The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Sichuan House

22-26 Corrs Ln
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 8589

When it comes to Chinese cuisine, everyone knows that I would not consider Sichuan food to be up there (Cantonese FTW). Every time I go to a Sichuan restaurant, I either cry because my throat is burning or because the food is so devoid of taste thanks to the power of 10 billion bags of dried chillies that mask even the littlest traces of flavour. Still, I couldn’t help but be curious about Dainty Sichuan, a popular restaurant that sits snugly on Corrs Lane in the city. Not only has it appeared on countless Cheap Eats guides and been positively reviewed by many a food blogger, it even impressed the great man himself Anthony Bourdain when he was in Melbourne. This was enough to get me and Dave excited about trying this place and so we, along with Linda, decided to go there for after-work dinner sometime. Prior to making the booking though, I found out that Dainty Sichuan had actually moved to Toorak Road and that in its place, a new restaurant called Sichuan House took over. Despite the fact that Dainty’s owners are no longer at Corrs Lane, most of the original staff remained so we figured that there would not be any major problems when we arrived.

Before I go on, let me just use this opportunity to mention that it was actually Dave’s 28th yesterday. Yep, we had inadvertently booked dinner on his birthday before he realised it. We could have easily changed the dinner to another date but Dave was cool with the dinner going ahead so *shrugs* We started off dinner with a few drinks – okay, I just had a soy bean milk because I’m a wuss like that and because I knew I was going to need it later on. Dave decided to go with the “large” Tsing Tao, thinking that it would be just one big can. But when we saw this being presented (NOT cold), we couldn’t help but LOL:


A 700ml beer bottle. Funny that.

Chongqing chilli chicken ($22.80). It was red. It was massive. It was spicier than Ginger Spice. This was the only three-chilli dish we ordered because all three of us, despite being Asians, are self-confessed wusses when it comes to hot foods. Having said that, we knew that we could not go to Sichuan House without having tried at least one three-chilli dish (on the chilli scale, three was the highest rating) and so we chose the famous Chongqing chilli chicken dish because its picture on the menu looked the prettiest.

The chicken pieces were what looked like chopped up chicken wings which were coated in a thin batter and then fried. They were tasty, but perhaps a little on the dry side. To be honest with you, I was expecting it to be, well, hotter. I mean, sure, it was HOT but not so hot that I had to down 10 billion bottles of soy bean milk. Normally, these sorts of restaurants would be liberal in the use of chilli seeds but Sichuan House achieved a decent balance between heat (Sichuan peppercorns that caused a tingling sensation in one’s mouth) and taste, using garlic, sea salt and vinegar. I liked how I could actually taste what was in my mouth, though every now and then I would get a stingy sensation down the back of my mouth and my eyes would water no thanks to a stray Sichuan peppercorn.

Kong Pao prawns ($23.80). With a chilli rating of two chillies, this dish was much milder than the chicken. The fact that it was excessively sweet probably helped cool our taste-buds too. The gooey, saccharine sauce was lovely, almost honey-like in both taste and consistency and went especially well with the peanuts, as Linda would attest to. The dish was spicy but not overly, perfect for the three of us. I guess my only criticism would be that they used a little too much vinegar in the sauce but eh, that’s just me…


We needed to order a mild dish to dumb down the effects of the hotter dish so we ordered a plate of dry stir-fried beans with minced pork ($15.80). I usually order this dish at other Sichuan restaurants as my “vegetable dish” because it’s incredibly tasty and who doesn’t love crunchy beans? Sadly, I think this dish was a bit of a let-down. For starters, it wasn’t crunchy at ALL as the beans were overcooked. Secondly, the pork seasoning was way too salty. Ick.

It doesn’t look like we ordered much, but the dishes were actually on the morbidly obese side. By the time all three of us sat back in defeat, we were amazed to see how much food was left:


Yeah .

