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Woo399, Melbourne CBD

MELBOURNE | Woo399 opened in April this year, putting a twist on the usual formula followed by the many other Korean BBQ spots in town. I was recently invited in to check it out.

Walk into Woo399 and before you hit the large, open dining area, you’re faced something akin to the retail meat section of a supermarket. Refrigerated shelves are lined with vacuum packed cuts of pre-sliced meat, primarily beef and pork, with a few other things like eel. Select the meat you want, pay at the counter, and then you’ve got two options. You can take the meat home or head into the restaurant section for a Korean BBQ experience.

A $9.99 “grill fee”, gets you access to a table with a central grill, unlimited sauces, sides (like pasta salad and kimchi), and soft drinks. Beef, pure-bred halal-certified wagyu sourced from Elbow Valley in Queensland, is of the highest quality. It’s cuts like ox tongue, karubi, oyster blade, and LA galbi. Alternative marbling options are available, all the way to 9+.

Along with the cuts of meat, there’s a menu of cooked dishes that you can order. Things like Korean fried chicken, fried calamari, croquettes, and soups. If you want something harder than soft drink to drink, there’s a small beer and soju menu.


Woo399

4/399 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne
Victoria 3000
Australia

Telephone: (03) 9509 1551
E-mail: [email protected]
Website

Open
Mon – Sun : 5:30pm to 10:00pm

48 Hours In Fort Collins: Things To Do

FORT COLLINS | Located in the north of Colorado, at the base of the Rocky Mountains, Fort Collins is a mid-sized college city that has a lot for visitors to enjoy.

The city is home to beautiful historic architecture, a vibrant arts scene, and plenty of activities year-round. Fort Collins also punches above its weight when it comes to food and drink, with a large and diverse selection of breweries, bars, restaurants, and cafes.

Fort Collins is a great city for a weekend stay. It’s the kind of place you can explore at a leisurely pace, and still fit a lot in over 48 hours. Here’s some suggestions on things to do in Fort Collins, that will give you a taste of what this city has to offer.


Enjoy Local Produce At A Farmer’s Market

The Colorado Agricultural Marketing Cooperative was established in 1984, when it began running the Fort Collins Farmers Market. The purpose of the market is, as it always has been, to allow consumer the opportunity to support local farmers and ranchers by purchasing fresh products directly from the producer.

The market is open on Sundays from May 5th to November 10th, and Wednesdays from June 12th to September 25th. Both days operate from 10:00am to 2:00pm, and are a great way to enjoy the amazing seasonal, local produce of the area. You purchase fresh produce, and things like baked goods, honey, coffee, and more.

On the topic of food, if you’re looking for a bit to eat, check out Music City Hot Chicken for some brilliant Nashville-style hot chicken, and Lucile’s Creole Cafe for some of the best creole cuisine outside of Louisiana.

Explore The Great Outdoors

Given its location, it’s no surprise that Fort Collins offers a wealth of outdoor activities. Lory State Park and Horsetooth Reservoir are located directly next to the city, less than a 20 minute drive from downtown. They provide a wide variety of year-round activities for visitors. Things like boating, swimming, horseback riding, camping, fishing, mountain biking, hiking, and rock climbing.

Be sure to check out daily trail conditions when planning your visit to these areas, as what you are able do on a given day, especially in the winter, can change.

Immerse Yourself In The Local Arts Scene

Fort Collins is home to Colorado State University (“CSU”), with a student population that helps drive the city’s vibrant arts scene. CSU has a brilliant performing arts centre, multiple theatres, and outdoor performance spaces that host local musicians and performers, artists from further afield, Broadway shows, and more.

A great option to visit is the Lyric Theatre. It’s a popular locally owned independent movie theatre and event space that features musical and cultural events. Also check out The Fort Collins Museum. Established in 1941, it focuses on the culture and history of Fort Collins and the surrounding area.

Rent A Bike

Cycling is a popular way for locals to get around Fort Collins, and it’s easy to see why. The city has brilliant cycling infrastructure, and it’s so easy to get around on a bike. Being such a compact city, everything you could want to see in Fort Collins can be reached in less than an hour on bike.

