10 signs you’re moving on

Or are just feeling better about life.

1. When you wake up one day to realise it’s been awhile since you last stalked him on Whatsapp\Facebook\MSN. Not a premeditated decision (because that resolve doesn’t usually last long), it just happened.

2. When you listen to Stronger by Kelly Clarkson, and instead of telling your best friends that you’re not going to come out stronger because this whole fiasco is going to kill you (true story), you tell them that you’re going to be alright.

3. When you can listen to the relationship drama (that parallels your own situation) in your best friend’s life and instead of deciding to wallow and die together, you tell her there’s better out there, and that one day she’s going to be alright.

4. When you stop listening to Try by Pink (this is the part of the song I feel resonates the most – “Where there is desire there is gonna be a flame, where there is a flame someone’s bound to get burned. But just because it burns it doesn’t mean you’re gonna die, you gotta get up and try, try, try.”) on repeat, and allow your playlist to shuffle. The addictive side of my personality usually comes out at my lowest and highest points.

5. When you remember why the relationship ended in the first place, and finally realise why it was for the best.

6. When you don’t mind laughing at yourself by writing “10 signs you’ve lost your mind”, knowing full well that once it’s out there you can’t take it back – or do it anymore because that would just be creepy.

7. When everyone around you starts commenting that you’ve been looking happier, and you can flash a smile in response.

8. When you stop trying to make plans with and around him that you know are never going to pan out. You just make them because those future dates provide some comfort that you have an excuse to talk or see each other, and it makes you feel a tad better to know that you aren’t just going to disappear from each other’s lives. The truth is, such idealised plans are just ways of cushioning the gut-wrenching heartache.

9. When you start thinking about the future as a world of potential possibilities instead of a lifetime of daunting nothingness.

10. When you still wish him well, and want him to be happy.

Relationships are a tough nut to crack. There are times when everything falls seamlessly into place complete with violins and fairy lights. And there are times when things fall apart no matter how hard you try to keep it together.

I’ve never felt more broken than I did, but I don’t regret a single minute of the last five years. I don’t believe in regrets. Everything happens for a reason and I reckon you live and learn. As painful as certain parts of the journey was, there were also many happy memories we created. I’ve learnt more about myself over the last couple of years, and even more so in the last few months than I would otherwise have. And I believe I’m better for it now.

So whilst I’ve ended up on the twisty Grimm Brother’s route instead of the straightforward Disney path I always thought I was on (given my sheltered upbringing in a world where nothing truly bad ever happened), I choose to believe that I’ll find my happily ever after to conclude my once upon a time.

That’s how life rolls.

10 signs you’ve lost your mind.

Or are just nursing a broken a heart.

1. When sleep eludes you, and you spend too much time in bed feeling like your universe has collapsed in on itself. Never mind the plight of kids starving in Africa, as far as your myopic universe is concerned – this is the pits.

2. When your emotions swing like an erratic pendulum between the lands of life-is-going-to-be-great and the 7th-pits-of-hell-and-beyond.

3. When you log on to MSN/SKYPE in “Invisible” mode just to look his profile picture, and to feel like you’re spending time together (cray cray).

4. When you’re not discerning about who you spill your guts out to. You just need to talk (all the time), so you do. Not caring if anyone’s actually listening. And all of a sudden, everyone from people you’ve just met to the cleaning Aunty at work is acquainted with intimate details of your life story.

5. When you get an irrational urge to show up at his place in the middle of the night just to say “Hello”. And the crazier part is when your insane self tries to tell you he might think it’s endearingly adorbable, when the truth is, he’d probably get annoyed and slam the door in your face.

6. When you go trawling the web (mostly 9gag) for things to use as casual conversation starters – “oh look what I randomly came across”. You try to play it cool, but the truth is, your heart is beating at a million miles per minute as you rack your brains trying to compose a message that makes you sound happy and chill, rather than insane.