(Don’t worry, I ended up taking the leftovers home in plastic containers for my parents to enjoy… so rest assured that nothing went to waste).

While I still think that Cantonese cuisine reigns supreme over all the other Chinese cuisines, I do reckon that Sichuan House was probably one of the better Sichuan restaurants I’ve dined at in Melbourne – and that’s saying something. The food was not bogged down in excessive amounts of chilli which meant that I could actually taste the complex layers of flavours that each dish boasted (okay, except for the stupid beans). It was reasonably priced too ($81.90, including drinks and rice @ $1.50 per bowl) for the amount of food we had (which was probably enough to feed 5-6 people). Finally, for a mainlander restaurant, the service was actually decent. Obviously, we are not talking Flower Drum-standard, but they did churn out the dishes reasonably quickly, replenished our waters without being asked and I actually saw smiles. I’d probably want to try other Sichuan restaurants before coming back to this one but if I happen to be hanging out with a mate in the city and they were DYING to have Sichuan food for dinner, then I would take them here over anywhere else.

Chillipadi @ Melbourne Central

Menzies Alley
Melbourne Central
Cnr Elizabeth & Lonsdale St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 5688
http://www.chillipadi.com.au/

Despite the horror that was lunch last weekend, Adam and I returned to Chillipadi for the second time in a week, this time at Melbourne Central. There was a list of ‘student specials’ on the blackboard outside which had meals for no more than $10. I took advantage of this by ordering a seafood laksa ($9.90) and a side of eggplant chips ($4.90).

Eggplant chips = great if you like eggplants (I do now!) but not so great if you detest them. They were simply eggplant fingers, crumbed in panko breadcrumbs and then fried and served with a Japanese mayo and sweet chilli dip. Very crunchy, very nice.

Seafood laksa = not bad for a franchise – it was way better than I thought. I did feel that they were stingy with the seafood (I counted one prawn, a small handful of calamari and two or three small mussels). Laksa King (Flemington) for the win though.

In short, I’d come back here for basterdised Malaysian food if I’m at Melbourne Central.

Rolling Pin Bakery & Yami Yami (Box Hill)

Rolling Pin Bakery
40 Hesse St
Queenscliff VIC 3225
+61 3 5258 1533
Yami Yami
Somewhere on Bank St
Box Hill VIC 3128
Phone number unlisted

So I had a pretty rough week and needed to take a few days off work so that I could clear my head. When the world’s about to collapse, all you want to do is to huddle under the doona and stay there forever, not wanting to talk to anyone. Linda, however, convinced me to come out with her on her day off so I met up with her in the city, thinking that we were just going to sit around and talk.

Well, things didn’t quite happen that way.

She decided, at the spur of the moment, to drive all the way down to Queenscliff, 104km south of Melbourne. Naturally, I was shocked to think that one could randomly decide to drive that far without any sort of planning. I’m one of those people who like to meticulously plan EVERYTHING and a drive out of Melbourne would warrant at least a day’s planning (looking up stuff on the net, working out a budget, calculating petrol costs etc) so this was a bit out of the ordinary for me. Nevertheless, I thought, ‘hey, why not?’ and besides, Linda is pretty scary behind the wheel so who was I to argue with her?! haha.

We had lunch at a bustling bakery cafe on Hesse Street, Rolling Pin Bakery. We weren’t planning to have lunch here but we were lured into the cafe by the flashy “Award-winning pies! Best in Australia!” signs on the window that we couldn’t resist. Linda had a bacon, cheese and steak pie while I had a beef burgundy pie ($5.45, if I remember correctly). To our disappointment, our pies were nothing extraordinary. In fact, we may as well have had a microwaved-heated Boscastle-brand pie from any one of the nameless cafes that dot Melbourne’s city streets. The only things worth talking about my pie was that the crust was NOT flaky and I was kinda perplexed to see huge chunks of capsicum in my gravy…After being refreshed by watermelon and pineapple juices at a grocery store across the road ($7 may have been a bit steep for a “large” juice cup but damn, it was soooo good), we decided to head 30kms into Geelong city where we meandered around Westfield playing ‘Spot The Asian’ and ‘Count How Many Gweilos Stare At Us’ before heading down the beach.

