Sunday, 9 June 2013

Minh Tan 2 (Chinese and Vietnamese Restaurant)

192 Victoria St, Richmond, VIC 3121

Minh Tan 2 on Urbanspoon
How does one differentiate itself from some 30 other Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants in the same stretch of street? One way is to offer something the others don't have - Yum Cha. However, if a restaurant does offer something different, that something needs to be good or it might tar the rest of the offerings from that very restaurant. Minh Tan 2 has survived on Victoria Street for a very long time, so, it must be doing something right.

The Place
This has the set up of a typical Cantonese Vietnamese Restaurant with the ducks and chickens hanging in the window, special item menu handwritten on pieces of colourful paper and pasted on the wall, overcoming any original decoration or wall paper or even mirror, take away section up the front. It has been around for a long time and is fully carpeted to help with sound insulation. However, I think it's time for fresh carpets. This is not a huge place and when it gets crowded, you will be sitting with your back against other diners (which can be annoying). It's not exactly child friendly but I have seen many parents negotiate their prams and high chairs in this place successfully with kids who have patiently sat there the entire meal - so maybe, I should say that it's not a great place for kids who want to run around and parents who like to let them do so. You'd do so at your own risk. Like all places on Victoria Street, you are looking for parking either onstreet or on the side streets, or undercover park at The Hive.

Things to do Nearby: It's Victoria Street, great to explore the shops here for Asian Groceries and Food. Alternatively IKEA and Victoria Gardens is a short 5 minute drive away.

The Food
Yummy Lotus Leaf Glutinuous Rice
The food from the ala carte menus is actually not bad and the BBQ meats are pretty good and reliable. There are a number of Cantonese dishes here that are comparable to any out there in Richmond. However, what I want to focus on are the yumcha offerings, which is not the norm on Victoria Street. It is also one of the cheaper yumcha places in Melbourne - most affordable.

First off, the Loh Mai Kai (Lotus Leaf Glutinuous Rice) is simply one of the tastiest in Melbourne. It is a generous portion, and comes with a chicken, chinese sausage, and roast pork. It has just the right level of salt. It is the traditional way to serve it without being overly greasy.

They also do a good Fried Prawn Roll which is golden and crispy. The prawns taste really fresh and I really enjoyed them, though I would have preferred this with mayo rather than plum sauce.
The other dim sums are ok but nothing to really rave about. However, I am pretty sure they do use quite a bit of MSG here because I was really thirsty afterwards. Nevertheless the main issue here wasn't about the quality of food but that with yumcha, they have a really limited range of offerings. They do have the staples and that's about it. Therefore, if you are expecting the full range of dim sum dishes, you might be disappointed. This is certainly not set up to be a full yumcha experience that many might have become accustomed to. It's reminds me more of a coffee shop yumcha like the ones in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, where they are famous for a few key dishes and that's it. In addition, they are not great at explaining what the key dishes are and so, you can expect some communication barriers in terms of ordering the dishes you want.

It certainly won't be my go to place for yumcha, though I reiterate, their Cantonese BBQ dishes do just fine.

The Service
The service is less than desirable. They really don't make much of an effort to explain how they work or to engage. It's what I would call indifferent service. They are not necessarily rude or anything - just uninterested. This is particularly annoying when they don't even explain their ordering system for yumcha. I wanted them to at least try - which they didn't. Most unfortunate.

While it's not the top of the list for yumcha, it's great for takeaway especially if you are looking for BBQ meat. They also have a range of pastries that you can takeaway - for me, that's the best way to partake in the food here without putting up with the service. For others, they are most likely to go to any of the other restaurants nearby that may make more of an effort.

Cultural Moment
What is it about bad service from places like these? Do they really genuinely not care about communicating with their customers or do they sincerely think that this is acceptable? There are so many places that do this in Melbourne, especially places that serve Cantonese food. It's almost a stereotype.

Firstly, having been to Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia where there are similar restaurants, I have to say that it's not a cultural thing! There are all levels of service in SEAsia as one might expect. So, what is it about the places in Melbourne that are well known for this sort of service?

I think there are two main reasons; 1) There are some restaurants that are targeted at students, and they are low cost and have a clientale that's doesn't really care. They are there to just eat and run, and would themselves ignore the wait staff; 2) There are places where unless you speak their language, would make minimal contact and effort at trying to communicate in any way. This applies to the managers as well as their untrained wait staff. So, because most of their customers are people who speak their language, they are fine with serving them. However, the moment you have non-Cantonese speakers, the service level is reduced as a proxy for reduced communication. You have entered their World without knowing their rules. Live with it and if you don't like it... write a blog entry!

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