Secret Kitchen

Secret Kitchen has been doing well in the Melbourne market, having opened several restaurants, ranging from those that offer a quick bite, to others that serve up a wide array of Chinese dishes in a modern and sleek setting.

Today, I will be recounting my visit to the latter of the two varieties, where I had yum cha on a weekend, something that I definitely don’t do enough. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, yum cha is popular in the Guangzhou province and Hong Kong in particular, the idea is that waiters and waitresses will be pushing carts filled with plates of goodies around the restaurant, and when they reach you, you make pick at your heart’s desire. It can be quite overwhelming at times, given the large variety of dishes, but it is something worth trying.

Braised Chicken Feet

Braised chicken feet is a must-order for me at yum cha. The chicken feet were deep fried then braised in a sweet soy garlic marinade, and are quite morish to nibble at.

Siu Mai

Another classic, the skin of the siu mai was a little too soft, but that was made up with the plump prawn and pork filling.

Har Gow

How can you have siu mai without har gow? These translucent goodies always have me mesmerized. The filling is a lot less finely chopped in comparison to that of the siu mai, which meant you could really taste the plumpness of the prawns.

Wasabi Prawns

Onto something more innovative, the prawns in this case were wrapped in a thin, airy and crispy pastry. The wasabi mayo drizzled on top had a good wasabi kick to it, something that a lot of restaurants are lacking.

Steamed Beef Tripes

Back to the more traditional side of things, the tripes had a quite light and delicate flavour.

Sticky Rice with Chicken

One of my friend has never tried sticky rice with chicken, so we decided to order it for her sake.

Sticky Rice with Chicken

Inside the glutinous rice, there was a filling of chicken and mushrooms that had been braised in soy beforehand. If you were looking for something more carb heavy, this would be a good pick.

Vermicelli Rolls with Prawns

The vermicelli rolls were silky smooth, and contrasted well with the freshness of the prawns.

Red Bean Cake

We originally wanted to order some egg tarts for dessert, however they had already sold out unfortunately, which meant we settled for the red bean cake. Nonetheless, these were quite light in texture and not overly sweet.

Salted Egg Yolk Lava Buns

These buns were quite hard to hunt down, only because the friend that wanted to order them thought they were custard buns rather than salted egg yolk ones, but we did manage to get our hands on them, thankfully.

Salted Egg Yolk Lava Buns

The crispy top were reminiscent of both the roast pork buns at Tim Ho Wan, and pineapple buns sold in Chinese bakeries. The bun itself was quite sweet, and the salted egg yolk centre was rich and creamy.

Secret Kitchen offers a somewhat less traditional but more enjoyable experience than most yum cha restaurants, and that comes from the atmosphere and service mostly. The food may not be particularly authentic, but they were all enjoyable, and it would be a good place to take those who have never had yum cha before. Remember to make a booking though, especially on the weekend, as the restaurant has become quite popular.

How to get here:
Secret Kitchen is located on level 3 of Doncaster Westfield Shoppingtown, which is accessible via many buses.

Secret Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Beef Noodle Bar

After two weeks of this weird heat wave, the weather has finally cooled down enough so that noodles doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch for dinner. There are endless varieties of noodles all around the world, and I recently visited a small restaurant called Beef Noodle Bar, to try their specialty of, you guessed it, beef noodle.

There are several types of noodles even just within the beef noodle family, and Beef Noodle Bar serves the traditional noodles from Lanzhou, which is the capital city of Gansu, situated in northwest of China. Before dining at Beef Noodle Bar, I’ve only had Lanzhou beef noodle at a few restaurants in Box Hill, and they were not very memorable. After getting several recommendations to try out Beef Noodle Bar, I was keen to see how the traditional noodle would stack up.

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Mixed Shredded Kelp, Carrots and Vermicelli – $2.00

Beef Noodle Bar had a number of side dishes, most of which were at a reasonable price of $2.00. This small plate was nice and refreshing, with the three ingredients each offering a different texture.

