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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China Red

Name: China Red
Location: Shop 6, 206 Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Prices: Meals $15-25, Drinks $3-5 (more for wine)
Cost rating: 3/5
Taste rating: 8.5/10
Overall rating: 8.5/10

China Red specialises in dumplings, but Chinese side dishes are also available. There is a kitchen at the back, and you can watch the chefs prepare dumplings in the window. Also, how many restaurants do you know of where you can make orders via a touchscreen computer? Yes, you can do that at China Red. It is lots of fun, but it becomes easy to order more things than you can eat because it is so much fun. (Who doesn’t like touchscreens? Beep boop, hey presto, food.)

Who scrolls over these pictures?

Not a TV screen/ Sit down, and watch food programme/ Press button, receive food

Ginger: also called/ Zingibar offinale/ Good for many things

Impressive ginger julienning. While this isn’t difficult to prepare, so many dumplings places neglect to place out finely sliced ginger. Instead, the ginger comes pre-steeped in vinegar. Or forgo ginger altogether.

SHANGHAI DUMPLINGS ($11.80/ 8pc)
Score: 9/10
Would I order it again? Yes

Like dumplings in soup/ But the other way around/ Shanghai shao long bao

Unfold wheat wrapping/ Somewhat like a boxed present/ Find pork broth inside

Shanghai dumplings (also known as ‘shao long bao’) are a steamed dumpling, but unlike most other dumplings it is more ‘bun-shaped’ (bun-shaped things are ‘bao’.). The bao should be able to hold its hot meaty juices when you pick it up with chopsticks, but the skin should not be so thick that it is chewy. I daresay that balance has been reached at China Red. Inside the bao is pork mince with a rich pork broth formed during the steaming process. The idea is to bite off the top of the bao so that the soup inside remains inside the bao, but now you have a little opening to drink the soup from. Or if you prefer, to let the soup trickle out onto your spoon so it cools down more quickly, drink the soup, and slowly nibble around the bao taking care not to burn your mouth. Addition of julienned ginger makes it even tastier.

PANFRIED PORK DUMPLINGS ($10.80/ 8 pc)
Score: 8/10
Would I order this again? Yes.

Dumplings or meat buns?/ Maybe both at the same time?/ No need to pick one

Inside a pork bun/ or a dumpling, as it were?/ Har gao cameo

These dumplings are a mixture between being a dumpling, and being a bun. The outer layer is more bread than the thin unleavened dumpling skin. I find this lends itself better for panfrying because it is more textural than the thin dumpling skin. It is crunchy on the bottom, but fluffy and has more chew from leavening.

SZECHUAN STYLE SPICY CHICKEN ($11.80)
Score: 7/10
Would I order this again? No.

Brace yourself oh tongue/ Against the capsaicin tides*/ *I am no poet

It was not as spicy as I thought it would be, and I’m not a seasoned in the ways of chilli and szechuan cuisine. It strikes me as odd that eating something so spicy that it bludgeons your tastebuds and other sensory nerve endings into temporary(?) non-functionality would be enjoyable. While it’s not bad, it’s not particularly interesting or impressive either.The chicken is steamed separately from the sauce, then the sauce and garnishes are added at the last minute. The peanuts add texture, and spring onions add more visual appeal. If szechuan style spicy chicken is a dish you’ve a hankering for, then by all means order this dish. But there are better szechuan style spicy chicken dishes, one of them being from the szechuan restaurant around the corner.

DEEP-FRIED SQUID IN SALT & PEPPER ($18.80)
Score: 7/10
Would I order this again? No.

Salt and pepper squid/ One of the seafood classics/ but why so much salt?

Rice not pictured, but imagine a big bowl of rice that would serve 2-4 people. Batter isn’t as thick as it looks in the picture, but there is a massive air bubble separating the batter from the squid. I am not sure what that would mean, but both batter and squid are crunchy. There are also slices of red chilli and some fried shallots. So far so good until you realise how salty it is. So, so salty.

PRAWN & CHIVE DUMPLING ($6.50 / 4 pc)
Score: 10/10
Would I order this again? Yes.

Delicious har gao/ Addition of chinese chives/ Even more delicious

Prawn and chinese chive dumplings are one of my favourites. I can’t find anything to fault.

VEGETARIAN DUMPLING ($12.50/ 12 pc)
Score: 10/10
Would I order this again? Yes.

Spinach-green dumplings/ Is it Pantone patented?/ I don't see why not

Go on, take a bite/ See for yourself, what's inside?/ I... am not quite sure

Usually I find vegetarian dumplings to be dull and tasteless after eating dumplings with pork or prawn inside, but China Red’s vegetarian dumpling was surprisingly tasty. I think the difficulty with vegetarian dumplings is finding things with an umami taste and making sure the overall taste and texture of the dumpling is balanced. The major components of this dumpling is shiitake mushroom and finely diced chinese cabbage (moisture squeezed out to ensure that the filling doesn’t get too soggy). There seems to be wood-ear fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae) in there too.

SPRING ONION PANCAKE ($6.50)
Score: 10/10
Would I order this again? Yes

Spring onion pancake/ Misnomer! Not a pancake/ Eh, but close enough

It was piping hot when it arrived onto our table, the outside was an even golden colour and crunchy in a way that can’t be achieved by shallow frying. The inside was soft, the layers were very thin and elastic. The spring onion was finely sliced and added a delicious sweetness to the layered pancake.
To say it’s a pancake is a bit misleading. It is a sheet of very thin dough, much like phyllo pastry, with salt and finely sliced spring onions sprinkled across it, then tightly rolled up like a swiss roll. Then the long roll is rolled around itself to make a snail-shape. Then fried (or panfried). Then consumed.

ICED MILK TEA ($4.50)
Score: ?
Would I order this? No.

Drink and ice in bowl/ Ice won't fit into vessel/ A psuedo chem flask

I could pop outside to he bubbletea place and order a milk tea for the same price, and larger volume. But the presentation is interesting.

ICED RED BEAN IN SYRUP ($4)
Score: ?

Whole sweetened red beans/ Similar to ais kacang/ But no green cendol

Sweetened red beans, ice and condensed milk (?). This’ll fill you up. It’s not a particularly refreshing drink, but it seems tasty as a dessert.

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