Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Uncle Birry's

Uncle Billy's Chinese Restaurant
Shop 9, Chinatown, 66 Roe Street, Perth
(08) 9227 9388

Uncle Billy's is just one of those mysteries of life that elude me, rather like algebra. Or crop circles. Why the hell do we always end up there? Why not Billy Lee's, Utopia, or the Korean place next door? What is it about Uncle Billy's that draws us all the way from the Club-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named to Chinatown, at 3am on a Sunday morning, even if our feet are absolutely screaming in pain, even if we have to drag our friends who are contributing to the pavement along the way, and even if we have no compulsion whatsoever to pay good money for Chinese food and terrible service? We may never know. It's times like these I refer to one of my favourite quotes from the O.C:

Go with gravity, man.

 Figure 1: The head promoter at Uncle Billy's.


Figure 2: The classic Japanese Sizzling Tofu

Okay okay, I take back the comment about the service I said before. Sure, it ain't 5 star service, but Uncle Billy's is one of the only places that will accommodate for loud 'n' rowdy uni students that late at night. Working at a high-volume, high-stress environment; serving customers who are sweaty, stumbling, rude, panda-eyed or have just yacked outside the premises would not be an easy job. The waitstaff there are thick skinned - you can earnestly call for service again and again, but for the crap that they have to put up with, they will serve you when they are good and ready, xie xie ni. 

Figure 3: "Cut chilli! Cut chilli. Cut chilli. Cut chilli? Cut chilli? Cut chilli." - Mingi Hong

Figure 4: Mongolian Beef

Figure 5: Vinegar Chicken

Everyone has a favourite at Uncle Billy's, partly because there are many quintessential Chinese Restaurant dishes that they do well, and partly because they do almost every Chinese Restaurant dish you can think of. There are well over 100 dishes on the menu, as well as specials stuck on the back wall, printed on A4 paper. My to picks would have to be:
  • Japanese Sizzling Tofu
  • Salt & Pepper Squid
  • Soft Shell Crab
  • Any of the Spare Ribs
But basically, if you don't really know what to order, either have a peek at what the table closest to you is eating and see what looks good, or ask the lady owner (she's short, middle aged and always smiling) who will gladly point out what they do best, and sometimes, ask you what you study and try to marry you off to her son.

Figure 6: Salt & Pepper Squid

Figure 7: The Wah Liao James Teh Special

Figure 8: Chinese tea (assists liver function)

Figure 9: Good things come in threes 

 Figure 10: Sweet & Sour Pork

Memories (fuzzy ones) at Uncle Billy's usually consist of ordering too much, but still managing to finish it all, lots of laughing and shouting, dirty looks from surrounding sober tables, wondering where all your cash went, getting more food on the tablecloth than in the little porcelain bowls (I'm looking at you, Richie Wu) and thinking to myself, "I have no idea how I'm getting home". But since those who congregate at Uncle Billy's all seem to know each other, everyone always manages to get a lift off someone else, we all pile 3 people too many into someone's Toyota (I'm always designated ducker) and are off on our way.

 Figure 11: Stir Fried Kai Lan with Garlic

Figure 12: Garlic King Prawn 

Figure 13: Attempting to vivify a Garlic King Prawn (the people across the table stared)

I wish I had more to say about the food at Uncle Billy's. Unfortunately, I don't think I've ever had a meal here sober, so my opinion would be completely unreliable. 

Uncle Billy's Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Red Cabbage

Red Cabbage
49/15 Labouchere Road, South Perth
(08) 9367 5744

I always feel way out of depth reviewing fine dining places. I don't know enough about food - I'm just your average 19 year old uni student who works at a phone store for goodness sake. I run out of words to describe the depth of the flavours, the textures, and all the other senses that come rushing at you when you sit down and begin a meal at a place like this. And apart from that, I can never afford to eat out at somewhere like Red Cabbage.

So I was very spoilt to be taken here for a belated birthday meal with the lovely Yueh Lai. It was such a nice way to catch up, and over chit-chat about plans for the future, I made a vow to take her out to somewhere just as nice one day when I'm a successful lawyer (which is only about 27 years away).