We drove back to Melbourne just in time to suffer through peak hour traffic on the Western Ring Road. Just as we were about to turn into Bulleen, we decided that yep, we were hungry and yep, korean food sounded good and so we did a 180 and drove to Box Hill to eat at Yami Yami, a modest Korean-slash-Japanese restaurant in Bank Street, Box Hill. Now, I’m not overly fond of Korean food but Linda’s been telling me about this place for ages and so this was a good time as any to give it a crack.

Despite the fact that it was still hot outside, we could not resist downing several cups of complimentary corn tea as we tucked into our Korean dumplings, called mandoo ($8 for 8 pieces). I had never tried these dumplings before but I was amused to find that they had more in common with the Eastern European pierogi instead of dumplings of the Asian (Chinese, Japanese) kind. They were fried, potsticker-style, and filled with not just meat but vegetable and vermicelli threads. They were crispy and not overly oily too, and tasted fantastic with the vinegar and soy dipping sauce that came with it.
We also received complimentary pickle/salad items which they gladly refilled once we finished everything on the rectangular plate. My fave was the compartment containing the orange matchstick shaped fishcakes.

Our haemul chongol, a seafood stew cooked on the table over a hotpot stove ($34 for two people). A very spicy broth was filled with fresh seafood (blue swimmer crab legs, mussels, pipis, prawns, squid), vegetables and tofu pieces. It was presented raw on our table but as soon as the crab shell turned a vivid shade of orange, we were free to dig in. It may have been hot outside, but we were surprisingly okay when eating this and although we may have sniffled and sweated a far bit thanks to the spices, we were surprised to find that it was a relatively filling yet light meal. It was the best meal I’ve had at a Korean restaurant so far and I guarantee you folks that I’ll be back again to try the bibimbap that seemed to dominate every second table at Yami Yami.Post-script: A special shout-out to Linda who took me out yesterday. I may be Ms Organised and enjoy planning things right down to the littlest detail, but Linda reminded me just how important it was to also be spontaneous once in a while .

Chillipadi (Docklands)

Harbour Town Shopping Centre
10 Star Circus
Docklands VIC 3008
+61 3 9670 2288
http://www.chillipadi.com.au/

For some reason, people seem surprised when I tell them that I have never had a meal at Chillipadi before. Given that I’m a lover of food and given that I’m in the city, like, pretty much all the time, the idea that I’ve never set foot in one of Melbourne’s most popular eateries astounds a lot of people (I have not been to Stalactites either…). I guess the main reason why I’ve been reluctant to go to Chillipadi is because of its reputation as serving basterdised Malaysian fare – kinda like what La Porchetta does to Italian food. I do, however, know quite a few Malaysians who insist that Chillipadi isn’t too bad and that I MUST try the eggplant chips if I do end up going. Well, yesterday I had a hankering for Malaysian food and so I decided to see for myself. I was planning to go to the Melbourne Central restaurant but because Adam and I were going to Costco that afternoon, we decided to go to the newish Docklands branch to save time.

I had expected a sit-down restaurant, but the Docklands eatery was more of a casual cafe-style joint where patrons ordered at the counter, grabbed their own cutlery and waited at their table for their meal to arrive. The menu only offered a fraction of what the Melbourne Central restaurant offered and I was especially disappointed to see the eggplant chips being absent from the menu. I originally wanted a laksa but because it was pretty warm, I decided on vegetarian kway teow ($8.90).

