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"a unicorn of a dining concept"

1 Jun 2022 | Michael Harry and Rushani Epa

In Food for Thought, publisher Michael Harry and commissioning editor Rushani Epa bring you their latest restaurant and recipe recommendations. With their ears to the ground, these expert taste buds know just what the Australian food scene has to offer. Read on to find out what amazing things Michael and Rushani have each eaten, noted and cooked.

The best meal I've had lately

Michael Harry (MH): One Saturday I returned to Thi Le and Jia-Yen Lee’s brilliant banh mi bar, Ca Com, in Richmond. Now they’ve opened a cute courtyard with tables in the back, so I don’t have to inhale their heavenly rolls while sitting in the gutter outside. It truly is the best banh mi – maybe the best sandwich – I’ve ever had. Next-level fillings such as turmeric chicken, jungle sausage, wagyu pastrami, and crunchy pork belly are grilled over flames in the open hearth, then artfully arranged inside crisp French bread with trimmings such as City Larder pâté, abundant veg, and house-made chilli oil. Thi recently announced she is closing her fine-diner, Anchovy, next door, to open a more casual Laotian offering, so things are looking up in this part of Bridge Road.


Rushani Epa (RE): I’ve had a seriously delicious May, in part owing to my birthday. One weekend I went to Flowerdrum and Tedesca Osteria, and most recently I went to First Taste, Nhu Lan, Shop Bao Ngoc and the inimitable Chae. 

Chae is like a unicorn of a dining concept, say you dined there to someone and watch their mouths grow wide with surprise. The most common question regarding the slow food Korean restaurant “how did you get a booking?” My friend had made our booking in August 2021 and due to ongoing lockdowns and Jung-Un moving her venue from her Brunswick apartment in hopes to open up in Cockatoo (only to be delayed thanks to the council), only got to dine in this month. Having dined with Jung-Un before I knew we were in for a treat, and boy oh boy, did she deliver.

Five of us sat in a last supper-style arrangement in front of Jung-Un as she managed a one-woman show (she played the part of both chef and waitress. The meal was healing (perfect for friends recovering from Covid and the cold chill outside), and beautifully balanced. Fresh, crisp cucumber kimchi was served with a sweet potato spring roll and a buttery candied walnut on the side. Thin strips of beef curled at the touch of a blowtorch, left slightly singed and smoky, served with raw slices of shiitake mushroom, salt Jung-Un had brought from Korea and lightly dressed stalks of spring onion and cabbage. Various makgeollis and herbal teas came and quickly disappeared, all made by Jung-Un herself (just like every single item and ferment served), but the star was the orange vinegar which she served in a tiny bowl, topped with ice, the temperature making it moreish to drink. I bought a bottle to take home. Overall, this wasn’t just a meal but an unforgettable experience.
Chae is currently operating out of the old Superling venue.

The place I am desperate to try 

MH: Sydney charcoal chicken outfit El Jannah has opened a Melbourne flagship in Preston, and I can’t wait to finally try the chook. The cult Lebanese-Australian fast-food joint became a word-of-mouth hit after opening in Granville in 1998. It’s slowly franchising across the east coast, with juicy bird (flame-grilled or fried), gutsy garlic sauce, drippy burgers, fries and pitas. Will it be tastier than my local, Super Tasty Rooster, in North Fitzroy? Professional Insta eater Dub Eats Everything thinks so, and I take his trashy food recommendations seriously.

RE: Carlton’s Hareruya Pantry is the latest spot to cater to any Japanophile’s needs with its konbini-style concept. The takeaway venue (which is exceedingly popular on TikTok) offers handcrafted Japanese-inspired gelato, an array of bright and colourful bento boxes, onigiri, sandos, juices, coffee and pastries, but when I go I’m making a beeline for the koji karaage chicken with wasabi tartare and dashi amazu.

The dish I can't stop thinking about 

MH: A friend lives on a few acres outside Warburton and a group of us drove up for a late-autumn lunch and made the freshest pasta using wild pine mushrooms foraged from the property. Eggs from the chicken coop were kneaded with flour, cut into ribbons of tagliatelle, and tossed with the earthy mushrooms cooked down with loads of garlic, onion, lemon zest, thyme, handfuls of parsley, and BLOCKS of salted butter and parmesan cheese. We scoffed plates of the stuff beside a roaring fire with glasses of Medhurst rose. I don’t think I could ever recreate the “stars-align” perfection of this dish at home, so it will live rent free in my memory.

