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Sunday, October 19, 2014

ACME, Rushcutters Bay, Sydney

Baloney sandwich at ACME, Rushcutters Bay

Hot summers, BMX bikes and Sunny Boys. One bite of the baloney sandwich ($8) at ACME and you're guaranteed a flashback to your Aussie childhood. Remember devon sandwiches with tomato sauce on white bread? Head chef Mitch Orr takes you on a trip down memory lane but elevates the experience. That means pillowy waves of wafer thin shavings of mortadella and a dollop of umami-rich housemade tomato sauce jammed into the yawning jaw of a soft and sweet potato bun.

Dynamite light fittings at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Dynamite light fittings

Acme means "the highest point" but it's also the clever acronym of the first names of the four partners involved in this venture: Andy Emerson (The Passage), Cam Fairbairn (The Passage, Pinbone), Mitch Orr (Duke Bistro, 121 BC) and Ed Loveday (The Passage).  And I'm glad I'm not the only one who immediately thought of the Road Runner cartoon either. The dynamite light fittings are a cheeky nod to another childhood favourite.

Table setting at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Table setting

The restaurant is bigger than you'd expect, with a clever seating configuration that maximises all available space. That means flexible counter seating along the front window, at the bar, and around the staircase leading to the private dining room downstairs. There are small tables in the front room, in the alcove facing the kitchen, and in the sunroom out the back.

There's a happy casual feel to the place, but there's also a marked attentiveness to detail. That means beautifully crafted water glasses, glazed ceramic plates and soft napkins in denim blue.

Purple drank beetroot and celery cocktails at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Purple Drank - gin, Campari, Americano vermouth and beetroot $18 and
Celery - rye whisky, citrus and soda $16

They've got ACME beers on the drinks menu (from California, USA), but the cocktails are what catch our eye. The Celery has a wicked kick of rye whisky but I dig the Purple Drank even more, a clever take on the classic Negroni rounded out with beetroot.

Menu at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
ACME menu

The menu has been designed as a series of small plates, so even the most expensive pasta - the squid ink strozzapretti - tops out at $24. They're all big enough to share between at least two people.

We sit down and immediately order the entire snack section. Between the four of us we'll manage to get through eleven of the sixteen dishes on the menu. Who cares that we have a second dinner booked at Berta at 8.30pm.

Pickled cucumber at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Pickled cucumber $4

The snack menu includes all kinds of tasty nibbles. That includes fluorescent planks of pickled cucumber, imbued with the alcoholic fizz of gin and tonic.

Rockmelon and prosciutto at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Rockmelon and prosciutto $6

Reinvention and fun makes its way to all corners of the menu, which is how you'll find yourself biting into juicy blocks of sweet rockmelon coated in a prosciutto crumb. It's the classic salt and sweet combo from your Italian trattoria with the added bonus of crunch.

Fried globe artichoke and chamomile at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Fried globe artichoke and chamomile $12

Fried globe artichokes are the only deep-fried thing on the menu. They're satisfyingly good, their nutty sweetness enriched with dabs of the mayo-like cream on the side, an emulsion that's actually made from chamomile and soy.

Asparagus and brown butter at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Asparagus and brown butter $12

The brown butter served with long spears of blanched asparagus involves mind trickery too. There's a moment of confusion before you realise the brown butter tastes just like salted caramel, transforming humble vegetables into some kind of madcap dessert. The toasted quinoa gives a welcome crunch.

Toast, semi-dried tomato and cuttlefish at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Toast, semi-dried tomato and cuttlefish $12

You could be easily forgiven for thinking that's lardo on toasted sourdough, but it's actually whisper thin slices of cuttlefish. You'd swear that Orr is playing out a series of practical jokes with each dish.

But you get the last laugh really. The chewy slab of sourdough is the perfect carriage for squishy semi-dried tomatoes (made in-house) and the sexy silk sheets of cuttlefish. It's an eye-closing moment.

