The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

J-Pub Shogun (CLOSED)

Shop 3, 233 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 3996

Both Adam and I finished work at the same time on Friday afternoon (4pm). Prior to dinner, we both decided it would be good to finally try J-Pub Shogun, an izakaya-style pub-slash-eatery opposite QV in the city. It’s been around for almost a year now but we’ve postponed going there only because our friend, Phina, said that it was run by Koreans – in other words, it was really crap. It was only after I saw many a food blog review say how decent the food was and after hearing Dave wax lyrical about the beef tongue and prawns with potato noodles.

We rocked up at around 4:30pm, knowing that the Happy Hour Specials menu would be on offer (valid every day from 4:00 to 5:30pm). Basically, there is a small selection of stuff we could order from the menu, all of which were $5 each. That sounded pretty good to to us so we sat at the bar and ordered from the limited drinks list on the Happy Hour menu, a James Boag for him and an Ichigo shochu for myself which, let’s be frank, tasted a lot like sugared chlorine water. Ick. Anyway, there wasn’t really anything we particularly fancied from the special menu but we were told that we were not allowed to order from the more exciting-sounding a la carte menu until 5:30pm. Damn. Not to worry.

Heh, talk about aperture fail . We started off with a serving of steamed edamame beans which, quite frankly, were in the steamer for way too long as they were limp and soggy. They would have been a great bar snack but they just didn’t do it for me. On the up-side, at least the serving was of a generous size.

Steamed ebi shumai (3 pieces). They reminded me of those mini chicken dim sims that you can buy frozen from the supermarket or at a bar for $10 for four measly pieces, the only difference being that these were filled with prawn mince. They tasted like them too.

Pan-fried yaki gyoza (3 pieces). The filling and skins were more delicate than most versions I was used to so I was happy about that. They could have done with a little more ooomph though.

Takoyaki (3 pieces). I guess these would have to be my favourite dish of them all. These octopus balls, like the gyozas, could have done with a little more taste but I was pleasantly surprised at how crispy the skins were. Definitely a far cry from the soggy skins that seem to be the norm in Melbourne.

The total came to $30 which is not an inexpensive pre-dinner grazing session, yet heaps cheaper than the likes of MoVida Next Door and MoVida Aqui. Still, I felt a little gipped and here is the reason why: take a serving of takoyaki from the a la carte menu, for example. J-Pub charges $7.50 for a plate of five which means that one would be $1.50. We paid $5 for three pieces which meant that we would have forked out an extra 17 cents per ball under the “Happy Hour Special” deal. Doesn’t seem like a good bargain to me. At the end of the day, I don’t think I’ll ever come back here for “snack” again if we were forced to eat from the Happy Hour Special menu. Heck, I probably would not bother coming back if it weren’t for the legions of bloggers who say that this place offers some good dinner grub, including Dave. I *may* be back for dinner sometime. At least the service was friendly and the food arrived pretty quickly. Hmmm, the jury is out…

Little Lamb Hot Pot & Master Restaurant

Little Lamb Hot Pot
264 Russell St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 3993
Master Restaurant
Shop 184/ 83 Hopkins St
Footscray VIC 3011
+61 3 9689 8796

I celebrated Chinese New Year the only way I know how to… by stuffing myself silly with lots of goodies (duh). My parents don’t usually celebrate CNY, saying that there is no point when we have no family living in Melbourne (though I suspect they just want an excuse not to hand out lucky money . Still, they usually would take us out to dinner to a local restaurant or something like that. Unfortunately, they decided that they would treat this weekend like they would any other weekend. That was okay with me though as I knew that Adam’s parents would be organising something.

1. CHINESE NEW YEAR’S EVE (last night)

He ain’t Richo, but he sure is popular with the crowd!

They wanted Mainlander-style hot pot so I suggested Little Lamb on Russell Street as it’s very popular with Melbourne’s Chinese population. Adam’s mum’s brother, Phillip, also happened to be in town for the weekend so we invited him and his partner, Sue, to come eat with us too. I’m not a huge fan of hot pot (and after that shocker that was dinner at Golden House, who WOULD be?!) but they insisted on it so all Adam and I could do was tag along.

