Sunday, 29 September 2013

Did not find love at Home Town's Kitchen

I tried to love this place, but you just can't force it...
Hometown Kitchen on Urbanspoon
If Perth in Western Australia is not your home town, you probably wouldn't be familiar with the ongoing feud between 'Northies' and 'Southies' about the better side of the river to live on. There's a great sense of pride for your own side of the river, but I (a lifetime North dweller) am one who often wishes I lived down under in our Land Down Under. There seems to be a severe lack of great local eateries up my end!

(If you think that's complete rubbish, or you know some neighbourhood gems, or you ARE the neighbourhood gem, please for the love of good food let me know!)
Home Town's Kitchen
As a complete case in point, I spied an advert for Home Town's Kitchen in the newspaper which immediately piqued my interest. I had high expectations as they gained a finalist position in SBS Feast's 2012 'Taste Global, Eat Local' Food Awards, a celebration of international cuisines. Last year's focus was to nominate the best places to find famous international dishes such as pho, gyoza, pad thai, baklava and a favourite I had to try here - curry laksa.

To cut straight to it, it was a disappointment. Every dish on the menu looked promising and the restaurant's furnishings were tastefully dotted around yet while I slurped the last strands of noodles into my mouth, I felt that this meal at Home Town's Kitchen was definitely not worth venturing 45 minutes away from home for.
Chicken Satay Sticks (2) - $4
I requested satay sticks, thinking this was a good way to test the waters of authenticity. It came halfway through our main dishes, and frankly they did not make me want to throw down my chopsticks and claw at these with my hands. The chicken satay sticks are fleshy, but here's a good example where quantity wins at the expense of quality - they're visibly dry and sadly not cooked via grilling as I had crossed my fingers and toes for. Sadly, not very impressed with the deep-fried batter, or the overall run-of-the-mill tasting satay chicken.
The satay sauce is not even its saving grace.
Hainanese Chicken Rice - $10.80
Home Town's Kitchen's Hainanese chicken rice is not on its normal menu and is only available to order on weekends. I was really looking forward to a plate of smooth, juicy serving of chicken only to be presented quite a dear plate of Hainanese chicken rice which fell direly short of my expectations. You are able to select either chicken breast or thigh with your order but even my thigh pieces were not succulent, and I found myself dreaming of biting into the chicken from Tak Chee (If you haven't heard the gossip, Perth's best Hainanese chicken rice probably resides here!)

What adds to the dish's mediocrity the most is the chilli sauce, which I feel more inclined to call a dish of water with chilli colouring added to it. Bland and flavourless; I'd regard it as being there purely for aesthetic appeal, not taste.
Tom Yum Mee Fun Soup - $9.80
The Tom Yum rice noodle soup that we ordered was a good level of spiciness with just the right acidity to make me keep drinking it. Home Town's Kitchen uses thin rice vermicelli, chicken, baby corn and tinned mushrooms, which I actually adore. However in comparison to the memorable Tom Yum that I ordered from the Malaysian Hawker store at the Cambridge Forum International Food Court, that certainly comes out as the victorious one of the two.
Seafood Curry Laksa - $12.80
The moment the curry laksa was set on the table was the moment my anticipation had been building up to the entire meal. The vibrant, vicious looking colour of the soup was a good indication of the spiciness factor of the laksa, which was setting off alarm bells for Andy, who orders Lemon and Herb basting from Nando's, because even the Mild option is too much for him. Even I had tiny beads of sweat on my nose as I slurped up the egg noodles, with minimal soup intake.

I'm used to a milder laksa, but I'm sure this would be a winner with chilli fiends who can't get enough of the stuff in their food. I enjoyed the variety of ingredients used in the laksa; an assortment of seafood including prawns, squid, fish, fish paste, deep-fried tofu and a hard boiled egg.
Claypot Yee Mee - $10.80
Being overwhelmed with the extensive choice of dishes available from the menu, we asked our waitress for her recommendations and suggestions on their specialty dishes, or the dish that was most popular with the customers. We went with her suggestions and ordered the claypot yee mee, which came out boiling hot, the sauce spitting and bubbling in all its glory.
Immediate thoughts: How big is this thing!
We gave the egg yolk a good stir into the noodles and sauce, which was quite abundant. Another thing we thought there was a lot of was salt - the sauce was slightly salty and we couldn't get away from it as a thick layer of it coated every strand of noodle in the claypot.
The noodles ended up being unfinished, but I did scoop out every piece of chicken, mushroom, baby corn and broccoli that were all liberally coated with the brown sauce. I have to admit, the sauce got sickening towards the end of the meal - too much of something is not always a good thing!
On the walls in this home town
Upon stepping into the restaurant, the first thing that striked me besides how spacious the interior was, were the walls. There was a comforting, cluttered feel about them, being decorated with different sized picture frames, paintings, shelves with flower vases and empty wine bottles and a beautiful vintage looking clock that I would much rather have in my own room!

