210, Toorak Road, South Yarra, VIC 3141
This is the go to place for in-dining Cantonese barbeque house. Scoring 84% on Urbanspoon, this place is the quintessential Hong Kong mid-range restaurant which serves good food but polite service at best. This review is only about their South Yarra branch. Each of their branches is substantially different to the others.
Situated on Toorak Road, this is a good space and the good news is, they don't cramp everyone in so that you can almost eat off the plates of neighbouring diners. The ventilation and air-conditining is good and it's a typical brightly lit Chinese restaurant. Parking can be a challenge and you have to look for the side streets off Toorak Road.
Things to do nearby: This is close to the South Yarra train station, and also to all the shops nearby. Como Centre is about 2 minutes away with its cinemas, and Chapel St. is around the corner.
Classic Cantonese fare here and their barbeque meats are of a really high standard. Some might find their crispy pork a bit salty but it's all relatively good. If you are not sure which roast/barbeque meat to go for, and if there are 3 or more of you, try to Mixed plate with 4 varieties at $28. Trust me - it's good value compared to most other places. Other dishes that stood out for me over the years include:
Pipa Beancurd ("Violin" Beancud) - it's beancurd mashed with seafood, shaped like a Chinese "violin" (Pipa), deep dried and braised. The sauce is really quite tasty and it's served with freshed sauteed brocolli.
Deepfried Calamari with Spicy Salt and Chilli - everyone know what this is and this place does it quite well.
Fillet Mignon with Black Pepper Sauce - I do like this mostly because the meat is so tender, well marinated and the black pepper sauce is something that I like.
Special Fried Rice (Yangzhou Chao Fan) - If you must have it, this is the place to get it. They do it well with the right ingredients too.
It's also worth checking out the specials board. You might see various items with XO sauce. This has nothing to do with cognac... it's actually a special sauce that comprises a range of dried seafood (fish, shrimp) pounded together, mixed with chilli, oil, garlic, all fried together.
Ok - now for things on the menu I have never tried, nor would I ever order and my reasons why:
Lemon chicken - is served by Chinese restaurants in many parts of the world but not China - really - it's didn't originate from China. I have yet to see any Guangdong restaurants that serve this dish. Even in Hong Kong, it's really not common.
Mongolian beef - I won't order Moussaka at an Italian restaurant, I sure as hell, am not going to order aything 'Mongolian' from a Cantonese restaurant. The distance between Mongolia and Hong Kong is nearly 4 times the distance between Athens and Rome.
Lemongrass anything - Lemongrass is a tropical plant that's used a lot in Southeast Asian cooking and even in the West Indies, but not really in Chinese cooking.
Ther service ranges from abrupt to really friendly depending on the confidence of the wait person. I am quite jaded about service at low - mid range Cantonese restaurants. Part of it is just they "I am doing you a favour" attitude, and part of it is "You don't speak Cantonese, so we can't really converse". One learns not to expect too much of the service from such places or one just doesn't get to eat the food here (other than maybe, takeaways).
Having said that, I have to be fair, and would argue that service at this joint is probably one of the best ones for it's type of restaurant. They do attempt to communicate (albeit minimally). They provide complementary soup to all tables ordering more the one lunch item (unlike the racist service at C-Culture). Also, if, it's a big group, a plate of complementary sliced oranges is usually served up if no dessert has been ordered. Therefore, all in all, I'd say that's pretty alright.
Of all the barbeque houses in Melbourne, this is one of the go-to ones for a space to have a gathering where you might want to have a bit of a chat and enjoy a flow of food.
Food represents a number of things in Chinese cultures. This means that sometimes, there might be conflict in what they represent between different regions. Here's a brief example of a range of food and what they represent:
Whole Fish (Yu in Madarin) - Yu also means abundance - a Chinese New Year greeting is 'Nian Nian You Yu' (which means "May you have abundance every year"). A whole fish in a lot of abundance and also that where a project is started, it will also have a completion.
Mandarin/Oranges (Kum in Cantonese) - Kum also means Gold - Having mandarins is a good thing as it represents wealth. Pomelos too (which sound like prosperity).
Noodles represent longevity in Chinese culture - so the longer the noodles, the better. Sometimes you will see in Chinese restaurants, families laughing as they try to get the noodles from the communal plate and they have strands of noodles that are really long, and they are holding them really high with their chopsticks - why don't they just cut it and dish it out? Are you CRAZY?
Whole hardboiled Eggs (dyed red) represent fertility. Lots of babies :)
Mushrooms and Fungus are really prolific and represent the multiplication of wealth.
Leek (Seng in Hokkien) - Seng also means counting - Counting money that is, if you have lots of it at Chinese New Year - hopefully, it will bring in the wealth for you to count your money.
Sweet Glutinuous Rice Cakes - represent sweetness in life.
Sweet and Sour preserved plums of various varieties - represent the balance between the sweet and sour moments of life.
8 courses of a banquet represents growth of prosperity, The number 8 (Ba) sounds similar to prosperity. So, this is a good thing.
There are also some things which some families would avoid eating around Chinese New Year, depending on their traditions. These include Vinegar (Chu) which not only sounds like jealousy, but also is extremely 'sour', Preserved Vegetables (Kiam Chai/ Hum Choi) which could represent miserliness and drying up of wealth, Beancurd (traditionally poor man's food).