So basically, this place charges you $23 p/h and you can pick and choose as many items on the list provided on your table which encompasses a variety of raw seafood ingredients, vegetables, sliced raw meats and noodles. A small selection of hot and cold entree dishes are also included in the price, but there are extras such as dumplings and roast meats which attract an extra charge.

After ordering what we thought was enough food for the six of us, the food came almost immediately which is to be expected because most of the food does not require cooking (they are either fresh or thawed). As you can see in the photo, we decided to go half-half with the soup: a hot soup as well as a “normal” broth for us wimpy ones.

The tables were kinda squishy so any extra food had to be placed on the carts beside each table…
I loved how each lamb slice was rolled up into little cylinders. Too cute!

The hot dishes took bloody forever to come. These were what they described as “potato dumplings.” Adam’s dad said that they were sweet so I was reluctant to try one, but after hearing choruses of “mmmm nice!” I decided to give them a try. They were pretty yummy, kinda like fritters with creamy, mushy potato goo in them.

We ordered two servings of spring onion pancakes but they never came. We had to make another order and this time they came, but they still took forever. They were alright, nothing special though.

Given that we ordered quite a bit, I was worried that we weren’t able to finish it so I was surprised when I saw that all our plates were empty as the broth level was on par with Melbourne’s dam capacity. I would have been happy to call it quits but the rest of the table were keen to keep the party going so they ordered a waiter to fill the hot pot stove up again and order more dishes. Just as the waiter left our table, though, something funny happened.


Yep, the LCD TV screen at the back of the restaurant switched off, the room was filled with complete darkness and the hot pot stoves turned off. Immediately, a team of waiters ran to the front of the restaurant where the power box was. I figured that they were going to attempt to get the power back on so I wasn’t too concerned. Initially, everyone seemed okay about the whole thing. After 20 minutes, however, people started to get antsy and the guys who were at the front just looked like they were standing around, doing nothing. It turns out that they WEREN’T trying to fix the power, but rather trying to prevent diners from doing a runner which I thought was pretty piss-poor *sigh* It didn’t look like they would have the power back on any time soon so we chose this moment to call it a night. Most of our party were not 100% full, they were satisfied so we left in good spirits. Not so for a bunch of fobs who had only JUST tucked into their meals before the power went out. They stormed out scowling, which was fair enough – I probably would have done the same.

Oh, what did I think of Little Lamb? Well, the service wasn’t the best as our hot dishes took forever to come out and some of the stuff we ordered did not even show up at all, plus their handling of the power failure could have been more efficient. Secondly, given my predisposition to hot pot, I can’t say that I would be in a hurry to go back there again (and certainly not if black outs like this are a regular occurrence). I guess the smell of those strong herbs would always get to me. Having said that, Little Lamb is a LOT better than the other hot pot restaurant I’ve tried in that the restaurant is cleaner and the soup tastes a little bit better than most (if you ignore the fact that it’s a tad too oily). Heck, I was afraid that Sue would find the whole dinner a bit too strange for her but she said it was delicious and gave it “a 20 out of 10.”

I was ready to go straight home and catch up on The Good Wife episodes after all that. I walked into my house at the very early time of 9:30 just as my parents and my sister were ready to go out. They were on their way to the Box Hill Chinese New Year festival so I thought, ‘Oh, why not?’ even though I was not planning to go in the first place. We weren’t there for a long time. We just wandered around for a while, looked at all the food stalls (most of which were selling either skewers of meat or non-Asian foods such as churros and burgers), bummed into a bunch of mum’s annoying friends, saw Kelly on stage for like, a fraction of a second and laughed at some fob singing “Eye Of The Tiger” on one of the smaller stages (hahaha oh man…) before going home. There were just too many people and not enough exciting things to see. Can you blame me for not showing much interest in these sorts of things? Yeah, I suck at being Chinese.


After church, Adam and i met up with his parents and his grandmother for yum cha at Master restaurant in Footscray. It wasn’t the best yum cha ever (I mean, this is Footscray) but it cannot compete with Dai Duong in terms of smell, skankiness and bogan patronage so I was adequately mellow.

The usual suspects. Foreground: plump shark fin dumplings.

A pretty soggy yet tasty zhaliang.