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Beef – $4.00

The beef were the braised kind that is common around China, however, each area has their own mix of herbs and spices that they put in the braising liquid, resulting in an unique flavour. The ones that Beef Noodle Bar is quite mild compared to what I’m used to, but it was flavoursome nonetheless, and the tendon has been braised down where it was still had a bite to it, but wasn’t too chewy.

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Bean Curd – $2.00

I love soy products, in fact, there is always some tofu, beancurd puffs and the like in the fridge at home. These shredded bean curd sheets were light and refreshing, and were morish to have on the side.

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Beef Noodle (Wide) – $12.80

There were only two mains on offer, the beef noodle, and the beef noodle soup. You could choose the width of the noodles you were after due to the hand made nature of them, ranging from thinnest to widest. The noodles all come with a scoop of chili, spring onions and coriander, and you can request to not have any of the three, because of my strong distaste for coriander, no coriander were present here.

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I chose the wide noodles, and they were a bit overcooked for my liking. The stewed beef however, were very tender, and there was a good amount of it. This was a dry noodle, and it is therefore better suited for the warmer days imo.

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Beef Noodle Soup (Thin) – $10.80

Onto the soup version of the beef noodle. The soup was light and aromatic, and looked quite clear actually. The beef in the soup version were a lot more delicate in flavour compared to its stewed counterparts.

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The thin noodles fared better in the texture department, with a nice bite to it. It might be safer to order the thinner noodles if you like your noodles al dente.

Beef Noodle Bar has been getting quite a bit of hype from the international students community. Given its proximity to Monash University, and the recent opening of a new restaurant close to Melbourne University, it is clear that students are Beef Noodle Bar’s primary target audience. They’ve done a good job at that too, with food that is quite traditional and hard to find, in addition to being reasonably priced and having a quick turnaround, it is indeed a good place to grab a quick bite to eat in between classes. I probably won’t be doing so any time soon, given the weather, however, I am looking forward to returning once the weather cools down.

How to get here:
Beef Noodle Bar is located on Derby Road, take the train on the Pakenham, Frankston or Cranbourne train, and get off at Caufield Station, the restaurant is right outside the station.

Beef Noodle Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Things I ate at the Night Noodle Market

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Not wanting to repeat my mistake last year of leaving the Night Noodle Market in my folder for an insanely long time, and eventually just missed the limited time window to post completely, I’m typing up this post on the first day of its duration this year. Is it too early to give myself a pat on the back?

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Hoy Pinoy | Pork Belly Skewers – 2 for $13.00

Given that Hoy Pinoy operate at markets as far as I’m aware of, I always make sure I grab a few of their skewers when I get the chance. The Filipino street food stall has made an appearance since the inaugral noodle market, and there’s a reason that it is able to do so. The skewers were grilled to perfection, and the banana glaze was sweet and enticing. My only complaint is that they were lukewarm, which I guess is the downside of it not being a busy night, the skewers weren’t exactly freshly made.

Hoy Pinoy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Wonderbao | Korean Chilli Chicken Gua Bao – $7.50

Wonderbao is also a staple at the market, and a personal favourite of mine. Although its location is quite convenient for me to grab a quick lunch, Wonderbao always does a few market specials, and I’m always curious to try the limited edition ones out.  Unfortunately, the fried chicken wasn’t my favourite. The chicken was fried pretty well, but there was an overwhelming amount of sauce, and it was overly taste for me, making the whole bun a bit of a mess.

Wonderbao Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Gelato Messina | Aunty Tomsu’s Cheesecake (Japanese cheesecake, strawberry & cherry blossom cream, strawberry meringue, strawberries & strawberry gelato) – $12.00

Messina is probably one of the most highly anticipated stall at the market, to say the least. The theme this year was Japanese Gameshow, and in typical Messina fashion, they did not hold back with all the incredible flavour combinations, as well as the decked out stall, completed with a board to flip for luck.

