Having grown up in the country I often fall into the trap that Chinese food is not particularly extravagant or special. Now before you blow your trumpets and think I am being unfair, you must realise that Chinese restaurants exist in nearly all NSW country towns and are as cheap and cheerful as your next-door fish and chip shop. There was never anything wrong with the food, and it was always a treat to have takeaway on a Friday night, regardless of what you were eating, but special dinners involved trips to other local restaurants. Usually a birthday treat for someone in the family. The humble Cantonese restaurants of my childhood served the MSG versions of sweet and sour pork, beef and cashew and honey chicken, always preceded by a serve of spring rolls.
Leaving my country town heritage and moving to Sydney I discovered Thai restaurants. I’ve mentioned my love of Thai previously but I also specify what sort of Thai: cheap. And no, this is not because I am a scrooge, it is because it’s exactly the sort of Thai that I became used to. Cheap Thai replaced my Friday night Chinese meals of childhood. $10 meals on Newtown’s King St became a staple weekly treat. Now when I eat Thai I look for those familiar tastes and smells. When I don’t get them I am disappointed because my expectations aren’t met. That’s not because my expectations are high, they are just specific.
Sowly, slowly my perception of Asian foods, and Chinese in particular, are changing. Yes, a trip to Flower Drum definitely contributed but the kick start was on a work trip to Melbourne before relocating last year. We went to a restaurant in Chinatown called Kun Ming. All of a sudden Chinese restaurants offered polished service. I crossed out good here because there was nothing wrong with service in other restaurants, it just wasn’t polished. Battered dishes such as honey chicken and salt and pepper squid were no longer oily and stodgy, but light and salty and perfect for bringing out the underlying flavour.
In a sense I have been falling into good Chinese, the same way I practically fell into Kun Ming and Flower Drum. A drink with a friend at the Beach Hotel in Albert Park, before heading out to a movie, on the weekend turned into a need for some food. A hop, skip and a jump up the road and I fell into Asiana. Now this restaurant isn’t Chinese as such, more a selection of flavours from Asia. What’s more it puts in a regular appearance in The Age Good Food Guide.
We had no booking but there was no problem seating 2 of us. And when we explained our time constraints that was no problem either. Being in a bit of a hurry I spent very little time reading the menu. There is a large selection so I honed in on one or two things that I wanted to try and away we went. For future reference I did notice specials which appear on the menu and the blackboard as well as house specialties in the menu, which are very enticing. There’s also a large selection of entrees so if you felt like picking and choosing you’d be well positioned to do so. There’s a good range of wine by the glass but expect to pay about $10/glass. Alternatively BYO for $10 corkage.
Between the two of us we ordered salt and pepper calamari (entrée size), Vietnamese inspired lemongrass chicken and Singapore noodles. We had asked for all dishes to arrive together and the food was beautifully presented at our table and then whisked away for serving. Perhaps the food appeared a little too quickly but we had mentioned timeframes and it did seem hot and fresh. The calamari was delicious with just the right amount of chilli garnish to give a kick if you chose. Appearance-wise the lemongrass chicken was quite plain, sliced chicken meat with only a small amount of garnish, no vegetables. Unfortunately the plainness extended to the taste, I would have preferred the lemongrass to be a little stronger but this didn’t prevent the chicken from being tender and succulent. That’s succulent in the moist way, not the KFC advertisement way. And for future reference, the Singapore noodle dish was HUGE for 2 people. All up $75 for 2 glasses of wine and 3 dishes which, whilst not quite $10 Thai standard, is not bad I guess. On top of that there is a great feel to this restaurant. Low lighting and mute décor seem to absorb noise so the packed restaurant had a buzz which made you feel that yes, you were in a good, popular restaurant and yet you could still hear the diner across from you.
181 Victoria Ave