Sample Local Craft Beer

Fort Collins is home to over 20 breweries, including some of the country’s most regarded craft breweries. Some, like New Belgium, are large operations that offer a wide assortment of beer styles, while others are smaller, and known for mastering particular styles.

Horse & Dragon Brewing Company is one of my favourite Fort Collins breweries, with around 12-14 beers on tap at any given time, and a real community vibe. Another favourite of mine is Jessup Farm Barrel House, which specialises in barrel-aging and blending. Funkwerks is the place to go if you’re a fan of sours and saisons, while Odell Brewing are famed for their innovative brews.

A great way to check out many of Fort Collins’ breweries is to do a “cycle and sip” tour. If you don’t have time to check out multiple breweries, drop by Tap and Handle. It’s one of the best bars in town for craft beer, with 74 different taps pouring craft beers.

See Some Street Art

Fort Collins has a fantastic street art scene thanks to its many local, talented artists, and a positive attitude towards street art by residents and the authorities. There are several street art initiatives running across the city, helping to give local artists the opportunity to promote their art in public spaces.

Take a look at my Fort Collins Street Art Guide to find out more about some my favourite neighbourhoods to visit for Fort Collins’ best street art.

Wander Through The Beautiful Old Town Historic District

Old Town Fort Collins is a historic district in the heart of downtown that’s home to several beautifully preserved historic buildings. The city began life on the site of an abandoned military post in the 1860s. Many of Old Town’s buildings are from the late 1800s/early 1900s, with unique western settlement architecture.

In the early 1950s, when Walt Disney and his colleague Harper Goff decided to build the first Disneyland, the drew inspiration from their childhood towns. Goff returned to his hometown of Fort Collins to take photos, and the area became the inspiration for Main Street Disneyland. Disneyland’s City Hall and it’s bank building, in fact, are almost direct replicas of their Fort Collins equivalents.

Moon Dog Wild West, Footscray

MELBOURNE | It seems like only yesterday that Moon Dog was just a small, grungy brewery in the back streets of Abbotsford, little known outside craft beer circles. A brewery that produced some of the best and most interesting beers in town. You’d always wonder how they made any money (who can forget all of that saffron), and what the next step was.

Owners and founders Jake and Josh Uljans and their friend Karl van Buuren, thought the same thing. The trio quit their day jobs, committed to taking Moon Dog to the next level, did things like developing a core range and implementing quality control measures, and getting onto beer taps around town, significantly increasing their profile.

A few years later, they opened Moon Dog World in Preston, and the rest is history. After a few well publicised hiccups, their latest venue, Moon Dog Wild West, opened last month. Housed in the old Franco Cozzo building in Footscray, it’s a massive US Wild West themed spot housed over three levels, with capacity for 800 people. On the ground floor, it’s a “John Wayne golden age of Hollywood vibe”. There’s horseshoe booths, a bucking bull that patrons can ride, a gaming arcade, and a huge sunset desert mural. Multiple zones with their own quirks and sub-themes encourage exploring.

Move upstairs, and it’s more of a honky-tonk dive bar vibe. Pool tables, a Blues Brothers inspired stage for live music, and a pianola bar. Above this, you’ve got the rooftop. Here you’ll find fake cacti and rocks, desert hued outdoor furniture, and a couple of container bars.

There’s over 100 taps in Moon Dog Wild West, serving their full range of core and limited beers, and seltzers. You can grab wines by the glass, classic cocktails, and house creations. To eat, its pub classics with an American BBQ and Tex Mex touch. Think chicken parmas, burgers, and double stacked soft and hard shell tacos, along with options for all dietaries.


Moon Dog Wild West

54 Hopkins Street
Footscray
Victoria 3011
Australia

Telephone: (03) 9428 2307
E-mail: [email protected]
Website

Open
Mon – Sun: 8:00am to 2:30pm

What Makes A Dive Bar, A Dive Bar?

