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Xi’an Famous Foods – NYC

3 Oct

After a month of ‘settling’ in to New York City and it’s ever vibrant -not worth missing-i’ll sleep when I die- cultural offerings, it took a bad douse of Bronchitis to finally slow me down!  Nothing like a bad case of disease to make you really home sick…

And so, for the past week, I have taken to curing my physical and mental illness by loitering around Chinatown every chance I get.  Something about the smells.  The crowds of people.  The rather loud often unnecessary hollering.  Did I mention the smells…?  I found comfort in hearing my mother tongue even if it were from the mouth of a stranger!!

Although i’d been more than successful in visiting a large amount of Asian Bakeries and grocery stores -yes I already have my firm favourites: Grand Bakery!  HK style milk tea and their egg sponge paper cake – I was still yet to dine at any of the many Asian restaurants…which, given my fear of eating out alone kind of makes it rather difficult.  So having spent much of the week obsessively ‘researching’ online for good recommended Asian eateries, I found the most commonly written about happened to be a little place called Xi’an Famous Foods.

Xi'an East Village

So on a night where it was cold, rainy and the thought of consuming another dumpling was enough to make me want to self harm (my freezer is FULL of dumplings!! That’s what happens when you put a lazy Asian girl alone… in New York City… who has been hitting EVERY Asian grocer in town!!)  I decided to give Xi’an a go!  It ticked all the boxes: within 0.5 miles (umm… i guess thats less than a kilometer…?)  from my house, did takeaway and was fast and cheap!

Xi’an offers a range of noodles, soups and starter dishes, and is most famous for it’s hand ripped noodles, a dish called the Lamb Face Salad (which I thought about ordering…. maybe next time!) and most highly touted The Cumin Lamb Burger.

Having done all my research online before going, I decided I wasn’t hungry enough to tackle the Lamb Face thing, and didn’t feel like dealing with the wrath of noodle soup done Take Out, so I went with the famous Lamb Burger.  Walking into the tiny shop that is Xi’an, I couldn’t help but feel relieved to find the shop full of Asians!! Not to be controversial… but choosing to adorn your Asian Eatery’s hoarding with the words “Western Chinese Cuisine” hardly instills confidence – and I do not have enough energy to start ranting about why no one (not even white people) orders Lemon Chicken anymore… !  (Upon more research, it seems the Xi’an restaurant chain ‘boasts a unique cuisine that may be best described as a fusion of Middle Eastern and Chinese foods.’)

Cumin Lamb Burger $3

So it took approximately 97 seconds between me ordering and paying, and walking out the door with my dinner!! It also took that 97 seconds of waiting whilst seeing everyone eating their hand ripped noodle goodness to give me SEVERE food envy and make me suddenly starving!!

Lamb Burger

I pull that neat little ‘burger’ out of its bag, to reveal a nicely toasted bun with the filling sitting neatly inside.  I was pretty delighted to find no sauce spills or mess when taken out of the wrapping.

Inside. Cumin spiced lamb

Although, after taking a few initial bites, it didn’t take long for me to wish it had been a sauce laden mess!  The bun tended to be a little… no… actually a lot on the dry side.  Given the Cumin Lamb is not meant to be saucy, it is kind of understandable!  But I wish I was given some hot sauce or something to relieve those bland chunks of bun!!

Having said that though, the lamb was very well cooked.  Not tough at all, and well marinated in the cumin giving off a nice subtle heat (it could have been hotter!! But then again, all the places i’ve eaten and ordered the item with the chillies next to it are lacking heat).

Maybe it was the slightly dense, dry texture of the bun… Or more likely the fact that I feel like i haven’t eaten meat in a long time … I found myself to be struggling at the half way mark.  This little ‘burger’ is surprisingly filling, amazingly cheap and as far as (VERY VERY) fast food goes, I think i’ll be revisiting this over McDonalds.  Now all I have to do is get over my fear of eating out alone and it’ll be Lamb Face Salad time…

Xi’An Famous Foods –

East Village  81 St. Mark’s Place, New York, NY 10003

China Town (counter only| no seating) 88 East Broadway #106, New York, NY 10002

China Town  67 Bayard Street, New York, NY 10013

Flushing 41-28 Main Street Bsmt #36, Flushing, NY 11354


China Bar signature

19 Jul

Remember that episode of 30 Rock when Jenna comes back from a season break 30 pounds heavier after eating a whole summer of Pizza during her run on Broadway in ‘Mystic Pizza: The Musical.’?  Well, DDO didn’t just do a musical tv series.  Or anything to do with Pizza!  But this family dinner WAS most certainly inspired by something on TV (an extremely overplayed, over glamourised tvc on the Chinese cable channel TVB Jade), and left me  bellowing “ME WANT FOOOOOOD!!”

