Hungry Hinch

Best Of 2012

I have been remiss. Usually by this time in a new year I have gone back over all the meals and all the munchies and picked out some of the favourites from the previous 12 months. Been doing it on my website (and previously on for more than 12 years. Been writing Hungry Hinch restaurant reviews for nearly 40 years.

So here are some dishes that have taken me back to favourite restaurants and bars over the past year. Not in any order of preference, price or precinct. Some from at home and some from abroad.

The one that sticks out most was a ‘snack’ we stumbled on at a grand location: the Peacock Alley Bar at the famed Waldorf Astoria in New York.

It was so good and such good value that during a mid-year visit Chanel and I went back for it about three times.

It’s called a ‘lobster slider’. It’s served at the bar. I spotted another patron snacking on what looked like a trio of smallish hamburgers. Each stack was about three inches high and (the waiter claimed) filled with lobster meat.

I figured, at thirty bucks, a lot of it had to be chunks of potato or some other filling. Not so. All sweet, pure lobster.

Closer to home I discovered the perfect Bento Box. It was at Sydney’s justifiably top-rated Azuma restaurant in Chifley Plaza. It was not a little lacquered box of Japanese nibbles. It was actually a huge platter of goodies.

Sashimi, tempura vegetables, tempura prawns, tempura salmon and two big bits of cod in miso. Plus a bowl of miso soup, pickled seaweed, shredded white raddish and a bowl of rice. A huge meal for $39.

It was so good I went back again a couple of days later for a repeat – even though I knew they’d charge me $20 corkage for a $9 bottle of Edenvale chardonnay.

Emboldened by that, I ordered a $19 Bento Box at a Chapel Street Japanese joint after a Gold Class session at the Jam Factory for Les Mis. It was dreadful. (The Bento, not the movie). No seafood. Couple of bits of chicken, two potato croquettes, something else unidentifiable and what looked and smelled like a beef curry.

A regular favourite – I would have had it twenty times last year – was the marinated barbecued prawns at Rockpool. Even though Neil Perry’s famed nosh house at Crown is best known for its aged steaks (which you can see and smell as you walk past them on display on the way in) this place serves great seafood.

Their lobster omelette is called an entrée but it is a main course for anybody except the most determined trencherman. Staff have told me though, that they often serve an omelette starter followed by a big Wagyu steak.

The entrée prawns consist of three huge shellfish, split, marinated and then cooked in a wood-fired oven. I always order them well-done because it makes it easier to slide the flesh out of the shell in one long piece with the point of a knife.

Still at Crown: the salads at Bistro Guillaume. I love their prawn salad with croutons and celery on a slate plate with an avocado paste. It’s always a toss-up between that and the best beetroot salad in town.

And if the test of a place is the quality of the bread then Bistro Guillaume is five-star.

You’ll notice my recommendations are a bit skewed because I always order a second entrée for a main course. Often though I’ll start with eight Coffin Bay oysters and then an entrée . And, now I’m on a diet to lose 13 kilos this year, that habit will continue. In fact, as I pledged on Facebook: I am back on the old Derryn Hinch Soup and Wine diet. The one that became a best-selling book. Only difference is the white wine has been replaced by non-alcoholic Edenvale.

One favourite entrée is served at a regular Sunday lunch haunt: Riva at St. Kilda Marina. The chef has grabbed a touch of Japan and serves delicious Gyoza – those minced pork dumplings with some soy, shredded spring onion and chilli shreds. Three is a good entrée size and five make up a main course.

My office-away-from-home is Dish in the Royce Hotel on St. Kilda Rd. They serve a tasty entrée of falafel balls, beetroot cubes, fried eggplant, goat’s cheese and nuts. They humour me with three small barbecued prawns on the side.

Our most popular dish there is the plate of salmon cakes. Golden and crispy and tasty. They serve two huge ones but one is enough for lunch. I should say ‘served’ not ‘serve’. In a recent menu revamp they took the salmon fish cakes off the menu. But they’ve done that before – and put them back on by popular demand. I know the chef gets bored.
And a final honourable mention. I have been going to Romeo’s in Toorak for 30 years. Jimmy Tannous and family ran it then and he still does –along with nephew George whom I’ve watched grow up, get married and have kids.

In the drinking days, we’d go there on a Sunday, after a big Saturday night, for a revival meal called a Toorak Brunch. A huge plate of eggs, bacon, pancakes. How did we do that? These days I have a sedate, but delicious, smoked salmon omelette. Always reliable. Always good value. Just like Jimmy.
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