HUNTER & BARREL – EASTLAND, RINGWOOD

Where do all the carnivores go? Well, Hunter & Barrel of course. The launch of Eastland’s town square, brings to Ringwood a new dining precinct that embraces Melbourne’s food scene. Hunter & Barrel is one of the dining offerings – courtesy of the Seagrass Boutique Hospitality Group – aka the folks that brought us The Meat & Wine Co and Ribs & Burgers across Melbourne & Sydney. The concept of the ‘Hunter’ evokes imagery of taxidermied trophies. The concept of the ‘Barrel’ summoning thoughts of endless craft beverages and boutique wines. Never fear, the carnivorous appeal is not as macabre as an American dentist off to his next kill. The atmospheric ambiance is warm and buzzing, with communal groups clinking wine glasses and sharing ginormous platters of meat. This one is definitely for the meat lovers.

Diners can expect a mix of artisanal food, combined with inventive cocktails. The evening began with a fat-washed vodka, a contemporary cocktail technique that adds savoury flavour to spirits. The end result is a fruity-sweet concoction, with a hint of smoothness emanating from the fat-wash. Starters began with chicken wings in a sweet & sour sauce, the crusty sourdough ideal for soaking up the meaty juices. Combined with cultured butter, smother to your heart’s content, with a side of juicy corn. The Hunter’s Feast gives diners the option of choosing 4 salads/sides. The impressive platter arrives with coiled sausages and an array of meats, cooked over a signature coal grill. Think slow-roasted beef rib falling off the bone, coal roasted chicken, and crispy pork belly. Slice open the cheese stuffed Kransky and enjoy the slight spiciness of the wagyu sausage. The platter arrives with all sorts of saucy accompaniments to liven up the meaty profile. This surely is a carnivore’s heaven?

Dessert is reminiscent of S’mores melted over a crackling campfire. The pornographic dish arrives in a hot pan, with a layer of marshmallows melted over a hidden layer of chocolate. Slightly toasted, the end result is a sickly-sweet mess of overindulgence. Check out that ooze…

Hunter & Barrel takes shopping centre dining to the next level. Steve Scott, operations manager says the focus is on ‘creating a unique, comfortable and fun experience for our guests at Hunter & Barrel – every choice we have made, from the cooking style to the plateware to our sequence of service were designed with this spirit in mind.’ With its unique hunter-esque decor combined with a buzzing atmosphere, the objective has certainly been achieved. Grab a couple of your meat-loving mates and get ready to enter a carnivorous food coma.

Rochford Winery – Yarra Valley

Escaping into the Yarra Valley for indulgent food and wine is a favourite pastime for Melbournians. It’s a place for indulging in life’s pleasures, without driving too far from the CBD.  Journeying to   Rochford winery, there are plenty of ‘ooohs’ and ‘awwws’ as we drive past newborn calves and lambs. The air is crisper. The pastures are greener. Clouds piercing Mt Dandenong adds to the picturesque setting. But our objective isn’t to sightsee, we’re here for the swirling of wines, the clinking of glasses and a produce-driven menu, sourced locally from the beautiful Yarra Valley.

Rochford  has undergone a major renovation to create a stunning open design that includes a cafe, restaurant and store.  The addition of four new tasting stations, means wine enthusiasts can speak one on one with sommeliers. The appointment of head chef Raki Adriana has reinvigorated the menu, transporting Rochford into the casual fine-dining space.  “I am actually a local lad – having grown up in the foothills of the Dandenongs – at Montrose and after spending time during my apprenticeship years at De Bortoli Winery – I really wanted to return and make my mark on the Yarra Valley”, said Raki. Plates are meticulously plated with French and Mediterranean influence.  90% of the produce is locally sourced, with suppliers minutes away from paddock to plate.  Head chef, Raki has certainly made his mark.

