Experiencing Box Hill Central Like Never Before….

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I was lucky enough to be invited by the lovely people from PR Edge to get a chance to experience the talent of former Magic Owner-chef James Tan as he hosted an exclusive tour of Victoria’s most authentic Asian fresh food market located at Box Hill Central. After the tour finished, we were treated to a tantalising 3 course meal that James cooked in front of us. I mean how can you say No right?

Box Hill Central is located in Box Hill and is full of culinary hidden gems, rare ingredients and traditional treats – and it has a history. Originally this space was a market that opened in 1895 becoming a part of the shopping centre when it was developed in 1987. There are now two shopping centres located on the one site – Box Hill Central North and Box Hill Central South.

Box Hill Central North was originally opened as Whitehorse Plaza but after a lack of patrons closed down in 2000. After major refurbishments it was reopened in 2003 as Centro Whitehorse, which then rebranded to Centro Box Hill North in 2007 before finally being changed to Box Hill Central North in 2013.

Box Hill South (where the original Box Hill Central was located) – was built when the old railway station and level crossing was removed and has undergone refurbishments to what stands there today. The original market is now incorporated into the shopping centre but was redeveloped to what it is today. Box Hill Train station is also located here.

I was a bit late (for those of you who don’t know Box Hill gets super busy – especially on a Saturday and finding a car park is almost as bad as finding a needle in a haystack!) so missed the initial welcome and introductions from James, however I met up with the rest of the bloggers and James as they were getting through a talk from one of the Fresh Seafood store’s owners – Elaine from Box Hill Fish Market. Here we got to sample oysters – they were fresh, punchy and full of flavour! You can have a look at some of my pictures of the Box Hill Fish Market store – you really can see the freshness and the high quality – they sell sashimi grade products – that this store has, as well as the variety and range – they have Blue Swimmer Male Crabs!
Elaine and her staff are very helpful and accommodating and mentioned that they try and cater for their clients’ needs in whichever way they can – all they have to do is ask. I really like that philosophy!

Next we briefly stopped at one of James’ favourite butchers – Central Meats – who sells specialised meats and once again are very accommodating and can get you what you.

Our next stop was at Food Master which provides Asian spices and herbs and dried and preserved foods – a shop with literally everything you could possible need – from Dried Figs to Lily Bulb. If you are Asian and were used to your mums or grandparents herbal home remedies – chances are that you could find the ingredients for this remedy from here. Check out the pictures for the variety!

That brought us to the end of the tour and we were led back to our little area that had been decorated with bamboo fences and bamboo trees – with the table for the bloggers in the centre. There were many inquisitive questions as to what was going on and how they could be involved from passer-byers. The centre pieces were simple and brilliant – vases filled with fresh bok choy together with a basket filled with fresh veggies such as carrots, eggplants and mushrooms.
James had his setup at the top end of our table so we could watch as he prepared our three course meal.

Whilst James starting cooking the first dish we were given 100% natural Coconut Water from Raw C. James told us that he wanted to source fresh coconuts for us however he couldn’t find the ideal ones he wanted for us. None of us around the table had heard or seen this brand before – Pete Evans appears on the back of the packaging which we all found amusing. The Coconut Water is actually one of the better ones I have tried and kept the authentic coconut water flavours vibrant.

For the first course we were served Palm Sugar Cured Atlantic Salmon with Fried Kumara, Petit Herb Salad. The dish was impeccably presented – the palm sugar cured atlantic salmon acting as the base of the dish, topped with fried kumara and finished with the petit herb salad (which included avocado and tomato). The salmon was fresh and cured to perfection with the palm sugar enhancing the flavour thanks to its sweetness. I loved the crunch of the fried kumara as well as its distinct flavour. The petit herb salad really brought the dish together for one flavour explosion in your mouth. Delicious!

