Tuesday, February 17

Char Restaurant - Darwin

A lovely family dinner from a long time ago. This will be a largely pictorial post. I'm trying to collate food pictures from the past year in chronological order and my food memory just isn't what it used to be! 

With all the new restaurants that are popping up across the CBD, Char is considered an oldie. I had heard of this well established restaurant being frequently mentioned as one of the top restaurants in Darwin, but given that we tend to make our rounds exclusively around Asian restaurants, this was our first visit.

The story goes that Char is the sibling restaurant of Cha Cha Char (what a name!) and Jellyfish in Brisbane. Admiralty House, the building pictured on the above logo and where Char is situated now, used to belong to the naval officer commanding the region. After the bombing of Darwin and 1974 cyclone, this is one of the few old-style tropical elevated houses that remain. However, there are a cluster of similar looking houses within the nearby RAAF base and this architectural style is still widespread across towns in Queensland.

Location: 70 Esplanade, Darwin. Opposite the road to the entry point of Mitchell St carpark (see map).

Website: official website and urbanspoon reviews. Also Trip Advisor has over 500 user reviews! I'm not sure why the general public in Darwin tend to use Trip Advisor more often than urbanspoon for restaurant reviews. Just on a side-note, urbanspoon now belongs to Zomato, an Indian company which is looking to expand internationally. Hence the change in the logo and website layout.

Menu: menu available on Char's website. As a guide, average price of entrees tend to ~$25, mains ~$35, steaks ~$50 and desserts $15.


Spring rolls - a complimentary dish given to us by the chef. I assume it's the same as the item on the menu - "spring rolls of braised beef kaffir lime chilli & mustard fruits with ginger dipping sauce".

Fish and chips - on the kids menu for $10-15. I didn't pick at my sister's food but let me just say that rocket, or roquette for the pretentious, isn't the best salad leaf choice for children given almost universal dislike for its rather sharp and bitter taste.

Tempura prawns - no longer on the menu, and a small entree for over $20! Char obviously has an Asian twist to its largely modern Australian menu.

Mussels - fresh mussels deliciously prepared in a tomato and herb wine sauce. Unfortunately this favourite of mine is no longer available on the current entree menu either.

Pan seared barramundi fillet - with a butter sauce, prawns and mussels. This item has also been replaced on the menu. Barramundi happens to be a favourite fish of mine. It's versatile and has a soft texture that that remains so even if it's overcooked. "Barra" is also a popular local catch found in abundance across the Northern coasts of Australia. Fishing for barra in the Northern Territory appears to be a popular hobby, and I guess the size of the fish makes it an exciting and photogenic catch.

Whole fish of the day - "crispy fried with soy and spring onion". Definite Asian inspirations there too!

Wagyu steak - with orange and fig salad. I like Char for its interesting sides that goes beyond garden and Caesar salads. The steak looks charred (funny I know) here but was actually perfectly medium-rare - pink but no dripping blood.

Other sides - you can just see the edge of a potato mash on the left, and roast vegetables on the right.

Apple & pear tart tatin - with "classic vanilla bean ice-cream, spun sugar basket". Visually tasteful, isn't it?

Other desserts - poached pear and banana "3 ways". You can see my descriptions getting briefer and briefer!


The interior design has a lot of white, making the restaurant have a sterile feel. Or clean feel, depending on your preference. There is also outdoor seating for a non wet season day!

Rating: 4.5/5 given the price range we won't be frequenting this place. But Char will remain a favourite for special occasions. The restaurant has a solid reputation in Darwin and rightfully so - although known primarily for its steaks, Char certainly does seafood well too. Consistently fresh ingredients, thoughtful sides, and no overcooked meat!

Char Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 15

Rapid Cafe

This is one from awhile ago!

Rapid Cafe is one of the rare cheap eats in the Northern suburbs, or indeed in the whole of Darwin itself, that is similar to stores you would expect to find in abundance in a place like Melbourne CBD. Takeaway or a quick sit down meal that doesn't involve fast food or some greasy Chinese takeaway store with non-Chinese dishes

Location: adjacent to the Happy Foodland supermarket at Rapid Creek Village, 48 Trower Rd, Millner, NT (see map)

Website: there is a basic Facebook page, and several urbanspoon reviews. There are also a few blog reviews at Darwin Foodies and Discovering Darwin.

Price: entrees for ~$5 with almost all mains at $12. The same prices for dine in and takeaway. See menu here or below. I like visual menus.


Vegetable tempura - consisting of mostly sweet potato. It was well made, crispy but not too oily, with a batter that wasn't too heavy or overdone. But the dipping sauce was too watery and made the dish rather bland, because the batter wasn't salty either.

