Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Penang Coffee House @ Burwood Road, Hawthorn

The unassuming profile of Penang Coffee House
Penang Coffee House has been around for a long time. Frequented by Swinburne university students and lecturers alike, they have been the go to Malaysian joint for us for as long as I remember.

The menu with all the right information
I remember back in uni days (I'm not from Swinburne *ahem*), we'd drive to Hawthorn East and have conversations with the owner. Him regailing us with tales of growing up in Malaysia (Ipoh) and us listening politely and updating him with news from home.

The view into the kitchen
That was in the old restaurant. A few years ago, they moved to a bigger outlet further up the road. The place still gets crowded with loyal customers...

The now empty but often cramp and bustling dining area
We usually have a starter, main and dessert just because they have everything we crave for!

Tauhu Goren (Fried Tofu with cucumber and bean sprouts and satay sauce)
From delicious fried (and stuffed) tofu...

To delicious laksas... (Laksa's here differ from the ones you may find in Laksa King, as the one you find here has a richer milkier soup base --> Hence why it's called Laksa Lemak [which literally translates to Fat Laksa!]) It just has a richer quantity of coconut milk in it.

Laksa Lemak (I usually request for it to be more spicy!)
Their Hainanse Chicken rice is pretty good as well, you can't really go wrong with it. (And if you did, you shouldn't be dining there in the first place)

Hainanese Chicken Rice
Once when I wasn't feeling too well and had a sorethroat, Ms Tinymouse didn't allow (she strongly advised against it) for me to have my usual order of Laksa Lemak and instead had to go for a soupier and clearer noodle soup/broth, which turned out to be quite good (considering the owner is from Ipoh)

Ipoh Hor Fun (Flat rice noodles with prawns, spinach and sometimes chicken)
The Boy usually orders Hokkien Mee (Noodles) or Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice) when he's here, as he can't take spicy dishes and he quite likes it. So it must be good.

Nasi goreng (Fried Rice)
Their desserts are quite good as well. We've had their Ice Kacang as well as their Pulut Hitam (Black glutinous rice). Somehow it seems that in my haste to consume the desserts, I'd forgotten to take pictures of it. And I can't be bothered trawling pictures from past visits to find it. So you'll have to use your imagination 0_0

Would I return? Undoubtedly.. I've been coming here for years. Although the recent price increase (yet again!) has put a damper on my enthusiasm.

I would rather go to the Little King Eatery :) now that I know about it!

*Disclaimer: All food ratings are purely based on my own experiences and how I feel about the service, food and quality

Food/ Cuisine: Malaysian
Dining Style: Restaurant
Overall Food Rating (Based on the Dining style): 7/10
Restaurant ambiance: 6.5/10
Service/ Attitude: 7.5/10
Value for money: 6/10 (prices have continuously increased in the last 2 years, a bowl of laksa used to cost $7.50 and now costs nearly $13!)

549 Burwood Road
Hawthorn VIC 3122

Tel:(03) 9819 2092

Penang Coffee House is open from
Lunch time - 11.30am-2.30pm on Tues, Weds, Thurs, Fri & Sun and
Dinner time - 5.00pm-9.30pm from Tuesday - Sunday
PCH is closed on Mondays

How to get there:

View Larger Map

Penang Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Monday, 27 September 2010

Kouzina Modern Greek & Meze Bar @ Southgate, Southbank (Melbourne)

We finally managed to book some time to have a team lunch and it was by chance that we found Kouzina (as the original plan was to go to Hako)...

From the moment we walked in, we were greeted by a super enthusiastic floor manager (there were only 3 staff on the floor at the time we were there and probably 3 other tables?)...

The restaurant was fairly quiet but the chirpy manager more than made up for it... (however, since dining here 2 weeks ago, I'm not sure if this place is still up and running as they've taken it out of their website!)

Kouzina happens to be a chain of Greek restaurants and are located in various shopping centres (Westfield Doncaster, Knox Ozone, Watergardens Town Centre [Taylors Lakes] and Robina Town Center [QLD]).

Luckily for us, Kouzina caters for the busy lunchtime people around the city and thus, part of their appeal is their 12 for $12 (12 items, each for $12)

We gleefully made our selections and also Mrs. Awesome Pawsome (hehehe) ordered a few starters for us as well...

