Eat here: Chumanchu, Melbourne (Vietnamese)

Chumanchu (formerly Fu Manchu), Preston, Melbourne
https://www.facebook.com/Fumanchupreston

It’s had a little name change recently (although they seem to have forgotten to change it on their Facebook page..?!), but Chumanchu, brother restaurant of the delightful Miss Chu, is still delivering some seriously delicious Vietnamese food in a hip yet homely space.

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Dad and I try to catch up for dinner every few weeks, just us two, but he’s been super busy at work lately. When he called last week and said he’d have some time coming up, I was pretty excited; he said he felt like Vietnamese or Japanese food, told me to pick the place, and he’d pick up the bill – thanks, Dad :)

We had a good look at the menu, and I recognised a few dishes I’d actually tried in Vietnam, so I was a bit more excited! Dad’s only request was the satay chicken skewers, and told me he’d trust my picks on another few dishes to share.

The satay chicken skewers ($9.00 for 3 pieces) were really good, but pretty small for the price we paid. The satay sauce was phenomenal though, had a good hit of spice, and a solid lemongrass flavour which actually worked amazingly well with the peanuts.

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Next up were the prawn bahn cuon ($12.00 for 2 pieces), a steamed rice paper crepe filled with prawns and sitting on a bed of bean sprouts, topped with crispy shallots and herbs. These were really good, better value for money; they were packed full of prawns.

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We then shared a serving of pork and prawn banh xeo ($18.00) which I’d eaten a LOT of in Vietnam and really loved… this was at least 3 times as big as the biggest one I ate over there, packed full of pork, prawns, bean sprouts and mung beans) with a really tasty, perfectly balanced sauce on the side. I’d go back just for this, it was honestly amazing!

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After polishing all of that off, Dad (who’s a fit, strong, skinny guy) announced that he was still hungry, and insisted I pick another dish. I’m a HUGE pork belly lover, but not so much Dad; “it’s just fat, isn’t it?” Yeah, and it’s delicious. I told him to pick his choice, but he said he trusted my food judgement and we ordered the braised pork belly ($18.00), slow cooked in broth, with Asian greens, quail eggs and shitake mushrooms with kim chi, and a side of roti bread. This ended up being Dad’s favourite dish of the night. The pork literally fell away at my fork and the flavour of the broth was like nothing I’d ever had before. It was strong without being overpowering, and very moreish.

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Great food and a fantastic few hours hanging out with one of my favourite people in the world :) I would definitely be keen to come back and visit again, but, like Miss Chu, it’d have to be infrequent visits; it’s not cheap. Compared to the incredible 50c bahn cuon we had in Vietnam, the pricing here seemed to be quite excessive. I’ve also heard that breakfasts are pretty amazing, so might have to make that the next visit!

 

Fu Manchu on Urbanspoon

Stay here: The Grosvenor, London

The Grosvenor
101 Buckingham Palace Rd, London
http://www.guoman.com/hotels/united_kingdom/london/the_grosvenor_hotel/index.html

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I am STILL kicking myself over the fact that this is the only photo I have related to my stay here last year; this is by far one of the best hotels I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in, particularly for my decidedly 3 star budget! This was the view from our hotel room window the first night we spent in London, in April last year.

I booked the hotel based on price and location – the fact I could afford something that looked to be so nice in such a fantastic location was phenomenal, and I was a little worried that it was too good to be true. But we arrived to a beautiful, 4 star hotel with service to match. You usually only hear about the complaints, so let me start this review by saying that the staff here were 100% fantastic, for the entire duration of our stay. They made the check in and check out procedures very quick and simple for us, opened doors as we entered and exited, always with a smile. The breakfast crew made sure we never lacked for a hot drink to start the day, and even the doormen were more than happy to help give us directions when it was apparent that we had no idea where we were going. So a huge thank you to everyone there for making our stay so great!

Another massive plus to this hotel was the fact that it is actually attached to Victoria station, one of the bigger stations in London. But, you’d never know it; absolutely no noise whatsoever penetrated our hotel room walls. It was incredibly handy though, to exit through the one of the quieter doors in the hotel lobby, and emerge right into the centre of the station, making transit VERY easy!

The rooms themselves were actually quite spacious for European standards, beautifully appointed, with the following:
- VERY comfy bed
- heating and air conditioning
- tea and coffee making facilities
- flat screen LCD TV with DVD
- hairdryer
- sitting area
and of course quite a bit more!