Starters celebrate the veggies of the region. Thin shavings of asparagus are a novel way to eat the spears, scattered with a piquant manchego and black garlic. The distinctive richness of the cheese, a perfect partner for the mildness of asparagus. The heirloom carrots are inspired by a garden bed, with a multiplicity of colours and textures, elevating the simple root vegetable. Next on the agenda – seafood. The smokiness of the confit octopus, matched with a cauliflower skordalia –  a smooth nutty emulsion had us on our knees. Throw in cured kingfish and I’m in seafood heaven.

The mains arouse the taste buds, with a carnivorous lamb shoulder, shaved into a rectangular mass of meaty goodness. The meat is succulent, moist and juicy. A far cry from your local kebab joint. The corn fed chicken is demure, with a splash of meaty jus, farro grains and a thin crispy ribbon of guanciale (Italian cured meat).  Desserts are a classic salted caramel tart with embedded pears and baked apples in a modern interpretation of an apple crumble. Instead of boring ol’ oats, there’s freeze dried custard and a milk sorbet.

Diners can choose from 2 courses ($55) or 3 courses ($65) –  a reasonable price considering the calibre of the food. With the transformation of the new menu in an idyllic setting. It’s difficult to imagine the old Rochford. This was our first time visiting Rochford and standing on the balcony admiring the views,  following a completely satisfying meal, made us wish that Monday would never come.

Hungrycookie Giveaway – Win a $100 Dining Voucher

Prize : Win a $100 Rochford Wines dining voucher. A wonderful opportunity to experience premium wine and food within the luscious greens of the Yarra Valley. See our previous review of  Rochford wines for a look at the wonderful food and scenery.

To enter: 

1) Follow @hungrycookiee & @rochfordwines on Instagram

2) Like the Giveaway image 

3) Tag 2 friends

Terms and conditions: Competition is only open to Australian residents. The voucher expiries 4 months from date of receipt. The winner will be drawn randomly. Competition will be redrawn if winner does not respond in 72 hours. Voucher can be used for lunch (not valid on Public holidays).

Old Lahaina Luau – Maui, Hawaii

Set in the heart of Maui, the Old Lahaina Luau takes pride in showcasing  traditional Hawaiian culture. The tradition originated in the 1800’s, where King Kamehameha II removed religious laws that prevented men and women from eating together. When the ladies and lads finally came together, the first luaus were created. Isn’t that how all great parties start?  The Old Lahaina Luau is one of the oldest and respected in Hawaii. Yes, it’s a super touristy concept. No doubt, you will encounter droves of tourists in Hawaiian shirts snapping photos.   Nevertheless, the experience is highly enjoyable and remains a quintessential must. The Luau is the best in Maui, recognised for showcasing cultural integrity, romantic ambiance and riveting entertainment. 

The evening kicks off with a cocktail on arrival and a  lei – a garland of violet flowers presented to guests, as a symbol of welcome and affection. Tiki torches set alight the sprawling property, as pastel coloured hues paint the winter sky. The atmosphere is buzzing with live entertainment, as tourists participate in instrument demonstrations, buy wooden souvenirs and play games with the hunky staff. The star of the evening is the Kalua Pua’a, where pork is roasted in a beachside Imu – a Hawaiian underground oven. A deep pit is dug into the soil, where a whole pig  roasts slowly, acquiring a deep smoky flavour. Preceding the luau, the pig is unveiled as the soil and palm leaves are removed to reveal perfectly moist pork, served later in the buffet.

Kalua Pua’a – Roasted in underground oven

Choose from traditional mats where guests are seated cross-legged on cushions, whilst dining on low communal tables (these are closest to the stage) or standard tables. Included in the experience, are bottomless cocktails (these words fill me with joy) and a buffet of traditional Hawaiian cuisine. The term ‘Luau’ is a term for a Hawaiian party or feast, and boy… will you feast. Thinking back to Vegas buffets, the experience is chaotic and nausea inducing. The Old Lahaina Luau is surprisingly civilised, where tables take turns to fill-up on Ahi poke, Lomi-Lomi salmon and melt-in-your mouth Kalua Pork. Admire the full spread of Laulau wrapped in Lu’au leaf, Mahi Mahi fish falling off the bone, traditional Taro Poi and fresh island crab salad. Enjoy all of this glugging down tropical inspired cocktails. Our favourite is the Lava Flow, an icy blend of pureed banana, cream of coconut and pineapple juice, emerging from the red ‘lava’ of strawberries and coconut rum. Dessert is a platter of assorted island desserts: Passion Fruit Cake, Upcountry Lavender Lemon Shortbread Cookies, Hawaiian Chocolate Chili Pepper Brownie, and Haupia. Go for seconds, thirds, whatever you can stomach.

