You know, JoJo and LiLi may never have stumbled across Orient East if it weren't for the extended invitation to join them for an eight course beer degustation - and how grateful they were for having found them this way.
Alcohol seemed to be a steady constant in our week all of a sudden - this event literally fell on the day after our Eau de Vie excursion, a night were we literally had to waddle home with bellies full of amazing food and drink. How even were we going to cope today?
How even, indeed.
We didn't know much about the event apart from the teaser given to us by the lovely Libby of Crackling Media who had approached us about this degustation. We knew that it was the collaborative effort of Li Teoh of Orient East and the boys of Brew Cult and Wolf of the Willows and, that it would feature many delectable asian delights with craft beers that promised to complement and contrast their partners.
This event was a unique experience because the owners Scott McKinnon and Steve "Hendo" Henderson of both beer companies were in attendance. Not only that, but Li (not to be confused with LiLi ), came to interact with all the guests to see how they were enjoying their meals and the night in general. All three of these personalities would brief the guests with information on each brew type and dish - an awesome and personal touch that we always appreciate.
That being said, we weren't the biggest beer drinkers and there were probably better candidates out there who would have gotten a kick out of this, but it didn't discourage us from giving this a go. We weren't ones to say no to asian inspired nibbles and alcohol!
Situated on St Kilda Rd resides Orient East, culminating both modern and traditional Malaysian food which it describes is a reflection of Li's happy childhood memories of the 1950's British Malaya.
With bold red signage and vibrant graphic design, it's hard to miss this colonial style eating house from the street. Inside is another story entirely with Penang Pin-Up girls and other memorabilia plastered across the walls and on various tabletops. Wonderfully kitsch.
JoJo and LiLi arrived at Orient East with a bit of company - to assist them for this round of food and drinks, Old Mates Colin and Malcolm settled in for the long delicious food and beer haul - we certainly needed it after the previous night.
A short while after arriving, the team were seated into a quaint little booth and the festivities began with their first round of beer and nibbles.
First cab off the rank was the ISA - the India Saison ale of Wolf and the Willows.
Sitting in at 5.20% ABV, this ale is best described as a fruity, tart beer with a moderate peppery golden after taste. You can expect to enjoy the aromas of crushed grape, lychee and dried mango which is balanced out with a natural bitterness. The result is a subtle, firm and highly refreshing beverage.
This ale was paired with pearl dumplings, charred leek and a soy vinegar ginger dipping sauce. The dumpling itself was brilliant - think of well seasoned minced pork and water cress locked within a fabulously sticky glutinous rice ball.
Char-grilled anything is good and this leek was no exception to that rule. It gave the dumpling depth whilst the ginger added some extra oomph. Safe to say that we would have appreciated a second helping.
Or maybe a third or fourth.
Our next beer act was produced by Brew Cult and was adorably dubbed the "Spoiler Alert". This pale lager was described as a "hoppy lager" which includes Czech Saaz, Australian Helga and American Columbus hops. It gives off a malty fragrance with a subtle honey taste. Slightly coconutty too.
It goes down with a spicy, extensive bitterness and sits at 4.5% ABV.
The boys amongst us were a little hesitant about diving into the next dish as it contained ox tongue. On the other side of the spectrum, JoJo and LiLi grew up eating this delicacy and were excited to see how it'd fair.
We do recognise that seeing the familiar rough texture of a tongue on a plate might make one a little squeamish and that ox tongue isn't exactly a popular choice in most contemporary Western cuisines - but hey, this is exactly why we like to encourage those around us to try new things like this!
The fact about this dish is this: we can honestly assure you that you wouldn't even know it was ox tongue unless you were told told. These thinly sliced slivers were marinated quite simply in miso which gave it a softer quality, making it so sweet and juicy. The boys didn't even know what hit them.
The ox tongue was accompanied by what appeared to be some onigiri, excellently bouncy shiitake and enoki mushrooms and a black pepper praline. A stand out for sure.