China Bar Signature

Said commercial was for China Bar Signature, an Asian food buffet emporium, offering every possible type of stereotypically eaten asian delight!   It’s a combination of clever marketing, hiring an amazing photographer and offering this “Eat As Much As You Like” haven of food that seems to have made this place EXTREMELY successful, and the whole experience – from booking our table, to the morning of our reservation, to before we arrived, to when we were 3 minutes late, and finally being shoo-ed out once our ‘allocated eating time’ was up – left us speechless… or was that the food coma…?

China Bar Signature is HUGE!  As you drive down Burwood Highway it’s hard to miss this giant food cube of a restaurant as it glistens on the corner lit up by the token red neons that China Bar is so famously known for.  You walk in to find a grand dining hall packed with people, packed with staff, and most of all PACKED with food.  As we are hurriedly seated (much to the distress of the maitre’d we are 4 minutes late, well not late but 4 minutes into our booking time range of 6:15 – 6:30) at our round table for 5 near the entrance.  In case you haven’t picked up already, there’s a reason this place is so damn big.  It’s because when you offer people too much food, with endless food varieties (…they even offered dim sum!  Ummm! Its 7:30pm…. ) people come in HOARDS!!

So in order to deal with the masses of hungry humans needing to stuff their face with limitless amounts of Asian themed fare (present company included…), the establishment has 2 seatings, 5:30pm and 8:00pm.  With our booking for 6:30 we are warned almost every 4 minutes leading up to 6:30 that we HAVE to leave at 7:45 and asked “are you sure that is enough time to finish eating…?”

Dim Sum assortments

Given the pressure from the restaurant to eat and leave, DDO and the Fam had devised some what of an eating plan of attack… which was almost immediately VITTO-ed by JP and I.  You see, N along with Mumsy and Dadsy thought it a good idea to tackle one station per person, to ensure we got to try as much as humanly possible without wasting time.  Clever idea.  But I was only interested in eating an hour and a half worth of unauthentic sushi and sashimi… and maybe a dumpling or 2 (coz eating Sui Mai at dinner times … like eating chocolate for breakfast…!!).  And JP was pretty much all over that Oystar bar (2 rounds worth) faster then we could pour our first cups of tea.

Seafood bar

So aside from the usual fried rice, noodle bar, steamed dumplings -which include xiao long bao and assortment of dim sum dumplings… which I think is PRETTY WEIRD but then again, so is the whole concept of this place! SO sparing judgment.

…there are stir fries,  a Japanese section, an Indian/Malaysian offering, a salad bar (uh… AS IF!!  needless to say that area was untouched on my part… ) Chinese roast meats – which were roast pork, pork belly and peking duck, and of course seafood bar.

Maki assortment

It didn’t take me long to beeline for the sushi bar (which was my favourite part of the TVC) with it’s brightly coloured maki rolls all lined up.  The flavours were pretty standard, but tasted acceptable considering the environment we were in…

Seared Salmon & Eel Sushi

My favourite was the seared Salmon and Eel Sushi, which I’m pretty sure I cleaned out at least a whole platter of each!  They were really fresh and surprisingly, the bed of rice it nestled on was far from being dry and rock solid like many other places that offer this type of sushi.  Although I did manage to try some of the other things, like satay, and peking duck, after about 3 rounds of sushi my stomach was so full of rice I could almost explode.  Thats the thing with “all you can eat”… there really is only so much you can eat, before you feel ill.  And I was certainly well on my way…

mums tailor made fishball noodle soup

Mumsy was probably the smartest with her eating choices and opted to head straight for the noodle man where she was able to tailor make her bowl with choice of noodles as well as assorted dumplings, balls and vegetable accompaniments.   Thankfully for us, her relatively un-overstuffed belly meant she still had room for dessert…

Coconut pudding

Mixed cakes

The dessert spread was just as impressive as the savory food.  So impressive in fact, there was a massive line that wrapped all the way around the dessert run and around the bend towards to restrooms. It may also have been something to do with the fact that it was getting close to that 7:45 cut off.