Bloody gweilo…

Why so serious, guys?
HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR, FOLKS! Hope you all had a good one!

Oh and on that note, I should wish everyone a HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY. You’d think that Adam and I would have a lovely day planned but nope, that wasn’t the case. None of us are particularly into this day and no way would we be swayed by restaurants luring suckers by offering their “special Valentine’s Day menu” which is pretty much the same sort of stuff they dish out all year around – but double the price. We actually did think about just having Indian food for dinner or something (we did casual Thai last year just for the sake of wanting to eat out) but at the end of the day, both of us were pooped and would rather spend the rest of Sunday the 14th watching the football and scouting players to recruit for my Supercoach team. Yeah, I fail at being Chinese AND being a romantic girlfriend . Ha.


177/183 Lonsdale St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 3316

I went to Stalactites for the first time ever on Sunday. Yep, you heard right. First. Time. Ever. Adam and I both ordered a lamb souvlaki each ($11.50) and shared a bowl of small chips which were undercooked ($5.50).

Adam thought the souvlaki was fantastic and I have to grudgingly agree with him. Yes, it was good. And although it ticked all the boxes (decent size, good bread/meat/sauce/salad ratio and irresisitble tzatziki sauce), the best souvlaki award still goes to the lovely Cantonese couple who used to run East Doncaster Village Fish and Chip Shop on Doncaster Road funnily enough* (before a Greek guy took over and scared away all the customers, and now it’s run by Chinese people again haha).

*I admit that my opinion might be slightly biased – I used to work at that fish and chip shop a few years ago heeeh.

Chinatown Dumpling Restaurant (CLOSED)

Shop 3, 254 Swanston St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 3893

The other day, Adam and I were walking down Swanston Street when something caught our eye:

Chinatown Dumplings received a make-over!

What I found kind of amusing was the little turban-wearing ethnic-looking man they decided to use as their logo. WTF?! As Adam and I walked away, we wondered why they decided to use that man as a logo rather than say, something more seemingly appropriate such as an oriental-looking fella. We both figured that maybe the new owners were Uyghuric, an ethnic Chinese population that come from the Xinjiang region of China and that the restaurant was similar to that of 1+1 Dumplings, a restaurant in Footscray run by Uyghurs (yeah, what a name, right?!?!). Now, I went to 1+1 Dumplings last year but never got around to writing up a review (I can’t do it now because I forgot everything… bloody hell). Oh well, that gives me another excuse to go there soon!

So anyway, today we decided to try out the “new” Chinatown Dumpling Restaurant which was pretty deserted at 2:30pm. The menu itself has shrunk down considerably largely thanks to the omission of pork items (as you can see from the signs above, the place is ‘halal’).

Spicy lamb skewers @ $2 each (we had to order a minimum of four), a popular dish that flies out the door like hotcakes at 1+1 Dumplings (except that 1+1 Dumplings make better ones, according to Adam). Still, Chinatown Dumplings’ version was tasty thanks to all the cumin they marinated the very tender lamb with.

Beef dumplings (15 for $8.50). They weren’t as nice as pork dumplings. The meat just wasn’t tasty enough and what pissed me off the most was this…

Someone needs to teach these people to drain their dumplings before serving them. F*cking gross.

Steamed vegetarian dumplings (15 for $7.50). They were okay, nothing that other nearby places can’t do.

I don’t think I’ll be coming back again. Not only did the excessive oil thing turn me off, I think I just can’t have a meal in a dumpling house without my pork dumplings. If you must go here then, come only for the spicy lamb skewers and get your dumplings elsewhere.

MoVida Aqui

Level 1, 500 Bourke St (Access via Lt Bourke St)
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 3038

Bloody hell, what’s with the weather today?! Too cold to sit in Flagstaff Gardens during lunch. Too cold to go out for Friday night drinks (I was dressed for Summer and wasn’t going to risk getting a cold). But not too cold to duck into MoVida Aqui after work with Adam for a quick nibble before heading home to crawl under the doona with a bag of chicken-flavoured chips, a cup of green tea and downloaded episodes of ‘The Good Wife’ (I don’t normally watch legal dramas but I like Julianna Margulies and Logan Huntzberger Matt Czuchry is in it).