The next course was the Mud Crab Coconut Salad with Chilli Lime Dressing, Crispy Rice Crackers. We were told the way to eat this dish was to serve some of the crab onto the crispy rice crackers and eat them together in one go. Doing this gives you the element of crunch followed swiftly with a burst of distinct flavours – creamy coconut, sultry crab and ending with the hit of chilli. I am a huge of anything to do with crab so this dish was delicious – my only thought was that the coconut flavour somewhat overpowered the uniqueness of the crab.

To finish James prepared a Lacquered Soy Duck with Shitake, Chong Fun Rice Noodles, Truffle Oil. As I do not eat duck I only had the Chong Fun Rice Noodles, Truffle Oil and Shitake. I adored the presentation that James did with my dish. He piled the noodles together – they were rolled into small cylinders, poured the soy reduction over the noodles and finished this with the shitake and herbs. I have never eaten these type of noodles before but quite enjoyed the flavours – the saltiness of the soy reduction paired with the rustic flavours of the shitake and the smoothness of the noodles worked well together.
The duck was a clear hit with the other bloggers – who even went in for seconds. They were surprised at how tender the duck was and the flavouring of the sauce on the side was something they all loved.

Next up was a chance to experience an authentic Chinese Tea Ceremony from Spencer Wong at Cha-t. Refer to the section below to learn more about Spencer.
The front window of Cha-t is visually stunning itself – a round wooden circular shelf with tiny compartments which are filled with paraphernalia relating to Chinese tea such as claypots, incense holders and dainty tea cups – but once you step inside – you truly feel like you are transported to the world of tea. There intricately detailed wooden furnished together with chairs that have been carved from roots of trees. It really is a place that you need to visit to capture its beauty.

Cha-t is all about the teas – with the menu only listing a variety of teas – from Pu-erh / Pu-er Tea to Medicinal Teas. Cha-t is all about appreciation of Chinese tea as well as Chinese culture and really is a one stop shop of its kind here in Melbourne. It is quite common to find many of these types of shops in China – as their favourite past times is to drink tea all day.

Spencer seats us around a wooden table that has been especially made for tea ceremonies. It is equipped with all the utensils and pots required to carry out a tea ceremony, including a section that places filtered water into a pot and warms the water to correct temperature required. I was even amazed at just watching the water being warmed and the main ceremony hadn’t even started! The table had holes which allowed for the excess water to travel through and be collected under the table – genius.

Spencer starts by telling us the background and history of the tea and tells us the different types of teas that we will be trying today. We start off with Pu-erh Tea which is a variety of fermented dark tea produced in the Yunnan province in China.
Pu-erh Tea starts off as a Camilla Plant first and for the next 1 to 5 years becomes a greeny yellowy colour, then from 5 to 15 years changes to a red colour and after about 50 years it becomes the black tea that we would be drinking today. The tea that we would be trying is a 1989 tea!!!
Spencer tells us that all you need for a good cup of tea is around 7-8 grams of tea – which he measures out using a scale. He places the tea into a bowl like cup and pours the hot water (90 degrees) onto it. Once this brews for a bit he pours the tea into a beaker. He tells us that the first two brews are to wake up the tea and hence the flavouring is always light. It also serves as a double purpose to warm the tea cups that you use to drink the tea in.

We all cannot wait to taste the tea – we are served in small glass cups and are told by Spencer how to drink the tea. You are meant to slurp in a sip and then savour the flavour between sips – certain teas give out flavours that you can feel at the back of your throat. The initial 2 brews are light, but as the brews get higher – the strength increases. The tea is warming and uniquely flavoured.

The next tea that we try is from 1984 and the 7g of tea that we all share is worth $400!!! This means that a kilogram will cost around $57K! Who would have ever thought that tea would be worth that much money! For this tea Spencer once again measure 7g of the tea and places it into a specially made purple sand pot. He tells us that these containers can cost up to 1 million dollars (!!!) – the cost is dependent on the level of the masters that are creating the containers. For example if they are Level 2 masters the cost of the containers (depending on the size and the type) that they make could be worth up to $100K with Level 1 masters containers being worth up to $1 Million. The small pot that he is using today is worth $500.

