Review: Melba, The Langham Hotel, Melbourne

Those who know me know that I’m quite frugal…in fact, regular readers of this blog have probably figured it out as well with the number of times that I’ve talked about using Entertainment Book vouchers or Daily Deals to try new food experiences on a budget. It takes a very special occasion or a very special restaurant to make me consider spending more than what I consider a ‘usual’ amount for a meal.

And honestly, how much more of a special occasion could there be than a hens party?! My gorgeous friend got married recently (a bit ahead of schedule), and we celebrated with a fancy (and relatively tame!) hens dinner at Melba Restaurant in the Langham Hotel Melbourne. Priced at just over $100 per person for a buffet dinner on the weekend (drinks additional), it’s certainly not pocket change but is a great setting for a special occasion.

As soon as I walk into through the lobby of the Langham and into Melba, I am struck with a single thought – this is going to be a buffet experience far beyond my last visit to Sydney Tower Buffet. I’m instantly impressed.

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The central island with salads and cold dishes creates an easy path for diners as they move through the buffet.

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On staff is a talented sushi chef, dishing up serves of sashimi and sushi on demand. As a sushi lover, you can expect that I visited her for a serve of extremely fresh salmon and tuna sashimi!

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Also on staff are a number of talented Indian chefs who make a large variety of naan breads on demand – from simple garlic naans to delightful ‘dessert’ naans with mini M&Ms.

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The range of pre-prepared Indian dishes available from curries to grilled meats is impressive. The tandoori chicken was a wonder, with a beautiful smoky flavour.

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The trays and trays of fresh seafood also take pride of place, with diners going up for plate after plate of lobster, crab, prawns, and oysters.

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They even had Moreton Bay Bugs available, which is a bit of a special treat you wouldn’t find anywhere else!

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There’s also a a number of Chinese chefs on staff, cooking up bowl after bowl of delicious noodles or stir fries on demand. Be warned – the line is long!

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There’s a number of wonderfully roasted meats and vegetables available as well, carved on demand by a number of knife-wielding chefs. Considering how many trays they must go through every day, I’m surprised by how each piece is cooked to tender moist perfection.

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The roast pork is delicious, with amazingly crispy crackling. The tasty roast vegetables also make it easy to ensure that you get a good serve of vegetables in a buffet otherwise loaded with proteins, carbs, and sweets.

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There’s a number of interesting salads as well, with this tasty bean salad with salsa being one of my top picks.

With all these amazing food options available, I hardly knew where to start!

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I start slow with some seafood – large juicy plump prawns, fresh cut salmon and tuna sashimi, and a few oysters with a chilli vinaigrette. I’m impressed with the freshness of the seafood, and it’s not long before this small seafood appetiser has me going up for more prawns, oysters, sashimi, lobster, and more!

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I’m impressed by the cold cuts and cold options. The bean salads, sauteed mushrooms, beans, and salamis are top notch. The Peking Duck that I tried was delicious, but unfortunately the pancake was a bit hard on the edges which affected my overall enjoyment of the duck pancake. It just goes to show – no matter how superior the buffet, there’s always going to be some things that don’t translate well to being kept under heat lamps.

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Out of all the hot dishes I tried, I think the Indian options are probably the best of all. While the roast lamb and pork were wonderful, and the freshly made noodles in soup delicious, the Indian dishes have something special about them – more memorable and complex flavours. The custom-made naan breads really hit the spot!

When I’m finally ready to start thinking about desserts, I hardly know where to start. The mini meringues and mini cakes are all clearly put together with incredible care and love, and I find it difficult to choose between the dozen options available.

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Obviously the chocolate fountain was a must try though – with both marshmallows and plump juicy fresh strawberries. If you wanted to be truly bad, you could even drizzle some of these amazing molten chocolate over a few scoops of the different flavoured ice-creams available.