Situated in the heart of Melbourne’s legal district (i.e. a block and a half from my work, YAY!), MoVida Aqui is one of Frank Camorra’s newest ventures, the other one being MoVida Terraza which is a sashay away from MoVida Aqui. Unlike Terraza, a very casual outdoor kiosk, Aqui closely resembles the original MoVida in that it was an actual restaurant. The main difference, I guess, is that the original MoVida divides its menu evenly between tapas and raciones (shared plates) whereas raciones rule the roost at Aqui, with only a small number of tapas on offer.

The drinks list contained an impressive list of both Spanish and local wines, with a few beer options and fewer cocktails on offer. Adam chose a Spanish cider ($9), the name of which I failed to take down – sorry. It was very dry, but delivered a very mellow yet complex taste.  Meanwhile, I ordered a glass of Morilla Estate pinor gris ($13) which, unfortunately, was a little too flat for my liking. Bad move.

Bread and olive oil

Bocadillo de calamares ($6.50 each). Each crusty sandwich contained tender calamari pieces that were lightly fried in floured batter which were then smothered with an egg mayonnaise. I loved how the guindilla (peppers pickled in white vinegar) created an exciting contrast, both in taste and texture, to the creamy calamari and mayonnaise mixture.

Buey (Rost Biff wagyu, $17.50). The small rectangular plate was lined with five paper-thin sheets of what looked like wagyu pastrami. The black and white objects are two varieties of garlics (the white one was pickled while the black one was mashed; both had a subtle, sweet taste), potato crisps and chives. My favourite bits, however, were the little orange cubes that formed blocks of sweet, mushy horseradish custard. A very unique dish which I considered a success.

Finally, we have the codorniz ($16.50). Two quail breasts were charcoal-grilled and served simply with sauteed chickpeas and morcilla, a Spanish blood sausage. A simple yet tasty dish to cap off a lovely late afternoon grazing session, though I did feel that the dish would have been MUCH better if it was less oily and less salty.

$69 for an afternoon “snack” is not cheap so I would not recommend this place if are on a budget (I’d make you go to MoVida Terraza next door instead). If going for the dinner option though, I’d probably suggest three dishes if you are dining alone or 5-6 dishes if you are with a companion, which would easily add up to $100. I felt that the food here was on par with the original MoVida, plus the service was friendlier (though sometimes a bit slow) so that was a plus one to them. I could definitely see myself coming back here for another grazing session or even dinner with a couple of friends. MoVida Aqui may still be in its infancy stages but judging by the number of NAB employees and legal eagles flocking here tonight, I have a feeling that this place would be just as successful as the original MoVida.

Re: doppelganger week on facebook. Someone on my facebook list has as his status: “this doppleganger thing… hmmm… lol @ the people overrating themselves.” – hahaha!

So, who was YOUR doppelganger?

Have a lovely weekend, folks!
oxo Libby Tricia Takanawa

MoVida Aqui and Terraza on Urbanspoon

Old Town Kopitiam Mamak (CLOSED)

Level 2, Shop 11, QV Square
Cnr Lonsdale and Swanston Streets
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 2682

It seems like every Asian and their pampered chihuahua dogs have been flocking to the newest addition to QV’s restaurant scene.  The younger sister to Chinatown’s Old Town Kopitiam, Old Town Kopitiam Mamak, is considered a gem in Melbourne’s dining scene as it offers mamak food, the type of fare that Muslim street-sellers dish up in Malaysia. Although my experience with the original OTK had been not so favourable, I was still keen to join the herds of people that seem to constantly enter the cafe that is located right next door to 3 degrees bar.

Looking around us, it appeared that most people were content with ordering either fried snacks such as otak-otak or kaya toast, though there were a few who were enjoying nasi kandar, a Malaysian dish consisting of rice doused in whatever sauce they fancy and several side dishes. The snacks looked nice but because Adam and I were keen on having dinner, we decided that nasi kandar plus roti chanai to share was the way to go.