This was Adam’s tandoori chicken ($11.90). He had meant to order rendang but ended up ordering the wrong thing. Oh well. My initial thought was ‘eeek, how much carmine did they put in this thing?’, then ‘I thought he ordered chicken, not char siu pork!’ It was not the prettiest dish either of us had ever seen and it also failed in taste. The chicken was not only dry, but tasteless. There was a chilli symbol printed next to the item on the menu, implying that it was hot but we could not taste any of that. As for the salad? Okay, the mysterious purple guck is supposed to be a yoghurt dressing which was fair enough… but did they really have to use those kiddie artificially coloured yoghurts to make the dressing?

My vegetarian kway teow was a little better but not much. I was glad to see some wok hei action happening and err, that was pretty much it. It was oily. It was boring. I expected tofu and there was none. The vegies weren’t fresh. And they put too much fried shallots. Never ordering this again.

What sane and reasonable person would pay $7 to drink filth known as Beerlao? Oh yeah, Westerners with a false sense of sophistication. And Adam.

Our meal may have been terrible… yet Adam and I are still keen to give Chillipadi another go. We both believe that the Docklands eatery had no idea but if the Chapel Street and Melbourne Central restaurants can attract masses of people, then it can’t be half-bad. I, for one, am dying to try their eggplant chips as well as their laksa. I’m hoping to give the Melbourne Central one a shot to see if it’ll win me over… while avoiding the Docklands one at all costs.

Mrs Parmas

25 Little Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9639 2269
http://www.mrsparmas.com.au/

Jason’s leaving the big smoke to go back to Mornington next week so a bunch of us met up for dinner at Mrs Parmas, a restaurant that specialises in all things parmigiana (chicken, veal and eggplant).

Situated on the top end of Little Bourke Street, it sits on the site of the now-defunct Cheers, a bar that pretty much tried to replicate the famous bar from the television show of the same name. That’s why the place looks a lot like the set of Cheers, only with more suits and more bogans.


The menu at Mrs Parmas reads a lot like a pizza shop menu. Choose base (chicken $23, veal $24.50 or eggplant $18.50), then choose from a list of about 10 unconventional toppings ranging from ‘safer’ options such as mushrooms to just plain weird ones such as BBQ (bacon and onion rings – WTF?!). Of course, if you are a traditionalist, the original ham + napoli + cheese option is available. Each parma also comes with chips and salad too. I thought about going for the mushroom parma, like Jase, but I ended up choosing the bruschetta one (ricotta, tomato and basil), thinking that my parma would look a little like this:

(Image credit: http://www.jenius.com.au)

Unfortunately, my parma looked like this:

The first thing you notice when you get your parma is that it’s big. REALLY big. Sadly, that was the only good thing I could say about the parma. The ingredients weren’t terribly fresh and who the heck puts cherry tomatoes on a real bruschetta?!? The 230g chicken breast may have been huge and surprisingly not terribly flat but it was probably one of the driest parmas I’ve ever had. The funniest thing about the meal was that the chips (fried in beef tallow, sprinkled with fluro yellow chicken salt) actually tasted better than the parmas which says something about a restaurant that professes itself as a parma specialist.

In saying all of that, the range of boutique beers that this place has is pretty impressive. Boasting a range of over 20 beers from microbreweries around the state (on tap and bottled), you can enjoy a pint (or two) of a malt that’s rich, deep and saccharine (Adam’s ‘Dirty Angel’ from the Flying Horse brewery) or a semi-sweet cider made with Packham and Bartlett pears with a hint of apple (in my case, 2 Brothers’ Gypsy Cider). Mmmm.

You can find better parmas elsewhere, which is why I don’t recommend Mrs Parmas if you feel like a parma. Do come here for the beers though.