TRAVEL | I’m always up for visiting a good dive bar when I’m in the United States. There’s something about dive bars that’s so appealing that I can’t quite put my finger on. The lack of pretention, and honesty is a big part of it, but there’s more, a je ne sais quoi. What makes a dive bar, a dive bar?

You’ll find common threads when searching for definitions of a dive bar online. “Shabby”, “Disreputable”, “Cheap Drinks”, “Dodgy”, “Local’s Spot”. Dive bars can exhibit some or all of these qualities, it’s not always the case.

When people try to pigeonhole anything, it’s often because they want to use it for their own purposes. They want to appropriate it, market it, profit off it. Society loves to put everyone, and everything, into neat boxes. When I learn of a new bar that markets itself as a dive bar, I’m wary. They’re often fun, but they miss the point when they call themselves dive bars.

I refer to these bars as “dive-themed” bars. They’re bars that have taken the imagery and aspects that many associate with dive bars, and neatly packaged it. Some of these bars work well, and I enjoy them. Others miss the mark completely. Any of them may become actual dive bars one day, but that takes time.

Turning the lights down low, filling the bar with Americana, and installing a jukebox with the volume turned up high does not make a dive bar. It’s more than having a “we don’t care about the rules” attitude, and covering your bathroom walls with tags and stickers. If you’re a new venue, and you’re calling yourself a dive bar, you’re not a dive bar. A dive bar isn’t about ticking off a checklist, it’s not about making an effort to be one.

A dive bar simply is. The bar might be new, it might be old. It might have stock standard drink options, it might have craftier stuff available. Food may or may not be served. Perhaps there’s live sport on the TVs. Music might be heavy rock, it might be golden oldies. You get my drift.

So what makes a dive bar, a dive bar? Saying “it’s the vibe” might be a copout, but it’s the truth. There are some common threads amongst my favourite dive bars that I’ve been to over the years. The drinks are generally cheap. They’re community focused places, filled with locals, but welcoming towards strangers. The staff and punters are friendly. There’s an air of informality. They know what they are, and aren’t vying for your attention. When the stars align, any bar can, in theory, become a dive bar.

Trying to put together a list of “best dive bars” is a pointless exercise. No single true dive bar can be “the best”. What I can do is tell you about some of the US dive bar that I’ve enjoyed over the years. They’re places that have nailed that indescribable vibe, that I’ve had an amazing time at, that exemplify, to me, what dive bars are all about.

19th Street Station. Oakland, California

I came across this bar while doing a little bar/brewery crawl in Oakland. It wasn’t on my list of venues to visit, but I’m sure glad that I popped in. It’s owned by duo Bill Bailey and Roy Mejia, who took over what was an old doctor’s surgery (if memory serves me right) in the 90s. Roy’s an affable guy, and I had a great chat with him, learning about the bar and its stories, and Roy’s history working in bars since the 1960s.

The bar is filled to the brim with sports paraphernalia, and since Roy was showing the San Francisco 49ers game during opening round of the 2023/24 NFL season the next day I vowed to return. The next day, my friend and I were joined by about three different groups of locals, who all knew each other and were regulars of the bar. We all hang out and enjoyed the game, eating mini burritos that Roy had made at home, and hot dogs from Winky Dinky Dogs. The latter, located two doors up from the bar, is owned by former Digital Underground member Tyranny Allan, who is a larger than life character with a lot of stories to tell.

Roy and the regulars were so warm and welcoming, and I left the bar feeling like it was my local joint. If I didn’t have a flight to catch, I could have stayed there all day.

Barry’s On Broadway. Denver, Colorado

My first time visiting Denver was in 2023, and I had a plan to spend my first night in town bar hopping along Broadway. The night began at the excellent TRVE Brewing, as planned, but deviated straight after. Walking to planned venue two, I was seduced by entrance of Barry’s On Broadway. Inside, I was greeted by a welcoming neighbourhood spot, cheap drinks, skee ball, and locals up for a conversation. I never did make it to any other bars that night.