The dark lighting and velvety decor of Red Cabbage makes you feel like you're dining surrounded by candlelight. Everything is black, brown and deep shades of burgundy. And I felt like I had about seven extra items of cutlery and crockery that I totally did not need. I wish I had a DSLR camera so I could have taken better pictures - my iPhone didn't fare very well in the dim.

Seeing the waitstaff at work was like watching the ballet - I don't think I've ever had service quite like it before (again, I'm no fine diner!). They were all perfectly dressed and groomed; they moved and talked, for want of a better word, gracefully;  they came to the table for service at exactly the right times between courses to clear plates; and with each new course, they provided a detailled description of the dish and of all its constituent elements from memory. Incredibly professional.



Lobster Bisque with Marron

When I first tasted this one, I enjoyed it, but also noticed that it was quite salty and herby. Until I Wikipedia'd it, I didn't know what bisque actually was. Turns out bisque is a smooth, creamy, highly seasoned French soup, commonly made from a strained broth or coulis of crustaceans. Sometimes they will put diced meat into the bisque, which is why I had little cubes of marron at the bottom of my cup. Tangy, tasty.

Tempura WA Marron, Sticky Pork Belly, Wasabi Ice Cream, Mandarin ($36)

This one was so good, and I ate it as slowly as I could, but about halfway my stomach got the better of me. The belly pork was succulent, crispy, melt-in-your-mouth tender and perfectly sized - if they'd been any bigger it would have been a too rich. And the tempura was perfect. I had so much fun putting all the little condiments on everything, experimenting, tasting, savouring. And the wasabi ice-cream? Just amazing.

Palate Cleanser:
Apple Jelly with Citrus Foam, Blueberry Powder

The only palate cleanser I'd ever eaten before this one was slices of ginger that come inside take-away containers of sushi at Nagano's - so this was definitely a step up. This little shotglass of sugar and sour was like eating flavoured clouds. And I just love blueberries.

Main Course: 
Crispy skinned Duck, Seared Rottnest Scollops, Plum Pudding ($38)

As soon as I saw the description of this dish on the menu, it knew I had to get it. I would say that duck is my favourite meat (see the duck dish I had with Sam, Sharon and Belinda at Amphora's in January, oh my god), followed closely by scallops. The duck in this dish was so good it almost hurt - the skin was so thin, so crispy and was seasoned so that the shards of salt burst in your mouth. The meat was difficult to cut with the knife, but somehow, so tender, juicy and easy to eat. The scallops were sweet and fresh, cooked really briefly. And the plum pudding in the middle was a really interesting texture and mildly flavoured. Absolutely gorgeous. 

Main Course:
Venison, Organic Carrot, Potato Ravioli on Chocolate Soil ($38)

This was Yueh Lai's one. I have never seen a meat and chocolate dish before anywhere except Masterchef before this, and I don't think I'd ever had venison before this either. The meat was really dark, almost black on the outside, and the fibres were almost squarish. To me it tasted kind of like beef but richer, and without being oily. When I had a taste, all I could think about was Bambi, but after a few bites, I started thinking being served with chocolate woud have been a pretty good way to go anyway. Yum!

"Three English Sweets" Sticky Date Pudding, Treacle Tart, Honey Parfait, Jam Roly Poly, Hazelnut Custard ($15)

When I eat, I'll take a little bite of as many things as I can so that I can taste everything without getting too full. Just ask Michèl: he knows if I've been in the kitchen because there will be little chunks in the tops of muffins missing, half an orange cling-wrapped in the fridge or a slice of pizza that looks smaller than all the others...

So this dish was perfect for me. The jam roly-poly and sticky date were excellent, but my favourites were the parfait and treacle tart. The parfait was so smooth, the honey flavour was really clear and it had just the right amount of sweetness. On the other hand, the treacle tart had an intensely syrupy flavour, which went beautifully with a dollop of super-duper rich cream.

