Review: Fancy Oriental, Box Hill

Throughout my childhood years, my family had a ritual of eating dinner particularly early. Most days after I finished school and got home by 4pm, there would be just enough time for me to unpack my school bag, take an early shower and then sit down to a family dinner at 4.30pm. That was my parents’ way of ensuring that we all managed to spend half an hour together as a family before they opened up the takeaway shop at 5pm.

Over the years since my parents closed the shop, we’ve slowly begun to move to a later mealtime…though not always with success as my father will often have a hearty ‘pre-dinner’ meal around 4pm to get him through to a 7pm dinner. This habit of early eating does make things difficult sometimes, particularly when you show up to a restaurant at 5pm when the staff are still eating their own dinner! That was the case when we went to Fancy Oriental in Box Hill for a rather early dinner.

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Luckily, the staff were nice enough to let us in and sit down to read the menu while they finished their own meals. It did mean that we were the first to order, and the first to get our food with the first dish landing on our table at just a quarter past five! Talk about an early dinner…

Dad ordered the Fried Glutinous Rice as a nice change from our usual steamed jasmine rice or Yangzhou fried rice. Absolutely delicious in its own right, and a dish I would order again. However, not a great dish to have with some of the other dishes we ordered as it was already so full of flavour that you really couldn’t use it as a base to soak up some of the other sauces. 

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I was a little horrified that Dad ordered the Sweet and Sour Pork. Along with dishes like lemon chicken and beef in black bean sauce, sweet and sour pork is the type of dish that K and I will often make fun of as the ‘typical’ Chinese Australian takeaway dish. This version however is an improvement on what you would normally find in a takeaway, with more of an emphasis on sour rather than sweet which means that every time you bite into a chunk of pineapple or capsicum, the sweetness really breaks through and highlights the dish.

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I’m not sure what you would call this dish…perhaps Chinese Broccoli with Roasted Garlic and Goji Berries? The garlic is roasted first then cooked in the broth with the goji berries, with the tender young broccoli being added at the last minute. The result is a particularly rich roasted vegetarian dish that goes beyond the usual steamed or stir-fried greens.

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I also don’t quite know how to translate the name of this dish – maybe something like Seafood Medley? Dad was the only person who really enjoyed this dish because of the heavy use of sea cucumber. Perfect for those who like it and the texture, but not so good for those who don’t. I did enjoy picking out the plump prawns, tender calamari, and juicy mushrooms though.

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One of my highlights was the Salt and Pepper Tofu, a personal favourite that I do like to order when I’m out as it’s very difficult to recreate at home. The trick is to have a piping hot deep-fryer to get the perfect crispy shell on the tofu and unfortunately I can’t get my stove hot enough at home so my home-made versions normally go soggy! This however, was deliciously crisp with a soft tofu centre that melts in your mouth. With fresh herbs and crispy shallots on top, it’s a real winner.

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Our last dish was a Beef Brisket Curry – a very different dish and not one you would normally find in a Chinese restaurant. The curry was very fragrant though and the brisket particularly succulent and tender. This is the type of dish where having plain steamed jasmine rice would have come in handy, to soak up all that delicious curry sauce.

Fancy Oriental is pretty good as far as Chinese restaurants go in Box Hill. Staff are friendly and accommodating (particularly given the early hour at which we dined!) and the food and service was prompt. The food is done well, and in some cases (the curry and the broccoli in particular), it’s done with a twist, a slice of innovation that distinguishes it from its neighbours.

Fancy Oriental is located at 606 Station St, Box Hill.

Review: Dumpling World, Melbourne

Good pre-travel food in airports and train stations is hard to find. Speedy is what most people look for – fast service, so you can eat a full meal in under half an hour. Too often when travelling around Europe, we found ourselves eating soggy sandwiches from uninspiring grab-and-go stores to ensure we could make it onto the plane or train on time. The real exceptions I can think of are Jamie’s Italian in Gatwick Airport, and more locally, MoVida in Sydney Airport.

I’m happy to announce to Melbournians that there’s a restaurant close to Southern Cross station that can have you fed and out the door in half an hour, ensuring that you can catch your regional V-line train, or Skybus to the airport.

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K and I recently had a quick meal at Dumpling World on Collins St, mere steps away from Southern Cross station. We walked into the restaurant at 6.30pm, and were on the train platform by 7pm in time to catch our evening train to Bendigo for the weekend.

It’s not a fancy restaurant – it’s pretty cheap and no-nonsense and the staff don’t give out friendly smiles readily. However, it is worthy of note given that it’s quite a distance from Chinatown where you would normally find cheap and satisfying Chinese food.

Pork and cabbage dumplings, $10.50
Pork and cabbage dumplings, $10.50

We started off with the Pork and Cabbage Dumplings, a pretty standard Chinese dumpling dish. I found the wrappings on these dumplings quite thick, making it more akin to a thick skinned jiao zi than a thinner skinned Shanghainese xiao long bao or Cantonese har gow. A simple dumpling with quite a soft and fatty pork filling, but quite delicious when dipped in a vinegar and chilli sauce (mix your own in your bowl!).

Northern east cold noodles, $15.80
Northern east cold noodles, $15.80

It was quite a warm day, so we also ordered the Northern East Cold Noodles to share. I loved each individual element of these cold noodles, and would probably have liked them even more if we’d been more able to mix it all together as you’re supposed to. As it was, the cold rice noodles had so clumped together that it became impossible to mix the dish together, meaning that you were left with mouthfuls of just salty savouring mince meat sauce, or mouthfuls of dry un-seasoned noodles. Not ideal. 