Once the water has boiled – to 100 degrees – Spencer pours the water into the pot and allows the tea to brew. Spencer carefully pours water over the pot to warm the tea and then swills the inside. When we were served the tea you could tell why it was worth the $400! The flavour was light initially and left a honey after taste. Another key to identifying great quality tea is that the smell that it leaves on the cup – it smelt of fresh honey and did so for a long period of time! Lower quality teas would have the smell of the actual cup or the remnants of your saliva. We had about 4 rounds of this tea and each time the flavour intensified but the honey after taste still remained in the same intensity. Beautiful.

Spencer also showed us the incense and how he prepares the incense – the incense helps to create the atmosphere and further enhances the tea experience. The smells were strong yet calming. The process – as with the serving of tea – is a very intricate, careful and detailed process. I love the dedication and passion!

Spencer also showed us some other tricks – like frogs that we thought were just ornaments – were in fact not just ornaments. If you place hot water over the frog – it squirts out the water – a nice party trick!

Cha-t also specialises in cigars (although they are not visibly in sight and you cannot smoke them in store) which range from Bolivar to Cuban Sancho Panz. There is also quite the variety of top shelf whiskeys on display. There are also some snack type foods available such as sun dried mango, sour plums, seaweed etc.

Cha-t is opening soon in Bourke St in the Melbourne CBD and also run various tea appreciation classes for those interested in learning more about tea and its rich history.

The entire day was a brilliant experience that you wouldn’t normally get to go through – from the personal tour from James of Box Hill Central to the intimate and eye opening tea ceremony. I would definitely encourage you all to check out Cha-t and experience the tea ceremony – it feels like a little bit of China right here in Melbourne.

Disclaimer: Grazing Panda was invited to Box Hill Central as a guest, however, opinions expressed here are purely my own and not influenced by them in any way.

About James Tan                                              About Spencer Wong

About James Tan                                                             About Spencer Wong

Box Hill Central
1 Main St, Box Hill
Tel No: 9843 3900

Cha-T
17 Market St, Box Hill
Tel No: 0433 588 578

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A La Folie – Magnifique Macarons & More

panda 4.5 rating
a la folie

Our Order with the Valrhona Hot Chocolate

Our Order with the Valrhona Hot Chocolate

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I have previously been in the South Yarra area and walked past the colourful and breathtaking A La Folie. You will find that people taking a glance at the window and then double back and stop and take a detailed look, and most of the time walking into the store to observe the delectable sweets up close and personal.

A La Folie which can loosely be translated to mean ‘madness’(in the context of love to mean that a person is madly in love) showcases Mercédé Coubard passion and love for baking and creating unique small French treats. Located in Chapel Street, South Yarra, A La Folie is a store that creates wonderful tasting Macaron, Petits Choux, slices and delicate French pastries. Coubard was trained at the Alain Ducasse culinary school and uses A La Folie to showcase her brilliant talent – even catering for special events such as weddings, engagements and birthdays – creating Petit Choux towers.

A La Folie is a type of place that makes you feel like you are in a cute little café right on the streets of Paris – complete with a backdrop of the Eiffel Tower coupled with cute little tables and chairs to match; dotted with red accents of color. Magnifique!