Some of the other hotel features of interest:
- a few restaurants/bars on site
- 24 hour concierge and room services
- gym
- fantastic buffet breakfast
- free wifi
- proximity to Victoria station (as mentioned above)

In terms of value for money, I think it’s pretty good and definitely worth spending a little more considering how good it is, with prices starting from roughly AUD$300 per night (very much dependent on travel periods).

I really couldn’t recommend The Grosvenor any more highly, and it’ll be without a doubt the first place I’ll be looking at staying when I next visit London (which will hopefully be in around 2 – 3 years!)

Cook this: quick dinner – stir fried snapper & veggies

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Here’s another quick, easy, and very healthy dinner to add to the week’s set list – stir fried snapper and veggies! Carb free, gluten free, very low fat, full of veggies and relatively cheap (for Melbourne’s grocery price standards, anyway!), here’s how it works..

To make dinner (or lunch) for 2:
- 300g boneless snapper fillet, diced into approx. 3cm pieces
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 yellow squash, sliced
- 1 bunch broccolini, sliced (use the stems, too)
- 200g shitake mushrooms, sliced (if you can’t get these, regular mushrooms work just fine!)
- 4 shallots, sliced
- fresh coriander and deep fried shallots*, to serve (* available at all good Asian grocers and supermarkets)

Put it together:
1. Place the snapper in a bowl or container. Combine 1 tbsp soy sauce, the fish sauce, ginger and garlic in a small bowl, then pour over the snapper, mixing it in well – set aside.
2. Heat a wok over high heat and spray some cooking oil over it. Stir fry the broccolini for a few minutes, until the stems start to soften, then add the squash and stir fry for another minute. Put them in a bowl and set aside.
3. Re-spray the wok with cooking oil and add the mushrooms and shallots, stir frying for a few minutes, until they soften. Take them out of the wok and put them into the bowl with the other veggies.
4. Re-spray the wok once more and throw in the fish, cooking for 2 – 3 minutes (until cooked through). Add in the bowl of veggies you’d set aside earlier and the rest of the soy sauce, and combine the lot.
5. Spoon your stir fry into your bowl, top them with some deep fried shallots and fresh coriander, and enjoy :)

Ben Thanh Night Market, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

This is definitely one of the cooler markets I’ve been to. I’d read a little bit about it online when I Googled “night markets in Ho Chi Minh City,” learning that there was a day market there, housed in sheds and mostly undercover, but it really came into its own at night. The regular market shuts down at around 6pm, and then the mayhem begins, which we learnt the hard way.

Sib and I left our hotel room at around 5.30pm, ready to eat our weight in street food (we’d heard it was pretty good there). We figured if the market started up around 6.30pm, we’d have an hour to find our way (without a map, relying solely on the lovely doorman’s instructions, vaguely pointed to us from the hotel lobby) and dawdle a little in the process. When we arrived, we found the day time market still open, so we took a quick wander around, stopping to purchase some green tea.

We became suddenly very aware of the fact that all of the stalls seems to be packing up at once, quite abruptly, and we were clumsy nuisances tripping over semi-collapsed trestle tables and garbage bags; we stumbled back out to the street, surveying our options. We decided to take a walk around the outside of the market to see if we could work out where this night market would be set up. What happened next was without a doubt one of the most comical, peculiar, preposterous thing I think I’ve ever seen. We looked up the street and saw a line of men and women running tents and pergolas down the street, in amongst the traffic!

IMG_4959As we watched on, we witnessed the set up of the night market; it was mental. Complete madness. I don’t know how else to describe it. One moment, the area was empty, a few minutes later, the marquees we’d seen being wheeled down the street at breakneck speed were up, being wired with lighting and cooking stations were being fired up. A few minutes later, hand bags and watches were starting to come out of large sacks, being carefully laid out. We were stunned. We’d never seen anything like it! We decided to go grab a cold drink at a café and wait another 30 minutes or so to give the market a chance to set up properly.
IMG_4963When we returned, it was ready. I really couldn’t believe the speed and efficiency with which it was all done – if I hadn’t seen it myself, I’d have never believed it. The market itself was pretty good – small, lots of stuff to appeal to tourists, handicrafts, clothing, designer knock offs and what not. But it was the food that was the best.

