Friday, 30 January 2015

Nest - Brisbane CBD

A couple of days ago, Espresso and Matcha celebrated its four month of establishment. Needless to say, there was much fanfare. Having been such a newly created blog, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an invite to the launch party for Nest, in Hotel Jen, situated at the Roma Street Transit Centre. It was rather last minute, but I managed to find my plus one, and off we went.

As we arrived, my friend already drew my attention to the tree outside Hotel Jen, which was decorated with Chinese Lanterns, a good hint of what the evening had in store for us.

The hotel itself was bright and vibrant, in line with the new redevelopment plan that the government apparently has for the area near the transit centre.

From the outside, you can see the setting is rather stylish, with windows that look a bit like a birds nest, in the theme of the restaurant.

This theme extended to the interior, which was also decorated with nest like lampshades and ceiling decorations.

The DJ booth was also Nest themed, it was pumping out music all throughout the evening.

The two of us were warmly greeted at the door, and offered glasses of Perrier Jouet champagne.

We got a seat at the lounge and were offered a fortune cookie each, which contained a chance to win prizes at the end.

This was the drink menu for the opening night.

After the champagne, my friend and I got a lemon and lime bitters each. It was mixed really well, not being too sweet or too bitter. I found the portion size to be significantly more generous than  others I've had.

After the drinks, canapes were served throughout the evening by the super friendly waiters. We were also encouraged to hang around near the kitchen if we wanted to get specific types of food.

The first item that we got to try was the Fried Spiced Calamari with Aioli. The Calamari had a light batter, which accentuated the calamari, rather than overpowering it. The calamari itself was a bit chewy, but not too chewy, but I think that the aioli didnt have enough garlic though.

After the food started coming out, we took a peek into the open kitchen to admire the food they were preparing.

The next thing we tried was the Turkish Bread with the homegrown herb butter. Personally, I have a preference for my toast to be served hot, but I do understand that in a catering environment, this is definitely hard to achieve. By the time we got the toast, it was still warm though, which is not a bad effort. In terms of the herb butter, I do appreciate the super fresh herbs, which made quite a difference from the usual store bought herbs.

Next up was the Crispy Fried Vegetable Dumpling. In my opinion, this was the most confusing thing I tried in the evening, as I am used to dumplings in the sense that you would get at Harajuku Gyoza, or New Shanghai. In this instance, the dumpling did not have a distinctive 'skin' and 'filling'. It tasted more like a scone with veges mixed in. Whilst I found it very good for a scone, I'm not entirely sure it should have been called a dumpling. Nevertheless, it was an interesting experience.

Next came the Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls. It contained all the usual elements, pork, vermicelli, and rice paper as well as asparagus, being their interesting little twist. Personally, I found the rice paper roll to be rather bland, and I think it could have been a bit better with more filling in each roll. Other than that, it was pretty authentic, and I could taste that the ingredients were very fresh. 

Next were the Honey Soy Chicken Wings! They were all grilled to a nice golden brown, and tastes just like my mother makes. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Other than that, I also developed a strong appreciation of how difficult it is for people to manage holding a drink, a bag, and a camera whilst eating food! Indeed, its not easy.

The highlight of my evening was definitely their Satay Chicken. The chicken was tender and not overdone, whilst the sauce was peanutty and mildly spicy. I really liked it.

After the Satay Chicken, we tried the mini bowl of Laksa. As Laksa is one of my mother's favourite dishes, I am quite familiar with the elements and execution of a good laksa (because she critiques every laksa she has to me). As with the rice paper roll, the laksa at Nest definitely contained all the essential elements, a curry based coconut milk soup, hokkien noodles (notably there were no rice noodles), bay leaves, prawns, fish cake and sprouts. Interestingly, they had a poached egg also, which is something I've never encountered in laksa. In terms of execution though, whilst I found it to be rather spicy, the spice overpowered any other flavour of the dish. My companion and I both agreed that the soup could have a bit more coconut flavour.

The duck salad was also rather interesting, although it was roast duck, it was served cold. The veges were definitely fresh, but were more hard than they were crisp. 

Next up was the Peking Duck Roll, which was something I wanted to try for quite a while. Like the rice paper roll, I found the filling to be a bit lacking. However the pastry was nicely done and very authentic, whilst the duck and hoisin sauce were quite tasty. I would have enjoyed it a lot more if there was more duck though.

