We were welcomed by a phalanx of smiling faces and shown to a table in the dining room which is bold and bright, bordered by private areas to dine, wine cases, glass to awkwardly observe eager punters feeding the pokies in the adjoining casino floor and a very symmetrical clean fit-out that Chairman Mao would be impressed with.
As it was a Monday evening and I was missing Q&A I didn't think it was appropriate to get stuck into the wine, so I opted for bottles of beer to match the various dishes. The menu is a bit of a design for a lego house where icons such as chef hats, chilies and wine glasses with various numbers are used to denote various specialities of the house, heat factor and what sort of wine the dish would appropriately match with. Traditional Chinese food at times is enigmatic when it comes to proper matching so I thought the guide was insightful and amusing at the same time because I am surprised that other Chinese-inspired restaurants haven't made the process so straight-forward.
I couldn't resist ordering the Signature’s Xiao Long Bao (4 pieces for $8.80) to start which had two chefs hats next to the entry on the menu. When the soft steamed dumplings arrived, I eagerly and deftly used my chopsticks to toss one into my salivating mouth being quite famished considering the late hour and the fact that I actually exercised earlier in the day. There was nearly an accident as once the contents of the dumplings exploded into my mouth, I had to exert the most control I could over my body not to expel the piping hot soup. As my mouth was filled to capacity, I could not cool it down with Heineken and instead suffered through the most horrible yet self-inflicted pain that I have experienced in some time. With a scorched mouth, I enjoyed the dumpling however was much more careful with the second one and will forever be cautious with these little sacks of mystery in the future. I guess I should have known better.
After cooling my mouth down with another bottle of Heineken ($9.80) I went to work on my share of Szechuan Pork Wontons with Hot Chilli Sauce (8 pieces for $15.80) which also were denoted with two chef hats but also a warning that they were spicy with the cute but ominous chilli icon on the menu. I am certainly not afraid of a little spice, and although I was expecting a numbing sensation which was not delivered, the tastes in general were good and did not disappoint. The chilli sauce was spicy and hot as you would suspect and I couldn't get enough of it.
Shredded Chicken with Chilli Oil Szechuan Style ($15) and yet another one chefs hat special followed. This is an intentionally cold dish and seemed awkward as it crossed my palate. Perhaps because my palate was confused because the chicken seemed to have a slimy texture - not like the type you would find leftover in your refrigerator after a roast. Of course this is the intention of the kitchen, but it is still an odd taste. The chilli oil certainly provides the required heat and taste and once again my mouth did not end up numb thanks to the Szechuan seasoning.
Moving to more traditional fare, we opted for the Braised Fish Head Soup in Hot Pot (For 2 Persons at $18.80) and this proved to be a tedious yet wonderful dish. Tedious in the fact that you had to be careful not to eat the bones that litered the soup, including the jaw bone and teeth of the fish but the hot pot was worth the sacrifice of time to sort through the bones. It was creamy and pleasant and provided a delicate and delightful resting place for the fish. The restaurant also provides many options from their Live Seafood menu, the most intriguing being Shanghai Style Braised Sea Cucumber with Spring Onion ($58) and Fo Tiao Qiang (Steamed Abalone with Shark Fins and Fish Maw) ($98 per person) along with the morally confronting Shark Fin soup which has fallen off many restaurant menus in recent times.
Avoiding my desire to have Peking Duck since I have mastered the dish at home (I can make a whole Peking Duck for $20 whereas the cost at this restaurant is $85) knowing that I would be a bit frustrated on the value for money front, we opted to conclude the meal with Deep Fried Boneless Chicken with Dry Chilli ($29.80) which was another spicy and recommended dish and it was a great way to end the meal. Simple but traditional Southwestern Chinese (ChongQing) food and rounded out the menu choices.
Service, although attentive when you went out of your way to catch their stare whilst they languished on the boundary of the restaurant were never really too proactive however they were very efficient once you got them interested. Considering the convenience, exciting fit-out and the massive amount of food and beverage options, I will certainly be returning and also consider one of the private rooms the next time I need to host a function or a large group of friends. After all, "Man Tong" is translated as "Full House" which is what I would expect if I planned a meal out with friends and acquaintances.
Man Tong Kitchen
Crown Casino, Level 1 West End
8 Whiteman Street, Southbank VIC 3006
(03) 9686 9888
8 Whiteman Street, Southbank VIC 3006
My Rating: 14.25/20
Value For Money: 3.25/5
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com
At the time of this post, 62% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Man Tong Kitchen, however there are only 59 votes so the sample pool is quite small.