Tuesday 11 February 2014

Grain Asia Cafe

Shop 46 Box Hill Centro, Box Hill, VIC 3128
Grain Asian Cafe on Urbanspoon
Competition in Box Hill is tough with so many Asian options. How does one do well in light of that? It would either have to be really cheap, or tasty, or offer dishes that others do not. Where does Grain Asia sit? By the way the translation from their Chinese name could have been Grand Asia, but it seems they have gone with Grain for some reason.

The Place
Treat this like a food court and you won't be disappointed. It has a similar set up for quick easy meals with no fuss. Sometimes it is clean and other times, slightly greasy when it is really busy. It's a bright place with not a lot of decoration to speak off. The most interesting thing is perhaps watching them cook behind the glassed off section. It is relatively child friendly. This is easy to get to in that it sits on top of the train station and there's multi-storied parking.

Things to do nearby: Explore Boxhill Centro and its range of multicultural mix of shops.

The Food
This place serves a large variety of hawker and yumcha style dishes that originate from China to SEAsia. They are primarily Chinese dishes. Firstly, the dishes here are generally ok, they are not bad though 'nothing to write home about'. As I have said before in other entries, when a cafe offers such a wide range of dishes, it's inevitable that some dishes are going to be done well while others are mediocre at best.

If I was to use one word to describe the food here, I'd use the word 'rustic' but not in a romantic manner, but to denote plain and a bit rough round the ages, including the use of MSG. It certainly doesn't serve up any sophistication or pretensions. They use huge chunks of ingredients, big pieces of meat and vegetables, thicker noodles and greasier soups. That's not to say they are not tasty - don't get me wrong. Some of the dishes are very tasty. Some of the servings are also relatively generous.

Beef Fried Hor Fun (with thick flat rice noodles - quite greasy but tasty and a favourite of mine)
Beef Brisket and Wonton Noodle Soup (lashings of tradition including the requisite grease)
Salt and Chilli Chicken Ribs on Rice
There also do a number of stir fries with rice (Hong Kong style) of varying quality and sizes. For example, some of the dishes come with huge servings while others like the Salt and Chilli Chicken Ribs are relatively small (compared to some other places). One of the dishes I really like here is the Glutinuous Rice wrapped in Lotus Leaf. They serve this up in a generous portion that's not too salty and has a good balance of textures and basic flavours.
Glutinuous Rice wrapped in Lotus Leaf
The Service
This is food hall service - fast, efficient, not a whole lot of interest in any other communication but not particularly rude (from my point of view). The issue is in the demeanor of the wait staff who make you feel as if they are doing you a favour. So, they come across as brusque at best. Even though the various dishes are prepared in separate sections of the kitchen, the food generally comes out quickly around the same time. However, one doesn't go to a food hall for service.

I would go there perhaps when I am looking for a really quick no fuss cheap meal. This is only if I am aware of the few dishes I particularly like from here.

Cultural Moment
Despite the brusque service, there are still many punters here, mostly Chinese. That prompts a question about Chinese expectations of service. Is it that the Chinese don't expect much in terms of service? I don't think so personally. The issue is around context and Chinese communication does tend to be highly contextual from my very personal experience.

In a food hall, there is usually no expectation of service and people will put up with brusque service. On the other hand, in many Chinese restaurants all over Asia, there is an expectation of good service and extreme politeness. I don't think it's any different in Australia but certainly we do hold cafe wait staff to a much higher standard than they do in most of Asia - this is just my observation.

Friday 7 February 2014

Hello Gelo

15 Anderson Street, Yarraville, VIC 3013
Hello Gelo on Urbanspoon
HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR! I haven't been eating out much because there is so much good food at home right now and I am still going through leftovers... I wish it was like this all year round. Anyway, back to to the blog and it gives me great joy to be able to finally write this blog. The topic - gelato! It's been a while since I wrote about Asian-influenced desserts but here it is in the new Horse year. Firstly, I have to declare that I know the owners of Hello Gelo, so I might be biased but my tastebuds are pretty honest (I hope). This place has also been reviewed by considerthesauce, so if you don't trust me, trust Kenny who writes one of the best blogs around town.

I have been to Hello Gelo many many times but have never taken a single photo!! Too busy choosing flavours, chatting and eating it all before it melts! So, I am sorry this blog post has not pics. I promise to get some the next time I am there.

The Place
Set within the trendy Yarraville Village, this is an ice-cream joint. The dominant colour scheme is bright happy orange and it's always clean. The poster board with all the performances around town and all the thank you notes from local schools and children indicates the community mindedness and contribution of this place. It's not one of those imported trendy "too cool for school hipster" gelati places, which makes me love it even more. No dark wood and leather furniture in sight and it reminds me of the good old days when ice-cream shops were bright happy places. There are limited seats upstairs and on the pavement but most people seem quite content to wander the along Anderson Street with their gelati and sorbet in hand.

Things to do Nearby: The Village has many shops to explore and The Sun Theatre.

The Food
The gelato and sorbet are made on premises and real ingredients are used. You only have to check out considerthesauce to see evidence of the yummy ingredients. Having been here many times, I have tried many of the flavours. Highlights for me include the vanilla (which I don't usually have but is so good here), chocolate, peanut butter, chocolate orange (jaffa which is one of my favourites), and lemon sorbet. However, I am not here to talk about those traditional flavours. I am here to discuss the Asian-inspired flavours.

Coconut - Coconut gelato is tricky, it is perhaps the one flavour where you might not want to be overpowered by the coconut so that it tastes like cold coagulated coconut milk. It is a skill to get the balance of flavour, intensity and delicate smoothness. At Hello Gelo, the coconut gelato is quite delicate and light rather than intense.

Coconut with Mango Swirl - This is a very occasional flavour and perhaps one of my favourites as it evokes a classic Thai dessert flavour coupling. The delicate coconut gelato is coupled with flavourful mango swirls. I do wonder what it would be like if there was more solid bits of mango and if that might be too much. As it is, it is still a winner with me.

Pandan - Pandan is what some call Asian vanilla and its green tinged. It is used a lot in Asian deserts all over SEAsia and is delight to have.

Lychee Sorbet - Lychee is a luxurious fruit that many in Asia love for its intense sweetness and slight tanginess. The Lychee Sorbet at Hello Gelo makes me very happy because it's like having frozen lychees. This is probably my favourite Chinese New Year flavour here. Give me more!

Watermelon Sorbet - Ok, at the best of times, I am not a fan of watermelon juice or flavouring. I do like the fruit itself but everything else feels a bit strange to me. The sorbet here is light and refreshing but unsurprisingly, is not one of my personal favourites. I can imagine however, that if you like watermelon - this would be a total delight.

The Service
The service is helpful, friendly and generous. Always time to chat with the kids and always friendly. You can tell the pride in the flavours of made on premises gelati here and it is really something I look forward to each time. I also enjoy showing this place off to friends and family.

The down-to-earth nature of this locally owned gelati shop is what makes the local small operator food scene in Melbourne something to be very proud of. This is a gem and I hope more people will discover it - peel away pretensions and enjoy fresh real flavours without the hype.

Cultural Moment
Asian frozen delights exist from Pakistan all the way to Japan. Ice creameries exist even before the days of modern refrigeration. Some really popular traditional flavours include pistachio (India and Pakistan), mango and coconut (most of SEAsia), Sweetcorn, Yam, Atap Chee (nypa fruticans)(Malaysian and Singapore), green tea (Japan), red bean (Japan and China), black sesame (China including Hong Kong), pandan and durian (SEAsia). There are also crazy Japanese flavours like crab and jellyfish but I am not going there.