baguette".  The meat was lovely and tender with a very well crisped skin, and went well with the slaw, albeit I thought there was a bit too much slaw.  Nonetheless it was delicious and one of the best pork rolls I've ever tasted.

The "12 Hour Lamb" was "slow-cooked lamb, honeyed carrots, gremolata, baguette".  This was actually my favourite - the lamb was perfectly cooked, shredded and coupled very well with the moreish honeyed carrots.

The "Duck Confit" was "confit duck, caramelised wild figs, walnuts, onion jam, radicchio, watercress, ciabatta".  It might just be that I'm not a huge fan of radicchio but I found it too bitter and overpowering for this interesting combination and liked it much better after I removed it.

Overall these were a huge hit with my kids.  The rolls were too big, even as an adult, to take graceful bites from, so we ripped apart and gave them some of the bread to hold, and fed them the sandwich fillings.  My little 3 and 5 year old connoisseurs helped devour the rolls in no time and moved quickly onto the next course.  Poor hubby had a mouth ulcer and found the baguette difficult to chew on, and indeed I've come across quite a few reviews pointing out that the bread is too hard/chewy.  I personally didn't mind it but I've always been a fan girl for substantial bread.  My pet hate for rolls, sandwiches and burgers is the usage of too many wet ingredients, which make less substantial bread soggy and messy.  The rolls at EARL were not bad considering the amount of filling used.

As a treat we got a selection of macarons to go.  The macarons were all pretty good, crispy on the outside and lovely and chewy on the inside, with smooth ganachey centres.  We had raspberry, white peach, pistachio (don't mind the cracks seen in the photo, that was us - the wind blew my paper bag away and the green one got cracked!)  and salted caramel.  All were yummy, although I would have preferred a cup of tea (ah, even on picnics I like my tea!) to go with the salted caramel one as it was quite sweet.

All in all we had a lovely lunch from EARL canteen. It is a bit of a splurge for a family picnic, but the rolls were great and it satisfied the bit of me that wanted to be a gourmet business luncher ;)

Eat. Play. Shop. Recommends :  The 12 hour Lamb. 
Give it a Miss : I wouldn't try jostling for a seat in the shop if you've got little kids and a pram.
EARL Canteen on Urbanspoon

Toilets : No
Highchair : No

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Eat. @ Old Kingdom

197 Smith Street, Fitzroy VIC 3065 ph : (03) 9417 2438
Tue-Thu 12-2:30pm, 5pm-10:30pm; Fri 12pm-2pm, 5pm-10:30pm; Weekends 5pm-11:30pm
(dinner seatings at 6pm and 8pm)

The Old Kingdom Chinese Restaurant is not a fancy restaurant.  You walk in and it could be the 70's, the 80's, or the 90's (yes, it's 2011); and the decor, the menu, the waiters are all exactly what you would expect in an old style traditional chinese eatery.  Yet this has not stopped this place from being packed out all the time. 

My brother and lovely sis-in-law invited us out to try this little place famous for its 3 course peking duck dinner, and scanning the other tables in the restaurant, that's what everyone has come to eat!  I came with my 5 year old only as my poor Hubby stayed home with our 2 littler ones who were not well.  My sis-in-law had wisely pre-booked the ducks, as recommended, and we shared 3 ducks between 7 adults and a 5 year old, which fed us all quite comfortably.

Within 10 minutes of arrival the ducks were brought to the table and sliced by the waiter dude, who despite his age, looked like he'd done this a million times and is somewhat bored by the whole experience.  Nonetheless it was quite entertaining for my 5 year old.  The duck skin was perfectly crispy and the meat was not too dry even though the duck was not overly fatty.  Their pancakes are obviously handmade and some of the best I've had - very thin with a pleasant complimentary flavour to the duck and condiments. 

The ritual of wrapping the duck with the sauce +/- cucumber and shallots is part of the fun for the kids.  Certainly I've never grown out of loving the whole Peking duck pancakes experience over the years!

