Review: The Merrywell, Southbank, Melbourne

I recently visited a friend who just had her first baby, a gorgeous little girl called Selina. I also just happened to be there as Selina did the most amazingly smelly poo in her nappy. “I’m so sorry,” my friend said as she changed Selina’s nappy. “Her poos smell so bad that sometimes J (her husband) has to leave the room as he starts gagging!” “Oh, it’s not so bad,” I reassured her. “Just wait a few months until she’s onto solids, and you’ll be amazed by how smelly those nappies become!”

No, I don’t have a child of my own – that’s not why I know about baby poo consistencies and smells. Rather, my younger brother is ten years younger than me, and given that our parents owned a time-sucking takeaway shop for most of our childhoods, I spent a lot of time in my teenage years as a defacto mother figure who changed nappies, read story books, did kindergarten pickups, and more.

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Well, that baby whose nappies I used to change just recently graduated from high school, with a respectable ATAR score of 85.9! To honour his graduation, my brother, father and I went out for a celebratory early dinner at The Merrywell before his official graduation ceremony at Jeff’s Shed.

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We started off with a few drinks each – my brother took advantage of his recently legal status to order a cider, my father ordered a cooling Corona, and I made do with a Diet Coke.

Unfamiliar with this type of American ‘dirty food’ menu, my father left the ordering up to me, so I opted for a few smaller dishes to share, rather than a main each. This also had the benefit of allowing my sheltered father to try a few more dishes than he would otherwise normally get!

Buffalo Chicken Wings (hot and spicy, blue cheese fondue and celery sticks), $19
Buffalo Chicken Wings (hot and spicy, blue cheese fondue and celery sticks), $19

We started with the hot and spicy buffalo chicken wings, which proved to be a bit too spicy for my brother. He did enjoy the celery blue cheese dip though. My father happily ate my brother’s share of the chicken wings, declaring it to be “probably really unhealthy, but very tasty, no wonder so many Americans are larger”. A somewhat hypocritical statement, given my father sports a decent-sized pot belly!

Mac & Cheese Bites (Dorito crusted, House BBQ Sauce), $14
Mac & Cheese Bites (Dorito crusted, House BBQ Sauce), $14

The Dorito-crusted mac & cheese bites were very more-ish, and much more to my brother’s tastes. Filled with gooey cheese that oozed out and stuck to your mouth with each bite, the only improving suggestion that I could make is to consider making the Dorito crust a little more exciting. For instance, I know that there’s Dorito flavours like “Blazin Buffalo & Ranch” and “3rd degree burn Scorchin Habanero” available overseas – imagine using those as the crust, rather than our boring Australian “Tasty Cheese” Doritos?!

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Merrywell Burger – Voted Burger Of The Year 2012 & 2013 (Beef Patty, Bacon, Cheddar, Pickles, L.T.O., Special Sauce, Ketchup, Mustard, French Fries), $29

The Merrywell proudly proclaims its status as serving the “Burger of the Year” for both 2012 and 2013, as awarded by The Burger Adventure. The little toothpick flag holding the burger together even proclaims this accomplishment proudly, as do posters throughout the bar downstairs. It’ll be interesting to see if it holds onto its title for a fourth year running as I found the burger a little underwhelming.

To be fair, it took a little while for us to get around to eating the burger as we were pre-occupied with the other dishes, so it was sitting on its plate for about ten minutes before we touched it. However, in those ten minutes, the juices and sauces from the burger had rendered the bun completely soggy, resulting in a burger that had lost all structural integrity.

Structure aside, the patty was remarkably flavourful and juicy, the bacon crispy, and the fries crunchy…I’d like to come back and try this burger in a more timely fashion next time!

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Wagyu beef taco special, $19

The wagyu beef tacos (on the specials menu on the day) were more disappointing. The beef was seared nicely, but at the same time was very tough and chewy. Whatever tasty morsels the crisp iceberg lettuce or hot jalapeno chillies offered were simply overshadowed by this sub-par tasteless beef.