You cannot help by ooh and aah whilst looking through the glass display cases of the colourful macarons, slices and Petit Choux. All products are made in on offsite location and brought to A La Folie.
There are around 17 different macaron flavours to choose from which can include – Valrhona Caraibe Chocolate, Salted Caramel, Vanilla / Soft Caramel, Dulce Chocolate, Pistachio, Matcha / Red Currant, Guanaja / Orange Juice, Passionfruit Ganache, Coconut (Malibu), Grapefruit, Lemon Ganache, Fairy Floss, Blueberry Ganache, Strawberry Mint, Raspberry Ganache, Rose Delight and Champagne.
There are also a number of dainty looking Petit Choux to choose from – Chocolate Coconut, P125 Chocolate, Coffee, Madagascan Vanilla, Pistachio, Raspberry, Mango & Passionfruit, Salted Caramel and Praline – as well as daily special flavours for you to try out in combinations like Lime & Coconut.
A La Folie’s latest creations are the introduction of impressive looking Tarts – which can range from Mixed Fruit, Berry, Lemon Meringue just to name a few. There also is a combination of giant sized macarons and normal sized macarons; which come laced with extra buttercream/ganache in the centre and topped with a delicate decoration on top to match.

It really was a tough decision that A and I had to make to select which flavour macaron and petit choux we wanted to try – after much deliberation I decided on the Vanilla / Soft Caramel Macaron and the Pistachio Petit Choux. A picked the Soft Caramel Macaron and chose the flavour of the day special for her Petit Choux – Lime & Coconut. We also both chose to have the Valrhona Hot Chocolate which sounded amazing when Mercédé described it to us.

We were there on a Saturday around lunch time and thanks to the striking and colourful front window it really does draw in a crowd. Whilst we were there a tour group came in which was great as we got learn a bit about Mercédé and how she got into her love for baking. We even got to meet her daughter (who was working in store).

The macarons were perfect any way you looked at it – from the crispy thin egg-shell like meringue crust complete with chewy almond biscuit to the soft, smooth and flavoursome filling. My Vanilla / Soft Caramel macaron was divine – the perfect level of sweetness and the flavours of vanilla and caramel in perfect balance of each other.

The Petit Choux was decadent. The choux pastry was somewhat crunchy on the outside but light, soft, airy and tantalising on the inside giving way to the silky crème patissière. The crème patissière adds the vibrant burst of flavour once you take your first bite. My pistachio Petit Choux was blissfully delicious; the pistachio flavour delicate and vibrant all at the same time – topped with pistachio fondant and finished with a pistachio nut.

The Valrhona Hot Chocolate is definitely one for Chocoalate lovers – rich, silky and thick, finished with shavings of Valrhona chocolate. Both A and I needed some extra milk to dilute the richness – which allowed us to enjoy and appreciate the drink.

A La Folie also works together with Anthony Hart (Don’t Lose Your Temper – check out his website at http://dontloseyourtemper.com) – who has previously worked at Vue de Monde and The Press Club creating delightful, unique looking desserts – to create Premium Chocolate made specifically for A La Folie. Flavours include Poppin’ Bubble Gum Raspberry and Choc Riso Pops, as well as their very own version of a Wagon Wheel – made of marshmallow, raspberry jam, Turkish delight, rice shortbread and coated with white chocolate and popping candy.

A La Folie is a cute café that oozes French sophistication – the staff here are friendly and Mercédé herself is delightful to talk to. She really does love what she does and the fruition of her ideas that emanated into the standalone A La Folie store is magnificent. The sweet treats are delicious and made with natural and fresh ingredients wherever possible. Put some joy, fun and France into your life and visit A La Folie.

Disclaimer: Grazing Panda (& a guest) were invited to dine at A La Folie as a guest, however, opinions expressed here are purely my own and not influenced by them in any way.

Rating : 4.5 Pandas
Price: $$
Menu – A great variety and selection of sweet treats – including Macarons, Petit Choux and Tarts
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Feels like you are in a cafe on the streets of Paris
Service: Friendly, Warm and Welcoming
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://www.alafolie.com.au/
589 Chapel St, South Yarra
Tel No: 9827 3337

Opening Hours:
Sunday to Thursday : 10:00 am – 5:30 pm
Friday & Saturday : 10:00 am – 7:00 pm

A La Folie Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/A-La-Folie-Macarons-Petits-Choux/217631421649508
Instagram: macaronsandpetitschoux

Ilya – FROCHELLA – Frozen Yoghurt Heaven!

panda 3.5 rating
Pandan Coconut and Black Sesame Flavoured Froto

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Menu:
Menu at Ilya

In recent times frozen yoghurt has taken the world by storm! There are quite a few stores that have opened up around Melbourne. I was lucky enough to be invited to Ilya Frozen Yoghurt for their awesomely named event –FROCHELLA (Froyo + Coachella put together – smart right?!)

