Taiwan Cafe

Location: 273 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Cost: $10-15
Cost rating: 4/5
Taste rating: 6.5/10
Overall rating: 6/10
Would I come back? No.

This restaurant was instantly popular. There has been a recent boom in Taiwanese cheap-eats around Melbourne, perhaps to cater for the people who’ve tired of the other asian cheap-eats. The menu is extensive, with almost 700 items (many are variations of a theme). Out of the 700 or so, there’s bound to be some good dishes, but also some terrible misses. Here’s a post to help you avoid the misses.

 

JELLYFISH SALAD ($5.90)
Taste: 8/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

The usual food prank/ but actually delicious/ Pleasantly surprised

I love jellyfish salad, if it’s on the menu there’s a high chance that I will order it. I’ve had it 4 times at restaurants, and each time it’s been prepared and seasoned differently. At Taiwan Cafe, it’s treated like fast-pickled vegetables– white vinegar, sugar and little else. There are also some carrots and cucumber in the mix. It’s a pleasant side dish to have along side with spiced beef noodle soup. The vinegar cleans out the palate of five spice and star anise. (I enjoyed the jellyfish salad more than the beef noodles.)

 

OYSTER OMELETTE ($8.90)
Taste: 3/10
Would I order it again? No.
“Oysters embedded in a chewy omelette topped with bokchoy. The most popular of Taiwanese snacks.”

Nine dollars for this?/ A dish of regret/ Gross fishy oysters

Nasty gummy stuff/ Something from alien flick/ With oyster spawn. Ack.

I was so disappointed. I had been looking forward to the oyster omelette, the most popular snackfood of Taiwan. I had imagined a glorious mass of oysters, possibly fried, in a generous serving of egg, topped off with lettuce and lashings of oyster sauce-based sauce. It was meant to be an intensely savoury dish, moreish and addictive.

But what was served was a thin, slightly overcooked omelette, with a sticky rice goo (could have been seafood slime if I was to judge purely by taste) at the bottom. I would have not minded the rice flour base if it didn’t taste of seafood past it’s prime. The oysters are tiny! I expected small oysters, but not so small that I had initially confused them for cockles. They also tasted fishy and briny. The sauce was tasteless, so no amount of sauce could drown the terrible ‘fish market on a hot summer’s day’ taste/smell.

In short, don’t order the oyster omelette. It’s terrible.

 

FRIED DRUMSTICK BENTO ($13)

Goodness! Fried chicken!/ Japanese-chinese fusion/ that is Taiwanese

The fried chicken bento contains (left to right, top to bottom): Asian potato salad*, fried chicken drumsticks (prepared in a way that it resembled a tulip, flesh lifted from the bottom the leg, and pushed up to the top to form a dome of easily-consumed fried chicken), white rice with saucy pork mince, fried egg covering peas and corn.

*: What makes it Asian potato salad? I call it Asian potato salad because this style of potato salad is popular in Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong. At minimum, it contains potato, apple and sweet mayonnaise. It’s nothing like the western potato salad. For one thing, it’s sweet. It’s kind of delicious.

 

THREE-CUP CHICKEN ($10.80)
Taste: 7/10
Would I order it again? Yes

You said claypot? Lies!/ But it is still damned tasty/ I’ll let that one slide.

The menu depicts this dish with the chicken in a small claypot, the tradition serving container for 3 cup chicken.  But the picture above is what you actually get. It’s a bit deceiving, but it is still 3 cup chicken with rice.

It tastes pretty authentic and home-made, so if you ever have a hankering for home-style 3-cup chicken, this is the place for you.

 

TAIWANESE BEEF NOODLE ($9.50+$1 egg)
Taste: 7/10
Would I order it again? No

Disturbingly clear/ For a star anise beef broth/ Egg is the best bit

Nothing is wrong with Taiwanese beef noodle soup, but this one lacks a lot of depth that could have earned it a ‘yes’ to ‘would I order it again?’. The noodles are the thick white kind that aren’t thick or chewy enough to be udon. The broth is one-dimensional with mainly five spice and star anise. The beef depicted in the picture is stewed beef chuck, looking tender and delicious, somethings that I would to have eaten. But what you get is actually thinly sliced lean beef. It’s not bad, but not what I had in mind.

The egg is good though, congealed yolk in solid egg white. I wonder if I could order the egg by itself.

 

JAJANGMIAN ($10?)
Taste: 7/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

Looks like bibimbap/ Toppings laid out in sections/ Only with noodles

Looks like spag bol now/ Only without tomato/ Or Parmesan cheese

Jajiangmian is plain noodles topped off with a savoury jajiang sauce. At minimum, jajiang sauce contains fermented salted beans. There are lots of variations of this sauce, the chinese type is generally saltier than the korean kind. But at Taiwan Cafe, their sauce doesn’t contain any fermented beans at all. It’s more like spag bol. Nonetheless, it’s still tasty.

 

VEGETARIAN TAIWANESE VERMICELLI ($9.50)
Taste: 7.5/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

Light and tasty dish/ Most surprisingly, it is /vegetarian

For once, the vegetarian option at an asian eatery looks better than its meaty counterpart. The noodles are cooked well, not broken up too much by poor spatula skills, or too oily. There are plenty of mushrooms too. I am impressed.

 

KUMQUAT LEMON JUICE ($3.50)
Taste: 7/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

Extra citrusy/ Not too sweet, and refreshing!/ Order this instead

Kumquat lemon juice sounds like it’d be the most sour citrus drink around.But fear not, it was sweetened liberally and it’s actually a pleasant refreshing drink.

