With only a week to go until my overseas jaunt to Malaysia and The Philippines we were off to sample the wares of one of the few cafes in Melbourne serving Filipino Food, Dahon Tea Lounge in South Melbourne.
Ruby Grapefruit would be subjecting it to one of the strictest criteria a café can be put to, is it as good as her mother's cooking. I, on the other hand, knew nothing more about Filipino than what I'd read in some books provided by Ms Grapefruit and what I'd seen in a documentary about Jollibee. I'd was however interested in picking out a few dishes that I'd noted to look out for in the Philippines, so I'd at least have an idea about what the dish may look and taste like.
First things first though and first things to be ordered were some iced teas. These are fruit based and offered in a number of varieties, pineapple and coconut, mango and passionfruit and peach tea with strawberry. Cool and sweet with real pieces of fruit in the bottom, I could imagine these being very refreshing on a hot and humid day.
While the baguettes on the menu looked interesting, we deliberately avoided them as likely to be filling so as to be able to select a wider selection of dishes. The lumpia - pork and vegetable spring rolls - were something Ruby Grapefruit had specifically suggested I try in the Philippines. Appearance wise this looked like slightly larger than the usual spring rolls, taste wise maybe a little different too, in combination with the dipping sauce a little stronger than common in flavour.
The skewers, BBQ pork and pork torcino, were quite good. The BBQ pork was nicely cooked, with good pork flavours, moist and tender. I think I preferred the pork torcino though, red in colour and with a sweeter flavour. Same good pork flavours and again nicely cooked.
The pancit bihon, something Ruby Grapefruit had recommended I try in the Philippines, was comprised of vermicelli noodles, pork and a combination of vegetables. While ok I wasn't overly impressed, maybe influenced by vermicelli not being my favourite form of noodles and it feeling a little ungenerous with the pork and vegetables.
The pancit palabok came with the same vermicelli noodles but with prawn sauce, tofu, crushed pork crackling, smoked fish, fried garlic, spring onions and egg and I thought was much better. While it is apparently quite time consuming to make and so more a special occasion food, I thought it had a rich softness to the taste and flavour which would make it a great comfort food.
Final main was the Javanese tomato rice with chicken adobo. Adobo is a very common dish, made with meat cooked in vinegar and garlic. The version here was nice with good flavours infused into the chicken and went well with the tomato rice where a plainer flavoured rice may have been a bit overwhelmed.
The dish I was keenest on trying was the Halo Halo, condensed milk (I think) with jackfruit, banana, red beans, creamed corn, palm seed, gulaman, pinpig and leche flan. The serve was a little pricey but huge, looking something like a giant serve of ais kachang. Typical with most ais kachangs available in Melbourne I thought it was ok rather than great. Others though didn't seem as impressed, with Ruby in particular mentioning that the yam pudding (which she loves) tasted artificial.
An interesting experience in a nice little café. Service is friendly and the food is similar to but different to the other South East Asian food I've tried. To me it was generally less subtle or complex but with a real comfort factor. If you were brought up on it as home style cooking I could well imagine missing it, but I also understand why it hasn't taken over the world in the same way that Thai or Vietnamese cuisines have. It will be interesting to see in a couple of weeks how it compares to restaurant food in the Philippines.
And it didn't pass Ruby Grapefruit's mothers cooking test, but then how many could?
Food - 7
Ambience - 7
Service - 7.5
Price - 7
Shop 5, 111 Cecil Street (entrance around the corner)
South Melbourne VIC 3205
Tel: (03) 9696 5704