7. When you send messages to him, to yourself.

8. When you stalk him on Whatsapp incessantly, wondering what he’s doing, who he’s talking to – and get annoyed when other messages come in because it blocks your view of the time stamp at the top of the screen. Doubly annoying when you tell your best friends that you’re stalking, and they flood you with messages just to block it.

9. Related to number 8. And when you hate yourself for getting so obsessed, you tell yourself to snap out of it and turn off your “Last Seen Timestamp” setting on Whatsapp so you can’t do anymore stalking. Then almost immediately regret your decision, but are stuck for at least the next 24 hours because the settings can only be toggled once every 24  hours.

And my personal favourite -

10. When your best friends say to you, “Kim, you’ve lost your mind”, and you say “Yes, I really have, haven’t I.”.

Word.

Keong Saik Snacks and The Library

Once known as a prominent red light district, Keong Saik road is now a charming stretch of restored heritage shophouses, located just off Chinatown. Whilst still relatively quiet, unlike its hipper cousins Ann Siang Road and Club Street, it’s been slowly coming to life in the past couple of years. The neighbourhood is made up of pockets of trendy new bars, restaurants and so-hip-it-hurts boutique hotels, interspersed with old school coffee shops like Foong Kee (famous Char Siew) and Kok Sen (Tze Char) that have been there for years. 20130326-225208.jpg

At the intersection of Keong Saik Road and Kreta Ayer Road is the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple. It is the Holy Vel from this temple that is taken in a silver chariot procession to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road for the annual Thaipusam Festival. The Holy Vel or Holy Spear, is the divine spear of the Hindu deity Murugan, and is symbolic of the triumph of good over evil.

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Keong Saik Snacks as its name suggests, is a British-inspired snack bar by Michelin star-awarded chef, Jason Atherton (also of Pollen and Esquina fame, here in Singapore).

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Keong Saik Snacks – interior shot. 

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What snack bar doesn’t have plastic squirty bottles of ketchup and chilli sauce. 

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The menu – I was there for dinner, but they also have a brunch menu. Both available on their website. The menu isn’t extensive, but covers good old snack-time favourites like burgers, sandwiches and hot dogs – enough to whet your appetite.

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None of the dishes come with sides – you have to order it separately. There is a choice of Chilli Garlic Fries (S$7) and Side Salad (S$7). We got the Chilli Garlic Fries. Not a huge portion, probably the serving size of a small or medium fries at Maccas – but nicely seasoned.

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D-I-Y Tuna Tartare (S$17). The fun part about this is getting to mix it all in, on your own. I always reckon that’s smart on the part of the restaurant because people like fun gimmicky things like that, and they don’t have to worry making it taste just right. It comes on a board – bowl of tuna tartare and slice of lime on the left, condiments (sesame seeds, corriander, chives, wasabi mayo, soy sauce and vietnamese sauce on the right); separated by crunchy biscuit toast.

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No thinking involved. Just throw it all in and give it a good mix. 

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Peppered Beef Sliders (S$21), served with quail eggs, bacon and truffle mayonnaise. The beef was juicy and not overcooked, but the buns tasted stale. 

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Toasties (S$17) – toasted Serrano ham and Manchego cheese toastie, served with saffron aioli. This was my favourite dish. The bread was toasted to perfection – slightly crusty and oily all at the same time, with gooey cheese and salty ham. 

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Rasberry rhubarb topped with vanilla ice cream (S$11). 

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Hot doughnuts (S$10) served with either cinnamon and vanilla, or salted caramel chantilly. We opted for the salted caramel. As doughnuts go, they were better than the average you’d pick up at a regular bakery – definitely yums, but I can’t say it was mind blowing.

All in, I’d say it’s a place I wouldn’t mind going back to if friends suggested it – it’s a nice place. But isn’t somewhere I’d go back to for the food.

Keong Saik Snacks 49 Keong Saik Road Tel: 6221 8338 (enquiries only, no reservations) Opening hours:
Snacks: 12-11pm daily
Brunch: 11am-4pm on Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays

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Decided to check out The Library after dinner. It’s right next door to Keong Saik Snacks, and you have to ask the waitress for the password.

