Saturday, 27 April 2013

Grand Tofu (Malaysian Restaurant)

314, Racecourse Road, Flemington, VIC 3031

The Grand Tofu on Urbanspoon
There are about 4 Malaysian restaurants in this vicinity and all of them have a relatively strong reputation. This makes it really hard to compete but with a range of great dishes and also fresh Yong Tau Fu, The Grand Tofu certainly more than holds its own. How can 4 Malaysian restaurants within a 400 metre radius do well with consistent crowds most nights? The answer is relatively simple - they are all good at what they do, and each of them have their own strengths.

The Place
This is not a huge restaurant, with basic decoration and just a bustling place with no fuss. It's certainly child friendly and they have boosters rather than high chairs. It can get pretty friendly as there is not a lot of space. Lots of light and very clean... it feels like eating in one of the food courts of Malaysia. If you are going with a large group, it's best to book because there is limited space. Not that many round tables for largish groups.

Parking can be a pain, given it's on Flemington Road. You have to know the back streets which is where the parking is or park at Newmarket Train Station.

Things to do Nearby: This is set in the main shopping area of Flemington.

The Food
The food is good, there is no doubt about that. Of course, people are going to compare between this and the other Malaysian places around the corner. The fact that it gets just as crowded as all the others means that it is doing something right for many people. Having been here a number of time, I really believe that it's their hawker dishes that stand out more than anything else. The Grand Tofu also has the distinction of having a good selection of Niang Tofu (to the right). They also cook it to order with a choice of basic Chicken broth, Tom Yum soup or Curry Soup.

One important thing to note is that the food here is not greasy. So, for the health conscious, this is a great thing. Generally, I don't like greasy food but there are some dishes which really need to be a bit greasy - for authenticity and to retain the flavours better.

Here are some of the highlights;
Hainanese Chicken Rice - the Chicken Rice here is very home cooked style and the white-cut chicken is fresh. The chilli could do with a bit more vinegar but it's all pretty good.
Yummy Eggy Wat Dan Hor
Wat Dan Hor (Combination Hor Fun) - is yummy. The egg sauce and the fresh seafood taste really good even though I would have liked the hor fun to be a bit smokier.

Fried Rice
The Grand Tofu Special Fried Rice is a traditional special fried rice that takes me back to when I was a kid. Young Isaac who was with us at dinner thoroughly loved it too.

Mee Goreng
Mee Goreng - while tasty, it's a bit too "Chinese" for me rather than Indian. It has a tad too much curry powder, not enough grease and tomata. Still good, just not my preferred style.

They also have great Char Kway Teow here, which could do with a bit of grease but nevertheless, is tasty.

Meanwhile the Calamari Tentacles (below) are like Chinese KFC... it's a bit chewy but the flavours are all there. If there's one suggestion I have for The Grand Tofu, it's that there's a bit too much salt in some of the dishes and it could be taken a notch down. However, if this was a Hakka place, that's quite understandable- they love their salt.

The Service
When it comes to service, this place beats all the other Malaysian places within 100 metres (that's the other 3). Friendly, down to earth, ready to explain how things work and obliging. If you are not sure, ask and they will be happy to respond to your needs. They are much friendlier than the other places around here.
For example, we were a group of 9 and had orders quite a few dishes. When they all started coming at once, I requested that they stop and that we start again once the first 5 or so dishes were done, they did it and even apologised for 'rushing us'. Now, THAT's service to suit the diners.

I would go again especially when I want hawker style Malaysian dishes. They do a roaring trade and do it well. One of my favourite places in the area. Thanks to Niro, Justin, Al, Nishi, Jan, Robbie, Isaac and Zara for coming to this one so I can order many many things to try out.

Cultural Moment
Niang ToFu is a quintessential Hakka Dish. The Hakkas were a very migratory group amongst the Chinese, and though a smaller group as a whole, produced some of the most influential leaders in Chinese history both in China and overseas. Famous Hakkas include Sun Yat Sen, The Soong Sisters, Lee Kuan Yew and Deng Xiao Ping.

Niang Tofu pieces in the fridge, drinks in the front at Grand Tofu
Hakka cuisine is characterised by two key things; texture and preserved ingredients, the use of salt, vinegar and dehydration. These characteristics are highlighted in dishes like Niang ToFu (Yong Tau Fu in Cantonese) where the textures of the fish balls and the vegetables are key features, Salt Baked Chicken, various Meat Balls and Fish Balls, and Yam Abacus Seeds (like a Yam gnocchi), as well use of various rice wines. One interesting thing that I noticed when I went to India was that the Chinese restaurants in India had strong Hakka influences - since then, I have discovered that the Hakkas are the dominant group of Chinese migrants to India. Check out the very excellent Hakka Food Blog if you are interested.

My own Grandma, my Godpa and one of my Aunts were Hakkas and so, I am familiar with a number of their great dishes. However, it was really Godpa's family that really celebrated this cuisine and for that (and other things), I am always grateful.

1 comment:

  1. Love this place! I like the Hainan chicken rice, too. And I reckon the chicken laksa is the best going in this neighbourhood.