I experienced a Sophie’s Choice moment in choosing one out of the four desserts they had on offer, but ultimately picked Aunty Tomsu’s Cheesecake. Do I know who Aunty Tomsu is? Nope. Do I like her cheesecake? Hell yeah. The container was filled with goodies, and if you like strawberries and cheesecake, you’re in for a treat. Needless to say, the gelato was perfection, on top of that, the cream at the time really drilled in on the cheesecake factor. The meringues were not only perfectly shaped, they were also very airy, albeit a tad bit sweet. That’s probably my only complaint about the whole thing, it was just all a bit sweet towards the end.

Gelato Messina Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Dining at the Night Noodle Market is certainly not cheap, even by Melbourne standards. You could easily rack up a $50 meal by the end of the night, trying to sample a bit of everything. It may be pricier than food markets in other countries, Asia in particular; however the serenity of the location and the variety of food that is on offer makes it a must-go event for the Summer time.

So, grab a few friends and head out to the Night Noodle Market, it’s open every night until 26 November, giving you just over three weeks to find some time visit.

Oh and it’s also cashless, meaning that you can simply pay by card at every stall, including the $2 fortune cookie donation.

How to get there:
Night Noodle Market is located at Birrarung Marr, which is right next to Federation Square.

Shaanxi-Style Restaurant

It’s been a while since I’ve paid a visit to Shaanxi-Style Restaurant, it used to be a family favourite, especially when my grandma was here, but nowadays we tend do eat in a lot more often, and when we are eating out, there is an endless list of restaurants to try out, making returning to an old favourite something of a novelty.

I was craving lamb skewers after a day trip in the Macedon ranges, and no place does them quite like Shaanxi-Style, hence how we ended up having dinner here. Nothing much has changed in terms of both the decor and the menu, and by that I mean extremely minimal decor, but pleasant enough. The menu may be quite daunting if you are unfamiliar with Shaanxi cuisine, it’s heavy with spice, noodles, and all sorts of soups, and if you really don’t know what to order, at least there’s some photos on the menu to guide you.

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Special Pork Feet – $7.00

We had some trotters to start, now if you’ve never tried pork trotters, this may not be the best place to start. The trotters were braised in what is commonly known as ‘lu shui’, a master stock of kind, it usually has a mixture of soy, cinnamon, star anise, clove and cardamom, and what ever secret ingredient each restaurant has up their sleeve, the braising liquid is used over and over again, turning it into an extremely flavoursome concoction. This was served warm, which is something I’m not used to, since we always have it cold at home, giving it more of a bite. The skin and the tendon of the trotter were cooked down to a gelatinous state, and were a delight to eat.

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Lamb Noodle Soup – $10.90

Melbourne’s weather suddenly took a dip, and what better way to combat that than to have a big bowl of hot noodle soup?

This was the first time we had the lamb noodle soup, and the soup itself had a distinctive lamb flavour, with the addition, of bok choi, tofu puffs, black fungus and bits of lamb.

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I originally expected the noodles to be handmade, but unfortunately, this was not the case. The noodle lacked the bite that handmade noodles have, but it was quite moreish nonetheless.

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Lamb Skewers – $2.50 each

Onto the reason that we ended up in the restaurant at all, the lamb skewers! I will always have a soft spot for these in my heart, and on this night, Shaanxi-Style delivered again. The large chunks of lamb were grilled over charcoal, with a generous seasoning of salt, cumin and chilli powder, my favourite part about these skewers are the charred edges, especially with the more fattier bits, where the fat has gone completely crispy.

Shaanxi-Style may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are sick of fried rice and dumplings, or just feeling a bit adventurous, then give it a go, then at least you’ll know for sure whether you are a fan or not!

How to get here:
Shaanxi-Style is located on Whitehorse Road, five minutes walk from Box Hill Station, which is on the Belgrave and Lilydale line.

Shaanxi-Style Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tim Ho Wan

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Tim Ho Wan, the Michelin-starred yum cha restaurant finally opened its doors to the public after various delays, and to say that Melbourne was excited is an understatement. The line that snaked outside restaurant meant that a wait is always expected, although it actually moves rather quickly.2

I’ve visited several times now, and can confirm that the quality is very consistent, and on par with its restaurant across the ocean. The concept at Tim Ho Wan is similar to Hong Kong Dim Sum, where you’re given a sheet of paper to mark what you wish to order, plates of food will magically start appearing in front of you after you hand the paper to one of the waiters.