As it happens, I was very lucky to visit when I did. A few weeks later, owner Barry Zadikoff, who opened the bar 20 years ago, announced that Barry’s would be closing down, due to an impasse with his landlord. Barry’s poured it’s last drink on September 30, a real loss for the area. Reading the outpouring of comments on social media, and articles written about the closing made it clear just how much of a beloved local’s spot Barry’s was.

Broadway Bar. Boise, Idaho

Broadway Bar has been around since 1958, known for its cheap drinks, wonderful service, billiards tables, and screen showing whatever sport is on at the time. I popped in on a whim, having noticed the signage while passing by in an Uber earlier that day. It didn’t take long before I was having random conversations with strangers.

The first time I heard a loud bell ring, a drink appeared in front of me. Turns out that it happens whenever someone buys a drink for the bar. A few rings in, and I got in on the action. Drinks are cheap and quality, and a round for everyone won’t set you back much. Bucking the dive bar stereotype, the locals here are quite proud of the toilets. They’re amongst the cleanest of any bar in town.

Gold Room. Los Angeles, California

In a rapidly gentrifying part of Los Angeles, Gold Room stays true to its roots. The no frills family-run Echo Park bar offers cheap beer and cocktails, and top shelf tequila. TVs play baseball and Mexican league futbol, and the vibe is great.

The jukebox smashes out classic bangers and karaoke hits, mixed in a with a good dose of Mexican tunes. If you’re lucky, you might end up there when there’s free tacos being handed out. A great bar to visit post seeing a game at Dodger Stadium.

The Matador. Santa Fe, New Mexico

After years of seeking out hidden gems I’m attuned to the fact that things of interest can potentially be found anywhere, and am always subconsciously looking out for them.

I wandering through Santa Fe, taking in the atmosphere of the city, when I saw an assuming stairwell leading to a door with a some street art above it. There was a guy standing by the railing and I asked him if he knew of anything down there. He responded with “yeah, it’s my bar. It’s a divey spot, and it opens at 5”. That was all that I needed to hear, and come 5pm, I headed over.

The Matador is a cash only spot, with quick service, loud music, and things like 90s action movies and cult films playing on the TV. At various times during the night, the main floor becomes an impromptu dance floor, with everyone getting in on the action.

Merchant’s Saloon. Oakland, California

On Oakland’s waterfront you’ll find Merchant’s Saloon, which has been around since 1916. It originated as a place for sailors, dockworkers, and all sorts who frequented this part of town. Apart from a stint as a simple Italian restaurant in the 1950s and 60s, it’s been a bar. Merchant’s Saloon is known for its strong cocktails, loud music, and rowdy atmosphere.

While I was there, the security guard came to the bar and asked for “the bat”, and was swiftly handed a baseball bat. Turns out there was a situation outside, and he was just being cautious. Don’t be dissuaded. Visit without pretence, and you’ll find that the crew at Merchant’s Saloon are some of the nicest people around.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find Filipino-Chinese-American cook Cat Allen popped up out the front. At her pop-up, Compost Kitchen, Cat cooks up an variety of delicious Filipino snacks and more. And yes, you can eat the food at the bar.

Richard’s Bar. Chicago. Illinois

Richard’s Bar is a River West institution, open since 1926. Walk inside and you enter another era. Neon signs and a retro jukebox filled with tracks from Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and the like light up the smoke filled room (yes, smoking is allowed, and cigarettes are sold). Rat Pack memorabilia and Scorsese movie posters dot the walls.

The bar is lined with regulars and the service is friendly and no-nonsense. A TV shows live sports out the back while spontaneous bouts of dancing can happen anywhere in the bar. Drinks are cheap, with a range of entry level and higher quality options. To eat, its one item – 75c hard-boiled eggs.

Smith’s Union Bar. Honolulu, Hawaii

Located in Honolulu’s Chinatown, Smith’s Union Bar has been doing its thing since 1935. It’s the oldest bar on Oahu, with many a story to tell. It’s a long-time favourite of the sailors of Pearl Harbor, in amongst what was the city’s red light district at the time. Many a politician, underworld boss, and business tycoon has walked through Smith’s Union’s doors over the years.

Today, things are much the same as they’ve always been in here. Smith’s Union Bar has a reputation as the best (if not the only true) dive bar in town, and it ticks all of the right boxes.

