Review: David & Camy Noodle Restaurant (Melbourne, VIC)

605 Station Street
Box Hill VIC 3128
+613 9898 8398

One thing I really miss about living in Melbourne is the proximity to dodgy dumpling places. By dodgy dumplings, I mean plates cheap, greasy yet oh-so-damn-tasty dumplings that’s best enjoyed with beer as well as after a hangover. There are plenty of those sots of places in the city and in suburban Asian enclaves such as Box Hill and Glen Waverley.

Unfortunately, these sort of joints are rare if not non-existent where I live now so I have to do without – or make my own from scratch if I’m craving. It’s no wonder, then, why most of my Melbourne trips include a trip to Shanghai Village or Shanghai Street et al. On my last Melbourne trip, I ended up at David & Camy Noodle Restaurant in Box Hill. They’ve been around since 1988 and were one of my go-to places for dumplings when I was growing up; these days, they’re still going strong.

Matt was my dining partner for the evening; in hindsight, this was probably a terrible idea because he had become a vegetarian a year or so ago – something which I completely forgot about. Regardless, David & Camy still has plenty of vegetarian options to choose from.

Spring onion pancake ($3)
Spring onion pancake ($3)

Like the spring onion pancakes, for example. At $3 a pop, it’s easy to slip in a serving when you’re having a dumpling feast. I make these at home a lot these days so rarely do I order them when I’m out but they’re a good dish to share when you’re out with vegos. Plus, they’re cheap too.

Shanghai vegetarian fried noodles ($9)
Shanghai vegetarian fried noodles ($9)

We ordered a plate of Shanghai noodles – sans pork – to share. David & Camy are very generous when it comes to serving sizes and the mountain of noodles we received was MASSIVE. In fact, we couldn’t even finish these between the two of us despite how ridiculously tasty they were (it’s all in the mushrooms, didn’t you know). Yes, it was very greasy and yes, they probably used old vegetables as they had a very limp texture – and yes, my photos are pretty horrible – but so what.

Fried Peking pork dumplings (15 pieces, $9.50)
Fried Peking pork dumplings (15 pieces, $9.50)

I ordered these, thinking that I’d be able to finish them on my own but after helping Matt with his noodles, I admitted defeat. I think I ate about seven before I gave up and asked for a plastic container. Crispy and full of bite, these dumplings were as good as I remember. While they won’t win any dumpling equivalent of Michelin star awards (they’d probably take marks off for being on the very oily side), they did the job and I was happy.

David & Camy Dumpling Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Roast Duck Inn (Melbourne, VIC)

29-31 Carrington Road
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 3 9897 3788
http://www.roastduckinn.com.au/

If you love your Hong Kong-style roast meats, then Box Hill is definitely the place to be. With its plethora of cheap and nasty (in a good way) Asian restaurants that are open late, it’s the perfect pit stop for Melbourne’s Eastsiders wanting a midnight feed on the way home from a night on the piss.

Being good and responsible citizens (har-har), Matt and I certainly weren’t on the piss one Friday night but we were in the area and craving something cheap, quick and greasy. That’s where Roast Duck Inn came in. It was almost 10pm so, to be fair, it wasn’t terribly late but it was way past the dinner hour. Before we had the chance to sit down and breathe, laminated menus were shoved in our faces – in other words, we’re hoping to close early tonight so you guys better hurry the hell up.

That was fine, we both knew what we wanted.

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With complimentary herbal bone broth in our hands, we started our conversation. It was a cool Melbourne night so I eagerly sipped the last dregs of the broth.

Roast duck and salted egg fried rice
Roast duck and salted egg fried rice ($13.50)

I had been craving this particular dish for quite some time and as its name suggests, Roast Duck Inn certainly delivered. It wasn’t as tasty as the roast duck fried rice at Rose Garden – there was less heat, less oomph and zero mustard greens – but did the trick regardless. The portion size was also massive and despite being super hungry, I struggled to finish it so I ended up taking it home for breakfast the next morning.

Roast pork on rice
Roast pork on rice ($10)

Matt ordered his favourite dish here, the roast pork on rice. Given the neat rows of hanging meats by the window, you’d think that Matt’s dish would arrive really quickly – it didn’t, it arrived maybe 10 minutes later than mine. Perhaps they had to steam up some more rice. Regardless, the dish was as good as Matt remembered – the crackling was perfectly crispy while the meat was tender and delicious. He finished it all, easily.

