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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Rice Paper

Name: Rice Paper
Location: 245 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Prices: Meals $10-15, Drinks $3-5
Cost rating: 4/5
Taste rating: 7/10
Overall rating: 7/10

Rice Paper is a Vietnamese hawker-style restaurant, who do a bit of everything. There’s a section on the menu for starters, rice dishes, noodles, and for vermicelli noodles. Much like the other restaurants along Swanston St, Rice Paper is considered a cheap eats place. Many things are under $10, and most are under $15, there are plenty of tables and the staff seem happy to move tables around to cater for large groups.
I went there after the lunch rush, so things were a quieter lull. I don’t have any problems with when the food was brought out, it wasn’t straight away nor was it too slow. The staff spoke to us on equal terms, seeing as we all seem to be students who want to kick back and relax for the rest of the afternoon. To me, Ricepaper has a laid back feel, and that’s not a bad thing at all during the lull times.

The walls are covered with framed pictures of Vietnam (one of my favourites is the picture of the bicycle), and the ceiling is decked out in colourful paper lanterns. The lighting is a bit dim, so it might make you sleepy.

Browse a gallery/ Rows of pictures of Vietnam/ Then order some food

CRAB AND TOFU NOODLE SOUP ($8.90)
Score: 6.5/10
Would I order it again? No.

Hey there scuttling crab/ You are looking mighty fine/ As food in my bowl

The soup is sweet and clear, no problems there. My major criticism is the crab balls. Usually crab balls are those orange coloured balls of flour, fish paste, flavouring and some cubes of carrot-looking things. Those are good in noodle soups, and are used in much the same way as other surimi products. The crab balls here seem to be handmade, which is a great thing, but the consistency is too soft and paste-like. It is a soft paste barely held together as a ball. I would like some bits in it, whether those bits are imitation crab or bits of real crab, or some kind of vegetable, or bits of fish, just something to give it texture.
(As a side point, I also dislike the dried tofu puffs. But you like those, and don’t mind a smooth eggy crab ball, then this isn’t bad at all.)

Hey there crunchy sprouts/ Bring your shredded cabbage friends/ Party in soup bowl

There’s also a separate plate of beanshoots and sliced cabbage to be added into the noodles. The hot broth should cook them slightly, but they’ll still be crunchy.

COMBINATION VERMICELLI ($10.90)
Score: 8/10
Would I order this again? Yes

Crispy crunchy things/ Grilled, fried and uncooked things too/ Texture champloo

Vermicelli is a thin opaque rice noodle. This has barbecued pork meatball, chopped up spring rolls, sugar cane prawn, shredded pork, cucumber, carrot and crushed peanuts. it is served with a bowlful of sweet vinegar (with some other things, but I’m not familiar with this dish). The idea is to add as much dressing vinegar as you need (I just dump in all of it), and mix it all together. The end result is a crunchy noodle dish with lots of tasty things embedded in the noodles.

 
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