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Entrance to The Library. 

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When you step in it’s nothing but a tiny room dotted with books and such, and a lady who raises an eyebrow at you as you walk in. It’s all part of the cloak and dagger charades – you stare each other down till one of you cracks. She won’t prompt you for the password, you’ll have to tell her to gain entry. Once you’ve satisfied the requirements, she goes to the shelves and reveals a hidden door. Before you get through to the bar, you’re in limbo land surrounded on all four sides by mirrors. Didn’t get a picture of the bar, but it was dark and smokey looking – exactly where you’d expect to see Sherlock Holmes nursing a pint or three. 

Symmetry

I love the sunshine on Sundays – there’s just something about it that makes it seem extra cheery. It’s my favourite part of the week. But it’s also been awhile since I’ve taken the time to enjoy it. It’s easy to get consumed by the many lemons that life throws our way, the challenge lies in getting up again.

So this morning I decided, “I can lie in bed and nurse my wounds, or I can go do something I love. I love Sundays, I love brunch. I’m going to go have brunch.”

Symmetry, located in the heritage district of Kampong Glam has been on my ‘To Try’ list for awhile now. It’s a cafe by day (serving all-day breakfast), and restaurant bar by night.

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Exterior shot (taken from the side). The words in black on the wall say “music, food, coffee, wine”.

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The entrance.

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Interior shot. As soon as you step through the doors, it feels like you’ve been transported from the tranquility and quiet of the outside, to another world of hipster hustle and bustle. I had no idea it’d be this busy, we were lucky to get a table without reservations. In the hour or so that we were there, there were many other walk-ins who were turned away.

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The decor is an eclectic mix of antique curios and kitschy art pieces that only the very cool would be able to piece together with aplomb. Clearly not for the uninitiated. If I picked up an old fan that my neighbour discarded and tried to make it hipster chic in my room – let’s just say it wouldn’t look like anything more than an old dingy fan I picked up from the side of the road.

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Napkins and free wifi – made with one of those old school label makers no less.

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Symmetry’s Brunch menu. It’s not cheap, but the prices are reasonable relative to other similar joints, with mains averaging about $20.

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Cappucino (S$5.50) with the cutest little cookie that just makes you want to smile.

Friend: “Try it, it’s really good.”
Me: “Alright.” *takes a sip* “If this is really good, I now know why I’ve never liked coffee.”

I read on their Facebook page that they use 100% robusta beans roasted with sugar and a whole lot of margarine – it’s what differentiates the distinct flavour of their coffee from the western beans.  But I’m sorry to say that I never learnt the art of appreciating bitter drinks like coffee – at some point in my life I thought I would learn to appreciate it when I became an adult. The same way I thought I’d grow taller when I became an adult. Neither happened.

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Brown sugar in a jar for the coffee. 

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Eggs Mushroom (S$21). Salad, toast, assorted mushrooms topped with what tasted like truffle oil but could have just been the flavour of the mushrooms, hashbrown topped with a juicy roasted tomato, scrambled eggs and jam (so it said on the menu, but had a consistency more akin to whipped butter or cream). 

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Eggs Benedict ($20). The hollandaise sauce tasted freshly made, and wasn’t piled on excessively the way some places do – which completely drowns out all the other flavours. It was just the right balance of sweet, creamy and salty. 

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We asked for a recommendation of a side dish and the waitress recommended the Prawn Popcorn (S$14), served with seaweed remoulade. 

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The inside of the Prawn Popcorn. It tasted like fried fishballs, but made with prawns. Had a nice bouncy texture. Wasn’t bad, but it was forgettable.

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All in I’d say it’s a nice, chill place for brunch with pretty decent food, and above average coffee. 

As a parting ode to the hipster culture:

Did anyone hear about the two hipsters who drowned? They fell into the mainstream. 

