Another sort-of-but-not-really important anniversary? Another dinner date at yet another toffy Melbourne restaurant. Yeah, no worries mate! To celebrate our one-and-a-half-year anniversary, Adam took me to Silks last night, a respectable Cantonese fine dining establishment at Crown Towers. Having been there once before with his family, he decided that he liked it enough to take me there last night. We spent much of the afternoon taking advantage of the family and friends sale at MYER where Adam bought me two cookbooks (the latest Tobie Puttock one and “Faking It”, a cookbook written for cooking novices such as myself which was published by the ABC) as well as a summery mist grey cotton frock from Decjuba. It had been pissing down rain all day so we were not keen on walking all the way to Crown but luckily, there was a rainless patch in the late afternoon so we braved the winds and made it to Crown just before it started again.
To kill time before dinner, we watched the cricket at this bar which I can’t remember the name of but it used to be the former Sports Bar. It’s definitely not a place that I’d voluntarily go again for drinks (the only reason why we were there was because The Pub At Crown was not showing the cricket) as it was full of yobbos who were in their Sunday best attires of baggy Levi’s and light blue t-shirts from Tarocash as well as those bogan Kath and Kim type women who had just been to Sexpo across the road. Shudders.
Anyway, I wasted two paragraphs already and we haven’t even gotten to Silks yet, so shall we?
The first thing I said when I walked in was simply “WOW.” A luxurious restaurant which resembled a Chinese mansion, every corner was beautifully decorated. Flower Drum might have boasted some serious bling but while its décor screams borderline tacky (they’ve had the same décor since the 80s), Silks was refreshingly modern. From the pretty lanterns lining the walkway into the door to the traditional Chinese tapestries that draped the walls, it was obvious that a lot of money was invested in the restaurant.
The main attraction, however, was the huge Mongolian tent (below) in the middle of the restaurant that seats 10-20 people for pre or post dinner drinks (or simply if you just want to get away from your annoying relatives).
The secluded booth that we were guided to did not disappoint either. A generously sized table. Cushy chairs. A position where we could see but not be seen. Decent view of the Yarra. Privacy. Cute crockery. Coated peanuts. A teapot with its own little tea warmer/heater. I was excited.
Prior to arriving here, Adam and I were certain that we were going to go for one of the banquet options but that didn’t stop us from skimming the menu just to see what the a la carte prices were like. Most of the mains were in the $30-40 mark, pretty expensive for Cantonese cuisine, while high end stuff such as abalone set one back $150ish. There are three different banquet menus to choose from, the cheapest one being $85. While all three banquets had roughly the same number of courses, we decided to go for the dearest option at $125 p/head, only because there were more seafood dishes on that particular menu. And we all know how much I love my seafood.
The first item took quite a well to arrive. The five or so tables next to us (an engagement party for a toffy Honkie family) had about 5 or so waiters swarming around them which made me feel a bit neglected. Yeah, I know that they’re paying 10 billion times more than I am but I want service dammit! Finally, the waiter came and presented to us each a plate with three huge pieces of scallops. I was a bit surprised that they didn’t make an effort with the presentation but reminded myself that this was, after all, a Chinese restaurant. Heh. The flavour of the scallops, sweet and succulent, was balanced nicely with the salty sauce and a slight whiff of ginger. Although the dish was nice enough, I felt that it would’ve been better with some coriander (I later found out, on the Silks website, that this dish was advertised as “scallops with fine ginger and coriander sauce.” Methinks the chef forgot to put coriander.)
The next dish was one that features in the Flower Drum banquet menu, the baked crab shell. Again, I found this to be decent. Fresh sweet crab meat with chopped onions nestled in a creamy cheese sauce laden with saffron and a tinge of curry. It doesn’t sound like a very Chinese-y dish but then again, there are a lot of cooking ingredients and techniques that the Chinese have borrowed from other cultures. Portuguese egg tarts anyone? I found the baked crab shell to be lighter than the one we had at Flower Drum (which is a good thing!) but I found that Flower Drum’s version tasted that much better.
Ah, the obligatory dish in every high-end Chinese restaurant banquet menu. Two pieces of Peking duck each, prepared in front of the table while you watch. Adam’s first piece was gone in literally two bites while I slowly savoured mine. It was good, yes, but out of this world? No. Silks did everything right with their Peking Duck. Good moist chunk of duck shelled by a crispy skin, spring onion, cucumber, plum sauce, all wrapped in a pancake that was neither too dry nor soggy – all textbook stuff. The problem, however, was that I couldn’t stop comparing it to Flower Drum’s juicier and bigger duck pieces, their slightly longer cucumbers and spring onions, their “more perfect” pancakes and their tangier plum sauce. Having said that though, I’d say that Silks’ Perking Duck ALMOST gives Old Kingdom’s a run for its money. ALMOST.
The menu described this dish as “Lobster with supreme stock and seasonal vegetables”, the vegetables being one measly piece of sliced carrot and two baby bok choys and the “supreme stock” being the ubiquitous ginger and spring onion sauce. While the lobster meat was oh-so-sweet, plump and juicy, I found this dish to be quite bland and uninspiring overall. It was definitely nothing that I can’t get at Tai Pan or another suburban restaurant at a much cheaper price.
Next please! Simply called “Pan-fried salmon with peas”, this was another dish that didn’t really seem Chinese-y to me. The whole pan-fried-in-batter thing just screamed out Aussie fish and chips shop and the choice of fish was certainly unconventional (battered salmon?!?!). Strange as it may sound, I thought it was yummy though the fact that the fish had been sitting in the sauce for quite some time prior to serving it to us (presumably, the chef had to wait for the veggies to finish cooking – confirm what veggies!!) meant that the nice texture created by the crispy batter on the top of the fish was almost ruined by the soggy mess on the bottom where the soy and mirin sauce soaked through.
This was the “main” dish, the final savoury item on tonight’s menu: “Eye fillet of beef with Cantonese sauce and seasonal vegetable” accompanied by a small bowl of special fried rice. As we were munching and getting very very full, Adam remarked on how similar this banquet was to Flower Drum’s. Looking back at the last time I went there, I had to agree. Half the dishes were exactly the same or similar, which prompted me to wonder whether Silks had copied Flower Drum’s banquet menu (which, more or less, remain unchanged for years) or was it just a mere coincidence? Hmmm. Either way, this was good as it gave me an easier task of comparing the two objectively. I wasn’t sure if I enjoyed this dish, to be honest. The serving size was minuscule compared to the generous serving granted to us by Flower Drum. The fried rice was just like any others you would expect to find at a shopping centre food court. And as for seasonal veggies? All we got was a lump of cooked spinach. Not that I know much about which veggies are in season or not, but are spinaches actually in season? Or does Silks simply describe each vegetable as “seasonal”?!?!
We got coconut pudding, which is exactly like the almond jellies you get at yum cha but with a hint of coconut flavouring. It was light and refreshing, exactly the thing you need after a big meal. Oh, and I love that the menu says that it comes “served with seasonal fruit.” Haha, yeah… one little orange slice, one kiwi fruit slice and a mango slice. Yeah okay, they are in season at the moment – I’ll give Silks that – but surely, an award-winning chef from Hong Kong can produce much more stunning desserts than THIS?! I guess this, once again, proves my theory that Asians are just no good at desserts…
So what did you think of the restaurant? I want the interior designer to decorate my house. What about the food? It was alright, but just that. Was it worth $125? No.
As I’ve gathered from experience, I found that Melbourne’s Cantonese restaurants lack creative direction and churn the same old favourites day in, day out. While those who do well with extremely talented chefs and high quality ingredients are rewarded with Saturday night waiting lists of up to six months (Gilbert Lau and Flower Drum), there are those who try so hard but have not quite got there. And Silks is one of them. Obviously, they’re marketing themselves as an alternative to Flower Drum but sadly, they still have a long way to go. While I was happy paying $145 for Flower Drum’s banquet, the $125 per head price tag at Silks could have been better spent elsewhere as most of the food was only slightly better than you would get elsewhere in Chinatown. The service, although a little slow to begin with, wasn’t too bad but what really ruined the night for me was the rowdy engagement party full of loaded-yet-badly-dressed Honkies sitting next to us. The first time Adam was here, he said that it was so quiet and posh that he dared not make a sound. Having the boisterous Honkies drunkingly sik sik sei sei-ing next to us made the atmosphere feel more like a suburban yum cha restaurant and subsequently ruined it for us. Silks is not a place that I would visit on my own accord any time soon but if there are some serious changes to the menu, then perhaps I will reconsider.
We so silly!
Chilling out inside the Mongolian tent after dinner. The interiors were so cool; cooler than many of the bars out there in Melbourne!