My family dropped out of the suburban takeaway shop trade ten years ago, when the rise of TV shows like Masterchef meant that every Tom, Dick and Harry started experimenting with cooking lemon chicken and sweet and sour pork in their own kitchens, rather than ordering from their local Chinese takeaway shop.
Needless to say, I have admiration for any family-run, low-key restaurant that still manages to turn a regular trade in these days of worshipping celebrity chefs and the newest hipster cafe in town. On the whole, I do try to favour smaller restaurants with my custom, to do my bit in keeping family-run businesses alive. I’m not unlike my father in that sense.
Minh Xuong Chinese Restaurant on Victoria Street in Richmond, Melbourne, is precisely the type of restaurant that my father likes to frequent. Our family has been visiting this restaurant for well over twenty years. In fact, I remember visiting this restaurant as a young child of no more than seven years old – we would do our regular weekly shopping in the grocery stores nearby, and then come here for a lunch of Chinese barbecued and roasted meats on rice.
Apparently the restaurant has changed hands in the past few years since I was last here, but the menu remains consistent. I went back recently for an early dinner with my father and brother before dashing off to the airport for a flight back to Sydney.
In the mood for something warm and hearty, I requested their Special Clay Pot which came out with a bit of everything included in true “combination” dish style. With pieces of their house-roasted meats, tofu, fish cake, fish, prawn and vegetables, this clay pot has something to suit all tastes. The sauce I find is also full of subtle flavours without being too thick and rich, meaning that you don’t leave with that sticky mouth-feel that you can get in other restaurants.
Dad liked the look of the special fried rice that went past us to another table, and insisted on ordering the dish. It reminded me of the special fried rice that he used to cook back in our takeaway shop days – though without as many of ingredients that we used to put in ourselves. The prawn/BBQ pork to rice ratio was a little disappointing.
My brother was suffering from a nasty cold at the time, so in some weird logic and against my recommendations, my father decided that ordering the lemon duck would help with my brother’s symptoms. “It’s citrus!” my father exclaimed. “It’s healthy! It’ll help fight his cold!” Leaving aside the fact that the deep-frying of the duck probably negated whatever minor health benefits the sweet and tangy lemon sauce may have had, I enjoyed the crispy skin and the tender meat of the duck.
Finally, my brother decided to order stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts. I would have personally preferred more variety in the vegetables included in this dish – or perhaps simply more vegetables as a whole as I was definitely feeling the lack of vegetables in the dishes we ordered. This was unremarkable yet enjoyable – the sauce was similar to the hotpot sauce, the chicken was plentiful, and the cashew nuts still crunchy.
All in all, Minh Xuong Restaurant continues to offer my family not just a fairly priced and fairly reliable meal, but also the comfort that family-run neighborhood restaurants are still able to survive and thrive in today’s “bright new thing” restaurant culture. We’ve been coming here for twenty years, and as long as it’s around, we’ll be coming back for the next twenty years as well.