Beef tartare, walnut and witlof at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Beef tartare, walnut and witlof $20

Beef tartare is the final choice in the snack section. We relish its handcut chunkiness and the crisp ribbons of witlof piled across the top. The surprise inclusion of walnut works so well against the beef.

Head chef and co-owner Mitch Orr at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Head chef and co-owner, Mitch Orr

Main are all about pasta, a passion that Orr has built on progressively since his pasta degustation events at Buzo. He's adamant about providing exceptional pasta at a budget price. We're not talking mountains of cheap spaghetti with greasy bolognaise. This is about fresh pasta made in-house. They even have their own mechanical pasta extruder to make all kinds of shapes.

Squid ink strozzapreti, octopus and chrysanthemum at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Squid ink strozzapreti, octopus and chrysanthemum $24

I'm a huge fan of the squid ink strozzapretti, striking with its ebony glossiness against a background of blue. There's an awesome chewiness to the pasta twists, jumbled up with slices of tender octopus tentacles, fresh chilli and young chrysanthemum leaves - a vegetable I more commonly associate with Chinese hot pot.

Wholemeal bucatini, goat, nduja and olive at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Wholemeal bucatini, goat, nduja and olive $22

Bucatini usually has a wild and out-of-control slipperiness that makes slurping each strand a dangerous sport, but Orr's wholemeal version gives it a little more weight and substance. The hollow tubes add springiness to the left-field goat ragu, amplified with spicy nduja and salty accents of olive.

Lasagna, mushroom and sheep's curd at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Lasagna, mushroom and sheep's curd $20

The lasagna probably isn't what you expect either. The thick sheets of fresh lasagna are more on the undercooked side of al dente for me but it's hard not to admire the forest of mushrooms piled between each layer. It's a bountiful harvest of shimeji, shiitake, nameko, wood ear and enoki mushrooms; the traditional bechamel replaced with sheep's curd and the entire lot showered with rosemary dust.

Macaroni, pigs head and egg yolk at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Macaroni, pigs head and egg yolk $18

Just as the baloney sandwich seems to be fast becoming the signature snack at ACME, so too is the macaroni, pigs head and egg yolk establishing itself as the pasta favourite. The wide stumps of macaroni are a far cry from the supermarket version, littered with torn shreds of succulent flesh from the pigs head.

Mixing the egg yolk into the macaroni at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Mixing the egg yolk into the macaroni

Mix in the raw egg yolk and you've got Orr's version of Filipino sisig, pasta-fied. It's rich and comforting, the kind of dish you want to savour, slowly chewing each yolk-smothered macaroni tube.

Nashi pear sorbet and rosemary meringue at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Nashi pear sorbet and rosemary meringue $10

Desserts are all about ice cream. We order two of the three but the kitchen sends out the last one anyway. We're glad they did. The nashi pear sorbet is instantly refreshing, covered in smithereens of rosemary meringue.

Malteser ice cream and candied bacon at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Malteser ice cream and candied bacon $10

Ordering the Malteser ice cream and candied bacon is a given, of course. The creamy ice cream has hidden jackpots of smashed up Maltesers, draped in a rubble of candied bacon. It's a impressive rendition, not just because it's salty and sweet, but because there's been some mastery involved with balance. The ice cream isn't jarringly laden with sugar and the bacon isn't harsh with salt.

Jersualem artichoke ice cream and hazelnut praline at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
Jerusalem artichoke ice cream and hazelnut praline $10

But the surprise winner of the night is the Jerusalem artichoke ice cream. It's another sweet and savoury combo theme that continues Orr's determination to make you question each spoonful. There's no mistaking the flavour of Jerusalem artichoke in the ice cream, but it's the curls of deep fried Jerusalem artichokes that make you want to eat more, even as your brain sends messages of confusion to your palate.

The savoury kick of the artichoke chips reminds me of khanom mo gaeng, the eggy Thai custard covered with deep fried shallots.

