It used to be almost impossible to get a seat at Rose Garden at either lunchtime or after work. It's 'the place' for student eating in this part of town although it seems to have recently been replaced by Coconut House, just a few shops down the road. While seating is still tight, it's now usually possible to get in without either waiting around or turning up at 11.50am or 4.45pm.
Rose Garden feels like someone has taken a little part of Kowloon and dumped it on Elizabeth Street. Barbeque meats in the window, menu items in Chinese posted all around the walls, tables close together to make maximum use of space, fine dining it ain't. The only thing it's really missing is goose as one of the barbeque meat options.
It's somewhere you can get a good, filling and cheap meal for less than ten dollars. The menu is pretty typical for a Hong Kong style café, lots of meat and dishes straight from the wok. It also has both 'chef specialities' and 'most popular dishes' listed if the style of food is unfamiliar. The crispy pork rice omelette is a good example of the type of food provided. It's certainly not perfect. The pork skin could have been much crisper and the omelette was kind of a mess. There is nothing dainty or sophisticated about this as a meal. To be frank it looks like a mess on the plate. However, it's a very filling, tasty mess.
Beef brisket with rice is one of my all time favourite dishes and something I always have to try when it's on the menu. Rose Garden's version is generous and the meat adequately tender. However, it could be significantly improved by the addition of a bit of tendon and the use of more (any?) star anise to give the dish more depth of flavour.
Another personal favourite is any meat spiced with cumin. The spicy beef with cumin is again an adequate version of the dish, probably at the top end of spiciness for anyone not too keen on hot food but not really terribly spicy. It's not on the same level as similar dishes at Dainty Sichuan or Sichuan House, but then you shouldn't expect that given the price is less than half that of these places.
Lastly, the number one item on their most popular dishes menu is the spicy green beans with minced chicken. It didn't let the team down, slightly spicy, crispy vegetables, sort of a Cantonese comfort food.
A good café within the limitations it sets itself. It's no Flower Drum but then it doesn't pretend to be. Its somewhere to come in, eat cheap food and drink the free tea, and leave so that the next wave of customers can come through. I also find the service in this place amazing. Staff are a little brusque but when not swamped with customers (ie there is still one seat left in the far corner) service is amazingly efficient. Sometimes it feels like the kitchen staff must have ESP and know what I am going to order, as the food comes out almost before I've decided what I want.
Food - 7
Ambience - 5.5
Service - 8
Price - 8
435 Elizabeth Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: (03) 9329 1560