Hawaiian Poke

Passion Fruit Cake, Upcountry Lavender Lemon Shortbread Cookies, Hawaiian Chocolate Chili Pepper Brownie, and Haupia.

Lava Flow Cocktail

Once you’ve formed an impressive food belly, it’s time to enjoy the entertainment. The Hula is a traditional Hawaiian dance, accompanied by chant or song, preserving the stories, history and traditions of Hawaiian culture. Inspired by stories passed down from generation to generation, the tales evoke ancient Hawaiian mythology – tales of goddesses, gods and romance. The dancers are immensely talented, the women – graceful and beautiful in elaborate costumes, the movement most pronounced in the circling of hips and the gentle sway of slender arms. The men – strong and powerful, with six packs pulsating against the rhythm of the beat. The experience goes beyond a simple dinner and show, the dancers are captivating, the tales poignant and haunting , the experience authentically Hawaiian.The Old Lahaina Luau is more than a tourist trap. It’s a tribute to the traditions and culture of the Hawaiian people. You simply cannot visit Hawaii without experiencing at least one luau.  Maholo, for an amazing evening!

Lava Hike – Big Island of Hawaii

A Lava hike is the best way for adventurous hikers to see lava up close. By up close, I mean ‘poke-with-a-stick’ up close.  In an exhilarating experience, where 1300° C viscous lava, flows by your feet, the strenuous hike is worth the effort. Before we proceed onto describing the experience, it’s important to understand the sanctity of the land, water and volcanoes to the Hawaiian people. Pele, is Hawaii’s goddess of fire and volcanoes. A poignant mythological figure that is both creator and destroyer. She represents the destructive beauty of nature.

Whilst lava can be highly destructive, the resulting mineral-rich soil, has created the lush greenery of the Big Island. Historically, five volcanoes created the Big Island and eruptions continue to this day. Ahiuu Hawaii hold guided lava tours for keen adventure seekers.

LAVA HIKE

Departing Town: Hilo
Distance: 6 miles/ 9.5km (Round trip)
Time: 5 – 6 hours+ (variable depending on Mud levels & group size)
Difficulty: Challenging
Cost: $195 USD

Lava Hike – Through the forest

Departing from the town of Hilo, the adventure begins with a hike through the rainforest.  A rainforest hike sounds deceptively magical, in fact, it was incredibly challenging. The distance itself is manageable, but the terrain is unstable, slippery and muddy. If you have a princess in your group or anyone that has an aversion to dirt- it would be best to re-consider. Don’t even bother trying to avoid the mud – it’s impossible and will slow the group down. The hike is a constant up-and-down, trekking on tree roots and trawling through mud.  Vertically challenged hikers (aka the shorties), be ready for mud puddles that are shin deep. You’ll need to get dirty to get through the forest fast. Remember you’re hear to see REAL LAVA, where else in the world can you do this?! Think positive thoughts, when you’re feeling tired, dirty and just slipped for the 5th time. 100% worth the effort! This portion of the hike will take approx. 2- 2.5 hours.

Lava Hike – Finding Lava

Once you’ve conquered the forest, the guide will lead you onto the black fields. Millions of years of cooling Pahoehoe lava have formed expansive lava fields. Rain hitting the surface creates evaporating steam – leading to a tranquil, but eery setting. Depending on the direction of lava flow, it may take up to an hour for your guide to spot flowing lava. At this point, I was starting to get nervous, perhaps a clumsy person walking on lava isn’t a  great idea…?

An hour passes and  EUREKA – a stunning red glow is spotted in the distance. Unsurmountable levels of excitement reaches its peak. Out come the SLRs, the poking sticks and childlike enthusiasm.

