West of Kin, 17 Lacy Street, Braybrook. Phone: 9317 7553
A mix of Asian flavours?
Or Asian flavours “fused” with something else?
Whatever the case, and no matter how you phrase it, this is something that is not necessarily an easy sell in Melbourne’s western suburbs …
Where there is such a glorious profusions of Asian food to be had.
And when the very word “fusion” comes with baggage that hints at vital compromises of tastes and dishes and ingredients.
Nevertheless, a fighting fit CTS team of three is very excited to be heading for West of Kin.
As the restaurant has come together, and tackled tiresome gas issues along the way, we have seen the photo’s on the WoK Facebook page, read a blog post and a Zomato review by a CTS regular reader (Hi, Loren!).
It’s all looking good and the signs are hot.
Of course, the most miraculous thing about West of Kin is its very existence.
Here it is, shiny and cool and looking lovely.
And situated off Ballarat Road, on a street and in a neighbourhood mostly comprised of auto wreckers, panelbeaters, furniture factories and sundry light industry.
It really is amazing stuff!
West of Kin has three eating areas …
An outdoor garden place that is sure to be very nice on summer days and warm nights.
A bar area for a casual drinking and eating.
And the main dining area.
This has a nice vibe going, with its very high ceiling, exposed bricks and comfortable, elevated booths.
We are shown to one of the booths and proceed to get to grips with the menu (see below).
Tonight, a scant handful of days into the restaurant’s life, we are the guests of proprietors Andy and Tram (see full disclosure below) so have no need to concern ourselves with credit-card pain.
But the food list is so admirably tight that choosing is easy and money not really a factor.
“Taste” courses number nine and are priced between $8 and $11, or sold in trios for $22.
We get three …
Yunan-style lamb ribs, sesame seeds, sweet and sour soy lacquer are lovely, though fatty – as is to be expected.
Sichuan-style beef tartare, fried shallot and garlic, quail yolk has little by way of the feistiness we normally associate with that Chinese province though it is a subtle and delicate delight, served on a prawn cracker.
Even if it is served with yuzu mayo and Asian herbs?
Oh how we chortle!
Among the three of us there has been a uniformity of experience with this dish, no matter whether the most humble Chinese noodle shops and posh eateries have been involved.
You know – triangles of white bread, supposedly containing prawn meat and annointed with a coating of sesame seeds.
Seen one, seen them all – so, of course, we order the West of Kin version.
We are stunned and the first of our West of Kin instances of eye-rolling, moaning pleasure inter-mixed with the silence of reverential eating kicks in.
This prawn toast is a sensation, the white-bread base sitting beneath a thick slab of roughly chopped prawn meat topped with black and white sesame seeds and festooned with a heap of herbs.
The seasoning is not listed but the prawn mix, the whole dish, is entirely delicious.
The WoK menu has only four main dishes and we order three of them – they’re all very good or superb.
Superb is the ma po tofu pork and black bean ($22).
Here the penny finally drops for us – fusion at WoK is all about the mix of Asian flavours, not some contrived mash-up of Asian and something other.
And overwhelmingly, the Wok flavours are robust and in no way compromised.
The ma po tofu pork is a hummingly super dish that has us giggling with the excellence of it – and it’s the sort of dish of which anyone’s lovely HK nanna would be rightly proud.
Our other main dishes don’t quite reach the same giddy heights but they are both very fine.
Master stock shredded duck, egg noodle, XO sauce, spring onion, coriander, chilli, fried quails eggs ($28) has heaps of delectably sweet and salty duck meat.
Oddly enough, perhaps the key ingredient here is the unlisted cucumber.
Whereas cucumber discs often accompany many dishes we eat, such as Hainan chicken rice, either eaten or ignored and functioning somewhat like a garnish, here the cuke batons are integral to whole texture and experience of the dish.
Clever and interesting!
None of the three of us are diehard baramundi fans but we enjoy this meaty specimen ($MP), which – according to the menu – has been grilled in its banana leaf with house-made XO and is served with rice.
It has that earthy baramundi taste but there is no doubting the wonders of the luxurious, perfectly cooked and generous quantity of white flesh. And the bones are no hassle at all.
There’s three available ($12) so we order one of each!
Once more, the assuredness of those in the kitchen shines forth.
Our dessert trio is more European than Asian, but there are Asian flavours utilised.
What’s more, they are used with telling subtlety and profound skill.
The WoK sundae has a familiar flavour that has scratching our heads.
We find out that it’s dried mandarin!
The chocolate de lice, golden leaf, hazelnut crumble is a solid slab of incredibly intensely flavoured and bitter African chocolate.
The stand-alone panna cotta is firmer than most, though still gorgeously wobbly, and is spiced with cardamom.
All three are wonderful in their own ways.
After our meal, I talk with Andy and Tram and am asked for some honest feedback.
We have just one criticism … the main course that has gone untried by us is the whole roasted lamb leg with kimchi butter and chef’s seasonal sides ($56).
We inquired of our server if this would be so substantial that it would spoil and overwhelm our meal – the answer was in the affirmative.
When we see this dish arriving at the booth next to our own, we realise we have been smart as it looks VERY big.
But it also looks amazing so we feel we’ve missed out on a real treat.
Perhaps West of Kin could manage smaller serves of this dish somehow?
Surveying our neighbours’ leg – so to speak – I’m guessing ordering it would require a table of at least four.
But given the pleasure our night here has provided, this seems like a minor quibble.
For a mid-week dinner just days after the restaurant has officially opened, there have been – at the night’s peak – eight or nine tables/booths occupied.
Another good sign?
As we leave, tummies full of very good food, we look back in wonder at this most unlikely of eating joints in an equally unlikely but just-right location.
We are smiling as we do so.
We reckon it’s going to be hit.
It’s actually not that often that I get to write with such unbounded, off-the-leash enthusiasm.
It’s been a pleasure.
Nor is it always the case that complementary food is the cause of the most pleasurable experiences and memories.
But that has certainly been the case at West of Kin.
Check out the Urban Ma’s review here.
(Consider The Sauce dined at West of Kin as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meal. We chose from regular menu and had no restrictions placed upon us in doing so. West of Kin management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to this story.)
Among those checking out West of Kin on the same night as CTS were the Urban Ma and her hubby, Wes.