Private dining room at ACME, Rushcutters Bay
The private dining room downstairs

There's not much room here for a post-dinner amble, but staff are usually cool for you to head downstairs to check out the private dining room. It's a stylish set-up, complete with its own private bar.

Make sure you visit the bathroom too, for a Seinfeld-related chuckle or two.

Entrance to ACME, Rushcutters Bay

ACME on Urbanspoon

60 Bayswater Road, Rushcutters Bay, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 8068 0932

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Saturday from 5pm

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Italian - Berta, Surry Hills
Italian - Buffalo Dining Club, Darlinghurst
Italian - Pasta Emilia, Surry Hills

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 10/19/2014 02:09:00 am

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Khao Pla, Chatswood

Thai tea ice cream at Khao Pla, Chatswood

As if Thai iced tea wasn't tasty enough, Khao Pla go ahead and turn it into ice cream. It's an even more intense hit of strong tea laced with condensed milk, a distillation that seems to reflect the overall philosophy at Khao Pla. The food here is bold and unapologetic with flavour in a take-no-prisoners fashion.

Diners inside Khao Pla, Chatswood

From its first day of opening in August 2013, Khao Pla has been buzzing with locals. The dining room might tick all the boxes for the hip new Asian restaurant -- wooden benches, metal stools, industrial light fittings and striking artwork on the walls -- but it's all underpinned by some impressive credentials here too. Head chef Pla Rojratanavichai spent five years manning the woks at Spice I Am before racking up stints at Mr Wong and Ms G's.

The menu includes 40-something dishes, enough depth to give you plenty of choices for at least a couple of visits. On your maiden visit, it's a battle trying to work out what to prioritise first.

Isaan steak tartare at Khao Pla, Chatswood
Isaan steak tartare $13

Isaan steak tartare is a good place to start. Prepared in a northeastern Thai style, the hand chopped beef is cool and slippery, jumbled up with chilli flakes, lime juice and herbs. Ground roasted rice and deep fried shallots give an element of crunch. It's one of my favourite dishes of the night.

Hor mok yang grilled fish curry in banana leaf at Khao Pla, Chatswood
Hor mok yang $7 each
Grilled fish curry wrapped in banana leaf

In the "small bite" section you'll find hor mok yang, banana leaf parcels that hold golden pillows of grilled fish curry. Sink your fork through this red curry mousse and you'll find a vibrancy of heat and spices tempered with coconut milk and kaffir lime. It's like a controlled flavour bomb.  Your tastebuds will relish it for hours later.

Char grilled pork neck at Khao Pla, Chatswood
Nam tok moo grilled pork neck $13
with ground roasted rice, chilli flake and lime juice

There's a whole heap of proteins in the grilled and fried section: soft shell crab, calamari, prawns, wagyu and tofu. We narrow in on the nam tok moo or grilled pork neck, thick slices of char-grilled pork that are even sweeter when dipped in the hot and spicy dressing spiked with chilli flakes and lime juice.

Fried chicken wings at Khao Pla, Chatswood
Gai Tord $13
Fried curry marinated chicken wings with Thai basil

The fried curry marinated chicken wings win over plenty of new fans. The emphasis here isn't on the crunch of batter, but the addictive curry marinade that's been slathered into every crevice.

Sweet and sour pork ribs at Khao Pla, Chatswood
Pork ribs $19

You could try eating the pork ribs with chopsticks, but using your fingers is much more satisfying. The sweet and sour pork ribs are glazed with a sticky marinade of palm sugar and tamarind that's perfect for savouring with a bowl of steamed white rice. 

Gaeng Som spicy and sour fish curry at Khao Pla, Chatswood
Gaeng Som $15
Spicy and sour fish curry with squash flowers and Chinese cabbage

They'e got all your Thai classics here, like pad thai, massaman beef, green curry chicken and pad see ew but it's worth hunting out the less obvious dishes. Gaeng som is one of them, a hot and sour fish curry that includes scarlet wisteria flowers (dok khae), an elusive Thai ingredient that sends the G-Man into a homesick frenzy.