Takoyaki - takoyaki is a street snack I happily discovered whilst on a trip to Japan. Tako means octopus and yaki means grilled - so these are grilled flour balls with small bits of octopus, topped with Japanese mayonnaise, bonito flakes and takoyaki sauce which can be substituted by BBQ or Worcheshire sauce if you're cooking yourself. Bonito flakes on food fascinates me because as they always look like they're moving as they soak up the sauce that they're sprinkled on. Unlike tempura, takoyaki is one of those happy dishes that seem to be made well in most restaurants, and Rapid Cafe was no exception. Hot and fresh, with just the right amount of sauce. Similar to that of Bar Zushi in Casuarina. 

 Japanese curry - sorry, Japanese curry never looks visually appealing. It's also incredibly easy to make yourself with solid cubes of instant curry sauce that can be bought at most regular supermarkets. The chicken katsu add on for $4 is worth it.

Japanese fried chicken bento - chicken karaage, garden salad with Japanese mayonnaise and rice. I might have a thing for crispy fried chicken. In Melbourne I frequented Rose Garden for their spicy chicken ribs and I found an adequate replacement for my time in Darwin. This dish had good portions of juicy chicken, with crispy batter that doesn't leave you with the unpleasant after-taste that comes with KFC fried chicken. My only critique here was that there didn't seem to have been much salt in the batter, but that was easily fixed with a sprinkle of soy sauce.

Teriyaki chicken bento - no photo here but this is my favourite out of all the dishes at Rapid Cafe. It's nothing like what you would expect from teriyaki chicken. In fact, it looks similar to the dish above (ie. another deep fried chicken dish) but with a lighter and sweeter batter.

Chicken egg rice bowel - also known as oyakodon. It's strange how many restaurants give Japanese names to their not-very-Japanese dishes whilst Rapid Cafe uses English names of Japanese dishes but does them quite well. This tasted like something you might find at home, with less salt and less oil.

Variety of sushi rolls - not recommended. The sushi aren't particularly fresh, the fillings are scant, and the price is double to what you might find in Darwin CBD. The place to go for sushi with fresh seafood in Darwin is Mr Sushi, which is just adjacent to the mall.


The layout of the shop is simple and nothing fancy. The store seems a bit small for the number of people (both dine in and takeaway) that tend to come, and waiting times can be quite long. Another thing to note is the limited opening hours. The shop is only open until around 8pm and is closed all day on Sundays.

Rating: 4.5/5 I love the unpretentious dishes cooked on the spot - especially the variety of freshly fried chicken dishes (chicken katsu, chicken kaarage and teriyaki chicken). It's also refreshing to have a decent salad that comes with the meal, and healthy choices such as the oyakodon. Overall it's definitely one of my favourites in the Northern suburbs and a welcome break from the monotony of food choices at Casuarina shopping square.

Rapid Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 30

Is food blogging antisocial?

And... we're back! I haven't forgotten about this blog. As I was sorting through the un-posted food photos collected over the past year or two, some thoughts came to mind about why the posts on this blog have been so far and few in between.

The first reason is simple enough. I started working and had to make some adjustments to my priorities. As a student if I slept late because I stayed up writing, it was of no consequence. As a working person, that's irresponsible. I used to dabble in paid food and travel writing to partially fund my hobbies. Then full time work came along with a lot more money but a lot less time. Plus, my friends who loved food also started working and we could no longer share so many lovely long lunches, trying this or that cafe.

The second reason is less straightforward. I think subconsciously the question that's been floating in my mind and accountable for noticeable gaps of months and months where I hadn't taken any food photos at all is this - is food blogging antisocial? I don't know if writing about the Grilled campaign had anything to do with conjuring these notions. Is it selfish to make others wait and have their food go cold while you try to capture a photogenic shot? Does it disrupt the flow of conversation? How does the other person feel when you take out your phone or bring out a bulky camera in the middle of the meal? There are certainly a lot of people who are vocal about finding the habit of food photos before meals annoying or simply ridiculous.

"Photographing meals becomes pathological, however, if it interferes with careers or relationships or there’s anxiety associated with not doing it." - First Camera, Then Fork

Taking food photos when eating alone is a no-brainer. When eating out with others however, it depends. I've found that with some people, there is no element of being antisocial as you each take out your devices and help each other "pose" the food for a shot. Some don't mind but start to look quite hungry if you take too long. Yes, the photo may not be framed right or have the best lighting but maybe a quick snap or none at all is better than making your dinner companion wait too long. Some hate it or find it rude (but you would probably never know because friends are often too polite to say so). Some don't mind either way. For acquaintances or others you don't know so well, it's hard to tell how they would react to it. So more and more, I avoid it in those situations in case whoever I'm eating with gets the impression that I'm more interested in the food than in their company. Which may or may not be true, but building relationships definitely takes precedence over documenting my culinary journeys.

