Melbourne is a city of diners.You can’t trawl the streets, casually walk into a good place and expect an available table. You have to book. Cutler & Co’s waiting list is months long. In some places, you can’t even get a reservation till next year. Yup, there are certainly some hardcore Melbournian diners out there.
But sometimes dining out can’t be planned so far ahead. You just spontaneously decide to do so on the day itself. This was what happened last week. My companions and I needed a place to eat at 7pm on a Sunday in the CBD. Half the joints were closed. We wandered the laneways as dusk fell and pored over various menus in front of empty restaurants.
As the sky grew dark, the laneways started to look like twisting tunnels. Lights came on. Things around us started to glisten. My feelers came out as I felt the air change.
I considered how the gathering of our meals can be an affair involving such great industry. We take on extensive research to find somewhere good. And we travel great distances to secure a resource that feeds and nourishes us. We even take food back to our nest. As I mulled over this, I felt the ground turn sandy..
In fact, it started to slope, westwards..
towards a glass door..
like helpless arthropods..
into Ants Bistro.
People can be like ants. We saw that this joint was busy and thought there had to be something good hidden there. That’s how we congregate. Entering the den was like shedding our metaphorical exoskeletons. We were lost diners out of our comfort zone, we didn’t know much about this place, but were curious to try. The menu was spawned in gimmicky, garish new year’s red. And they had dishes like ‘ants on the tree’. We had difficulty finding any dish that we really wanted, so we settled on being somewhat adventurous.
The ‘Pungent Fish’ came on an elevated stand with heating below. Very strange dish. It was supposed to be sliced fish, fungus, lettuce, and crystal noodle in pungent chilli pepper sauce. The fish slices were hard and rubbery. Was it leatherjacket fish, and is the texture supposed to be like that? The crystal noodles were thick slices of clumped, translucent noodles at the bottom of the serving bowl. The noodles unfortunately became overcooked with time. The sauce was oily, moderately spicy but too salty for my liking, It made it difficult to discover other flavours. We couldn’t finish this dish.
‘The Minister Chicken’ sounded grandiose. It’s wok-fired chicken spare ribs with house spicy sauce. The sauce wasn’t spicy. It was quite tasty though. Half sweet, half tangy with a heavy soy influence in it. Like a better version of sweet and sour chicken that Westerners tend to like. The chicken ribs were fried nicely with some juiciness retained within its crispy outsides. After some time, I once again found this dish quite overpowering with both sweetness and salt.
I can’t remember the ‘Tofu Dish’s’ name. It’s probably ‘pork and black bean tofu’. The texture of the pork strips had quite a bit of bicarb action and tasted almost semi-processed. The tofu was alright. And once again, the sauce was too salty. Even with a thin layer of sauce over the tofu pieces, I found each bite overwhelming.
Unfortunately, we did not enjoy this meal. Maybe I am just an ant with a much lighter taste palate, preferring my flavours to be subtle rather than overpowering. Maybe the taste buds of the average Australian have been blunted by eateries dishing out heavily flavoured cuisine, so they like it here. To me, what has failed here was that even if flavours were meant to be strong, they could have been balanced much better.