Banana blossom salad at Khao Pla, Chatswood
Banana blossom salad $17

Liven things up with a couple of salads too. The banana blossom salad is all about texture, tossing together thin slices of banana bell with strips of tender poached chicken, fragrant dried shrimp, crunchy toasted coconut and deep fried shallots. Add fresh coriander, shallots, chilli, tamarind and palm sugar and you've scored a funhouse of salty, savoury, sour, spicy and sweet.

Green mango salad at Khao Pla, Chatswood
Green mango salad $18

The green mango salad is sweeter than som tum green papaya salad, but it's a tasty treat when it's in season. It's hard to resist the freshness of sweet green mango tossed through with coriander, dried shrimp, fish sauce, palm sugar and roasted peanuts.

Coconut sorbet at Khao Pla, Chatswood
Coconut sorbet $6
with palm candy, jackfruit, roasted peanuts 

They make their own ice creams at Khao Pla, meaning desserts are mandatory here. The coconut sorbet is smooth and silky, spiked with a touch of salt that accentuates the coconut flavour.

Thai milk tea ice cream with coconut jelly and jackfruit at Khao Pla, Chatswood
Thai milk tea ice cream $6
with coconut jelly and jackfruit

Thai milk tea ice cream has the hit of strong vanilla tea mellowed with lashings of condensed milk.  It's crowned with strands of kanom foy tong, a popular Thai treat of sweetened egg yolk threads.

Thai milk coffee ice cream at Khao Pla, Chatswood
Thai milk coffee ice cream $8
with mochi and Thai wafer

And caffeine addicts will approve of the Thai milk coffee ice cream. There's a wicked bitterness to this one, alleviated by more of that glorious condensed milk. If you weren't already buzzing after dinner, you will be after this finishing this one.

Khao Pla on Urbanspoon

Khao Pla
Shop 7, 370 Victoria Avenue (entrance on Anderson Street), Chatswood, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9412 4978

Opening hours:
Daily 11am-10pm

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Sydney - Tawandang German-Thai Restaurant

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 10/15/2014 02:32:00 am

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Belle's Hot Chicken, Bluebonnet BBQ, Huxtaburger, Rockwell & Sons, Jimmy Grants and Breizoz French Crepes - Fitzroy and Collingwood eats

Fried chicken and waffles from Belle's Hot Chicken, Fitzroy

Fried chicken and waffles. If there was one place high on my list when I visited Melbourne, it was Belle's Hot Chicken. The former Belle's Diner has been revamped into a place of worship for all lovers of Southern-style fried chicken. In the kitchen you'll find chefs and co-owners Aaron Turner (ex-Loam) and Morgan McGlone (ex-Husk in Nashville, Tennessee).

Diner lights at Belle's Hot Chicken, Fitzroy
Diner lights

They've still kept the Diner lights from its former incarnation, but the menu is purely focussed on fried chicken. You can order wings, tenders or dark meat. If chicken's not your thing, they have fish and mushrooms too.

Hot fried chicken wings with mixed pickles at Belle's Hot Chicken, Fitzroy
Hot fried chicken wings with mixed pickles $16

Each chicken/fish/mushroom order comes with your choice of sides. We were a little bedazzled by the choices that included coleslaw, potato salad and Almost Arnold's beans but ended up getting the Old Bay fries, mac and cheese and mixed pickles.

There are more questions to answer with each order, like deciding on how hot you want your batter. Stick with Southern for plain batter or get on the chilli train that runs from medium to hot, really hot and the expletive-ridden "really f**kin* hot".

And then you have to decide if you want extra sauce on the side too. They've got mini tubs of Mississippi Comeback, Belles ranch dressing and Belles blue cheese for $2 a pop.