Mixed Dips 16.50
Tzatziki, Melitzanosalata, Taramosalata & Feta kopanisti, pita bread
The dips were beautiful, rich and generous in flavour and the pita bread was quite good. Although I'd much prefer Turkish bread (but when in Rome...)

Pita bread with the above dips

Flaming Saganaki 15.50
Grilled kefalograviera cheese with green olive kebab, flambéed with ‘Metaxa’
One of the best things to eat whilst dining in a Greek restaurant is Saganaki, and this did not disappoint... The cheese was beautifully salty and a yummy cheesy texture/ There weren't enough olives to go around though...

Lamb Sovlaki
Skewers of Lamb loin, pita bread, lettuce, tomato, onion, tzatziki and chips
A few in the team ordered the Lamb Sovlaki (pictured above) and Chicken Sovlaki which looked really good and healthy (kinda)... and it made me feel a tad jealous... look at those chips!

Lemon-Pepper Calamari Salad
Lightly fried calamari strips, mixed lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, kalamata olives and ouzo aioli dressing
Spamma had the Calamari Salad which she declared a "WIN"...

Vegetarian Meze Plate
Domades, baked lima beans, grilled red peppers, gava balls, eggplant dip and pita bread
The vegetarians opted for this and boy were they glad... their food looked amazing that even a carnivore like me was spotted eyeing this dish dangerously!

Lamb Salad
Grilled lamb loin, mixed lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, capsicum, olives, feta-yoghurt dressing
This was my dish and I was a tad dissapointed, given that everyone else's' dish looked better than mine. The lamb was cooked nicely, but the losing point for me were the amount of tomatoes in this salad. It should have been named the lamb and tomato salad... unfortunately for the tomatoes, majority of them were left on the plate. There was not enough dressing as well (in my humble opinion) and it was quite dry.... (Wished I had ordered the Sovlaki instead *sigh*)

Would I return to try their other dishes? Possibly... it was much better Greek food than Saganaki (in Docklands) and much more affordable as well.

*Disclaimer: All food ratings are purely based on my own experiences and how I feel about the service, food and quality

Food/ Cuisine: Greek
Dining Style: Restaurant
Overall Food Rating (Based on the Dining style): 7/10
Restaurant ambiance: 7/10
Service/ Attitude: 6/10 (Although he was very chirpy, the service was still a bit slower than I liked)
Value for money: 7.5/10 (for the cuisine and area, it was quite good)

3 Southgate Avenue
Southbank VIC 3006

Tel:(03) 9682 2999


Kouzina is open 7 days a week from
11am until late

NOTE: Again I note, the Southbank restaurant has dissapeared from their website listing, so may no longer be there, but the other locations are still available. I'd advise on calling first.

How to get there:

View Larger Map

Kouzina on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 19 September 2010

The Little King Eatery Review @ King Street, Melbourne

"I've got to take you to this great Malaysian place!".... said N one day...

"Woah.. that's a big call!!!", I said... 

Apparently she's been here twice before with another Malaysian... and the fact that N had been exposed and worked in Malaysia for a brief time helped me in trusting her taste buds =)

So one Friday lunch, we managed to take some time out from our busy hectic schedules (with me putting up a million "to-do's" for her, for when we returned)...

We arrived at 12pm sharp.. (apparently any later and it gets really crowded)... I was a bit lost for words when we walked in... the interior was quite unlike any Malaysian eateries (in Melbourne) that I've ever been into...

Set in a more "Western" style, it looked quite modern and cozy (not your normal style hawker restaurant/cafe, but more proper restaurant style, if you know what I mean)...

Browsing their menu wasn't easy, as there were quite a number of dishes to choose from... so we stuck with the classic favourites of Laksa and Char Kuey Teow (reputed to be quite good, and with my entire family originating from Penang, I had to taste this first hand)

The seafood curry laksa was actually quite good. The soup was rich and creamy (but not spicy enough), however it wasn't as good as the old Laksa King's version, but it was slightly better than the Laksa Lemak from Penang Coffee House...

Now to the star dish of the day. This was actually quite close to a good Hawker stall version of Char Kuey Teow... the noodles weren't too gluggy or too dry and the seasoning did give me some sort of flashback to sitting on the road side and eating at Lorong Selamat in Penang (Malaysia).... so I reckon it was a WIN!

