Secret menu items

Some of the best stuffs in town isn't even on the bill of fare.

Time Out (Melbourne) - - SCAVENGER HUNT - By Jess Ho

NOT ALL MENUS are the be-all and end-all of a service. Some­times, it takes a lit­tle fa­mil­iar­ity, in­quis­i­tive­ness and know­ing how to work the sys­tem to get a dish that isn’t on the menu. Strap in – we’ll tell you how.

An­nam Whole suck­ling pig

An­nam’s chef and owner, Jerry Mai, is known for lov­ing her char­coal grill – con­stantly feed­ing it, pok­ing it and some­times talk­ing to it. For spe­cial oc­ca­sions, and stay­ing true to her Viet­namese roots, she slow roasts a whole suck­ling pig over the coals. You don’t have to co­in­cide your spe­cial oc­ca­sions with Mai, as she is happy to help any­one want­ing to cel­e­brate. Just book your­self in at least three days in ad­vance. (When she says slow, she means sss­ll­l­l­loooowwww...) à56 Lit­tle Bourke St, Mel­bourne 3000.

Ba­cash The best seafood

It’s no secret to any seafood lover in Mel­bourne that Ba­cash is the place to go. What ev­ery­one doesn’t know, though, is that the best way to dine at Ba­cash is not to look at the menu at all. In­stead, let chef and co-owner Michael Ba­cash cook the su­per-fresh and sea­sonal seafood that ar­rives that day, which doesn’t even make it on to the spe­cials menu. It’s cooked sim­ply with olive oil, herbs and served with lemon on the side to let the pro­tein take cen­tre stage. Right now, it’s baby oc­to­pus from South Aus­tralia or live More­ton Bay bugs. à175 Do­main Rd, South Yarra 3141.

Cibi Potato salad sand­wich

This much-loved neigh­bour­hood Ja­panese café has been a sta­ple to Colling­wood lo­cals for years. For those who go on the week­ends for the tra­di­tional Ja­panese break­fast, the high­light is al­ways the side of potato salad. And, if chef’s in the mood, he may make a huge batch and use it to form pat­ties he crisps up in the pan and toast them with cheese, cre­at­ing what he calls the ‘potato salad sand­wich’. Sadly, there is no trick to or­der­ing this dish un­less you hap­pen to be there when he’s in the right mood. No bet­ter rea­son to make your­self a reg­u­lar. à45 Keele St, Colling­wood 3066.

Flower Drum Neil Perry’s Noo­dles

If Flower Drum ex­cels at any­thing, it’s service. Which is how Neil Perry’s Noo­dles came to be. And yes, we’re talk­ing Neil Perry, the guy with the pony­tail and restau­rants all over the coun­try. One night, Perry was or­der­ing up his favourite dishes like the drunken pi­geon, sautéed pearl meat and gin­ger scal­lion lob­ster noo­dles and de­cided he felt like mud crab in­stead. Mid-way through his din­ner, gen­eral man­ager Ja­son Lui said to leave it to him and a plate of per­fectly picked mud crab ap­peared with a naked claw atop the crab-soaked noo­dles, and it be­came a reg­u­lar or­der for Perry. Once he In­sta­grammed the dish, chefs trav­elled from all over the coun­try and started re­quest­ing Neil Perry’s Noo­dles. The rest is his­tory. à17 Mar­ket Ln, Mel­bourne 3000.

French Sa­loon Fairy bread

You wouldn’t think that fairy bread could be savoury, but head chef Todd Moses had a nos­tal­gic mo­ment when play­ing with the five dif­fer­ent types of caviar he has on the menu at French Sa­loon. Each va­ri­ety is of­fered in­di­vid­u­ally, but on oc­ca­sion, Moses takes the cheap­est white bread from his sup­plier, lam­i­nates it with whipped cod roe, and rains down a mix­ture of osci­etra, baerii, white stur­geon, gold and Yarra Val­ley caviar to bring back the party favourite for an older au­di­ence. In the past, it’s just been served to friends and reg­u­lars. But now, with a nod and a wink, you can request it from the staff if Moses has the in­gre­di­ents on hand. àlvl 1, 46 Hardware Ln, Mel­bourne 3000.

Lau’s Fam­ily Kitchen Dried oys­ter clay­pot

Lau’s Fam­ily Kitchen is laid­back and neigh­bour­hood friendly, hap­pily churn­ing out scal­lop siu mai, steamed bar­ra­mundi and mapo tofu. But, when they’re a bit bored, they may or­der in hard-to-find dried oys­ters and braise them in a clay­pot with black moss, for­ti­fy­ing them in a gin­ger, spring onion and oys­ter sauce, cre­at­ing the su­per-tra­di­tional Can­tonese dish of a for­got­ten gen­er­a­tion. Con­sider your­self lucky if you’re around for this; it’s cooked once in a blue moon and only of­fered to those whose palates they think would en­joy it. The best chance of be­ing one of the lucky few is to go in a few times and or­der ad­ven­tur­ously. It’s about time you skipped those spring rolls. à4 Acland St, St Kilda 3182.

Mr Ra­men San Yao’s ra­men

If you’ve ever met some­one who says they love ra­men, Yao Wong of the Elysian could prob­a­bly top them. De­spite be­ing a coeliac (yes, some­times he cheats), he’s man­aged to de­velop a bowl of ra­men named af­ter him, which can only be or­dered di­rectly from the chef. The noo­dles have a harder tex­ture than usual, af­ter be­ing air-dried for 24 hours for the per­fect tex­ture, and come in a thick, 48-hour tonkotsu broth that you can request to be spicy, or not spicy, topped with teriyaki chicken. Slurp it up, pre­pare for the food coma and tell them Yao sent you. à12a/ 200 Bourke St, Mel­bourne 3000.

Rock­well and Sons XO moz­zarella sticks

If we can blame Tony Tan for any­thing, it is this. Own­ers Casey Wall and Manu Po­toi have a deep love for XO any­thing and have appropriated long­time friend and chef Tony Tan’s recipe for these cheesy snacks. In­stead of ham, Wall builds his XO with trim­mings from his char­cu­terie, mak­ing a saltier, deeper and ever-chang­ing ver­sion of the Can­tonese condi­ment. Their cross-cultural mash-up is to serve it with the gut-bust­ing Amer­i­can snack of moz­zarella sticks – crumbed and deep-fried ba­tons of cheese – usu­ally ac­com­pa­nied by red sauce. Just walk in and request the vari­a­tion. à288 Smith St, Colling­wood 3066.

Un­cle Pork Crack Pack

Who doesn’t love a trashy late-night snack? Un­cle head chef Dai Duong cer­tainly does, and he de­cided to put his own touch on the ha­lal snack pack. Af­ter a suc­cess­ful re­cep­tion at the Gourmet Cin­ema, he’s se­cretly serv­ing it un­der the counter at both out­posts; just request it from your friendly wait­staff. A serve of crisp fries and a hand­ful of roast pork belly and crack­ling are smoth­ered in kew­pie mayo, sriracha and hoisin sauce and topped with bonito flakes. There’s a veg­e­tar­ian ver­sion, too, where bat­tered shi­itake mush­rooms take the place of pork. It’s called, yes you guessed it, the Shiit Pack. à15 Collins St, Mel­bourne 3000. 188 Carlisle St, St Kilda 3182.

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