Hot fried chicken wings with mac and cheese at Belle's Hot Chicken, Fitzroy
Hot fried chicken wings with mac and cheese $16

The chicken comes out in plastic baskets lined with squares of greaseproof paper. Sure there's cutlery on the table, but don't go looking for plates. We end up eating the chicken the best way we know how: with our fingers, tearing into the piping hot chicken with our teeth.

It's a hot juicy mess that will leave you grinning from ear to ear even as chicken juices run down your chin. We found some chicken a little oily in parts, but there's a wicked seasoning to the chicken batter.

Really f**ckin* hot fried chicken with Old Bay fries at Belle's Hot Chicken, Fitzroy
Really f**kin* hot fried chicken (dark meat) with Old Bay fries $16

We ordered variations of medium and hot chicken, but couldn't pass up at least one order of the really f**ckin* hot version. It's a deep red in colour with a chilli pepper burn that builds steadily with each mouthful. You'll definitely feel alive after eating this stuff! I survived one piece okay but was glad I was sharing this serve with others.

Mixed pickles at Belle's Hot Chicken, Fitzroy
Mixed pickles

The mixed pickles kept our palates cleansed, and the mac and cheese provided some tongue-tingling relief.

Medium fried chicken with waffles at Belle's Hot Chicken, Fitzroy
Medium fried chicken (dark meat) with waffles $18 (weekend lunch only)

We debated about getting the ballet bucket: 16 wings, 4 sides and 2 sauces for $60. We wanted to have room for the fried chicken and waffles though, available at weekend lunchtimes only. The waffles are fat and fluffy and dusted with icing sugar.

You can choose which chicken you want here too - we went with the dark meat which means a chicken leg and a thigh. Drench everything with maple syrup and you've got one helluva weekend high.

Aaron Turner and Morgan McGlone beer coasters at Belle's Hot Chicken, Fitzroy
Aaron Turner and Morgan McGlone beer coasters

Fried chicken wings at Belle's Hot Chicken, Fitzroy
Fried chicken goodness


Huxtaburger, Collingwood
Huxtaburger on Smith Street, Collingwood

After stuffing ourselves with fried chicken, we headed down the road to Huxtaburger. The Fitzroy / Collingwood precinct is probably my favourite area in Melbourne right now. The place is jam-packed with cool and interesting eateries and we spent most of Saturday eating at as many places as we could.

Flipping burgers on the grill at Huxtaburger, Collingwood
Flipping burgers on the grill

We spent several minutes just staring through the window at Huxtaburger, watching the relentless production of burgers for hungry customers.

Burger production line at Huxtaburger, Collingwood
Burger production line

There are tables and chairs on the footpath, but there's also a small indoor dining area to the side.

The Huxtaburger at Huxtaburger, Collingwood
Huxtaburger $9
Beef patty, mustard, mayo, cheese, tomato sauce, lettuce, tomato and pickles

We go straight for the classic Huxtaburger, a regular inclusion in lists of Melbourne's best burgers. The layer of melted cheese on the beef patty is enough to make my heart skip a beat.

There's so much to love about the Huxtaburger. The toasted bun. The tangy mustard. The thick juicy hunk of beef patty. I like extra thick patties so they still have a touch of pink in the middle. And there's enough salad here - lettuce, pickled cucumbers and tomato - to lighten any sense of meaty excess.

The Clair burger at Huxtaburger, Collingwood
Clair $12
Southern fried chicken, slaw and jalapeno mayo

We also check out the Clair, a Southern fried chicken burger that is impressively juicy. The crunchy fried chicken is slathered with jalapeno mayo, the entire lot resting on a bed of crunchy slaw.

Dining room at Huxtaburger, Collingwood

Jimmy Grants

Jimmy Grants, Fitzroy

A few blocks down the road is Jimmy Grants. I'd eaten here before but my friends hadn't, so we stopped in for a quick bite of the classic souva, aka the Mr Papadopoulos.

