181 Russell St, Melbourne
Phone: 9662 9882
Ambiguity is an interesting thing. Sometimes, it works for you. Like when you’ve just had your tonsils out, and you you’re in too much of an oxycodone stupor to specify what sort of ice cream you want, so your mother buys three different tubs. And sometimes it works against you, like when you visit a food court in a small shopping centre, and there’s an ‘Asian’ outlet.
The menu at Wonton House suffers a little from the second kind of ambiguity. Makes you lose focus. And often leads to mediocrity. Walking into the restaurant, I expected your typical Hong Kong style Chinese restaurant. And while I understand that, like Melbourne, Hong Kong too has food trends, I should have been wary of the xiao long bao on the menu. But I couldn’t resist.
I was catching up with Mr C after not having seen him in years, so I’d forgotten that he had dietary restrictions. Nothing crazy, just no seafood. Anaphylactic shock style. So the calamari and the prawns were out. We settled on a couple of classics – of different definitions. First up, a dish from my childhood. For those of you who know me well, this doesn’t necessarily bode well. My family owned a Chinese restaurant in country Victoria while I was growing up, so I have a soft spot for what I lovingly referred to as ‘bastardised Chinese food’. The sort of food that was on the menu at our restaurant, which as a Chinese family, we never ate at home.
So we ordered the beef and vegetables with cashew nuts.
Wonton House’s version is even less inspiring. The meat had quite obviously been tenderised with soda, a common practice in many Chinese restaurants (and why chicken with cashew nuts is a superior dish) and the whole dish was not only bland, but rather oily. I have no beef with oil – see what I did there? – but in a dish like this, it’s simply not necessary.
The other dish we shared was deep-fried chicken ribs with chilli and salt. Hard to mess this dish up, and Wonton House certainly delivered the goods on this one. A mountain of chicken ribs arrived at the table, wonderfully crispy, with MSG action that was noticeable, but not overwhelming, and the chillies were not too fiery. Fiery chillies are great in some dishes, but I prefer a milder chilli with this dish, because it’s good to be able to eat the slices along with the chicken.