Having said all this, I will still be writing here in 2015. Hopefully more posts than 2014, which shouldn't be very hard at all!

Sunday, February 16

Golden Orchid

Brunch is not really part of my vocabulary in Darwin, though I loved weekend (or weekday) brunches in the quirky cafes of Melbourne. Here, around brunch time, especially during the wet season, the sun is already bright and sizzling - not conducive weather for slowly enjoying cooked breakfasts and sipping hot coffee. And if it's pouring, we tend to stay home.

Regardless, I was excited about exploring a potential brunch venue in Darwin. So we went to Golden Orchid, which normally serves Thai food during lunch and dinner. It used to be another Thai restaurant called Lemon Grass prior to a change of management several years ago.

Location: 62 Marina Blvd, Cullen Bay, NT - as you enter into the retail area, it's on the left hand side see map

Website: having come across a weebly business site yet, but the official website is surprisingly clean and informative

Price: $16 for the breakfast buffet, otherwise ~$20 mains for takeaway and ~$30 mains for dine in, see online menus


Drinks - there's free flow of juice and coffee. This is the latte I ordered, quite unusual looking, but pretty. Amusingly they only make hot coffees, but were happy to provide us with a glassful of ice to make our own iced coffee.

Mains - scrambled eggs, poached egg, baked beans, baked tomato, bacon, sausage, creamed mushroom and there was also a choice of fried rice, which I didn't get. I guess it's not too different from getting a the "big breakfast" option commonly found at cafes, except you can refill as much as you like. Reminded me of the hot breakfasts at my residential college, which I did used to enjoy. My fellow diners also had plain (rice) porridge with frozen peas and carrots, which didn't look appetising. Apparently there are more choices if you book early.

Cereals and breads - there were a small selection of toasts, muffins, croissants and cereals. I would have tried some muffins if I thought they were made fresh. I didn't see any jugs of milk for the cereal either, but I'm sure they would have provided some if we asked.

 Fruits and yoghurt - fruits included yellow nectarines, watermelon and rockmelon. There were natural and vanilla yoghurt options. And a strange combination of canned peaches and pears, corn, and beetroot on the side. Well, I discovered that corn goes surprisingly well with natural yoghurt and canned fruits!



True to its name, each table was decorated with an orchid branch (plastic). The air conditioning was effective, but the heat came through the open doors. The view outside is quite nice, on a cooler morning or perhaps in the evening, sitting outside could be pleasant. The waitress who served us was enthusiastic and helpful.

Rating: 2/5 for the buffet breakfast. The hot foods were okay, but most options were unexciting and could be easily made at home, and the selection in general was rather limited. I would keep looking for proper brunch places in Darwin, but I'm open to trying items on the regular lunch / dinner menu at Golden Orchid.

Golden Orchid on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 15

Grill'd - Point Cook

About a year ago, Grill'd had this "no foodies" campaign. It sparked some anger and much discussion online, and in a way that's making your brand known and talked about. Humorous or not, with these posters sitting at every table, I personally wouldn't have photographed or blogged about the outlets. The strongly antagonist message doesn't sit comfortably either, for a company that portrays a friendly, chill and community centred image.

Ironically, it's from Grill'd that I was offered a voucher to dine and review their latest branch in Point Cook. I accepted the offer, having been an an occasional customer (eating at Melbourne Central, QV, Carlton, and Yarraville branches on previous occasions).

Location: The location given on the website (Cnr Main & Murnong St) isn't too useful if you aren't familiar with Point Cook Town Centre. The street address is 4 Main St, Point Cook, VIC, and the store is on the row of dining places, adjacent to Crust and Cold Rock.