Offering everything from pastries and tarts, cheese and bread to sponge cakes, cheese cakes and puddings… Most impressively being the retail sized

Pastries & more sweets

freezer full of ice cream sticks!! (You know those one’s you always see at asian grocers that you never quite know if they are icey poles or ice creams… icey creams…?)  By this stage, JP had to excuse himself from being so full.  He literally got up and had to walk around the restaurant. Mum, N and I did a round of desserts for the table, and Dadsy stayed by the table … smart move Dadsy!!

Although we only returned with 2 small plates of an assortment of little cakes and something red beany, we all struggled to finish them, and even the mere hand to mouth action was too difficult.

Freezer full of ice cream poles (?)

We started as a troop bellowing “Me want FOooood!” with eye’s for food being bigger then our actual stomachs, and walked out (to a line of hopefuls outside, awaiting their glorious hour and a half of excess consumption) feeling completely defeated by the Food Monster that drew us in!

NOTE TO SELF: its much funnier experiencing the effects of over consumption through Jenna on TV Land than in real life… should also probably stop eating sundae’s whilst working out on the treadmill….

China Bar Signature

380 Burwood Highway, Burwood East  (03) 9887 8011

Straits Cafe

6 Jul

It takes a rare occassion to find the DDO team without eat/drink/be merry plans on a Friday evening!  So on this glorious night off from society, the 2 of us jumped at the chance to have a simple night in.  Take out.  DVD.  Eating our emotions!  (I didn’t actually realise how literal that phrase would be until the end of the SADDEST movie.  It literally left me wailing….)  AMAZING!!

Given  N has quite possibly every movie title in her and JP’s DVD collection, we headed to lovely Balwyn for our night in.  The best thing about being in that area is the plethora of Asian take out places that are in near by suburbs (which would normally seem 10 minutes TOO FAR for consideration.)  It was a toss up between Laksa or Taiwanese… umm… no brainer!  LAKSA TIMES!

Neatly stacked laksa for 2

N had recently been introduced to Straits Cafe, serving simple hawker style Malaysian food in Doncaster.  And I do NOT use the term simple lightly.  The whole place is basically a big room, with nothing but an open kitchen and the hustle and bustle of busy chefs/staff and hungry customers.  We call ahead to order and are advised to pick up in 10 minutes.  This night in is fast (pun intended) proving to be a winner!!

Although the takeaway menu offers all your usual suspects: Hawker style Har Mee, Rendang Beef, Belachan Kang Kong and Hainanese Chicken Rice, I couldn’t help but indulge my ‘creature of comfort’ cravings and go with the Curry Laksa.  (Although having a quick perve at what people were eating on their cramped, lively table tops, I’m pretty keen to get back and try myself some Char Kueh Teow and Chicken Rice).

Anyway, the fragrant smell of those neatly boxed up Curry Laksa’s were enough to make me plough through the roads like a maniac… I had Laksa Blinkers! As we unpacked the noodle and soup boxes, opening the lid of the soup box was like being hit in the face with a Food Bomb!   The steam and smell of that thick coconutty soup was thick and hearty… although opening the box housing the noodle/chicken/etc, I did feel minor anxiety as I poured the ingredients out waiting for that glorious ‘plonk’ from the usually present eggplant… No Plonk!  No Eggplant?!

Minor cross road aside, I couldn’t wait to tuck in!!  As is tradition, this Curry Laksa had chicken, bean shoots, fish cakes, bean curd puffs, vermicelli and thick egg noodles… and THAT soup!!

Curry Laksa $9.90

Now i’m not going to lie.  There was a brief moment of ABSOLUTE soul destroying disappointment when I fished around in denial trying to find “that Eggplant” that is ever present in other commonly reviewed Laksa establishments.   Thankfully, the Straits Cafe Laksa made up for it with its super fresh chicken pieces and AMAZINGLY fragrant soup (this one is not as sweet or over creamy as many other places, and is a touch tangier due to its fresh ground herbs for the soup base).  What ever this family recipe is, it most certainly shits on it’s more frequented Laksa counterparts.

