10 Pratt St, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9370 1188
Like Kuni’s, the China Bar in Russell St was a familiar and regular part of my routine when working and living in the CBD.
It was and is a popular place, its reputation seemingly built on consistency and late opening hours.
China Bar, is of course, something of a misnomer, as most customers at the outlets spread across Melbourne order food that has its origins in Malaysia or even Thailand.
In any case, the China Bar in Moonee Ponds has never caught our eye in the same way.
Maybe that’s just down to change or to some unsatisfactory experiences at the Highpoint China Bar.
But a few weeks back we stopped by the Ponds joint to grab some barbecue pork to takeaway, if only to save ourselves making another stop, in Footscray, on the way home.
While there, we saw some pretty keen-looking tucker being consumed and made a mental note.
A return for a Sunday lunch was a surprise that maybe shouldn’t have been a surprise at all.
One of the dishes I almost always ordered at Russell St was the achar, so I am pleased to see it still on the menu.
The price has crept up ($6), though. Should I?
Curiosity wins out, and I’m ever so glad.
It’s got carrot, pineapple, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber and sesame seeds.
It’s chilled, crunchy, only a little oily, with profound vinegar flavour but only a mild chilli hit.
It’s perfect in every way.
This augurs well for my main fare, another dish remembered with fondness from Russell St forays, one with which we’ve had hit and miss experience in the west – hainannese chicken rice ($10.80).
The soup is of perfect hotness, not too salty and tasty in a way that strongly suggests flavour enhancers. I care not.
The rice isn’t quite as super as I recall, but more than adequate.
The chicken is tender and flavoursome. I don’t mind chicken being bone-in, but if it’s bone-free I expect, demand that it be scrupulously so – as it is here.
There’s plenty of soy sauce-flavoured water under my chook to pour in the rice, along with an OK and mildish chili sauce and a lovely, coarse mash of spring onion, ginger and oil. The remnants of the soup also go on the rice.
It’s very, very good – even if just a smidgeon short of the achar’s outstandingness.
Maybe it just goes to show … nostalgia IS what it used to be and familiarity with the China Bar brand has bred some unjustified contempt.
If the achar and chicken rice are so good, there seems no reason why other Malay staples aren’t just as hot.
China Bar may not offer the same “eating out” vibe as those two Flemo places, but that’s of little concern to us.
I suspect we’ll be back soon.