Monday 4 February 2013

Bok Choy Tang

Level 2 Crossbar Building, Federation Square, Melbourne, VIC 3000

Bokchoy Tang on Urbanspoon
Scoring 70% likes on Urbanspoon, and 4.7 on Eatability (only a few reviews), this place used to be my go-to place for Chinese fine cuisine, but sadly, I think it has seen better days. The food and attitude have both changed over time and not necessarily in the right direction. There are still a few gems to be found here though... but it's not a cheap experiment to indulge in.

The Place
I do like this place and its location. It's easy to find and I like the ambience (though it might be a bit dark for some). It is well set out with different configurations for different types of groups.
Other things to do close by: Fed Square is in the middle of lots of things to do and only a short walk from Southbank and Collins Street - there's plenty to do around here.

The Food
Crispy Barramundi with Honey Lemon Sauce
This place serves the Chinese food (not of the more common Cantonese variety, but more to the middle-north and west China variety). They have a lot of Szechuan offerings which is one of my favourite cuisines. However, there has been a slight drop in the standard of food since the late 2000s. The following are still favourites for me though;

Buddha Vegetables - Friends of mine will be shocked by this knowing that I am a carnivore. However, the Buddha Vegetables is an amazingly simple but tasty offering - and vego friends of mine agree. The right balance of each component vege, with the right level of crunch and softness, and flavour. Really good this - and I have it every time without fail and it's consistently good.

Dong Bo Rou - this is not for everyone - with its layers of pork belly fat in soy, ginger and vinegar but if you can get over that - this is great.

Greasy Wok-fried Beef Fillet with Dried Chillies

Spicy Chicken (Watch the dried Chillies)
While generally ok, some of the other dishes are a bit hit and miss and that's really unfortunate (especially the salt and spicy calamari). One other disappointment for me is the offering of teas here - it used to be an art form. Now, tea service is an after thought. I have also had yumcha here too and well - for really good yumcha, one should always rely on the Cantonese.

The Service
If the food is still acceptable for the kind of place purports to be, the service however, is not up to par. In the mid-2000s, this place had impeccable service credentials. The attentiveness and knowledge of the food was difficult to fault and it truly was something to be proud of. Even at their busiest, they never came across as harried. That has all changed and this place is no better (but not worse) than your average Chinese restaurant in terms of its service. This is not a bad thing IF you are an average Chinese restaurant.

I would still go to Bok Choy Tang for 'semi-important' occasions because of the veneer of luxury and the food is usually still good - but compared to what it once was? I think I still go in the hope of being surprised that the 'good ol' days' are back. If it is - one of these days - I will update this entry and I look forward to that day.

A Cultural Moment
Chinese Cuisine is varied and in this entry, I am just going to touch briefly on the diversity without going into any details. In Australia - people are most likely familiar with cuisine from the southeastern regions - Cantonese (Guangzhou), Hokkien (Fujian), and Shanghainese, and from the Szechuan (Sichuan) province. Much of the Chinese cuisine from Southeast Asia (SEA countries of Malaysia and Singapore) comes from the Cantonese and Hokkien variety because they were the dominant groups that migrated to SEA were from that region.  So - what's what?

Cantonese style cuisine is famous for the dominant yumcha varieties in Australia, Chinese brocolli with oyster sauce, sweet and sour pork, wonton soups, roast crispy skin pork, bbq charsiu pork - you know - the restaurants with the ducks (not of the Peking variety) and chickens and roast porks hanging up the front, or the ones with fish tanks with stressed out fishies.

Hokkien style cuisine includes many types of soups, including Bak Kut Teh (meat bone tea), Popiah, Ngohiang (which some places call Autumn Rolls in Aus), and most famously - Buddha Jumps over the Wall which contains up to 30 different really expensive ingredients - the soup with the mostest (but includes shark fin :( ). Also, noodles of the Hokkien variety... haha!

Shanghainese cuisine is a mix pot of middle and inner and northern Chinese cuisine. This is understandable as it's a cosmopolitan city. However, there are a few key things people would be familiar with just as the Shanghainese Juicy Dumplings (xiaolongbao / shao long bao), and HongshaoRou (which is red braised pork) sometimes called Chairman Mao's Pork (because he used to love varieties of this). Also - my favourite Chinese dessert is part of Shanghainese cuisine - Red Bean Pancakes - I have loved this since I was allowed to eat it as a tender age of 5. The less well known Shanghainese delicacy known as Fermented Beancurd is not for the faint hearted.

Szechuan cuisine is probably my favourite because it is an adventure in spice, hot chillies and sour vinegar. Ok, so I am not a fan of burning my tongue and lips with crazy amounts of chillies that epitomises the food of this region. However, it is always so tempting and the restaurants in Melbourne (and Australia) have watered down some of their dishes (a little bit) for us wuzzies. They are famous for Kung Po Chicken (no! It's not Cantonese), Dan Dan Noodles, Spicy Hot Pots, Ma Po Beancurd.

Ok - that's a start... I haven't explored other cuisines from Longjiang (northeastern), Beijing, Hakka, Xinjiang and Yunan. There are new Yunan restaurants in Melbourne which I will review in the future.

Lastly - I am of Shanghainese lineage (from my Dad's side) and Hokkien (from my Mum's side). One of my Grandma is also Hakka - food is a big part of my life - can't you tell?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Shanton for this review.

    I have been wanting to go to Bak Choy Tang for ages and finally got to try it last month with a friend and her 6 year old daughter. They allowed us to mix menu genres (Yum Char and A La Carte) so we had a nice "bit of this and a bit of that" mix of dishes. We had the vego fried rice, vego fried noodles,fried calamari and prawn dumplings from the Yum Char menu and the A La Carte tofu mixed with vegies. All this washed down with a glass of Riesling for the adults while little girl was happy with water. Definitely more than enough for the hungry trio. The food was generally yummo but it could have done with a tad less salt. The Riesling definitely came in handy here!

    Service was attentive but I am not sure if this is because there were only 3 tables occupied.

    I absolutely loved the deco and layout! For a lazy and decadent mid-week lunch while on leave, this was definitely a nice way to spend a January arvo.

    While I might go back to Bak Choy Tang sometime in the future, this is not going to be a regular go-to place for Chinese food. I love my noodles, calamari and tofu but my local take away joint will provide that fix. Bak Choy Tang is a bit too much out of pocket for me while balancing a mortgage and other necessities of life. I haven't been impressed enough for it to become the de facto "only when it is a special occasion" place yet though in part because of the saltiness of the dishes and also because the menu is just a little bit more than what I would normally pay for a special Chinese banquet session. It was about $100 for the 3 of us.

    I would definitely recommend this place as a "if you have to try a place once" kinda thing.