"Thanks Captain Obvious" by Brew Cult was the beer that won us over the most - we referred to this beer as the mango beer. With an ABV of 5.8%, this American IPA has been brewed internationally with three of the most popular American hops - simcoe, citra and centennial. We were also told that it had won silver in the national beer awards. Good effort!
It was one of the beers and Jo and Li enjoyed quite a bit and it worked well with the next dish - the Golden Sands Chicken. It had distinct aromatics of a pine, citrus and tropical fruit so it makes sense that mango strongly stood out to us.
You can't really go wrong with fried chicken wings and beer. This is the Golden Sands Golden Sands chicken wings with crispy curry leaves.
The "Golden Sands" is actually a salted duck egg batter which was (surprise) salty! It locked in a hell of a lot of moisture and these wings were insanely juicy. The curry leaves were nicely crisp, adding extra aromatics and texture.
Owner Li came around to joke about how there weren't enough vegetables on the menu which she decided to remedy by adding this Chinese Broccoli tree as a bonus dish.
The leaves were fried to provide a light but very crispy intermission - as crispy as kale chips. There were hints of chilli, garlic and fried shallots mixed through and although you probably wouldn't think it, these were really quite addictive!
Wolf of the Willows brought out it's XPA (AKA Extra Pale Ale) which, like the beer before it, had notes of tropical and citrus fruitiness offset by a stronger malt finish and a dry lower bitterness. 4.7% ABV for this one.
The XPA was paired with some pretty amazing Dan Dan noodles. At first glance, it rather disconcertingly looked like spaghetti bolognese but that deception stopped there.
Unanimously enjoyed by the group, this was a dish we all could have ate all night. Fresh noodles were topped with minced pork, peanuts and water cress but the real stunner comes in the sesame sauce which coats the noodles and gave it this creamy quality which we can't fully articulate for fear of sounding crazy.
Fine, we'll do it.
It made the noodles almost carbonara like. Just with minced pork. And more asian.
WHATEVER. WE KNEW YOU WOULDN'T UNDERSTAND, DON'T JUDGE US.
To the uninitiated stout drinker (namely, us), this was a little on the bolder side.
This is the JSP - Johnny Smoke Porter by Wolf in the Willows. It has an ABV of 5.2% and has incredible depth of flavours that layer over each other, making this one a little more complex than the rest. This was described to us as drinking campfire smoke, which really was an apt summary. It has a very strong earthen smokiness about it and bacon springs to mind at times. It also boasts a hint of espresso.
This was a little harder to drink for us but we actually thought it paired very well with it's accompanying dish - Lamb Ribs in a Szechuan rub with savoury Five-Spice Shaobing Biscuits.
Another really great dish. The lamb literally fell off the bone - it was just so moist and tender with heady mix of garlic and chilli aromas.
The shaobing biscuits were gorgeous and were a great addition to this dish - a beautiful savoury and flaky pastry which crumbled in your mouth like a salty dream.
The "Superfly Rye" IPA was next by Beer Cult. 5.8% ABV.
Aromas of citrus, caramel and grass were present in this creamy textured beer. The dry malt and faint spices complement the citrusy hops and it finishes with a firm bitterness.
It's a good rye beer that's said to work well with roasted meats such as the duck it was paired with.
Here we have a roast duck, served with taro mash and kumquat gel. How very exotic!
This duck was roasted to perfection - no dryness at all! The skin was beautifully crisp and the meat soft and tender. The kumquat gel added a pop of citrusy tartness whilst the mash was a nice, subtle detail that complemented the duck.
"Beer Geek Rage Quit" by Beer Cult was the final stand alone beer to be served that night. In the form of lager, it uses similar hops to Carlton Draught - Pride of Ringwood, Simcoe, Citra and Nelson Sauvin. It's a beer that is lightly bodied, fun and heavy on the citrus. This one comes in at a 5.5% ABV.
The Rage Quit paired quite nicely with the Gado Gado: a salad featuring green mango strips, quail egg and peanut sauce served on top of a cassava cracker.