Service was a bit over attentive at times, they kept wanting to be helpful and clear our dishes even after we told them we were quite happy to just chat and nibble on...

However, over attentive is better than not attentive at all I guess....

So well done N, I will return to this establishment, but it'd have to wait a while... I just have to be homesick enough to want to pay 5 times the amount of what I'd normally pay in Malaysia... but I think I will cave... February next year is much too long a time to wait....especially for good Char Kuey Teow =)

*Disclaimer: All food ratings are purely based on my own experiences and how I feel about the service, food and quality

Food/ Cuisine: Malaysian
Dining Style: Restaurant
Overall Food Rating (Based on the Dining style): 7/10
Restaurant ambiance: 7.5/10
Service/ Attitude: 8/10
Value for money: 7.5/10

232 King Street
Melbourne VIC 3000

Tel:(03) 9600 3620

Little King Eatery is open from
Monday - Friday 12-9pm and
Saturday from 5-9.30pm

How to get there:

View Larger Map

The Little King Eatery on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Day out at Prahran Market

The beautiful Prahran Market building
Are you the sort of person that craves going to the market? Doesn't matter what kind of market, be it the farmers market, the vegie market, the fruit market, the crafts market... just pick a market, any market, cheap cheap ... (sorry that came out of no where!)

Are you the type that walks into a homewhere/kitchen store and just gasp in joy and happiness?

Will the sights of the utensils above make you swoon and wish that you could have each and every item in your home/kitchen?

Then Prahran Market is the market for you... located in the upmarket suburb of Prahran (oh so posh dah-link!)... Prahran Market is situated at a busy intersection and has been around since 1881 (that is a famous brand, no?) and is not, I repeat, NOT a tourist market... (hence it's much more authentic!)

The al fresco dining area that is shared by a few of the cafes located around the Market
We decided to give it a visit on Saturday as the Boy was on a mission to look for his vegetables... (someone said a bad word there.... anything green must be bad for you! Mold, fungus, vegetables!)... However, the Boy has gone out of the way to make me eat the horrid healthy things... he's gone for purple vegetables! Curses!! Now they look quite nice and edible!

Purple Carrots
According to the Carrot Museum (believe me, I was just as amazed as you are... that there exists a museum for carrots... imagine... mummified carrots and carrots learning to make fire! But I digress...), carrots originated from present day Afghanistan 5000 years ago and were either purple or yellow in colour and became the "natural" orange to us when a few Dutchmen took it upon themselves to cultivate them and "orange-nize" them as those were the wonderful Netherland colours... Kapish?

Purple Potatoes, namely Sapphire and Purple Congos
Purple potatoes are amazingly high in anti-oxidents and the increasing popularity in restaurants using them in dishes now even has a dedicated article in the Epicure, The Age! You can google the rest yourself.. any more and I might start to fall asleep... needless to say, purple vegies are very pretty (even if they are roots!)

Best Mango Lassi in Melbourne
We stopped for a drink and to get some sumac from the little Indian Grocery at the market (shamed, I was overly distracted by spices and free lassi tastings to take a picture of the shop!)

A pretty dog!
Whilst taking a walk upstairs (we were in exploring mode) to view the famous sexual health clinics (well, when I google Prahran Market, the sexual health clinics come up, so I'm assuming that they are famous :P ), someone's dog was giving me the evil eye! What a pretty dog it was too!... Hmmpphh...

Mr. Potato waves a hello from his perch (he flies!)... and beautiful fresh produce in the market (the Boy proudly declared, "Melbourne has the freshest produce!")

And to end this visit, I took a picture of the pretty flowers in season... the Boy never buys me any... , "They just wilt and die anyway, I'll buy you a pot plant, but you're too lazy to look after it!"

For some reason or other (I'll stick to other), I was really full by the time I got out of the market... first we had a heavy brunch at Mojito Cafe including tea and coffee, then my mango lassi, then walking through the meat and delicatessen section (barbecues were on and meat and sausages was 'a grilling!)

How do you like to spend your Saturdays? I can't wait to go back to the market this weekend!!!

