Urban Garden | Shandong Mama
In this post, let’s cover a couple of cheap eats near the CBD that I’ve tried out recently.
Urban Garden Cafe
Basement, 488 Swanston St
Carlton, VIC 3053
03 9225 9009
Urban Garden piqued my curiosity when I heard Winston (The Hungry Excavator) declaring that they’ve got the best char koay teow in Melbourne. So we organised a little bloggers’ catchup a few weeks later with (his truly) Winston, Fakegf (The Hangry Bitch) and Leaf (The Indolent Cook).
Urban Garden is quite hidden… it’s located in the basement of a student apartment building (Arrow on Swanston). Just climb down a flight a stairs from the lobby…
… and you’ll be led into a spacious cafe with a book section, sofas and a pool table. It’s a place where you can see students relaxing with their laptops, reading, catching up, studying. I also like how the smell of stir fry and cooking doesn’t permeate the whole place.
Teh Tarik Iced 3.50 | Fresh Soy Milk 3.00
In typical Winston-style, he knows the people at this joint. In fact, he’s followed the cook from his previous venue in Lygon St (My Cube) to here… that’s loyalty for you!
Lorbak w. Sweet Hoisin Sauce 3.00
Marinated chicken wrapped with bean curd
Roti Canai w. Curry 3.00
Deliciously made Indian flatbread, made to be dipped in a cup of our lovely curry
We started off with a few shared entrees. First thing we noticed about this joint was its student friendly prices. For instance, $3 for roti canai…!!
Chef’s Special Fried Rice 7.00
Char siew, Hebi, Prawns & Vegetable Fried Rice
Jesse’s Char Koay Teow 8.50
Wok Fried Flat Noodles w. prawn & egg
Even the main dishes remained below $10. And we quite enjoyed them, both the fried rice and char kway teow had a lot of wok charring, giving a nice flavour dimension. It’s still not like the CKT I’m used to eating back home, but pretty close enough.
Asam Laksa 8.50
Peranakan (Chinese-Malay) specialty of fat rice noodles in a thick aromatic hot and sour fish broth. (A secret recipe from Grandma)
Fakegf of course wanted to try the Assam Laksa, a spicy-tangy aromatic fish noodle soup from Penang. The dish used the correct condiments and noodles (other places use Japanese udon) and its broth had a lot of body and flavour. I liked it and it’d be even more awesome if it was spicier.
Ice Kacang 5.00
Our mountain of flavoured ice, Gula Melaka (palm sugar), rose syrup and evaporated milk
I believe we shared all the dessert dishes from the menu, with the ice kacang the least exciting of them. The shaved ice was on the coarse side and they could’ve used more syrup and milk. But Leaf and I enjoyed eating the sea coconut at the bottom.
Durian Brulee 6.90
Our premier sweet, a creamy sweet custard made with real durian
Panda Ninja 6.90
Real pandan panna cotta with glossy Gula Melaka & Fresh Fruits
The other two desserts were very good. My companions enjoyed the smooth pannacotta. And while the durian brûlée had a grainy texture, I was very happy that it had fresh durian inside, complete with the soft fibres from the fruit. I’d order this again anytime!
I like the hidden, quiet ambience at Urban Garden and they have some good dishes there. I’ll be back on days when I want a touch of comforting hawker-style food.
The next venue is a pretty popular dumpling spot that has recently opened inside Chinatown’s Mid City Arcade.
The buzz for this place has been pretty palpable across the board between my friends and foodie network. I’m glad I finally got to visit this place with Jonty, who’d been here a number of times and knows what to order. There was already a queue starting at 6pm on a Tuesday, but we got a table quickly.
Eight Treasures Tea 2.5 | Scallion Pancake 6.8 (2pcs)
We ordered these cleansing, ingredient-filled teas to go with the dumplings. And started with a serve of spring onion pancakes, which had crisp outsides but with somewhat dense, thickish insides.
Fish Dumplings (Mackerel) 14.8 – 10pcs
Fresh mackerel fillet mixed by hand with coriander, ginger and chives into a mousse-textured filling, wrapped in home made very thin dumpling skin. Traditional recipe from the coastal city of Yan Tai in Shandong province.
Chicken and Shepherd’s Purse Fried Dumplings 10.8 – 10pcs
Chicken mince mixed with ginger, black fungus, shepherd’s purse herb and dry shrimp with a dash of sesame oil in medium-thick dumpling skin.
But let’s dive into the main event, shall we?
I believe the restaurant’s style of dumplings come from the eastern province of Shandong in China, and one of the most popular dishes at Shandong is the mackerel fish dumplings. Freshly homemade (presumably by the mama herself), these steamed fish dumplings tasted really soft and gossamer smooth. Beautiful.
We paired the steamed dumplings with fried chicken dumplings that contained a herb I’ve not heard of before – shepherd’s purse. I enjoyed these dumplings too, great filling and it would’ve been even better if they were pan fried a bit crispier and more evenly.
The menu is pretty big there and I really liked their dumplings. The way I see it (and I’m no huge authority on dumplings), the hugely popular Shanghai Street Dumpling in Lt Bourke St serves good standard dumpling fare, but Shandong Mama walks you into regional China with their (never seen before) yummy dumplings. I’ll be back to try more!