Review: Up In Smoke, Footscray

I lied. Sometimes, just sometimes, I will venture outside of my East/South-East bubble for food. If you’ll allow me to co-opt a musical classic: I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more, just to be the one who walks a thousand miles, to gorge myself on smokey American BBQ meaty goodness. 

When a friend came and visited from Sydney earlier this year, we decided to make our way to Up In Smoke in Footscray for some finger-licking goodness. I would recommend making a booking if you have any more than four people (we had five), as there is a slight wait without a booking. As it was, we ended up seated outside on a high table in the beer garden – which under normal circumstances wouldn’t be so bad, but was a bit difficult considering it was a very warm day.

Guacamole with tortilla chips, $12AUD

We started out with some smaller bits and pieces to share – the Guacamole with Tortilla Chips first. I enjoyed the guacamole, but others thought it difficult to share as it was still very chunky. There certainly weren’t enough chunks of avocado to go with the number of chips provided – somewhat of an oversight.

Hush Puppies, $8AUD

The Hush Puppies were ridiculously crispy and crunchy, almost exceedingly so. The ratio of batter to actual creamy goodness inside was a little off, and I think it would have benefited from a lighter hand with the deep fryer. 

The Big Tray (pulled pork. brisket, pork sausage, apple slaw, succotash, milk buns, pickles) $48AUD

This is the piece de resistance – a sharing platter of the Big Tray including pulled pork, brisket and sausage. While it doesn’t look like much, it’s actually quite filling and more than suitable for a group of five people. My highlight was probably the brisket – smokey, and tender to the point of almost melting in your mouth. It went remarkably well with the soft sweetness of the milk buns.

Apple, fennel and dill slaw

One of the sides with the Big Tray is the Apple, Fennel and Dill Slaw. While fennel isn’t an ingredient I would normally use as I’m not a big fan of aniseed-type flavours, this was surprisingly fresh and mild in flavour, pairing well with the sweet apple and stronger dill. A lovely refreshing salad for a summer’s day.

Smoked chorizo succotash

The Smoked Chorizo Succotash is another side that comes with the Big Tray. This is my favourite type of easy salad mix that I make quite often at home, with a good mix of beans, corn and capsicum. The spicy chorizo and fresh spring onion in this mix was a real winner.

Up In Smoke is a prime example of an eatery that does their specialty very very well. The smoked meats, brisket in particular, were superb but the non-meaty entrees we ordered were mediocre at best. If you’re to visit Up In Smoke, I recommend gorging yourself on smoked meat goodness, and giving non-meaty entrees a hard miss. Sorry vegetarians and vegans!

Up In Smoke is located at 28 Hopkins St in Footscray, Melbourne.

Belle’s Hot Chicken “All the Chickens After Party” for Good Food Month

In a continuation of my birthday celebrations, K booked seats for us to dine at Belle’s Hot Chicken in Richmond for their special ‘All the Chickens Afterparty’ event held during Good Food Month. Now don’t be too impressed by his initiative – he only booked the tickets after I sent him a link to an article about the event in a spectacularly unsubtle manner! 

The reason we were particularly keen to go to this event is because a series of random events have conspired over time to prevent us from going to Belle’s. We’ve tried to make plans for dinner at Belle’s numerous times, yet something always seems to pop up at the last minute to prevent us going. Not this time though!

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This sold-out fried chicken five course degustation event was designed by head chef Morgan McGlone as a tribute to some of his favourite fried chicken dishes from around the world. Naturally, the majority of them are inspired by various American joints.

For the reader’s information, I’ve included Morgan’s descriptions from the menu in this blog entry in all italics after the photo of each course. I found the descriptions and explanations particularly useful in understanding his motivation for including particular dishes – whether it was motivated by personal nostalgia or pure reverence for the dish.

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House Made Sweet Mint Tea ($6) and Country Time Lemonade with Melbourne Moonshine, $11

We started with a drink each – eating five courses of fried chicken is thirsty work! I went for a refreshing House Made Sweet Mint Tea with a squeeze of lemon for a slight tangy twist, and K opted for their Country Time Lemonade with Melbourne Moonshine. I found the Melbourne Moonshine mix a bit too strong for my liking, but K enjoyed it with the strong lemonade.

Buffalo Chicken Ribs, Blue Cheese and Celery
Buffalo Chicken Ribs, Blue Cheese and Celery – Batters Box, Nashville TN

Batters Box is my favourite dive bar in the world. It was the bar that was closest to Husk in Nashville where we (line cooks and I) would go after service and talk about how much we hate our jobs and how tomorrow we are going to go right back to work. They serve the most insane buffalo wings there with a store bought blue cheese dressing. Tonight we are giving you the same style Buffalo Wings but we make the dressing here.

