Melbourne Restaurant Reviews: The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Secret Kitchen

Shop L2-2003
Westfield Shoppingtown Doncaster
619 Doncaster Road
Doncaster VIC 3108
+61 3 9840 2248
http://www.secret-kitchen.com.au/en

I love my yum cha like any Asian foodie but there came a time in my life when seeing a har gow (prawn dumpling) made me feel ill. Yep, it happened on what would have been my fifth visit to Doncaster’s Secret Kitchen in the space of two months.

My parents love this place and I can see why. We now go to church in Doncaster, thus making it a very convenient place to have a family lunch. Furthermore, the dishes are generally reasonably priced, given how good they generally are. However, I’m someone who likes variety when it comes to food and can barely tolerate eating the same thing over and over – which explains why I feigned ‘being busy with uni stuff’ the last time mum wanted to Secret Kitchen for lunch. Did I do uni stuff? No, I promptly went home, made myself a cheese toastie and took a three-hour nap.

Another case in point, my favourite dish is the humble lasagne. Eating it for lunch three days in a row a few months ago, however, drove me insane. And don’t get me started on having to eat dumplings for four meals over the weekend – I love dumplings and all (in case you couldn’t tell by eating this blog!) but seriously, I will scream if I have to shove another Peking pork dumpling in my mouth.

But back to Secret Kitchen.

It joins more than a dozen established yum cha restaurants in the Doncaster/Templestowe area, which meant that they were up against some stiff competition. Secret Kitchen occupies the space of what was then the unsuccessful Kam Fook restaurant, which charged a fortune for yum cha dishes – money that the folks in Doncaster weren’t willing to pay.

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Given Kam Fook’s unsuccessful run, it was going to be interesting to see how Secret Kitchen would fare. Imagine my surprise when I saw that it was packed to the rafters on my first visit. And on my second visit. And so on. On several occasions, we had even been unlucky enough to miss out on a table because it was that full.

I guess this place ain’t such a secret anymore.

Chicken feet (鳳爪)

Chicken feet (鳳爪)

Secret Kitchen delivers well on the traditional yum cha dishes such as chicken feet, har gow dumplings and egg tarts.

Ginger prawn dumplings

Ginger prawn dumplings

Their ginger prawn dumplings are also very well done.

Siu mai (燒賣)

Siu mai (燒賣)

They also like to play around with modern twists on old classics. For example, they load their siu mai dumplings up with not just pork but also lots of prawn chunks and top them with tobiko roe.

Seafood dumplings and pork puffs

Seafood dumplings and pork puffs

I don’t think I’ve seen pork puffs at a yum cha restaurant before, but I wish more places made it. I enjoyed biting into the crispy filo-like pastry that engulfed a spicy and slightly sweet pork mince filling.

Scallop and prawn dumplings

Scallop and prawn dumplings

You also can’t go wrong with scallop dumplings, especially when they also contain prawn and tobiko roe.

Deep fried taro dumplings (芋角)

Deep fried taro dumplings (芋角)

Secret Kitchen also makes fantastic deep fried taro dumplings. In the past, we’ve experienced taro dumplings that were soggy and oily by the time they reached our table. We were glad that we’ve never had to experience this at Secret Kitchen. Plus, they actually inject a decent amount of taro in ‘dem balls too.

Oh, in case you’re wondering why the white balance looks inconsistent in the photos… it’s because I took these photos on different dates. Naturally, seating arrangements, time of day and lighting levels varied.

Ginger spring onion tripe

Ginger spring onion tripe

I ordered this dish every time I’ve been here so far. I can’t help it; the portions are always so generous and there is an even mix of both thick and thin pieces of tripe. Plus, the sauce is beautiful.

Zhaliang, or fried dough sticks wrapped in rice sheets (炸兩)

Zhaliang, or fried dough sticks wrapped in rice sheets (炸兩)

Our family loves ordering zhaliang, a dish that doesn’t appear on yum cha trolleys. Secret Kitchen’s version is great because the fried dough sticks are actually crunchy, despite being slathered with all that soy sauce.

Fried whitebait

Fried whitebait

I don’t go crazy over fried whitebait, but my parents do so this is a staple order whenever we have yum cha. I have to admit that Secret Kitchen’s version is great – the whitebait pieces are actually large and the batter remained crispy until the very last piece had gone. Plus, they didn’t have that nasty fishy smell that plagues the same dish at other restaurants.

Fried wasabi prawn rolls

Fried wasabi prawn rolls

These don’t look pretty – WTF is with the slimy fluro green sludge on top, for instance? Surprisingly, these fried wasabi prawn rolls weren’t bad. Okay, so I would have preferred normal mayo over wasabi mayo but hey, the skin was crispy and the prawn filling was tasty so we’ll call it a wash.

Salted duck egg custard bun (流沙包)

Salted duck egg custard bun (流沙包)

I haven’t had these prior to Secret Kitchen – and I wondered where I had been all my life.

Salted duck egg pr0n

Salted duck egg pr0n

I love salted duck egg in sweet dishes. Yes, I know it sounds weird but it works. And while these beauties normally come in steamed bun form, I liked that the crust was slightly crunchy, giving way to a soft doughy inside.

Of course, we enjoyed a number of other dishes at Secret Kitchen but I never got around to taking pics of them. It’s been a good two months since my last visit and as much as I hate to say it, I must admit that I’d be quick to say ‘yes’ if my parents decide to do yum cha at Secret Kitchen this weekend. The food is great and it isn’t overly expensive (we paid $20-30 per head for a decent number of dishes – and we were full).

I guess the one bad thing I’d have to say about Secret Kitchen is that the service can be a bit inconsistent. There were times where we sat in the section next to the kitchen, which was fine, but some lazy arse waitresses would not bother stopping their trolleys there. Then there were times when service had been quick, ensuring that we were in and out in a matter of 45 minutes.

I’ve yet to come here for dinner but I have heard that the dinner menu is pretty good, which gives me an excuse to come here for a pre-movie feed. Either way, it does not hurt to add another great yum cha restaurant in Doncaster, especially one that do excellent salted duck egg custard buns.

Question: Can you eat the same thing three times in a row or does that sort of stuff drive you insane?

Secret Kitchen on Urbanspoon

4 Comments on Secret Kitchen

  1. theragingcook
    July 25, 2013 at 22:02 (9 months ago)

    i can ear Pho, Bun Bo Hue and Xlb three times in a row and no problemos bahahaha :D

    Reply
  2. Hotly Spiced
    July 26, 2013 at 21:58 (9 months ago)

    I haven’t been to Yum Cha for ages and looking at all the dishes in your images is making me want to head to the nearest restaurant. So much yummy food here. Yum Cha is such a wonderful way to dine xx

    Reply
  3. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
    July 27, 2013 at 19:51 (9 months ago)

    I love salted duck egg too! And I think having the same thing in a row and not having any choice in the matter would drive me a bit mad :P

    Reply
  4. Hannah
    July 28, 2013 at 05:26 (9 months ago)

    It’s a shame it wasn’t too full to seat you on one of the times you wanted to scream over the repetition.

    Reply

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