Meal of the week No.34: Dainty Sichuan

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Bennie and I enjoyed our visit to Tina’s Noodle Kitchen at Highpoint, but were a little surprised at the full-on nature of the food on offer.

It’s no surprise to find Tina’s has been re-badged under the Dainty Sichuan name and the food brought more into line with what may be commercially viable in a shopping centre.

But there’s good news, based on my mid-week lunch.

The menu now offers such more easily negotiated  dishes, all very affordable and many in combos with rice or noodles.

There’s a tight range of dumpling offerings and things such as eggplant and tofu with rice, egg gravy fish fillet, beef omelette on rice and stewed pork belly with eggplant.

My beef noodle soup ($11.80) is a winner and a larger serve than I can handle – and strongly indicates that while compromises have been made here, this remains food quite a cut above shopping centre mediocrity.

All is very good – the noodles, bok choy chopped for ease of eating, pungent soup, beef not fall-apart tender but of gratifyingly high quality.

Truth to tell, though, this is at the upper limits of what even I can handle chilli-wise.

Still, even that must be counted as a plus in such a context.

 

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A BBQ dinner of two halves

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chinb7

 

Chinese BBQ, 301 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9376 6929

With I Love Dumplings having successfully transported itself down the road to the old bank building on Racecourse Road, its old premises have duly become Chinese BBQ – though they are both run by the same management, going by the receipt I receive for our meal.

Its is, clearly, dedicated to Asian-style BBQ – though this is more strictly in the Chinese tradition … as opposed to the Viet vibe of the superb meal Bennie and I recently enjoyed at Phi Phi 2 in St Albans.

I am looking forward to a good mid-week feed in which I can ponder the differences!

For company I have CTS trooper Marns, a woman of robust appetite and great sparkle.

 

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The menu (see below) is roughly divided into two parts – skewers and BBQ.

We’re told the minimum for skewers is $20 so we order freely – shrimp, calamari, lamb, chicken, Chinese cabbage, enokis, broccoli, lotus root.

They cost per skewer ranges from 50 cents to $2.50.

From the regular BBQ we order ox tongue ($15), corn ($6) and potato ($6).

 

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The latter follow the arrival of the glowing coals for our BBQ set-up and very sesame dipping sauce, kimchi and marinated sprouts.

Then we’re off …

It’s heaps of fun.

 

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The ox tongue, frozen so it can be thinly sliced, cooks the fastest, and is a treat.

The vegetables take quite a bit longer and I am a little dismayed to that some of the spud slices initially turn black.

But it all comes good in the end, the potato browning up nicely and the corn being delicious.

In fact these humble husk discs turn out to be one of the highlights of our meal – so good to have barbecued corn that is also juicy.

Such is not always the case!

Then it’s on to our skewers … and it’s at this point that our meal and evening goes a bit nutty, maybe even a bit haywire.

 

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The skewers are brought to our table all dunked in a bucket of what we take to be some sort of marinade.

We quickly make happy by throwing some on the grill.

Only to be immediately told – no, no – that’s not how you do it.

The skewers, we’re told, have already been cooked out back – steamed, apparently – and are ready to go.

Oh.

That would explain, perhaps, the flare-up when Marns puts some of the meat skewers on the grill.

We’re a bit non-plussed but soldier on.

Some of what we have – the Chinese cabbage, the lotus root – is far from impressive.

Some – the easily-peeled shrimp, the broccoli – is good.

The broth/soup/marinade in which the skewers have been bathing has oil, chilli (mild by request) and no doubt many other ingredients, the nature of which I am unable to learn from the staff because of language issues on my part.

The lusty, musty and only (for me) partially attractive seasoning recalls in large part some of the flavours much earlier enjoyed – again without being much the wiser – at a Moonee Ponds hot pot joint.

 

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Look, the confusion can be largely attributed to us – it says plainly on the menu (if in rather small type) that the skewers are “hot & spicy pot” food.

On the other hand, it seems very natural that customers only a little familiar with this kind of food, such as we two, would grab a table at an eatery with “BBQ” in its title and “skewers” on its menu … and put the two together in our minds.

No harm done and we have an otherwise enjoyable meal.

But the dunked skewers haven’t provided the sort of charred, smoky tastes for which we came here.

Perhaps a bit more explaining of the place’s food and ordering routines by the staff to new customers is needed here.

Our meal, including two cans of soft drink, comes in at a very reasonable $60.

 

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Yum cha blow-out

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gold16

 

Gold Leaf, 491 Ballarat Road, Sunshine. Phone: 9311 1863

In the past year or so, CTS has dined yum cha – see here and here.

But as enjoyable as those outings were, in places that run yum cha a la carte and to order and without trolleys, we figured it was time for the real deal.

 

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You know the drill – huge barn of a place, high noise levels, trolleys whizzing everywhere.

 

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So CTS and a bunch of willing pals hit Gold Leaf in Sunshine.

Typically, Bennie and I arrived first and somewhat early.

We were forced to cool our heels with other early arrivers as the staff meal tables were cleared and then – in we went!

 

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Within half an hour, the joint is packed and rocking.

