Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Melbourne Mini Getaway! (30MAR14 - 01APR14)

I was quite excited about the trip, despite the fact that I was going down there for the sole purpose of renewing my passport and that I have been to Melbourne twice. It was only for three days and it was good for the boyfriend to visit another Australian city he had not seen before. 

Third time lucky was the charm for me, as I didn't like Melbourne too much - but then I never had a proper chance to check out the food culture that seems to be a rage everywhere in Melbourne CBD. Not to mention, we also decided to splurge and stay at a fancy accommodation: nothing less than a 4-star property. I have also my colleague to thank, due to his advice on using another wholesaler, whose prices are too darn cheap to pass-up on. After much research and digging around, I decided to book two nights at the Crown Metropol. I got a bit confused with the rating (on the wholesaler's page, it shows 5-star but on Google, 4 to 4.5?), but nontheless, it looked quite luxurious.

And it was amay-zing!!

We bummed around and took our time unpacking a little bit before deciding to check the rest of the place out. As per fore-mentioned in my previous post, the hotel interlinked with the rest of the entertainment complex, so we scooted down towards the casino, passing by many retail stores and restaurants on the way. A wee look inside the casino before heading into the city, to show James around central Melbourne. Surprisingly, and luckily, it was considerably a warm, sunny day. The weather then prompted us (yes, I am using the weather as an excuse) towards a random bar, which for the life of me, I cannot remember its name. All I can remember that it was down a strip of various cafes/restaurants (if any Melbournite can help, the strip had a Vietnamese restaurant and a French crepe-place and plenty of other restaurants all on the same mini-street), and it had a sign saying: Roof-top bar now open. James and I, made our way up a few flights of stairs before entering a quaint little bar, which served some food as well. Nothing better than a couple of pints each and something to fill the tummy. As per usual, I always get to choose the food!

James, my waiter for the day. 

Rabbit & pork terrine, served with some pickles and toasted bread.

After a couple of beers each and in the heat, we got tipsy pretty damn quickly before making our way back to the casino for more drinks and James' try for luck at one of the blackjack table, leaving after losing $50AUD :( Long story short, that was pretty much the first day spent in Melbourne.

Day 2:
Feeling slightly less great after one-too-many alcoholic drinks in the system, we decided to head down to Mr. Hive Kitchen & Bar, for a buffet breakfast, where we stuffed ourselves silly (the waffles was the best I've had and it's not the average fluffy kind either. It has a somewhat biscuity style and taste). Next on the agenda, was the sole reason as to why we went to Melbourne in the first place: my passport renewal. Since the process took waayyy faster than I had expected, we then caught a cab back into the city for more exploration. My friend had recommended a place called MoVida prior to our little escapade, and it was by chance we found the other branch tucked in a little alley. We were still too stuffed from our breakfast, so a walkabout took place, which ended at Melbourne's museum. It was late afternoon by then, and my feet were sore from walking in shoes definitely not meant for walking in. It was also a great excuse to catch the free tram and a little side-sightseeing before getting off near MoVida.

News of air-dried wagyu beef dishes, and other great tapas spread quite quickly from one foodie to another and I had to check this place out for myself. I hate to admit, but I had missed out on the large food scene in Melbourne as I was a poor student and the second time, I had no opportunity to visit nice restaurants as well.

Hot, and sweaty, we both ordered beers and asked the waiter what he recommended. Found this awesome dark Spanish beer, which was light and easy to drink.

A perfect way to end a long, sweaty walk, with a bottle of Alhambra

Another item on the menu, which seemed to be my friend's craze, other than the air-dried wagyu beef, was the smoked mackeral, so I ordered that as soon as we had the chance to look at the menu. The waiter did mention that the "tapa" was bite-sized. He wasn't kidding.

Left to right: Gazpacho (Organic Corn Gazpacho with Spanner Crab & Salmon Roe) $6.00AUD each and Caballa Ahumada (House Cold Smoked Mackerel with Pine Nut Gazpacho Sorbet), also at $6.00AUD each.