MoVida Terraza (CLOSED)

Level 1, 500 Bourke St (Access via Lt Bourke St)
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 3038
http://www.movida.com.au/

Working on William Street means that lunch options are pretty limited. Apart from Don Too being the only semi-decent eatery to purchase lunch, the area comprises mostly of personality-lacking cafes that make soggy sandwiches, lukewarm potato cakes and burnt coffee. So when I heard that Frank Camorra of MoVida fame was going to build two eateries on this end of town, you can imagine how stoked I was. Even though I may not have given the original MoVida a favourable review, I still believe that Mr Camorra remains Melbourne’s King of Spanish cuisine and this was exemplified in our much more pleasant visit to his second restaurant, MoVida Next Door.

The new restaurants, MoVida Aqui and MoVida Terraza are situated on level 1, 500 Bourke Street but instructions on MoVida’s website tell us to enter via Little Bourke Street. Upon seeing the above, one would figure that the flight of stairs will lead you to the two restaurants. I guess that made a lot of sense in hindsight, but stupid me initially went through the huge NAB building doors and wandered aimlessly in the lobby before going back out and then finding myself in some dodgy alley *facepalm*

While MoVida Aqui seems like a more “corporate-ised” MoVida proper, MoVida Terraza is a very casual kiosk, with tables outside. With only enough money for a meal at MoVida Terraza, I decided to sit myself at one of the outside tables while vowing to visit MoVida Aqui another time. From your table, you can gawk at the Supreme Court Library dome while you sip on some vino (which I did for $6.50) and eat from the very limited lunch menu which changes daily. There are five dishes you can choose from, two desserts or if you’re in a hurry, rolls filled with whatever takes your fancy – chicken, chorizo, jamon and others.

Out of the five options on offer there were only two that interested me, one being the carne asado (roast beef with rosemary garlic potatoes and onion jam $17.50). I would have gone with that if it weren’t for the fact that I was going to have roast beef for dinner later tonight (slow-cooked, for eight hours *drool*). Instead, I told the waitress that I wanted the pescado (cured ocean trout with scallops, prawns and padron pepper salad $16.50).

Okay, this was NOT what I ordered. For some reason, they gave me their version of the ensalada, their sole vegetarian dish on the menu ($13.50). I am not normally in the habit of ordering vegetarian dishes so I was momentarily cheesed off and considered calling the waitress back. For some reason, though, I didn’t. I decided to give the dish a try and that move was something that I do not regret at all. On the plate were three mahon cheese and leek croquetas positioned on the three points of a triangle, all of which were resting on a small bed of soft goat’s cheese. Amongst the croquetas was a tangle of sauteed runner beans, toasted almonds and crispy fried shallots. The whole thing was then held together with a very lovely tangy goats cheese dressing. It was DIVINE. Although it wasn’t an overly large salad, it was perfect for a late lunch.

I guess one good thing about MoVida Terraza’s changing menu is that you never know what to expect when you walk in. The downside, however, would be trying to work out which day they will serve that beautiful salad *sniff* MoVida Terraza is not only open for dinner (where a grazing menu is available), but they also do breakfast – something that will give me the incentive to wake up extra early one of these mornings!

Cumulus Inc (breakfast)

45 Flinders Ln
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 1445
http://www.cumulusinc.com.au/

Yesterday was HOT. Like, REALLY HOT. Although I was inside my comfortable air-conditioned office building all day, I still had to walk from the office to my bus stop and then once my bus arrived at my stop, from that bus stop to my house. Now, I’ve never been to Hell but after walking in such sweltering heat, I can confidently say that Hell’s temperature couldn’t be much more worse than Melbourne’s temperature yesterday. And don’t get me started about last night’s god-awful mid-30 degree temperature. Bleh.

So anyway, I didn’t have to be at work until 9am this morning so I decided to go to Cumulus Inc for breakfast. Having been there for lunch a year ago, I was impressed and promised myself that I would return for breakfast. So here I was, sitting alone with my newspaper and about to take a few photos of the dish that had just been presented before me when my camera started rudely beeping. I must have frantically taken two measly shots before the battery went completely dead. Motherf*cker. Because of that, you guys will be bestowed of the rare honour of having a veryveryhungrycaterpillar entry with only. one. photo.