With a group of eight eating madly, I don’t even think about keeping note of individual items and their prices.

Suffice it to say, it really does make a difference – the food here was of a very high standard and the service fine.

 

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We had many of the staples and a few more adventurous things.

 

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Eating the divine roast pork/crackling, for instance, I placed in my bowl some of the attending noodles – only to learn I was eating jellyfish for the first time.

It was lovely!

 

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It was a wonderful experience and the price – a buck or so over $30 per head – equally splendid.

 

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But some things never change …

As we’re wrapping up desserts and wrapping up generally, I notice even more trolleys sallying forth laden with very interesting a delicious-looking items.

No room for them … this time!

 

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Yum Chinese roasts, dumplings

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BBQ Noodle House, Shop 14, 238 Boardwalk Boulevard, Point Cook. Phone: 8375 2356

BBQ Noodle House shares a food-providing strip adjacent Featherstone shopping centre with an F&C place, a charcoal chicken place and a pizza joint.

It looks like a typical suburban noodle shop – the kind where you’ll get very average noodles and dodgy take-away.

But there’s more of interest here …

Chinese roast meats can be bought in Sunshine but only, so far as I’m aware, at a Hampshire Road supermarket – not in a house-roasted sit-down restaurant setting.

There are several such places in Footscray and at least one good one in St Albans.

But on the bay side of the Westgate Freeway/Princes Highway?

Nope.

None at all.

The first thing we note about BBQ Noodle House is the line-up of typical roast beasties – and bits of beasties – hanging up in typical fashion in the window.

The second thing we note, equally approvingly, is the big, tubby roasting oven in the kitchen.

Yes!

 

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Our mixed roast platter ($12) is just fine, with meat juices sluicing up the rice and overcooked but lovely bok choy on the side.

The barbecue pork and roast duck are tender, juicy and tasty – though, predictably, the duck meat near the bone is something of a challenge.

 

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A bowl of chicken broth is brought to us upon request and without extra charge.

It is hot and delicious.

 

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Pork and Chinese cabbage dumplings ($11.50) are winners, too.

Whatever the cabbage component, it has been subsumed into the pork mixture but no matter.

The dumplings are quite heavy, and even a bit stodgy – in a good way.

But they taste fabulous.

And we dig the strands of pickled vegetables that are on hand.

 

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Even the vegetable spring rolls ($4) come up trumps.

They’re well fried and the innards are dark with chopped fungi.

 

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Old-school Chinese winner

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jade1

 

Jade Stream Chinese Restaurant, 62 Old Geelong Road, Hoppers Crossing. Phone: 9748 9666

The, ahem, neighbourhood surrounding Hoopers Crossing station is surely one of most unlovely in the western suburbs.

But there is food.

On the retail strip across the road from the station, this being more of an old-style suburban shopping area, there is a hip cafe and a very nice Indian joint.

Moving towards the city and along Old Geelong Road, one is confronted by a nightmare of roundabouts, asphalt, concrete and warehouse retail as the laughably titled Golden Mile unfolds.

Down the Golden Mile there is food, too – including a cavernous Indian place we have yet to fully explore and a trucked-away outpost of Italian coffee and biscotti.

Back in the area between the station and the Golden Mile proper, the grimness is being enhanced by urban upheaval as Pacific Werribee, up the road, sucks away the customers.

Some businesses are hanging on despite the changes the area is undergoing and the problems of access – the whirling traffic hereabouts is intense.

They include the entertainment/licensed/pokies venue of the Werribee Tigers and a Woolworths.

Also here is a motel that for years has had signs advertising its buffet.

This has long intrigued us – we may not think the area very attractive but it is part of our routine.

So one night, having time to kill before picking Bennie up from his guitar lesson, I step into the motel to find the buffet is very much a sometime thing despite the signage and that only a small menu is available.

The whole vibe is so desultory that I skedaddle up the road apiece to Jade Stream, another business clinging on here.

 

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Ah, this is more like it – that’s what I think as I peruse the menu.

So that’s where we head for dinner.

What are we expecting, hoping for?

Just some smart, tasty Cantonese food – nothing innovative or challenging but something satisfying and of good quality.

And that’s pretty much exactly what we receive.

I’m guessing Jade Stream has been in place for a couple of decades – inside has an air of timelessness and a vibe speaks of a business that knows what it’s about and has a good handle on its customers.

While we’re enjoying our dinner, a handful of tables of various numbers come and go – and all of them appear to be of regulars on friendly terms with the staff.

We like that.

We find the service to be very good.

Jade Stream lays some claim to being a Chinese-Malaysian but mostly this is a straight-up Chinese joint.

 

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Curry puffs ($5.50) are chubby cylinders and seem rather small.

But the fillings are very good – mostly a rich mix of minced meat with some crunch ‘n’ pop from peas.

 

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Short soup ($6) has a very good and flavoursome broth with a bit of a peppery kick.

There are five slithery, delicious wontons – Bennie’s glinty-eyed enthusiasm wins him three, his dad gets two.

 

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Garlic pepper steak ($25.90) also appears modest of proportion but in this case appearances are deceiving.