I loved the Caballa Ahumada: it was a chilled appetizer, but with an instant hit of smoked fish whilst the sorbet really intensified the flavour. James' order of the Gazpacho was also quite interesting, as it was served in a chinese tea-cup. I had a sip (I found it okay, to be honest), whilst he insisted that the chunk of crab at the bottom of the cup was really yummy. Another dish I had ordered (but not displayed here) was the Mejillone Al Gazpachuelo (Spring Bay Mussel Enriched with an Almond Sauce) $3.00AUD each. What we thought was a little bit of a rip-off was the Patata Brava (Deep-fried potato with Spicy Aioli) $3.50AUD each. Why? See below:

Seriously? It's a single potato gem with some good sauce, but it is NOT worth $3.50AUD! I can buy an entire pack of potato gems at a local grocery store for a dollar extra!! 

We then moved on to the "Raciones", which is a much larger, to-share dishes:

 This dish would be my favourite so far at MoVida: Pate de Pato (Duck Liver Pate with Pedro Ximenez Foam & Toasted Brioche). $15.00AUD

Cecina (Air-dried Wagyu with Poached Organic Egg & Truffle Foam) $21.00AUD. Actually, the cream-coloured stuff is mashed potato. What happened to the truffle foam, IDK).

The pate dish, was so far my favourite dish served there - it was creamy, intensified duck-liver-flavour, and the slightly-sweet foam, added to the enhanced flavour. The melt-in-your-mouth toasted brioche was a good bonus too. However, the Cecina, was somewhat disappointing as we had our hopes built up based on my friend's personal feedback on the dish. I am going to assume that he had the proper stuff, as I would again assume that air-dried = slightly crunchier meat, rather than meat that tasted like a cross between Black Forest Ham and salami. Why it was served it mashed potatoes as opposed to truffle foam, is still a mystery. Don't get me wrong, it was still flavourful and interesting to eat, but not what we had in mind.

The last dish we ordered after this (again, not pictured) is a dish they had as a special of the day: grilled octopus & beef with chickpeas (the proper name of the dish evades my memory). That was pretty filling and wholesome, which finally satisfied our hunger.

What I thought:

  • Food/Presentation: 4/5 (it was good, but yet there is a rustic charm to the served dishes. A little bit of a hit-and-miss situation in our scenario).
  • Ambience: 4.5/5 (Rustic, quaintly located in an alley way full of graffiti.)
  • Service: 3.5/5 (some of the staff were somewhat friendly, but left us alone a little bit too long. It is casual dining after all, but still...)
  • Monetary value: 3/5 (depending how big of an appetite you have, the bill can rack up quite easily)

Check MoVida Out:
1 Hosier Lane (off Flinders Street) | Melbourne,
Victoria, 3000, Australia
(P): 03 9663 3038

MoVida Bar de Tapas on Urbanspoon

After our fill, we walked back to the entertainment complex, had a couple more drinks before calling an end to the night.

Day 3:
Last day in Melbourne: slept-in as much as we could and packed as quickly as possible. The check-out service, again, was impeccable, where we dropped off our luggage for safe-keeping before wandering around, deciding which place to have our last meal in Melbourne. After much debate, consideration and discussion, we finally settled for Nobu.

We were literally the first ones there for our brunch. Our waiter, bless his soul, provided impeccable service - he was patient, introduced Nobu and the dining & cuisine style (Japanese fusion), offered recommendation when needed. The menu had too many delectable items to choose from and decided finally on getting a different bento box each - which featured a variety of dishes within a dish.

 Nobu Bento Box (Top left, counter-clockwise): Sauteed Vegetables with Spicy Garlic Sauce, Black Cod Miso (Nobu's Signature dish), Baby Tiger Prawns with Butter Ponzu, Sashimi Salad with Matsuhisa Dressing, and the Chef's selection of assorted Sushi. $50.00AUD. Served with Miso Soup.

I ordered the Sushi Bento (Top left, counter clock-wise): Prawn Tempura Cut Roll (6 pieces), Yellowtail Jalapeno, Chirashi Sushi, and Sashimi Salad with Matsuhisa Dressing. $45.00AUD. Served with Miso Soup.

Everything in the bento box, was delightfully fresh and tasty. We could not have asked for more. The waiter also explained that with the dining experience in Nobu, he would serve the miso soup for starters before presenting the main meal.