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What I couldn’t resist though, was the souffle which was baked on demand in a mini convection oven. You could choose to top your Grand Marnier souffle with either a berry coulis, fresh cream or molten chocolate and chocolate candy…you can imagine which I chose!

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Others opted for slightly less sweet dessert options, cutting generous wedges of the many top-range cheeses available and helping themselves to the dried fruits and crackers.

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Overall, I really appreciate Melba as one of the best buffet restaurants in Australia – while it may initially seem expensive, the quantity, variety and quality of the produce really makes it worthwhile. I highly recommend it as a venue for your next special gathering – our group of hens was certainly well looked after with excellent service!

Melba on Urbanspoon


Review: Pamana, Chatswood

I’ve had Filipino food exactly once before in my life, when I had the opportunity to sample the Philippine Food Week buffet lunch at the Shangri-La Hotel back in 2012. It was a fascinating introduction to a culture’s cuisine that I had never encountered before, and it certainly piqued my interest. For some reason though, in the (nearly) two years since I went to the Philippine Food Week buffet, I had never had the chance to visit a Filipino restaurant and try more dishes. Filipino restaurants seem to be few and far between in Sydney, and you really need to know where they are!

This has all changed with a new Filipino restaurant on my end of town. Pamana has opened up just across the road from my gym in Chatswood about two months ago and does a steady, if not booming trade. I’ve never seen the restaurant full but it’s also not struggling for diners. Interestingly most of the people I see dining there (as I walk past on my way to the gym) seem to be of Filipino origin, so I judged the food to be authentic. A visit was definitely on the cards!

Popped fried corn, complimentary

Popped fried corn, complimentary

K and I sat down in the restaurant on a night when only half the tables were full. The wait staff came over straight away with some water and a little bowl of complimentary popped fried corn for us to nibble on as we perused the menu. We definitely needed that extra bit of brain fuel as half the menu was written in Filipino and we struggled to understand parts of it!

Guyabano Juice, $3.50

Guyabano Juice, $3.50

This drink that we ordered was a prime example of how difficult the menu is to decode for people like us who have no previous exposure to Filipino culture, language or food. When we asked the waitress what “Guyabano” juice actually is, she struggled to explain it as a ‘melon’ before she ran off to the kitchen to pick up a can to show us what it looked like. For the record, guyabano is soursop which tastes like a strange mix of a melon, tropical fruits, citrus, and banana. Apparently it’s heralded as a natural cure-all for every ailment known to mankind, but I just know of it as a very sweet more-ish drink!

Paksiw Na Lechon (Pork lechon paksiw stewed in its own spicy sauce and chillies), $17

Paksiw Na Lechon (Pork lechon paksiw stewed in its own spicy sauce and chillies), $17

We ordered the “paksiw na lechon”, which was explained to us as being a real specialty of the restaurant when we were handed the menu as we sat down. It comes out on a sizzling plate with a raw egg on top and I allow myself only a split second to take a photo before we quickly break the egg yolk and mix it in with the delicious minced pork mix. With a squeeze of lemon on top, it’s a spicy and flavour-packed dish that verges on the overwhelming when eaten alone.

Tuyo fried rice (with dried fish flakes and scrambled eggs), $7.50 medium size

Tuyo fried rice (with dried fish flakes and scrambled eggs), $7.50 medium size

Luckily, the staff at Pamana are well-versed in up-selling their customers, so we didn’t have to have the “paksiw na lechon” by itself. When we ordered it, our waitress insisted that we order a fried rice as well, assuring us that it’s best eaten in combination with the tuyo fried rice, as the rice balances the strong pork flavours of the dish. Thankfully we took her advice and ordered an extra rice dish which did end up mixing well and dulling the intensity of the minced pork. The fish flakes added a little something special to an otherwise plain base dish.