Symmetry
9 Jalan Kubor, #01-01
Singapore 199206

Tel: 6291 9901

Opening hours
Monday: closed
Tuesday – Thursday: 11am – 11pm
Friday – Saturday: 11am – 12am
Sunday: 10am – 7pm

What was it they say about the journey of life again?

Going through life is like navigating one giant maze that’s subject to the elements. At times it’s a long, straight road as far as the eye can see, accompanied by clear skies and sunshine. At other times, you come up against a series of confusing turns in inclement weather – and no matter how many lefts or rights you make, you’re still stuck in a quandary.

Who knows what lies at the other end. Maybe there is no opening on the other side and we just make turns until we wave the white flag and give up on life. Maybe there is only one opening, and you’re meant to come out the same way you came in (holy shit, that’s actually quite scary because we all came through a hole in our mothers). Or maybe there is an end, and when you finally make it there, you step through to a magical world of rainbows and unicorns. Who knows. No one’s lived to tell the tale.

Expiring from life on earth is the only thing we know about the destination (aside from that white light and life-flashing-before-your-eyes business that Hollywood’s always dramatising), and that inspires no one to go on living. I reckon that’s why Philosophy was invented; As a tool for the ruling powers – monarchies and governments – the world over, to seed ideologies that life is about the journey, not the destination. We’d fall into anarchy otherwise. And you can’t rule without followers.

One of the quotes I’ve always liked is by a greeting card manufacturer\author\inspirational-everything lady, Vivian Greene - “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”.

But I think what she also forgot to mention is that aside from giving you pneumonia, dancing in the rain is one of the most difficult, painful and irrational things you could choose to do. What if it never stops raining, and you get tired of dancing? What if you have two left feet and can’t dance to save your life?

It’s easy to feel inspired when life is on track. Less so when it derails and is dragging you along a cobbled-stone path by your foot – every tiny bump in the road hits you hard on the head, your heart, and everywhere else in between.

This is where I get caught in the dichotomy. If life is about the journey, then why do we sometimes close ourselves off to all emotion and fixate solely on getting to the next pre-set milestone. Where does the journey come in if you go through life only to check off boxes – it’s like being taken on an excursion to the zoo when you’re in school. You get given an exercise sheet and are told to fill it out as you move along. So instead of enjoying being at the zoo and grinning at the chimps, you dash around to get all the answers to your worksheet in the quickest time possible – and this is the behaviour that our society rewards. Task driven. Gold star for finishing your worksheet (who cares about the animals) in double time.

On the other hand, if you don’t move yourself along, have things to work towards, and just spend all your time wallowing in the present – is that dancing in the rain, or just getting stuck in the mud.

Who’s got life figured out? The dreamers or the realists.

I’ve been told I think too much. Maybe I do – I’ve just managed to write almost 600 words on nothing in particular. And maybe I shouldn’t. But fuck it. Sometimes you just need to let it out (a few times).

 

Pho showdown: Melbourne

Australia is home to a huge Vietnamese population, so it’s little surprise that that reasonably-priced and authentic tasting pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) is easily available.

There are three suburbs in Melbourne aptly dubbed ‘little Saigon’ because of the high concentration of Vietnamese living in those areas, and the many Vietnamese-run businesses like salons, butchers, grocers and restaurants – Victoria Street in Richmond, Springvale Road in Springvale and Hopkins Street in Footscray.

But you don’t have to travel so far out for good pho. Within Melbourne’s CBD are two pho restaurants of worthy mention – Mekong on Swanston Street, and Dzung on the parallel Russell street. Most people I know are loyal fans of either one or the other, and never the twain shall meet.

Map of Melbourne’s CBD showing Mekong and Dzung’s location.

I’ve raved for years to Boo about the awesome pho in Melbourne – honestly the best I’ve had anywhere in the world, including Vietnam where I felt the meat wasn’t particularly fresh, and the soup a little too artificially sweet for my liking. I think there are three hallmarks of good pho – generous servings of freshly sliced meat, silky smooth kway teow (flat rice noodles) and rich tasty soup – all of which the pho in Melbourne scores exceptionally well on.