 

LYCHEE PEARL RED TEA ($3.50)
Taste: 6/10
Would I order it again? No.

The pearls (tapioca balls) are mediocre. As was the drink, from what I heard.

 

PEARL RED MILK TEA ($3.50)

Bubbletea culture/ All those young’uns and bubbles/ Popular drink/snack?

Not ordered by me, but here’s a picture so you know what it looks like.

 

MILK GREEN TEA ($3.50)

Milky white green tea/ The ice makes it more opaque/ Bubbletea snowstorm

For a milk green tea it looks very milky.

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Dumplings Plus

Name: Dumplings Plus
Location: 269 Swanston St, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Cost: $15-25 per meal, but dumplings and small eats are under $10
Cost rating: 4/5
Taste rating: 8.5/10
Overall rating: 8.5/10

Another rainy night and late dinner with some friends from my local strategy board games club  (A strategic board game called Go/Weiqi/Baduk, it’s  played on a grid with black and white stones.) We wanted a quick hot meal, and walked into Dumplings Plus hoping they would have a table for 5.

They did.

JASMINE TEA
Taste: 5/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

Stories have a start/ And so do meals. Have some tea./ And then will we start.

We all know what tea looks like. But I like this photo so I thought to share it with you. Hot jasmine tea is just one of those things I have to order at chinese restaurants.

HARGAO (PRAWN DUMPLINGS)
Taste: 10/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

My fav'rite dumpling/ Do you dip them in soy sauce?/ Or eat them as is?

Let me think of something to say. Nope, nothing. They’re really good.
SPRING ONION PANCAKE
Taste: 9/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

No snail shapes here/ 'round and round it unravels/ Alas, not tonight

I liked these spring onion pancakes better than the ones at China Red. The main difference is the texture of the dough. China Red’s spring onion pancake was deep fried snail-shape with a less chewy dough. Dumpling Plus is thin and flat like a biscuit, pan fried and has more chew. As more fun it is to unravel the snail at China Red, I like the crispy crunchiness from panfrying.
SILKEN TOFU AND CENTURY EGG
Taste: 9/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

Lovely in Summer/ Cool respite from muggy days/ Or from spicy food

Simplicity is underestimated. This is just cold silken tofu cut thinly, and a chopped century egg with some seasoned broth for flavour. It’s a cold dish, but the flavours were clean and it was refreshing after all those hot dumplings and wontons in chilli sauce.
Century egg is a pickled egg. Unlike those terrible vinegar-pickled eggs, century eggs don’t have a strong taste. It doesn’t even taste of egg anymore. It’s just a cola-coloured egg with forest green oozy goo where the yolk was. The colour puts people off, but it is very mild and the texture is delightful. It’s like aspic with just-congealed yolk inside.

PICKLED JELLYFISH IN CHILLI SAUCE
Taste: 8/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

'They are cold noodles'/ Leaps into the taste abyss/ '...made of jellyfish'

Yes, jellyfish can be pickled and eaten. They don’t really have a taste of their own, so it is eaten mostly for its texture and ability to soak up the flavour of the dressing. It’s crunchy like any other pickled vegetable. (But jellyfish aren’t vegetables.) Sometimes you’ll see pickled jellyfish on the side with roast suckling pig. But not with chilli sauce. The sauce is a spicy and sweet, but in no way crippling spicy. (It rates about a 5/10 on my scale.)

Sometimes I like to say they’re like noodles, just to get people to try it. Then tell them they’re made of jellyfish. I am a terrible person.

PORK AND PRAWN DUMPLINGS IN CHILLI BROTH
Taste: 9/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

They are so tasty/ Why are dumplings so tasty?/ Another bowl, please.

Instead of a chilli broth, it is boiled dumplings with a thick chilli sauce on the bottom. These were so good we had to order several bowls, and one more for the person who didn’t like spicy food but still kept coming back for more.
PORK POTSTICKERS
Taste: 7/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

Potstickers are great/ Piping hot: don't burn your mouth/ Crunchy crispy base

Eh, they’re okay. I’d order them again because they’re potstickers, and everybody loves potstickers. It gives variety from wontons and dumplings in soup, and dumplings in chilli paste! They’re average for potstickers. The filling is pork mince, ginger, garlic and spring onions, which rarely goes wrong. The panfrying could have been better (some are barely golden, others are dark brown) but when there are a lot of dumplings to be panfried at a cheapish-eats restaurant, I can forgive them for the neglect of small details.
PORK AND PRAWN WONTONS IN SOUP
Taste: 7.5/10
Would I order it again? Yes.

As light as a cloud/ If only clouds were tasty/ Hm, hailing wontons?

Wontons in chilli paste with soup. The wonton skins are soft and the wontons are juicy. It is much the same as the dumplings with chilli broth but with wontons and more broth.
RED BEAN PANCAKES
Taste: 8/10
Would I order it again?

Crispy and chewy/ It's odd, but enjoyable/ For your sweet tooth friend

Yes.I hadn’t seen anything like this before, so the novelty was great. It is red bean paste (seems to be from a can) inside a glutinous rice pancake, then panfried. The end result is a crispy but meltingly chewy pancake with sweet bean paste inside. They’re moreish.

I’d come back and order everything listed above. Yes, it’s noisy and not the cleanest restaurant I’ve been to, but the food is cheap and tasty, comes out fairly quickly, and hosts a fantastic har gao and silken tofu/century egg dish.
_Dumplings Plus on Urbanspoon