305-307 Swanston St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 0068
305 Swanston Street in the city is cursed, or so Adam believes. Countless restaurants, including several of the Vietnamese persuasion, have made their homes there only to be bowled out only a few months after opening night. I dined at a couple of those restaurants over the last few years, the last time being the Vietnamese place whose name escapes me, and yeah, okay, the food was terrible. Ditto the food that the block’s previous tenants made (again, Vietnamese) but c’mon? A curse?
305 Swanston Street’s newest tenant is Tofu King, which is part of the China Bar empire. It’s an eatery that specialises in yong tau foo, which is essentially a noodle soup topped with an assortment of stuffed items, tofu and non-tofu. A typical yong tau foo place in Melbourne would have their stuffed items laid out behind the glass cover and it’s up to us to choose what goes into our soup by pointing to the item and getting one of the ladies to scoop it out.
Not at Tofu King though. Here, it’s pretty much a DIY job. Simply grab a bowl, a pair of tongs and then embark on the grueling task of what goes into your soup. Maybe some Chinese donut pieces stuffed with seafood? Or maybe a prawn stuffed mushroom? Whatever you desire, you’re the one with the tongs, not some random person. And yeah, okay, this DIY isn’t really ground-breaking stuff but I guess some people do like the idea of being in control so if this place ever becomes popular, that would be the reason why.
Once you’ve gathered your six pieces, you go to the counter where you tell the dude what broth you want (either clear or laksa) and what sort of noodles you want (Hokkien, flat rice, vermicelli, egg noodles, and so on) and off you go to find a table while they cook the lot for you. All for $9.90, which is on the slightly pricey side.
And raid their plentiful condiment supplies.
Of course you always end up with way too much…
I opted for a clear broth with flat rice noodles. My ‘pieces’ ranged from a crispy-about-to-go-soggy beancurd skin stuffed with fish, a Chinese donut piece stuffed with seafood, a seafood mix wrapped in seaweed and various seafood and prawn dumplings. They were fine but I thought the broth was salty and somewhat bland. A few spoonfuls of lovely chilli oil changed it for the better though.
Adam went for the laksa broth with Hokkien noodles. If I thought mine was salty, I wouldn’t be surprised if a cup of Dead Sea water went into his broth. Yowsers. It goes without saying that the laksa broth was not tasty and beautifully rich, just flat and salty. Ick.
Of course, yong tau foo ain’t the only option here. There are more than two dozen pan-Asian dishes (mostly China Bar staples such as char kway teow and the like) for those who don’t like the whole decision-making process when it comes to ordering yong tau foo. Aaron is one of them, so he ordered a plate of Singapore noodles ($9.90) which is probably not the first thing I would order here but anyway. It seemed to have more shredded lettuce than noodles which made me LOL because… since when do they serve Singapore noodles with lettuces? And lots of it too? Anyway, it was salty (see a pattern here?) and pretty ‘bleh’ but then again, I didn’t expect any less.
Look, I can see this restaurant breaking the 305 Swanston Street curse and being somewhat successful. It’s reasonably packed whenever I walk past and the display of yong tau foo items is certainly alluring at 8pm on a Wednesday night. Personally though, if I wanted yong tau foo in the city, I’d walk the extra block to Grand BBQ at the Target Centre .