Rose Garden is still my number 1 spot for roast meat dishes and roast duck fried rice but if I’m in the ‘burbs, then Roast Duck Inn would be my ‘go to’ place. I mean, it’s only 10-15 minutes from my parents’ house so why not.

Roast Duck Inn on Urbanspoon

Hong Kong Best Food

35 Carrington Road
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 3 9898 6088

My friend Aaron had his birthday celebrations last night in Box Hill. Thus, it sort of seems natural that I’d write about the time I had a Hong Kong-style breakfast with Aaron. At Box hill.

We – that is, Aaron, his missus Cathy, our friend Dave (not my other friend, Dave, but another friend who, confusingly enough, happens to have the exact same name as the other Dave) – decided to go on a day trip up to Daylesford earlier this year. The plan was to meet up in Box Hill, buy some provisions, drive to Sunbury to meet our other friend, Tim, before hopping into Tim’s dad’s Navarra and driving to Daylesford for a day of eating, drinking and checking out random vintage stores.

As soon as the four of us reached Box Hill, we realised that we hadn’t had breakfast yet so we decided to indulge in a bit of cha chaan teng. Aaron suggested we go to Hong Kong Best Food, which is tucked away on Carrington Street, much to a bit of eye-rolling from Cathy and Dave. Aaron loves his Hong Kong-style cheap eats but I guess the other two were over it. Me? Well, any excuse to visit a new place was as good as any so I quickly agreed on HKBF.

Breakfast here is a simple affair. The waiter thrusts a laminated menu at you, you pick from a list of seemingly random dishes that contain eggs, instant noodles, toast, congee or a combination of those. In most cases, you get a milk tea or a coffee with your meal (in addition to the complimentary hot tea they give you at the start) – and usually for less than a tenner.

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Cathy and I chose the same meal. For $7.50, we both got congee, steamed rice noodle rolls and a hot drink (powdered milk coffee for me, thanks).

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There was a bit of a mix-up with my congee. I actually asked for a pork and century egg congee and the waitress thought I said combination congee (which comes with pork and fish cakes). Cathy corrected her in Mandarin … but in the end, I still got a combination congee. Sigh.

It didn’t really matter in the scheme of things though. My congee was burning hot and tasty. Not the best I’ve had but still pretty good, considering how cheap it was.

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I did like the rice noodle rolls better though. They were lightly pan-fried, making them only very slightly crispy on the outside while the insides were still silky smooth. The dried shrimps gave it a bit of flavour – not that the rice noodle rolls wouldn’t have tasted just as good if it was only dressed in that lovely soy dressing and chilli sauce.

I can’t remember what the boys had; I didn’t take any photos of their meals and I didn’t try their food either (I must not have had my foodie game on that morning). I think they might have had toast. Regardless, I thought the food was good value for money and I can certainly why Aaron comes here more often than revellers get arrested for taking eccies at Future Music Festival.

If I worked in Box Hill, I could see myself coming here for breakfast. I can’t vouch for its lunch or dinner services, but I’m sure they do alright. And while the food won’t win any awards it’s nevertheless simple, cheap and will give you as much satisfaction as a $20+ eggs, bacon and brioche meal at an inner-city café.

Hong Kong Best Food 香港茶餐厅 on Urbanspoon

Food Republik

1 Main Street
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 9898 6669

I don’t have an aversion to Australia remaining a constitutional monarchy (sorry, Malcolm) but if becoming republic means having easy access to places such as newly minted Food Republik  in Box Hill, then I might just be convinced to vote ‘YES’ in the next referendum.

The beauty about living so close to Box Hill is having all these Cantonese, Korean and Taiwanese restaurants reasonably nearby. So when I heard that Singaporean chain Food Republik – with its famous Crystal Jade xiaolongbao dumplings – was opening up at Box Hill Central, I was excited.

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Owned by the same guy who runs Taiwan Café on Swanston Street and Dessert Story, Food Republik in Box Hill replicates the mini Taiwanese food court-style eatery that’s popular in Singapore. The best thing about this arrangement is that there are five places to choose from: Crystal Jade Xiao Long Bao, Shihlin Café Taiwan Street Snacks, Old Tong Beef Noodles, Shin Yeh Restaurant and Toast Box. There is even a Taiwan Cafe and a Dessert Story in the mix. As a result, the menu is very extensive – this was NOT a banana republic.