Yeah, I know. The horror.

That was my Tom Cooper’s smoked salmon, 65/65 egg, sorrel, apple and dill $17. Had it not been for my cafe latte ($3.50) and my two pieces of OMG-SO-AWESOME lemon curd madeleines ($2.50 each, sorry no photo because my camera had died at that stage), I would have probably left the place still hungry. But I didn’t. Although not as filling as some of the other choices such as The Full English breakfast ($18), the light and refreshing elements of the dish was more appropriate for a muggy 34 degree morning. The creamy avocado, the matchstick-sized Granny Smith apple pieces, the bits of sorrel and dill, the silky smoked salmon and the crunchy toasted sourdough all played a role in elevating the poached-in-its-shell egg (cooked at 65 degrees for 65 minutes) which was the centrepiece. Genius. The meal totally made my day.

That and the fact that the temperature has now dipped significantly to the point where I now need to sleep with a doona tonight.

Plume (Doncaster)

546 Doncaster Rd
Doncaster VIC 3108
+61 3 9840 1122
http://www.plume.com.au/

Adam and I made an impulsive decision to have yum cha after church this morning. We were on our way to Shoppo so we figured that Plume, being within the general vicinity of the shopping centre, was the best choice. Now, I had not been to this place since the early 90s so I don’t remember it at all. Plus, the fact my parents took us there only once is probably an indicator of how the place fares. Still, I was keen to make a return just to see what ticked them off so much while at the same time, figure out what makes people from the other side of Melbourne come here in droves.

Although we did not make a booking, we rocked up at 11:00am on the dot (opening time) and were lucky enough to get a table.


We mainly focused on steamed dim sums today in an attempt to live healthier lifestyles … ha!
I know this is somewhat unconventional but I love my har gows dripping in chilli oil *big smile*
The food here is pretty much the same you’d get anywhere else and the hargows, in particular, were disappointingly smaller than average.

I did, however, loved their chicken congee which had a lovely silky texture and the crispiest ja gwai I’ve ever tasted. It wasn’t overly salty and I loved how they chopped up the century eggs into little pieces so that each spoonful contained a subtle sulphuric amora which was rather pleasant contrary to what one might assume.
What a gweilo…

So we ordered maybe no more than 10 dishes but we were shocked to find that the bill was effing $74, including tea at $3 per head. I didn’t get to look properly at the itemised bill but the two “standards dim sums” that we ordered (i.e. the cheapest ones on the bill) worked out to be $5 each which is pretty expensive. Heck, I remember eating at Dragon Boat in the city for $48 and this included fried things (we only had dumplings and about two fried dishes this time) AND zha liiang so what the heck, right?! Food aside, I suppose Plume is a lot nicer than some yum cha restaurants and the waiters are generally nicer and more attentive (apart from this one young guy who avoided our table entirely because he was in one of Adam’s tutes at uni and didn’t want to do a stop and chat – rude and unprofessional). Still, I would not drag myself to Plume on a Sunday morning when Tai Pan is only 5 mins from my house and can offer the same amount of food for about two-thirds of the price. I guess my parents were spot-on this time.

Asides:

-I watched the pilot of ‘The Good Wife’ the other day, one of the new shows that Channel 10 (?) have been advertising. I don’t normally watch legal dramas (somewhat ironic because I am a law student) but I couldn’t help but whizz through a solid number of episodes late last night. The fact that the dude who plays Logan on Gilmore Girls is on it makes viewing easy too. Heh.

-Why the eff does pancetta cost twice as much in Doncaster as it does in Keilor Downs?!? We have wogs here too, you know! Hmmmph.