Ilya – located on Glen Huntly road in Elsternwick – was created by owners Natasha and Jason – who left the corporate world to pursue their passion for good food, giving back and having a blast doing it! There are quite a few differences when compared to other frozen yoghurt (froyo – the short form that it is affectionately known as) stores – Ilya is built around the interactive social and consumer experience AND they are organic, 100% natural and free from refine cane sugar.

Most people assume that Ilya stands for I Love Yoghurt Always, however Ilya is named after Ilya Mechnikov, a Russian scientist who pioneered the research into the immune system, probiotics in yoghurt and how that leads to longer life and even scored a Nobel Prize for it.
Ilya is proud to be the first and only organic self-serve frozen yoghurt store in Australia – having the lowest levels of sugar in the frozen yoghurt market – less than 1% – as well as being kosher, 100% natural and 99% fat free! All their yoghurts are made onsite – with no cane sugar in their yoghurt base, instead using Stevia and Erythitol (unprocessed sugars). Ilya is all about supporting Australian local farmers and use low fat fresh organic milk together with Five:AM yoghurt. All their froyo’s are flavoured in-house combining real fruit and natural flavours – allowing Ilya to stay true to their concept of delicious and healthy without compromising on taste.

Ilya is quite a sizeable venue and is split into two main areas – the front area where the main counter and all the toppings reside, as well as a communal table and high window seating, followed by the back room where more seating is available. The seating is casual with vintage looking wooden tables and milk crates to sit on. There is a mixture of walls – brick, chalkboard and plain white which adds to the funkiness of the place. Some walls are covered in artwork from kids with their perspective on the world of frozen yoghurt – a really nice touch and reinforces their interactiveness with the public.
The look and feel is relaxed and comfortable with the addition of nice little touches such as flowers in jars, the use of scrabble letters and the awesome standout light fittings. Between the front room and the back room there is an igloo-esque (complete with white brick which reminds you of ice) cocoon that loudly and proudly states GET SOME CULTURE – this is where the yoghurt magic takes place. Here there are 8 self-serve dispensers where you can get the flavours for the day – the way it works you grab a cup, fill it up, top it, weight and pay – and then of course eat and enjoy! (It costs $2.80 per 100g).

The main counter was an impressive long wooden bench that had a numerous amount of toppings available.If you refer to the pictures above you can see there is a HUGE selection of other toppings available as well – Marshmallow Rocks, Mango Mochi, Choc Chips, Sultanas, Cranberries, Halva, Lychee Boba, Mango Boba, Passionfruit Coulis, Mandarin, Hedgehog Slice, Choc Mud Slice and Protein Nut Mix – there is also Hot Caramel and Hot Choc sauce for your tasting pleasure! You get confused trying to decide which of these delicious topics you want to add as most people wanted a little bit of everything!

The Frochella event invited food bloggers and nutritionists to celebrate Ilya’s success as well as “it’s almost milestone 1st birthday” (they have been opened for 11 months). The idea was to taste test, provide ideas and feedback as well as come up with some new flavours that Ilya could create.

A total of 15 flavours were sampled – the first eight flavours were their core and current flavours (Menu A), and the next seven were a preview of their new limited edition Spring/Summer flavours (Menu B). I had to stay back at work on the night of Frochella and unfortunately missed out on most of the Menu A flavours – I only managed to taste Chai & Dry (Dairy free Soy Chai to satisfy the senses). When I arrived I was lucky enough to sit with some friendly fellow bloggers – Eve from Eve Lovelle and Minty from WanderingMint, as well as a nutritionist and their partners.