With Daisy in tow, we made our way there after work one evening. This place gets notoriously busy so you’re either advised to come really, really early or just after the dinner rush. Hell, we rocked up just after 5:30pm and we were lucky just to even get a table!

Having been there twice already, Daisy was already a veteran diner so she knew the drill. You’re seated in the middle of very small food court space and while you’re gawking at all the individual stalls around you, the waiters slap down some menus and you’re left to choose from literally hundreds of dishes. Once you’ve made your choices (not an easy process, I tell you), you grab the pen and pad provided on your table to note down your dishes before giving them to the waiter.

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While Daisy ordered the barley and grass jelly drink ($3.30), I had a glass of cold soy milk and grass jelly ($3.90). Given that it had been pretty warm that day, this drink was a godsend.

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We shared a few starters. The first one was a serving of Taiwanese style popcorn chicken ($7.50), which came highly recommended by Daisy. Upon initial inspection, they were very similar to the ones I had at Taiwan Cafe on Swanston Street. Given that the owner of said cafe also owns Food Republik, this was no surprise. What DID surprise me, though, was that the chicken at Food Republik tasted a lot better. The chicken was more tender, the batter was crispier and the whole thing less oily. The salt and pepper seasoning in this incarnation was also a lot tastier. Two thumbs up.

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The Taiwanese beef noodle soup with soya egg ($10.50) was another dish that came me déjà vu – yes, another Taiwan Cafe staple. Again, this version was better than the city counterpart – the beef slices were thicker, neater and more flavoursome. The broth was also tastier, though both Daisy and I agreed that a little extra spice wouldn’t have hurt. I’d go The Booth’s Taiwanese noodle soup over these any day.

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Next, we had the Taiwanese-style pork belly burgers ($6.50). Melburnians might be enjoying a bao wave at the moment, but the Taiwanese have been enjoying these buns-slash-burgers-slash-tacos for years now – and I don’t blame them. A fluffy steamed bun was filled with a slab of soya marinated pork belly, pickled boy choy, crushed peanuts and coriander. It was magnificent. I particularly liked that the crushed peanuts were slightly sweet and salty at the same time, giving the bun a bit of umami for lack of better word.

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My favourite dish, however, would have to be the xiaolongbao dumplings from the Crystal Jade stall. We ordered a steamer filled with four pork soup dumplings for $5.80. They were amazing. Each dumpling arrived in front of us perky and taut. The dumplings skins were thin without being flimsy and the filling – both pork and broth – was full of flavour, with the slightest hint of sweetness. They easily rivalled Hu Tong when it came to xiaolongbaos and I kind of wished I was greedier and went for the eight-er for $10.50

It didn’t look like we ordered a lot to share between two (one ‘main’ and a few little dishes) but we did struggle to finish everything. I had planned to order a sweet toast from Toast Box for dessert but it turned out that I didn’t even have enough room for THAT. Oh well, next time.

The bill worked out to be just under $20 per head which I thought was very reasonable, given how happy we were with the food. The service may have been a bit ditzy (they got Daisy’s drink wrong, for example) but they were lightning fast. I’m not sure why this place gets a lot of thumbs down; I know a lot of people were expecting it to be mind-blowing just like the Food Republik restaurants in Singapore only to find that the food isn’t as good. I can certainly understand where they’re coming from (Pancake Parlour and La Porchetta, for example, are rubbish in Jakarta) but coming from someone who’s only experienced Taiwanese food in Melbourne, I’d say that this is pretty good. Referendum, please!

Food Republik on Urbanspoon

Madam Kwong’s Kitchen

1025 Whitehorse Road
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 3 9898 8108
madamkwong.com

It’s been a while since my last post. Blame essays, my need to finish off the Breaking Bad series to date and the three-day Urban Remedy detox program I did over the weekend. Although I came out of the detox unscathed and with a greater appreciation for fresh and healthy foods, there was no way I was going to be blogging about all sorts of yummy food (and reading food blogs) while I was disdainfully sipping my lettuce, spinach and something-else-that-made-it-gross juice.

Unfortunately, like detoxes, technical writing assignments and Collingwood’s home and away season, all good things must come to an end. This includes hibernation from blogging and so I’ll be back churning out blogs like a mofo before I fly off for my trans-Tasman adventure.

