Friday, 8 March 2013

Pacific Seafood BBQ House (Richmond)

240, Victoria St, Richmond, VIC 3121

Pacific Seafood BBQ House on Urbanspoon

This is the very busy branch of the Pacific Seafood BBQ chain. It used to be crazily cramped, but since they got rid of their fresh seafood monger shop next door and extended their restaurant, the craziness has died down a bit - a clear positive for this restaurant. This is an old reliable with great Chinese BBQ offerings and a huge range of dishes from the kitchen. This is, in my opinion, now the best Chinese eatery on Victoria Street in Richmond, since the decline of Minh Xuong.

The Place
A year ago, I would have been complaining and whining about how cramped this place one, and how it was difficult to even get past the entrance, and how you could eat off strangers' plates and literally 5-6 diners would have to get up so you could leave if you were unfortunate enough to sit further in. That has all changed with the expansion and they have sensibly spaced the tables now. That helps the experience a lot! The sound insulation is still not fantastic and it can get noisy but the place, though not perfect has improved 50-fold. The deco here mainly consist of the colourful menu listing the special items (in Chinese and English), pasted all over the walls of the restaurant.

Things to do nearby: You are on Victoria Street, Richmond - all the Asian groceries and shops, The Hive and Victoria Gardens and Ikea is not too far away.

The Food
This is good Cantonese fare primarily. It's Chinese BBQ range is reliable and really yummy. I am going to talk more about the range later in the Cultural Moment section. The dishes here are generally good, tasty and authentic. So, overall, it's pretty good. I also generally like the variety of complementary Chinese soups here from peanut soup to lotus soup to carrot and radish soup with pork ribs.

The only things I question here are actually the Sichuan dishes. They are not as good as their Cantonese dishes because I suspect the Chefs are really Cantonese Chefs. The problem with the Sichuan dishes is that they have a Cantonese twist to them, making them less spicy and sweeter than necessary. For example, Mapo Tofu is not hot enough, doesn't have enough spice and is a bit sweet. The Hot and Sour soup is almost Sweet and Hot soup. So, stick to the Cantonese dishes and you will be absolutely fine.

The dishes are comparable to the South Yarra branch as reviewed earlier with highlights of key dishes - Pacific Seafood BBQ House (South Yarra). There are similar dishes in both restaurants and there is good consistency.

The Service
The service here is not as good as the branch in South Yarra. They haven't changed from the old rushed and brusque style that was geared to get you in and out. This is where they really need to improve and also be more personable. And yet - it's not the worst I have encountered in Melbourne - I have written about those elsewhere.

This is a good old reliable. I'd go there if I was craving Cantonese in the area. I'd go there more now that there's actually space with the new renovations. It used to be a turn off thinking about lining up and fighting with skinny people who take up too much space in the old set up. Now that that's less of an issue - I am there more often.

Cultural Moment
Chinese or more precisely Hong Kong BBQ Houses are a mainstay for South China and SEAsian Chinese Communities. In most cities, there are always well known BBQ Houses that have survived and thrived on a reputation built over decades, surviving the most critical diners. Also known as siu laap cuisine. Siu Laap consists of 2 different sub-cuisines - siu mei consisting of the roast dishes and lou mei, the braised and stewed dishes. The most common offerings of a good BBQ house include (Cantonese names are used here);

Char Siew - popularly known in Australia as either BBQ Pork or Honey Glazed Pork. This is the red coated barbequed pork. It's not barbequed as Ausatlians know it - it's actually roasted over an open fire oven. Good Char Siew should still be moist on the inside rather than dried out. Some people like their Char Siew with any trace of fat (using pork loin) - which can make it drier. Others prefer a slightly fatty cut of meat (pork leg). However, at the end of the day, it's also dependent on the marinade. Again some people prefer a sweeter Char Siew while others prefer less sweet but a more subtle savoury taste. Char Siew is eaten on it's own but also used in all sorts of dishes such as fried rice, wonton noodles, bao, and even stir fries and fried noodles.

Siew Yok - Crispy Pork needs little extplanation. This is really roasted pork belly with really crispy skin, with 5-spice flavouring and actually my favourite amongst these dishes. Again, eaten on its own or as part of various dishes such as stir fried with bean curd, or in soups, they add a whole new dimension to these dishes.

Yao Gai - Soya Sauce Poached Chicken which is slightly sweet and mostly savoury. The chicken should still be very moist on the inside even after being hung out to dry literally in the windows of these BBQ Houses. Steeping the Chicken in the soy sauce rather than boiling it to death is the trick to good poached chicken. Also great in noodle soups.

Baaht Chit Gai - White cut chicken, cooked and steeped in stock. Kylie Chan has a great recipe for this and some places calls this Hainan Chicken. It's a basic dish and served with ginger and shallot sauce and/or chilli sauce.

Siew Ngap - Roast Duck (NOT Peking Duck) is a tricky dish because ducks are a tricky business. Unlike chickens which are usually succulent and full of meat, ducks refuse to be as consistent and can be quite lean. So, sometimes, roast ducks can be very boney and other than the breast meat, there's not a lot of meat. However, as I understand it, enjoying roast duck is also about sucking on the flavour ridden greasy bones and licking your fingers.

Mak Jyoo - is that orange looking cuttle fish / squid that some places have. Served sliced up and with black soy sauce. It's a bit tasteless to me but some people like it.

There are a few other dishes worth mentioning here. One that not many Europeans are likely to order amongst these offerings is the laap cheong - Homemade Chinese Sausage. Less common in Hong Kong but you might see it in Melboure are bbq pork ribs as well. On some special festival days, some places might also have roast suckling pig which is very expensive. A dish you would not usually see outside of Hong Kong is siew ngoh which is roast goose.

One thing worth noting. A lot of the siu mei dishes are presented in the windows of eating houses. This is typical and similar to what they have at Pacific Seafood BBQ House. What it also means too is that most places serves these dishes at only slightly above room temperature. They generally come as a cool-ish snack or as part of a cooked meal, or with hot steaming rice. However, in Australia - people tend to freak out at room-temperature food, so many places have taken to lightly heating up these dishes in a microwave. They are not re-cooking it because that would completely destroy the dish. They are simply re-heating it slightly - this sometimes reduces the crispiness of the crispy pork. Just be aware of this.

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