Thursday, April 12, 2012

Taiwan Cafe

Thursday last, I remember offering up an alternative for dinner to my Nando's-loving friends before watching The Hunger Games: Taiwanese cuisine.

I had heard about a place through a friend of a friend's, who had enjoyed dinner there and said it was cheap. Mostly, it was the word 'cheap' that enticed me... Ha!

In any case, I had no clue about what the name of the place was, except that it was along Swanston St, and there was a perpetual queue outside the outlet every time, but Google was pretty helpful in letting me know the place was called Taiwan Cafe and it was beside the Maccas.

Pretty much a no-frills cafe, judging by its name alone, but nonetheless we had to wait for 15 minutes before we could get a table right next to the entrance at round 6.15pm.

Four of us, Issie, Kate, SM and I, were taken by the variety of Taiwanese dishes on offer. Issie and I were undecided about the specialty beef noodles, 炸酱面 (zha jiang mian) and the XL Fried Chicken bento set, but finally settled on the last two options. Kate got the Popcorn Chicken bento set and SM, the 炸酱面 as well. Also got a set of pan-fried dumplings to share and a glass of 鸳鸯 (yuan yang), which is coffee mixed with tea and milk!

Can't remember exactly what came first, but in our excitement and haste, we realised that we had ordered one extra beef noodles dish!!! Panicky, we called over a waitress and explained in rusty Mandarin that we wanted to cancel one of the orders. She told us she would check with the kitchen and get back to us. All in all, problem solved and we had the beef noodles striked out thanks to an understanding waitress!

The panfried dumplings (~$9.90 for 12) had a lovely amount of meat and chives in the filling, with about a teaspoon or two of soup inside as well, which was quite flavourful. It would have been perfect if the dumplings were crispier on the bottom. Skin was also a little thicker than I would have liked but it was a normal thickness. Just individual preferences I suppose.

炸酱面 (zha jiang mian) (~$8.90)
The 炸酱面, was decent. Good amount of noodles to cucumber and beansprout ratio, but could have done with more peanut sauce and minced meat. The noodles were of a smooth texture and the sauce stuck to them well, which is always a good sign because you don't want to taste only flour. I gladly lapped up half of the noodles before moving on to the XL chicken bento set.

Taiwanese XL Fried Chicken Rice Set (~$10.50)

Quite a huge piece of chicken I'd say, fried till crispy in a flour batter and then sprinkled with a salt pepper and spice seasoning, a mound of rice and gravy, some cabbage and corn and peas, with a carefully fried egg. The star of the dish was the chicken, which is usually something you can get as a street snack in night markets in Taiwan. (see Hao Da Chicken, Shihlin Night Market)

On the salty side, the chicken was nonetheless a comfort for me, reminding me of the time I spent in Taiwan on a school trip... Yummy times. I thought the batter could be improved though. I could taste the flour that had coagulated on the underside, which got a little icky after a while.

I was ultimately surprised by the mixed coffee and milk tea combo, or yuanyang ($3). Not much of a tea flavour, but the strong coffee taste was bliss! Possessing a distinct kopitiam (local coffee shops in Singapore) flavour, the coffee was a reprieve from the usual Western versions. Traditional Chinese coffee! Will go back just for the 鸳鸯 because it was that good! I'd however suggest not drinking it during dinner, because it was so strong I couldn't sleep the whole night later. (And no, they don't offer decaf...)

While I am positive there are better Taiwanese eateries out there, for convenience and value, I'd say Taiwan Cafe comes pretty close to being a top favourite joint for the days when I feel like Taiwanese cuisine, similar to that I can have at Xin Wang Taiwan Cafe back in Singapore.

Taiwan Cafe
03 9663 6663
273 Swanston St (beside the McDonalds, or where you see a long queue...)
Melbourne, VIC 3000

Taiwan Cafe on Urbanspoon

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