Tong Food & Wine, 13 Ballarat Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9687 8877
Far sooner than expected – and after noting the multiple changes coming in Yarraville and writing a preview of Tong – we’re seated for a mid-week dinner at the corner location of what was previously The Bank.
Team CTS consisting on this occasion of B and K, C and J.
We’re four folks who are mostly used to eating heaps of food at ridiculously cheap prices, so it takes a little while to switch gears to Tong’s more refined style of “grazing”.
But we do so, having a real nice time spread over a couple of hours.
The place is fullish for a Wednesday night, there’s a buzz going on and the service – with a couple of hiccups – is fine.
We would only advise that anyone with a raging hunger be prepared to choose multiple dishes.
From the “smaller” list (see menu below), mixed tempura vegetables with dipping sauces ($11) is an agreeable, fresh selection of red capsicum, zucchini and cucumber.
The sauces – one that seems to be of the BBQ variety, the other a lemony mayo – are much stickier than you’d find in a Japanese eatery.
Steamed pork buns ($14), too, are different from those you’ll find at various Footscray outlets.
With less dough – they’re more like dumplings – there’s scope for the sticky, unctuous and meaty filling to shine.
Julian and Christine enjoy their beef tataki with grilled quail egg and radish salad ($14), though as they point out it would be more accurate to refer to it as a rare beef salad.
Moving on to the “bigger” section of the menu and … even with all the goodwill and generosity of spirit we can muster, Bennie’s crispy spiced lamb ribs leave us collectively bemused.
Forget the asking price of $16 and what that represents per individual rib.
That this mostly unadorned dish is listed as “bigger” rather than “smaller” surely leaves Tong open to unkind cracks about nouvelle cuisine.
Bennie loves them and wolfs the lot down … but there’s a wait of a good 10 minutes between him cleaning his plate and the rest of us receiving our corresponding dishes.
(I was tempted to use the phrase “main courses” right there but realise that may not be appropriate to the Tong philosophy …)
Our friends enjoy their braised tofu with spring onion and crispy noodles ($18) without becoming truly animated about it.
Our table gets two serves of the spicy eggplant sizzling plate ($17) – and good thing that is, as it’s far and away the hit of the night for all of us!
The eggplant flavour is sublime – I wish I could cook eggplant like that.
There’s a few bits of onion and red capsicum in there, the dish has a mild but effective spicy hit and – like a lot of eggplant dishes – this is quite oily. In a good way …
Moving to dessert, sticky black rice with coconut and pineapple crisp ($14) goes OK with she who has been most looking forward to it.
Predictably, Bennie likes the sweet red bean dumplings ($9) while I remain wholly unmoved by what seems to be a sort of doughy blandness.
Christine points out that they’re quite like something her mum whips up.
The Tong style and ambitions may not be a natural fit for we four, but as we saunter into the night we reflect on a lovely evening with great company and good conversation.
And good – sometimes very good – food.