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.


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