It has been a varied week with respect to dining. I have travelled around the world in a way, first discovering some awesome yet delicate Japanese flavours at Izakaya Den followed by a great chicken parma at The Exchange Hotel and later delicious jamon croquettes and prawn pizza at Henry and the Fox. What I really wanted was some SE Asian flavours and a full frontal attack of spice so I took the advice of a mate and went to Red Spice Road on McKillop Street for lunch.
The first thing I noticed after being greeted by the attractive and friendly hostess is that this place is not really set up for tables of two or four and that there are a number of very long tables. Not so much a hippy communal set-up like you would find at Wagamama or even the one that I experienced when dining at Hardware Societe but they appeared to be set up for large group dining. I don't know about you, but when I am invited, or when I am forced to attend corporate lunches and need to sit at a long table with sixteen or so other colleagues, I always end up being sat next to a dickhead or someone that wants to talk about rubbish for the entire time. I dread those types of functions. As I looked around the restaurant, many groups were dining today so I wondered what the menu would be like to make it convenient for both the large groups and the kitchen.
The courtyard area seemed to be the only place to accommodate tables of two or four so I ended up out there away from the hustle and bustle of the main restaurant and the mindless chatter of the lemmings. I am told that you can also get the full menu at the bar, so that is always an option should you wish to dine alone or want prompt service.
I immediately ordered a bottle of Vietnamese beer, Bia Ha Noi which arrived about ten minutes later along with some tap water. The beer and the glass were placed in front of me. I suppose I looked like an expert when it comes to pouring beer so I served myself. About a minute later, my first course of betel leaf with chicken, crab, coconut, chilli and kaffir lime was placed in front of me. A few smelt eggs were added for colour. I picked up the leaves like tacos and ingested them one at a time. A good way to start. The coconut was pronounced and I liked the match with the crab and chicken. I did not taste any chilli though.
The food menu was rather limited. This shocked me a bit as I expected more options. It also led me to believe that the few items that they had on offer were being mass produced for the larger groups as they promote a banquet of sorts. I ordered the pork belly and sadly when it arrived, my fear was realised.
I can not say that I did not like the pork belly, but it certainly appeared that not much care was taken in preparing it. It is served with apple slaw, chilli caramel and a black vinegar which you are responsible for pouring on the pork belly yourself. I found the pork belly to be cooked inconsistently and in order to eat it you only have a fork and a spoon available to tear it apart awkwardly, I found the dish disappointing and frustrating. Again, there was no taste of chilli. Some of the belly had a good texture but soft skin. Other parts had a dry and weird texture and crispy skin. It smelled nice though.
Service was a bit lazy. Even after the beer and water was consumed, there was never an offer for any sort of replacement. When the dishes were cleared, there were some food scraps and other waste on the table as a result from the diner being sloppy but it was never cleaned up as you sat around looking at the walls with no food, drink at a messy table until you ask for the bill.
My biggest question is what happened to the chilli.
After some very good dining experiences earlier in the week where I paid a fair amount less for more pleasing food and more alcohol in the end, I was a bit disappointed when the bill needed to be settled. The only thing on my mind was that I should have just remained in my comfort zone and returned to Izakaya Den or Henry and the Fox.
Link to review
27 McKillop Street Melbourne VIC 3000
My Rating: 10.5/20
Value For Money: 2/5
Comment: Good for large groups
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com
When I posted this review, 87% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon liked this place. Perhaps people are interested in the large portions however if the large portions are simply average, I do not consider it good value for money or anything worth blowing your horn over. This is certainly the Holden Plant of McKillop Street, a mass producer of food set to a formula.