There’s nothing particularly garlicky about the sauce but it is nonetheless rich and wonderful.

The beef cubes are big, of high quality and superbly cooked – and we appreciate the many chunks of broccoli.

 

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Szechuan eggplant hot pot is a big hit with us and an outright bargain, with the smaller dice of eggplant, peas, pork mince and chilli interspersed with silky, larger eggplant chunks of beaut flavour.

At $18.90, and with rice, it could easily serve as a light meal for two.

So big is the serve that we eat a little more than half, with the rest and the leftover rice going to be Bennie’s school lunch for the next day.

With two serves of rice but no soft drinks, our dinner has cost us a fair $61.30.

Westie eats goss 13/3/16

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wgoss1332

 

Down on sleepy Woods Street, Laverton, Seven Star Chinese Restaurant has been open a few months, inhabiting a property formerly occupied by an Indian grocery.

 

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Strolling inside, I am delighted to find a rather lovely and swish dining room.

At Seven Star, dishes such as beef with black bean sauce and satay beef with vegetables are relegated to the “Oz style Chinese dish” section of the menu.

Under the “Authentic Chinese dish” section are to be found such overtly interesting fare as garlic pig tripe, fish flavour eggplant with pork mince, crispy pig trotters and boiled fish with pickled cabbage and chilli.

There’s also a cold list that includes fried peanut salad, oily chicken, wined chicken, pig ear in chilli oil and braised chicken giblets.

CTS will be checking this place out for sure, so stay tuned for a review!

 

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Taste Of The Middle East is on Synnot Street in Werribee, right next to Coles.

Following up on a reader tip – thanks, Clint! – I am surprised to find that it’s no longer in the “coming soon” category but is up and running for Sunday lunch.

However, I soon discover a menu that’s dedicated to eggs, steak sangers, parmas and the like.

Turns out the regular cafe menu will continue to run in the mornings and I’m a day early for the Middle Eastern goodies, which will kick in later in the day – beginning the day after my brief visit.

We’ll be checking this one out, too.

 

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Coming soon is Dosa Palace in Altona.

Brought to us by Nagesh of Hyderabad Inn fame, it’s located on Millers Road, Brooklyn, between the West Gate Freeway and Geelong Road.

This is undoubtedly a novel place to open a restaurant, with solid commercial/industrial on one side of Millers Road and a rather lovely residential neighbourhood tucked away on the other.

Will be interesting to see how it goes.

Despite the name, expect pretty much a full-service Indian line-up of food.

Mr, where are our dumplings?

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mrpanfry2

 

Mr Pan Fry, 268 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 0455 452 119

Consider The Sauce and pals – quite a number of them – have gathered for a sort-of informal Chinese New Year celebration.

The venue for our eating is a brand new Chinese place called Mr Pan Fry.

As previously noted, we love the intense diversity of Racecourse Road.

But we rarely venture down this end, so I have no recall of what sort of business was formerly in these premises.

Mr Pan Fry is done out crisp but basic furnishings and colours.

The front window space is dedicated to on-view dumpling production, though by the time I think to photograph some of that action, the work has ceased for the night.

There’s a heaping variety of those dumplings listed on the menu, which also extends to a variety of meat and vegetable main dishes and some rudimentary rice and noodle offerings.

We order with abandon, doubling up on some dishes to make sure there’s enough to keep all nine of our mouths happy.

 

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Shanghai fried noodles ($10.80) are a good, basic dish.

 

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The broth-laden “baowie steamed juicy pork buns” ($10.80) are very excellent.

 

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Pot stickers (pan-fried chicken and prawn dumplings, $12.80) are served like a crispy upside-down pie.

They, too, are very good.

 

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Stir-fried tofu with vegetables ($13.80) and …

 

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… fried tofu with pork mince and Sichaun sauce ($13.80) steer us away from dumplings with some aplomb.

The latter’s tofu is a silky smooth treat in a dish that is our most spicy of the night by quite a distance.

 

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Stir-fried salted pepper ribs ($18) are nice but not quite what we – well, what I – have been expecting.

The tangy batter is rather like that most of tonight’s group had across the road at Pacific Seafood BBQ House on a night of rampant crabiness. In that case, the batter coated chicken ribs.

With the pork ribs? Hmmm, interesting … chewy but not quite a bullseye.

In addition to all of the above, at Mr Pan Fry we also enjoy spring onion pancake and another variety of dumpling, the precise nature of which now escapes me as a result of re-ordering due to unavailability of one species in our initial choices.

And we had a delicious, unctuous dish labelled stewed pork belly with chef special sauce ($20.80), which for some reason escapes scrutiny by my camera but which is, perhaps, the hit of the night.

We find the food at Mr Pan Fry to be mostly very good, with the dumplings rating a notch higher.

The menu isn’t as long but the approach is somewhat similar to the adjacent I Love Dumplings.

I suspect, somehow, that Mr Pan Fry has a good chance of becoming a regular haunt as it’s a lovely, cosy place and the service we are provided is warm, smiling and obliging.

We’ve eaten well and having such a big group seems to have helped keep the price per head at most admirable $22.

 

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