Tonight, I’ve decided to take it easy like Sunday morning – much like the Sunday I finally got to meet Daisy, Melbourne’s queen of desserts. We had conversed via each others’ blogs and on Twitter for quite some time so we decided that it was time to catch up IRL over a meal. Because we live literally a few minutes from each other, we didn’t have to travel far for our brunch; good ol’ Box Hill was where we agreed to meet.

Even though I used to go through Box Hill every afternoon on the way home from school and even though I used to do a lot of my Asian grocery shopping there, it’s been quite some time since I’ve been back. Thus, I was amazed to see all these new and wonderful shops and eateries when I walked through Box Hill Central and along Whitehorse Road. Cheap and cheerful Malaysian eatery, Madam Kwong’s Kitchen, was one of those newbies and our destination for the afternoon.

It’s very small and utilitarian with only a few tables in the middle of the narrow canteen-like space and shelves and fridges full of Malaysian (and other Asian) foodstuffs for diners to buy if they wished to try their hand on some Malaysian (or, I guess, other Asian) cooking at home. I had heaps of food at home so I was very good and left Madam Kwong without buying anything to take home. Next time, you’ll be seeing me with several shopping bags of stuff though…

I love that everything at Madam Kwong is so simple. The menu is essentially divided up in three: rice dishes, noodle dishes and desserts, with a few sundry items thrown in for good measure. You order and pay at the counter, then grab whatever empty seat you can find and wait a good few minutes for your cheap as chips $2.50 teh tarik to come, followed by your dishes.

You can’t go to a Malaysian restaurant without trying their nasi lemak and at Madam Kwong, the default version is only $4.50. It’s a spartan dish with only a sprinkling of crunchy anchovies, peanuts and sambal over coconut rice. However, it’s cutely wrapped in banana leaves and would be extremely filling so I can see myself buying this if I was on a budget. Daisy, however, did it the proper way. For an extra $6, she also got some curry chicken, cucumber and hard boil egg for a complete treat. The rice was wonderfully fragrant and the delicious, and the curry so beautiful. We were both pretty impressed.

Meanwhile, I had a bowl of chicken laksa ($10.50), which came with a generous serving of mixed (that is, egg and vermicelli) noodles, chicken pieces, bean curd and fish cake. The broth was full of flavour, body and had a bit of bite; I enjoyed it immensely. Although I still think that Laksa King makes the best laksa in Melbourne, this version comes pretty damn close. It definitely suffices for those in the east who can’t be bothered crossing town for Laksa King.

Daisy’s boyfriend arrived later on (yes, THE Mr Bao!) and he ordered the chee cheong fun ($7). Madam Kwong advertised it as a rice noodle dish in ‘special mix sauce’ so I really had no idea what to expect. I’m not much of a sweet tooth so I was not-particularly-pleasantly surprised to find that the sweet Hoisin-like sauce overpowered the barely-there shrimp paste flavour and the nuttiness of the toasted sesame seeds. I did, however, love the texture of the little rice noodle rolls. They were so silky and so smooth, yet so firm at the same time. 10 billion props to Madam Kwong if they were hand-made.

Finally, it didn’t seem right to dine with a girl whose blog title is ‘never too sweet for me’ without sampling some sweets. Daisy ordered a tau foo fah, a steal at $3 which I got to nibble on. Although I thought the ginger syrup was a bit heavy on the sugar, I did love biting into the soft, silky sheets of tofu.

It was a wonderful meal with great, cheap food and excellent company. Daisy and Mr Bao are two of the most beautiful and loveliest people one will ever meet and I look forward to seeing them again. I also look forward to going trying some fried noodle dishes at Madam Kwong as well as their $2 chicken curry puffs that seemed to be a hit with the patrons. As for raiding their freezer and taking home five bags of frozen pandan leaves to make all sorts of mind-blowing three-hatted quality desserts? Yeah, that’ll happen too… the day when Collingwood supporters stop being dickheads.

Madam Kwong's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Original Taste of Northern China Cuisine

930 Whitehorse Rd
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 3 9898 8787

For my final entry for 2011, I’ve decided to keep things cheap, nasty and simple: another review of yet another dumpling restaurant. Who would have thought?! This time, I’ll be writing about Original Taste of Northern China Cuisine in Box Hill (whew, what a name!).