They gave me the rundown of the flavours that I missed out and what their favourites were. Eve liked the “Get Lucky” (Tart flavoured treats), “Empire State of Mind” (Organic Freeze-dried coffee froyo) with her ultimate favourite being “Sexy and I Know It” (Dairy free chocolate (vegan). Most of the others around the table enjoyed the “Katy Berry” (Real mixed berries to give your tastebuds a sweet treat!) as well as “Teenage Dream” (made from delicious Oreo cookies). I will definitely have to come back and try out these two flavours, as I am a hugeee berry and oreo cookie fan! The Chai & Dry froyo that I did get to sample was delicious – if you are a chai drinker you would love this flavour – if you are not a huge fan of chai’s but love cinnamon then this would be for you as well! The cinnamon/chai flavour is not too overpowering and coupled with the lightness of the froyo was really quite good.

In addition to the samples of Froyo’s we had access to an unlimited amount of toppings to use. Each table were given their own set of toppings – or you could go to the main counter where additional toppings were provided. Our table had Coconut flakes, Oreo Cookies, M&Ms, Kit Kat, Berry Coconut Muesli, Strawberries, Chocolate Cigars, Almond Flakes, Tiny Teddies, etc.

What was also great about the Frochella night was that we all were encouraged to participate in the Flavour Master competition. This was a competition around coming up with a frozen yoghurt flavour that you would like to see Ilya have. Five flavours will be chosen out a of a list and the flavour that is voted as most popular by the general public will have their very own frozen yoghurt flavour named after them and sold in Ilya.

The second round formed Menu B – which was to showcase their new limited edition Spring/Summer flavours.
The first flavour we got to sample from this menu was the “Welcome to the Jungle” – Exotic combination of Coconut and Pandan. The Froyo comes out in a beautiful aqua green colour and has more of a coconut flavour than a pandan flavour, so the only change I would recommend is to increase the amount of pandan – overall it was a delicious yoghurt!

The next flavour that came out was the “Titanium” – Crushed Black Sesame seeds infused Froyo. I am not a a huge Black Sesame fan so this flavour wasn’t my thing, but everyone around really enjoyed it. It had a lot of depth and a massive flavour hit – definitely one for Black Sesame lovers.

“Lana Del Grey” – Earl Grey tea combined with dried Cranberries – was the next flavour to sample and was one of my favourites! I must admit I am usually not an Earl Grey drinker or fan, however the flavour of the Earl Grey was subtle and coupled with the cranberries made for a very refreshing froyo! Yum!

Next up was the “Purple Rain” – Acai Berry & Organic Froyo – this was another one of my faves. I love the use of acai berry in this yoghurt which resulted in a punchy tangy flavour! “Where the Wild Rosemary Grows” – Combination Rosemary Cheesecake – was up next and this was one of the flavours that I didn’t quite fancy; the flavour was too “tarty” and the flavours did not work at all!

Our second last flavour was “Drop It Likes Its Choc and Orange” – Rich Chocolate combined with Citrus Orange – this was absolutely devine! The combination of the orange and chocolate was perfect and it tasted like a smooth Jaffa. Definitely one for chocolate lovers!

To end the night we finished with “Like a Virgin (Mary)” – Tomato and Tabasco Frozen Creation (Vegan) – which had flavours of peppers and Tabasco through it and was quite fiery on the palate. It was a bit strange to have these sensations and flavours associated with a yoghurt, so I wasn’t a fan of this flavour. However, kudos has to go to the team for thinking outside the box and trailing this flavour out.

