Dahon Tea Lounge, Shop 5, 111 Cecil St, South Melbourne. Phone: 9696 5704
Other business having necessitated a visit to St Kilda Rd, it’s a satisfying to stop in South Melbourne on the way home and finally get around to a visit to Dahon Tea Lounge.
It’s here I’ll renew my sometimes rocky relationship with Filipino food.
The place is done out in a comfy yet quite sleek cafe style.
Things start very well.
A single skewer of BBQ pork ($2) is just right – tender meat, smoky flavour and an easily acceptable level of oiliness.
The delight and pleasure in the ability to order a dish containing okra mean I pay scant attention to the rest of the menu options, ordering instead pinakbet with rice ($9.20), the former described as “Filipino vegetable stew with okra, bitter melon, snake beans, pumpkin and eggplant”.
Reflecting on my meal as I write, I figure there’s only really two viable scenarios here.
One is that this is a typical, average, good or even excellent version of this Filipino staple and that fundamentally this is a dish not for me.
The other is that it is simply awful.
I am thoroughly underwhelmed.
There seems to be little impact by way of garlic, ginger, onion or shrimp paste.
And there seems to be little or no overall harmony in my meal – just a bunch of vegetables carelessly slapped together.
There is very little of the okra that triggered my order.
If this were to be served in a vegetarian cafe, it would be ridiculed.
The most abiding presence is a nasty bitterness – caused not only, I suspect, by the bitter melon but also by the undercooked eggplant.
I can go with the flow of slightly cooked beans and even pumpkin – but undercooked eggplant?
I subsequently look at a lot of photos, read a lot of recipes and even watch an interesting cooking video, and realise that, yes, what I have been served very much resembles a real-deal pinakbet.
Filipino food and me – seems like we could do with some sort of mediation. Or a mutual pledge to stay well clear of each other.
Or maybe next time I simply need to order one of the good-looking Dahon baguettes.
Or anything else on the menu.