On the Eve of Christmas Eve, my local Westfield Shoppingtown was trading until midnight to cater for those who decided to leave their Christmas shopping until the last minute. I’m certainly not one to start buying gifts two days before Christmas (why would I, when the last few years I’ve been giving my family members cash for Christmas?) so I had no need to take advantage of Westfield’s very generous extended trading hours. I did, however, want to walk around and take in the buzz and festive atmosphere of shoppers scrambling around for the perfect gift or two so I ended up making the trek to Shoppingtown. Knowing that such a trip would require lots of energy, however, I decided to make an early dinner stop at Box Hill for some dumplings.

According to the current edition of Cheap Eats, Original Taste opens at 5:00pm every evening so I timed my trip from the city to ensure that I arrived at around 5:15. When I got there, however, their door was shut, their floors were still being mopped and the chefs had not arrived. I asked a young man there (the son of the owner, apparently) if I should come later, he said that I was fine to come inside but that I can ONLY order dumplings as the mains could only be made by the ‘chefs’ who weren’t due to start until much later. This was somewhat misleading because it was like, why bother opening at 5pm if only a fraction of the menu was available?

Thankfully, however, I was only here for dumplings. I chose a plate of pork and Chinese cabbage dumplings which attracted a price of $7.80 for fifteen steamed ones, but for an extra $1 I went for fried ones. Given that it wasn’t busy (I was the only diner there – what a loner!) and given that dumplings shouldn’t take long to fry, I wondered why it took them 30 mins for my dumplings to reach the table. And to my disappointment, they were steamed and not fried. I told the waitress that I had asked for them fried and even told her that I had POINTED to the word ‘fried’ on the menu but she stubbornly retorted with, “No, you said steamed” and “You pointed to the word ‘steamed.” This annoyed me more than that Hussey dismissal at the Boxing Day test earlier this week for I am very much a fried dumplings person and never order them steamed if I’m dining on my own. Secondly, I pointed to the word ‘fried.’ I made sure of that. Hell, it’s not like I have fat fingers either so there’s no way my pointer finger would have accidentally landed on the word ‘steamed.’

Eventually, the waitress submitted and quickly said that she’ll get the kitchen to fry the dumplings. She apologised and said that it would take another 10 minutes, which was fine with me. See? That wasn’t so hard, wasn’t it? My fried dumplings eventually arrived and I attacked them with ferocity. Unfortunately, they didn’t have chilli oil at the restaurant so I had to make do with vinegar. The dumplings weren’t the best I’ve ever had – and they were certainly NOT worth the 40 minutes I had to wait for them. Sure, the filling was lovely – a beautiful mixture of pork mince, coriander, ginger and Chinese cabbage with a hint of sweetness. The skins, however, were a fail. They were too thick, too soggy and too gluggy with no crisp factor whatsoever.

I wanted to like this place but if I were to judge it on one dish alone (unfair, I guess, but such is the way things are), then I can’t say that I’ll be going back again. As a consolation though, the stash of sweet treats that I bought from Happy Lab at Shoppingtown later that evening did make up for such a stodgy dining experience. Squee! On that note, I would like to wish you all a very Happy New Year. See you in 2012 🙂

Original Taste of Northern China Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Ramen King

Cnr Main and Market Streets
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 3 9899 3133

Once upon a time, I was a Box Hill hanger. Every day after school, I’d be at Box Hill waiting for my connecting bus home. I’d be made to go there after Chinese school on Saturday mornings and forced to sulk while mum took her dear time filling her shopping trolley with a week’s worth of groceries before heading home. And even in recent times, I used to go there for old time’s sake with Adam or Aaron, whether it’d be a casual Sunday afternoon lunch at one of the dime-a-dozen Chinese-Vietnamese restaurants on Carrington Road or a late-night feed at a Station Street Hong Kong cafe. These days, my visits to Box Hill are as rare as a proper day off for me; they don’t come very often but when they do, I treasure them. No, really. When I heard that my parents wanted to go to newly opened Ramen King in Box Hill for our post-church lunch, I almost wet my pants. OMG Box Hill! OMG new restaurant! OMG ramen! Excitement! I will tell you now, however, that that excitement was short-lived. In fact, it dissipated as soon as we walked into the not-overly-busy restaurant (which used to be I-forgot-what) and had to wait 5 minutes for someone to finally acknowledge our presence. Despite the fact that there were PLENTY of four-seaters in the restaurant, the waitress decided to, for some reason, plonk us at a table that was situated directly under the air con. Given that it was absolutely freezing outside, I wondered why they even had the air con running at full blast in the first place. Ignoring mum’s pleas to get one of us to ask a waiter to turn the air con off, we simply moved to a table by the window where the sun was shining through.

