203 Little Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9662 2733
It was a little late in the day for lunch but too early for dinner. At about 3pm, S and I wandered along Little Bourke St in Chinatown on Sat hoping for a quick bite after catching up with friends since 11.30am that day. We've been to Dragon Boat several times, and although perfectly acceptable Yum Cha, it's nothing to write home about. On this trip, we were actually pleasantly surprised to see they will be serving trolley Yum Cha till about 5 that day. We went in and were seated at a table leaning against a glass barrier for another floor just a couple of steps up. There were a fair few people in the restaurant still and more coming in despite the rather unusual hour for meals.
Woefully, the selection was extremely limited so no century egg congee, no sweet beancurd, no deep-fried prawn beancurd roll, no lor mai kai or glutinous rice. We did manage to order some dim sum staples though. The tea we chose was chrysanthemum, and after letting it sit for a while, S poured the tea out to a tiny cup filled with what looked like hot plain water. Never mind, sometimes tea can be colourless but full of flavour. So we took a sniff, hmmm...no delightful aroma, not good. But it's ok, we took a sip of our ahh...water and looked at each other. Alright, there's no hiding it, we were just drinking plain hot water.
But one thing we so insist on at a dim sum outing is some fragrant chilli oil filled with scintillating dried chilli, slightly bitter but oh-so-fried pieces of shallots, garlic for that punch of flavour and of course, that thin layer of oil for dipping into all that combination of spicy saliva-inducing goodness. The bespectacled waiter nodded curtly at us ("annoying people, eating at this time and asking for free condiments, making me walk all the way to the counter to get it, well, I'll show them!"). The result was a little saucer with pure chilli oil. Okaaay. S and I almost thought it was a joke, but one look at the waiter we knew the guy's not capable of any attempt at humour. It was literally oil with a slight tinge of orange and that's it. As we've learnt with the chrysanthemum tea, do judge a poop, I mean book, by its appearance. It tasted bland. Alrighty.
First up, scallop dumplings. The waitress laughed and appeared a bit embarrassed by the selection left and said it's just this time you know. Well ok.
Really love scallop dumplings. They always have the soft translucent texture of skin that allows one a peek of the juicy mix of scallop and prawn within the little sacs of treasure. Upon biting into the slightly chewy but soft outer layer, one can expect a mouthful of savoury sweetness from the filling of the dumpling in an explosion of textural sensation and delightful taste, even from those frozen dumplings you can get from an Asian supermarket.
Except these ones.
The edges where you see it at the top was hard to the point of being plasticky and the actual wrap was pretty rubbery and the taste weirdly tasted the same. The filling was decent enough but dry and you get more prawn and only some shreds of scallop. I'm not sure whether it was the hour we went hence the drying of both the wrap and filling, which would have been a credible excuse if they were offering it with massive discounts for serving food past basic restaurant standard. And even so, I would still not have taken up such an offer. In any case, we paid full price so it's not as if they were doing us a favour by "allowing" us to eat at this time seeing as their sign displayed Yum Cha service till 5pm anyway. The dumplings were unacceptable and we had to discard most of the skin and the fillings that were stuck to it.
In the steamed food trolley, there was a basket of stuffed mushrooms which piqued our interest. Big fans of mushrooms and we haven't gone to a place where they were not done well. Nothing can go wrong.
True enough in this case, the mushrooms were edible and tasted alright. Nothing more, nothing less. The mushrooms were small and lacked the sweetness you normally get from this dish. A lot of the times when seafood filling is stuffed and cooked with the mushrooms, you get an infusion of flavour that makes biting into the mushroom such a juicy delight. Here, it was tremendously oily and the mushrooms were slightly hard but at least they used fresh mushrooms. When we picked the stuffed mushrooms up, the seafood mixture immediately dropped off into a hard mass of its own. However, this was still the best dish of the meal and I really wouldn't mind eating it again if I were to visit the restaurant another time.
A true staple of any dim sum is marinated steamed Chicken Feet, or Phoenix Feet (Feng Zao as the Cantonese call it). It looks good with visible chopped pieces of garlic coating the braised feet. The balance of the marinade was great, wasn't too salty either. Ok, and I can sense you guys knowing a "but" is coming. I really hate having to critique any restaurant dish negatively as this means I've gone through the experience of a blah meal, but I'm not going to lie. The chicken feet were sinewy and the skin was not as tender as they appear. It also did not have the succulence and plumpness of well-braised chicken feet. Too bad really.
My regular favourites for Yum Cha are the rice rolls (Cheong Fun). This time we picked the prawn ones, ok, no choice really as this is the only one they had other than beef. For me, the star of the dish is always the rice roll, not the prawns. Again, disappointment. As we drizzled the sauce over the rice rolls, we can actually see the sauce dry up almost immediately on the rolls, which was quite strange. The outer layer of the rice rolls were again, hard and the rest of it were gelatinous and almost like a glutinous lump.