Website: official website for Grill'd

Price: expect to pay about $15 with burger and chips, see full menu


Hot hombre (panini bread) - "Grilled chicken breast, chilli black bean salsa, tasty cheese, avocado, tomato, spanish onion & crispy tortilla chip." Never mind that I don't know what hombre means. Urban dictionary says it's a Spanish slang for "dude", more specifically for a "homie" or "punk".
Chicken was nicely done, tender but no pink bits. The chilli black bean salsa was tangy, surprisingly hot, and I assume the main flavouring here was Tabasco sauce. It took me to awhile to figure out why there was a hard taco with my burger - the texture was interesting, but it was hard and you need to be careful not to hurt your teeth. The combination of ingredients, topped with avocado, made the burger taste like something you might get at a joint like Trippy Taco (except this isn't vegetarian). Maybe they need to use the Mexican, rather than Spanish word for dude.
I haven't had Hungry Jacks or McDonalds for awhile now but Grill'd burgers do differ in that they use normal ingredients that you would use for your homemade burgers, in the burgers you buy at a cafe or pub. Not that Grill'd burgers are health foods, but it's a welcoming change from sweetish buns, plastic cheese, scant ingredients, heavy sauces and greasy patties. Fast food joints have been providing healthy menu options in recent years though, and they are cheaper.
Hot chips (snack size) -  see image above. Chips are crunchy and seasoned lightly with herbed salt. The three sauces here are herbed mayo, tomato relish, or sweet chilli mayo.

Grill'd bird & brie (wholemeal bread) - "Grilled chicken breast, brie cheese, thick cranberry sauce, salad & herbed mayo." I won't write much on this since this meal was from my first visit to Grill'd several years back! I love soft cheese and almost ordered the same burger again today.


Grill'd Point Cook was buzzing with life, with many young families, on the weekend. I don't expect much from "fast food" stores, but the service was attentive and friendly. The interiors were well thought out, with wallpapers and posters that you might expect from a cafe. I did realise however, that the lovely green pot plants on each table were plastic rather than real plants.

Rating: 3.5/5 it's not gourmet dining, but I enjoy the range of tasty burgers with interesting and "real" ingredients. Grill'd fills in an unusual place, halfway between fast food and brunch cafes - both in terms of the food serves, the decor, the service, and the customers it targets.

Grill'D on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 11

The Forge Pizzeria

Heard a lot about this place. Tagged along to a dinner gathering to try the pizza here.

Location: 1771 Sturt St, Alfredton, VIC (Ballarat) - the original outlet is quite a distance from the main "town centre" section of Sturt St, towards the East. However, there is a newer branch serving the same menu, located within city centre at 14 Armstrong Street North

Website: official website, and urbanspoon reviews

Price: average $15 for small, $18 for medium, $20 for large, but varies between each pizza. See website for lunch and dinner menus.


Artichoke - "artichoke, parsley, garlic, olives, shaved ham, tomato, mozzarella". I guess simply listing the ingredients is a convenient, and effective, way to go about writing your menu. The crust was thin, woodfire baked in an impressive looking oven (see above). I don't mind thin crusted, but this felt flat and reminded me of the "lazy pizzas" I used to make with Lebanese bread as the base. Unlike the "fast food" pizza joints, the tomato and cheese layer was mild instead of overwhelming. The shaved ham was in thin slices, and definitely tastier than the sliced ham I would have used for my pizzas. Olives I dislike, mainly because of its intense saltiness. By the way you can read more about why olives come canned and jarred. And the highlight of the artichoke pizza, was definitely the artichoke itself. I've never had artichoke before this, and wouldn't know how to cook or eat it. It had the pickled salty and sour taste, which was a great combination to the other ingredients. The texture was lovely too - the soft layers reminded me of bamboo shoots in Chinese cooking.

Pumpkin - "pumpkin, spinach, Meredith goat cheese, garlic rosemary, tomato, mozzarella, cracked pepper, topped with a sprinkle of pine nuts." The pumpkin was sweet and not quite cooked. My personal preference would be for thicker slices of softer, cooked pumpkin. Goat cheese - this had the taste halfway between ricotta and plain yoghurt. I'm curious to try goat milk. As you would expect, the spinach leaves didn't add much to the taste, but did add colour to the pizza.


The Sturt St (Afredton) branch is rather small, with only several tables available for dine-in. The place felt like a takeaway, or fish and chips store, rather than a restaurant for a sit-down meal. Majority of customers were getting takeaway, with the pizza folded in round pizza cardboard, rather than pizza boxes.  But there are plenty of seats in the newer branch at Armstrong St (town centre).

Rating: 3.5/5 the pizza was good with interesting toppings, but for over $15 per pizza there wasn't much pizza, and perhaps there are other restaurants that are more deserving of the number one spot on Urbanspoon Ballarat. Wouldn't mind trying some of the other flavours here, and there is no doubt that this is quality pizza compared to the filling but not particularly classy pizza at Domino's or Pizza Hut.