What wasn't particularly striking was the food, which to me had more misses than hits. There are other places for good tasting, good value Malaysian dishes if South of the river is your preference, especially with the popularity of Malaysian cuisine in Perth in general.

I spied their dessert selection, which seems to be full of yummy options such as banana/pineapple fritters, red bean pancake and bubur cha-cha, a Malaysian dessert consisting of coconut milk, sweet potato, yam and tapioca pearls. My brain shouted YES but my belly cried out no, so if you get around to trying it, I'd love to know your opinion :)
Ample seating
Before we left, we were given a card which works like their loyalty system: Collect ten stamps to get 10% off your 11th bill. But the catch is, you must spend over $50 to receive a stamp, meaning you would have spent over $500 to get $5 off - a considerable amount spent on dishes if you ask me!

I tried to love this place, but you just can't force it - love's got to come in the form of great food.
My opinion aside, Home Town's Kitchen seems to be doing well on the foodie forefront, serving up Malaysian dishes that's winning taste buds over. To me, Malay cuisine is my go-to happy food; it's good, it's value and most importantly it's delicious, and it's enough to put a smile on my face :)
Home Town's Kitchen, Parkwood
Lunch: 11am - 2.30pm
Dinner: 5pm - 10pm
Closed Tuesdays

Chinese tea $1 per head, minimum charge $3.50
BYO Beer and soft drinks: $1 per head
10% surcharge on public holidays

(08) 94578889
Parkwood Shopping Centre, 6/78 Vellgrove Avenue, Parkwood WA 6147

Friday, 27 September 2013

Craving sweet things at Pinto Thai

It may be against formal table etiquette, but this way is the best way...

Pinto Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Pinto is a small Thai restaurant in an unexpected location - a small, quiet and not very well lit at all suburban street near Curtin University. I must have angered a driver or three who were driving behind me while I crawled at an annoying slow speed to try and squint at which street to turn into.

It was a pretty good unexpected find by my friend Angela, who happened to turn into this street for no particular good reason at all. They have some sweet lunch deals that could really satisfy, should you be around the area.
Curiosity pays well sometimes!
"Pile of love" are the words that take front page of Pinto's menu, and the good food is testament to their belief in food being nutrition for the body and mind. The menu features dishes that are categorised into stir-frys, noodles and curries, along with some of Pinto's signature main dishes.

Whilst deciding what to order, our table of four did a 180 degree head swivel, wide eyed stare as we all checked out the plate that was delivered to our neighbouring table - a magnificent stack of grilled pork spare ribs that all balanced on top of one another.
I think the dish's name "Heavenly Spare Ribs" is quite appropriately chosen :)

We decided to visit heaven next time as heaven didn't seem to have too much meat to go around the four of us.
Tod Mun Pla (Thai Fish Cakes) with special dipping sauce - $8
With a couple of fans of fish cakes on the table, they were easily won over by the description of Pinto's Thai fish cakes. These are made with snapper, chilli, mince paste and Thai herbs and spices and described as "very flavourful compared to other fish cake".

Although they were served popping hot and freshly deep fried, I am sad to report that they were mundane, just like the special dipping sauce which tasted nothing more than fancied up sweet chilli sauce. Not really a complaint, as the possibility of finding a mind-blowingly delicious fish cake is fairly grim.
Steamed Rice - $3 per head
We ordered rice to share, as ordering fragrant curries and satay stir-frys warrants the need to. Our original intention to order four serves of rice for four people was cut down to three serves when the staff member helpfully suggested that perhaps three would be enough. Hmm, our physique must be sending out the wrong messages...
Pad Thai with Seafood - $16.90
I had a hankering for pad thai and made sure it became part of our order that night. The system at Pinto is simple and well devised: you order your "base dish", be it green curry, fried noodles or whatever option you fancy then choose the meat you want, which is what sets the price of your dish. Mixing and matching to your heart's content.

