An old friend from uni, Poasa, was in Melbourne for Easter so Adam and I decided to take him out for a good old fashioned yum cha lunch. The poor thing, having been back in Fiji for the last few years, has not had a ‘proper’ yum cha meal in ages (apparently in Fiji, yum cha restaurants are VERY different) so he was just as excited as I was about the lunch. Oh, and the whole seeing-each-other-for-the-first-time-in-three-years bit too! It was up to me to choose the lunch venue and after much deliberation I decided on the newly-refurbished Dragon Boat restaurant in Chinatown. Now I used to go there all the time with my parents and with friends in my earlier uni student days. That was before their food quality started slipping and then I stopped going. With all the hoo-haa surrounding the refurbishments though, I decided that a return visit would not hurt and hey, it might even be better this time around. Not so, warned Jan who went there only two weeks prior to our visit. Not only did she say that it was pricey, the food that arrived on her table was COLD. She left after only five dishes. In hindsight I should have listened to Jan but I brushed aside her warning and figured that she just came on a bad day or something.
We arrived on time for our 1:30pm booking to a much more spacious and modern-looking establishment that extended to an extra floor above the main restaurant. Gone were the deary carpeting and the old school 80s furnishings. Instead, the space was much more simple with sleek wooden tables and chairs snaked all over the floor, allowing only enough room for the trolleys to make their way to each table. We were told that there was to be a 10 minute wait which was fair enough as it WAS a Sunday.
The next half an hour was kinda like sitting in a Wong Kar Wai film – nothing made sense. Once we were seated at our table, the following things happened:
- We were initially served by a stoned waiter; he literally threw down our chopsticks, bowls and napkins right in front of us in quick succession without blinking. Bangbangbangbangbangbangbang! WHOA!
- It took us four tries to actually get chilli sauce and chilli oil. This was frustrating, not only because I cannot have my dumplings without chilli oil but one should also expect to see chilli sauce to be poured into a dipping dish when you are seated.
- We asked the stoned waiter for zhaliang. He ignored us. We asked two different waitresses, both nodding their acknowledgements … but they did not bother writing the order down on our bill nor did we see them go into the kitchen to get the dish ready. Finally, we asked the roaming manager if we could order zhaliang. The first time, he PRETENDED NOT TO HEAR US. The second time, he did this irritated sigh and said something about having to “see if they’re ready yet.” And when Adam went, “huh?” the dude just snapped at him, “Wait for the kitchen to bring it out!” WTF? Wait for them to bring it out? Zhaliang is a dish that’s made to ORDER. In the end, we just gave up. I was really disappointed though because to me, yum cha isn’t yum cha without zhaliang.
- The trolleys took way too long to circulate. We did not receive our fried dishes and we only saw one dumpling cart come around while the same cart containing fried fish cakes (!) circled our table three times.
In the end, we simply grabbed our stuff after only seven dishes and paid the bill (where a line of fellow disgruntled patrons were queuing). Okay, so the service was beyond crap. What was the food like? Well, here are some shots to start off with:
Xiao Long Bao with no soup. Grr.
The food may have looked alright and probably would have tasted just so… had they been HOT rather than lukewarm. Sigh. The total bill was $48.10 (4 x $5.50 for the medium dishes + 3 x $6.50 for the large dishes + 3 x $2.20 for the tea). For the food quality and the appalling service – and not to mention the fact we were still hungry – it was a lot to pay for yum cha. I also had to laugh at Poasa when he said that although yum cha in Fiji is crap, it was miles ahead of what we had to experience at Dragon Boat. Dragon Boat may have changed its facade, but it was still skanky and ugly inside. Not recommended at all.
Eggplant with minced pork ($15.80), a random dish that we ordered. It was lovely though, the pork being not overly spicy but giving off a sizable amount of bite.
Yes, we ended up having two lunches. Sad, I know. At the end of the day, at least we all learnt never to go to Dragon Boat for yum cha again.