Thursday, May 14, 2009

bok choy tang

Federation Square, Melbourne

Dinner for thirteen is a challenge, so the group takes turns every six weeks choosing a restaurant. Orlando - unsurprisingly - chose a posh Chinese. We had been to Bok Choy Tang before, late last summer on a stormy night. Our memories of the food and the service were good.

I was last to arrive to a rowdy table. The waiter was busy trying to take our order, so I had about two minutes to choose. We had all decided to order individually so the waiter advised that all of our food would not come out together. Why not? If this was any other type of restaurant we would all be served more or less at the same time.

I chose the pork dumplings, given that this is a Northern Chinese restaurant, and Orlando chose the duck pancakes. The pancakes were strange: they came to the table in a woven basket, already made up and then deep fried. A bit pub-food-looking. They had a crisp coating reminiscent of those "southern-fried" oven chips you can buy. They tasted fine but you could not really taste the duck, or any of the complex flavours you expect from duck pancakes. My dumplings were perfectly cooked and of a decent size, although there were only three of them. No dipping sauce however - I had to steal some of Orlando's sweet chilli sauce which is not what you want for your dumplings.

I went with something nice and reliable for main course. I have great memories of delicious Szechuan chicken from our journey through China, and this was the taste I was looking for: perfectly fried chunks of chicken with plenty of dried chillies and onion. It came out exactly as I wanted, and a generous portion too.

About half of us got served at the same time, whilst the rest waited. Orlando, Nat and Craig had to chase their food a couple of times, and the waiter looked pretty perplexed. I reckon there had been a mix-up because they had ordered dishes that others had already been served. Finally Nat and Craig got their food but Orlando was still waiting. Most people had finished eating when his steamed chilli barramundi came out.

After all that waiting, his dish was a disappointment. There was no chilli at all on the fish, just a generous coating of diced red capsicum. Although steamed to perfection and filleted by the waiter at the table, it had little flavour.

The other small gripe was that the rice was served in very small individual bowls, so if you wanted more you had to order it again. Given the time it took to get served, this was not really an attractive proposition. I could have done with more myself.

Strangely, we were not given bowls to eat from, but small flat dishes with a vertical side much like a small flan dish. No good at all for eating with chopticks. I ended up eating from my tiny rice bowl which was difficult given the size.

Most people were happy with their orders, and the bill at $56 per head was excellent value given the amount of alcohol consumed. However I would not recommend Bok Choy Tang for a large table of diners again. Best to go in a smaller group so that you can be sure of better service.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

colmao flamenco

60 Johnston Street Fitzroy

With one gluten-free dining companion and another that doesn't eat anything that swims, where does one go for dinner? Not Italian. Not seafood. Not Thai: we had that the week before. I know, I thought: tapas and a nice bottle of Spanish red. Perfect for an unseasonably cold April night.

Our original destination on Johnston Street was the bar next door. Kanela looked inviting enough until I realised that it was the very bar upon which I had danced - sober - on a birthday night out years ago. I am not sure if I thought somebody in there would recognise me, with more than ten years gone by and a good 10kg piled on. Anyway, it did not seem right so we headed to Colmao.

We were greeted by a friendly face, white starched tablecloths and a neighbouring table of Spanish people: a family celebrating a birthday. Promising. I was delighted to see one of my favourite Spanish wines on the list. The 2001 Pata Negra Valdepeñas was not as divine as the 1991 Gran Reserva, but it was still fabulous: a welcome change from an Australian wine.

We ate. A lot. It was all finger-licking delicious: well, except for the tortilla which should be the best bit but was a bit tired-looking and - dare I say - microwaved? The patatas bravas were crinkle-cut and perfectly cooked. The capsicum-laden spicy sauce was not for me but I bravely ate around it.

The garlic prawns were garlicky and full of chilli. The albondigas were firm in a lovey tomatoey sauce. The Champinoñes Maytip, sautéed in oregano, olive oil and white wine, were new to me but full of flavour. The chorizo was braised in tomato, onion, garlic and white wine. The baby octopus was delivered in a clay pot in a rich caramelised sauce full of green peas. To die for.

We ordered more albondigas, more garlic prawns. We knew we would be hell to sit beside next morning but to hell with it.

We ordered another bottle of Pata Negra. Silly not to.

In the end, full to pussy's bow and with Swine Flu seriously warded off with all that garlic, we gave up. Well, what I mean is that I ordered flan and we shared it. However, after all that red wine I am afraid I cannot really remember if it was good or not.

On some nights at Colmao they have a flamenco singer and guitarist. Must go back for that and some more of those garlic prawns.

bistro vite

Southgate, Melbourne

I will admit the main criterion for choosing a place for dinner this night was location. We had tickets to see The Bar at Bueno Vista in Hamer Hall, and we needed to be close. Eliminating all the Italian places that would have been higher on my list to accommodate Orlando, this was what was left.

At least it was cosy. There were people dining outside, and whilst it had been a pleasant day, it was pretty chilly when the sun went down. The wait staff were nice enough but absentminded. The maitre d', I have to say, was aloof.

Starters were a mixed bag. Orlando's smoked salmon salad was decently-proportioned, and Kelvin's zucchini souffle looked good enough, but not much like a souffle. Our French onion soup was tasteless. We tried some salt, and then Eileen went searching for black pepper. Neither improved the taste of this blandness. A bowl of hot beef Oxo would have been nicer.

Two roast ducks and two steak frites came next. The duck was nice enough, Eileen and Kelvin said, but the skin - the best part of course - was limp and not at all well-cooked. Our steaks were generous but less than average. I left the last one-third of mine because I couldn't get through the gristle. The French fries were nice I have to say: a huge bed of them with the juices of the steak mingling with the tiny amount of garlic butter I had allowed to melt before I took it off the plate.

All in all, a pedestrian meal. I would not be lining up to dine in Bistro Vite again.