>Balti, Perth

>Balti Restaurant
3/2 St. George’s Terrace, Perth 6000

A chilly evening in Perth, and I am three hours jet lagged. In search of sustenance close to my hotel, I try Balti Restaurant nearby, which I have walked past a dozen times.

It’s early Monday evening, in Perth CBD, and all I am hoping for a place with at least some fellow diners. This is the place – even before 7pm it is nicely buzzing. The walls are decorated with candid portraits of beautiful Indian people, a few desultory Christmas decorations, and anonymous but pleasant modern Indian music on the sound system.

I am placed at a table right by the bar where the restaurant manager is keeping the engine-room going. The wait staff buzz by, kept busy by the diners. I choose a glass of local Ringbolt cabernet sauvignon and a few poppadums to get me started, don my old-lady reading glasses and settle down with my book. Just as well. My main course took an hour to arrive.

My Goan fish curry is delicious, although not as coconutty or as sharp-tasting as it could be, but it is good. I wonder if the listed Redsport Emperor fish is really salmon, the colour is so pink, but it is indeed a white fish nicely marinated.

My relaxing evening is punctuated occasionally by the raised voice of the restaurant manager yelling (I am not exaggerating) down the phone at a member of staff or a contractor, I am not sure, and again later by the same person standing right by my table and threatening to fire a waitress if she didn’t raise her professional game. All very admirable, in that he was on both occasions trying to keep standards of customer service high. Ironic, then, that my experience is being diminished slightly by having to witness this carry-on as I eat.

I finish my meal, and my book, and head to the bar to pay my bill. I try to pay for my wine separately, and the manager tells me quickly that they do not split bills under any circumstances, “madam”. I wonder who he thought I was splitting the bill with, as the sole occupant of a table for one. I try again, explaining that I would like to pay $26 (the price of my wine) in cash, and the remainder by card. This time he accepts quickly: cash is king, it seems.

I compliment the manager on the food and the service, but suggest very gently that perhaps my experience could have been better if I’d not heard staff being threatened with the sack right at my table. He asks very politely: “Have you ever worked in hospitality, madam?”. I answer yes. He asks whether I’d ever managed a restaurant that busy. I answer no. I hadn’t thought it was that busy, to be honest.

And there you have it. Apparently in Balti Restaurant, the customer’s opinion counts for nothing. Pity. If the attitude had been different, this could have been a regular haunt. As things stand, I can’t say I can recommend the place.

Balti on Urbanspoon

>ebi footscray

>Round the corner from us, less than a hundred paces away, is a florist, a little convenience store and what used to be a traditional fish and chip shop. The chippie closed down a while ago, and not surprisingly either: we were never able to find it open for business.

In the same spot opened Ebi, a Japanese fish and chippery as it calls itself. Time and time again we meant to try it, and in the past few weeks we’ve managed to become almost regulars.

In the bleak midwinter, Ebi is a little oasis of red light. At lunchtime or in the evenings, you will be greeted with a smile and a cup of hot Japanese tea while you wait for your order. The bento box with pork belly is carefully put together and presented, even on a quiet midweek afternoon. The calamari, like the pork belly, is perfectly cooked: chef stood over the fryer for less than a minute and dispatched beautifully cooked salt-and-pepper calamari worth travelling across town for. The prawn gyoza were nicely presented in a bamboo boat with a little takeaway dish of soy sauce.

The following week, I go back in the evening time for the same calamari. The red lanterns glow in the dark, inviting you in to the little shop where John and his team welcome all-comers and dish out the best of J-style cooking.

Having spent a bit of time in Japan and not being a huge lover of its food, I still like this little place around the corner with its fresh dish of the day, proper chips and freshly-prepared bento boxes. I can imagine wandering around the corner come summer, glass of wine in hand, to maybe eat dinner at the kerbside tables and bring al fresco dining to this corner of the inner west.

Ebi Fine Food on Urbanspoon

>Blu Ginger Canberra

>5 Genge Street

A farewell dinner with the lovely Shanna before her Grand Tour of Europe, meant no Italian or French food for us. On a chilly Canberra night, we settled into Blu Ginger with a couple of glasses of bubbly, and toasted our friendship and the joys of travel.

The staff at this modern city centre restaurant were lovely: friendly bit not overly so, professional but warm. Our Blu Ginger platter of chicken tikka, tandoori prawns and steamed fish wrapped in a banana leaf was a good way to start. Our mains were well chosen. The delightfully-named aloo mattar tamatar (peas, potatoes and tomatoes) was a perfect foil to our lamb vindaloo, which was spicy but not too hot. The plain naan we shared was cooked perfectly.

The kitchen is visible from the restaurant through a large window, where you can see the chefs hard at work in a spotless space. Even mid-week, this space was buzzing with both businessmen and groups of friends.

There are not many places would entice me to dine in Canberra’s CBD, but I’ll definitely be back to Blu Ginger.

>the noodle house

>1 Southbank Boulevard, Southbank

A drunken start to the evening saw Eileen and Kelvin escorting me down Southbank away from the Melbourne Good Food & Wine Show, to fill me up with food before sending me home. The Noodle House is a newish addition to the restaurants along Southbank, near World and Il Primo Posto. It’s a franchise operation, most of its sister restaurants being in the Middle East: Dubai, Muscat, Kuwait and the like.