RE: One of my favourite dishes in the world is the pearl meat at esteemed Cantonese fine diner, Flower Drum. The name of the game(aside from the glorious food and wine list) is the service at Flower Drum. Staff in waistcoats dart around seamlessly, catering to every person’s beck and call. They’re masters at creating the perfect experience and this dish matches the glamour of the venue perfectly. Glistening ribbons of pearl meat pay homage to Australian seafood and Cantonese technique through flash frying the meat before stir frying it with spring onion and garlic chives. The result? Beautiful meat that’s soft, bar a little bite, served on shiny mother of pearl, paired with the venue’s oyster sauce (which I could probably drink by the litre).

On my radar in Sydney

MH: On a FIFO day trip I made a beeline for the stylish neighbourhood café PIÑA in Potts Point, because I’d seen a shout out from Nigella Lawson on Instagram and it looked like my kind of thing. It delivered the goods and made me wonder why we don’t have cafés like this in Melbourne. Generous all-day breakfast staples are served with every side you can imagine, and plenty you might not, from kimchi to house-made caponata (a tomato and eggplant relish). I can’t go past a chicken sandwich on any menu, so I ordered their version: a toasted, oversized ciabatta spread with chilli crunch and filled with a mix of poached chicken cubes drenched in soy mayo with salted, picked carrot, cucumber and soft herbs. Umami-town. I want to go back and order my way through the whole menu.

RE: Pellegrino 2000 makes me think of an Italian hip hop album. Maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to a lot of OutKast? I don’t know. Anyway, it sounds great. The Surry Hills trattoria by the team behind Bistrot 916 has been taking Sydneysiders by storm, and, frankly, I just want to dine in its moody interior with a big ol’ bowl of spaghetti alla Gricia and a glass of Nebbiolo.

A Hardie Grant cookbook winner

MH: I’ve been working with Adam Liaw on his new book, Tonight’s Dinner 2, which is out in November. Is there anything the man can’t cook? He has a wonderful way of simplifying complicated recipes and writes with a heartfelt, no-nonsense joy for good family food. And the recipes just work! One recent winner I tried from his canon was the taco pie, a Tex Mex spin on a classic shepherd’s pie. Rich, spiced beef mince (secret ingredient: a splash of soy sauce) is covered with polenta mixed with cheddar cheese and corn, baked in the oven until crunchy and bubbling, then topped with sour cream and sprigs of coriander. Like nachos, but better, and a smashing winter warmer. Find the recipe here.

RE: Here’s a shared ingredient among First Nations and People of Colour ­– tinned meat, namely corned beef. Growing up, mum would make me corned beef fried rice and it was one of the most delicious things I can remember eating. Little did I know it made its way to the table because we were struggling to make ends meet, and this cheap, little tin of processed meat was helping to keep us afloat. That’s why I was so excited by Nornie Bero’s recipe for tin meat and rice in her latest cookbook Mabu Mabu – because it was her Meriam dad’s favourite recipe, and because her story resonated with me. Not to mention, it’s delicious! It's a five ingredient wonder that incorporates corned beef with Keen’s curry powder and is served atop a bed of hot white rice. Super nostalgic, easy to make and gone before you know it.

michael harry - food and lifestyle publisher

Michael Harry
Hardie Grant’s food and lifestyle publisher, Michael Harry, fell in love with great food while working as a waiter at London’s Hakkasan restaurant in the early ‘00s. He has been the editor of The Age Good Food Guide, lifestyle editor of Good Weekend magazine, and worked behind the scenes on Ready Steady Cook. He is always on the lookout for the perfect chicken sandwich, a dirty gin martini, or a really spicy ramen.


rushani epa - food and lifestyle commissioning editor

Rushani Epa
Rushani is the commissioning editor in food and lifestyle at Hardie Grant Books. Outside of her role at Hardie Grant she's also a journalist and editor who specialises in food and culture that has written for publications like Time Out Melbourne, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, SBS Food and Acclaim Magazine. She also runs Colournary, a digital and biannual print magazine that celebrates and amplifies the voices of First Nations, Black and People of Colour through the lens of food and culture.