I’ve been there. You wake up, check Instagram and see that your friend is enjoying the paradise-like weather in Bali. You get out of bed, fighting the freezing Melbourne morning and on the train, you check the app again. Now your friend has boomeranged herself enjoying Balinese cuisine.
Your stomach rumbles.
Now here at Hidden City Secrets, we, unfortunately, aren’t able to change the weather. But what we can do is provide you with a list of South-East Asian venues so that you can at least satisfy those Vietnamese and Filipino food cravings.
229 Chapel St, Prahran
The first venue we’re going to introduce to you was created by Karen Baston, the head chef responsible for The Toff in Town, Magic Mountain and Cookie.
Located within the ‘infamous’ night spot that is Revolver Upstairs, Colonel Tan’s is not your typical Thai place. Their affordable offerings are traditional Thai dishes with an American diner twist. Their Bangkok Bolognaise is a popular choice – it’s pork mince, tomato, basil and chilli. They also have a gluten-free menu so there’s something for everybody!
Although its host venue is a warehouse that boasts high-ceilings, Colonel Tan’s is a small, dimly-lit and intimate space. It has colourful furniture, a retro feel, and even a Nintendo 64 that will bring back memories of Golden Eye 007 and Ocarina of Time for some customers.
Nowadays, there are a lot of restaurants exploring and expanding the South-East Asian cuisine through fusion and by putting innovative twists on the traditional dishes. Colonel Tan’s unique take on Thai dishes certainly makes it a must-visit for those who don’t want to stay bounded to the familiar.
360 Collins St, Melbourne CBD
This Indonesian restaurant is brought to you by the 2016 My Kitchen Rules winners, Tasia and Gracia Seger. They offer Melbournians the best of Balinese and Indonesian cuisine.
The aesthetics of the venue is not that of a normal Indonesian restaurant. Purple neon lighting surrounds the space. The tables are decorated with colourful place-mats, creating nice accents to the ribbed hardwood, the light-grey concrete and black steel frames. It has a warm ambiance and an intimate atmosphere – it is, indeed, a respite from the bustling CBD.
From their lunch offerings, they feature a $49 set menu (for 2 people) which includes a selection of one small and one large dish with a side and jasmine rice to share. From the small dishes menu, they have the chicken satay with soy lime marinade and peanut sauce as well as the fried chicken ribs with chilli and sweet soy glaze.
For larger meals, they include dishes like the beef brisket rendang with kipler potatoes and the slow cooked lamb shank with braised cabbage, roasted vine tomatoes and coconut broth. Their a la carte menu features the popular Mie goreng with chicken, cabbage, Asian greens, crackers and fried egg.
161 Sydney Rd, Brunswick
Located at the heart of the dining precinct on Sydney Rd is Hanoi Rose. This Vietnamese restaurant has a modern-look with its portions of exposed brick-walls, hanging lights and Vietnamese murals. It’s a cosy space with a nice ambience, making it perfect for family outings or dates.
The flavours of their dishes leans toward the North Vietnamese cooking style which is less sweet than its southern counterparts. Their menu features their signature bun cha. It is a charcoal-grilled pork and meatballs dish, served in light fish sauce with rice vermicelli. The menu provides options for different dietary requirements (vegetarian/vegan, Halal, gluten free and dairy free). They are also MSG free. They only use fresh and high quality ingredient ingredients to produce a full flavour.
366 Lonsdale St, Melbourne CBD
Not all great restaurants are made by My Kitchen Rules winners and chefs with multiple locations around the world. In this case, three friends named Alan, Clement and Julian started missing their youthful days in Malaysia – when they were eating freshly made Roti Canai, sipping on Teh Tarik and snacking on Satay Skewers. They began wanting to open a restaurant of their own, one that stayed true to the foods that they enjoyed when they were younger.
And so the three friends opened their first restaurant in Sydney back in 2007 – and luckily for us, they also took their talents to Melbourne in 2012.
An award winning restaurant, Mamak (named after Malay street food stalls) is known for their authentic Malaysian flavours. They offer chicken and beef satay which are grilled over flaming charcoal for that authentic Malaysian taste. It is served with a sweet and spicy peanut sauce. They also feature a great selection of roti that are served with two curry dips and spicy sambal sauce.
The venue is decorated with images of the cooking process. At its busiest, it is a lively space – much like mamak stalls and other open-air food establishments that you find in South-East Asia.
Rice Paper Sister
15 Hardware Ln, Melbourne CBD
The next venue isn’t what you would except from a Filipino restaurant. Often times, the charm of a Filipino venue comes from its resemblance to a carinderia (local food stalls in the Philippines), with bright-red chequered table covers and sideboards. Rice Paper Sister deviates from this and welcomes you with warm muted colours – giving it a more modern aesthetic.
Their menu also moves away from the norm. Chef Ross Magnaye combines his favourite Filipino flavours from childhood with elements of other South-East Asian cuisines. Thai and Japanese flavours also make their way into his dishes as well. Stand-out items from their menu include the local mushroom ‘sisig’ with fresh herbs and a slow cooked egg as well as the ‘pinoy’ pork belly with scallops and everyone’s favourite adobo sauce. For dessert, there is the Insta-worth ‘Filo-misu’, a Filipino twist on the classic tiramisu.
As a Filipino, I visit Filipino restaurants to see if their adobo is any good or if their sisig is better than that ‘other place I’ve been to’. But Rice Paper Sister is the type of restaurant that I would visit to experience something I haven’t before. They add new excitement to a group of dishes that I have eaten countless of times. And that is how I would describe them – refreshing and exciting.
By Aldwin Matawaran