Oh and if you're on Twitter, Prahran Market has a twitter account and they're very helpful in getting information back to you. I needed to know where to get edible flowers and they found them for me! Hence, the excitement of returning to the market this weekend!!

**Note** I have nothing against the likes of touristy markets such as Vic Market or Paddingtons (in Sydney), but sometimes you just want to visit the other local markets around...

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Interview with Nicolas Poelaert - Chef-Owner of Embrasse - his inspiration, being a chef and his passion for cooking

During the Taste of Melbourne 2010 event, I braced myself for a rejection, approached Nicolas Poelaert and requested meekly, for a quick Q&A session with him. I mean, I'm only a tiny unimportant blog out of the many better food bloggers out there...

The rejection came... 

But it was because he said that he was much too busy working at the event and rather than a hurried conversation, he invited me instead to his restaurant for a proper chat the following week...

This of course turned out to be a great idea and opportunity, but it got me a bit flustered (being my first real interview with a chef and all), and the Boy doing an extensive research into interviewing chefs...

Embrasse @ 312 Drummond Street, Carlton
Embrasse pronounced as Ehm-brass or Ehm-brace, began a year and a half ago today on a quieter street of Carlton (parallel to the famous Lygon Street directly behind Lygon Plaza).

So I'd like to take the opportunity to dedicate this post and wish a very HAPPY ONE & A HALF YEAR ANNIVERSARY EMBRASSE!

According to Nic (as he humbly likes to be called), the inspiration to name his very first restaurant 'Embrasse' was always in the plan. Inspired by the very French culture of kissing and embracing, Nic said, "When you kiss someone, you have this personal connection with that someone. It (kissing) is a personal connection with new found things, with people, places, food, producers and farmers (alike)."

The name Embrasse is just to showcase that whole level of personal connection. Nic states that his inspiration for cooking the dishes he cooks now (in Embrasse) stems from his time working with Michel Bras. Michel Bras is one of his idols and helped Nic change the course of his career and has inspired him to do what he loves the most now.

The interior of the restaurant with the 3 signature art pieces
Nic's other idols are unsurprisingly the two people he worked for whilst building his cooking repertoire in Australia, Shannon Bennet (from his stint at the original Vue de Monde) and Matt Wilkinson (from his time at Circa). The latter is now one of his best friends whom Nic fondly insists on calling him by his full name, Matthew...

Originally from France, (he fondly calls himself "a country boy from France"), Nic and his family currently reside in Donvale, where they have a vegetable garden and a beautiful park behind their home. Just like most people, he gets his inspiration to cook from reading books and seeing pictures, happily announcing that he loves art!

Of course, for a big foodie like me (and a great sticky beak/ busy body), I had to ask what his favourite cuisine apart from French was. Nic replied that, "I like everything. I really like Malaysian, Vietnamese, Indian, Japanese..."

Steamed King Fish with mussels cooked in cream with purple and white cauliflowers and  borage flowers

To which I gleefully interrupted and announced that I was Malaysian... and he then said, that I had to cook for him one day!... One day... after I conquer the world Nic =)

I asked him if he'd ever go down the path of turning into a fusion restaurant of French Asian, as there are a few out there doing quite well (namely Tetsuya's and Jacques Reymond). And this is what he said, 

"I don’t know. I cook what I like to cook, I cook with the produce I like. And after that, it [the creation] just comes up. We are classified as a French restaurant, but there are a few bits and pieces. Like at the moment, we are doing a smoked and roasted (lamb) sweetbread, which I serve with a slow poached egg, corn puree, with goats milk on the plate and with some black sesame seed and black mustard, which I crush into a paste. And we add a little bit of French dressing to it, which is just oil, brown vinegar, salt and pepper, just to make it a bit lighter.
So it’s a little bit of [Asian], you won’t see much black sesame seed in French cooking. It’s just adding a little twist, we don’t really... that was just because it works really well for the dish. It’s not something that I think, “Okay, what are Japanese people using? What’s Malaysian [for the dish]?”
It is just elements that get together. And if it goes together, it works. And if it works, it works."
Bread served on tree bark and butter on wood with a wooden knife/paddle
Nic mentioned that he was initially inspired to learn to cook from his mother who is a really good cook and that she is amazing in the kitchen! 