So for just under 10 bones, I got to eat in the comfort of my own home (…sort of…), blubber uncontrollably  while shamefully consuming as much food as I did Kleenex! …can I just say, ‘Marley and Me’ was NOT the best DVD choice.  Straits Cafe may have not given me Laksa with eggplant, but they filled my Laksa void nonetheless!!

Straits Cafe

694 Doncaster Rd, Doncaster

(03) 9848 1605

Red Hot Wok!

6 May

It’s not often I can convince Mumsy to for-go her weeknight TVBJ schedule… especially during prime time and mid week, when most of the drama unfolds just enough before leaving you (or at least my Mum and Dad) in a state of suspense before the weekend.  So when Mumsy approached me with an invitation to get some dinner (she’s recently discovered Teevo ) on Wednesday night, I accepted in a heart beat.

Dinner with Mum after work means going to one of two places.  Being the creature of habit she is, and a BIG lover of familiarity and her daily Canto-chat generally means dining at either Pacific House, or Red Hot Wok in South Yarra… Mumsy let me choose!

Red Hot Wok

Red Hot Wok

So it’s getting pretty cold out, and my body’s yearning for heat increased as the day turned to night.  That plus the fact that Tony (the owner) always gives us free Red Bean pancake for dessert… and service with a smile!!  Red Hot Wok is our go-to for a quick tasty meal with that Malaysian/Chinese flavour – Tony is famous for making fresh silken tofu which is the star of a dish called Fairy Tofu (doesn’t work quite as well in english):”Sun Sin Tofu”.  And YES! It’s THAT ridiculously silky smooth and light!

Red Hot Wok also offers traditional laska, curries and noodles and rice dishes for lunch as well as seafood and dishes for dinner which vary in spice level, but are ALL super satisfying, especially with the onset of the winter chills.

At the risk of sounding like a steak-n-laksa junkie, I’d pretty much had my heart set on a curry laksa.  But after looking over the menu and with mum having tried pretty much EVERYTHING – and every possible version of ANYTHING – she highly recommended a chef’s special dish of Ridged Gourge (like a long cucumber but with a spongier flesh) with silken tofu.

Ridged Gourge and Tofu

This was perfectly light, probably in large part due to that heavenly, freshly made Tofu, and the ridged gourge was cooked without fault.  Usually at home, we leave a little of the slightly thicker skin on the gourge and cook it to avoid the flesh becoming too soggy.  (It’s easy to over cook the gourge which isn’t great.  It’s basically a sponge, so timing is crucial to its taste outcome)!

It was nice to have a cleaner dish, to counter balance the flavour OVER LOAD from our entree (didn’t completely neglect my curry craving) which was just a simple Roti with curry dipping sauce.

Roti with Curry sauce

I rarely leave RHW without having this in my belly!! Carbs and Curry!  My favourite winter accessory!  So as mentioned before, after picking at some super cripsy on the outside, fluffy on the inside fried Roti dipped in fiery curry sauce, our ridged gourge and tofu arrived with our other main, Basil Fried Golden Prawns.

Basil fried Golden Prawns

This dish was phenomenal!  The genius of this dish is all in balance and timing.  The prawns are lightly battered and fried at the highest heat so they still have that naturally sweet taste that fresh prawns have.  Then they are wok-tossed with fragrant mix of basil, garlic, onion and chilli before being served on fresh lettuce.  The crispy outer, encrusted with the garlicy chilli basil mix, when put in the mouth is enough to cause hot flushes… of the best kind!  Of the Flavour-Texture-Bliss kind!! Good recommendations Mum!  It’s good to reap the benefits of these daily Canto-Chats you hold so high on your daily tasks…

Red bean pancake

And just as I retire my chopsticks and cradle my hot full belly in satisfaction Mrs Tony (his lovely wife, which Mum refers to as Mrs Boss ‘Lo Ban Lerng’) presents dessert –  ‘On the house la!’

I never go out of my way to order this Asian dessert.  But there’s something about habit and coming to Red Hot Wok that means we are not done, until Tony or ‘Mrs Boss’ brings us our Red Bean Pancake – deep fried roti- like dough stuffed with red bean paste and deep fried – with that wide friendly smile.

At the risk of sounding like an absolute cliche, Mumsy will always know best!  And although I may not share the same interest in her TVBJ programming schedule, or her charismatic Cantonese speaking flair, I’m  certainly enjoying reaping the benefits of her charming habits.  Especially if it means good meals and free dessert!!