What I found rather impressive at Nest was the Pad Thai. The noodles were quite springy, and the sauce had a nice sweet flavour which complimented the meat and prawns.

At this stage, I was already rather full, but I was not willing to leave until I had tried the Wagyu Sliders. It had some bacon (which you can't see in the photo), lettuce and tomato. Surprisingly I found it a bit lacking without cheese. I also found the patty a bit small for the size of the bun. 

Throughout the evening, the chefs were wandering around chatting to guests, most of them herald from Hong Kong and China. We were lucky to chat with the head chef and get a better understanding of his restaurant.

Overall, we really enjoyed our time at Nest. The food has a bit of room for improvement, but its definitely got the basis and potential to be something great! The service and ambiance for the night was wonderful. I will definitely return.

Price Range: $25 - $35 per person

Taste: 6.5/10
Value: 7/10
Service: 9.5/10 Staff were exceptionally friendly and helpful
Environment: 9/10

*Espresso&Matcha was a guest of Nest Lounge and Bar, however all opinions expressed are provided with independence and integrity*

Nest Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Cafe Madeline - Sunnybank

One afternoon, I found myself very hungry and wandering around Sunnybank Plaza. I didnt feel like the average afternoon tea sets, and found myself outside of Cafe Madeline, next to the cinemas. During the afternoon, they offered a pasta set, which was just what I was looking for. 

Upon ordering, there was a short wait and the garlic bread arrived. Toast/Garlic Bread is one of the few things that I am very pedantic about. In my opinion, the best one I've ever had was in David's Sizzling Steak up in Little Taipei before they changed management. To achieve a good slice of Toast/Garlic Bread, the bread needs to be crisp and crunchy on the outside without being hard, but soft and fluffy on the inside. The butter and garlic on the top must also have melted, and I also have a preference for thick cut bread to further emphasize the softness inside. 
Whilst the garlic bread at Cafe Madeline was hot, and the garlic butter had melted on top, I found the bread not soft enough on the inside, whilst the outside was quite hard.

Our mains arrived next, my associate had ordered the creamy seafood pasta, which was served on a little fry pan. Whilst the seafood pasta did contain a large assortment of seafood, including fish, octopus, mussels and prawns, the quantity was very lacking. I found the sauce to be very creamy though.

Next came my dish of Carbonara. I as above, the sauce was really creamy, and in this instance also very cheesy. Although the portion was quite small, I found it to have an ample amount of bacon, and the little tomatoes on top gave it a little bit of extra zing. 

Price Range: $10 - $15 per person

Taste: 7.5/10
Value: 5/10 (portions really need to be bigger)
Service: 6/10
Environment: 7/10

Cafe Madeleine on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Haoke - Sunnybank Hills

Yum Cha has been established in Brisbane for as long as I can remember. Yum Cha (飲茶 - literally drinking tea) is a traditional Cantonese Cuisine. The origins can be traced to little tearooms in China, where people would relax after a hard day's work to catch up with friends and appreciate fine tea (akin to a modern day cafe). Initially, it was considered inappropriate to mix tea drinking with food, as it would reduce the drinker's appreciation of tea, later though, imperial physicians discovered that drinking tea whilst eating would aid in digestion as well as reduce wait gain. With this development, the little tearooms started to serve small snacks on the side. As time passed, this grew into the modern day Yum Cha that we all know and love. [1]

Being a HongKonger, I really do appreciate going to Yum Cha for a weekend lunch with family. Compared to Sydney and Melbourne, I would consider the Yum Cha scene in Brisbane to be rather lacking, but within the limited options available, I would consider Haoke at Sunnybank Hills to be the best option.

The thing about a good Yum Cha place is that its always packed on a weekend lunchtime. I'd be very skeptical about the quality of the food if I didn't need to wait at least 10 minutes to get a table. Of course, I'd also be annoyed if I had to wait an excessively long time to get a table too. Luckily, the usual wait time for a table at Haoke is around 15 minutes, long enough to anticipate the food, but not so long as to annoy me.

The setting is pretty standard for Yum Cha, with the white plate, bowl and tea cup.