In addition to seeling frozen yoghurts, Ilya also sells a selection of healthy smoothies (made together with their frozen yoghurt of course!) – there are 6 to choose from including Body Builder (Bananas, Protein Powder, Peanut Butter, Nuts, Cinnamon, Vegan Choc and Organic Milk), Tropical Paradise (Mango, Banana, Coconut yoghurt and Organic Milk) and Tummy Filler (Banana, Berries, Dates & Oats, Tart Yoghurt and Organic Milk) just to name a few.

At the end of night before leaving, we were all given a goodie bag which included a small tub of frozen yoghurt to take home and enjoy – I got the Cookie Dough flavour – which I was extremely excited about as it was one of the flavours that I really wanted to try (I love anything to do with cookies!). In our goodie bags we were also given a large empty froyo cup and were told that we could come back at any time and enjoy a free serving of frozen yoghurt on the house – an offer I will definitely be taking up!
Ilya has a feel-good vibe running through the venue; from the laid back and caring owners to the super-friendly and helpful staff. It is a great place to come with friends and hang out at – and also is great if you have younger kids who can contribute to the artwork that appears on the walls in their backroom. What better place than to enjoy a guilt-free treat that tastes delicious and has such variety in the number of flavours and toppings to choose from!

Rating : 3.5 Pandas
Price: $
Menu – 8 flavours available every day – they change day to day
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Casual, Comfortable and Relaxed. A great place to hang out with friends and family!
Standout Flavour: Cookie Dough, Purple Rain and Lana Del Grey. For those of you who like Pandan, Coconut and Black Sesame – go with “Welcome to the Jungle” , “Flawless” or “Titanium”
Service: Friendly, Fun and Helpful
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://ilyafroyo.com.au/
277 Glen Huntly Road, Elsternwick
Tel No: 9077 1080

Opening Hours:
Monday to Sunday: 12:00pm – 10:00pm

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ilyafroyo
Instagram: ilyafroyo
Twitter: @ilyafroto

Ilya Frozen Yogurt on Urbanspoon

Ayatana – Authentic Thai with a Modern Twist

panda-4-rating1

I was invited to try out the food at Ayatana – a restaurant and wine bar located at Chapel Street in Windsor. The restaurant is a small, modern and stylish Thai restaurant which offers a very authentic menu with fragrant flavours. Ayatana is owned by the chef himself Piyawut Rungpradit, nicknamed Tony.

We visited the restaurant on a Wednesday night around 7:30pm and the place filled up quite quickly after this time – both inside and outside the restaurant. There are about 12-15 tables inside and  a couple of tables which look out onto Chapel Street itself. Having the restaurant almost filled up on a Wednesday says something about the place and about the taste and quality of food.

The décor is modern and inviting – the theme colours are white and grey, with dark wooden tables. Around the walls framed pictures of Thailand proudly hang and showcase a little bit of the Thai culture. There are rows of wine bottles in wooden shelves above the main wall as well as behind the main counter, which showcase their extensive wine list – which is a nice touch to the restaurant.

The menu is in a book style and the opening page gives you a background about Ayatana and what they aim to achieve in terms of your experience at the restaurant which I think is a nice touch. Hot, Sweet, Sour and Salty they say are the main 4 points of Thai cuisine and that is what they bring to all their dishes. The menu comprises of starters, entrée, mains, followed by a section for the vegetarians which compromises of entrees and mains. There are also a list of sides and desserts, coffee and tea which follow.

The menu is unique and doesn’t contain the usual dishes of pad thai and skewers with peanut sauce, but a large variety with dishes you don’t find in other Thai restaurants. This is what sets aside Ayatana from any of the other Thai Restaurants. There are items like Crispy Sardines, Barramundi cooked in different ways as well your choice of meat with Roasted Macadamia and Cashew Nuts.

For starters I ordered the Japanese Scallop which came with Bean Shoots, Basil, Mint, Corriander, Onion and Hot Homemade sauce which was topped with Yarra Valley Caviar. The caviar was a nice addition and touch – I have never had combination of caviar and scallop before. The flavours were creative and punchy. You could tell the ingredients were fresh and cooked to perfection. The scallop was well presented in a shell and sat atop the other components of the dish beautifully.