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Braised Chicken Feet with Abalone Sauce – $6.80

The chicken feet is a milder rendition of the classic dish. Instead of being fried and then steamed, the chicken feet were simply braised in abalone sauce, resulting in, well, a milder flavour profile.

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Spring Roll with Egg White – $6.00

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Usually I would never order spring rolls, since it is such a pedestrian dish, but because we had a pescatarian amongst us, we had to take advantage of all the vegetarian and seafood options. It was a pleasant surprise though, the filling of egg white was very fluffy, and the spring roll was crunchy, but not overly oily as they tend to be.

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Baked Bun with BBQ Pork – $7.80

The signature dish of Tim Ho Wan, literally every table had a plate (or two) of the buns, and I can definitely see why. The crunchy shell paired with the sweet BBQ pork filling, give me three of these and lunch is sorted.

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Beancurd Skin Roll with Shrimp – $6.80

I passed on these since they had carrots inside, but according to those who tried it, although pleasant, it was nothing out of the ordinary.

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Prawn Dumplings – $8.30

The prawn dumplings were perfect, the skin were translucent but not gluggy, and the filling had a nice ratio of prawn to bamboo shoots.

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Spinach Dumplings with Shrimp – $7.80

The bright green colour of the spinach dumplings made them so pleasing to look at, and they tasted just as delicious. Another surprise favourite.

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Steamed Egg Cake – $5.80

I loved the fluffiness and delicate nature of this cake, however, one of my friend did find it too eggy.

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Vermicelli Roll with Shrimp – $7.80

The vermicelli roll, although not ground breaking, was executed well, the roll itself had integrity, and the filling, well, there was a lot of prawns.

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Wasabi Salad Prawn Dumplings – $7.80

Still confused about where exactly the salad is in this dish, but the crunchiness of the dumplings were delightful. I wish the wasabi mayo had more of a kick though.

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Vermicelli Roll with Pig’s Liver – $7.50

Another member of the four heavenly kings, the filling of pig’s liver, although unusual, was actually a bit dry.

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Tonic Medlar & Osmanthus Cake – $5.80

Besides looking extremely pretty, these slightly acidic cakes, with the floral aroma from the osmanthus, were a light but sweet end to the meal.

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Mango Sago Pomelo – $6.00

My pick for dessert though would be the mango sago pomelo, there was nothing to fault with this classic combination of flavours, and the thickness of it all made me think that they actually used a lot of real mangoes!

1617Overall, there’s not much to fault with Tim Ho Wan in terms of the quality of the food, however, its menu is quite limited compared to other yum cha places, and the price is definitely higher. With that in mind, I’d still return, even if it were just for the baked BBQ pork buns alone, yup, they’re that good.

How to get there:

Tim Ho Wan is located in Village Centre Arcade in Chinatown, a short 10 minutes walk from Melbourne Central.

Tim Ho Wan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Simon’s Peking Duck

Peking Duck is a traditional Chinese dish from Beijing, duh! It involves roasting an entire duck by hanging it onto metal hooks, the entire process is quite complicated, I think you have to fill the duck with water for a long time to ensure that the skin is expanded, and that’s the secret to crispy skin apparently?

Simon’s Peking Duck is said to serve some of the best Peking Duck in Melbourne, and we finally paid it a visit earlier this year with the whole family.

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The man himself, throwing pancakes like it’s no big deal.

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Peking Duck

It seems silly to order anything other than Peking Duck, given that there was nine of us, we opted for three whole ducks, one duck is usually enough to share between two or three. Each duck comes with the duck itself, duck meat stir fried with your choice of noodles or with bean shoot, and duck bone soup with beancurd, which I didn’t manage to get a photo of. The noodles set is $64.80 per duck, while the bean shoot version will set you back $54.80 per duck, which is very reasonably priced imo.

