Another day another style of Chinese food not commonly found in Melbourne. Lao Tuo Jia Restaurant specialises in Xinjiang style food, food from the North West of China.
Style wise its very different from your typical Cantonese, heavier and from what I could see very lamb focused, although that could reflect my personal meat preferences. The restaurant itself is basic, with plastic topped tables for I assume ease of wiping and a small TV playing Chinese soap opera in the corner. Staff appeared quite friendly and helpful. It's obviously a family run place though so I wouldn't describe service as professional quality and speaking Mandarin Chinese would probably make communication a lot easier.
Having visited a few times now I'd recommend three things from the entrees menu. First of all, some of the best lamb skewers I have had. Not so much because of the tender meat, but because of the good strong lamb/mutton flavours brought out through the use of cumin - a much underrated spice for use with meat in my opinion. It's also interesting how they are cooked on flat rather than round skewers, which stops the meat from slipping when turned and promotes more even cooking.
Also quite interesting is the Xinjiang style salad. I ordered this out of curiosity rather than any other reason as I had no idea what I would be getting. Turns out it is a soft, cold translucent noodle salad. Interesting flavours and a texture that reminded me of jellyfish.
To break up all the meat flavours I'd also recommend the cucumber salad. It's not what I would call a light or refreshing salad, but the slight crunch of the cucumber combine with the sauce to cut through the fatty flavour and texture of all the lamb.
From the mains, all three of my favourites involved the use of lamb. Best but not necessarily the healthiest option was the deep fried lamb ribs. Lightly battered ribs, deep fried and then dusted with cumin powder, full of flavour and lamb juices.
Not as fatty but without quite the same flavours is the lamb with cumin, which you can order either spicy or non-spicy. Stir fried rather than deep fried, I'd have preferred it with a bit more cumin but I'd happily order it again.
Last of all the very generous in size lamb with noodles. Not terribly complex but packed with great texture and flavour from the noodles, tender lamb, onion, red and green peppers, beans and zucchini. There also appeared to be a version served with the wide flat noodles but this was advertised as a dish for two. When I saw the size of this dish I think with a couple of entrees it would almost be enough for four!
I am sure it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea but if you stick with the familiar you will miss a lot of great dining experiences. Basic and simple, obviously popular with the local student population and with more local diners than I'd have expected.
Food - 7.5
Service - 6
Ambience - 6
Price - 7.5
39 Glenferrie Road
Malvern VIC 3141
Tel: (03) 9500 1919