The first course was made of one of my favourite combinations – Buffalo Chicken with Blue Cheese. Honestly, blue cheese with spicy fried chicken is one of the best combinations in the food world. However in this case, I would almost say that the standout element wasn’t the chicken or the blue cheese dressing, but instead the celery salad. With a vinaigrette dressing and punctured with random bursts of red onion, it was a lovely refreshing little salad side that acted well as a palate cleanser.

Chicken & Waffles
Chicken & Waffles – Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles, Los Angeles CA

Chicken and Waffles has been on the Belle’s menu since day one…though it might sound like a strange combination when you put them together they really do work; just ask Snoop Dogg! I like to eat this once every 2 months especially with Hot Tenders.

I’m a Chicken & Waffles fiend – as evidenced by visits to places like Mr Big Stuff. This was just perfect with a lightly battered chicken tender, a warm and fresh waffle, and oodles of sweet maple syrup. Note to self – this is available as a regular dish on weekends at Belle’s!

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House Made Cardamom Lemonade, $6

Fried chicken is thirsty work! Two courses in, I’d already drained my sweet tea, so I ordered myself the House Made Cardamom Lemonade (no moonshine!) to get me through the final three courses. This wasn’t quite as refreshing as the tea as the tangy cardamom lingers on the palate, but was enjoyable in its own right.

Chick-Fil-A Southern Fried Biscuit
Chick-Fil-A Southern Fried Biscuit – Hapeville, Atlanta

No one makes the Chicken in a Biscuit like Chick-Fil-A, you might not agree with their policies but there is no doubt that their spicy Chicken biscuit is the BOMB.COM! We are serving them tonight with buttermilk biscuits and a spicy thigh fillet, cheese and pickles.

I’ve never tried Chick-Fil-A before and to be honest, I probably never will given that I would still make a point of boycotting them the next time I visit America. Variations of their meals made by other people though? Fair game when it’s Chicken in a Biscuit made by Belle’s. While I still can’t get over the fact that an American ‘biscuit’ doesn’t have chocolate chips in it, one can’t deny that their biscuit/scones go great with a juicy fried chicken thigh fillet! Too bad it doesn’t have structural integrity, with the bottom half of the biscuit crumbling to pieces in my hand with every bite I took.

Mission Chinese Chongqing Wings, Cucumber Salad
Mission Chinese Chongqing Wings, Cucumber Salad – New York City, USA

Danny Bowien and I met whilst I was working at Husk Charleston, we have kept in touch and have caught up all over the world recently in Copenhagen at the MAD Food Camp 2016. This year in February Danny did a dinner at Attica with my buddy Ben Shewry and we hosted the after party at Belles Fitzroy. These wings are the go to dish when you eat at Mission Street Chinese restaurant I hope tonight we do them justice.

Oh man. These Mission Chinese Chongqing Wings had my lips burning with every bite. There’s a crazy good amount of spice on this fried chicken, with the type of spice that really lingers on the palate and brings tears to your eyes. This is where the pickled cucumber salad comes in handy as it helps to cool your palate, especially with the fresh coriander and spring onion in the mix as well.

Belles Hot Quail, Red Eye Dressing, Cauliflower Salad
Belles Hot Quail, Red Eye Dressing, Cauliflower Salad – Sydney/Melbourne, Australia

Hot Quail is a dish we put on at the start of the year. Chef Scott and I wanted to try frying other types of birds and this was the one we loved the most. It is served with a red eye mayonnaise which is a play on Red Eye Gravy…the pickles in this dish extinguishes the heat of the Quail.’

We finished our degustation on the Belle’s Hot Quail, but unfortunately, I was so stuffed by that point I couldn’t manage much more beyond the quail breast. I have to say that I definitely prefer chicken over quail – I find that quail is still a bit too ‘game-y’ for my liking. That cauliflower salad was beautiful though!

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Having a five course fried chicken degustation brings to mind the crazy Fried Chicken Crawl I did through Sydney a few years ago. It’s not something you would want to do every week, or even every month. As it is, I think this one single night of fried chicken bliss probably increased my rate of heart disease threefold! As an occasional treat, or as a fitting end to an ongoing 30th birthday celebration though, it’s a pretty mind-blowing and button-popping experience.

I’d love to return to Belle’s to try some of their more standard dishes. Their fried chicken expertise is evident and as much as I enjoyed their degustation, I’d like to try some of their standard dishes like Chicken Ribs in Peach BBQ sauce…mmmm yum…

Belle’s Hot Chicken is located at 107 Swan St in Richmond (and other locations too – Fitzroy, Windsor, Barangaroo, Tramsheds).

Review: Mundoaka Street Food, Zagreb Croatia

Like many other cities in Europe, much of Zagreb closes down on a Sunday. Shops are closed, restaurants are closed, and there are only a handful of people who are keen enough to go out and sell their produce at the local green markets. For tourists like ourselves, it means that you definitely have to plan your day ahead of time – don’t expect to be able to just wander into a restaurant as excellent as Mundoaka Street Food for lunch as they won’t be open!