Sinigang Na Bangus Fillet Sa Miso (Milkfish fillet in soy bean broth with vegetables), $19

Sinigang Na Bangus Fillet Sa Miso (Milkfish fillet in soy bean broth with vegetables), $19

In an attempt to order something a little healthier, we order the “sinigang na bangus fillet sa miso”, a fish-based vegetable soup. I savour the clear soup – possibly too sour for some, but I enjoy the cleansing taste of it as well as the medley of vegetables in the base. The milkfish is a bit too fatty for my liking, but it’s easy enough to remove the fat and just have the flesh.

Crispy Pata (Knock Out Knuckles, traditional fried spiced crispy knuckle), $18

Crispy Pata (Knock Out Knuckles, traditional fried spiced crispy knuckle), $18

Another of Pamana’s specialty dishes is the “crispy pata”, or deep-fried pork knuckle. It’s not a dish for the faint-hearted – you can really taste the salty variety of spices that’s been rubbed into the skin prior to cooking. I find parts of the knuckle too dry to suit my personal preference, but then again, other parts feature that delicious crunch of well-done pork crackling.

Rellenong Talong (broiled eggplant stuffed with sauteed pork and pan-fried with egg), $12

Rellenong Talong (broiled eggplant stuffed with sauteed pork and pan-fried with egg), $12

In a fit of complete mindlessness, we order an extra entree of “rellenong talong” even though there’s no way the two of us could finish five full dishes. It’s one of those dishes that I just had to have though, as I am a complete nut over anything that has eggplant in it – and I wasn’t disappointed. Unlike other dishes where you might get diced or sliced eggplant in bits, this dish offers you the full eggplant (stem attached!) encased in a delicious pork omelette. It’s a combination of three of my favourite food items – how could you possibly go wrong?

Leche Flan, $4.50

Leche Flan, $4.50

Even though we are full to bursting by this point, I am insistent on ordering dessert. As a creme caramel fanatic, K orders the “leche flan”, which comes out with delicious caramel sauce drizzled over it. It’s a touch more solid that I originally expected (it certainly doesn’t melt in the mouth!), but this actually lends itself well to a dessert that has more body and substance than a standard creme caramel.

Brazo de Mercedes, $5

Brazo de Mercedes, $5

Remembering my earlier liking of halo-halo at the Filipino buffet two years ago, I was tempted to order Pamana’s halo-halo dessert. However, common sense finally prevailed and I reasoned that at twice the price of all the other desserts, I was unlikely to be able to finish it on my own…it would have to wait until my next visit! Instead, I opted for the “brazo de mercedes”, a delicious soft meringue dessert with a hearty and creamy lemon curd. Equal parts light, fluffy and sweet, I could have very easily had another serve…or two!

Obviously you can tell from this summary that we ordered way too much for just two people – we ended up doggy-bagging two lunches worth of food, which K was very happy about as it made him and his lunches the envy of all his colleagues. Despite our over-ordering though, it was a very reasonably priced meal – at just over $80 for the two of us for dinner (plus two lunches), Pamana offers an affordable and unique Filipino dining experience that has no equivalent anywhere else in Sydney. We’ll certainly be back!

Pamana is located at 102/7 Railway St, Chatswood, a short walk from Chatswood train station.

Pamana on Urbanspoon


Review: Mooberry Dessert & Breakfast Bar, Neutral Bay

One of the hardest parts of my new diet and exercise regime has been giving up dairy. There’s no doubt that I’ve reaped the benefits of reducing the amount of dairy in my diet in that I have clearer skin and less digestive discomfort, but I have missed the ice-creams, milkshakes, yoghurts and creamy sauces that I love so much. Giving up yoghurt was the worst. There was a time when I would go with some colleagues at least once a week to get some frozen yoghurt as a 3pm afternoon pick-me-up, and to give up that luxury was really difficult.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that pure deprivation never works. You end up craving the very thing that you’re trying to cut out, and inevitably end up overindulging in a moment of weakness. So, when Mooberry Dessert and Breakfast Bar in Neutral Bay contacted me and asked me if I wanted to visit them for a special tasting, I only hesitated for a second before I agreed. One hit of sweet dairy goodness to satiate my cravings before I went back to my dairy-free lifestyle!