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Seafood Gumbo (Smoked Sausage, Cumin, Lime, Chilli, Tomato, Steamed Rice), $29

The Seafood Gumbo hit the spot though, with its healthy serve of fresh plump seafood that had soaked up all the hot spicy flavour of the soup and large chunks of hot spiced sausage. Despite the fact that the gumbo was quite spicy, it was actually quite manageable as it came served with a side of steamed white rice that tempered the chilli spices of the soup.

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Rocky Road Banana Split (Chocolate Milk Crumbs, marshmallow, cherries, pistachio, bourbon cream), $12

We finished our meal by sharing the Rocky Road dessert. The highlight of this dish for me was the silky smooth chocolate gelato, while my father enjoyed the heady bourbon cream and my brother enjoyed the tart sorbet. As a complete dish, this dessert really had everything – from rich chocolates to lighter sorbets, from crunchy nuts to soft fruits. A real winner.

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All in all, our family dining experience at the Merrywell was received quite positively by my father, for whom this Modern American style of dining is completely new. He was a particular fan of the smaller nibblier share items though, so I’ll have to take him to more tapas-y type diner places in the future to try more new-American cuisine!

The Merrywell on Urbanspoon

And well, this is the Facebook status I posted on the night of my brother’s graduation:

So he might be all grownup and graduating from high school tonight, but we should all remember that he once pooped so hard that it escaped his nappy and went up his back and all over the car seat.

After all, no matter how old or grown-up he gets, we should all remember that he’ll always be a baby in my eyes.

Review: Ruby and Rach, David Jones Food Hall, Sydney

I love a good Reuben sandwich, and one of my life’s ambitions is to visit Katz Deli in New York City for their famous signature Reuben. Seriously, look at it. It’s a monster. I can’t wait! In the meantime, I was happy to make do with a Reuben from Ruby & Rach in the David Jones Food Hall.

When a Daily Deal offer came up for two sandwiches and two sodas for $20 from Ruby & Rach (essentially half price!) popped up in my inbox, I bought it without even second-guessing. We all like to save money every now and again – and for me, this is even more the case when I get to save money somewhere that I was planning on going anyway.

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Formerly located in David Jones Food Hall on Elizabeth St in Sydney CBD (now only trading in markets around Sydney – check their Facebook page for more information on where they’ll be each week), Ruby & Rach was a simple deli counter where you could order a few different types of sandwiches, sides, and drinks. It was very popular with office workers during the week for a grab-and-go lunch, but very quiet on the weekend that we went when we were running errands in the city.

The Reuben (Wagyu corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing on light rye), $14
The Reuben (Wagyu corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing on light rye), normally $14

My classic Reuben sandwich was the perfect size for lunch – while I was left satiated, I wasn’t left full to bursting. It was absolutely loaded with sauerkraut which I enjoyed as I love pickled vegetables, though K found it a bit too overwhelming when he tried it. I would have possibly preferred more corned beef, but on the whole, it was a really good sandwich.

The Rachel (Wagyu pastrami, house slaw, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing on light rye), $14
The Rachel (Wagyu pastrami, house slaw, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing on light rye), normally $14

K was a much bigger fan of his Rachel sandwich, as the house slaw gave a crunchier and more interesting texture to the sandwich when compared to the sauerkraut of the Reuben. The Swiss cheese was also a lot more noticeable and prominent in this sandwich as it wasn’t overpowered by pickled vegetables, making it a much more well-rounded option.

Grape cordial and raspberry cordial by Hello Lovelies in Mudgee, $5 each
Grape cordial and raspberry cordial by Hello Lovelies in Mudgee, normally $5 each

The two sodas we ordered were made locally in country New South Wales (in Mudgee). I preferred K’s raspberry soda to my grape soda, finding it much sweeter and less tart in the aftertaste.