We stopped at what seemed to be the world’s most fabulous pop-up restaurant, a well oiled machine commandeered by the calmest kitchen crew I’ve ever seen, not the least bit phased by the ridiculous crown already lining up to be seated, and waiters dressed in smart waist coats.
IMG_4967We went with our favourite Vietnamese dish for dinner – bun cha. I had the roast pork. It was perfect.
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We weren’t planning on dessert, but when we saw this cart with 6 different types of sticky rice, we changed our minds and took home a little polystyrene tub with a small scoop of each to share, smothered in coconut milk. Just wow.
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Eat here: Bún Chà Nem Cua Bê, Hanoi, Vietnan

Bún Chà Nem Cua Bê
1 Hang Manh, Hanoi, Vietnan

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Hands down one of the coolest dining and travel experiences of my life! We were picked up from Hanoi’s airport by a lovely young lady and her driver, who took us to our hotel. On the drive over, we talked the whole way, asking each other question after question. Her English was fantastic, and we found out she had a good friend in Sydney, which gave her a good opportunity to practice. We asked her for her recommendations on the things she thought we should see and her favourite places to eat – she proceeded to write out a double-sided notebook page for us!

We told her our favourite Vietnamese dish was bun cha – a huge smile spread across her face and she started to furiously scribble onto the page again, telling us this was her favourite food too, and she’d give us the address of her pick for the best place to get it in the city. Once she dropped us off at the hotel and we got a few photos taken together and exchanged email addresses, we dumped our suitcases in our room and prepared to head back out and find us some bun cha.

It took a little while, but eventually we found the street name. The ridiculous amount of people massed out the front indicated we were in the right place. Once it was clear that we were interested, we were quickly ushered into the establishment without a word from the lady. It looked like a little shop front that was already full and couldn’t possibly accommodate us; we were then ushered up two flights of stairs and to the end of a communal table.

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Without a word being exchanged, we pointed to a nearby water bottle and held up two fingers (we were aiming for 2 bottles of water, and we had them within 60 seconds), then settled down to survey our surroundings. Shoulder to shoulder, sardine-tin dining with miniature street side plastic stools and a crazy, market-style atmosphere. It was perfect. We’d no sooner taken in the full 360 degree view than looked down at the pile of food that had materialised in front of us. Much like the fabulous experience we had at Bale Well in Hoi An, it appeared that AUD$5.00 got us a bottle of water each as well as all we could eat bun cha.

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Pickled vegetables, a veritable mountain of noodles, half a garden worth of fresh herbs, fresh spring rolls and god knows what kind of meat wrapped in leaves and swimming in undoubtedly the best broth either of us had ever had.

So there we sat, looking at each other over the small plastic trestle table, simultaneously bursting out into laughter. We could not believe it! From what started as a “I wish we could just go to Vietnam and eat our way around the country!” We had actually made it a reality! We were sitting in a little nondescript street side shanty, three stories above Hanoi, eating the most spectacularly delicious spread of food! If you’re in Hanoi, please take down this address and ask your hotel or hostel front desk for directions; it’s one hell of an experience!

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Eat here: Big Lou’s Donuts, Melbourne

Big Lou’s Donuts, Melbourne
http://www.biglous.com.au

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This post should be pretty self-explanatory, given my love for all things that include sugar and dough. After an awesome night wondering the streets of Fitzroy to enjoy the Gertrude Street Projection Festival, it was time to wind up the night and catch the tram home. But not before a hot drink and some dessert.

Given our pending trip to America, I’ve been doing my homework, researching donut places over there. They’re the one sweet treat that I thoroughly enjoy, but don’t really seem to be a “thing” in Melbourne (yet?!). We wondered why we’d never given Big Lou’s a try and figured there was no time like the present, so:

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This is the TOTALLY NUTS donut, and it was totally delicious. Thick, cakey donut, solid chocolate frosting, and stacked full of crushed nuts. No idea why we hadn’t given these a chance before last night, but we apologise and we will be back. Next time you’re on Brunswick St and you see Big Lou’s, don’t be too quick to dismiss it. They do a good donut!

Big Lou's Donuts on Urbanspoon

The Gertrude Street Projection Festival, Melbourne

The Gertrude Street Projection Festival
http://gspf.com.au
Until July 27th, 6pm – midnight

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When I found out my favourite part of Melbourne was hosting (for its 7th year) the city’s biggest free, incredibly visible arts festival this weekend, I got excited. Any excuse to spend the night in Fitzroy.

You can find a lot more information on their website, but in a nutshell, the Gertrude Street Projection Festival is all about projecting the work of local artists (both still and moving work) on the laneways, shop fronts, buildings and even tree trunks on and around Gertrude Street.

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It’s also important, I think, to note that the Gertrude Association that have pulled this together are a non-profit, volunteer run group. They do some wonderful things, so again, check out the website.

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It’s still running for another few nights, so head down to amazing Fitzroy, grab some fantastic food and enjoy the show!!

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