We ordered a biryani rice nasi kandar with a selection of 3 side dishes ($12). There were about eight different items on the menu, all of which sounded yummy but we ended up with the curry chicken, fried calamari and curried goat. The sauce that was poured all over the rice was a curry chicken sauce. We were under the assumption that this dish would be cooked to order so imagine our surprise when we saw that it was actually being dished out from the bain marie at the counter (NB: I did not see the bain marie prior to ordering the dish). To our horror, our food was not only verging on cold, it was bland. Most disappointingly, the rice was devoid of any complex flavours that biryani’s from Indian restaurants in town could easily offer.

We also shared a roti  chanai ($4) which, thankfully, was cooked to order. The roti was fine, nothing out of the world though. The curry sauce they served with the roti, however, was bland as was the sambal.

Our meal was nothing short of disappointing, though I guess it was because we ordered the wrong things. I guess I shouldn’t be quick to discount this place as it seems pretty popular with the Asian crowd and plus, the snacks were going off like hotcakes. I might give this place a second chance if I feel like something to graze on one afternoon. Heck, I also wouldn’t mind a kaya toast for breakfast sometime. As long as it’s not from the bain marie, that is.

Misty’s Diner

103-105 High Street
Prahran VIC 3181
+61 3 9510 0033

An hour of Body Combat plus an hour of Brent’s Body Balance class on Saturday morning meant that I was craving some serious carbs after I left the gym. After tossing up between fish and chips and Misty’s Diner, the latter prevailed as I just so happened to have a “buy one main, get one free” coupon in my wallet. With Adam in tow, we took the train to Prahran and walked up High Street in horrid, hot weather. It was around 3pm by the time we arrived, but the place was still open and buzzing with diners who, let’s be honest here, look like they could be contestants on The Biggest Loser.

The 1950s-style diner is a concept created by a bubbly Arizona native and local identity known simply as “Misty.” The decor is similar to what ex-Sweet Valley High readers like myself would know as the Dairi Burger, but with more bells and whistles in the form of retro car parts plonked randomly all over the room and American flags, and minus Lila Fowler’s lime green triumph parked outside. Apart from the menu offerings, Misty’s also offer items such as American soft drinks and confectionery for sale at the counter, as well as random stuff like this:

So Adam and I are waiting at the counter beside a sign tells us to “wait to be seated.” There were about three waitresses milling around, two of them talking to each other but none of them made the move to accommodate us. Finally, a woman (who I presumed to be Misty) burst out of the kitchen to greet us and told us to sit anywhere we wanted so we opted for a table against the wall. While Brian Wilson and his boys sang about getting around via the loudspeakers, we surveyed the menu which consisted of everything that was considered stereotypical American diner food – hamburgers, waffles, fries and so on. Think TGI Friday’s but less Jack Daniel’s and more sugar-coated sweetness. I’m no health freak but just reading the menu made my heart start to burn a little. Heck, the healthiest thing on the menu was the “Carb-free burger” which consisted of grilled beef, salad greens, cheese, bacon and egg. Uh, yeah, I dunno … . After reading Linda‘s review of the place, I was careful not to order the Philly Cheese Steak so I decided to be safe by choosing a burger.

Adam’s Chilli Cheese Fries ($13.90). They were simply shoestring fries topped with a onions, cheese and what was SUPPOSED to be chilli con carne… except that the sauce tasted more like that revolting red sauce that you get with a can of baked beans. Adam also asked for the “extra hot” option but the sauce was anything but. Sigh. Another thing which annoyed us was that the fries were easily soggy by the time they reached us, thanks to the sauce. I suppose this was the correct way to serve it so perhaps I’m just being picky when I say that I would have liked to have the sauce in a separate container or something.

My Misty’s American-Style Burger ($13.90) came with half a serving of taco fries (an additional $5.90. They looked exactly like Adam’s chilli cheese fries, but with more beef mince and + olives, -kidney beans) and was probably the fattiest thing I’ve eaten in a really long time. The menu advertised the beef pattie to be flame-grilled but I reckoned that it was probably heated up in a pressure-cooker Maccas-style. Inside the burger was a slice of cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, sauteed onions and a ‘special sauce’ which tasted like watered-down Big Mac sauce with a hint of mayo.

It also came with egg, sunny-side up!