We had three courses, but ate them over about two hours, so we left Red Cabbage feeling very satisfied and buzzing with sugar. Big love, hugs and thank-yous for Yueh Lai who made time in her busy schedule to take me out for my birthday, I loved it. Last year my favourite meal of 2010 was a 3 course meal at Tsunami in Mosman Park.

Looks like I've found a candidate for 2011.

Red Cabbage on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 4, 2011

law and order-ing food

I'm a very backwards kind of person. Right from the beginning of the uni semester, I'll absolutely kill myself studying for no reason in particular. It's one of those really irritating things about me that stem from my unhealthy desire to control everything that goes on in my life. And by the time exams are are 1 month away, I'm always ridiculously burnt out and miserable, having consistently working so hard for the last 12 weeks, left with zero motivation to study anything at all. 

So naturally, I decided that two weeks til exams was the most suitable day to spend in the city, eating and shopping my way furthur and furthur into a state of denial.

First, Me and Lien went to St. Mary's for 11am Mass, which was a nice way to start off the day. Then we decided to go to the West End Deli in Leederville, a place I'd been wanting to try since I'd seen pictures on Angela's iPhone of cappuccinos served in wineglasses. I had high expectations of the West End Deli. After all, it did have an 86% 'like it score' score out of 350 people who had voted on Urbanspoon.

I really love the interior design of the place. It's homey and cosy yet classy, and the crazy chandeliers are delightful. And for some strange reason, I couldn't help kind of feeling like I was in Diagon Alley (probably my inner excitement about the new movie coming out in 11 days, 5 hours and 21 minutes). There's little touches everywhere: the mini buckets for your cutlery, jars of sugar cubes instead of sachets, typewritten labels on brown paper. And there's something so organic and trusting about how they leave out their cakes and slices in the open air, instead of behind a glass cabinet.

To begin, we both had Cappuccinos, regular for Lien ($3.8) and soy, extra hot for me ($4.3) - I was too highly strung for a triple shot long mac on this morning, unfortunately. They came perfectly steamed and obviously made by someone who knew what they were doing with a coffee machine. After we finished them, we waited patiently for our orders.

One hour later, our meals were finally served, after being assured in 15 minute intervals that our food was coming soon. I was less than impressed at the fact that my plate had been sitting in the middle of the kitchen, slowly succumbing to room temperature, waiting to be brought out for about 20 minutes (I was sitting in a place where I could see. Food bloggers are pretty creepy, huh?).

Lien ordered the Corned beef hash, fried egg, morcilla crumble ($23), which was a bit of an iceburg. On the surface it looked beautifully presented, but unfortunately, the corned beef was literally burnt to large chunks of carbon, hidden underneath the egg and fried potatoes. I'd never quite seen anything like it before, and was not what I expected from somewhere like West End. The sauce was alright though?

I ordered the Poached pears, grenola nut clusters, honeyed ricotta ($12), which was a puzzling dish. I saw no 'clusters' on my plate, but rather a large mound of tasteless seeds and nuts, with a very bland pear on top. I'm not sure if this dish was made wrong, or if I'm just not refined enough to appreciate it, but either way, it was not enjoyable at all.

After working in a fish and chip store, at a bakery, a cafe, an ice cream parlour and as a waitress in a hotel restaurant in the city, I know that when you're serving food, sometimes, shit happens. But first impressions are important, and personally, WED did not make a very good one on me at all. In fact, it was so bad, Lien burst into tears (jokes).

After our meal, I gently told one of the waitresses what had happened to Liens' dish, who brought it back to the chef. He did his stressed out chef thing, asking all the other kitchenhands what had happened to it. The waitress gave us the meal for free, and wrote the coffees off our bill too. I don't usually complain whilst eating out, but I felt it was fitting in the circumstances.

I left the West End Deli feeling disappointed, but on the bright side, the hour spent waiting for our food made for good catch up time with the best friend. And the moose in the toilet made up for it somewhat.

West End Deli on Urbanspoon