The Lava 

The Lava hike will take you to observe Pahoehoe lava, characterised by a smooth, ropy surface. The lava builds up in vents across lava fields, before the pressure forces it onto the surface. The slow-moving nature of the lava, makes Pahoehoe ideal for observing. We spent approximately 1.5 hours poking, prodding and taking happy snaps. I’m speechless at this point, all I can manage is ‘ THIS IS SOOOOOO COOL!’. My only regret is not bringing some marshmallows or a fried egg to cook on the lava.

Many ask if this experience is safe? If a baby can out crawl Pahoehoe, rest assured that it is. The emanating heat is unbearably close, but never fear you can easily step away.  It’s highly unlikely that hikers will fall into a vent or step on lava itself.

The return journey is the most difficult part. You’ve seen the star of the show. Alas, once more we must trek through mud and grime. Upon reflection, the strenuous hike was worth every bruise and mud-stained finger nail. The experience is exhilarating and a unique way to observe the mighty power of nature. It’s no wonder the Hawaiians respect Pele, the creator and destroyer of the Big Island. Sure, you can take a helicopter ride, but – no doubt this is the BEST way to see lava.

Tips & Things to bring 

  • Long socks/Long sleeve pants (protects feet from sharp volcano shards from entering your shoes)
  • 2L of water per person
  • Strong hiking shoes (your shoes will get FILTHY,  refrain from bringing the Yeezys or anything $$$ )
  • Long sleeve shirt (mosquitos)
  • Mosquito repellant
  • Vehicle required to drive to the Volcano National Park

From fire to ice, check out our Glacier Hike in New Zealand!

Lava Flow Tour – Ahiu Hawaii

Fun with silhouettes – Canon Powershot

Sure, SLR cameras produce amazing photos but they are far too heavy and clunky for the occasional photographer.  A simple point-and-shoot can produce equally stunning photos and the Canon Powershot is perfect for photography noobs such as myself. Here is a sample of a few photographs I took from a recent USA / Singapore trip. Not bad for a digital camera : )

Location : Sutro sea baths ( San Francisco)

House of Hoi An – Taste of Central Vietnam

Enter Ms Vy’s House of Hoi An for a taste of Central Vietnam. Is it a blink and you’ll miss it hole-in-the-wall? Definitely not. At night, the psychedelic glow, lights up Windsor. The vibrant mural of a river scene, with glowing lanterns, lures diners inside. On a freezing winter’s night, it radiates warmth. Don’t make me go back outside!

Ms Vy is the Jamie Oliver of Vietnam – with three restaurants, a cooking school and books to her name. A venture to the southside of Melbourne, further expands the Taste of Vietnam empire. Hoi An  is part of Central Vietnam – the former port city is a cultural melting point. The trade of spices and other commodities, shapes the food of the region, making it spicier than its Northern and Southern counterparts. Being half Vietnamese, the food I’ve grown up with heralds from Southern Vietnam (Saigon specifically – where my parents were born).  Banh Xeo, beef pho, Vietnamese curry – is the food you typically associate with the cuisine. I’d thought I had tried every Vietnamese dish, but House of Hoi An has a few surprises. 

Starters commence with crispy fried wontons, topped with a fresh crab salad. Next, Banh Uot Thit Nuong, a dish that Dad throws together at home with his own variation. You might’ve noticed that the Vietnamese love rolling things – either in veggies, vermicelli or in this case rice paper. Fragrant BBQ pork cooked on skewers, is served on a wooden board with your ‘rolling’ accompaniments. Both dishes are banging.

Onto the heavier mains – this is where the spice of the region shines through. The stuffed squid is a signature for House of Hoi An. I was particularly keen , as this was a Vietnamese dish that I’ve never encountered. The squid is  juicy and ‘stuffed’ with minced pork. On its own, the peppery notes can be overpowering. This one is for sharing. The sauteed prawns are presented in a coconut. Lift off the lid to reveal the aroma of coconut and plump prawns, sauteed in a curry sauce.  Again, the saltiness can be  a tad overpowering. Dessert was a major thumbs up. Frozen banana is smothered in coconut three-ways, in a refreshing palate cleanser.