Wagamama-like benches and tables lined up inside a warm, weloming space; mad diners sat outside in the freezing cold under gas heaters. We used the tick-box order form to get some dumplings and pork buns going. Later, a platter of Peking Duck with pancakes didn’t have enough hoi sin sauce or shredded vegetables to accompany it, but they went down well nonetheless. Out char kway teow didn’t look like the classic recipe, but it was piping hot and tasty as hell.

Service was pretty good until we wanted the bill, then there was nobody to be found. I can’t comment on value for money as my dining companions very nicely picked up the tab.

The Noodle House is definitely worth another look when slightly more compos mentis, and likely to be a good back-up option when stuck for choices on Southbank.

>bok choy tang

>Federation Square, Melbourne

Dinner for thirteen is a challenge, so the group takes turns every six weeks choosing a restaurant. Orlando – unsurprisingly – chose a posh Chinese. We had been to Bok Choy Tang before, late last summer on a stormy night. Our memories of the food and the service were good.

I was last to arrive to a rowdy table. The waiter was busy trying to take our order, so I had about two minutes to choose. We had all decided to order individually so the waiter advised that all of our food would not come out together. Why not? If this was any other type of restaurant we would all be served more or less at the same time.

I chose the pork dumplings, given that this is a Northern Chinese restaurant, and Orlando chose the duck pancakes. The pancakes were strange: they came to the table in a woven basket, already made up and then deep fried. A bit pub-food-looking. They had a crisp coating reminiscent of those “southern-fried” oven chips you can buy. They tasted fine but you could not really taste the duck, or any of the complex flavours you expect from duck pancakes. My dumplings were perfectly cooked and of a decent size, although there were only three of them. No dipping sauce however – I had to steal some of Orlando’s sweet chilli sauce which is not what you want for your dumplings.

I went with something nice and reliable for main course. I have great memories of delicious Szechuan chicken from our journey through China, and this was the taste I was looking for: perfectly fried chunks of chicken with plenty of dried chillies and onion. It came out exactly as I wanted, and a generous portion too.

About half of us got served at the same time, whilst the rest waited. Orlando, Nat and Craig had to chase their food a couple of times, and the waiter looked pretty perplexed. I reckon there had been a mix-up because they had ordered dishes that others had already been served. Finally Nat and Craig got their food but Orlando was still waiting. Most people had finished eating when his steamed chilli barramundi came out.

After all that waiting, his dish was a disappointment. There was no chilli at all on the fish, just a generous coating of diced red capsicum. Although steamed to perfection and filleted by the waiter at the table, it had little flavour.

The other small gripe was that the rice was served in very small individual bowls, so if you wanted more you had to order it again. Given the time it took to get served, this was not really an attractive proposition. I could have done with more myself.

Strangely, we were not given bowls to eat from, but small flat dishes with a vertical side much like a small flan dish. No good at all for eating with chopticks. I ended up eating from my tiny rice bowl which was difficult given the size.

Most people were happy with their orders, and the bill at $56 per head was excellent value given the amount of alcohol consumed. However I would not recommend Bok Choy Tang for a large table of diners again. Best to go in a smaller group so that you can be sure of better service.

>namaste indian

>225 King Street Melbourne

A “last supper” with friends before their trip to London required traditional English food. A curry was in order. I’d eaten at Namaste Indian on King Street about a year ago, and remembered the food as being predictable but tasty. I booked to visit again.

On a chilly Friday evening the restaurant was almost empty, although quite a few tables filled up whilst we were there. Sadly with so many empty tables to choose from the second group to arrive were sat right beside us. They turned out to be an exuberant and loud (but good-natured) bunch of blokes out for a curry after a few beers. It meant we could hardly hear ourselves speak for the duration of the meal, as we looked longingly at quieter tables on the other side of the restaurant.

We had an inauspicious start when the first bottle of wine I ordered was not available. With such little choice to start with, I ended up with a distinctly average bottle of Hunter Valley cabernet sauvignon, whilst Orlando made do with nothing as they had no sparkling wines whatsoever available. The menu also appeared much more limited than I imagined: the menu listed on the website is from their Bundoora restaurant and that is more like what I remembered. The menu we had to choose from was severely limited.

Our starters arrived piecemeal, with Chris waiting an age for some mashed potato patties stuffed with spiced mince. Orlando’s tandoori mixed grill looked appetising and generous, whilst my fish tikka was a miserly three tiny pieces seasoned badly. Robyn’s tandoori mushrooms looked miserable: they were undercooked with a dark-coloured seasoning on them which did not look at all tandoori-like. Hmm.

The main courses fared a little better. The naan bread was fine and the beef and lamb vindaloos were perfectly edible but not amazing. Robyn and Chris’ twin Namaste chicken curries were tasty enough, but again left me a little cold. I could have prepared better myself at home.

Afterwards, at least two of us felt a little ill and continued to do so for at least a day. Not sure if we ate something that didn’t agree with us, but I won’t be recommending Namaste in a hurry.