Next was the entrée course and the Crispy Tamarind Rice caught my eye as I wasn’t sure what to expect with this dish. The dish came out once again and was visually appealing.. It was in a triangular stack and consisted of Cashew Nuts, Green Apple, Bean Shoots, Mint, Coriander, Red Onion, Mixed Salad and topped with Crispy Noodles. The dish was tangy and sweet all at the same time and the texture of the nuts and the crispy noodles completed the dish.

It was so hard to pick what dish to order for the mains as they all looked really great. In the end we settled for Blue Swimmer Crab, Steamed Fresh Tofu & Mushroom and a Pork Belly dish. The Blue Swimmer Crab was the stand out dish of the night for me. The dish came with Tiger Prawns & NZ Calamari which was stir fried with Tom Yum sauce and had asparagus, mushroom, vegetables and kaffir lime leaves. The dish once again looked spectacular when it came out and looked like a lot of care went into how it was being presented. The crab was sitting on top and the other seafood and vegetables underneath. For any lovers of the Tom Yum flavour this is one dish to definitely check out. The flavours mixed together with the kaffir lime leaves are perfect and the crab and seafood were cooked perfectly.

The Steamed Fresh Tofu and Mushrooms was also a great dish with wild ginger and a light soy sauce. Having being used such bags of flavour from the other dishes, this dish didn’t have as much flavour. But in having said that, it did allow your taste buds a rest and showed that even simple flavours can taste just as good.

For dessert the menu consisted of Black Sticky Rice Pudding, Steamed Banana or Warm Coconut Tapioca Pearl. There is also a tasting platter which gives you a selection of each of the above together with mango sorbet. I was so full from my meal but couldn’t pass up on dessert so I ordered the Warm Coconut Tapioca Pearl. What interested me most in this dish was that I have never seen this dessert in any other Thai restaurant before, as well as the fact that there was sweet corn in the dish as well. The warm coconut tapioca pearl with sweet corn, palm sugar and fresh pieces of coconut came out in a glass in liquid form – which reminded me of bubble tea – with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on the side. The dessert was a very dish to anything I have had and was very sweet. I asked Tony about this dish and he said it was a traditional Thai dessert and they did a modern take on it.

The staff at Ayatana are very welcoming, attentive and friendly, they are happy to answer any of your questions and always have a smile on their faces. The restaurant itself is a very modern fit out with mood lighting and is great for any occasion – from a group gathering to a romantic dinner for two. The music sets the mood as well and the vibe is very relaxed and funky – a setting with a great ambience.

The dishes are wonderfully presented and have flavours which will make you feel like you are in Thailand. For me the Blue Swimmer Crab and the Japanese Scallop are winning dishes. The menu is vast and boasts so many dishes that I definitely have to come back and try out the other interesting dishes!

Thanks for the invite to try out your food Tony – it is one of the top rating restaurants in Melbourne.

Rating : 4 Pandas
Price: $$
Menu – A la carte. You can view a sample of the Takeway Menu at http://www.ayatana.com.au/TAKE%20AWAY%20MENU.pdf
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Romantic, Cosy and Stylish. Modern interior mixed with a comfortable setting
Standout Dish: Blue Swimmer Crab, Tiger Prawns & NZ Calamari – Stir Fried with Tom Yum Sauce, Mushroom, Asparagus, Onion, Vegetables, Kaffir Lime Leaves
Service: Fantastic, Attentive and Friendly
Online Booking: Yes via website – http://www.ayatana.com.au/
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://www.ayatana.com.au/
97 Chapel St, Windsor
Tel No: 9533 8813

Opening Hours:
Lunch
Thursday to Saturday: 12pm to 4L30pm
Dinner
Monday to Sunday: 5pm till late

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