Red Hot Wok

313 Toorak Road

South Yarra

(03) 9826 8163

Chef Lagenda. No wait Laksa!

24 Mar

It’s starting to get cold out!  Which means I switch back to wines instead of cider, wear thicker socks and eat warm porridge instead of cold weetbix in the morning.   It’s inevitable that on first onset of a slight breeze, my brain goes into craving overdrive and YES! It’s for all those hearty, carby, creamy culinary delights that warm the soul and melt away the cold (until of course spring comes around again and your body curses you for giving in to a whole winter of such cravings!)

Lucky for me, it’s only the beginning of Autumn, so I have a whole 6 months of cravings to fulfill.  First one being LAKSA! Now, much like everyone else, I’d been an avid consumer of the Laksa King (pre and post its venue upgrade) and yes it was (still is) THE BEST (in Melbourne).  Always fast (once you were eventually seated), delicious, and cheap.  But given the queuing situation (and the onset of the skinny jeans brigade), it does at times test my patience.  And so, for this particular Laksa night, I decided to throw my craving to the wind, and try Chef Lagenda (on the recommendation of a friend who lives locally).

Chef Lagenda is right next door to Laksa King, taking up a much smaller window space.  As we walked in (Z and I) it was almost instant satisfaction!  No Line!  Already winning. We are seated, tea-ed, and have our orders taken within 3 minutes of sitting down (it’s pretty much the same menu as Laksa King – probably due to the fact that Chef Legenda’s chef is from the original Laksa King).

Lobak (Crispy mince pork roll) $5.80

It comes as no surprise, I’m pretty hungry and that smell of fragrant coconut spices and wok cooking is making my stomach want to eat itself!  So we get the Lobak to start.  Normally I love the chicken roti roll, but I thought we should try something different.  The Bean Curd skin casing was freshly fried and deliciously crisp, while the mince inside had a nice firm consistency (its not the most appetizing looking entree, but it was delicious!!)

And finally the reason we are here!! Z got the seafood curry laksa which was full of fresh seafood.  Whole fillets of fish, prawns, calamari and scallops and of course, the eggplant and tofu cubes.

Seafood Curry Laksa $11.90

I always go with the classic Curry Laksa which comes with chicken, shrimp and fish cake as well as the eggplant and tofu cubes.  The mere arrival of our heavy, fragrant bowls of laksa goodness made me pretty Happy in Pants!

Curry Laksa $9.20

The soup was perfectly balanced – hot and spicy, but still creamy enough without being too rich.  Mixed noodles cooked al-dente (nothing worse than over cooked, soggy noodles ) and of course that chunky slab of tender eggplant!  Devouring that bowl was easily the BEST 4 and a half minutes of my day (Yeh!  Girl was hungry)!   That ‘no wait’, ‘but still taste so good’ Laksa I never thought possible has officially been found at Chef Lagenda.

So yes.  Craving satisified! (…for now…  just wait until you see the page long offering of Bubble Cup…. But I’ll save that for the next craving update!)

Chef Lagenda  16 Pin Oak Cres. Flemington, 3031

03) 9376 2668


20 Mar

Its 2pm on Saturday afternoon!  It’s sunny.  And we are starving!!

After 2 consecutive unfortunate events happening in the space of 2 hours (yes.  One involved food… or lack there of.  The other being an appointment cancellation.) It seems the Higher Powers had decided,  “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was officially the soundtrack of my day!

So after a previous rather disappointing attempt at getting some brunch and having to walk out due to a 2 hour wait for poached eggs on toast -an hour and fifteen minutes waiting over time- , N and I were annoyed, hungry and NOT in the mood for further disappointment.  As we drove up Smith Street I tried to think of the closest brunch option with highest possible success rate (being judged on food quality, zero line tolerance, and absolutely ZERO incapable staff tolerance.)  Then came the epiphany!

Sonido is a quaint Columbian cafe on Gertrude Street which is all Filler no Killer.  Out of the 5 times I’ve visited, it’s been consistently pleasant, if not perfect everytime.  With it’s blue walled interior, adorned in South American paraphernalia and super charismatic (BONUS!!) yet efficient staff, I feel like my day could finally start looking up.