It’s a small space, nothing fancy, with images and trinket from the bar’s past lining the walls. Everyone is welcome and respectful of everyone else, and it doesn’t take long for everyone to become friends. The music is loud and rocking, the drinks are cheap, and there’s karaoke late at night. The first time I visited, I found myself shirtless, singing along with a bunch of off-duty sailors.

The Tap Bar & Restaurant. El Paso, Texas

I found myself in El Paso with a desire to satiate my curiosity about what the vibe in a US Bordertown would be like, and to eat some Mexican food. After my walk through El Centro and El Segundo Barrio, I headed to El Centro’s Mona Bar of Modern Art (also worth a visit) for a beer. When I asked bartender and co-owner Enrique where to find the best Mexican food in town, he replied with “my mom’s house”, He followed with L&J Café, a place that was on my list that I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to visit and, “the dive bar next door”.

That bar is The Tap Bar & Restaurant, which I visited once my beer was done. The Tap opened in 1956 and from what I was told, chatting to locals, has barely changed. It’s a welcoming venue, accepting of all, known for cheap beer and excellent Mexican food. Grab a seat at the bar, and it’s a whole vibe. I felt like I was in a movie, a thriller, waiting to meet a contact, with something about to go down. “When you’re on the border with nothing to lose, there are no rules”, is how I envisage the voice over for the trailer”. That’s the vibe.

Whether it’s more Spanish or English spoken here depends on who is serving you. I had the former, so placed my order in broken/poor Spanish. “Quisiera dos IPAs, y nachos y un steak torta por favor”. The IPA bit was lost in translation, as two Modello Specials appeared in front of me. No complaints from me. As for the food, wow. It’s all cooked by an abuela in the kitchen and is the real deal.

The nachos, which many say are the best in Texas, are outstanding. Homemade refried beans, onions, tomatoes, jalapeños, queso blanco, and carne deshebrada (shredded beef). Each tortilla chip is individually topped with just the right amount of ingredients. How’s that for attention to detail. As for the torta, next level. Charred, tender steak, fluffy bread, and perfectly balanced it’s hands down the best torta I’ve eaten.

Double Dutch Bakery, Kensington

MELBOURNE | Double Dutch Bakery opened in Kensington last year, a collaboration between nearby Rumble Coffee Roasters and baker Jacob Dekker. I paid them a visit to grab some photos for What’s On Melbourne, and to find out more.

Rumble Coffee founder Joe Molloy, who has lived in the area for over a decade, always bemoaned the lack of a quality neighbourhood bakery. Baker Jacob Dekker, meanwhile honed his craft at places like the original Zumbo Cafe in South Yarra, Q Le Baker, Hazel, and Proserpina Bakehouse. When the duo got together, it was clear that opening a venue in Kensington was the next move, and so Double Dutch was born.

It’s a bright space, filled with natural light, dominated by the coffee counter which extends to the long display cabinet that’s filled with Jacob’s artisanal baked goods. The plan was to create space that catered to the local community, and it’s clear that that’s been achieved. While I was there, a constant stream of customers from all walks of life were popping in, many of which the staff knew by name, and were having chats with.

In the cabinets, you’ll find freshly baked loaves of sourdough, sandwiches, and pastries. Behind the cabinet, there’s a little warmer filled with sausage rolls and pies. The menu rotates regularly, but there are certain customer favourites that are always on there. On any given day, you might expect to see things like brioche Speculaas buns, bacon and egg muffins, croissants, and Rueben baguettes.

The ethical sourcing partnerships that Rumble has become known for, is mirrored at Double Dutch Bakery. Produce is sourced locally, and is of the highest quality. Corned beef is from Mathews Artisan Butchers, Gruyere cheese from Savour and Grace, and chocolate from Hunted + Gathered.

The coffee side of things, is unsurprisingly excellent. You’ll find Rumble’s full range of beans to purchase for home, along with coffee brewing equipment. Several of the beans are available to choose from at the coffee counter, brewed almost any filter or espresso method that you can think of. There’s cow’s milk, along with a full selection of alternative milks.