Whenever he goes back to France for a visit, she'll be cooking up a storm. For instance, he recently went back to France for a visit and whilst he was getting ready in the morning for breakfast, he said that the smell of lunch cooking is already on and it's always a 3 course meal, with a soup, a meat or fish dish and a dessert. Noting that this behaviour is completely normal for his mum =)

"So you’ll sit down and have your breakfast, lunch is on, and my mum says, “What do you want for dinner?” And I say, “I haven’t even started my breakfast yet, lunch is already on, just give me a bit of a break!” [laughs]. But no, my mum, she always loves being in the kitchen."
Nic started cooking in a professional kitchen when he was 15, attending a chef school where the curriculum for the semester involved a constant rotation. He worked for 3 weeks in a real (commercial) kitchen and studied for a week (learning subjects such as mathematics, history, geography, etc). He acknowledges that he learnt a lot whilst doing the practical stint in the real kitchen environments.

And I think (personally), that he is imparting that knowledge he gained and giving it back to society as he currently has an apprentice (James) who works for him. Being such a passionate chef and a great lover of fresh produce, I think James will be able to learn a lot from his time at Embrasse.

Of course I had to ask the great reality TV show question. You can't go by a day without someone mentioning shows like Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules (the former more than the latter).  So I wanted to know what Nic really thought of these type of shows and if life has gotten more difficult with it, as more and more consumers become more judgmental in the way food is prepared and cooked.

Roast Chicken Breast with heirloom vegetables and various condiments from the Sunday Lunch menu
Nic acknowledges that shows like Masterchef showcases the reality of working in a commercial kitchen. However, he also acknowledges that it glamourises the industry and makes people believe that life as a chef is cool, which is often not the case and it overshadows the real story of pressure, stress and heartache. Chef's often put in a lot of hard work and long hours in the kitchen and chef cum owners put in a lot more, including a lot of (personal) money.

He mentions that a lot of people do not realise that running a restaurant is just as hard as running a business. Most people only think of a restaurant of a place where they can go and eat, where if something bad occurs, they should be compensated with a free meal. 

(I guiltily admit to this kind of behavior). 

Nic says, "But it is a business, we have bills to pay like everybody else, and we are trying our best to give the best service we can." 

"He goes on to say that , "A chef can spend a 110% of his time in the kitchen and can concentrate on what he has to do. But a chef-owner can’t do that. For example, yesterday [Wednesday] was the first day of the week for us, I come in and open the door in the morning. I have to be careful and make sure that the side door is open. [Because] if the side door is not open, we won't be able to receive the deliveries and flowers for the restaurant; we are not going to get anything. 
And if at 5 o’clock [p.m.] we realise that there are no flowers in the restaurant, [and we try to] call the florist at that time and the florist is going to say, “I’m sorry it’s 5 o’clock and my day is finished, there’s not going to be any flowers”."
He gives thanks to his brilliant team whom he trusts implicitly. But he also admits that it was his choice to be a chef-owner and that decision has stressful outcomes. He is constantly worrying, about the cleanliness and presentation of the restaurant to the job satisfaction of his staff. He worries about the window cleaner [if he will return to clean the following week], the cancellation of bookings, machinery breaking down...

Even saying that, "if the fridge breaks down, I will need to find out why it broke down and if I can fix it myself, I will fix it. And that’s what it is. We are only a year and 5 [now 6] months old. So every penny we can save, we have to save it for the future of the restaurant and making the restaurant better."

Lightening the atmosphere, I asked Nic what is the one meal he would want to eat if he knew that tomorrow would be the last day for him. He said that it'd have to be his mother's version of a roulade with slice ham, witlof, cooked gratin with a béchamel sauce and served with sautéed potatoes.

His favourite ingredient to use would have to be red vegetables, such as beetroots and carrots.

And when asked if he'd ever do a guest cameo or a guest spot in a cooking show such as Ready Steady Cook!, he said that he'd probably say no.

Nic is very passionate about Embrasse and would rather showcase what Embrasse [and him] can do. 
"I don’t think people come to a restaurant to know me. They want to know about the food I’m doing. They don’t really care who I am. If I can cook, people will come. But if I’m ugly, or have black hair, or...[laughs]
If I have the opportunity, it would be to showcase Embrasse."