For a place that calls itself the ‘Ramen King,’ you’d think that ramen would be its speciality. Looking around the restaurant, however, I saw that there were hardly any steaming bowls of ramen. Instead, people seemed to be ordering wanton noodle soups, rice dishes and dumplings. I can’t say that I blame them though. There may have been 10 ramen options in the menu, but they made up 8% of the dishes – the rest were Chinese and pseudo-Chinese food. What was also amusing was that if you were to order ramen, you had the choice of ordering a clear, beef or chicken broth. Like hello, no miso, shoyu and tonkatsu? What the feck? The toppings were just as bizarre. There was beef ramen and chicken ramen which sound like ‘safe’ options but are, in actual fact, not authentic flavours. Then you had bizarre flavours such as ‘takoyaki ramen’ which just sounded wrong. The only vaguely normal flavours on the menu were the seafood and gyoza ramens but by the time I had read through the ramen list, I decided that I wasn’t going to give any of this sht a go. Instead, we went all Chinese.

We started off with a plate of Shanghai fried rice cake ($9.50). At $9.50, it’s a little dearer than most but if it was better than, or even on-par with, most then I wouldn’t have minded. The portion size was fair, though the level of oiliness wasn’t. They were also tight with the pork, but way too generous with the vegies. On the other hand, the rest of my family loved it and said that it was the best dish out of the four we ordered today. Hmm.

The Shanghai fried noodles ($9.80) fared slightly better. They were oily, but less so. And they tasted better too. Again, it was we had to play a bit of hide and seek with the pork and the sauce perhaps erred on the sweet side. Not the best Shanghai noodles I’ve had but nowhere near the worst. I’d go to David and Camy’s for their Shanghai noodles before coming back here though.

I would have loved a plate of pan-fried pork dumplings (12 for $8.80) but my family aren’t into pork (we’d probably make good Muslims or Jews – only kidding) so I had to sulk over a plate of pan-fried prawn and chicken dumplings instead (10 for $9.50). I had no problems with the plump filling which consisted of an even distribution of chicken and prawn (compared to a lot of places that put a negligible amount of prawn in). I did, however, have issues with the fact that they were soggy and not even the slightest bit crispy, the amount of oil that was still left on the dumpling skins. Ever heard of DRAINING, guys?

Finally, a single serving of spring onion pancake ($4), rounded things off (though it should have been the first thing to arrive, not the last. But whatever). I was flabbergasted to see the pancake deep-fried, rather than pan-fried but I must admit that it tasted pretty good. Its exterior was blissfully crunchy all over while the inner layers remained soft and chewy. It was a generous size, too. No complaints.

A decent $4 spring onion pancake, however, was not enough to make me come back again. The rest of the food wasn’t fantastic and the service was appalling. If the long waiting times (to be seated and to be served) didn’t do it for us, then the fact that our waitress asked, no, DEMANDED, that we pay for our food before receiving it (yep, that’s right, she slapped the bill down on the table and told us to pay up) certainly did. I mean, I can understand that they’re worried about walk-outs but doesn’t everyone? Yet, you don’t see any other restaurant doing the same to us. And oh, I did see a fellow patron order a beef ramen. It looked like a bowl of soup that didn’t know whether it wanted to be a bun bo hue or a pho. No kidding.

Ramen King on Urbanspoon

Yu Ji Dumpling & Bun Bar

4 Market Street
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 9899 1520

It feels like forever since my last entry. Okay, so a week isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things but in TheVeryVeryHungryCaterpillar world, it’s longer than a light year. Should I apologise for being overwhelmingly busy with work and two essays (one of which was a constitutional law essay that not only required reading more than ten cases that span more than 100 pages each, but also summarising AND critiquing those cases in ONLY 1500 words. WTF?!) which were due in the space of one week? Absolutely not. I still have yet another effking essay to write before I’m home free but just because I love you all (most of you anyway), here’s another entry for your reading pleasure (or not).

Like most hardcore foodies, I still have time to visit eateries while I’m tearing my hair out over essay deadlines. Okay, so my visit to the newest dumpling bar in Box Hill may be an incidental one, seeing as the whole point of my Box Hill visit last week WAS to pick up my sexy, new iMac (Oh, how I love you, 21.5″ monitor and 8gig RAM!). But c’mon, like you can’t walk past a new dumpling place without screeching to your partner, “OMG! WE HAVE TO GO HERE. NOW!” (well, I can’t anyway).