-Since coming back to Melbourne, I’ve gained all the weight that I lost while in Indonesia. I also ate like, four packets of chips last week. Eff me. I’m going straight back on the chip ban as of tomorrow. I should probably go on a sweets ban too but there is still half a tub of Cherry Ripe ice cream in the freezer which needs to be finished off before I do. i mean, why waste it right?! To be honest, I should probably follow Linda’s lead and go cold turkey on EVERYTHING that is yummy (sweets, soft drinks, junk food, alcohol) for an entire month but I don’t think I have that much willpower.

Cafe Beelzebub (CLOSED)

353 Smith St
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9415 6649

Jen’s been telling me of a supposedly fantastic cafe on Smith Street that serves excellent breakfast and lunches, Cafe Beelzebub. While that description could apply to any random cafe on Smith Street, Jen’s insistence that this particular cafe served THE best coffee on Smith Street was what sold me into going there on Saturday for a late lunch with Adam.

Despite the fact that we arrived at 2:30pm, pretty much all the tables were full – a good sign. After numerous unsuccessul attempts at flagging down the lone waitress for the menu, we gave up and collected them ourselves from the large pile on the bar. The menu itself was divided up into breakfast items (served all day, and nothing that the other cafes on this street couldn’t do) and lunch items, which consisted primarily of burger and focaccias. The lunch menu, in particular, seemed to draw inspiration from South American and Spanish cuisines as every second item had a Hispanic-sounding name  and items such as guacamole, mayonesa and chorizos were dominant.

I started off with a cafe latte ($3) which took 10 minutes to make, way too long a wait. Luckily for them, the coffee was beautifully silky with sweet vanilla notes in every mouthful. Best coffee on Smith St? I may have only been to a few coffee-serving eateries on Smith St so I can’t really give a definitive answer but for now the answer is ‘yes.’

Adam’s fabes burger ($15) was pretty much a burger with the lot. The buger was not too different from a typical Grill’d burger – freshly toasted white bread bun with a healthy slab of beef pattie, tomatoes, lettuce, egg, cheese, bacon and onions. On the side was a mountain of shoestring fries and tomato sauce. Adam loved it but I thought it was pretty average.

My completo ($12), a traditional Chilean hot dog, sounded pretty interesting on paper. Unfortunately, I was a little underwhelmed with my meal. The salad (with a balsamic dressing) was nothing out of the ordinary but I was expecting a little more from the completo. They were a tad stingy with the chorizo and diced tomatoes but very liberal with the mashed avocado, which not only made my bun soggy but also bogged down the flavours of the other ingredients. Even with what little chorizo I had, less avocado would have made my completo more enjoyable to eat.

It could have been the food we ordered, it could be because I may have held such high expectations, it could have been an off day for the staff (after all, it was the day after New Year’s Day) – whatever it was, it made me wish that I had spent the afternoon at the nearby Cafe Bebida. Beelzebub’s food was nothing special and their service was slow (our food took about 30 minutes to arrive) – those reasons alone were enough to make me not want to return… but damn, they did make a good coffee.

Lu Yang Dumpling House

617 Station Street
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 3 9899 7573

Today, Adam and I found out that the always-seems-to-be-empty Kim Thuy Vi Vietnamese restaurant on Station Street, Box Hill was no longer there and, to our delight, a spanking new dumpling restaurant now stood in its place. Called Lu Yang Dumpling House, it was about half-full when we drove past this afternoon on the way to Spotlight and so we made a spontaneous decision to have lunch there.

As soon as we walked in, a fob waitress let out a stream of Mandarin which I did not understand (yes, it was all shishishishishi to me … and please, just because I am Asian-looking, doesn’t mean that I speak the same language as you). Adam’s Mandarin is not much better than mine but he was able to make out that she was confirming that we needed a table for two. So we sat down, got menus and teas, chose three different dishes and then began a half an hour wait for the first dish to arrive – way too long a wait for a dumpling restaurant that wasn’t overly busy.

In the half hour we sat waiting, we witnessed:

-A guy sitting next to us eating with his mum. She was eating the last dregs of her wonton noodle soup while he was seething as his meal had not yet arrived. After several “Where is my food?”‘s, the guy decided that he could not wait any longer and said that he would pay for his mother’s meal but not his.

