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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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