Maedaya Sake and Grill

Step into Maedaya and you are greeted with a traditional chorus of “Irrashaimase!”, which means welcome. Bookings are advisable on weekends and for groups but if there’s only one or two of you, you might just get lucky with a seat at the bar. From here, you can watch the busy waitstaff pour sake and beers and pop bowls of delicious Japanese snacks onto the counter for each new arrival.

Spicy lotus crisps and beers

Once you’ve received your complimentary bowl of lotus crisps, you’ll probably need to order more (trust me, you’ll want to – these are dipped and deep fried in something that is seriously more-ish).  Then, open up your oversized menu and take it all in.

Sure, the experience is a bit like trying to read The Age newspaper on the tram (your neighbour or dining partner will get to read right along with you – or cop an accidental elbow in the process). Ordering is always a bit of a blur as you try to navigate the multitude of options. But never fear – you can always order a bit more if you feel like it later on (and I usually do).

Must-trys include:

Whatever takes your fancy from the menu of grilled skewers, which are cooked over hot coals. N. loves the yakitori (chicken thigh) and kawa (crispy grilled chicken skin) and I love, love, love the shitake mushroom skewers – they are beautiful and saucy and very smokey in flavour. The prawn and scallop skewers are also good and the tofu ones are ok – worth a try. (Or just double up on the shitake.)

Shitake skeweres – my favourites from the sumiyaki chef

The okanomiyaki (vegetable pancake) is not your usual food court fare. This version is pan fried and crispy on the outside, and soft and delicious on the inside.

Okonomiyaki – sizzling and saucy

The salty, peppery soft shell crab is great (and very reasonabley priced) – just add a squeeze of lemon and eat it all up.

Soft shell crab – gone in 60 seconds

The prawn dumplings are cooked on the grill for added depth of flavour.

Prawn shu mai - yum

Don’t forget to try the scallops – these came out on a sizzling hot plate and were perfect to share between two (i.e. there were generous serves of scallops – enough to go around!).

Sizzling scallops - one for you, one for me

Also, the gyoza is good – there are vegetarian and pork options,  so I usually get a plate of vegie ones just for myself.

If you’re still feeling peckish, just order up another round of grilled skewers or brave another read of the menu – the service here is super swift.

For a completely different experience, there is a Japanese BBQ room upstairs, where you order slices of meat (or in my case, vegetables) and cook them yourself over hot coals. It can be fun (if not smokey) as a group, but to my mind, I’d much rather entertain myself with consuming lotus crisps and leave it in the very capable hands of the sumiyaki chef.

Maedaya Sake and Grill
400 Bridge Road, Richmond

Maedaya

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Friends like these? Friends of Mine

When the owner of the very-lovely Porgie + Mr Jones set up his newest venture in the Burnley-end of Swan Street last year, boy did we hear about it. Recommendations came in thick and fast, from friends, neighbours and workmates alike.

Its position as ‘hot new kid on the block’ was confirmed by the Saturday morning line-up. Not happy to queue when hungry, my stomach and I elected to come back another time, when all the fuss had died down.

I’m pleased to report I managed to sneak in a quick midday lunch recently – and I’m starting to see what the fuss is about.

First impressions: Love the cosy/quirky/industrial-round-the-edges feel to the place. Love all those the pretty little front-of-counter pastries lined up in row. Love that they only serve free-range eggs and meats.

Chunky chips, Winter's day - 'nuf said

I ordered a simple roasted vegetable baguette, with rocket, marinated feta, homemade basil pesto and chips. Love the gorgeous presentation. Love the fresh, crusty organic bread. Love the very generous side of chunky chips – so good, I swear they almost taste healthy!

The brunch menu is obviously worth a taste-test, plus they have a few events lined up – including a ‘not-your-average-cuppa’ high tea. Clearly, I’ve still got more research to do (read: eating)! Let’s just wait and see if the Winter chill deters the crowds or if I’ll be yet another wannabe lining up to be besties with this very popular Friend of Mine.