The dim sim card is placed on your table to record how many dishes you ate.

Patrons get a choice from the usual options in tea, TieGuanYin, PuErh, Jasmine, Chrysanthemum etc. Being a big fan of tea, I really appreciate a good pot of tea. In my opinion this is what sets Haoke apart from other Yum Cha places in Brisbane. Whilst their tea is definitely not gourmet, its clearly a cut above the rest, with a light colour but a distinctly stronger taste. 

What I also like about Haoke is the provision of a hot water thermos at every table, which would mean less time waiting around for a waiter to refill our teapot when it runs out.

Complimentary soy sauce and chili sauce is provided, but we rarely use it.

The food offered at Yum Cha is usually served in a small portion for sharing, akin to Tapas, as opposed to other cuisines where each person orders a meal and eats the portion themselves. The first thing we ordered was the chicken feet. Whilst not a mainstream dish, my parents do really enjoy it. They said that it was cooked rather tender and the sauce was tasty.

Personally, I am a big fan of Congee (rice porridge). I particularly like the Congee at Haoke because its served in a comparatively large bowl which means everyone can get a decent sized share, but it is only a medium dish. Other places usually class congee as large or extra large, but give a much smaller portion. The taste is pretty good, but I would have liked a bit more century egg and meat throughout the congee.

The next to arrive was the Stewed Hong Kong Style Beef Entrails (牛雜). Whilst it sounds unappetising, it has recently become one of my favourite dishes. It contains an assortment of beef entrails such as tripe, lungs, pancreas and radish cooked until tender in a really tasty stock. I really recommend this dish. Its usually accompanied by chili oil, which I also really enjoy.

Stuffed eggplant is another family favourite, with fried eggplant stuffed with fish paste finished off with a thick sauce. 

When it comes to iconic Yum Cha dishes, one cannot go past Har Gow (蝦餃) and Siu Mai (燒賣). In considering what makes a good Har Gow, it is usually judged on how thin and translucent the skin is, and how generous the portion of prawns are. In this regard, Haoke makes a pretty decent effort. The skin could be more thin, but I have not been able to find a better one in Brisbane, the portion of prawn is also quite decent.

The second iconic dish, Siu Mai is an open pork and prawn dumpling with a bit of shitakke mushroom mixed through and garnished with a spot of orange crab roe. To be honest, the serving offered at Haoke wasn't particularly outstanding, but it was a solid effort. The best Siu Mai can only truly be found in Hong Kong. 

My personal favourite when it comes to steamed dishes is the Bean Curd Rolls (鮮竹卷). It consists of minced pork and bamboo shoot wrapped in bean curd and steamed with a thick sauce added just before serving. It is both homey and the ultimate comfort food.

When it comes to yum cha, steamed dishes are served from a specialised steamer cart, whilst fried dishes can be served from just a regular cart. From the fried dish cart, we got the deep fried calamari, which was didnt have the overly thick batter that some other places have. The serving was quite decent sized too.

When it comes to my favourite fried dish, its definitely the taro dumplings, which contain a selection of minced pork and veges, wrapped in mashed taro and deep fried. 

In terms of deserts we ordered the chinese donuts, which interestingly originated from Japan and are also known as Sata Andagi. Its a fried doughy kind of bun sprinkled with sugar on the outside.

To finish off, we also ordered the Cantonese adaption of Portugese Tart, which in the context of Yum Cha, is essentially a caramelised custard tart. Nevertheless, I appreciate the added texture of the caramelised top.

From reading other reviews of Haoke, I understand that some guests have had issues with the service, and I agree that the service at a busy Chinese restaurant tends to be abrupt and uncourteous, but as regulars, many of the staff have become quite friendly to us. Occasionally we also have issues with the plates and bowls not being very clean, but having eaten in Hong Kong before, we are familiar with the concept of having to wash your own crockery before the meal. I believe this is a rather alien concept locally, but I find it acceptable.

Price Range: $15 - $25 per person (during lunch)

Taste: 7.5/10
Value: 7/10
Service: 6.5/10
Environment: 7/10 (could be cleaner, but air con is sufficient in the hot summer and I like the floor to ceiling windows. It adds a lot of ambiance when its raining outside.)

Haoke Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon