209 Little Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9639 1885
Happy Chinese New Year to all my wonderful readers!
Despite being Asian, my family isn’t at all into the whole Chinese New Year thing (Something to do with being ‘too white-washed.’ Dutch-washed, more like it). Adam’s family, however, are still very much into their Chinese roots and usually plan something every year, usually overpriced ‘lucky banquets’ at one of the many Chinese restaurants in the city. For some reason, however, they didn’t bother organising a dinner this year. Perhaps my parents’ influenced them, perhaps they were over being ripped off or perhaps they just wanted to go home and watch The Biggest Loser. But when your son is dating someone like me, there’s no escaping the inevitable eat-out that MUST occur at least once in the CNY period. Yes, my family may not be into the whole CNY thing but they are all for the idea that any excuse to eat out is as good as any.
We ruled out most of the restaurants along Russell Street as well as the more high-end ones, and settled on Spicy Fish, a ‘normal’ Chinese restaurant just outside the Target Centre. It was the perfect choice for us as the food was not expensive enough for Adam’s parents to turn to the menu and be all like, ‘WAH SO EXPENSIVE! WE COULD HAVE EATEN AT X FOR $A LESS!’ Their focus on Shanghainese and Sichuan cuisines (while dabbling in ‘gweilo’ Chinese dishes such as lemon chicken) also made things more interesting for Adam and I who have grown accustomed to his parents’ preference for Cantonese retaurants (and nothing else) when it comes to eating out. It was packed to the brim when we rocked up just before 7pm on the evening of Chinese New Year’s Day so we were grateful we booked beforehand.
Seated at the very back of the restaurant, we were studying our menus when not long after, the lion came into the restaurant and did its thang. Nothing wrong with that (well, apart from the noise) but we weren’t impressed when the waiters stood there gawking at the festivities for the next 10 minutes and practically ignoring all the diners. Not cool, man. Once the procession disappeared, though, it was back to business.
Unfortunately some of the dishes we wanted were completely sold out (all fish head dishes, for example) but eventually we chose two appetisers to share and three mains.
First up, the xiaolongbaos (six for $7.50). Yeah, yeah, why order XLBs at a place that’s not renowned for their XLBs? Well, because I read a blog that said that the XLBs were good. They weren’t.
Their gluggy and thick skins already told us that they weren’t good to begin with. If you needed more proof that these were crap, however, the lack of soup and the gritty meatball-like filling that was sweeter than a Maccas burger bun are also very good indicators.
Our second appetiser was a plate of shredded turnip pastries (four for $6.50). They were beautifully golden and flaky, and the piping hot turnip filling was delicate yet tasty at the same time.
Our mains arrived quickly for a place that was extremely busy. First up, the Sichuan prawns ($21.80). Fresh King prawns and vegies were coated in a sticky sauce that was equal parts tangy, sweet, and spicy at the same time. Kind of like kong pao sauce, but not as flavoursome. It was spicy enough for Adam and his parents to enjoy, yet mild enough for a wuss like me to enjoy without breaking into a revolting sweat.
We HAD to have this: the dry chicken with hot chilli ($17.80), opting for the boneless chicken option (who on earth would use the option with bones?!). Three chillies placed next to the menu description indicated that this dish was the hottest of them all. Given that I was sharing a meal with three chilli lovers, we dismissed the three-chilli rating and ‘pffft pfffft’ed all over the place. When the mountain of fire was presented to our table, however, my memory of having tried the same dish at Sichuan house a year ago became as vivid as the colours on the plate. They say that the chase is always better than the catch (if you got my Scooter reference, I love you) and this phrase certainly held true here. Poking into the chilli and finding bits of chicken was the fun part. Eating it, not so much. It was hot, man. REALLY HOT. Even Adam and his parents were drawing sweat. To be honest, I only thought this dish was okay. The Chong Qing chicken at Sichuan House was not only bigger, it had a greater depth of flavours. Here, all I could taste was garlic, chilli, and salt. Oh, and they were a bit tight with the chicken too (I only had five little pieces). Not cool.
This is what the plate looked like after all the chicken was gone.
Given how hot the last dish was, thank goodness for the scallops with vegetables ($21.80). The scallops were of a decent size and the size of the dish was reasonable for the price we paid. Although I can’t say that this was the plate of scallops I’ve ever had, I graciously lapped this one up to diffuse all the chilli remnants from the previous dish.
The calm before the storm.
Okay, so this Sichuan-Shanghainese restaurant may not serve the best Sichuan food in Melbourne nor does it serve mind-blowing Shanghainese. That said, it wasn’t bad. Not bad at all. Heck, Adam and his family were happy with their meal and to be honest, I can see myself going back again if I’m in a cbf-walking-long-distances-for-Chinese-food mood. Next time though, I think I’ll just order a lemon chicken, heh.