Sunday 2 June 2013

Rice Bar (Not only Rice)

121, Grattan St, Carlton, VIC 3053

Rice Bar Not Only Rice on Urbanspoon
What is in a name? I simply cannot work out how they came by their name... perhaps they think it might be an interesting talking point. This is one of those nominally Malaysian restaurants that offers generic Asian dishes from a range of countries from China to Indonesia to Singapore and of course, Malaysia. This is really targeted at students, though it does attract a good lunch time crowd from workers from the area. This is pretty no frills, and so, if you are expecting top quality, you need to just move on to the next restaurant. If you are looking for cheap and cheerful, then - check it out.

The Place
This is a squishy space and there's a likelihood of diners getting to know more about fellow diners than they need. This is a serious case of eating side by side with strangers, especially during peak periods. Then, you have to try and get out and weave through the limited space too. Not easy. So, it does get noisy. This is really not a great place for children because of the limited space, unless if you want to sit outside, by Grattan Street - in which case you have to watch them, or put them on a leash.

Things to do Nearby: Lygon Street is really close by.

The Food
There are hundreds of offerings here but the question is, do they do it well? I don't know that they actually do a bad job of it all though nothing really stands out. Yet, it does continue to attract a good crowd. So, it is a mediocre restaurant with a range of some good dishes while others are less stellar. There is not a whole lot of pride (in my opinion) in their presentation, given the speed at which the food comes out.

Rice Bar Special Beef Brisket on Rice - the veg was cold
The speed at which they bring out the food is pretty amazing, which basically means that you have to expect a proportion of pre-cooked food. It's that kind of restaurant. There's a range of SEAsian dishes here that are not bad, but there are no real stand outs. In fact, the one disappointment is that they have taken my favourite dish off their menu - Hakka Stewed Pork with Black Fungus. Very sad.

Other mainstays of SEAsian dishes include Hainanese Chicken Rice, Char Kway Teow, Curry Noodles, Nasi Lemak, Tom Yum Soup, Laksa, Kung Bao Chicken, various Fried Rice.

The Service
The service is basic and really efficient. The food does come out really quickly though not in order that suits all the diners at the table at the same time. They don't make a huge effort with the casual diner, though if you are a Cantonese speaker and a regular, they might step it up a bit and be friendlier. Otherwise, don't expect any engagement.

I would go there ocassionally when I am looking for a quick no fuss meal. I think that these sorts of restaurants have a place in Melbourne, because there is always a demand for cheap and cheerful, with relatively tasty

Cultural Moment
Dining with strangers is not everyone's cup of tea. Dining with strangers, who are speaking at the top of their voices, is definitely not pleasant. However, this is more common practice than you think in many parts of  Asia. It's probably less popular here in Australia as culturally, we do like our space and privacy.

However, many of the Asian restaurants have probably not actually factored for this and assumed that diners here are just going to behave in the same manner as those back in Asia. Their target audience is clearly international students from those nations that are used to this. The risk of course, is the annoyance from the wider group of diners that would struggle with this.

For me, if I am dining alone, this can provide interesting entertainment for the 30 minutes or so you are there. You learn all sorts of things about people's attitude toward just about anything under the sun, from politics, to the Universities, to 'manhunting' (from a group of girls), to the quality of food.

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