Saturday, October 10, 2009

New Kum Den, Melbourne

I had yet to venture out to Chinatown on a Friday night.  Having spent all day eating out, I thought I may as well continue to do so for my evening meal. 

This wasn't a planned visit.  My friend and I purely ended up in Chinatown for sake of ease, vicinity and value for money. 

We wondered up Little Bourke Street and we came across a well lit place down one of the many dark Chinatown laneways called 'New Kum Den'.  OK, so at the time the name didn't really register in my famished state.  On reflection, I can see how it may not sound like the most tantalizing of places. 

We stepped onto the front porch and on hearing the sounds of lively chatter starting to emanate ever louder, we both smiled in approval and opened the door leading into the restaurant.

We were instantly greeted by the manager as we asked for a table for two.  With a quick glance around, he pointed in the direction of a table at the back next to the wall.  It gave us the perfect viewing point from which to observe dishes being brought out to the other diners. 

Personally, I love being able to see what other people have ordered so that I can assess what the food looks like and try to guess what they are.  It also gives me an idea on portion size.

So, on looking around, we saw that portion sizes were indeed generous here.  From our brief, but careful observations, we decided that choosing one dish each to share, would be more than adequate for the both of us.

A polite waiter arrived with some menus for us.  On viewing it, I can explain that the menu is broken down into easy headings of appetizers, the different proteins, noodle and rice dishes, followed by a handful of desserts. 

We agreed on the 'Seafood combination and tofu claypot' (at $22.80) and the 'Shredded beef with black pepper sauce on fried noodles' (at $12.80).  For refreshment, a pot of Chinese tea to refresh and cleanse our palates was ordered.

For those who have never experienced Chinese claypot dishes before, let me start by saying that they are extremely tasty, and claypot cooking is also one of my favourite methods of Chinese cuisine.  It's an ancient technique of cooking food (which is not only confined to Chinese cuisine).  All the ingredients are placed together in what is a traditional Chinese style unglazed single handed claypot.  The claypot, having been soaked in water releases steam when cooking.  The end result, when done well, is a beautiful steaming hot pot of deliciousness. 

It didn't take too long for our dishes to arrive, but it was long enough given the rumbles in my tummy. 

The seafood claypot had slices of carrot and a handful of coriander on top.  There was an abundance of plump prawns, sliced scallops and curly squid, all of which we agreed were cooked to perfection - tender, juicy, and so not chewy at all!   There were also pieces of soft white fish, fried silken tofu (which was lovingly melt in your mouth) and gorgeous bok choy greens at the bottom.  It was a meal in itself and a truly magnificent one at that.  I have to confess, it was really very, VERY good indeed.  And we managed to scrape out every last morsel!

(I forgot to take photgraph before I tucked in again, sorry folks!)

The noodles with beef had slices of spring onions (green onions) and white onions in a peppery sauce which softened the bed of crispy noodles underneath.  As we sampled this dish, my friend announced with a little disdain on her face, how much they reminded her of 'two minute packet noodles'.  Sadly, I had to agree.  

In order to add some 'kick' to this dish, we decided that chilli paste oil was essential.  Although this dish, especially when compared to the Combination seafood and tofu claypot, was bland in flavour, I must admit to finding noodle dishes in Chinese restaurants (the world over) pretty bland in taste.  It seems that chilli is an essential condiment to enhancing noodle dishes.  Nevertheless, any lack of flavour did not stop us from polishing most of it off. 

As we sat back to digest our meal, our plates and bowls were cleared leaving behind a splattered canvas of pepper sauce, chilli paste oil, tea and other small remnants from our dishes on the white paper table cloth. 

The restaurant was heaving and suddenly the sound of 'Happy Birthday' started to jingle over the loud speakers.  It sounded like something from a Japanese karaoke tape.  'Hello Kitty' where are you?!

We saw a waiter walk towards the round table of diners next to us carrying a small dish of what looked like a square white jellied dessert with a single lit candle.  Everyone started to clap and sing along to the Happy Birthday tune being belted out.  The table next to us jeered 'Happy Birthday Hayden!'  whilst everyone applauded.  He obviously relished in the attention as he stood up and started doing a body wave holding the little dessert in the palm of his hand to the rapturous clapping of the whole restaurant.  We both laughed, a little out of astonishment and a little out of embarrassed amazement. 

However, this light entertainment brought smiles and laughter to everyone in the place.  And just as we settled down to resume our previous conversation, we heard the same Happy Birthday tune being belted out again.  This time, everyone started to ardently look around trying to figure out who the next birthday victim was.  It turned out to be a lady sitting at another round table and unlike the last guy, she looked utterly embarrassed.  She received her birthday dessert looking very much so, and managed to smile at her fellow friends on her table.  

Everyone soon settled down again and returned to their normal chitter chatter.  My friend and I were now hoping that they weren't going to do this to every table just for the fun of it.  Luckily for us, this didn't happen.

We decided that we were now in the mood for dessert (probably having seen the birthday desserts!) and we asked for the menus again.  My friend went for the 'Deep fried ice-cream' and I chose the 'Deep fried banana fritter with ice-cream.'  Blow the calories I thought, there's always tomorrow...

Chinese restaurants (the world over) are generally not renowned for their visual assembly of food.  So when our desserts arrived, I really did not expect anything elaborate.  And quite rightly too, no fancy presentation was spared.  I'll let you guess which was what.

Unfortunately, my friend didn't think much of her deep fried ice-cream.  And although mine looked more like a battered English sausage with a lump of lard, the banana fritter was in fact rather nice.  It had syrup drizzled over the top and the banana was sweet and soft.  The ice-cream was nothing to write home about though.  It had the texture of cheap ice-cream with just a hint of flavour.  But for $5 a piece, I'm not going to complain too much.

All in all, the claypot was the winner of the evening.  I would certainly go back for their claypot again and perhaps try some dim sum which looked delightful on the next table.  The waiters were polite and friendly, which is something of a rarity in Chinese restaurants, again the world over.

If you want to embarrass your friend's on their birthday, then be sure to book a table here, inform the waiters and you won't be disappointed.

15 Hefferman Lane, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Tel: +61 (0)3 9639 9857

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