Food and Drink
Posted by Dan Kuseta
09. Jan, 2012
I’m a sticky beak from way back, so my interest was naturally piqued by the hoards of people constantly milling outside Taiwan Cafe, a restaurant that opened opposite Curtin House a few months back. Claiming to serve Taiwanese Street Food and with the words ‘Dumplings’ ‘Noodles’ and ‘Rice’ enigmatically floating above the signage, I made it my business to learn more.
Turns out it’s not that simple. On my first two attempts I was told there was a 20 minute wait. Time was short and my stomach wasn’t in the mood to dally and I ended up going to Dumplings Plus two doors down instead. By the third attempt I was prepared, cleared the afternoon calendar, and after another wait with other hopefuls a mate and I finally gained admittance through the gleaming red doors.
Inside the place is noisy, smells pretty good and is packed with more people than the 5.01pm Limited Express to Frankston. We elbow our way to the back and are ushered upstairs, where even more people are somehow crammed in. My pal and I are wedged around a table (that’s more like a bench) between two groups of four. The experience is not unlike being on an airplane.
On the upside the close quarters lets you have a gander at what everyone else is eating. I’ve never been to Taiwan and don’t know much about the cuisine but soon gather frying seems to be the preferred medium.
Under the menu section Traditional Taiwanese Street Snacks there’s Crispy Fried Chicken, Fried Oyster Omelette, Fried Pork Chop, Fried Spring Onion pancake, Fried Fish Balls and Chicken Maryland (you guessed it: whole deep fried chicken marinated with ginger, garlic and spring onion).
If you don’t feel like fried there’s a selection of dumplings and more unusual stuff like the Pork Belly Burger and Wasabi Prawns. The huge beef noodle soups seem popular.
We go for the Taiwanese Style Popcorn Chicken ($7.50) and pan fried pork dumplings, billed as a house specialty ($9.50 for a dozen).
The chicken comes first (after the mandatory 20 minute wait), fresh from the fryer and nobly glistening. The batter is light, not too oily and nicely crispy. There’s no eleven secret herbs and spices with this dish, just good old fashioned S&P. Along Gami, one of the better fried chicken dishes I’ve tried.
So far so good.
A dozen big, rough boulders arrive next. The dumplings don’t look pretty, but I’m not here for the view. The skin is chewy rather than crisp, the mince pork filling well seasoned but sadly not hot enough. The dumplings seem like they’ve been sitting around for a bit before arriving at our table and have been cooled, so what might have been a thing of beauty becomes ‘meh’ at best. For something billed as their signature dish it was disappointing.
As soon as the last dumpling was done our bill was slapped down on the table. We got the message and hustled our way down the stares and past the next load of customers (it almost takes 20 minutes to get out).
So Taiwan Cafe didn’t blow me away, but there was enough interesting stuff on the menu, like the Pork Belly Burger, that I’ll give it another shot. So many people can’t be wrong, right?
Or maybe they’re all fellow sticky beaks.
273 Swanston St, Melbourne
Open daily 11am – 11pm
In the first of our monthly peek behind-the-scenes of Melbourne's restaurant scene, we witness the mayhem and madness of Chin Chin's daily staff meal. Affectionately known at 'trough'.
We were lucky enough to attend Chin Chin's first birthday bash and document David Thompson's 13-course degustation as it happened.