Saturday 4 January 2014

Brunswick Mess Hall (Lucky Panda Kitchen)

400, Sydney Rd, Brunswick, VIC 3056
The Brunswick Mess Hall on Urbanspoon
This is a great find on Sydney Road and a great addition to the area. There is also a bar for a few drinks, a great buzz, all in a mess hall environment. This is a good revamp for the Brunswick Mess Hall and I am looking forward to more visits.

The Place
The Mess Hall is beautifully set up and appeals very much to my aesthetics - high ceiling, wooden beams and flooring, plants every where and a general feel of a chilled space. The big windows let a lot of light in. There is also quirky video projections on the back wall (that's not a giant puffin in the picture below). It does get noisy in here but I like to call it a nice buzz.

There is also a full bar here and what really excited my good friend Caroline was that they gave away free soda water!

Possibly the only thing that I didn't like about the place was the high tables and chairs. I like eating with my feet on the ground.

The Food
There is a variety of Asian dishes served up from the Lucky Panda Kitchen. There is a mix of Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese and Thai dishes here. We tried a range but the real highlights were the following;

Vietnamese Coleslaw was really fresh with the right balance of acidity, fish sauce, sweetness and lashings of freshness. This was one of the best dishes of the dining experience.

Roast Pork Belly on Asian Greens was really well done and I just wished there was a whole lot more of it. It was definitely crispy crunchy on top and tender where it needed to be. They managed to achieve the crispiness without being overly salty.

The Steam Fish Fillet in Soy and Ginger Broth here was excellent with fresh fish and steamed just right. The delicate flavours was how it should be for this dish. This is also done with preserved plum and the fresh lime and herbs really helped the dish.

The flavours here are traditional and true to their roots. For example, even their Pad Thai which I didn't rave about used fresh uncooked bean shoots, which is the way it should be. They have stuck to their guns with the flavours and this means I am likely to be back soon.

Compared to similar trendy places, the dishes here would be considered smaller. This means some might consider it not value for money. For example, places like Tom Phat and Palookaville have much bigger servings. This is why it is not a cheap place to eat. Nevertheless, I will definitely be back .

The Service
You write your order down on pieces of paper and order at the bar and they bring out the food. What is great about this place is that they are very attentive about the dietary requirements of their diners. So, this was a real positive.The food also came relatively quickly and the wait staff clearly know the food. The bar staff are also very friendly.

This is a nice trendy place that serves pretty good food. It's not a family restaurant although it is family friendly. This place works well because of the space, ambience, service and food. That sounds like it's something everyone would like but that is not necessarily the case. Not everyone would like the trendy bar setting with minimal service and too cool for school feel. I did though and so, I will be back for more but will probably order more dishes this time.

I am impressed with a kitchen that can served authentic dishes from four different cuisines. Therefore, in theory, this place should work. However, I am not entirely sure that a pub going drinking crowd is quite necessarily ready for this type of food because other than the gyoza and spring rolls, the other dishes are not really pub food. In addition, it's pricier than normal pub food, even for those who are looking for a cheap eat at a pub. Therefore, it might take a bit of getting used to. 

Cultural Moment
Pub Meals in Asia are not very common (other than in Japan). Some would call it 'drinking food' which is food you eat while you are drinking (alcohol). While there has been a longer tradition of this practice in Japan which is what Izakayas are. Therefore, common pub meals in Japan might include yakitori (skewered marinated chicken), karaage (fried chicken), gyoza (dumplings), edamame (soybean pods) and even sushi.

The rest of Asia however, is just starting to build this trend because for a long time, pubs in SEAsia tended to serve no more than peanuts, fried achovies and maybe some other 'small dishes'. Drinking establishments were never really known for their culinary experiences until recently when modern trendy clubs are starting to offer innovative small dishes and tapas to attract more clients. Certainly, in most parts of Asia, people don't think of a pub / night club as their dining option and most would eat in the street stalls before proceeding to drink and party into the night.


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