Dragon Express, 28 City Place, Sunshine. Phone: 9312 6968
Some of the overwhelming positives of doing Consider The Sauce have been somewhat as expected.
One of those is the fact that of joyful necessity we’ve found ourselves roaming far and wide, knocking on strange doors and venturing down alleyways we may never have otherwise contemplated, finding fine food at the end of our journeys with regular non-monotony.
But there have been many unexpected delights along the way, too.
High among them is the continuing pleasure of getting feedback from fellow westie food lovers and many others, some of whom are becoming friends and dining companions.
But perhaps the most unexpected joy of the “job” is putting bums on seats of eateries that richly deserve them to be there.
Honestly, we lost count long ago of the number of restaurant staff, managers, owners, cooks and families who have thanked us so charmingly for simply writing it as we saw it.
Often enough, too, this sort of gratitude has come from businesses likely – in some cases extremely unlikely – to get a run on most other Melbourne food blogs, let along in the press, be it The Age, Herald Sun or the suburban rags.
Nor by and large have these fulsome “thank yous” come from joints likely to have a marketing or media social strategy, or even know what social media is.
However, this has led to a bit of a dilemma for the Consider The Sauce team.
We are these days being offered free food on a somewhat regular basis.
We’ve had to explain that, no, we are not looking for a free feed and we’re not going to charge for a run on our site.
Nor are we out there actively seeking freebie meals, as some blogs seem to do.
If any restaurateur tried to buy a positive review with free food we’d not only refuse, we’d probably flee and eat elsewhere.
However, when the offer is made for words already written and as a symbol of gratitude, it seems to us things get a bit more tricky.
So along the way, a few coffees have gone unpaid for.
A scrumptious gulab jamun has been added as an extra on the basis of a post written some weeks before.
The most startling event along these lines came with our Saturday lunch at Oriental Charcoal BBQ, when the staff – once they realised bloggers and friends were in the house – proceeded to brings out several more dishes for us to try.
Look, we’ll always endeavour to pay our way.
We’ll be upfront when we don’t, including a disclaimer in the post and its end – but hopefully not as longwinded as this one!
But there comes a point when continuing to refuse hospitality being offered out of gratitude for a piece written under genuine review guidelines becomes uncomfortable and maybe even rude.
Does that sound fair? Is it a cop-out?
In any case, that is the situation that presents itself to me as I front up to Dragon Express in Sunshine for a mid-week lunch.
Bennie and I had enjoyed our earlier visit there, and copies of the review from that visit now adorn both the front window and inside walls of the restaurant, along with similar epistles from Footscray Food Blog and The Age.
On a subsequent visit to the area, Dragon Express owner Lim spied us, joining us on the footpath outside his restaurant to express his gratitude and maintain with some determination that he would not hear of us paying for our next visit.
So it goes … take that on board when reading what follows!
Whereas my earlier meal here with Bennie had involved very enjoyable but more or less straight-up Cantonese dishes, this lunchtime I am bent on exploring some of the more exotic areas of the restaurant’s menu.
And I intend to do so without getting too hung up about concepts of authenticity.
If it’s good … that’s great!
Two beef curry puffs, for instance are very enjoyable – but quite different from you’ll find at your favourite Malaysian eating house.
Crisp, flaky pastry (filo?) well fried and ungreasy; tasty potato and nobbly mince filling that seems a little more like a samosa filling than the smooth mash usually found in curry puffs.
The Indian echoes are, of course, accentuated by the puffs’ triangular shape.
They’re tasty snacks at a good price.
I muse on what a Dragon Express laksa may taste like, then order something I haven’t eaten for quite a long while – in any sort of restaurant.
My hokkien mee ($10) is, frankly, delicious, but again very much like a Chinese restaurant doing its take on a Malaysian staple.
There’s no prawns or fish cake for starters, and the protein bits frolicking happily with the fat noodles – chicken, beef, pork – are all cut in the Chinese fashions, as are the greens.
None of this matters a bit to me, because it’s a winning combo, the rich, dark, sweet and sticky sauce being a more than acceptable facsimile of those found in Malaysian places.
But wait – there’s more!
Served on the side is a small bowl of the house-made chilli oil, something I’ve never been provided with hokkien mee or any other sort of Malaysian noodles.
But, oh man, this stuff is great!
Unlike the chilli oil found in Vietnamese pho places and the like, this is dry and crunchy.
It provides spiciness, texture AND a smoky flavour to my noodles and I love it a lot.
Lim tells me it’s made from very finely diced onion, from which the juice is extracted, oil, salt and chilli.
Before I leave, Lim and I shake hands on it – this will be our first, last and only freebie.
An interesting conversation about the ethics, ins and outs of bloggers, reviewers, journalists and other freeloaders (!) accepting freebie food can be found in the comments that accompany the review of The Reading Room at Footscray Food Blog.
My meal at Dragon Express was provided free of charge by the owner. Dragon Express has not been given any editorial control of this post.