16 Celestial Avenue
Melbourne VIC 3000
Heyday Hong Kong Cafe means different things to different people. To some, it is a place where you’d go when the line at adjacent Supper Inn is too long and you can’t be bothered waiting. To others, like my Honkiphile friend, Aaron, it is a place where you can stretch your feet and relax with a cup of Hong Kong-style iced milk tea after a long day of shopping in the city. And to others, well it means nothing because you don’t know it exists.
HHKC is one of Chinatown’s many cha chaan teng cafes, Hong Kong-style cafes that serve cheap Western-style Hong Kong dishes. For example, you may get a piece of steak which is marinated in a sticky soy sauce, served with steamed bok choy and white rice. Or you may get spaghetti with bolognaise and bits of fried spam on top. It may sound dubious to most, but it’s a formula that works well in Hong Kong and if the number of cha chaan teng places in Melbourne is anything to go by, it also works well here.
HHKC’s daggy purple signage and its very small seating area (it literally seats 10-15 patrons) isn’t designed to comfort. And its simple menu of toasts, rice dishes and fusion pasta dishes aren’t going to be winning any awards either. To come here and order a cup of iced milk tea is always a given whenever I’m around Aaron, but last night was the first time I actually had any food to go with my tea.
I ordered a creamy chicken and mushroom on rice which was $10, including a cup of iced milk tea. Both Aaron and Adam insisted I get this because they thought that I’d like it. ‘It tastes like risotto!’ they both cried, ‘We eat it all the time!’ Let me assure you, guys, that I will not listen to those two again and no, it does NOT taste like risotto. Unlike a perfectly-cooked risotto, the creamy sauce and the rice did NOT mesh well together. Eating the sauce was akin to eating a can of cooked Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup mixed with a bit of thickened cream. I couldn’t handle it, seriously. I spent most of my meal picking out the chicken thigh pieces, bits of corn and mushroom and whatever uncovered blobs I could get while Adam happily ate away the creamy sauce. Gross, man.
Aaron’s girlfriend, Cathy, ordered a French toast ($4.90) which wasn’t anything like your typical French toast. Here, they battered three slices of white bread in a sweet egg mixture before deep-frying it until it looked like a fried beancurd. Aaron told me that they usually slap a small piece of butter on top but we were given none this time. Instead, we had to make do with a squeeze of golden syrup to make it more sweeter than it already was. It wasn’t bad at all – but not something I’d order (and attempt to eat) myself.
Look, I appreciate cha chaan teng cafes and what they’ve done. They’ve fed impoverished students at very reasonable prices and they’ve introduced a new type of cuisine into the Australian vernacular. I can certainly understand its appeal and why they’re popular with my crew but I’ll stick to my risottos and ‘normal’ French toasts, thanks.