House of Hoi An goes beyond standard spring rolls and bowls of pho. It introduces Melbournians to Central Vietnamese cuisine – a lesser known region of Vietnam known for spice and heat.

Igni – Victoria’s best new restaurant

Igni sees Victoria’s prodigal son return to the realm of regional dining. As quarter life and mid life crises ensue, a stint overseas is a natural cure for monotony. So off Aaron Turner went, to the BBQ capital of the world – sweet Tennessee. If you know a G-town resident or a chicken fan, Belle’s hot chicken, induces fond finger-licking memories. Chef Turner returns, opening a degustation only restaurant, with a Noma-esque feel. Seems the best chefs are moving away from the city lights?

Despite Aaron’s credentials of Michelins and hats, Igni is ‘casual fine-dining’. With its intentional obscurity, it’s easy to miss. What feels like the backside of Geelong,a medieval rack of smoked and cured meats, hangs in the entrance. Inside, it’s minimal and unpretentious. IMO, there’s nothing worse than an awkwardly silent restaurant, diners dressed in gowns, waiters ready to scrape your bread crumbs – yes this is ‘fine dining’ in NYC.

Igni Snacks: Duck Breast, Dried Angus, Salt & Vinegar Salt bush, Chicken skin, Zucchini flower mussels

The ‘Snacks’ at Igni are superb. The crispy chicken skin, is slathered in whipped cod roe – aka, gastronomic cocaine and chicken’s answer to a crispy pork crackling. Suddenly, the hanging meats make sense. There’s Angus Beef jerky, grissini wrapped in cured duck breast. Salt and Vinegar salt bush, is a native spin on chips. Pickled mussels wrapped in seared zucchini flowers. Plenty of dark, smoky flavours.

From smoky aromatics, we move to acidic flavour profiles. Mackerel wrapped in mustard leaf – pop with trout roe and a cucumber pour-over. The potato noodles are a signature, cooked in chicken fat, blanketing plump pippies and a yolk that screams ‘pop me’. The notion of potatoes cooked in fat, scream comfort flavours and umami. Therefore, I was surprised with the acidic flavour profile. By no means, is it a bad dish, more so… expectations did not match ingredients normally associated with comfort.

Back to the smoker. David Blackmore’s wagyu is a grade 9. Observe the distinctive white flecks of fat, weave through the meat. A perfect blanket for soft Jerusalem artichokes, seeped in potato starch. Fermented carrots are blackened and cooked in carrot juice, the char seeping through the carrot underbelly. Slow-cooked Raven farm pork, is wonderfully tender. Dessert is the Australian bush, flowering gum ice cream, tainted with the sweetness and sourness of dehydrated berries and Davidson plums.

Diners have a choice of an 8 ($150) or 5-course ($100) degustation. $100 for 5 courses is incredible value, for the calibre of food. Igni does not disappoint, but don’t expect comfort flavours. Geelong is lucky to share residence, with a restaurant well-worth the road trip from Melbourne.

Rating: 3.9 cookies out of 5
Must order: Degustation only but the snacks are a winner!

TOP PADDOCK VS KETTLE BLACK

What do you do when you have a successful business venture? Well, you expand of course. The newly opened Kettle black is an extension of the highly successful and delicious Top Paddock. Famed for their unforgettable ricotta hotcakes, adorned with berries, organic maple and florals, the chain is known for exquisite plating and stylish interior. It was no surprise that when Kettle Black opened its doors, the fanfare and expectations were tremendously high.  But how does the sister compare to its famous parent?

TOP PADDOCK

Top Paddock has long been a Melbourne favourite. It’s signature presentation encompassing delicate touches of micro herbs and florals, makes Top Paddock dishes instantly recognisable and ‘oh so instagram worthy’.  There are advantages and disadvantages to technical plating, very often customers are presented with a stunning dish, only to be disappointed by flavour. This is where Top Paddock reigns it’s superiority over Kettle Black. The dishes taste as mouth-watering as its appearances. For the savoury lovers, the go-to dish is the roasted kipfler potatoes and leek omelette, embedded with sizeable chunks of taleggio, padron peppers and a sliver of jamon sarrano.