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K and I show up a little bit early and take a seat while we wait to speak with Jamie, the manager of Mooberry Neutral Bay. While we wait, we have a look at the menu, and I’m very impressed by the offering. I’d always thought of Mooberry strictly as a frozen yoghurt shop, but the menu has a good range of alternative desserts (waffles, crepes and more) and some savoury breakfast-style menu items as well.

This diversification makes a lot of strategic sense, as broadening their range means that they’re less likely to fall when the Sydney frozen yoghurt bubble finally bursts. Jamie has had a hand in this – as a trained chef, he knows how to shape a menu to suit all tastes!

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I’ve had frozen yoghurt at a lot of places before (the one near my work is a self-serve, pay-by-weight system), but I must say that I’m most impressed with Mooberry’s frozen yoghurt system. Rather than mixing flavours yourself and choosing toppings that don’t suit, the staff at Mooberry are more than happy to recommend toppings that work well with particular flavours – with the benefit of paying no more than $1 for toppings, no matter how many you choose!

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Keen to try the crowd favourites, we ask Jamie to surprise us with the frozen yoghurt selection…and it certainly comes up trumps!

Salted caramel frozen yoghurt and passionfruit frozen yoghurt

Salted caramel frozen yoghurt and passionfruit frozen yoghurt

He gives us the salted caramel, the most popular flavour in their Neutral Bay store. It’s topped with chunks of Tim Tams, Maltesers, and M&Ms, and is very much a sweet chocolate-y dessert hit. What I like though, is that though the toppings are quite sweet, the salted caramel yoghurt itself isn’t overwhelmingly sweet, which helps to neutralise the toppings to a certain degree.

The passionfruit frozen yoghurt is very tart, especially when given the double treatment with passionfruit pulp on top as well. It’s very reminiscent of Greek yoghurt rather than sweetened yoghurt, so the sweetness of the strawberries that we choose as a topping really helps to balance that tartness.

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We decide to take our seat up on the third/top level of the cafe, with seats at the window overlooking Military Road. It’s the perfect spot to people-watch on a sunny day. The top level is very family-friendly – with a lot of low tables and overturned milk crates as stools, it’s a perfect spot for a family to bring their kids for an afternoon treat. And indeed while we were there, two families showed up with a handful of kids who each got a little cup of frozen yoghurt for a treat.

Hot chocolate ($5) and salted caramel hot chocolate ($5.50)

Hot chocolate ($5) and salted caramel hot chocolate ($5.50)

The next items on our trial was the hot chocolate, and the special salted caramel hot chocolate. There wasn’t too much difference between the two, with only a slightly more intense sugary sweetness to the salted caramel and very little saltiness. Both hot chocolates leaned more towards milkiness than chocolatiness – a better option for those who prefer less tooth-achingly sweet hot drinks.

Wicked Waffles ($14.90)

Wicked Waffles ($14.90)

Our last dish of the day, the waffles come served with fresh strawberries and a banana. Drizzled with both milk and dark chocolate on top, it’s equal parts decadent and virtuous. While the waffle can be quite thick with a heavy mouth-feel, the mini serve of plain frozen yoghurt on the side works as a wonderful palate cleanser.

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The best thing about Mooberry Neutral Bay is the extensive menu. While we tried exclusively sweet and dairy-based items on our tasting afternoon, they have many more options that can suit even those who choose to eat dairy-free. I’ll be back for dessert with friends the next time I’m in Neutral Bay, perhaps even honouring my dairy-free pledge by choosing a dairy-free dessert crepe.

MooBerry Dessert & Breakfast Bar on Urbanspoon
Gourmanda visited Mooberry Dessert & Breakfast Bar as a guest. The meal was not paid for.