I’m spending the next few days in Melbourne visiting friends and family – oh, and to officially graduate from my Masters course with a fancy hat and dodgy staged photos and all. After the actual ceremony yesterday, my parents, brother and I went to a new restaurant that had recently opened up near our home in Springvale for a celebratory dinner.
Eating out with my parents generally guarantees two things – it will be a Chinese restaurant (or something similar), and it will be cheap and tasty. Even though they don’t eat out all that often, they have a real knack for sniffing out the good places. The main attraction at Nha Hang 5 Sao Chinese & Vietnamese BBQ Vegetarian Restaurant was that it had advertised a cheap four-person set menu of their special dishes.
The restaurant was nearly empty when we arrived at 8pm, we were clearly the last customers of the day. Not unusual in this part of town, where the cultural background and habits of most residents tend to lend itself to early starts and early dinners. After some guidance on menu choices from the owner, we ended up ordering the following dishes.
The lemongrass pork chops were really lightly battered, and done well considering that it is not unusual to find that this dish at other restaurants often has a centimetre worth of batter surrounding it. Great use of a light batter, and the lemongrass was quite subtle as well, and not overpowering.
The barramundi with bitter melon, bean curd skin and black pepper sauce was a surprise – largely because I misheard the order and thought my mother had ordered traditional Chinese shallot and soy steamed fish (my favourite!). I didn’t expect a grilled fish with lots of sauce to come out! Despite my initial surprise, I really enjoyed this fish. The skin was lovely and crispy, a nice complement to the softer and silkier flesh. I’m not a fan of bitter melon, but the bean curd skin was really nice because it was quite porous, and had soaked up a lot of the sauce.
The king prawn and vegetable vermicelli hotpot was cooked really simply. There were no overwhelming spices – the chef simply added some simple broth to help start the cooking process, then let the natural flavour of the prawn soak through to the vermicelli noodles. Sometimes, simpler is better, especially when the prawns are as fresh as these were!
The chilli beans with spicy pork mince were lovely and crunchy. I thought the dish could have done with a tad more chilli – however, the level of hotness was just about right for my brother who can’t eat chilli. I do have a personal bias towards the hotter the better!
All the above dishes, with rice for the table, a starter soup, and a fruit plate finisher, cost the four of us $65.30. It was really an incredible price, and not one that you could easily find elsewhere. You’d be hard pressed to feed four people a great and substantial meal (with leftovers for the doggy bag) for under $70 elsewhere – or even to buy all the ingredients to cook the dishes yourself.
It was very much a family-run business, with the mother taking our orders (suggesting some good dishes along the way), the teenage son delivering dishes to our table, and a younger son playing on some portable device behind the counter. The whole situation was actually not unlike my childhood spent growing up in a Chinese takeaway shop, when my father would be cooking, my mother would be taking orders, I would be serving, and my brother would be playing on his Gameboy Advance.
Overall, I rate the food a 8 out of 10. While the food was really quite good (I couldn’t point out a fault if you asked), I’m afraid that my sense of what constitutes excellence in Chinese food has been warped by my mother’s excellent cooking. If I rate my mother’s home cooking a 10, there’s no way I could rate any restaurant meal above an 8.
Nha Hang 5 Sao Chinese & Vietnamese BBQ Vegetarian Restaurant is located at 4-4A Balmoral Avenue in Springvale, Victoria.