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We headed back to Mundoaka on the Monday for lunch, after having our interest piqued on the Sunday. We were early in showing up before midday, but it worked in our favour as we were able to grab the last table inside that hadn’t already been reserved. Keep that in mind – Mundoaka is one of the most popular restaurants in Zagreb so if you don’t make a reservation, be prepared to show up early or sit outside in the cold!

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Despite strict instructions from his GP father to cut out soft drinks because of his gout, K couldn’t stop himself from ordering a mango-flavoured Jarritos, a soft drink brand from Mexico. He claimed that it was no match for his favourite Jarritos flavour of mandarin, but it still tasted pretty excellent to me. I had to drink half of it of course to help him manage his health condition…or at least, that’s what I’m telling him.

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Given that we were some of the first diners in the restaurant, I didn’t know quite what to expect in terms of meal size. Do we order entrees, mains and desserts? Or mains only? Having gotten into the habit of over-ordering in Croatian restaurants though, we thought we’d keep it simple with just ordering one main meal each without sharing any appetisers or entrees. That was lucky, because the servings that ended up being delivered to our table was absolutely ginormous!

Interestingly they chose not to give us individual plates but served both meals on a sharing platter, so we could pick bits and pieces off it to share. Not all tables got this same treatment – it obviously depends on what you order, and I imagine the restaurant also makes a judgement call on whether you’re dining as a couple who would share their food.

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The first main meal we ordered was the Marinated Boneless Half Chicken, served with harissa sauce, sauteed slice potatoes and a creamy salad with roasted seeds (75 Croatian Kuna) – a far cry from the half chicken and chips takeaway meals we’re used to in Australia! This chicken was extremely well marinated in a salty barbecue sauce, and the meat itself had been brined before cooking to ensure that it wouldn’t dry out. The harissa sauce was a real winner, working well with both the chicken and the potatoes (and the house-made sourdough bread as well!).

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The second main was the Mundoaka Pulled Pork, made of confit pork shoulder blade, smoked mozzarella, miso mayonnaise,  homemade pickled cucumber and coleslaw on a homemade focaccia with fried potatoes with mixed spice on the side (85 Croatian Kuna). We hardly had room to fit this in by the time we finished eating the chicken, so I actually ended up removing the sandwich contents from the foccacia so I wouldn’t fill up on carbs – a shame, because it was pretty delicious!

The pulled pork was too much on the salty side for my liking and was better suited to palates that prefer a real flavour punch, rather than a more subtle slow-burning taste sensation. I think the dish could have been improved by using plain mayonnaise rather than the stronger miso mayonnaise. Overall, it was a bit too strong for me but I can see how it would be the perfect dish to have with a nice cold beer.

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The ‘fried potatoes’ that it came with however for another matter – simply some of the best potato wedges I’ve ever tasted. I’m not sure what the ‘mixed spice’ they used was, but I got regular bursts of chilli spice and a citrus spice as I ate the wedges. It’s well worth ordering these fried potatoes as a delicious side dish if you visit Mundoaka!

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Despite the fact that we were absolutely stuffed to the gill, we couldn’t stop ourselves from ordering dessert. In particular, K wanted the Dulce de Leche Cheesecake (27 Croatian Kuna), made of crunchy biscuits with almonds and ras el hanut, with a filling of cream cheese with Dulce Leche, and miso caramel with milk chocolate and Dulce Leche. He was a bit doubtful about the miso caramel, but this salty umami caramel sauce actually worked very well with the surprisingly light and airy cheesecake. With the cumquats on top, this cheesecake actually left quite a fresh mouthfeel, and wasn’t too heavy on the palate.

An additional note – Mundoaka actually sells jars of dulce de leche so if you ever feel like a hit of South American caramel while in Zagreb, you know where to go!

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I couldn’t go pass the Triple Chocolate Brioche Doughnut, made of sourdough brioche, creme patissiere 60% chocolate, white chocolate ganache with mascarpone, 30% milk chocolate glaze, forest berries marmalade and hazelnuts (20 Croatian Kuna). This was just as light as the cheesecake, offering a sweet intensity tempered by slightly sour berry jam. The soft cushiony brioche was partnered well with crunchy nuts, and the different grades of chocolate gave a good mix of sweetness and richness. This was just the perfect dessert – light but satisfying without sitting too heavily in your stomach.

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Meals at Mundoaka Street Food are much too large for a single person to eat by themselves – especially if you plan on ordering one of their delicious desserts to finish off your meal. I would suggest ordering two appetisers to share between two people, or a main and an appetiser if you’re feeling particularly hungry. The menu changes every month (we were there in February 2016), so check their Facebook page before you visit to see what the latest menu looks like. Whatever you order, just make sure to leave room for dessert!

Mundoaka Street Food is located at 2 Petrinjska in Zagreb, Croatia.