The raved about dish; however, are the blueberry and ricotta hotcakes. It’s positively #instafamous and deservedly so.  Sweet treats are all about eating with the eyes and mouth, and these hot cakes are an all round sensory experience. Cutting into the hotcakes releases an aroma of sweet maple, intertwining the nostrils and tantalising the tastebuds. Texturally, the tastebuds are greeted with the crunch of mixed seeds, the smoothness of double cream and the soft fluffiness of hotcake batter. Visually, the colours are vibrant and the plating is a beautifully chaotic. Plump blueberries are revealed, lovingly baked into a thick maple batter, finished with a quenelle of double cream and sprinkled with dehydrated berry powder. Oh so Pretty. The hotcakes are sizeable in portion. I recommend sharing with a friend if your easily sugar-loaded. Conclusively, you cannot leave Top Paddock without trying these hotcakes. You cannot! Top Paddock is my all-round favourite brunch place in Melbourne, and being a ‘hungrycookie’, this is not an understatement. 

Blueberry & Ricotta Hotcakes w/ Berries, Organic Maple, Seeds 

KETTLE BLACK

So, Melbourne, here is another ridiculously good looking cafe to add to your growing list of brunch places to try. I hate to use the word juxtaposition, as it brings to mind hairy hipsters talking about ‘art’, but I can think of no other word to describe Kettle Black. It reminds me of the movie ‘Up’, where grumpy protagonist Carl Fredricksen finds his little cottage sandwiched between buildings, that could only be described as barren and sterile. The porcelain white of the Victorian inspired architecture, is a prominent contrast to its glassy neighbours. It certainly is a picturesque image and I assure you there are no angry old men brandishing balloons in sight.

Similar to Top Paddock, the chefs have mastered the art of plating, producing aesthetically pleasing dishes that arouses one’s interest. Disappointingly, Kettle Black did not meet expectations in terms of taste. The service made me feel invisible, it was not a busy day. The dishes we tasted were bland, small portioned and over-priced. The exception was the yoghurt which was HUGE, almost too huge for one person. I really wanted to like Kettle Black, but I’m afraid Top Paddock is the winner in these circumstances.

SABAI – RICHMOND

Sweet, tangy and spicy – Melbournians have had an enduring love affair with Thai cuisine. For Richmond locals, you will be pleased to hear that you can obtain your weekly Thai fix at Sabai. Newly opened, in replacement of Mamame Eatery & Bar, owner Manpreet wants to bring “Modern Thai cuisine served in a relaxed setting”. ‘Sabai’ means to relax in Thai. With soft mood lighting, bottles of wine and copious amounts of tasty sharing plates – you will have no trouble settling down with some fragrant curries and a glass of white. Julia Childs was right, ‘People who love to eat are always the best people’. Husband and wife team shared this enduring love of food, meeting in culinary school, working in kitchens and finally kickstarting their food dream. With the wife manning the kitchens and Manpreet serving front of house – great relationships can translate to great food.

The signature dish is no doubt the Massaman. A carnivorous portion of lamb shank is slow-braised for 5 hours. The meat falling off the bone with the tenderest touch. Sitting in a bed of dense, hearty massaman curry – this was exactly what we needed on a cold winter’s day. The cinnamon stick adding warmth and depth, the sprinkled cashews adding crunch and texture. Of course, what would Thai cuisine be without Roti bread to soak up all that fragrant goodness. The Lamb Shank is quick becoming the local favourite.

Starters are also tasty. You can never go wrong with soft shell crab sliders, sticky pork ribs and dumplings. The spicy twist coming in the form of a chilli jam and red curry glaze. Finish off your meal with a cup of coconut ice cream – creamy and divine with shavings of fresh coconut and kaffir lime. If you’re in the Richmond area, or looking for some comfort food, be sure to visit Sabai for a touch of tasty Thai.