It’s the little things that stood out to me about Ruby & Rach – like how they buttered both sides of the bread before they toasted it, so that it’s that much more tasty and toasted. Little things like that, which can make a big difference.

It’ll be interesting to see if they can maintain this level of detail in their market stalls, or whether the standard slips a bit now that they don’t have a permanent base in the David Jones Food Hall. I’ll have to go along and try it out soon!

SoCal Neutral Bay First Birthday Party

In a week of strange violent storms that blew into Sydney out of the blue, my granny-before-my-time nature had me loathe to leave the warm comforts of my apartment for a party. However, this wasn’t just any party. This was SoCal Sydney‘s first anniversary party, and after the many reviews I had read of its modern American menu, extensive cocktail list, and bright summery courtyard, I knew I had to put in the effort to go! Luckily, the party fell on Tuesday this week, the only day to not feature torrential downpours and high winds – a good omen if ever there was one.

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K and I arrived to find that the celebrations had already kicked off – retro tunes were pumping through the speakers, and more than a few people had some of SoCal’s signature cocktails in hand. The prime seats in the bright courtyard had already all been claimed by other groups, so we staked a table inside where we could people-watch at the bar to our hearts content. We were soon joined by Jessie of Droolworthy World and her friend Charles – one of the first times I’ve met a fellow food blogger, which was very exciting!

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We had conveniently situated ourselves on a table with some corn chip nibblies as we waited for more food to come out. Served with equal parts chilli (salsa) and creamy (avocado), the super crispy crunchy corn chips really hit the spot.

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The first dish we sampled was the spiced eggplant tostadas. Grilled (?) soft eggplant with a real chilli kick topped crispy fried tortilla chips in a more-ish bite-sized snack. Eggplant is one of my favourite vegetables, and I could easily have eaten five of these…or heck, even just a bowl of the eggplant topping by itself!

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Quesadillas are a big part of SoCal’s regular menu, and these Sriracha Chicken Quesadillas combined my favourite South-East Asian chilli sauce (it goes on everything in my house!) with tender chicken in a perfectly fried quesadilla.

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The different quesadillas that came out of the kitchen during the party were a real hit with all the guests!

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The Chicken and Sopressada Sliders were just amazing – how can you beat chicken and chorizo as a combination? The tender grilled chicken and spicy salty sopressada were just set off to perfection with a soft sweet brioche bun. I demolished my slider in two bites!

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The Flank Steak with Chimichurri skewers were juicy with just a hint of barbecued smokiness. This dish actually became K’s despair, as he ended up spilling half the chimichurri all over his shorts in his eagerness to grab a skewer. I was much more careful, and got to enjoy more of the fresh herby chimichurri.

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Personally, I would say my favourite dish of the night was the Spiced Vegetable Cous Cous. Using pearl cous cous instead of the usual smaller grains meant that the dish as a whole felt a lot more substantial. The subtle spices of the vegetable-based sauce, the wilted spinach throughout, and the drizzle of yoghurt on top all combined to make a very simple dish with a very big impact.

I also liked the coleslaw in the Southern Fried Chicken And Slaw – too often I find that a lot of commercial coleslaw include too much raw onions or shallots in their slaw mix, which leaves me with a nasty aftertaste and mouthfeel. The crunchy veggie mix in this slaw was just perfect.

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K and I had a great time at SoCal, and I was very glad that I gave up my granny ways for one night to go out and enjoy myself at their first birthday party! I love the atmosphere and the casual sharing-friendly menu, and I know of a number of friends who would enjoy sampling their way through SoCal’s cocktail menu. I can see us coming back in a few weeks when we’re on Christmas annual leave, spending a lazy afternoon drinking, eating, and catching up with friends in SoCal’s cozy courtyard!

SoCal on Urbanspoon

Gourmanda was invited to this event as a guest of Pendulum Communications. All photos and words are her own.