Location - Crossley St, City
Open - (L) M-F 12pm-2.30pm (D) M-S 6pm-Late
Food - Hawker Inspired with a touch of Sophistication
I was looking forward to this little food excursion for some time now - actually since Teage Ezard (he of the reputable 'Ezard' in Melbourne) opened the shiny glass doors of his cheeky salute to hawker inspired food of Singapore and Bangkok. I have eaten at his flagship restaurant and I knew the standard to be expected.
I booked the reservation about 10am and by 11.30am they had called to confirm the availablity (taking care to remind me that seating at 6.30pm need to vacate the table by 8.30pm). I received a text message a minute later confirming that someone would call me to make the reservation. Hmmm. I was left wondering after the conversation on the phone what they would do if we hadn't finished eating by 8.30pm - would we have a Faulty Towers episode of kicking us out? Probably not.
We were seated very promptly by Young, Hip and Trendy (my names for the red-shirt, black pants wait staff). The decor is very very sexy - think black, sleek, shiny with red compliments. Very clever bamboo painted back studded with fairy lights against one wall, comfortable padded seats on one side and fragile-looking, translucent plastic chairs on the other side. The table is set with chop-sticks, metal spoon and fork and a rather competent paper dining napkin.
I ordered one of the house-cocktails (Water Lilly - vodka, lychee and watermelon) and the boy ordered a soft drink. The menu is definitely South East Asian inspired - lots of very enticing things to tempt the tastebuds. We settled on - Chicken Satay Dumplings with Cucumber Relish, Crispy Chilli Salt Cuttlefish with Lemon and Sesame and Soft Shell Crab with Green Chilli to start.
The Cuttlefish was one of the best I have ever had - light almost tempura batter around tender white cuttlefish pieces. Enough to share but very hard to since they were so tasty. I loved the effort of a wedge of lemon in muslin. The Dumplings were excellent - meaty and packed full of chicken, peanuts and a healthy whack of chilli. I liked them more than the boy did. I was very impressed with the cucumber relish - chunks of fresh crisp cucumber scattered with tender pink tendrils of pickled shallot. The Soft Shell Crab was not on the menu, it was written on the mirrored 'specials' area - I didn't think it lived up to the hype. I like soft shell crab however these had none of the crisp lightness I expected. Maybe the dressing was too heavy but I loved the dressing - full of flavour, perfect rounds of green chilli and other aromatics in a spicy, vinegar dressing.
For our mains - we chose two 'sharing' dishes - Singapore Noodles with Coconut Laksa and Spiced Vegetables, Grain Fed Wagyu Rump with Black Pepper Sauce and Kim Chee and we couldn't resist the Fried Corn Cakes.
There was a 20 minute wait between when our entrees plates were removed and when our mains were placed before us. I don't mind waiting but when there is a timeframe involved - makes for a few uneasy moments.
Young, Hip and Trendy made quick work of clearing away the table and ensuring the glasses were refilled - they even made room for the oversized plate and bowl bearing the mains. The corn cakes were bliss. Pure and simple. Golden brown, speckled with chilli and redolent with garlic. Tender corn and fluffy batter - I wanted some of Neil Perry's Chilli Caramel sauce to make a little puddle to dunk the little darlings into. If you go for nothing else, go for the fried Corn Cakes. The Wagyu Rump were 6 tender slices of beef, cooked rare and perched atop a boat of black pepper sauce stuffed with swoon-worthy garlic pieces. The best part of the whole dish for me was the much-avoided Kim Chee - why aren't more people embracing this fierce combination of crunchy cabbage, chilli, garlic and so many other things? I love kim chee - and I don't think it smells bad in the least - I think people psych themselves up about the 'fermented cabbage' and prepare themselves not to like it. Shame really, but more for me. The Singapore Noodles with Laksa had amazing flavour. I stopped just short of tipping the bowl to my mouth and drinking the laksa - coconut rich and sweet, chilli hot, tomato sour, snakebeans to add crunch, cabbage for a tender bite ... the list goes on and on. One of the best I have had (the best is still Penang Coffee House in Hawthorne). The Singapore Noodles and Laksa is vegetarian but you don't really miss the soft succulent pieces of sweet, pink edged roast pork, shards of broth soaked chicken, tiny prawns... oh who am I kidding? I missed it. The boy and I loved the texture of the crispy noodles in the laksa - a great idea when all the other laksas are a combination of slippery thick egg noodles and thin rice noodles.
Oh yes, those awesome corn cakes to soak up the black pepper sauce and the laksa broth as well ... there is no bad way to enjoy corn cakes.
We made it out of there in under an hour - great turn around for great food and a Melbourne gem in the making. 7/10