Dining room at Jimmy Grants, Fitzroy
The dining room at Jimmy Grants

Mr Papadopoulos lamb souva at Jimmy Grants, Fitzroy
Mr Papadopoulos $9.50
Lamb, mustard aioli, chips, onions, parsley

It's just as good as I remembered, the warm round of fluffy pita bread wrapped tightly around fatty slices of lamb souvlaki, hot chips and salad. If you ever needed proof that good things come in small packages, this would be it.

Jim Jams at Jimmy Grants, Fitzroy
Jim Jams $6

We also returned here after a brief detour for one of their Jim Jams for dessert.

Jim Jam chocolate-coated biscuit with marshmallow and raspberry at Jimmy Grants, Fitzroy
Jim Jam biscuit, marshmallow and raspberry

Jim Jams are Jimmy Grants' take on the classic Wagon Wheel, two biscuits sandwiched around marshmallow and covered in chocolate.

Jim Jam cross-section of biscuit with marshmallow and raspberry at Jimmy Grants, Fitzroy
Inside the Jim Jam

It's all a bit fancy here with freeze-dried raspberries and hazelnuts embedded in the chocolate on top. It's also ridiculously delicious, not overly sweet, with a blob of raspberry jelly in the marshmallow core. Six dollars seems exxy for a biscuit a first, but it's so damn tasty we quickly change our mind.

Rockwell and Sons

Rockwell and Sons, Collingwood

I'd been to Rockwell and Sons on my last visit to Melbourne, but was keen to try more things on the menu. Their fried chicken and biscuits still remained a beautiful memory.

Maine-style tiger prawn roll at Rockwell and Sons, Collingwood
Maine-style tiger prawn roll $13
with Kewpie tartare and compressed celery

We dig into the Maine-style tiger prawn roll, its exquisite perfection belied by its simple appearance. The bun is soft and comforting, an ideal vehicle for the huddle of plump tiger prawns doused in Kewpie tartare. The prawns are wondrously sweet and the tangle of compressed celery on top provides a hint of acidity and a contrast of textures.

Crispy confit duck wings at Rockwell and Sons, Collingwood
Crispy confit duck wings $12
with red dragon sauce, scallions and sesame

We can't resist ordering the crispy confit duck wings based purely on novelty value. There's not a lot of meat to these wings as expected, but the sticky, sweet and salty red dragon sauce is finger lickin' good.

Double patty smash burger with bacon at Rockwell and Sons, Collingwood
Double patty smash burger with bacon $16
with Kraft and special sauce on a seeded bun

We're all over the double patty smash burger too, another heavy weight contender for Melbourne's best burger crown.

Bacon rashers on the double patty smash burger at Rockwell and Sons, Collingwood
Hello bacon

And extra four dollars scores you three rashers of crispy bacon. These are American-style rashers, impossibly thin and brittle, that snap into shards with each bite.

Double patty smash burger cross-section at Rockwell and Sons, Collingwood
Double patty smash burger cross-section

Sink your teeth into the toasted brioche bun and you'll meet two thin beef patties cloaked with melted Kraft cheese, special sauce and those precious strips of bacon on top. The bacon adds a fantastic smokiness. It's a burger for meat and bacon lovers, with an intensity factor way off the charts.

Adventure Time street art in the backstreets of Fitzroy

And the best thing about Fitzroy? Stumbling into all kinds of street art including this awesome Adventure Time mural!

Breizoz French Creperie

Cooking crepes at Breizoz French Creperie, Fitzroy
Crepe batter

I think I've also discovered my new favourite crepe place in Melbourne too - Breizoz French Creperie just across the road from Sonido.

Smoothing out the crepe batter with a wooden dowel at Breizoz French Creperie, Fitzroy
Smoothing out the crepe batter with a wooden dowel

You can smell the sinful aroma of butter and sugar whenever you walk within a few hundred metres of Breizoz. I've always meant to visit here but have either been on my way to a meal or have just finished eating one and am too full.