-A Chinese couple and their two kids walked in 10 minutes after we did, sat down, chose their dishes, then asked a passing waitress (in English) if they could order. The waitress looked at them blankly, like she had no idea what he just said. After repeating himself slowly three times, she was still confused so he sighed and switched to Chinese. Rudimentary English, folks, will get you somewhere.

-Five times throughout the course of our wait, I saw diners asking waitresses where their food was and there were times when diners came to the counter to pay the bill but said that they never got such-and-such a dish. An example of this was when a hippie couple paid for their spring rolls, noodles and said that they had ordered a plate of fried vegies but had never got them. For some reason, the chick at the counter seemed shocked and reluctant to take the fried vegies off the bill but when she finally did, she slammed down the bill in front of the hippies so hard that I could see the hippies jump.

-I noticed a shortage of canisters containing chilli oil, something that surprised me because I would assume that anyone running a dumpling restaurant would know to buy a canister for EVERY table in the place rather than only five of them. Halfway throughout eating our dumplings, a waitress came up to us and asked if she could take OUR canister because “another table needs it.” Adam and I gave her a hard stare for a minute before Adam went, “Uh yeah… I guess you *can*… except that there is another canister on that empty table” while pointing to the deserted table behind us *facepalm*.

Just when we were wondering whether three dishes were too hard for them to manage, our food arrived.

Our fried pork dumplings (15 pieces for $8). I had to admit that they looked REALLY good. Each dumpling was neatly wrapped (probably the best job I’ve seen so far) and housed a decent sized pork and chive filling. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the only positive thing I can say about them. Firstly, the dumplings weren’t crunchy at all. Secondly, they were oily as. Thirdly, there was something terribly ‘off’ with the filling – the texture didn’t feel right. Adam then said that he had bought those frozen pork dumplings from Asian grocery shops in the past and the texture of the dumplings we were eating were EXACTLY like the frozen ones. He suspected that Lu Yang had ran out of fresh ones and they were so desperate so they ran to the grocery shop to buy frozen ones. I didn’t think they would stoop THAT low though. For starters, the skins looked too good for them to be the frozen kind. Secondly, the skins were pretty fresh. Thirdly, I just thought… nahh. In the end, we both concluded that the dumplings were home made… but the meat used was frozen and they just did not thaw it out properly. I thought it was odd for them to use frozen pork meat though, especially since butchers are in abundance in Box Hill and fresh pork mince isn’t terribly expensive.
Xiao Long Baos (8 pieces for $8) were advertised as “Shanghai steamed buns filled with pork meat” which, I reckon, was not the most accurate English translation they could have used. I had to read the Chinese characters next to the name of the dish to figure out that they were, in fact, xiao long baos but had I not been able to do so, I would have assumed that this dish was referring to those steamed white buns filled with char siu.
Obviously, they were not as good as the ones Hu Tong churn out but they were better than I expected – they were plump and actually had SOUP in it. I did find the fillings a tad too fatty though. They were okay, but not something that I would rush to order again.

Shanghai noodles ($7). I give them props for the generous serving for the price we paid, but a thumbs down for the overly sweet taste and the fact that they used the bloody skinny noodles rather than the thick knobby ones that JG Dumplings (Glen Waverley) and Shanghai Gourmet (Springvale) use. Booo hiss.It was a cheap ($23) meal which filled our tummies up until the Aussies were all out at the SCG *buries head in hands* but I cannot see myself returning there again. The wait for the food was way too long and the service not so good. Plus, the dumplings were horrible and made Camy’s taste like KING in comparison. Oh, and when Adam and I were at the counter paying our bill, we had a great view of the kitchen sink which was directly behind the counter. In the sink, we could clearly see… yep, a large packet of frozen pork meat defrosting. FAIL.