Double Dutch Bakery

61 Stubbs Street
Kensington
Victoria 3031
Australia

Telephone: (03) 7300 6303
E-mail: [email protected]
Website

Open
Mon – Fri: 6:30am to 2:00pm
Sat: 7:30am to 12:00pm

Mokum, Brunswick

MELBOURNE | What do you know about Dutch food? If you’re anything like me, the answer is probably “not a lot”. I know about stroopwafels, speculaas, and poffertjes, but that’s about it. I have eaten Dutch food before, but haven’t really done a deep dive into the cuisine. I spent a day in Amsterdam back in 2009 and remember eating a burger at a well regarded place called Burgermeester, which still exists and now has three locations. I also had lunch, post visiting the Heineken Experience, at a place called “Café Mulder”, solely because I thought it was funny that there was a cafe called Mulder (yes, I’m an X Files fan). Turns out that one’s still around too, and has been since 1918.

Late last year, I noticed a new spot called Mokum, on Sydney Road. A Dutch cafe, restaurant, and bar, with a menu pinned to the wall featuring a whole lot of interesting sounding things on the menu. Add to that a long line of Dutch and Belgian beer bottles displayed in the window, and I was sold. I added Mokum to my list, and finally got around to trying it for lunch the other day.

Mokum is a sentimental nickname given to the city of Amsterdam. It is has come to mean “safe place”, which is apt for a city where differences are celebrated. Owner Albert Sikkens grew up in Amsterdam and has been working in Melbourne’s hospitality industry for 12 years. He opened Mokum as a place where he could welcome Dutch expats missing a taste of home, and locals interested in the flavours and dishes that Albert grew up with.

Dutch food traditionally uses ingredients native to the lowlands alongside flavours introduced through the centuries-old spice trade. Inspired by modern Amsterdam, Mokum’s menu features not just traditional Dutch dishes, but also dishes popular in Amsterdam from the city’s large Surinamese, Indonesian, Antillean, Turkish and Moroccan communities.

Items like pannenkoekjes (pancakes) with assorted toppings, patatje met (fries with mayo), and bitterballen (beef or mushroom croquettes with roux) share the menu with dishes like pom (Surinamese chicken casserole with sambal), nasi goreng, and kipsaté (chicken skewers with peanut sauce). It’s an insight into a side of Amsterdam that you might not be aware of.

Visiting for lunch, I went for some of the more traditional items on the menu. Wijngaard slakken are snails, with garlic butter, herbs, and crisp toast, that are a must order. So to, the zesty rolmops (pickled herring wrapped around a gherkin) and gerookte paling (smoked eel, pickles, crispbread, lemon, marjoram oil). Also be sure to try the unctuous beef bitterballen, filled with 15-hour slow cooked beef brisket. There’s a vegan mushroom version on offer, and many of the dishes are, or have versions which are, vegan and/or gluten free.

To drink, its freshly squeezed juices and coffee during the day, and the aforementioned beers (over 100 options at last count), wine, and spirits. Mokum has a tiny roastery at the rear of the venue, and roast all of their beans on site. You can purchase bags of beans for home, along with a small selection of Dutch pantry items.

I was thoroughly impressed by my lunch at Mokum. I love the bold flavours, and Albert’s passion for what he’s doing here. My curiosity has well and truly been piqued, and I’ll definitely be back to try some of the dinner options, as well as a few beers.


Mokum

359 Sydney Road
Brunswick
Victoria 3056
Australia

Telephone: 0421 147 424
E-mail: [email protected]
Website

Open
Wed – Sat: 8:00am to 10:00pm
Sun – Mon: 8:00am to 10:00pm

Rollin169, Kensington

MELBOURNE | Rollin169 is a hole in the wall Vietnamese cafe that was opened by owner Loc, last year in Kensington. It’s proven a hit amongst locals, and I recently popped in to grab some shots for What’s On Melbourne.