Poor Jo! She freaks out at the sight of eggs and overly eggy flavours but in saying that, she was a pretty good sport and tried a bit of the yolk before discarding it onto Malcolm's plate.
Either way, it was a refreshing ending to our savoury portion of the meal and that peanut sauce was quite the highlight - although, it wasn't as big a highlight as what we had for dessert!
After reading the dessert description on paper, Jo didn't know what to think. We were to have Doughnuts with a salted duck egg custard and, after the last eggy dish, she thought she was going to trudge home, sad and unsweetened.
Boy, was she wrong because this, friends, is a masterpiece and a half.
LOOK AT THAT CUSTARD.
The gooey duck egg custard had such a depth to it that isn't present in any other custard we've ever had. What was better was that it was encased in a still warm bao-style dough which locked away the custard that just melted in your mouth.
Jo has since tweeted to Orient East, begging to have this doughnut listed on their menu permanently - it was that good.
The Mai Tai IPA cocktail was incredibly easy to drink and was a collaborative effort by both brewers. As with any good Mai Tai, it's tangy, zesty and sweet all in one go but this edition was quite hoppy, in keeping with the theme of the night. It worked well with the dessert for a perfectly balanced ending.
Li was a most gracious host, whom reminded me of a nice accommodating Asian Aunty that welcomes you into their home, forcing you to eat copious amounts of food, because that's what makes them happy. Such a lovely lady. It's safe to say the service was great.
There were so many dishes that blew me away. The lamb that melted in my mouth and fell off the bone, to the Dan Dan noodles that filled me with warm joy, to rice dumpling starter, Mai Tai cocktail which we downed in 1 minute and the creamy salted duck egg custard dessert. Oh I love Malay cooking! I will return at some point to try the dinner menu for sure!
The amount of food was just right and the added touch of having both beer owners present was an added bonus. It was fun to see them get excited over their creations and their enthusiasm made this experience, period. I am in no way an expert in beer and it was definitely a new experience for me. I gave it a good go and I liked the mango tasting beer the most. I don't drink beer on any normal occasion but I would recommend this degustation for beer lovers everywhere.
Hopefully, this is a series that will continue in the months to come. Invite us back so we can have more noodles and salted egg custard doughnuts! Add them to your regular menu! I'd come back for those items alone!
That. Salted. Duck. Egg. Doughnut.
I need to be reunited with it again. Did you know that I still think about it on a regular basis? How does salted duck egg make such good custard?! Li, if you're reading this - I beg of you, please - these doughnuts, I'll go back for your delicious food, but I also need those doughnuts in my life again! You are singlehandedly responsible for ruining dessert for me for life. Nothing will compare!
The doughnut almost overshadows everything else I had that day, but there were a lot of stand out dishes for me. I loved the pearl dumplings, ribs, biscuits, duck and dan dan noodles. Li certainly knows what she is doing and Orient East is definitely not just a "hotel restaurant" by any stretch. There is clearly a lot of planning and positive experimentation in the kitchen and, I would have loved to have met her head chefs that evening. They did such an amazing job.
Orient East is a vivacious little eating house and bar (with a couple of excellent looking cocktails may I add) with a lot to offer. On the night we came, aside from the other patrons that were attending the event, the crowd seemed to consist of business men who had finished for the day and were looking for a nice meal and a stiff drink as well as a couple of small families. Pretty good variety there.
I would be delighted to return here and I hope that when I do, Li finds it in her lovely heart to add those doughnuts to the menu.
Food and Drink: ★★★★☆
Customer Service: ★★★★★
General Atmosphere: ★★★★☆
Value for Money: ★★★★☆
Food and Drink: ★★★★★
Customer Service: ★★★★★
General Atmosphere: ★★★☆☆
Value for Money: ★★★★☆
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This degustation set was exclusive to the celebration of Oz Beer Day on December 3rd 2015.
Keep an eye out for more events held by Orient East.