Sung’s Kitchen

118 Franklin St, West Melbourne
Phone: 9329 2636

When four of my bestest buddies moved interstate last year, I was a little worried that I would be lonely. Who was going to come with me to restaurants and trust me to order twice as much food for the table as was necessary? Was I going to be able to find others who would join me in unflinchingly eating ‘challenging’ offal dishes every time they appeared on a menu? I felt a little abandoned.

But this is the way life works; people come into your life, and people go. And while I still miss my friends in far off places, my separation anxiety didn’t last that long. Because I live in Melbourne, and in Melbourne you don’t have to look to hard to find kindred souls if your passion is adventuring through food. And let’s be honest: there’s not really any better way to make new friends than to share food.

New friends bring new experiences, and I was excited when one of them suggested that we go to Sung’s Kitchen. I hadn’t heard of the place before, though a little research revealed that it’s been around for a while.

As Ms E and Ms I have been there before, they took care of the ordering while the other Ms E and I gossiped about our love lives. It got so Sex and the City so quickly…

First up was this cold chicken and glass noodle salad. Interesting texturally, with the strips of celery and cucumber, I found it a touch on the bland side. But then again I’m not a huge fan of Taiwanese Dan Dan noodles, which have a similar peanut/sesame dressing.image

The dumplings which arrived at the table next didn’t really do it for me either. The skins were somewhere in that no-man’s land between delicate and light, and substantial and chewy. The filling was also a little forgettable.image

Art this point, I was starting to wonder if I should have asserted myself a little more during the ordering process, rather than ranting about how there are no good single men in this city. For those of you playing at home, I’m Miranda. Minus the need to wear a suit at work. My faith in I&E was redeemed when the next dish came to the table. Fried: tick. Sauced: tick tick. Visible chillies: tick tick tick. The ‘Ministry Chicken Ribs’ were incredibly moreish, and I think everyone was just being polite when we were down to the last one; we all wanted that last rib.image

I was recovering from a cold at the time, so I requested that I&E order a soupy dish. This pork, seafood and tofu number really hit the spot. Well seasoned, so it crossed the bland/clean flavours line – which is one way to judge if a chef really knows what they’re doing when it comes to Southern Chinese (read Cantonese) food – the pork was reasonably tender, and the wo ngaa baak (that’s what we call wombok in Canto) still had a hint of crispness about it.image

The last dish was also a winner, though it sounds strange and unappetising on the menu. “Shanghai scrambled egg white”; what, am I having breakfast at a cafe next to a gym? But no, it was actually great. The egg white was chiffon-y and delicate, and it was riddled with little slivers of crab meat. I’d definitely order this again.image

So anyway, as you can see, even though my old partners in crime have moved away, things will always remain half- mostly eaten.image

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Fake meat

I read (most of) Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals while I was on holiday in Malaysia, while eating my way to using a new notch on my belt. It made me think more closely about what I choose to eat, but ultimately, it hasn’t really made me change the way I eat. I’m an unapologetic omnivore.

White Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant
185 Victoria St, West Melbourne
Phone: 9326 6040

So when Bryan and Lauren recently (re)visited White Lotus and raved about the faux meat dishes, I knew this was something I also wanted to re-investigate. These ‘fake meats’ have been made for centuries by Buddhists, who are strict vegetarians. They’re made of different manipulations of beans and grains, like tofu, tempeh and glutens, and you know what? They do lack that satisfaction that comes with smashing a rare eye fillet steak or a bucket of fried chicken, but at times, they’re a pretty close facsimile.

I met up with two members of the Delta Force Five for dinner at White Lotus, and let’s say I was a little trepidatious. The place is only open three night a week, and looks like it may have opened in the eighties, and not have been renovated since. The lighting is a little dim, making the overall effect dingy, but the service is friendly, and as you’ll see, the food is interesting. Apologies for the god awful photos, but as I said, the place was dingy.

We started by sharing some mixed entrees. Spring rolls and wontons – the vegetarian versions of which are nothing new – and fried taro cutlets. These were awesome. Seriously, taro is probably one of the most under-rated vegeatbles around. Potatoes got nothing on the density of that starch.
image At Ms K’s request, we got the Sweet and Sour ‘Pork’, an Aussie Chinese classic, and one that is dear to my own heart. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so great. Funnily, what let it down wasn’t so much the fake pork. While that wasn’t amazing, it wasn’t offensive, either. What let the dish down was the batter, which was already a bit soggy by the time it arrived at the table. I would have thought such masters with glutens and flours would be able to mix together a great batter which stays crunchy!
image Ms N insisted we order the ma po tofu, which was really quite good. The replacement for the pork mince was something like TVP, but this didn’t really detract much from the dish, which is all about the tofu and the spicy sauce anyway. This is definitely not the best ma po tofu I’ve had in Melbourne, but it’s passable.
image Finally, I ordered the roast ‘duck’, because I’d heard of the amazing textures in this dish. Three different treatments of non-meat had been combined to create the meat, crispy skin, and even subcutaneous fat layer of the roast ‘duck’. The flavour wasn’t quite there, but texturally, this was amazing. A couple at another table came in, and just ordered two serves of the roast ‘duck’ and rice, and I can see why. I wouldn’t share this if I didn’t have to.
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Yong Green Food
421 Brunswick, Fitzroy
Phone: 9417 3338

A few nights later, I caught up with my old housemate Le Singe. I’d heard a lot about Yong Green Food, especially the ‘rawsagne’, but in the end it was too cold and gloomy a night for raw food that hadn’t been heated above 40 degrees. So we started by sharing the mung bean pancake, which was really quite enjoyable. It wasn’t as thin as a crepe, but not really pancake thickness either; maybe as thick as a pancake made using plain flour. You could taste the mung beans, which reminded me a little of banh xeo, and the flavour gave me the overall impression of being healthy, though not in a bad way, like spirulina. The dipping sauce was a bit meh.
image Yong Green Food is primarily vegetarian, with a heavy Asian slant to the menu, but given the name and the cute little waitresses who all had similar bob haircuts, I’d say there’s a pretty strong Korean bias happening there. So I thought I’d try the Korean BBQ dish, which was sliced soy ‘beef’ with vegetables and rice.
image While there was nothing offensive about this dish – it was perfectly edible – it was pretty disappointing. The ‘beef’ didn’t have even the slightest hint of being grilled, so the term ‘BBQ’ was a pretty outlandish claim. There was also a lack of spice, which again was a bit baffling.

Le Singe had the teriyaki chicken, which she quite enjoyed.
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We had arrived quite early, because I had a soccer game late in the evening, and gobbled up our food by about 7:30. We were promptly given the bill, which we settled, and then we continued to chat away. A few minutes later, one of the waitresses came over and asked us to leave, because they had people waiting for a table. Now I understand the need to turn tables over, and not keep people waiting, but unless you’re clearly advertising specific seating times, I think asking customers to leave once they’re finished is pretty bad form. It was a disappointing end to a somewhat disappointing meal, really. I probably won’t be back anytime soon.
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