I’m a fan of Dzung, but he had a friend who was a fan of Mekong, so we went to both and ordered exactly the same things for a pho showdown.

First up, Dzung -

Dzung: exterior shot. This is where we had our very first meal in Melbourne after touching down. The menu’s pretty straight forward, and the pricing is standard for pho – small AUD$8.90, medium AUD$9.90 and large AUD$10.90

Dzung: plate of condiments to accompany your pho. Sliced chilli padi, lemon (you typically get lime in most South East Asian countries, but I suppose lemon’s more accessible in Australia), raw bean sprouts and basil. Throw as much or as little of this into your bowl of pho. I usually put in loads of torn up basil leaves, a squish of lemon and a couple of slices of chilli padi. No bean sprouts, not a fan.

Dzung: complimentary flask of hot tea at every table. 

Dzung: my steaming hot bowl of sliced rare beef pho. You dunk the meat down with your chopsticks and it cooks really quickly because it’s so thinly sliced. 

Dzung: his bowl of beef brisket pho. 

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Dzung: prawn springrolls, served with fish sauce and raw cabbage (AUD$9). The other options are pork or vegetarian. I love that these spring rolls are petite and almost (two) bite-sized. But don’t let it’s tiny exterior fool you, you’ll find good crunchy actual prawn chunks (not minced) tucked away in each one of them. 

Dzung: the inside of a prawn springroll

Dzung: white coffee with ice (AUD$3.50). The Vietnamese are known for their coffee – as is all of Melbourne really, it’s the coffee capital of Australia – and whilst I doubt this is of the Civet cat-pooping variety, it’s pretty damn good. 

Mekong -

Mekong: exterior shot. The yellow sign says “Bill Clinton had 2 bowls. How many can you have?”. As with Tzung’s, the pricing for the pho was pretty standard, but instead of three sizes, they only had two – AUD$8.90 and AUD$9.90.

Mekong: the obligatory flask of complimentary tea.

Mekong: pickled onions. This goes really nicely with the pho. 

Mekong: my sliced rare beef pho. 

Mekong: his beef brisket pho. 

Mekong: prawn and chicken spring rolls served with fish sauce and raw cabbage (AUD$6.50 for four pieces, and AUD$9.90 for eight pieces). There are two options here, prawn and chicken, or vegetarian. These are much bigger than the spring rolls at Dzung, but I couldn’t taste any prawn or chicken. It was mostly shredded veggies. 

The verdict - 

I think the sliced rare beef pho at Dzung wins out slightly because it doesn’t taste as if a whole of MSG or sugar has gone into it to give it its flavour. Boo feels the beef brisket pho at Mekong was better though because he felt the meat was more gamey, and the broth more flavourful – this is where our tastebuds diverge. He likes stronger flavours, even if they’re artificial. I like cleaner, simpler flavours.

With the spring rolls, we both agree Dzung wins hands down. Bite-sized real ingredients. What’s not to love.

Find them -

Dzung
234 Russell Street, Melbourne

Mekong
241 Swanston Street, Melbourne

Shoya: Melbourne

Shoya Nouvelle Wafu Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Tucked away in a little lane off Chinatown in Melbourne’s CBD is Shoya, my favourite Japanese restaurant in the city. So naturally I made certain this was high up on our agenda for the trip.

Shoya in Japanese literally means rising (sho) house (ya), so named for the restaurant’s rising structure of six split levels – each one catering for a different dining experience. They include a Japanese-style BBQ or yakiniku, traditional horigotatsu style seating where shoes are removed and you’re seated on tatami mats with a sunken area beneath the table for your legs, fine dining tables, an executive section with a sushi bar, karaoke rooms  and an executive lounge.

We made reservations by email when we arrived in Melbourne, and requested to be seated at the sushi bar because I like watching the chef work. Also also because I find looking at slabs of fresh sashimi oddly calming – it takes me to a happy place.