Flipping the crepe at Breizoz French Creperie, Fitzroy
Flipping the crepe

It's definitely worth prioritising some space in your stomach though. They make all their crepes with buckwheat flour and have a huge range of savoury and sweet variations.

Spreading chestnut puree onto our crepe at Breizoz French Creperie, Fitzroy
Spreading chestnut puree onto our crepe

There are tables and chairs on the footpath, and a couple of tables inside. Either way, you can always watch your crepes being made in the open kitchen. The dexterity involved in flipping such giant thin crepes is quite a show.

Crepe with chestnut puree at Breizoz French Creperie, Fitzroy
Crepe with chestnut $8.50

If you like super thin crepes with crispy edges, you'll love Breizoz. I continued my obsession with chestnut cream crepes, but really we're all secretly fighting for more of the crunchy edges.

I love the deep golden colour of the crepes, and the glossy sheen to its surface. If you do watch the crepe production in the kitchen, you'll see the crepes being blessed with a cube of butter across its surface.

Crepe with almond praline at Breizoz French Creperie, Fitzroy
Crepe with almond praline $8.50

The crepe with almond praline is a surprise hit too, the folded crepe covered in smithereens of almond praline. It's nutty, crunchy and elegantly sweet.

Bluebonnet Barbecue

Sausages and chickens in the smoker at Bluebonnet BBQ, Collingwood

There's been a huge explosion of American barbecue places in Melbourne, so many in fact, that I had to decide between half a dozen specialist US barbecue joints. I ended up choosing Bluebonnet Barbecue and I'm glad I did. There's a genuine sense of heartfelt hospitality here, from the friendly waitstaff to the outdoor dining area out the back that feels just like someone's backyard, complete with fairy lights and an outdoor dunny.

Chris Terlikar, executive chef, carving the smoked brisket at Bluebonnet BBQ, Collingwood
Executive chef Chris Terlikar, carving the brisket

Executive chef Chris Terlikar worked in Michelin-star restaurants before making the switch to American barbecue. It was a meal at New York barbecue house Fette Sau that was the turning point. He ended up travelling around Texas for eight weeks undergoing intensive tutelage on all things barbecue before returning to Melbourne to open Bluebonnet.

Pulling pork baby back ribs out of the smoker at Bluebonnet BBQ, Collingwood
Pulling pork baby back ribs out of the smoker

The smoker out the back used to be a smoke machine from a nightclub at Crown Casino that Chris found in a junkyard. It was cleaned out and turned into a customised firebox smoker, cranking out barbecue meats non-stop except for a two-hour break from 10pm til midnight.

They use iron bark wood from the Blue Mountains in the smoker. They tried all types of woods before eventually settling on iron bark because of its slow-burning capabilities. It also maintains a regular temperature as it burns.

Kung Foo rice lager at Bluebonnet BBQ, Collingwood
Kung Foo rice lager

Meats are ordered just like they do in the States, by the pound or half-pound. One pound is about 450 grams for anyone still wondering!

Smoked meat platter including sausages, pork baby back ribs, lamb ribs, brisket and chicken at Bluebonnet BBQ, Collingwood
[Clockwise from bottom left]: Daily housemade sausage ½ lb $21 ; roasted brussels sprouts $10; pork baby back ribs ½ lb $19; smoked chicken ½ $14; Ranger's Valley Black Angus brisket ½ lb $22; crispy lamb ribs ½ lb $19 

The meat is loaded up on a brown paper-lined tray. You do get plates here, and a huge squeezy bottle of their housemade barbecue on the side.

It's all good. Today's housemade sausage is beef stuffed with cheese, so hot from the oven the cheese squirts out with ferocity. The pork ribs are cooked for three to four hours, and so tender the meat falls clean the bone.

