A wedding banquet at Tao’s
201 Bulleen Road, Bulleen
Phone: 9852 0777
My cousin Ivan got married recently. It was a joyous day, full of fun, sunshine and suckling pigs. Let’s kick this post off with a picture of one in the back seat of my car.
Let me tell you, had the groom’s brother not been in the passenger seat, I would have been tempted to skip the wedding and just drive off with the pig. But I guess that may have lead to a different and not altogether wholesome consummation in the back seat. Also, it may have jeopardised the Chinese ritual gaining of entry into the bride’s home, and therefore the wedding itself. Given that my cousin’s bride is a totally awesome new addition to the family, that would have been a bad thing.
The day’s festivities went off without a hitch, and it was great to catch up with a lot of my extended family whom I don’t see very often. There was a buffet lunch of various roast meats – including that saucy back seat swine – and various other Asian snackery, which of course led to an afternoon carb coma. I took a brief afternoon nap while some of my aunts and uncles whiled the afternoon away playing mah jong. Seriously, I love how Joy Luck Club my life gets sometimes.
That evening, we headed off to Tao’s, a restaurant which has been around in Bulleen for years, but has somehow flown under my radar all this time. With a name like Tao’s, I expected it to be a traditional Chinese wedding banquet – you know, with the crab, the abalone, the quail and the whole steamed fish. I should have known my cousin wasn’t quite that orthodox. This is a man who perpetrated a balut (fertilised duck egg) pizza on an unsuspecting crowd; a gastronomic experimenteur to be sure.
Tao’s serves what I suppose should be called Asian fusion food, as cliche as that sounds. The flavours are most definitely pan-Asian, but the presentation is most definitely not, falling into that ‘modern’ Western genre, with a definite nod to somewhere Patrick Bateman would eat.
The meal started off with a trio of amuses. From the left, we had some sort of flavoured mayonnaise, an oyster with a spring onion mignonette, and some sort of bacon-wrapped morsel; octopus? That would sort of make sense, with the smear of squid ink across the plate. You’ll have to forgive me, but my memory’s a little hazy. When I say my cousin got married recently, I mean a couple of months ago now. I remember the oyster being very good, and wishing I had another grissini stick for the mayo.
From this point on, we all started getting different dishes. Thankfully, I was seated with family members who were all very accommodating in letting me photograph their food before eating. I didn’t document it all, but sit back, this is gonna be a long post.
First up was the drunken chicken. Cute presentation with the little sherry glass, though I’m not sure what the gelatinous cube was. It was probably some sort of consomme, I expect.
This was some sort of seared beef thing – the first of a number of dishes my younger second cousin received which caused his sisters to become very jealous. It looked pretty good, but I didn’t particularly understand the jealousy. He did seem to get all the red meat; maybe his sisters have an iron deficiency. This is also the first dish served on a tile. There were a lot of tiles this night. Unlike Jess, I quite like my food on tiles, if only for the fact it means the sauces tend to be less runny; serving a dish with a runny sauce on a tile would just be silly.
So for each course, there were some feature dishes, and then a ‘default’ dish that half of the table would receive. The feature dishes were rotated for each course, so everyone had a different experience of the dinner. I thought this was a novel idea, but it seemed to cause a little confusion for the staff, and it didn’t help the pacing of food service, which is always a problem at large functions like weddings anyway. The default for this course were some panko crumbed prawns. They were OK, but the sauces were both a bit bland.
Stuffed with a pulled braised pork, steamed and then lightly pan-seared, this was a total winner. Let’s be honest though, just about anything which has been thrice-cooked is going to be pretty awesome.
The next course was soup. The presentation of this bonito broth was cute, though I would’ve felt a little weird drinking it like tea. My sister said it was a bit ‘meh’, but another of my cousins thought it was stellar.
I had a pumpkin soup, which was a touch on the bland side. It came in a cute little pumpkin bowl which was just on the right side of kitsch. I’m not a fan of pumpkin soup usually – I find it’s often too sweet – so it’s not surprising I wasn’t too impressed with this.
Onto mains! My sister got the pork belly, which looked great, but wasn’t really melting-soft, and also could probably have been a served little hotter. Again, just one of the problems inherent with function catering, I guess.
I got a corn and herb-crusted salmon, which was really quite good. The raked coriander sauce was a good match to the fish and the creamed corn topping – the little quenelle is more of the corn mixture – and the broadbean salad was pleasant, though those three rogue corn kernels were a little contrived.
I’m happy to report that the salmon was cooked reasonably well. About medium OK, it’s a touch on the done side for my liking, but I’ll eat just about any meat raw, so I’m hard to please in this department. Given the horror stories you hear about fish courses at wedding receptions, I’d say this was a good showing.
Let’s revisit my younger second cousin, who again got the red meat. A sizzling piece of beef fillet – I’m not sure if it was wagyu – on a hot rock, on some little rocks, on a crazily heavy plate. The staff at Tao’s have strong wrists.
On to desserts! Quite judiciously, the wedding cake – little red velvet cupcakes – was served along with the desserts. Now not that I don’t like Asian desserts, I’m quite glad these desserts weren’t given a fusion twist. First up was a great creme brulee, which my sister and her husband fought over.
I got a little shortbread sandwich with fresh cherries. I’m a fan of fruit-driven desserts, as it usually means they’re not quite so sweet, and in this case, it was a boon, as the cupcakes were pretty sweet.
Phew! Are you exhausted? I was, a little, after a long day of celebration. When I went to chat to my parents at the end of the night, there were exclamations of how full we all were, which is how my family expresses their satisfaction with food. That, or we burp loudly.
Anyway, I quite liked the playfulness of the food at Tao’s, and I suspect that it would be a much smoother experience dining there in a group of smaller than 100. All in all, it was an excellent end to a wonderful day, which was the start of what is sure to be a joyous marriage.
Congratulations, Ivan and Thanh!