The menu is a simple one – a selection of bánh mì with non-traditional, but still Vietnamese fillings. Think crispy roast pork, beef mince wrapped in betel leaf, and a vegetarian take on roast pork, that substitutes in tofu. Beyond bánh mì, there’s also rice paper rolls, a rotating daily special or two, like pho and other noodle dishes.

There’s great coffee, both Western and Vietnamese-style, juices, and a small selection of pastries like Portuguese custard tarts. Rollin169 also has a minimal waste ethos. Milk for the coffee is dispensed via a zero-waste keg system, customers are encouraged to bring in their own coffee cups and take away containers, and all packaging is biodegradable.


Rollin169

169 Rankins Road
Kensington
Victoria 3031
Australia

Telephone: n/a
E-mail: n/a
Website

Open
Tue – Sun: 8:30am to 3:00pm

川湘楼 Red Chilli House, Melbourne CBD

MELBOURNE | 川湘楼 Red Chilli House is a Southern Chinese restaurant that’s opened in a three storey historic building in Chinatown, from Steve Xu, the owner of Queen Street favourite Red Cliff. I popped in to take a look for What’s On Melbourne.

Expanding on the menu at Red Cliff, Steve’s new restaurant features plenty of favourites from that restaurant, plus an assortment of new dishes. The menu is predominantly drawn from the culinary traditions of China’s Hunan, and Sichuan provinces, in particular Steve’s hometown of Chongqing.

Chongquing is known for its distinctive jiang hu cai style of cuisine, named for the fact that they deviate from traditional dishes. Jiang hu cai dishes are known for their liberal use of chilli and Sichuan peppercorns, and draw inspiration from China’s diverse regions, fusing Chinese and Western culinary techniques. Forgotten dishes are revived, and new dishes are created.

Seafood is a big focus at Red Chilli House, and this was reflected in the selection of dishes that I tried when I had a chat to Steve and told him that I was happy for him to bring out the dishes that best showcased what Red Chilli House is all about.

Braised yabbies, served with your choice of garlic or chilli sauce, over a bed of thin wheat noodles, is a must order dish. The chilli option is an exercise in balance and restraint, with bold flavours that pull your tastebuds in different directions without being overpowering. Also be sure to order the kongfu master sauerkraut fish (suan cai yu). Its an aromatic broth filled with green peppercorns, pickled mustard greens, and catfish. A wonderful expression of the classic hot and numbing aspect that Sichuanese food is known for.

Other dishes include things like DIY malatang (Sichuan-style hot pot), sliced beef brisket in golden sour soup, and chilli deep fried fish. For non-seafood options, I highly recommend the fried chicken cartilage with salted egg sauce, roasted Sichuan lamb ribs, and cold, numbing mountain jelly with beef tripe salad.

To drink, its Chinese beer, tea and soft drinks. You can also BYO wine with a corkage of $5 per person.


川湘楼 Red Chilli House

119 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne
Victoria 3000
Australia

Telephone: (03) 9798 8888
E-mail: n/a
Website

Open
Sun – Wed: 11:30am to 3:00pm; 5:00pm to 10:30pm
Thu – Sat: 11:30am to 3:00pm; 5:00pm to 12:00am

Kampot Kitchen, Preston

MELBOURNE | Kampot Kitchen was opened by Cambodian-born, Melbourne-raised singer-songwriter and music teacher Jimi Lundy in 2021. Named after the famed, aromatic kampot pepper of Cambodia, Kampot Kitchen is the culmination of an idea that Jimi had in 2019. Fuelled by a desire to open a venue where he could share his Cambodian culture, heritage and food.

Kampot Kitchen is a place where Cambodian expats can find a taste of home, and the wider Melbourne community can discover a cuisine they might not be familiar with. Everything is made from scratch where possible, on site, using traditional cooking techniques.

When I first visited in 2021, the menu was centred around num pang. Num pang is a baguette with thin, crisp crust and soft, airy texture. It’s typically filled with savoury ingredients, similar to the also French-influenced Vietnamese bánh mì, khao jee pâté or Laos.

