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Archive for April, 2010

Image courtesy Rockpool

It’s after 11:30 pm and I haven’t eaten. In Spain, this is normal. In Melbourne, however, options dwindle quickly.  As fortune has it, Partner and I are at Crown Casino. As fortune also has it, we have both been freshly eliminated from a seven hour poker tournament and we need a feed. A franchise burger ain’t going to cut it.

We’re not in a gambling mood; but we have to play dinner lotto nonetheless.

There are plenty of dining options at Crown, more than 40 eateries in fact, but few of them offer a full menu close to midnight.

After what seemed like a 10 km trek from the poker room we ambled into Rockpool Bar & Grill, arriving at the maître d‘s desk looking faint and dishevelled. Were they still serving dinner?

No.

If we promised to order just steak and not dawdle over our food, were they still serving dinner?

Yes.

I don’t normally beg, but it turned out to be my first winning move of the day. I’m not sure whether it was our desperation or our disappointment that got us over the line into the dining room. Whatever the case, seconds later we were seated and given time and space to review the menu.

Not that we needed much time. We were here for the celebrated steak, so it was a matter of choosing between the different cuts and varying qualities. The menu delineates between the all lower-case ‘david blackmore full blood wagyu’ (the priciest), ‘cape grim dry aged 36 month old grass fed’ (I ordered the T-bone, medium rare), and ‘rangers valley dry aged 300 day grain fed’ (partner ordered the fillet, rare). Most of the steaks here cost around $50, with prime cuts of the wagyu creeping above the $100 mark.

There are plenty of other enticing looking options on the menu, like steamed live Tasmanian clams with Joselito Iberico ham, chili, tomato and chickpeas, but here the wood fire grill is King, with quail, pork sausages, lamb, chicken and seafood all getting a lick of it’s complex charry goodness.

It’s my second visit, so I have a vague idea of what to expect. In fact, I’m not sure if my first visit actually counts because I was little bit too high on beer and poker to notice anything but the perfect steak and substandard “mac-and-cheese”. The home-style dish was grainy; a mac-and-cheese no-no.

It’s late and I want a fat-and-carb side dish so I’m tempted to order it again.  But, I figure if my drunk brain was critical, my sober one would be even more unimpressed.

We order a modestly priced half bottle of 2005 Château Bernadotte Haut Médoc from an encyclopaedic, wonderful, steak-friendly list. I can barely make out its brick red meniscus. It’s dark in here, but it is almost midnight. I’m a bit nervous about finding my way to the bathroom and back again without running into something or getting lost.

The steak-friendly sides like potato puree and creamed silverbeet hover at around the $10 mark, likewise the salads. We opt for the chopped cos calad and tomato, olive, and basil salad. They’re good. The steak is perfect. The wine is invisible but wonderful.  The service was efficiently cheerful. I wished we’d been here earlier so we could dawdle. Here, the atmosphere is of the lingering kind.

Rockpool Bar & Grill

Crown Casino Complex

8 Whiteman St, Southbank
Ph: 8648 1900

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Fried crispy noodles with vegetables & mushroom

When bargaining on a new postcode, we all have a few non-negotiable demands.  These might include anything from a skilled beauty therapist within waxing distance, a Pilates studio or, as is the case with an older male acquaintance of mine, the assurance of viewing Aussie Rules practice at least bi-weekly.

Personally, I won’t settle on a new address without guarantee of adequate public transport, a decent pizzeria and a 24 hour convenience store.  At the top of my priority list, however, is proximity to a cracking Chinese restaurant.

It doesn’t have to be Sichuan. It doesn’t have to shun MSG. In fact, the more evocative it is of eighties Australian-Chinese cooking it is, the better.  For those of us raised on the honey prawns or sweet and sour fish of the Women’s Weekly Cookbook, this particular local take on Cantonese cooking says nothing short of comfort.

In later years, we Australians have opened our mouths and demanded authenticity to fill them.  This, of course, is a wonderful thing.  These days, we need only travel to Box Hill, Springvale or Chinatown to experience a first-rate version of provincial Chinese cooking.  But, every now and then, I crave nothing more than the traditions of 20th Century Australian-Chinese cooking.

Those restaurants exist, of course.  Aussie-Chinese chefs have, after all, been evolving these flavours since the gold rush.  But, to be frank, they’re often fairly ordinary.

There is, however, a chef who is maintaining the tradition of Aussie-Chinese.

Shannon Chan has brought his solid nothing-experimental-just-great food from Tea House at Chinatown to an area that desperately needed it: mine. Since Tea Garden Oakleigh opened on the corner of Dandenong Road and Warrigal Road, partner and I whizzed past numerous times in the car, wary yet hopeful that the dearth had finally being addressed.

After dining in, and days later taking away, I can confirm: this place rocks.

Here we have clean lines, minimal decor, linen and the sort of attentive silver service rarely seen outside of places like Vue de Monde.  But, frankly, they could hurl dishes like the sautéd King prawns in home made xo chilli sauce at me and I’d still beg for more.  These are a big ticket item at $28.90. But the taste, oh the taste, immediately takes the sting out of the cost.

Deep fried shredded beef in Peking sauce is tasty but a little one-dimensional. The Peking sauce is a not dissimilar to a hoisin or sweet and sour sauce, it glazes the lightly battered beef strips beautifully. It’s not complex but I did eat it in three seconds flat.

Fried crispy noodles with vegetables & mushroom is something I’ve put in my mouth again and again. It’s a generous serve of pak choi and shitake mushrooms with not-so-crispy noodles. Any disappointment about a lack of crunch is eclipsed by perfectly balanced flavours and expertly cooked greens.

For locals, there’s extraordinary value to be had from the take away menu, where prices drop dramatically. The sublime sautéed king prawns we had are only $19.80 if you take them home to scoff in private. And, the way we eat them, it’s probably for the best.

All hail the return of the Women’s Weekly aesthetic.  Every now and then, it’s the only way to eat.

Tea Garden Oakleigh

1384 Dandenong Road, Oakleigh, Tel: 9563 1238

www.teagardenoakleigh.com.au

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