But, for the same price in Melbourne, you can buy great pizza Al Albero - which has a chewier, but still light and fluffy, and with delicious toppings. Plus more generous serves of toppings. And for cheaper options, everyday there is great thin crusted $4 pizza with interesting toppings at Bimbo Deluxe (Melbourne). Bimbos is quite dark and seedy though. Early one evening we hanged out in a dark dome called "the igloo" - we could barely see our food, and just outside was a couple making out on the couch. Or locally in Ballarat, I'm a fan of the Lake View Hotel's Wednesday night pizzas, which are charged by the hour from 6pm - that is, $6 at 6pm, $7 at 7pm and so on. Just saying, there are other options.

The Forge Pizzeria on Urbanspoon The Forge Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 7


Over the past few years West Melbourne has developed a growing cluster of Korean restaurants. Side-by-side on Victoria St is a row of Korean BBQ stores - Yeonga, Donwoori, Wooga, Hallah, Toudoori. A little further down Peel St is Chimac, which serves Korean chicken and beer. In Melbourne, Korean fried chicken has an immediate association with Gami, for good reason too, since Gami's outlets (near Parliament, Flagstaff, and now King St) have really popularised the concept. Chimac is less well known, at least for now. 

From a better angle, it would be chicken
Location: Shop 1, 39-47 Peel St, West Melbourne, VIC (opposite Victoria Markets)

Website: just an urbanspoon page. Urbanspoon is good, but I think any restaurant would do well to set up a simple webpage with opening hours, contact details and a menu, which would be particularly helpful for takeaway patrons.

Price: fried chicken is essentially the same price as Gami - $30 for whole. I actually like a simple two paged menu. Saves you from wading through pages and pages of unfamiliar items.


Sorry about the poor photo quality with these black walls and dim lighting.

Deep fried raw spaghetti - I thought this was table decoration, and wouldn't have thought to munch on it. But it's edible, crunchy, spaghetti. Interesting, but too salty and raw.

Spicy pork belly - from the "sizzling on iron" plate section of the menu. As far as I could tell this was your standard pork bulgolgi (dwaeji bulgolgi), and not particularly outstanding for the price of half a fried chicken. Bulgolgi is a common dish found in Korean restaurants, consisting of grilled marinated meat, usually cooked with onions in a sweetish soy sauce. Sprinkled sesame seeds is half the magic.

Seared tofu stack - "tofu, cheese and caramalised kimchi". We thought perhaps, they meant, tofu steak? I liked the texture of the grilled soft tofu and melted cheese. I think crisp sharp cold kimchi, as well as stews and soups made with kimchi are flavoursome and great. But the layer of kimchi with this dish tasted like soggy Chinese cabbage, and I didn't enjoy it. My main issue here too is that I don't understand how tofu is more expensive ($20+) than the pork belly sizzling plate ($15) because even a large slab of tofu can be purchased at minimum costs. And surely, you can't go too wrong with grilling tofu as there is no expectation of hitting a particular point on the spectrum between "rare" and "well done".

Spicy pork ta-kor (Korean style taco) - I wasn't sure what to expect, whether it would be soft or hard tacos, and I'm suspicious about fusion cuisine anyway. But this was delicious, and reminded me of the only dish I was really impressed about at Mamasita, which was the amazing $6 tacos. Lovely light wraps, hot spicy pork, crunchy salad, hot sauce and creamy mayonnaise. Will be back for more.

Half & half Chimac chicken - served with salad and pickled daikon. The chicken here is great, delightfully crunchy and juicy inside. It comes in three flavours - original, sweet soy, or Korean harissa. I'm not saying Korean fried chicken is somehow more acceptable than fast food fried chicken, but the original reminds me too much of KFC to really be enjoyable. Korean harissa, sticky sweet hot chilli sauce is my favourite. And sweet soy is rather tasty too. How does it compare to Gami? It's been awhile, but this batter seemed a little less dry and hard, but just as crunchy. 

On a side note, whilst reading about Korean fried chicken, I came across this fascinating "Food Lab" series. In this particular article, he systematically tries different mixture of batters and their outcomes. Similar to my friend's "Systematic Review of Marshmallows". Evidence based cooking is great.


Opening hours here are from 5pm to late. Staff was friendly, and my friend was rather impressed with the chef's playing-with-knife skills. I haven't witnessed it myself. One thing with the open kitchen on side is that whatever you wear become infused with the smell of oil. It's more tolerable than smoke from Korean BBQ's though.

Rating: 4/5 fried chicken at least as good as Gami. The tacos were a welcome surprise, and I'm keen to try some of the other "urban snacks" on the menu! I would avoid those first few dishes though.

Chimac on Urbanspoon