For some reason, I expected the burgers to be uber huge but they were really only the size of a typical Grill’d burger. Having said that, they were certainly very filling and I struggled to finish mine off. Taste-wise, I didn’t think it was anything special. It was definitely not Melbourne’s best burger by any standards and I couldn’t help but laugh when Adam commented on how “even Hungry Jacks’ burgers tastes better.” As for the taco fries? Funnily enough, they tasted more like chilli con carne than Adam’s fries did. Hah. Nothing special though. Plus, I felt revoltingly sick after eating everything (yes, I cleaned off my plates!) in the worst way possible.

If you didn’t feel sick when reading about what I ate, I’m sure you WILL after reading about my drink: the Reese’s Pieces thickshake ($7.95). It may have contained a year’s worth of sugar intake but damn, it was probably the best thing I had at Misty’s. I’m a sucker for Reese’s peanut butter cups so the ice-cold combination of crushed Reese’s chocolate pieces, vanilla ice-cream, milk, chocolate sauce, Reese’s puff cereal and whipped cream went down a treat and clogged 10 billion arteries. Oh, the can you can sort of see in the background is Adam’s Tecate, a Mexican beer which, according to him, “makes VB taste good.”

The total bill was $49.75 but we got Adam’s meal for free because of the coupon and so we paid $35.85 instead. Despite the cheery surroundings and Misty’s ability to make the grumpiest of folk start smiling, the food was severely underwhelming that I cannot think of a reason to return. I’m not sure whether it was the food we ate or whether we both just hate American cuisine, period (something I only just realised now (!)) but we both left feeling disgustingly bloated and even as I type this a few days later, my head is still buzzing from the sugar in the thickshake. Service-wise, it was initially slow and lazy but I think the moment I whipped out my Canon, the waitresses started being MUCH more attentive to the point where they were bordering on excessively attentive (i.e. coming over three times in five minutes to see if we were alright). I would not recommend Misty’s for the food itself but if you can just stomach fattilicious and sugarlicious American fare without feeling nauseous, then go for the novelty factor.

Spiga Bar Cafe

Shop 2, Menzies Alley
Melbourne Central
360 Elizabeth Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 8676 7515

Adam and I felt like quick and easy Italian for lunch this afternoon – and by quick and easy Italian, I don’t mean Aria Giovanni – so we ducked down to Menzies Alley in Melbourne Central to see what makes office workers and weekend shoppers congregate at Spiga Bar Cafe. Although it was just before 12pm when we arrived, we were told that they were still serving breakfast and that there would be a bit of a wait if we wanted to order off the lunch menu. That was fine we with us so we took our time in studying the menu, which was divided up into light meals, pizzas, pastas and bigger meals, and sipping on a smooth Genovese short macchiato ($3.30).

Adam’s regular sized spiga special ($17.90). This was Spiga’s take on the traditional capriciosa pizza – a tomato and mozzerella coated thin crust base, which was still soft and chewy when biten into, topped with paper-thin Gypsy ham, hot salami, mushrooms, roasted peppers and olives. Not something that I’d normally order myself but something that gets Adam excited. A very competent pizza.

In keeping up with my resolution to eat smaller portion sizes, I decided to go for the entree-sized linguine marinara ($19.90), one of only three pasta options available. I was pleased to see that it was actually not as small as I thought and my stomach was easily satisfied with the generous mound of home-made linguine strands that weaved among the calamari pieces, black tiger prawns, white fish fillets and black mussels. Apart from the fact that the tomato-based sauce was a little bit on the oily side, I can say that this was one of the better marinaras I’ve had in a while.

The total cost of the meal was $41.10 which was alright given how full we were, even though we both ordered the smallest options for our dishes. I wouldn’t go as far to say that Spiga serves THE best and most authentic Italian food in the city, but it deserves to remain THE place to go to for a quick pizza meal at Melbourne Central and when one feels like hiding away from the rest of the world.

Hung Vuong

128 Hopkins St
Footscray VIC 3011
+61 3 9689 6002

Most pho restaurants in Melbourne are pretty much on the same level, with very little to differentiate them. I do give nods to those that actually offer sizing options and at Hung Vuong, you can get anything from a large bowl ($9.50) to a baby-sized serving ($6.50).

I had a small pho bo ($7.50) and it was still quite large.

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.