>Baba House

>Errol Street, North Melbourne

This little Malaysian place is a bit of a Cheap Eats regular. Local to my office, I have walked and rode past it almost every day for a year and a half, and finally ate there with friends on our way to a comedy night in the Comic’s Lounge next door.

The furnishings are simple but welcoming, service is friendly and quick, and the food is wonderful. Serving sizes seem big – it is not often I struggle to finish my dinner, especially such a good beef rendang. Peter’s fried fish was a hit, although as a starter too small to taste more than a morsel. I will return just to have this all to myself.

>Shun Fung on the River

>Barrack Street Jetty, Perth, WA
www.shunfung.com.au

After flying all the way to Perth to keep me company for the week – a four-hour flight – the least I could do was take Orlando out to dinner to thank him. Naturally, Chinese was the only option. I had seen a place down at the river which I was told was good for seafood. On a Thursday night in early spring it was almost empty when we arrived, but the interior looked far posher than the exterior hinted at.

I ordered a glass of local Margaret River cabernet shiraz and settle down to inspect the menu. It was a fancy, shiny, carefully worded tome with plenty of pictures. This was a place to reckon with.

We shared crispy pork ribs and salt and chilli squid to start. Both were divine, with plenty of bite and perfectly lightly fried. Our main courses were also excellent. My black pepper steak (yes, I know it was a seafood restaurant) was spicy, delicious and a huge portion. Orlando’s more modestly-sized stir-fried squid was similarly tempting.

Genuine Chinese food it was not. But this place will be a place to return to on our nest trip west.

>Maya Masala

>Corner of Lake & Francis Streets, Northbridge, Perth, WA

Wandering the streets of Northbridge on a quiet Monday night, I was looking for somewhere with at least a few more diners in it: being the sole person in a restaurant never appeals. Maya Masala was bustling. Most of its front-room tables were already full, with a small family gathering in one of the back rooms too. A good sign.

I settle in at a table near the counter and was served by a hesitant but friendly guy assisted by another more experienced girl: maybe it was his first night. The girl assured me that the Amritsari fish was not too big an order for one person, so I ordered it with a non-veg thali to follow. I love Amritsari fish and this is the first time I have seen it on a menu in Australia.

It was delicious but enormous. Five or six pretty large lumps of red fish arrive on a bed of lettuce leaves, with a small dish of raita. I devoured it. The thali looked a bit small when it came out, although I know that was more my enormous appetite talking than the reality of the situation. It had the usual two non-veg curries, two veg curries, yoghurt, rice, roti and rice pudding for dessert. The only thing I can criticise is that it was not piping hot, and as a result everything was stone cold by the time I finished eating the last morsel. I can tell you that thali was not small. I was stuffed.

At another table I saw a dad and his daughter having supper together – his masala dosa was the biggest I have seen outside India and looked divine. Despite my food-laden table I was struck with a bit of order envy. Perhaps next time.

The flavours were great, the portions more than generous, the wait staff friendly and helpful if a bit unsure of themselves, and the vibe for a woman eating alone was perfect.

>Monsoon Poon

>Monsoon Poon, 12 Blair Street, off Courtenay Place, Wellington
www.monsoonpoon.co.nz

Our first dinner out in Wellington was a bit of a disappointment. Whilst Monsoon Poon is a lively, sociable place to eat, with friendly staff and colourful decor (including signed plates on the wall from its celebrity diners), the food was a disappointment.

The shared start platter wasn’t half bad, with chicken wings, vegetable pakoras, spicy calamari and spicy minced chicken, but the main courses underwhelmed us. Helen’s pumpkin korma was so rich she could not finish more than a few mouthfuls, Orlando’s “two types of chicken tikka” was one type and a very small portion at that, and my South Indian fish curry was fine but not at all flavourful enough. Claire’s mushu chicken was OK, but Garry’s nasi goerng was pitiful. He soldiered on but left most of it.

Not a place to return to.

>Bedi’s

>A lazy Saturday afternoon in front of the TV had me craving a good curry. When I suggested take-out from our local, Orlando recommended a little local place near his work called Bedi’s. He’d been there with workmates and had spoken about going back there with me.

Bedi’s is a well-known place, one of the first Indian restaurants in Melbourne, and the owner was a bit of a TV personality back in the day. We arrived at eight o’clock and the small restaurant was less than half-full – but seemed to be doing a really good take-out trade too.

The menu was fairly limited, particularly in terms of main courses, but they had a handful of dishes I was happy to order. My chicken lasan starter consisted of two large chicken drumsticks, the ends wrapped in tin foil, which seemed to have been baked or roasted with plenty of garlic and no other seasoning that I could discern. They were not cooked well enough, and the texture of overly-chewy meat was not appealing. I made a half-hearted effort to eat them and Orlando scolded me for not cleaning the bones.

The main courses were better: Orlando’s tandoori platter looked good, and even his chicken lasan seemed better cooked than my starter. My beef vindaloo was large and delicious. I tried valiantly to finish it off but had to stop, stuffed to the gills.

I would say it was an entirely acceptable meal, but certainly nothing out of the ordinary. Our local West Footscray places, Aangan and Krishna, are superior in my opinion. Not sure if I would make the trip across town again: Bedi’s has had its day.

>Stir Crazy Thai

>Stir Crazy is a tiny loud local Thai place nestled in between about a dozen other eateries in Kirribilli – Thai, Chinese, Japanese, seafood, pasta. They don’t take bookings and the place is tiny. Prospective diners stand around outside on the pavement alongside the open-air diners crouched over their food on stools.

Inside it is cramped and loud; the waitresses waver between friendly and harried but they do their best. But the food was fantastic.

I ordered a vegetarian stir-fry – hot, I told the waitress – and Orlando ordered the chicken and beef stir-fry. They arrived in shallow bowls on banana leaves, steaming hot, incredibly spicy and quite sweet. I devoured mine with a sprinkling of steamed rice.

As soon as we were finished the bill was thrust under Orlando’s nose – no standing on ceremony here. For two huge dishes of food the total was $32. Brilliant value; so much so that we ate there again only two days later.