The sign indicates that this joint is called “Dumpling Bun Bar” but according to its business card, the place is called Yu Ji Dumpling & Bun Bar so let’s go with the latter, shall we? So Adam and I walked into the new eatery which wasn’t so much a restaurant or even a cafe, but a small takeaway shop with only a couple of tables inside and maybe five more outside for people who were willing to brave the stronger-than-ideal winds last Saturday. In addition to your standard dumpling fare such as chive and pork dumplings (steamed or fried) and xiaolongbaos, Yu Ji also (bizarrely, I might add) sell chicken nuggets. Odd.

We ordered our dumplings at the counter, a feat which was easier said than done as the chick behind the cashier was taking her dear time and taking something like five minutes to punch my order into the system (for example, I said that I wanted “fried pork and chive dumplings.” Her: “pork… steamed or fried?” “Fried.” “With what?” “Huh?” “Cabbage? Chive? Mushroom?” “I said chive.” *she gives me a greasy – seriously, WTF?). Then we took our place at a table outside seeing as there was no space to sit inside.

Condiments are located at the counter for customers to help themselves with and in addition to the obligatory tins and bottles of soy sauce, vinegar, chilli sauce and a piss-weak chilli oil (see above), there are salt and pepper shakers which, for some reason, makes me laugh. Probably for the chicken nuggets.

Despite not being particularly busy and despite Yu Ji having a terracotta army of staff in the kitchen, the dumplings took forever to come. Like, 15 minutes. Which is pretty long as far as quiet dumpling places go. There was a middle-aged couple sitting next to us, who had been sitting there before we arrived. They weren’t looking too happy and at one stage, the guy actually stormed into the cafe and yelled, “We’ve been waiting 20 minutes for our dumplings!” to which the counter chick replied, “Oh, sorry, sorry, be another five minutes?” Sure enough, five minutes later she frantically ran outside with a plate of dumplings and delivered them to the couple… only to be told that the xiaolongbaos that they received were NOT what they ordered. In fact, they were ours. Heh.

For $8.80, 10 gluggy pork-filled gemstones were presented to us in a bamboo steamer. Each of them also contained some sweet-tasting soup, though the amount of soup in each dumpling was negligible. The skins were way too thick – a far cry from the delicately thing skins that are the hallmark of Hu Tong’s XLBs – and way too dough-y. I wouldn’t say that the pork filling was the best I’ve ever had either. In saying that, these XLBs were strangely addictive despite their mediocrity (and Adam agreed too). I don’t know what it was but I guess it was like me eating a packet of Homebrand chicken-flavoured chips and enjoying every bite, even though I know that stuff’s nasty.

And here are the pork and chive dumplings (12 for $7.80). If I thought the XLBs were meh (but good, in a WTF and weirder-than-I-Am-Walrus kind of way), these dumplings were awful. Firstly, you’d think that the burn marks on the skins would indicate that they were at least crunchy – sadly, they were not. They were still soft and almost soggy. Secondly, the pork; it tasted off. Now, I don’t expect dumpling restaurants to use Otway pork or anything like that but still, you wouldn’t expect them to use pork that smelt so bad that it could only be masked by a ton of chives. Bleurgh. Even the frozen dumplings that I bought from my local Colonial Market tasted way better than this.

What’s that funky smell?

I left Yu Ji as disappointed as I was when I found out that I could not find a mac equivalent of MP3 rocket (though if any of you can assist me, I will be forever grateful :)). Box Hill has a lot of fantastic cheap eateries that make excellent food, but I’m afraid Yu Ji ain’t one of them.

Canton Lake

529 Station St
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 3 9899 2388

A very Happy belated Mother’s Day to all you yummy mummies out there – I hope yours was a relaxing one and that your kid(s) and partners didn’t cause you too much stress. Mother’s Day this year was spent yum cha-ing with Adam’s family at Tai Pan, followed by a break before jumping in the car to eat all again at Canton Lake in Box Hill for dinner with my parents, a favourite of ours for quite a number of years. They may not serve the best Cantonese in Melbourne but I was more than happy to return after so long, it was like coming home and running into the out-stretched arms of my mother. Kind of.