Supreme coffees at Sonido

Specialising in, as you’d expect, Columbian fare we are promptly presented with their menu which offers a range of Arepa’s -an arepa is a dish made of ground corn dough or precooked corn flour popular in both Colombia and Venezuela- Empanadas and a small selection of sweets.  They make an AMAZING Supreme coffee and also offer a range of icy fruit drinks – JUGOS NATURALE with a range of native fruits including Feijoa and Lulo – and Columbian Hot Chocolates (I’m still yet to try the one that comes with cheese… (?)… SO intrigued).

Shortly after our coffees are presented and our orders are placed, we enjoy our surrounds whilst we await our food.  N loves a good scramble, so went with the scrambled egg Arepa (which is normally only served until 2pm, but the friendly waitress made an allowance for us this time -we were 5 minutes late…) .

Arepa Con Huevo - Scrambled eggs with spring onion and tomato

The eggs were scrambled to perfection, still glistening and slightly wobbly from being not over cooked.  The little bits of tomato and onion also added that nice bit of texture through the silky smooth scramble.  Delicious!  It’s a good thing we’ve made a habit of ordering different dishes, so we can do taste testers…. because needless to say, I liked my meaty selection even better.

'Old clothes' beef; Cuban beef

My Beef Arepa came served with guacomole and salsa.  The “old clothes’ beef as they call it, is slow cooked and full of flavour.  The beef is soft but not slimy and is saucy enough without making it soggy and sludgy.  Accompanied with the tartness of the salsa and the creaminess of the gaucomole (and lashings of El Yucateco Salsa Picante Chile Habanero hot sauce … I like it spicey) every bite of this beef Arepa was satisfaction guaranteed!

So it seems my day is finally looking up.  The whole experience only took a little over 45 minutes  and the pep in my Saturday step was fully revived.  Thank you Sonido!! You’ve once again managed to change my tune for the better… looks like (Girl) CAN get Satisfaction, after all!!

Sonido 69 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

Spice Temple- Melbourne

2 Mar

I LOVE Neil Perry! More to the point, I LOVE MEAT!

Rockpool has been the place of many a fond memory so when Spice Temple finally opened in Melbourne I was pretty excited to try his other talked about establishment (just to see what all the fuss was about).   You see, I’ve often taken the view that Chinese food translates poorly to fine dining, and that my Dad can do it better.  Then there’s also the idea of paying A LOT more money for a western person to cook me Asian food.  Just doesn’t sit right.

But for Neil I make exceptions.  And I want to be proven wrong!

So.  Entering the dimly lit atmospheric ‘den’ that is Spice Temple, one can’t help but be reminded that they are indeed in Crown territory… fine dining precinct!   We are greeted by the Maitre d’ who promptly shows us to our table.

I’d read a lot about the cocktail list which follows the chinese zodiac, and being a Chink who likes to drink, my priority was on ordering my sign (the Rat.  Although it turned out I liked the sound of the Rooster which is my sister’s year, so we did a swapsy).  I’m a fiend for Aperol and all things bitter so the Rooster – orange with aperol, limoncello and passionfruit – was right up my alley.  Perfectly bitter flavour rounded out by the sweetness of passionfruit and balanced with sourness of limoncello.  The Rat had lavender tea soda with hand-picked mint and sugar cane spirit, which luckily, my sister enjoyed.

Rooster Cocktail (front) Monkey Cocktail (back)

With cocktails out of the way it was FINALLY time to think about ordering.  I’d read a lot of other blog reviews on Spice Temple and each and every one recommended the Numbing Pork (a variation on the sweet and sour pork, with the powerful kick of blow your face off numbing chilli.  SO GOOD!) and the peanut and salted caramel parfait.  The waitress was sufficiently attentive and followed her script of describing how the menu is designed to be shared, starting with smaller dishes to larger, also arriving in that sequence.

We were also informed that most dishes would arrive one or two at a time.  Given our excruciating hunger (my brother in-law, bless his cotton socks, is also ALWAYS excruciatingly hungry) we decided to order… well… a lot!!

Steamed eggplant with three flavours; Garlic, coriander and sweet pork ($18)

First arrived the eggplant.  This is actually a pretty common chinese dish, but normally we’d eat it with rice as a main.  I think a big part of dining at a Neil Perry establishment is the service, and the way things are presented.  Before placing the dish down onto our table, it was introduced by name before being mixed (much like a salad) and placed in the middle of our table.  Taste wise, this was pretty perfect.  Salty & sweet mince, silky eggplant, a strong garlic taste balanced with the coolness of the coriander.

