First taste

604 Station St, Box Hill
Phone: 9890 8788

It’s not often that my family goes out to eat together. More often than not, we’ll eat at my parents’ place because it’s easier, and because having been restauranteurs for over two decades, they’re understandably a bit picky about food. It’s something I’ve picked up from them, I think; my tendency to critique a meal as I’m eating it is almost a reflex action.

A while back, we went to First Taste in Box Hill. I was curious, as I’ve walked past the Footscray branch a few times, and been intrigued by the huge laminated photos and the quirky bamboo fence treatment in the front window. The Box Hill branch seems a little more of an upmarket affair, with the decor of a well-established 80s Chinese restaurant: octagonal windows, laminated newspaper write-ups, and a television mounted on the wall. Though actually, they also had pretty cool black and white photos of China on the wall.
There was much consternation as Mum and Dad perused the menu, and they were a little thrown when the waitress only spoke Mandarin. They like to ask about things on the menu, and when we go to a Chinese restaurant – which is most of the time – they expect to be able to do so in Cantonese.
Since First Taste is all about herbal soups and claypot dishes, that’s exactly what we ordered. We each got a different herbal soup, after Mum and my sister had a conversation assessing the suitability of each herbal soup for my father and I. Mum and Dad both Dad had a pretty classic chicken and ginseng soup.

My sister had a watercress and chicken number.


And I got this murky one.


But, as with all Chinese soups, it’s not about looks. This was pork and some sort of medicinal root, I forget which, but my sister said it would be good as a chi tonic. And I don’t argue with her on that sort of thing, because she’s a qualified Chinese doctor. It also had some dried longans in it, so it was a nice salty-sweet flavour combination, not uncommon in Chinese soups. Red dates and dried longans are often used to balance the salted pork that forms the basis of many soups.


Then we moved onto the claypot rice. We shared three between us, as none of us were particularly hungry. I’d had a late lunch that day, and Dad’s taken to snacking on sandwiches around 3pm in his retirement. I look forward to retirement.

The claypots came out with little heavy iron lids on top, which were ceremonially removed by the staff to reveal the steaming hot contents. This one was a braised beef brisket with daikon. The sauce was hearty and rich, perfectly made for spooning over your steamed rice.
We also got a seafood combination claypot. And I don’t care if those ‘crab calls’ were full of seafood extender, they were still delicious and had a great springy texture.
There was some other vegetable and tofu claypot, but I was too busy eating to take a photo by the time it arrived.
All in all, I really quite liked First Taste. It’s unassuming traditional Cantonese family fare. Bryan has told me that the Footscray branch isn’t much chop, but with my mother chastising me for not making soup for myself often enough, this is probably an easy, nourishing cheat’s option!
First Taste on Urbanspoon

Fu Long

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…

Fu Long on Urbanspoon

Seoulia Korean BBQ Buffet!

980 Whitehorse Rd
Box Hill
Phone: 9899 2696

It was my mother’s birthday yesterday, so the family decided to go out for dinner together. Now, being of a migrant working class come small business owner heritage, my family tends to eschew fancy expensive restaurants in favour of flavour and reasonable prices. And we’re certainly no strangers to buffets nor at-table cooking. Yet my parents were restauranteurs for over twenty years of their lives, so let’s just say they have certain standards. So when my sister suggested Korean BBQ, I was pretty sure we were on a winner. And when a little online research found Seoulia, I just knew we’d nailed it.

We arrived to find the place abuzz, but not full, with people sitting around massive boar-shaped grills, with lowered extraction fans not doing all that much to extract away the smell of grilling meats.

It wasn’t long before we’d loaded up our piggy with various bits of bulgogi, calamari and baby octopus as well.

Of course, we also grabbed some of the mountains of kim chi at the buffet.

Pro tips: the best things on offer are the beef bulgogi, and the marinated chicken giblets. Oh. My. God. I could eat those giblets all day. The chicken ribs are also good. And for those craving a little vegetable matter to go with so much animal flesh, there are mushrooms to grill, and it helps to grab lots of cucumber to munch while waiting for the meat to cook. Also, bulgogi is awesome when wrapped in lettuce (that might be my Vietnamese food heritage coming through).

When we were finally finished (and stuffed) with the meat, the waiters came and removed the massive steel boar plate, to reveal that it was in fact resting on three little mini cast-iron piggies. Too cute!

We cleansed our palates with copious orange slices and I had a cone with a scoop of chocolate ice cream – all included in the buffet!

The logistical details – Seoulia has two sittings per evening (each officially lasting for 1 1/2 hours, but with a two hour maximum, apparently – don’t worry, you’ll be well stuffed within an hour) and costs $26.50 per head ($29.50 on weekends, I think). You pay for everything in advance (including drinks – they have beer and soju, but I’m not sure abut wine) which felt a little funny, but I guess is generally how a buffet works. Oh, and there’s a $10 wastage fee if you don’t finish the meat you take from the buffet to your table, so don’t stock up on things in bulk, just make multiple trips. The tables were a little cramped, but the service was efficient.