942 Whitehorse Rd, Box Hill
Phone: 9890 7388
Family dinners out are an elastic-waisted pants sort of affair with my family. Indeed, I would think for most Chinese families, because the places we go tend to be filled with other Chinese families. Luckily, they don’t happen all that often. Else I’d be stuck on the treadmill a lot more often!
It was my grandfather’s birthday recently – I think he turned 82? I’m such a bad grandson – and the family all went out to Fu Long Seafood Restaurant in Box Hill – the comment that came along with the invitation in mum’s text message was “mud crabs $14/lb”. Colour me eager; though truth be known, I prefer duck to crab, it’s so much less work!
Extended family dinners are extended in both senses of the word. It’s a chance for me to catch up with cousins I rarely see, and to dodge questions about if I have a girlfriend from my aunts and uncles. The fact my sister just got married doesn’t help that line of questioning, but at least she’s now copping the “so when are you having a baby?” heat, so it’s sort of fair. The dinners are also extended in that it’s rare that we’ll have less than five courses, because, well, that’s the way a Chinese banquet rolls.
At Fu Long, we started with steamed oysters with an XO sauce. Some had chilli, some did not. The chilli ones were much better. Though in my opinion, you ruin perfectly good oysters by cooking them. Omelettes notwithstanding.
Next up was the first of two crab courses. Fried with chilli, salt and pepper. Not the way we usually have crab, but more on that later, this was quite good, though the cooks were a little too liberal with the MSG.
A fairly dry dish to begin with, the MSG didn’t help things, making me even more thirsty.
Luckily, the ‘spit soup’ as @thatjessho likes to call it, arrived at the same time. Shredded duck and bamboo soup, with the feathered egg and cornstarch thickness. Pretty standard Cantonese fare.
You can tell you’re at an extended family dinner of mine when someone requests chilli for the table. My cousin J insisted we needed this much chilli for a table of eight. She wasn’t wrong, actually. Next time, more fresh chilli, less chilli paste.
Then came the second crab course. The traditional Cantonese style with ginger and spring onions. Funnily, there were no noodles with this course, because as my aunt informed me, the noodles were an extra $4 per head, which is a little ridiculous when you’re charging $28 for a kilo of crab! It’s a shame, because the noodles are actually my favourite part of the crab dish. Crabby juices and ginger and spring onion all mingle and coat the noodles, making them supremely tasty. Oh well.
Then we moved on to the ‘dishes course’. After the seafood (and sometimes quail) courses, a succession of dishes arrive at the table, and rice is finally doled out. I kind of hang out for this moment, because I love my steamed rice. First up, fried whole flounder, with chilli, salt and pepper. Again, a bit too much MSG on this one.
Peking-style chicken ribs. This dish was so great. A good balance of salt, sweet and tangy, I kept coming back for more of these. At this point, I was happy there were mostly girls on my table. More girls = more food for me!
Fried prawns with – you guessed it – chilli, salt and pepper. You’d think the chefs here only knew how to do one thing! Again, crazily over-seasoned with salt and MSG. It almost felt like the MSG was burning my tongue just about now. The prawns themselves, however, were perfectly cooked, and super succulent.
Finally, a dish with a little moisture! There’s only so much rice can do in soothing over-worked taste buds, and I had to keep the beer-swilling to a minimum, because it doesn’t look good if you’re the family alcoholic. Even if you are, you should try to appear not to be. It’s a Chinese thing – saving face and all, you know? Seafood combination with mushrooms and pak choy.
This was OK, but the sauce was a little too gelatinous for my liking. Heavy handed with both the MSG and the cornstarch, I see… things did get a little better with the scallops with bok choy and XO sauce. I quite liked this, actually.
Then came redemption! Roast duck breast with pineapple. It’s a little odd to me to have roast duck at a Chinese restaurant without bones, but this dish won me over. By filleting the duck, the chefs take away the rib bones (duh!) which usually add a salty dimension to the duck. The result is a less roast-y, but funnily more gamey flavour, which was contrasted well with the sweet acidity of the pineapple sauce.
This was by far my favourite dish of the night. The duck was also sufficiently fatty, and the skin had been crisped up nicely (no doubt with a quick dunk in what must be an enormous fry vat, given the amount of fried food we ate that night! It’s not often I shy away from fried food – I figure if I just go to the gym more, i can eat whatever I want, right? – but the whole family was clamouring for something not fried after the prawns arrived on at the table.
Fu Long ended the banquet with a somewhat odd pairing of orange slices and vanilla ice cream. I decided to pass on the dessert, even though one should always finish a Cantonese banquet with fruit, and just ordered another beer. To hell with it, it’s probably better to be the alcoholic grandson than the gay one, right? Oh, whoops…