Xiang Yang Cheng, 672 Mount Alexander Road, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 7128
Xiang Yang Cheng is a brand new Moonee Ponds food emporium that sells – and sells only – a singular brand of Sichuan-style hot pot.
It’s been open about a week, and as usual CTS pal Nat has done a super sleuthing job and promptly notified us of its existence, finishing with the simple plea: “When are we going?”
The answer – the only answer – of course is: “As soon as possible!”
Thus it is that Bennie and I join Nat for a most spectacular, enjoyable and tasty Good Friday dinner.
The place itself is utterly gorgeous.
The upper beams and stonework of the original building are matched below by beautiful wooden furnishings and decorations.
Each table – and there are many, including a couple in semi-private booths – is equipped with a stovetop heater for the soups.
We’ll call what we have Sichuan-style, but the truth is we don’t quite know where the Xiang Yang Cheng “huo guo” fit in terms of this apparently well-researched article at Wikipedia.
The young staff are eager to please if a little bemused with our antics, questions and rampant curiosity. But some things remain unexplained.
Including, for instance, the exact ingredients of our “double flavours” brew of “stock soup” and “spicy soup”. We can see the obvious – spring onions, garlic and so on. But there many mysterious Chinese herbs and others bits and pieces about which we’re only guessing.
Our twin-soup base costs $15. We find the slow-grow fire of the spicy soup is perfectly matched with the nicely salty and astringent plain stock.
From there we tick off a number of ingredients – most of which go for about $5 – for dipping into the soups of our choice.
We avoid the more confronting and peculiar (see full menu below), but take a couple of punts as well.
It takes us a little while to find the best cooking times for individual ingredients but it’s all good fun.
Here’s how our many mixed ingredients stack up for me – the mileage of Bennie and Nat no doubt differs at least a little and maybe by a whole lot!
Frozen beef, frozen lamb: Both arrive at our table pretty as a picture and are very good – though truth to tell, I struggle to tell them apart once they have been briefly submerged and cooked.
Spinach, Chinese cabbage: The best of our vegetable choices, these seem to really soak up the broths superbly. Even the bigger, whiter stems of the Chinese cabbage are luscious when given enough time in the soups.
Garden chrysantheum: A fail for me – I find the stems too tough even after prolonged bathing. Bennie likes these, though.
Oyster mushroom: Quite nice, with a similar aptitude for flavour retention as the cabbage and spinach.
Potato slices: Another fail for me, though this turns out to be mostly because we don’t allow them nearly enough time. Dropped into the soups and forgotten about for a while, they shape up pretty well – a bit like the spuds in Malaysian or Vietnamese curries.
Bread sticks: Just OK for me, But – again – Bennie likes.
For $1 or $2, we have been provided three dipping sauces – sesame oil and garlic, chopped coriander and BBQ. The first two are what they are, but the second is a puzzle – a BBQ sauce that just seems a little odd or off.
But the winner is a house sauce, provided without being requested, of fermented soy and broad beans, chilli, garlic, spring onion, ginger, oil and peanuts.
It tastes strongly of miso to me, is granular and a little crunchy, and we all love it to bits.
What an absolute ball we have!
Given the hit and miss aspect of our ordering, we figure we’ve done really well.
Next time, we’d probably order a little less in terms of quantity, and some more of that and less of this.
All up, our feast – including a long, tall can of papaya drink for Bennie – costs about $25 each, which we think is an outright bargain.
Even better, the very nature of the ritual involved makes for a relaxed, chatty and deeply engaged dinner experience.
We take about an hour to get ourselves full.
This could hardly be a greater contrast to Bennie’s burger experience of the previous night, in which case – for almost exactly the same admission fee – he had a meal that lasted way less than five minutes.
There may be other eateries doing this style of dining in greater Melbourne, but it’s a rarity in the west.
So we hope they do well.
It’s a unique experience that’s packed with affordable, high-quality ingredients – and it’s great for groups.