There are 12 different num pang at Kampot Kitchen. Unlike the traditional kind you’ll find at most street vendors in Cambodia, Jimi’s versions use fillings and flavours drawn from classic Cambodian dishes and family recipes. It’s traditional food presented in a non-traditional, but still very much a Cambodian, way.

The classic features grilled beef or chicken with kampot lemongrass paste & lime zest. My favourite, the Ko Kho, is filled with Cambodian style hearty braised pulled beef caramelised in broth. For vegetarians, the caramelised sweet and sour tofu num pang is a great option.

Beyond num pang, there’s a variety of other things on the menu these days. Essentially the num pang fillings presented in different ways. There’s chicken and beef skewers served with papaya and carrot salad; and your choice of protein served on a bed of rice with slaw, egg, and kampot dipping sauce. There’s also things like tuk tuk fried chicken wings, and hearty ko kho, in its traditional soup form (perfect now that winter is here).

It’s hard to go past a cup of Cambodian iced coffee to drink. It’s similar to Vietnamese coffee, sweetened with a generous dollop of condensed milk. The version at Kampot Kitchen uses locally roasted Gravity espresso beans, rather than the usual Robusta filter beans for a stronger coffee flavours. There’s also “regular” espresso-based coffees, as well as juices, sodas, and cut-to-order fresh coconuts.


Kampot Kitchen

11 High Street
Preston
Victoria 3072
Australia

Telephone: 0401 744 729
E-mail: [email protected]
Website

Open
Mon, Wed – Fri: 10:00am to 3:00pm
Fri – Sat: 12:00pm to 11:00pm

Bibi Ji, Carlton

MELBOURNE | Bibi Ji is the newest restaurant from chefs and restaurateurs Jessi Singh and Amar Singh (no relation). They’re the duo behind an array of popular Indian restaurants like Melbourne’s Horn Please and Daughter In Law, and Sydney’s Don’t Tell Aunty. At Bibi Ji, which I was recently invited to visit, the duo are putting a new spin on a familiar formula.

The Lygon Street space that was home to Caffe Notturno for the past 45 has been completely transformed, with the classic Italian-Australian design giving way to a vibrant array of colour. A rainbow of draped fabrics flow across the ceiling, with walls that are tiled, mirrored, and covered in bright paintings. The bar is a mixture of bright tiles and marble, and vinyl booths and chequered tablecloths nod to the venue’s past. It’s busy, colourful, and fun.

Bibi Ji is the affectionate Punjabi term for “mum’s house”. The restaurant is dedicated to mothers and grandmothers, with a menu inspired by simple home cooking, and street food snacks from across the Indian subcontinent. It’s a menu with flavours that will be familiar to those who have dined at one of Jessi and Amar’s restaurants, but that’s distinct in its own right. The focus is what people eat in their homes, across the Indian subcontinent, but you’ll also find a few reimagined dishes and favourites.

The menu is broadly split into snacks and curries. For snacks, its things like Amritsari fish fry, aloo poori with halwa, and papdi chaat. On the curry side, there’s things like railway chicken curry, typically served on trains in India, aromatic lamb bhuna, ghosht, and a flavoursome on-the-bone, goat curry. There’s a decent selection of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options on the menu, and yes, there’s butter chicken. The version here is less sweet, with a smokier element than you usually encounter in Melbourne.

A great option to try a variety of things is the banana leaf thali. A large banana leaf arrives at the table, lined with assorted chutney and papadums. Each one represents a different region of India, a theme that’s continued through the progression. Following the chutney it’s three street food snacks, then hoppers and rice, followed by four curries with rice and accompaniments. To finish it’s dessert. It’s pretty good value at $49 per person.

To drink, its Indian inspired cocktails like mango lassi with cardamom-infused rum, and pina coladas. Wine and beer is mostly Victorian (skip the Kingfisher and go for the locally brewed house pale ale), and there’s a decent selection of whisky.


Bibi Ji

179 Lygon Street
Carlton
Victoria 3053
Australia

Telephone: (03) 9088 2094
E-mail: n/a
Website

Open
Wed – Thu: 10:00pm to 11:00pm
Sat – Sun: 8:00am to 4:00pm