We agreed on a seafood pad thai, which in hindsight was probably my preferred dish of the lot. It came with a good (although not entirely generous) mix of prawns, fish, squid and a grand total of 2 mussels that came in their shell. I ended up finishing what was left over after it did the rounds; left over not because it was a sizeable portion, but because the others have teeny appetites.
Penang Curry with Beef - $15.90
We ended up with a beef penang curry after deciding to simply pick one dish from each category on the menu. If I could choose again, I would probably go with chicken or duck instead of beef, simply because the beef tasted a little too normal, a little too tasteless and a little too not-having-that-awesome-softness I crave from meat curries. Pumpkin was certainly an interesting and clever inclusion that differentiates itself from the red capsicum, snow peas and mushrooms in the curry - it took me 2 chunks to realise I wasn't eating sweet potato.

The rich, golden curry sauce was great spooned over hot steamed rice, with the aroma of creamy coconut milk filling your nose as you eat. I always find my sense of smell is heightened when curry starts wafting around me, and I love it. I know most people put their curries and rice on a plate and eat spoon by spoon in a civilised manner, but I'd really recommend using a bowl filled with rice, dump a bucket of curry sauce on and pick it up, press it against your lips and using a spoon, chopsticks or whatever you have handy to just literally shovel it in your mouth.

It may be against formal table etiquette, but this way is the best to savour not only the taste but also to appreciate the wonderful aromas of the curry by getting up close and personal. And whilst it was described as a light curry, the sauce was deceiving - it packed a strong spiciness that caught us off guard.
Satay Chicken Stir-fry - $14.90
I've noticed a recurring tendency for my friend Melissa to gravitate towards satay stir-frys whenever she spots them on the menu. Pinto's chicken satay was a little underwhelming, as the homemade satay sauce did not have that rich, nutty flavour or aroma I love in a good satay sauce.

The red capsicum, green beans, carrots and baby corn were fresh and crisp but underseasoned. The chicken could also have packed a whole lot more flavour if it was stir-fried with lashings of the satay sauce, as it appears (and tastes) as if the sauce has only been ladled on top of the food instead of getting right in it, between it and all over it! Bummer.
Restaurant interior and open kitchen
The outside of Pinto is unassuming but took me by surprise as I stepped through the entrance. The dark, earthy tones used for its sleek, modern interior design for this buzzing Thai restaurant is a sweet transformation from its past life as a fish and chips takeaway. The tell-tale kitchen front is great though, for getting you close to the action and sharing good smells all around!

All dishes have an alterable spiciness level, on a scale from mild to blow your pants off super spicy. Oh and, don't try and ask for their dessert menu - they don't have one!

And the staff - they were lovely; polite and non-intrusive, even for all the times we laughed just a little too loud.
Pinto, Kensington
Pinto Thai Restaurant
Open 7 days

Lunch: 10.30am - 2.30pm
Dinner: 4.30pm - 9.30pm

2 Moresby Street, Kensington WA 6151
Dine in, take away and home delivery
BYO wine only

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Loving the lamb shank at Chapter One Brasserie

I disregarded my table etiquette and picked up the bone to polish it off in the most unladylike way imaginable...

Chapter One Brasserie on Urbanspoon
Cooking shows have always been my weakness. There's something so satisfying about watching other people cook amazing dishes with ingredients that I have never heard of in my life. Masterchef Australia is a huge addiction and it was through watching the Masterchef Professionals season that I developed much admiration for Marco Pierre White and his loud, confident and flamboyant personality.

His words are echoed on the first page in Chapter One Brasserie's menus:
To learn how to eat well, one must first learn how to wait.
And I think these words of wisdom were a very obvious warning, because wait we did.
Food & Drinks menu
The bright, loud colours jazz up an otherwise very traditional looking dining room
We enter the restaurant through a rickety door, that doesn't quite open properly when we push through. The restaurant is completely empty and the difficulty of actually getting inside the restaurant doesn't deter us from being excited for dinner, especially when a kind, polite and friendly waiter notices our struggle to open the door and swoops over to welcome us in.
Dinner started with a cold and refreshing Asahi, which the waiter brings over and tops up the glass to the brim with.
Chapter One Tasting Plate: Selection of 3 entrees - $45
The availability of Chapter One's tasting plate made it a no-brainer to order. It offers a choice of 3 entrees presented on the same platter, and is the best way to sample more of the entrees if indecisiveness is your trait. If a little bit of a lot sounds like your plate of food, this option would be your ultimate choice!
Crudo of Swordfish, Capsicum Escabeche, Grilled Asparagus, Green Olive & Thyme
Seared Local Scallops, Radish and Apple Salad, Roasted Shallot Aioli, Cinnamon Paste
Housemade Venison & Prune Sausage, Grilled Witlof, Pumpkin Puree, Blackberry Jus
The platter looked fabulous, and everything was gorgeously arranged. My favourite had to be the crudo of swordfish; delicate slices of raw fish lightly doused with olive oil and salt with a slight citrus dressing that went just so well with it. The capsicum was soft and its own flavour is brought through from the marinade, which paired exceptionally well with the chopped up and grinded olives. It was almost like a pesto!