Friends of Mine
506 Swan St, Richmond

www.friendsofmine.com.au

Friends of Mine

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Koots Salle à Manger

Koots Salle à Manger is an intimate modern French restaurant, located just a short stumble south of Kooyong Station. We arrive for our booking on a particularly cold and blustery night, so we take a table by the open fireplace and order a bottle of Les Jamelles sauvignon blanc – that’ll do us very nicely thank you.

For entrée, I order a pair of Tasmanian St Helens oysters au naturel, while N. has his with vodka, ginger and lime granita. The oysters are really good, dare I say it? Possibly the best I’ve had all year.

The menu is typically French and very meat-heavy, with just two seafood options for mains. I politely ask whether there are any vegetarian mains and am pointed to the list of side salads. So, fish it is! I choose the seared bass grouper fillet, with leek fondue and mussels. N. goes for the scotch fillet steak (which gets two thumbs up from him,  in case you were wondering).

Our mains

The fish is lovely – it’s soft and delicate, very melt-in-the-mouth with a foamy leek fondue, and a light creamy curry on the mussels. Delish. I polish off my fish and sneak more than a couple of N’s side of pommes frites as the fire crackles, the waiter pours some more wine … and why yes, I’d love to see the dessert menu please.

I had heard rumours about the vanilla crème brûlée. My suspicions are confirmed by the waitress who takes our order.

“Yes,” she nods knowlingly, “We are known for our crème brûlée.”

Not wanting to risk disappointment, we pass up the dessert share platter (only one crème brûlée, half the size of a full dessert, and you have to share?) and order one each.

Dessert pour deux

Classic. Vanilla. Crème brûlée. This is how it’s done. The custard is a beautiful consistency, not too thick and velvety smooth. The sugar crust is wafer thin, but there is enough to have a bite of its caramel crunch in every mouthful. Magnifique!

Overall, service is definitely not a rushed affair here – but then again, nor should it be. Koots is a lovely place for a quiet romantic dinner or a special get-together with a small group of friends.

Koots Salle à Manger
479 Glenferrie Road, Kooyong
www.koots.com.au

Koots Salle à Manger

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Breakfast on the beach – Koh Samui

Before my tan fades faster than the memories, a quick shout out to the wonderful Sareeraya Villa & Suites, where we stayed in Koh Samui. How I miss the daily buffet breakfasts by the sea – waffles and pancakes and pastries, oh my!

Breakfast by the sea

❤ pastries!

Made-to-order waffles - just how I like 'em

Sareeraya Villas & Suites
www.sareeraya.com

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Ninja Crepes – Koh Samui

Ninja Crepes is a Samui institution – the food is fast, furious, plentiful and cheap. Take a seat in the restaurant that never closes (yup, it’s open 24 hours) and you are quickly presented with a thick laminated menu about 26 pages long. It’s chockful of pictures and (very cheap) prices. The offerings are wide and varied – from fried macaroni and green curry spaghetti (which I must admit I didn’t sample) to your more usual Thai dishes like pad thai and red/green curry with rice. Just take a deep breath and dive right in.

A little bit of light reading

Main dishes start from about 55 Baht ($1.50) and starters are cheaper – for Chaweng Beach Road, this is as good as it gets (unless you’re talking street vendors) – so you can pretty much order with abandon. For starters, we had crispy corn cakes (chewy and spicy), vegetable balls (to be honest, I can’t quite work out what these are made from, but I love them) and prawns in wonton wrappers, all accompanied with a sweet chilli sauce that resides permanently on the table (along with a lunchbox of cutlery and other assortments).

Vegetable balls and prawns in wonton wrappers

Making a mess of my meal - yum!

I then had a seafood glass noodle salad, which looked simple and unassuming, but was incredibly tasty. Another main dish I really like here is the pad thai, which has a lovely, smokey quality to it – highly recommended.

Glass noodle salad with seafood

And I couldn’t leave without sampling one of the crepes. I thought I ordered crepes with coconut and condensed milk (as confirmed by the accompanying photograph in the menu), but what turned up was banana and condensed milk instead.

Crepes at Ninja Crepes!

Maybe I pointed to the wrong item? Or maybe the coconut was in the crepe mixture? Hmmm… it didn’t seem to be, but ate the lot just to be sure. When it comes to dessert, it’s far better to be safe than sorry!

Ninja Crepes may not be fanciest kid on the block, but it doesn’t claim to be. It’s a great place to stop for a quick lunch, or a linger for a big feast, and I certainly hope to be back.

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Spirit House Restaurant – Koh Samui

A quick Google search on ‘where to eat in Koh Samui’ revealed Spirit House Restaurant as the #1 place on Trip Advisor – so we felt obliged to give it a go!

From the free hotel pick-up in a private car, to the restaurant’s lush, tropical surrounds, the experience didn’t disappoint. Spirit House is set in a soaring Thai temple, which was relocated from the old capital, Ayutthaya, and rebuilt in Koh Samui with the intention of turning it into a spa resort. The resort never opened, but an Aussie developer came across the site, and in January this year, Spirit House was born.

Upon arrival, we were ushered upstairs to the open-air dining area and presented with a light, refreshing drink (although this was whisked away when my cocktail arrived and I didn’t get to finish it).

Welcome drinks!

Just about everything on the menu looked great, but I had to narrow down my choices. So for entree, I had the seafood noodle balls, which were made from minced prawns and squid, deep fried, and served with a sweet chilli sauce and a brilliant spicy cucumber relish. The flavours were great and everything was so fresh.

Beautiful flavours, so beautifully presented

N. ordered the ‘golden bags’, small pastry parcels with pork, prawns and spices, and we also shared a tom yum seafood salad.

Mmmm ... little pastry parcels of golden goodness

For main, we shared crispy tamarind prawns and a dish of steamed coconut pancakes with more prawns, scallops and a light green curry – both were delish, although the tamarind prawns came with the deep fried prawn heads, and while I know my relos would have been deeply disappointed, I just couldn’t quite bring myself to eat them (I did try a nibble). I really liked the crepe-like lightness of the coconut pancakes.

Prawns and scallops wrapped in steamed coconut pancakes - yum!

Off with their heads!

N. also had what I called a ‘deconstructed massaman curry’ (or is that reconstructed?). Instead of dicing the ingredients, there were two whole fillet steaks of Australian beef (which N. said was the best he’d tasted), and whole potatoes, carrots and onions.

Massaman beef curry, deconstructed

So three entrees, three mains and several drinks later, we were stuffed. But I was determined to at least share a dessert (it’s amazing what one can achieve when one tries) and if you’re going to have just one dessert, it really needs to be one that’s lit on fire. That’s right – the banana flambe. Fun.

Holy flaming bananas! He he.

The bill came to 2,700 Baht, which is expensive by Thai standards. But at a pinch over $AUD40 a head, it was an absolute steal. We finished our feast with a tour of the site’s gorgeous surrounds, and then a lazy stroll back to the hotel.

Spirit House Resturant, Koh Samui
www.spirithousesamui.com

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On hiatus … Koh Samui

Like most Melbournians, as much as I love this city, I can’t help but wish it was a few degrees warmer in the winter. So to escape the cold (and let’s be honest, the office too), N. and I put ourselves on a flight to Thailand for a quick get-away. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been lying on a beach in Koh Samui and quite frankly, not doing much else. Except eating.

I had this beautiful spicy glass noodle salad at the Chalala Samui Resort restaurant on the beach in Chaweng …

Simple, fresh and very spicy!

… accompanied by a ‘virgin colada’ (fresh pineapple and coconut cream, minus the rum!).

Cheers!

These super-fresh king prawns, butterflied and barbequed, are another quick and tasty option for lunch.

Butterflied barbequed prawns on the beach!

Ahhh, wish I was back there now!

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