Roasted brussels sprouts at Bluebonnet BBQ, Collingwood
Roasted brussels sprouts with lemon miso dressing and Turkish chilli $10

The brussels sprouts still have some bitterness to them but the lemon miso dressing is so good you could drink it with a straw. It reminds me of the prawn head juices you get after grilling prawns on the barbecue although I just get a strange look from staff when I mention this to them.

Ranger's Valley Black Angus brisket at Bluebonnet BBQ, Collingwood
Ranger's Valley Black Angus brisket ½ lb $22

The brisket is cooked for eight hours, and the blackened sheath around its surface looks the business. It's intensely smoky at the edges, and the meat is juicy with precious layers of fat that taste gloriously good.

Apple and kohlrabi slaw at Bluebonnet BBQ, Collingwood
Apple and kohlrabi slaw with sherry musard vinaigrette $8

There are lots of sides to choose from, including warm kipfler potato salad and broccoli with fetta and smoked almonds. The apple and kohlrabi slaw is the right level of sweetness and crunch to provide welcome refreshment.

Chris Terlikar carving the smoked chicken at Bluebonnet BBQ, Collingwood
Chris carving the smoked chicken

We'd been hesitant about ordering the smoked chicken but do so on recommendation of our waiter. It's just as good as he said it would be. We're so swayed by its succulency that we end up ordering another half pound.

Crispy lamb ribs, smoked porter braised beef cheeks and smoked chicken at Bluebonnet BBQ, Collingwood
Crispy lamb ribs 1lb $36; smoked porter braised beef cheeks ½ lb $21; and smoked chicken ½ $14

We also can't get enough of the lamb ribs. These are a life-changing moment. They've been cooked so the fat has rendered its way throughout the meat but it's the skin that has our eyes rolling to the back of our head. It's crispy and smoky and brittle and fatty and it's so darn amazing we order another pound to share.

Smoked porter braised beef cheeks at Bluebonnet BBQ, Collingwood
Smoked porter braised beef cheeks ½ lb $21

We also get the smoked porter braised beef cheeks on our second round. The meat is so soft, you only need a fork to coax it apart.

Oh Collingwood. I can't wait to meat you again.

<< Read the first Melbourne 2014 weekend post: Melbourne CBD eats 

The smoker at Bluebonnet BBQ, Collingwood

Belle's Hot Chicken
150 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne
Tel: +61 (03) 9077 0788
Opening hours:
Monday 12pm-10pm
Wednesday to Saturday 12pm-11pm
Sunday 11am-5pm
Belle's Hot Chicken on Urbanspoon

Bluebonnet Barbecue
187 Johnston Street, Collingwood, Melbourne
Tel: +61 (03) 9972 1815
Opening hours:
Lunch Wednesday to Saturday 12pm-4pm
Dinner Thursday to Saturday 6pm-late
Bluebonnet Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Breizoz French Creperie
Corner Gertrude and Brunswick Streets, Fitzroy, Melbourne
Tel: +61 (03) 9415 7588
Opening hours:
Sunday to Thursday 10am-10pm
Friday and Saturday 10am-11pm
Breizoz French Creperie on Urbanspoon

106 Smith Street, Collingwood, Melbourne
Tel: +61 (03) 9417 6328
Opening hours:
Sunday to Thursday 11.30am-10pm
Friday and Saturday 11.30am-11pm
Huxtaburger on Urbanspoon

Jimmy Grants
113 St David Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne
Open daily 11am-11pm
Also open at Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
Jimmy Grants on Urbanspoon

Rockwell and Sons
288 Smith Street, Collingwood, Melbourne
Tel: +61 (03) 8415 0700
Opening hours:
Lunch Friday 12pm - 3pm | Saturday and Sunday 12pm - 4pm
Dinner Wednesday to Sunday 6pm - 10pm (till 11pm Friday and Saturdays)
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
Rockwell and Sons on Urbanspoon

<< Read the first Melbourne 2014 weekend post: Melbourne CBD eats 

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 10/12/2014 03:46:00 am

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