The scallops were smooth and plump as expected, but lacked that golden caramelisation I lusted after and tasted like they were simply blanched. The roasted shallot aioli and cinnamon paste it came with was sparse - I hardly noticed their presence and flavour! Definitely wished for more, to go with that fresh, crisp apple and radish salad.

Last thing I actually tried was the venison and prune sausage, for it looked a little uninspiring next to the other two entrees. How wrong I was! Its taste was very different to what I was expecting, as it was infused with spices that were quite strong and overempowering, while texture wise it had the softness of soft minced meat rather than that springy bite characteristic of sausages. It was also my first time trying witlof, whose leaves were still quite crisp but left a bitter aftertaste in the mouth.
Pork Hock Presse, Pea Shoot, Butter poached King Prawns, Saffron Rouille, Duo of Corn - $34
This dish was a little bit of a disappointment and the only ones to blame for it are ourselves. While the image of a big, plump and juicy pork knuckle was making its way around our mind, our eyes must have dwindled past the "presse" in the description. Oops!
What it was, was a small flat brick of pork shreds, grinded up along with other trimmings. It was served lukewarm and sadly was not very substantial as a meal, even with the three not-very-buttery king prawns.
The other components of the dish were quite "raw", in that they seemed to have minimal preparation and taste in comparison to the pork hock presse. The pea shoots leave little to the imagination, as did the corn kernels that were scattered over the dish. An unexpected addition was the popcorn, which were part of the "duo of corn" stated in the dish's description. Personally I don't have a thing for popcorn as a component in savoury dishes, especially when they are plain and they don't do much to enhance the overall taste of the dish.
Braised Lamb Shank, Pommes Amandine, Wilted Greens, Sherry Glazed Shallot - $34
I craved lamb and had a hard time deciding between the lamb shank or the rack of lamb, which came with the gorgeous sounding eggplant caviar. I ended up with the shank and was very pleased with my choice when it arrived at the table, sending Andy on his way to destination Food Envy, muttering about his pork presse on the way.
Why hello there, Mr. Lamb Shank!
The lamb shank looked gorgeous to me, resting in a shallow pool of jus that gleamed in the light. It was extremely meaty and not so tender that you could prise the flesh off with a spoon, but had a just-right chew to it. The sherry-glazed onion shallots were also soaked with flavour and had a nice sweetness to them. After I finished the vegetables on the plate, I instructed Andy to be on people patrol while I disregarded my table etiquette and picked up the bone to polish it off in the most unladylike way imaginable!
Pommes Amandine innards
Pommes amandine refers to an almond potato croquette, a sizeable wheel of mashed potato that has been mixed with almond meal and deep fried in a golden crust. I could not contain my excitement for the first few decadently creamy mouthfuls and was so sure I would finish it all, but it proved challenging as the richness of consequent mouthfuls escalated quickly. The smooth, buttery texture is really indulgent, but the crust soon turns dry and floury in the mouth if you take too long to savour it!
Dining area
On the whole, we enjoyed the food at Chapter One Brasserie and I would love to return another time to try more of the dishes on their menu, which has a focus on using quality and local seasonal produce to make simple, wholesome food. They have an extensive wine list to match their dishes should you wish to have a cheeky glass of red (or five)!
Dining table
There seemed to only be one staff serving the entire floor that night, but he was still able to provide very friendly, prompt and attentive service. At one point during our main course however, we were approached about 4 times to be asked how our food was. It felt a bit awkward to repeat "Yes, it's good!" so many times, but is a good sign that they check in on how the customer is going :)
Dining area
The overall ambiance of Chapter One Brasserie is relaxed and quiet, making it a good place for intimate dinners. It is a small restaurant, and anything louder than quiet chatter can probably be heard by other customers dining in the restaurant.

As the menu forewarned about waiting for good food, there is a considerable wait time in between ordering and receiving your dish. All the better, should you wish for more time to get more closely acquainted with your dining companion!
Chapter One Brasserie, Subiaco

Chapter One Brasserie
Wed - Fri & Sun: 12pm - 2.30pm
Tues - Sun: 6pm - late

292 Hay Street, Subiaco WA 6008
(08) 93881323
Some parking at rear of restaurant
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