I gulped down the soup as I was starving by then and as soon as the food came (the Nobu Bento came first), we dug in. Boy, oh boy: the prawns were fresh and tasty, the cod was melt-in-your-mouth tasty, and the dressing on the sashimi salad was my favourite!

The Sushi Bento came next and I shoved that down too. The "chirashi sushi", explained by our kind waiter, was like an "open" style sushi: more technically, sashimi on a bed of rice, which was what I was hoping for anyways.

Nobu had a restaurant launched Perth ages ago, but I had never taken the time or effort to try it. Man, I missed out!

Anyways, this is my perception:

  • Food/Presentation: 4/5 (it was a Bento box, but still stylish nonetheless)
  • Ambience: 4.5/5 (definitely feel like you're in a top restaurant)
  • Service: 5/5 (Uh-May-Zingg)
  • Monetary Value: 3/5 (Great food, but for top-end prices. Worth it if you're rich!)
8 Whiteman Street | Southbank
Victoria, 3006, Australia

(P): 03 9292 7879

Nobu on Urbanspoon

After brunch, I decided to bring James for a view of Melbourne from above, via the  Eureka Skydeck 88, where we had a quick look before heading back to the hotel's Skybar for more views, but with a drink in hand.

Over all, I was quite sad that the trip passed so quickly. Despite having been to Melbourne before, I wouldn't mind going back just for the food and hotel!

Crown Metropol Melbourne Hotel Review

First and foremost, I wanted to say that despite my need to organize most of my posts about food/travel/accommodation reviews separately, I think this property deserves a full post on its own. I did not know where to stay in Melbourne: I had stayed in a backpackers on my first visit and someone's house the second time round, I wanted somewhere fancy - nothing less than a 4-star. 

I did a thorough research, even for a short-stay, somewhere nice, modern, luxurious, and last but not least, conveniently located. I asked around for some recommendation and my manager said "Crown Promenade" as that is his favourite stay in Melbourne. Looking through photos, I opposed his idea but similarly chose one of the Crown hotels for the two nights. It looked modern, and since it is interconnected with the other Crown hotels and casino, located on South Bank, it seemed like the perfect choice, and perfect it was.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a lovely staff member who offered to carry our bags, but since we only had a tiny hand luggage each, we kindly refused and made our way towards the lobby. 

Okay, I did not take this photo as I was lazy and did not have an awesome camera with me. But it did look like this! Minus the people & staff obviously!!

The receptionist who checked us in was also very nice, with a warm smile on her face. She offered us a room upgrade for an extra $200AUD per night, but unfortunately, we were quite tight on finances already. James was quite tempted but we decided to check the room first. If memory served me correctly, our room was on the 16th floor (I think..) or somewhere higher up in the building. Walked to our room, opened the door (even the swipe machine-lock thing-a-ma-jig was quite fancy - it was located on the wall, not the door as most hotels have them, and also some small service lights, if you need room-keeping or not to be disturbed! Fancy that!), and lo, and behold the sight that greeted us:
Okay, again, this has been taken from the Web. But seriously! My phone's camera did not do any justice :( Check the actual photo below.

Told you my camera did not do any justice to what we saw but heck, close enough! 

As with most hotel stays, the first thing I do, is to inspect the amenities. The bathroom area also looked impeccably stylish & modern and most importantly, sparkly clean!

I wish my bathroom sink at home looked like this!
Okay, okay, I will stop using downloaded images from the Internet. Last one, I promise! Just to do this review some justice, it needs some good photos!

Also, another aspect of hotel stays I love, is checking out what they provide in the room!

Cute little amenity box! I wonder what's provided inside?

Omg! Omg! They provided a hair-tie! *tears of joy* Let's see.. The amenity box has: a shoe mitt, shower cap, sewing kit, facial cotton pads, nail file, cuticle pusher-thing and a hairband! <3 The only thing missing is some disposable toothbrush and toothpaste, but we came prepared this time round.

Next, I checked out the kitchenette:

Very neat & organized. I am impressed!

Even the tea-packs seemed so.. so cute! <3 I have to admit I brought some home, and they are your fancy silk, triangular pouch tea-bags!