Then came the Lamb and Cumin Pancakes.  I was particularly excited about this appetizer, as we used to get it every time we went to Beijing and it’s one of those flavour parcels that stick in your head (and taste memory bank) forever.

Lamb and Cumin Pancakes ($8)

This was probably one of my favourites.  Its true to form, being that it is really simple, but SO satisfying!  Cumin is Lamb’s best friend!! Add to that a salty, crispy carb-casing and its a guaranteed taste bud winner every time!!

Now with the appetizer part of the meal done, we moved swiftly onto the main event.  As with every meal, despite my immediate beeline for the meat section of the menu, I do make a point to make sure there is some sort of vegetable consumed.  So we went with a side of Cabbage with black vinegar and bacon (… yep… vegies are good, but even better when served with a splattering of bacon)!

Stir fried cabbage, bacon and black vinegar ($8)

Shortly after, the most touted dish on the menu followed… the Numbing Pork!  So it’s a great take on the classically westernised asian dish.  Neil gets this numbing business down to an art.  I’ve only ever experienced such numbing power in Northern China (Harbin… in winter the average temperature is -20 so pretty much everything consumed carries heat… A LOT of heat!)  As suggested, this dish is numbing!  But the best part about it is that it creeps up on you with that moorish sweet and sour flavour first, and it isn’t until the 3rd or 4th morsel in, that you realise your mouth is actually simultaneously numb AND on fire, and you feel like your lips would give Angelina Jolie a run for her money.  Needless to say, I enjoyed it immensely (… both the flavour sensation and the instant lip job).

Hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork ($26)

Next was another vegetable dish of mushrooms Yunnan style.  In hindsight, it’s probably a good thing we ordered this, and that it was brought out after the numbing pork.  It almost acted like a palette relaxer after the BOMB effect the previous dish had on our mouths.

Hot pot of fresh shiitake, oyster, enoki and wild Chinese mushrooms, Yunnan style ($39)

But by the time we are done with this dish, I’m pretty steadily heading towards food coma… until… (i’d actually forgotten we ordered this, so I was pleasantly surprised when this was presented) the Wagyu beef hotpot with tofu.  So this is also a take on a classic, MaPo Tofu.  Traditionally cooked with mince beef instead of delicious, buttery soft melt in your mouth chunks of wagyu, this dish is meant to be more about the heat and the tofu, and the meat as an accompaniment to level it all out.

Sichuan style Wagyu beef hotpot with wild bamboo pith and tofu($45)

But this version, with its succulent chunks of wonderful Wagyu and wild bamboo was done to perfection.  All the textures worked harmoniously and despite my food coma, inspired my appetite for more taste sensations.  And good thing it did, because it was dessert time and I was NOT leaving without sampling the sweets on offer.

Peanut and salted Caramel Parfait with milk chocolate ($18)

Rose granita with fresh lychee and strawberry and almond milk jelly ($14)

We ordered 3 desserts.  Which between the 4 of us was just enough to allow us to sample each one and then get a little something extra as well.

The peanut and salted caramel parfait had a perfectly crisp and sweet outer shell, and then with the soft creamy softness of its center, was well worth the hype!  The Rose Granita was refreshing and light which was nice after the richness of the parfait (and the excessive meal that already happened before it).

Almond milk infused rice pudding with candied fruit & Side view of the Rose Granita (sorry about the super crap dark pics)

The rice pudding (special request from E) was nice enough.  I’ve never been a rice pudding kind of girl, but it was pleasant enough.  Something about rice pudding reminds of porridge, and breakfast, so it’s not something i’d normally order for dessert.  Despite that, and after an extremely excessive feast, it’s safe to say all 4 of us left very satisfied customers.  I think the bill came to about $90 each, which considering the amount we ate and the food coma it induced, makes it a pretty reasonably priced meal… feast … food fest!!

So in closing, Thank You Mr Perry.  You continue to impress me with your culinary and business savvy.  And yes,  I am happy to say, I have been proven wrong.  Asian can indeed be done in a Fine Dining setting (but tread and consume with caution – and don’t expect dad’s home cooking)!!