We ordered four dishes to share between the five of us, starting off with a serving of mud crab cooked in ginger and spring onion with egg noodles (‘extra noodles,’ we requested). They were charging $28 per pound and I think we got a crab that was just under two pounds. The crab meat was lovely – very juicy, very sweet and very succulent. The gravy, however, could have done with a bit more flavour though.

My brother specifically requested the sizzling beef with chilli sauce ($12.80), something that he always has to order at these places as he is not a seafood person. I wasn’t expecting much from this dish but I was happily surprised to find the beef fillets so tender and dare I say it, almost wagyu-like in texture. The sweet and peppery sauce wasn’t overly hot but that was okay with me, heh.

Canton Lake’s stuffed bean curd ($23.80) was alright, but not as good as the ones I’ve had at Supper Inn or even at the now-not-so-good Lantern Gsrden further down Station Street. That said, I gobbled these up greedily as I had been craving stuffed bean curd for quite some time now…

You may have noticed that for an Asian family, we’re pretty ‘gweilo’ when it comes to eating at Cantonese restaurants. Yes, Asians might laugh at us but we’re actually partial to a good plate of lemon chicken and the sweet and sour stuff, namely the sweet and sour fish ($22.80). This rendition was more delicate than others I’ve tried which I felt didn’t work well. For this dish to work, I believe in having a still-crunchy batter covered in a tangy sauce, and the fish has to be fleshy. Instead, the fish was kind of stringy, the batter was bland and the sauce had no impact.

The bill worked out to be $140.40, including tea and steamed rice. I found this to be a decent amount for five people, for a dinner that was a bit of a hit and miss yet still managed to satisfy our hunger. Like I said before, it’s not the best Cantonese in Melbourne but you probably wouldn’t find a better Canto restaurant in Box Hill.

New Age Cafe

595 Station St
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 3 9898 7388

After the conclusion of my church’s Easter presentation on Thursday night, Adam and I headed to Box Hill to find a place that was still open just after 9:30pm. I had been craving bibimbap from Yami Yami all day but unfortunately, they were shutting down early that night … as were many other places that would normally stay open until very late. The only places that were still open were a myriad of dumpling restaurants, any of which I was more than happy to duck into. Adam, however, was not at all keen on eating dumplings yet again and so we entered the only other option: New Age Cafe.

This joint has been around since my high school days. In fact, it was popular with the girls at my school who would often schmooze with their boys after school. Funnily enough, I never went there myself (I was too much of a ‘Shoppo Hanger’ which says a lot about me… heh). And while I am not overly fond of cha chaan teng cuisine, I wasn’t in the mood to argue with Adam and hey, I WAS kinda curious so in we went. We slipped in an empty booth, between a group of fobs who all seemed to have chosen pasta dishes. Looking at the 400+ item menu, it was obvious that one would not complain about the lack of variety nor the unoriginality of the dishes. From nasi goreng to ‘spaghetti with pan-fried lamb and pesto sauce’ to seafood udon with XO sauce, there was a dish to appeal to everyone.

Adam’s Hong Kong iced coffee ($3.30), which tasted a lot like Vietnamese iced coffee but lacked the depth and strength.

His pork chop with onion sauce  on rice ($8.80). Watching Adam attempt to eat his way through his food was pretty funny. He said that it was ‘something that [his] grandmother would cook up’, which was meant to serve as an insult. I took one bite and immediately winced. The bloody sauce was just so one-dimensional and … sickeningly salty. I would not have been surprised if they just used packeted gravy mix as the base and improvised the rest using whatever random ingredients they could grab. Horrible.

My green tea milkshake ($4.80) which tasted more like honey dew rather than green tea. Hm.

I chose the crispy fried egg noodles with seafood ($12) over all the pasta dishes which, judging by the uneaten plates of pasta on the adjacent table, seemed watery and bland. I probably would have been better off with a pasta dish though as the noodles weren’t anything to sing about. I also found it odd that New Age Cafe’s version included mussels which I had not seen elsewhere … and cooked bean shoots. Que?

Given our less than awesome meal, one must wonder what brings all the kids to the yard cafe. It’s definitely not the food, that’s for sure. And although I’d say that the prices are reasonable given the massive serving sizes, I’ve been told that the prices are pretty expensive for a cha chaan teng cafe. Perhaps it was good back then but not anymore. Who knows? Either way, I know I’ll be making Adam eat dumplings with me if we’re ever wandering around Box Hill late at night looking for something to eat!