And that Nic is currently doing. Partaking in events such as the Taste of Melbourne 2010 and doing cooking demonstrations and talks... (most recently with Tony Tan and Alla Wolf-Tasker)

He doesn't want to be on TV, just to be on. "I don't think I'm good looking", he says. I laughed and countered, asking him, wouldn't he like to be a celebrity chef??! He visibly shuddered...(hahahaha)

I next asked him what he thought about the Chefs that have worked in Circa, including him, as most of them that have had the chance to work there have all gone their successful ways.

He mentions that it's a really passionate kitchen where for a young chef to go, would be a great opportunity. It had the best and freshest produce, the most passionate and professional staff with excellent training. No one ever cared if they had to come in and work on a Wednesday or a Sunday, they just enjoyed working there and he reckons that for a young chef, it is a good place to start.

I also question him on his use of Twitter (as that was how I first came to know him)...

He tells of a story of how Matthew (Wilkinson) was constantly telling him to get on Twitter and that he would say to Nic, “You should do it, you should do it.” 

Not being very interested at first, after a night of good food and a few too many drinks, Nic announced that he would finally get on Twitter! Saying that it was a good decision as he got to meet a lot of different people, myself included!

Awwwwww.... Nic and I :P
When I asked him what he would be if he wasn't a chef. He quickly answered that he'd probably be a farmer, being a country boy and loving the outdoors.

"If one day, for some reason I’m not a chef anymore, for some reason, I have to stop being a chef or whatever. Still in the hospitality world [probably], maybe growing some herbs, supplying flowers and produce to other people, other chefs."

Upon being asked if he gets much sleep now (Nic and his wife Tara are proud parents of a 5 month old baby) with his new regime, he mentions that it is getting better. On his days off now, he spends time with his family but not as much as he likes as he has to manage the restaurant still.

A normal working day for Nic starts with him being at the restaurant at 9 o'clock in the morning until midnight. So he says, he only gets to see his baby in the morning before he leaves for work and on Mondays. On Tuesdays, he goes shopping in the markets and then it's back again preparing the produce for the week ahead.

I congratulate him on maintaining his 1 chef hat status in The Age Good Food Guide (bible for foodies), and other good reviews.

"Yes, the reviews are good. Reviews are good, except with the horse situation."
In summary of that situation, Embrasse had about 30 people with picket signs and microphones protesting outside after Nic announced that he was serving horse meat in his restaurant and at the Taste of Melbourne event.

He received a tremendous amount of emails and letters. And fearing for the safety of his staff, family and restaurant, they cancelled the plan to go ahead. Some were a show of support, some were against the serving of horse but respected the decision and others were mostly hate mail and death threats.

"We were the first restaurant to ever (in Australia) do it. There were a couple of restaurants in Perth who bought the meat before us, but they never used it. So we were the first restaurant to be able to do it.
I grew up eating horse, my parents, especially during the mad cow disease a few years back. My family ate more horse than beef."
I mentioned that perhaps some of those [negative] people, might be associating serving horse meat as the same with a dog or a cat due to personal experiences of keeping pets or horse riding.

Nic readily agreed with me and mentioned that he completely respected their opinion and that he understood what they were saying. He said that he always knew that it was going to stir up controversy, because anything that is new usually does that. However, he wasn't expecting death threats from certain quarters of the population.

We ended our conversation casually chatting on about my plans for the evening and when I was going to return to dine at Embrasse. I was constantly reminded, throughout our conversation, how humble and friendly Nic was.

He's definitely just another person trying to get by in this big big world and is utterly unfazed by the whole glamourising of the industry (as he liked to put it).

Thank you again to Chef Nic Poelaert who kindly gave up his time (in his very busy schedule) to have a chat with me for the purposes of this blog.

Nic has accumulated several distinguished awards:
Winner Best New Restaurant - Saviour Awards for Excellence, Restaurant & Caterers Association of Australia
Winner Nicolas Poelaert - Young Chef of the Year 2010, The Age Good Food Guide
Nominated Best New Talent - 2010 Restaurant Guide Awards, Gourmet Traveller
Winner Best New Restaurant - Awards for Excellence, Restaurant & Caterers Association of Victoria

**Pictures used are from my own experiences with the restaurant, event and chef**

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