This came to the end of all the savoury dishes we could take but also due to no other choices, we decided to stop. The arrogance of the restaurant really bothers me. Dragon Boat is obviously an institution in Chinatown, not less also because the shareholder was ex-mayor John So. However, given the amount of competition available right now, Dragon Boat did not feel the need to maintain or uphold basic restaurant standards by serving fresh food. Their food was not fresh. Period. But they did see fit to serve it to full-paying patrons. Perhaps it would be best if they did close for the hours between end of lunch and the start of dinner service rather than serving food not meant to be consumed past their prime.
In any case, we did order desserts. I ordered a mango pudding and S ordered egg tarts, which we've always loved.
Look at these mouth-watering moist custard filled puff pastry tartlets. We do reckon they make one of the best egg tarts in Melbourne. We've bought their egg tarts several times over the years and you never can stop at one, I'm unashamed to admit to have polished off 4 in one go before Dragon Boat underwent the reno. I'm glad to say this time round, these egg tarts completely matched the exacting standards they've set every single time we ever had them. Just the right amount of sweetness in the custard with smooth consistency and the pastry was melt in your mouth good. Really gorgeous desserts, rich yet light, sweet filling works really well with the deliberately bland but texturally sensational flaky pastry. I let S finish the bulk of it even though I wanted to stuff 10 of these in my mouth, ahem. Okaaay, moving right along...
As I smiled awkwardly rejecting S's egg tarts, I ploughed through my mango pudding. My just desserts for ordering that instead of more egg tarts. Ok, stop that NOW CF!
|Top layer is canned evaporated milk, note the disgusting stained teapot in the background|
Back to Mango Pudding. Visually, an artificial sun-tan obsessed dream come through. Bizarrely, it is bright deep orange in colour. S peered over and grimaced a bit, scooping up part of that oozing beautiful smoothly rich (STOP IT NOW) custard in his egg tart. He said, "shouldn't mango look like this colour?" and again pointed at his insanely delicious yellow custard tart. Yeah, rub it in, why don't you? Bravely, I said yes (ok, albeit rather dubiously), but that the taste might be different.
I just knew like with the chrysanthemum piss-weak tea and the chilli-only-oil, that I should trust in appearances. As S watched me put my spoon into the overtanned mango packet-flavoured pudding while munching on his perfect egg tart, I jealously fumed and scooped out an expected grainy chalky mango delight and put it in my mouth. I looked down and tried not to betray the yuckiness and shame at ordering this fake mango pudding sight unseen. When S asked in concern, how is your mango pudding, I said good and shoved hideous amounts into my mouth as quickly as possible. I think he knew though. He kept urging me to take the last egg tart he saved for me and stop eating the "mango" pudding. I declined and urged him to finish the tart himself instead. HELLO, like ONE egg tart would be enough for me? I want TEN, how can anyone stop at eating just one, pfft! Ok, I didn't say it, but I thought it, and after more than 10 years of marriage, I bet S knew but allowed me the mock graciousness in public by not voicing it.
That, dear readers, ended my eating adventure in Dragon Boat that day.
On another un-culinary note, while we were there, an elderly lady seemingly in her 90s entered the restaurant with her family and was escorted to the split level half of the restaurant, when she tripped on a step and fell head-first on her side with a loud crash to the floor. My heart skipped a few beats when I heard and saw what happened. She was crying and couldn't get up. Her concerned family stood around her and one of them propped her up. It was truly concerning and very uncomfortable for most of us diners. What really bothered me was the way the Dragon Boat staff handled the situation. Help was slow in coming, and while the rest of the staff gawked by the counter with mild interest and I actually saw one or two of the wait staff grinning, a manager or supervisor went over and asked whether the elderly lady was ok. but she seemed more keen in getting them ushered to their table. No apologies for the step that was really quite hidden, and they even made a joke in horrible bad taste, telling the poor elderly lady and her family that their toilet was located upstairs and she better not trip on all those stairs on the way up if she needed to go. Disgusting behaviour, vulgar and crude. It's not even about manners but basic human decency. Finally one of the family members asked for an napkin-wrapped ice pack, which was handed to them rather unceremoniously and then were asked to make their food order. This has made the place wholly unappealing to me and I get real mad thinking about it. I've got 2 grandmothers in their 80s. I kept thinking of them when the elderly lady laid on the floor crying and sobbing in pain. It really broke my heart. And I'm hardly someone anybody would describe as emotional, more like balls-buster, hard-nosed bitch. Well, you get the idea.
By the way, for some reason, Blogger kept distorting my image/picture alignment. I've centered the pictures but they just keep going to the left when published although I can see perfectly well they are centered in my editor page.