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Cucumbers and Spring Onion

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Wrapping in action

For those of you who have not had Peking Duck before, it does take a bit of DIY. Simon will show you how it’s done at the beginning, so make sure you watch what he does closely! But basically, place one piece of cucumber, one piece of spring onion, and one (or two, if you’re feeling like double meat) piece of duck onto the pancake, and spoon some of the Peking sauce on top. And then just wrap it like how you would a burrito!

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All wrapped up

When you’ve got the little wrap happening, it’s time to shove it all in your mouth! The crispiness of the duck, with the oil oozing out of every bite, complemented by the crunchy cucumber and spring onion, and sweetened by the Peking sauce, it’s seriously a flavour explosion in your mouth. You’ll finish this in less than a minute and making your second one right away, trust me. Each set comes with 15 pancakes, which means that there’s plenty for everyone!

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Duck Meat Stir Fried with Handmade Noodles

The noodles were a bit overcooked, and they’re a lot less rustic than I expected. The flavour was still good though, and the shitake mushroom added some earthiness to the dish.

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Duck Meat Stir Fried with Hor Fun (Thick)

The hor fun actually tasted better than the handmade noodles, which I did not expect tbh haha. I think it’s because it wasn’t as saucey, which meant the hor fun still had a bit of bite to it.

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Duck Meat Stir Fried with Bean Shoot

The bean shoot version of the stir fry was certainly a lot lighter, and the crunch of the bean shoot created some interest to the dish.9

The atmosphere at Simon’s Peking Duck is definitely on the loud end, approaching obnoxious even. Service wise, besides Simon himself, I actually found the staff quite rude, we had a few questions about the types of noodles to use in the stir fry, and the maître d (I’m assuming) answered us very impatiently and almost forced us to order something, there’s a difference between a suggestion and pushing a choice onto the diners, and he definitely took the latter approach. This unfortunately tainted our dining experience.

If you are to visit Simon’s Peking Duck however, make sure you make a booking beforehand and tell them how many ducks you wish to order, as they often do run out on a busy night!

How to get there:
Catch the bus #733 and get off at Aldinga St/Middleborough Rd, and the restaurant is two minutes walk away.

Simon's Peking Duck Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dainty Sichuan

The chilly weather in Melbourne right now calls for food that warms up the soul, and Sichuan food, with its ample use of chilli and spices, fulfils that requirement perfectly, hence why we headed to Dainty Sichuan for a family dinner one night.

Spicy Beef Heart and Tongue Slices – $17.80

Wow this translation really does not make the dish sound that appetising does it? This is a classic cold dish of Sichuan, it’s basically a mix of cold cuts – beef lungs and tongues – drenched in a dressing with chilli oil, peppercorns, and a bunch of other spices that gives it a unique lip-tingling spicy flavour.

Cumin Lamb Slices – $28.80

My love for cumin continues, and this timeless combination of lamb and cumin tasted amazing as per usual. The addition of garlic shoots was a pleasant surprise, and the flavour profiles worked in harmony.

Egg and Beef Soup – $15.80

My grandma always needs a soup with a meal, although Dainty Sichuan did not have a large selection, we ended up picking the egg and beef soup. This was nothing memorable, but the soup did have a nice non-MSG flavour.

Pork Threads with Teatree Mushrooms – $26.80

We got our share of vegetables of the night through the teatree mushrooms with pork strips. Teatree mushroom grows in the higher mountains of the Sichuan province, and is one of the many different types of fungus from that region. This dish went really well with the rice, and was a nice change after some of the heavier dishes.

Hot and Spicy Fish Slices – $29.80

Another traditional Sichuan dish, the hot and spicy fish slices came out in a large copper pot, with the oil splattering and the chilli aroma was so tentalising. The fish slices were extremely tender, and although scary looking, this dish wasn’t overly spicy!

I thoroughly enjoyed all of the dishes we tried at Dainty Sichuan, and my uncle and aunty, who came for a visit from China, said that they couldn’t even find Sichuan food this authentic in their city, which highlighted the high quality of both the cooking and the produce even more for me.

If you’re a fan of Sichuan food, or just foods that’s spicy in general, definitely head down to Dainty Sichuan for an authentic Sichuan food experience.

Dainty Sichuan Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato