201 Bulleen road, Bulleen
This year for Chinese New Year we went to Jon’s place in the afternoon to play mahjong before dinner (I caned it and won $17, yay! But James was caned and lost $15, boo!). Unfortunately the game went on for awhile, and we were 30 minutes late to dinner. Oops. Usually we have a Chinese banquet, but this year we went to Tao’s (a kind of fusion Chinese restaurant) for a set meal. When I showed James the menu he was relieved because he’s not a big fan of the traditional banquet.
James: Oh good, I thought it was going to be tofu and yuckyfish.
James: Your parents probably don’t call it yuckyfish.
James: They probably call it yummyfish.
The way the menu worked was you selected your entree, main and dessert (and I think also a soup) from a list. When everyone’s meals arrived I would anxiously look around to see how my selection stacked up. There were also some small dishes that everyone was served, like this trio – from memory it was tomato with balsamic vinegar and a mint leaf, a squid/calamari mix, and potato salad. It’s a pretty weird mix – I didn’t really see how it flowed (if that makes sense). Everyone’s favourite was the squid one but it was over too fast, barely a mouthful!
It was alright, but I didn’t understand it. What’s the point of serving 1/8 of a tomato with balsamic vinegar and a mint leaf?
The possible entree options were:
- Raw beef tataki with wa-fu dressing
- Kai-seki style sashimi
- Marinated chicken with ginger onion sauce
- Wasabi tuna tartare sauce
- Seasonal garden salad with yu-zu dressing
- Soft shell crab in Japanese style
- Thai style scampi
I ordered the soft shell crab, which was tasty but disappointingly small.
James chose the raw beef tataki with wa-fu dressing. Everything was quite artistically presented (again with the mint leaf!). There was some Chinese writing in sauce, the vegetables were arranged in little flowers, and from the side the beef looked like an exotic carnivorous plant.
From what I could tell, the best entree was the chicken, which was decently sized and, according to those who ordered it, very nice.
After the entrees everyone was given some sort of crab jelly – from the menu I think it was called a chawa-mushi, though I have no idea what that means.
There were three soup options (the menu said there were four, but there were only two – actually I think they miscounted pretty much all of the meals, which was pretty sloppy):
- Steamed assorted meats in Chinese casserole
- Korean style seafood consomme
- Creamy pumpkin soup
I ordered the steamed assorted meats which, I think was the pick of the soup options. It was really filling and chock full of different meats.
James ordered the Korean seafood soup. It tasted a bit like kimchi and wasn’t as substantial as the meat soup.
Afterwards they brought out what I think was a shot of mango nectar. It wasn’t on the menu, but it tasted like mango nectar and there was mango nectar advertising on our table.
It was nice, but also kind of weird and out of place.
The choices for mains were:
- Tao’s style stewed pork belly
- Pan fried duck breast with red wine vinegar sauce
- Hot stone sizzling steak
- Korean BBQ pork chop with mustard paste? (I don’t know why they had that question mark on the menu. Maybe they weren’t sure)
- Pan fried salmon with pumpkin sauce
- Marinated rack of lamb with mixed herbs
- Rainbow trout with ginger onion sauce
- Baked king prawns with garlic paste
- Vegetarian dish of the day (illuminating!)
I ordered the king prawns, which were very garlicky. Cat thought they were too garlicky, but for me there is no such thing as too garlicky. My gripe was that the main was entree-sized. If you aren’t a small eater I would strongly recommend against ordering premium seafood items at Tao’s because they are irritatingly small.
James ordered the pork belly. The sauce that came with the pork belly was really delicious.
Klene wanted me to take a photo of her main for posterity. She ordered the pan fried salmon.
Looking around, I think the sizzling steak looked the best, but Jon ordered the lamb and tried the steak, and said he thought the lamb was better.
After the mains came this little bowl of sakura ebi rice. It was dry and bland, but I put the leftover pork belly sauce in mine and that made it much tastier.
Then it was time for dessert! The dessert options were:
- Creme brulee
- Seasonal fruit platter
- Home made mint ice cream
I thought this was the easiest choice of the night and went with the creme brulee (incidentally, Cat and I made the same food choices all night). My lens warped the shot of the bowl – it’s not actually tornado shaped.
I was pretty pleased with it until I saw the mint ice cream come out. How awesome is it? The “dirt” is the chocolate ice cream. The ice cream was great – kind of like a crumbled up chocolate mint biscuit.
It definitely got a lot of oohs and aahs from our table. I am vaguely suspicious that Tao’s stole the presentation from somewhere, because the idea is so much better than the rest of the meal.
My overarching impression is that Tao’s is imitating high end restaurants but doesn’t have the substance to back it up – everything looks beautiful but it’s a bit mish-mashy and there’s no cohesion to the meal. There was nothing wrong with the food, but (mint ice cream aside) there was nothing particularly inspired about it either. The waiters were good at getting all the food out at the same time (and making sure everyone has their correct dish), but we had to ask for water about 5 times before we got it, which is one of my pet peeves.
But having said that, it’s heaps better than the Chinese New Year meals we normally have. I think it was something like $68 or $72 a head, which I thought was reasonable value, especially for Chinese New Year when all the Chinese restaurants jack up their prices. So it’s a half-hearted recommendation, with the caveat that if you have been to really good restaurants and had their set menus, Tao’s might seem like all hat and no cattle.