Mesha-selfie approved! Even the mirror somehow made me look slimmer. W.T.F?!

James let out a sigh of despair as he noticed me running around excitedly, as if I were a child in a candy store and taking photos here, there and everywhere. However, he did admit that it surpassed his expectations after his short stay at the Intercontinental Sydney (he said that they provided the best level of service ever). After we unpacked, we decided to go hunting for a smoking section and goddamn it, even the smoking area looked fancy. 

An artsy-fartsy photo wannabe

Other than the images I have provided, I also wanted to mention that bed is just as comfortable as it looks, and enjoyed the two nights in that room immensely. Despite the confusion of this property being either a 5-star, 4.5-star or 4-star, I am personally rating it a 5-star and would recommend it to anyone heading down to Melbourne for a getaway.

With regards to pricing, I got it for a really good rate, IF you book a month in advance. As far as I am concerned, there is a 30-day Advanced King Room rate (which is what I paid for. Okay, slightly cheaper since I get good travel industry rates and you don't). Other wholesalers charged anywhere around the $650AUD ++ per night, but with that deal, it shrinks it down to the $450++ for the couple of nights there. That is maybe still a whopping $200AUD+ worth of savings and make sure to book in early to avoid disappointment, especially over the weekends.

In short, here's what I think:
  • Ambience/Presentation: 5/5 
  • Value: 5/5 (again, if you book in advance)
  • Convenience/Location: 4.5/5 (walking distance to the city)
  • Service: 5/5 

Crown Metropol Melbourne
8 Whiteman Street | Southbank,
Victoria, 3006, Australia
(P): 03 9292 8888

Malaysian Passport Renewal (Melbourne Australia)

For those unlucky Malaysians, who is facing (or in my case, did face) the dilemma of needing their passport renewed, here is just some quick tips of what to expect. To those living in either Canberra, Melbourne or Perth, lucky you, there are offices nearby without having to travel! Living in Brisbane though, meant that I had two options: Fly back to Malaysia or find the nearest High Commission of Malaysia in Australia. For outdated folks, you cannot renew your passport via post anymore.

In the past, I have always allowed enough time to fly back home to renew my passport during our annual trip anyways, but as I approached adulthood, this meant no more annual trips home. At first, Canberra seemed like a good option as it was close to Brisbane and I had never been to Canberra before. Soon, I realised that the only airlines to Canberra from Brisbane is with Qantas and it ain't cheap flying down, just for my passport (perks of being a travel consultant, is finding your own flights). Melbourne, a larger, more popular destination, meant more airlines flying there and hence, the cheaper prices. So, Melbourne it was.

Just remember to bring:
- Existing/Current passport
- Malaysian MyKad/IC
- Filled Passport Application Form on a single sheet (which is completely in Bahasa Malaysia and NOT in English)
- A valid Australian resident visa documentation (VEVO, etc.,) 1 x original 1 x copy
- 2 Passport sized photo (white background is fine and can be taken at your local post office)
- A fee of $110.00AUD (payable by cash, money order or bank cheque, payable to the Malaysian High Commission)
*** UPDATE: The fee has dropped down to $80AUD / $40AUD for Seniors. Cash Only. Please refer to***

Also, no appointments needed to be made - just rock up between 09:30am - 12:00pm and take a number slip when you arrive. Most official sites state that you have to come back between 3:00pm-5:00pm (maybe on busier days), but the lady told me to wait for an hour and it will be ready for collection (Yep, you heard me, AN HOUR!). Good news! I pretty much got everything sorted within two hours maximum (including waiting time for my number to be called, running to the post office for my photo to be taken and the hour taken to process a new passport). 

Some links for the necessary documents:
- Checklist (for those who still like to have a hard copy as a reminder, like me!)

 Please note that there might have been some changes made since I wrote this entry. I would also highly recommend double-checking the information at: 

Where is it in Melbourne?
Level 1| No. 432 St. Kilda Road,
Melbourne, VIC 3004, Australia
(P): 03 9573 5400
(F): 9866 6204

Public Holidays: Malaysian & Australian National 
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday 09:30am- 5:00pm