Spring Onion Pancake, $5.80
Spring Onion Pancake, $5.80

We finished our meal by over-ordering (naturally) a Spring Onion Pancake to share as well. I found it rather over-doughy inside, as the pancake was a bit thicker than what I would normally prefer. There was also a distinct lack of spring onions in the pancake. A little bit disappointing, though at least the exterior was nice and crispy and crunchy.

Dumpling World isn’t the best Chinese restaurant in town – not by far. What it does offer though is reasonable dishes, cooked quickly and sent to your table in time for you to catch a train. Make sure to order the dumplings rather than other dishes for a guaranteed good meal at a cheap price. It certainly beats a soggy sandwich from Woolworths any day!

Dumpling World is located at 608 Collins St, Melbourne.

Review: The Rice Bowl, Manchester England

If there’s one truth about finding good Chinese food, it’s this – never trust online reviews, and follow the local crowds instead. When we arrived in Manchester from Cardiff, we decided to quickly look up places where we could have dinner that night. Knowing that there was a large Chinese population in Manchester and predicting that the Chinese food would be of a similarly high standard as Australia with its large Chinese population, we decided that we wanted to go out for Chinese food.

After consulting a few different blog entries from Mancunians and a half dozen or so publications listing their “Top Five” Chinese restaurants in Manchester, I settled on The Rice Bowl as the restaurant most likely to provide a decent dining experience for us. How wrong I was – as soon as we walked downstairs into their subterranean dining room we knew we had made a mistake. Instead of being filled with fellow Cantonese speakers as we were at New Fortune Cookie in London, we found ourselves seated amongst pairs of older English people in a near-empty restaurant.

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Too polite to backtrack out of the restaurant to go in search for something more genuine, we settled ourselves in to make the most of the evening. A basket of complimentary Prawn Crackers to start helped to brighten the evening as it put me in mind of the days of my childhood when my cousins and I would sneak down to my parents takeaway shop to steal a bag of prawn crackers as a treat.

Basket of Steamed Dim Sum (10.95 GBP), including prawn and meat dumpling, king prawn dumpling, beef dumpling with ginger and spring onion, chicken and vegetables and chive dumpling, shittake mushroom stuffed with prawn meat, sushi roll with crab meat
Basket of Steamed Dim Sum (10.95 GBP), including prawn and meat dumpling, king prawn dumpling, beef dumpling with ginger and spring onion, chicken and vegetables and chive dumpling, shittake mushroom stuffed with prawn meat, sushi roll with crab meat

In the mood for some dim sum after a disappointing experience in Zagreb, we ordered the Basket of Steamed Dim Sum – they also offered a range of grilled and fried dim sum as well, but as any yum cha connoisseur would know, steamed is the way to go! The siu mai was the best of the lot with a thick meaty filling that was highlighted nicely with some crunchy mushrooms.

Unfortunately the other dim sum were more disappointing, ranging from overcooked and soggy skins to an unexplainable presence in the bamboo steamer basket. I’m not sure under what circumstances sushi rolls should be steamed! I think the mistake made here was that all the dim sum were placed in the basket and steamed for the same amount of time – which worked well for the siu mai, but resulted in overcooking on the other items. The kitchen really should have taken the time to steam each item individually before placing them all in a collective basket, to ensure that each item is steamed the right amount.

Chicken Sweet Corn Soup (3.95 GBP)
Chicken Sweet Corn Soup (3.95 GBP)

The Chicken Sweet Corn Soup was adequate, though it lacked the body that my homemade soup tends to have. It’s very important to get the egg to soup ratio just right – I tend to average the use of three eggs per two serves of soup, whereas this really only had one egg in it at most.

Hot Pot of roasted duck with vegetables and shittake mushrooms in hoisin sauce (10.95 GBP)
Hot Pot of roasted duck with vegetables and shittake mushrooms in hoisin sauce (10.95 GBP)

In the mood for some duck, we ordered the Hot Pot of Roasted Duck with Vegetables and Shittake Mushrooms in Hoisin Sauce, served on top of a little gas burner. The duck was quite well done with a nice crispy skin – if only they had been a little less liberal with the hoisin sauce. At least it didn’t affect the vegetables which remained nice and fresh and crispy.

Hot Pot of glass noodles, deep fried tofu, mixed vegetables with satay sauce (7.95 GBP)
Hot Pot of glass noodles, deep fried tofu, mixed vegetables with satay sauce (7.95 GBP)

We ordered another Hot Pot with Glass Noodles, Deep Fried Tofu and Vegetables with Satay Sauce. Again served on a gas burner, we would have been better off ordering something a bit plainer – perhaps a simple mixed vegetable dish with garlic and spring onion. As it was, having two dishes both with a heavy-handed use of sauce (hoisin and satay) made for a meal that clung unpleasantly to ones palate, pleading for a breath mint.

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Unfortunately The Rice Bowl didn’t quite live up to the standard of Chinese food that we’re used to and were hoping for. The kitchen is particularly heavy-handed in their use of sauces, lacking that delicate touch which helps to characterise a particularly good Chinese dish. They also seem to cut corners in a detrimental way – the steaming of dumplings for example, deserves more thoughtful timekeeping to ensure that each different dumpling is perfectly turned out.

I can’t recommend The Rice Bowl as a Chinese restaurant of note in Manchester I’m afraid…and I fear that our negative experience actually put us off trying any other Chinese establishments in Chinatown! Any Mancunians want to suggest somewhere more authentic for us to try on our next visit?

The Rice Bowl is located at 33a Cross St in Manchester, England.