Master Shigeo Nonaka is the Executive Chef at Shoya, and was already busy at work when we got there. He smiled, gave us a little nod and a “hi” before resuming his work. A good thing we made reservations because the counter was full on a Wednesday night.

Shoya carries a wide variety of sake from different parts of Japan, and we were told that most if not all were exclusive to Shoya, in Melbourne. We got a glass of Gasanryu Kisaragi Daiginjo (AUD$34), from Yamagata. It’s well-balanced dry sake, with undertones of white peaches that make it slightly sweet. We loved it! The sake is served in a glass, placed in a box and the waiter pours till it overflows from the glass into the box as a traditional sign of prosperity.

We started off with an appetiser – a serving of uni sashimi (AUD$14) each. This really was the main reason why we absolutely had to visit Shoya. A generous serving of amazingly fresh uni that melts in your mouth, and at an extremely (x10) reasonable price. Even Boo who isn’t normally crazy about uni thought it was the highlight of our meal. 

This is where our paths diverged. I wanted to go traditional Japanese, whereas he was keen to try the innovative Nouvelle Wafu (a Japanese / European fusion) cuisine for which Shoya is known. So I went a la carte, and he went with a set -the Shoya Festive Course (AUD$100). This was my soup, suimono (AUD$4.50). A traditional clear soup made with freshly boiled bonito flakes and kelp. 

Sushi and Sashimi moriawase (AUD$65) – my main. It was a huge platter that I had no qualms about finishing. 

 Wasabi paste is served with sushi, but for the sashimi – a waiter comes by to offer freshly grated wasabi from Tasmania. 

And he reminds you not to dunk the freshly grated wasabi into the soy sauce. Instead, you’re meant to take little dollops of it and put it on your sashimi like so. 

His first course – unagi canape. Grilled miso marinated unagi, topped with crabmeat salad, ikura, and a giant truffle shaving. 

Meant to be enjoyed in one giant mouthful.

His second course – golden perch. Lightly grilled miso-flavoured perch, topped with tomato mousse, foie gras and semi-dried mullet roe.

His third course – assortment of sashimi. Sashimi served in a hollowed ice ball is one of Shoya’s signatures – I always found it ridiculously gorgeous. Maguro, hamachi, tai, sake, hotate. 

His fourth course – beef spinach roll. Stewed ox tongue wrapped with a spinach soufflé, served with lemon and basil yogurt. 

Amazingly tender, it came to shreds quite easily. 

His fifth course – crab tempura. Whole taraba crab leg served with wasabi shio and lemon.  Once you finish the tempura-coated half, you get a cracker to crack open the other half – the shell’s quite thin, so not a lot of effort required to get to the good bits.

His sixth course – fish steak. Seared tuna coated in seaweed, served with home-made teriyaki sauce. 

His seventh course – wagyu beef steak. Wagyu eye fillet served with a truffle, enoki and shitake miso sauce, accompanied by a grilled chilli. He asked for it medium rare and it was cooked to perfection, the meat was tender, and the sauce with the truffle-flavoured mushrooms was absolute heaven. 

His eighth course – mixed rice. Seasoned Japanese rice mixed with chicken, vegetables and mushrooms.

His ninth course – miso soup. The miso soup, rice and steak were all served at the same time, and marked the end of the meal before dessert. 

His tenth course – dessert. Uni cheesecake with vanilla cream and berries, it sounds odd but works. And a sinfully rich chocolate mousse cake accompanied by a grilled walnut and almonds. 

It was one of those filling and extremely satisfying meals. After, we wanted to take a stroll through the city and across the bridge to Crown Casino in Southbank, but stepped out only to realise it was pouring so we hopped into a cab.

Shoya
25 Market Lane, Melbourne
Victoria, Australia, 3000
Tel: (03) 9650 0848

Lunch:
Monday – Sunday: 12pm – 230pm

Dinner:
Sunday – Thursday: 6pm – 1030pm
Friday – Saturday: 6pm – 11pm

Public Holidays:
Dinner only: 6pm – 1030pm