Each duck provided around 12 serves of duck pancakes as a guide to how many ducks you should order.

The second course is a less spectacular stir-fry of bean shoots and duck meat.  It still contained a good amount of meat and flavour.  By the time the 3rd course of duck soup arrived I was feeling surprisingly full.  The soup was very flavoursome, although in my opinion it had a tad too much pepper, and my 5 year old wouldn't have any for that reason.

The tables at the Old Kingdom was packed full of patrons, and there were certainly quite a few families there.  There is certainly no room for prams, especially if you're seated upstairs, as you also have to navigate up a steep set of steps to get there.  The waiters are your standard chinese restaurant "in a hurry" types but they did get us the extra bowls and cutlery needed for the little one.  There is also a menu for other cantonese dishes but we didn't sample those as really, we came for the duck!!!!!

Eat. Play. Shop. Recommends : Duck Duck Duck if you feel like duck this is it.
Give it a Miss : if you HAVE to take your pram, or if you want modern decor, ambience, and top class type service. (ie/ it's yummy dining not fine dining!)

Old Kingdom on Urbanspoon

Highchair : Yes
Toilets : Did not get a chance to use as we were there only for an hour, however, I would expect toilet facilities in keeping with the fact this is an old chinese restaurant.......

Friday, January 14, 2011

Eat. @ The Pub at Crown

Level 1, West End, Crown Entertainment Complex phone : 9292 4001

To be honest, we were just planning to grab a bite at the Crown Food Court prior to heading over to the Aquarium, but due to an unpleasant encounter with a rude, fat, welfare cheating gambler bully who took our table under extremely unethical circumstances, we had to look for an alternative lunching spot.  Fortunately our lunch @ The Pub at Crown turned out to be a most pleasant experience - just shows you that sometimes things happen for a good reason!

We were seated immediately at a spacious table with plenty of room for a pram.  A quick scan of the menu turned up with most of the usual suspects that are available at a pub bistro.  The surprising thing was that the prices weren't THAT bad considering it's at Crown.  The also had a separate Kids' Menu (always a good sign that the kids are welcome!)

I know it's extremely awful sounding but going to the Aquarium made me want to eat seafood.  I had the Seafood Tasting Plate at $16.50 and it hit the spot quite well for lunch.  In fact it was just like I had gone to The Conservatory round the corner and filled my plate from the seafood buffet.

Yes, prawn legs in my oysters, but everything tasted pretty good!

We also ordered the Chargrilled Rump Steak which was one of the specials of the day.  It was cooked medium as we ordered and had a peppercorn sauce and was delicious and not-too-expensive at $15!

Chargrilled Rump

The kids had their own menu and yes, they had fried stuff with chips, but I wasn't really in the mood to push "healthy" on the day.  They had their juice on the side, and the special "sweet treat" mentioned in the menu turned out to be a chuppa chup, which they plucked out from a giant container full of chuppa chups.  Cheap as the "treat" was, the kids were gleefully happy about it.  And you really can't ask for more than that!  The staff were generally helpful and the other patrons (on the bistro side of course) all seemed fine with kids.  There were certainly plenty of other families there on the day.

Chicken Nuggets and Chips (OK I didn't need this caption)

To top it off Hubby got to sneak round to the pub side and catch the cricket score so he was a happy chappy, and we were all set to spend the afternoon at the Aquarium!

Eat.Play.Shop. Recommends : Checking out The Pub if you want to avoid the crowds at the food court but not want to spend too much money.
Give it a Miss : Might want to order something healthier for the kids than what we did.....

