Tanghuo Kungfu

I went back to China for a month at the beginning of 2018, and that’s when I realised that Malatang has taken over the world by storm. Combined with meal delivery apps and ride-sharing services, those three things helped me in surviving one of the coldest winters in Nanjing, with more snow than the city had seen in decades.

Malatang joints started popping up in the suburbs with a high concentration of Chinese population first in Melbourne, before taking over the city, to the point where there are pretty much a Malatang restaurant every 50 metres in the CBD.

The idea of malatang is quite ingenious really, I like to think of as hot pot for one. After grabbing a large bowl and a pair of tongs, choose from fresh ingredients including vegetables, meats, seafood, soy-based products and all the balls you can think of are. Once you’ve put in way too much food in your bowl because you want to try a bit of this and a bit of that, walk to the counter where you’ll be asked whether you want everything served in a soup or have it dry, and choose the appropriate spice and tingle level (the sensation that Sichuan peppercorn leaves on your lips), pay for your goods by weight, and then settle back at a table, and before long, a bowl of piping hot Malatang will be set in front of you.

Tanghuo Kungfu hails from China, and was one of the first Malatang restaurants in Melbourne, having opened its Box Hill location in 2017, and expanded into the city last year. The city location is sleek and a lot larger than other Malatang restaurants, complete with a sauce station and self-serve water dispensers. There is no shortage of food selection, and the service was very friendly, with staff greeting you at the door.

Left: Rose Oolong – $5.00
Right: Cherry Blossom Green Tea – $5.00

Tanghuo Kungfu has an additional tea station, which makes a lot of sense, as Malatang can be on the heavy side due to all the spices, and sipping on green tea throughout the meal helps to lighten things up. The bottles are also cute and portable, meaning that you can take it with you once you’re done and use it as a makeshift water bottle!

Malatang – $3/100g

Regardless of variety, everything goes for $3 per 100 grams, with the minimum spending of $12 per bowl, making the maths quite easy. I chose the traditional Malatang, with high spice level and medium tingling level. The soup is what differentiates each Malatang restaurant for me, and the version at Tanghuo Gongfu is quite good. It has clearly been boiled for hours, resulting in a complex depth of flavour, and there is a sweet after taste. My favourite toppings to add to malatangs include tofu puffs, seafood money bags, Chinese cabbage, crown daisy, sliced lamb, pork and mushroom balls, bamboo shoot, quail eggs just to name a few. It’s always fun to pick and choose from the selections available, but watch out, as things can get out of hand really quickly!

Malaban – $3/100g

We also tried the Malaban for the sake of variety. The dressing that all the goodies are doused is primarily made of sesame and chilli oil, and the sweet after taste that I really liked in the soup rendition did not fare as well here, being overly sweet to the point of cloying. We both agreed that Malatang was the better choice in this case.

Malatang is great both as a quick lunch or a late night meal, its versatility being its biggest selling point. You can make it more substantial by adding in some noodles, or keep it light by choosing mainly vegetables, the choice is completely yours. With Tanghuo Kungfu opening from lunchtime to the early hours of the morning daily, it is definitely somewhere worth trying out Malatang at!

How to get here:
Tanghuo Kungfu is located on Elizabeth Street, a short five minutes walk from Melbourne Central.

I dined as a guest of Tanghuo Kungfu.

Tanghuo Kungfu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 
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Colourful Yunnan

Colourful Yunnan was a pioneer in bringing Yunnan cuisine to Melbourne. Starting off with its Carlton location, the restaurant has since expanded into the suburbs. Even in Box Hill, where there are Chinese restaurants sprawled in every corner, Colourful Yunnan has found its footing, and attracts a moderate following on any day of the week.

Pao Lu Da – $6.50

As far as I’m aware, Pao Lu Da can only be found in Colourful Yunnan. Originating from Thailand and Myanmar, the coconut drink contains sago and torn pieces of baguette, which soaks up the creaminess of the drink. If you’re a fan of coconut, this is definitely worth trying.

Rice Noodle Soup with Stewed Pork Intestines – $13.80

Now this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but pork intestine, when done right, is something that I am quite fond of. The intestine can be a bit fatty at times, however, the spiciness of the soup does a good job of balancing that out. Although I wish there wasn’t so much chili oil floating on top, which I actually scooped out into a bowl so that I’m not drinking oil the whole time.

With its updated interior and expansive menu, it’s easy to see that Colourful Yunnan has found a winning formula of a restaurant. However, I do think that the quality of food is better at Tina’s Noodles right around the corner, with each variation of soup having a distinctive flavour at a similar price point.

How to get here:
Colourful Yunan is located inside Box Hill Shopping, get off at Box Hill Station and head upstairs, and the restaurant can be found in the same complex.

Colourful Yunnan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Shandong Mama

There’s always some frozen homemade dumplings on hand at home, courtesy of my mum, and they’re hands down my favourite dumplings ever. This makes it especially rare for me to eat dumplings when I’m out. I was more than willing to make an exception for Shandong Mama though, given that the restaurant specialises in mackerel dumplings, a filling that I’m entirely unfamiliar with.

Fish Dumplings (boiled, 10 pcs) – $16.80

My heart sank when I saw on the menu that the filling of the fish dumpling was made with coriander and mackerel, being a long-time avid coriander hater. But whatever, I decided to suck it up and order them anyway, since that was the reason we were here.

The dumplings were very floppy looking due to the mousse-like consistency of the fillings. The filling tasted okay, as okay as it can be with the additional coriander at least. If you liked fish and didn’t hate coriander though, I’m sure it would be perfectly pleasant. However, the dumplings were overcooked, which meant that the skin was very soft, and one of them had broken during the cooking process.

Beef Dumplings – Fried (10 pcs) – $13.80

We also tried out the fried beef dumplings. The shape of these dumplings were quite unconventional, gaps were left intentionally on both end of each dumplings, said to allow the juice of the beef filling to flow out and seep into the bottom crispy skin to maximise flavour. The skin of the fried dumplings were a lot thinner than the boiled renditions, and held everything together nicely. These were pretty good, the strong mixture of soy and spring onion meant that these were tasty mouthfuls with a crispy bottom.

I was pretty disappointed with my visit to Shandong Mama to be honest. I couldn’t justify the hefty price tags on these for the slightly above average taste and small portion, only ten dumplings per serving! I’m glad that I was finally able to put an end of my curiosity about the fish dumplings, but I think I’ll stick with my mum’s dumplings for the time being.

How to get here:
Shandong Mama is located in Midcity Arcade between Little Bourke Street and Bourke Street, a ten minutes walk from Melbourne Central.

Shandong Mama Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

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

Tim Ho Wan

1

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.

3
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.

4
Spring Roll with Egg White – $6.00

5

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.

6
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.

7
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.

8
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.

9
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.

10
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.

11
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.

12
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.

13
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.

14
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.

15
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

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