Tag Archives: West Melbourne

a divine introduction to Indonesian cuisine

Despite Indonesia’s proximity to Australia, my exposure to Indonesian food is pretty slim. And no, packet mi goreng most certainly does not count! So one evening, Tristan organised to have dinner with some good friends L and K at one of their local restaurants, Warung Agus in North Melbourne. It’s on Victoria St on the opposite side of the road to the gorgeous Libertine.

Laugh if you like, but Bintang is the order of the day. It suits the food most excellently.

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We skipped entrees and ploughed straight into the mains. L and K were at hand to advise us of some of their favourite dishes. K is a vegetarian and seemed very fond of the toge Рa traditional Balinese gado gado comprising steamed vegetables, beancurd with peanut sauce and cassava crackers. The sauce really made this dish Рit was unbelievably tasty. The crackers were light and just like the prawn crackers that melt on your tongue, yep the ones you get with your Chinese takeaway.

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Another fab vegetarian dish is the Tuung Mebasa Santen Lalah Manis – sliced eggplant and tofu braised in coconut milk, sweet soy and spicy gravy. I’m not mad keen on eggplant so didn’t think I’d end up having much of this, but again, was blown away by how delicious it was. I tell you, it’s their sauce. There was quite the fight to mop up leftover sauce!

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Our other two dishes were of the omnivore persuasion. One being a seafood one: Campuran Be Pasih Mebasa Kental, seasonal seafood like prawns, calamari, mussels in spicy coconut sauce served with rice. It sure was spicy! This was the dish I recall going best with the Bintang, precisely because of the chilli heat.

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The last main was undoubtedly a carnivore delight. K graciously watched as three ravenous beasts, her dining companions wolfed down the Babi Guling, the¬†traditional Balinese roasted pork served with crackle and lemongrass, chilli and ginger sauce. Warung Agus actually allows you to book a suckling pig feast, similar to the Libertine one where you need to book in advance and have a minimum number of diners. It’s wonderful that two restaurants so close to each other offer such diverse versions of the humble suckling pig feast. This was actually the mildest of the dishes we chose and cooked to perfection: velvety soft meat and fat with super crunchy crackling.

Four mains even between four hungry folks will leave you full to the brim, especially if you have rice (which you should do). I loved that the rice was served sprinkled with dry shallots – they are so fragrant and add a touch of Asian pungency to an otherwise plain staple. Other condiments are also provided.

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There was absolutely no space whatsoever for dessert, but our adorably friendly waiter did manage to tempt us into trying out Indonesian coffee, which is sweet and rich. An excellent ending to a wonderful meal.

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Though mains start at $20, they are pretty big and unless you’ve got a gargantuan appetite, they are made for sharing. The restaurant is a little dark but is lavishly decorated – there’s even a special four-poster area you can request to dine in! Almost makes you believe you’re in the tropics, especially with the Gamelan music chiming gently in the background. Thanks L and K for showing us the ropes at a fab local haunt of yours!

Warung Agus on Urbanspoon

hawk your wares, I’m famished

Yea Melbourne Food and Wine Festival! Boo being broke!

Queen Victoria Market by night is really quite an experience. The times I’ve been, I’ve managed to get ridiculously drunk. But the MFWF Hawkers’ Market was all about the food. A bunch of us who’ve largely become friends thanks to Twitter decided to go as a group.

When I first arrived, some beautiful Chinese classical music was playing. A bout of existential nausea hit me – where to go first? Would four vouchers be enough (very silly question – the offerings were deceptively filling)? Where the hell was the cutlery? Why was the bloody water so expensive?

I wandered around a bit lost and waited for my indecisiveness to dissipate. I then decided to try and get things that I might not normally have access to. For this reason, I avoided Kenzan @ GPO and Maedaya’s offerings which seemed pretty pedestrian. I was also disappointed that Dumpling King only had fried dumplings, but perhaps it’s a little harder to offer steamed ones on the fly.

Rather than blog about all the dishes tried, here are my personal highlights from the evening. The first was from the very popular Cookie – a mussel cake. A little like okonomiyaki, but more gelatinous and globby. I would have liked more mussels please!

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From Laksa Me, the ikan panggang – grilled fish, wrapped in a banana leaf. Heavenly. It was served with some sort of pickle, and a kumquat half – yum!

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Everyone seemed mesmerised by the skewers at Dainty Sichuan and I know I should have watched to see how they were prepared, but was too busy running around. From their stall, I got to try assorted skewered things that were soaked in broth, served with cold noodles. Reminded me of my beloved cold soba salads. From memory, the skewered, brothy morsels were a very large piece of seaweed, tofu, Chinese sausage (that which I generally dislike, but this was a fantastic example of it) and perhaps zucchini.

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This produced a sensation in my mouth like no other I’ve ever experienced – it felt like someone had coated my mouth in equal parts chilli and kava. So you have the heat of chilli, and the natural antiseptic properties of kava. It was very weird, and slightly discomfiting. Drinking water was not the sort of thing that alleviated it either. Both the noodles and the skewered goodies produced this sensation after ingesting. Some later investigation on the internet proved useful – the dish is actually Chongqing hotpot.

One of the dishes I had my heart set on initially but left to the end was the slow cooked pork cheek. The serve looks teensy, but given how rich it was, very sensible. I can still remember the buttery quality of the fat perfectly mingled with the slightly dry meat. Thanks to Pan Asian for a very memorable gustatory snapshot of their cuisine.

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Another dish and restaurant I have my heart set on – Hallah’s BBQ marinated beef. Just the right amount!

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Being an accidental ditz, I got this last dish first, not realising it would be sweet – Warung Agus’ black rice porridge. It was very caramelly, treacly and sustaining. I can’t wait to eat at the actual restaurant.

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My favourite actual hecklers were Maedaya. The cooks were bobbing to some cool music they were listening to as they fanned the grills and a man at the front was spruiking, in Japanese, in a very lively fashion.

The only regret I have was missing the laksa and the pho. Laksa I can probably live without, but the pho, damn! That would have definitely pushed me to bursting-at-the-seams full. I shall just have to visit Co Do (said purveyors of pho) sometime, what a chore, giggle.

If you’re interested in reading another report on the Hawkers’ Market, visit Eating Melbourne’s blog post, the writer of said blog went on an earlier day, and the information proved vital to my visit. Many thanks to all those who came and enjoyed a night out in the name of @melbnoms antics. You can also view all my food photos for the night in a Flickr set.