The Pub at Crown on Urbanspoon

Highchairs :  Yes
Toilets:  Yes, The Pub has their own, or else the Parents Room facilities at the West End side of Crown are very clean and regularly inspected

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Play. @ Day Out with Thomas

Emerald Town Station

Saturdays and Sundays Seasonally - 9.30 am, 10.30 am, 12 noon and 1.30 pm.
Check website for upcoming dates :

Adults and Children (4+): $22.50, Toddlers (1-3 years): $11.00, Infants (under 1 year): Free

Thomas and his Friends are undoubtedly THE most famous train engines in the world (Sorry to the Gang @ Chuggington's)  A massive franchise has risen from The Railway Series books written by Rev. W.V. Awdry (and subsequently his son Christopher) in 1945.  And what's not to like?  Thomas is a cute little blue engine who is essentially an analogy of every young child, albeit one who works at a place that will no doubt have WorkSafe and Slater & Gordon "all in a huff" over the number of work place related accidents, breakdowns, crashes and lost cargo.  And what about the career-ending, politically incorrect habit of calling the Boss "The Fat Controller"???!!! 

Here comes Thomas!

<On a side note, what is it about famous writers naming their kids "Christopher", who go on to not-so-famously follow their footsteps and write a bit more after Daddy stops???  Hello there A.A.Milne and J.R.R.Tolkien. (Yes, some more of my useless trivia.) >

Day Out with Thomas events are planned all over the world wherever steam engines are still running, and the crowds they draw have not diminished over the years.  Here in Victoria, they are run on the Puffing Billy in Emerald, and also down in the Bellarine Peninsula.  We've been a couple of times to the Emerald event and last visited in November 2010.  The highlights of the events are of course the steam engine ride pulled by Thomas, and the pantomine put on by the local theatre group.

While waiting for the train to pull up, the kiddies were all whipped into frenzied excitement by The Fat Controller walking up and down and chatting on the platform.  The train ride itself is a pretty enjoyable 20 minutes, and is a perfect length to keep littlies interested but not get too bored.  The view is scenic as Thomas, Emily, or whoever the engine of the day is, pulls the train in a small loop to and from Emerald Town Station. 

The pantomine involves Thomas being in a spot of trouble involving a tummy ache and the turn-table, which of course requires enthusiastic singing and yelling out at the appropriate times by the audience to make things right. (Sorry if I've given too much of the plot away ;P)  It's not the most exciting show, and to be honest it was better 3 years ago, but it will be entertaining to most < 3 years old and those without a TV.  Having said that even my 3 year old got a bit bored and required some "persuasion" to stay put.

Insert your face here ;)

Other activities at the station include an animal nursery (an absolute hit with my kids), a jumping castle, a photo opportunity with Thomas and Sir Topham Hat, a less exciting photo opportunity with a wood cut out of Thomas (see picture), face painting, a food stall, and a pop-up shop full of all the Thomas peraphernalia you can think of.  They would have made a few bucks judging by the number of helium Thomas the Tank balloons (at $10 a pop!) that bobbed by while we were there.

The Animal Nursery

Bulgy the Bus
A ride on Bulgy the Bus is also available.  The bus is acleaned up old bus from the ?60's with the old adverts and furnishings intact.  I've learnt that the only time you catch any sort of public transport for fun is when you've got kids and the only way you usually get around is in a big family car.  The bus ride is a spin around Emerald Township just like in any other bus, except yours has a face stuck to its fender.  It was pretty cute and offered a good opportunity to have a seat and rest given that we didn't take the pram (for easier access on and off the train) and had carried our baby all afternoon. 

The unexpected highlight of our last visit happened as we were walking to the carpark to leave for the day.  The engine driver waved us over and offered us a tour of the driver's cabin.  He then patiently told my kids about how coal is used to make the steam that makes the engine run, let them sit on the driver's seat, and (most fun of all) let them make the train whistle.

The Puffing Billy still runs during the Events
For those who still have plenty of energy, there's a park adjacent to the station that was packed full of families and kids.  Or for the hungry, Emerald Township has a few nice little cafes that is within walking distance, if you don't fancy pies and sausage rolls or packets of Smith's Chips sold at the Food stall.

Eat. Play. Shop. Recommends : For all big and little fans of Thomas!  Bring an extra layer of clothing as it's always colder up the mountain.
Give it a Miss : The show is OK but can get a bit boring.  Also remember it costs $4 for carparking, run by the local scouts.