352-354 Chapel Street, South Yarra
Phone: 9827 7110
My grandfather turned 93 this year. Ever since his 90th birthday, which I missed because I was in Viet Nam, but was apparently quite the to-do, each birthday celebration has become a big occasion. Which is fair enough, because who knows how many of them he has left, right? Not to be too morbid, but 93 is a pretty good run, by anyone’s standards. These birthday dinners usually involve the entire extended family, spanning four generations now that my cousins have kids, and this year, the added complexity of a pre-arrange seating plan – which was promptly abandoned when my generation decided we were re-instating the kid’s table, instead of sitting with our parents – and I kid you not, HALF AN HOUR of photos with Grandpa before sitting down to eat. I was starving and flash-blind by the time I sat down to eat.
Not to be disrespectful, but perhaps Grandpa should have chosen more wisely for his 93rd birthday. I doubt the family will be back to Sun Kee anytime soon. The food was passable, but not exciting, and the service was patchy and not very attentive. To be fair, our group was rather large – three tables of 10 – so perhaps they were a little under-staffed. Odd, seeing as it was a Saturday night, and wed booked ahead, but stranger things have happened. A little more disconcerting was the fact that the maitre d tried to serve us port which had been brought as a gift for Grandpa, at the start of the meal, as though it were red wine.
Of course, this is another in the series of ‘family dinner Cantonese banquet’ posts. For other versions, see my earlier posts about Vessel and Fu Long. I’d also like to caveat here: I’m probably being a bit harsh, but I’ve been to so many different Chinese restaurants in my life that serve this type of Cantonese food, that my standards are pretty high. Not unreasonably high, I would say, but perhaps I’m pickier than most when it comes to this type of food.
We started off with a soup. Seafood soup, with tofu and feathered egg. A reasonably standard soup, though not executed that well. There was very little seafood in there, and the corn-starch thickened broth in which it was swimming was flavoured with little else other than MSG.
Then came the crab. This wasn’t bad, but for some bizarre reason, the usual accompanying egg noodles were missing. I’m not a huge fan of crab – it’s too fiddly for my liking – but I am a huge fan of the egg noodles that come soaked in the ginger and spring onion crab gravy. Alas, not tonight. A theme of disappointment was setting in.On to the main course parade. First up was a simple dish of scallops with sugar snap peas and carrot. This was not bad. The main problem was that we had to wait another five minutes for the waiters to bring the rice out, by which time the dish had gotten cold. Which wasn’t too pleasant, given the amount of oil coating everything. A shame, because the scallops were nice and sweet, as were the peas.Fried whole prawns in salt and pepper arrived next, which are always a winner. That rule stood firm here, and these were probably my favourite dish of the night. Not too oily, and super crunchy, I enjoyed eating these things whole. Yes, I’m an itinerant prawn head eater, and poo-poo all of you who don’t at least suck the brains out. There’s a reason tha prawn heads are used to make a good bisque; that’s where all the flavour is!Continuing the fried theme, there was crispy duck with taro next. This is a roast duck breast which has been pressed onto a layer of taro, and then battered and deep fried. Yeah, it sounds sinfully awesome, huh? And usually it is, but the duck was dry and over-cooked here, and the dish was a little lukewarm when it arrived at the table. The accompanying sauce wasn’t particularly inspiring either; an insipid soy sauce gravy.Shiitake mushrooms with bok choy and carrot brought about an end to the reign of deep fried supremacy. Again, another standard dish, which was done reasonably well. After that quick breather, like the short reign of a usurper with no heir, the deep fried dynasty was quickly re-instated. With another classic, though of slightly more dubious reputation. Sweet and sour pork. Now I’m not going to malign it because of its association with bastardised Margaret Fulton Chinese cooking, or because it’s a massive hit of a calorie bomb: fat AND sugar!? It’s just not that common that you will see this dish served in a Chinese banquet like this. I think it’s a little bit ballsy, in fact, and I commend them for it. And you know what? It was good. The problem with most sweet and sour pork dishes is that they’re too sweet, and not sour enough. And often the salty element is lacking, too. Not so at Sun Kee. The pork was well seasoned, and well cooked; the sauce was a good balance of sweet and sour. It’s a shame that this moment of brilliance was quickly eclipsed by the next dish. Sliced fish – I think it was rockling – had been battered and deep fried, then smothered in a corn and egg gravy. This was just bland and gross.As were the ‘seafood noodles’, which didn’t really have much seafood, and felt like a bookend with the disappointing soup opener. I have a feeling that this might actually be the intended concept, but when you execute both dishes this poorly, why bother having that concept in the first place?Oh yeah, I skipped out before they served Grandpa’s favourite durian sponge cake with layers of fake cream, but I did manage to get a quick snap of these awesome crazy agar jellies my aunt made!