South Melbourne, VIC
Is there a giddier celebration than that of end of exams? After our final exam which lasted for three hours and went until 6pm, we were all hankering for a good feed. Luckily, we were booked in at Peko Peko, a popular Japanese-Taiwanese fusion restaurant for dinner at 7pm. Unluckily, due to public transport issues and me assuming that I could guess the right tram to take out of a potential 8 or so, we were a good twenty minutes late. It was very kind of the staff to hold the table for us for that long, even though it was a Friday night.
Located on a rather quiet street in South Melbourne, Peko Peko is extremely swanky for a place that’s essentially a cheap eat. Thankfully, it avoids taking itself too seriously, with many cheeky knick knacks scattered around the room. We had lots of fun checking out the small canvas prints on the walls depicting gruesomely adorable cartoons.
With a menu that is shorter than most Asian eats but by no means small, the food is divided up into entrees, noodles, light meals, peko boxes, and some sides. There is also a specials board hanging on the wall, and our eyes were all simultaneously drawn towards the soft centre chocolate pudding (which we unfortunately couldn’t fit in by the end of the meal). After much deliberation, we each ordered a peko box – Peko Peko’s take on the bento box. They were served with rice, a small triangle of crispy fried tofu doused in a sweet sauce, and some obligatory vegetables in the form of cauliflower florets, or lightly stir-fried green beans.
|Lemon, Lime and Bitters ($4.5)|
Sarah and Jan also ordered a Lemon, Lime and Bitters ($4.5) each, which had a hand-clappingly delightful green to yellow colour gradient. It was light, refreshing, and perfect for the coming summer.
|Steamed Prawn Dumplings ($8 for 4)|
But first! Entrees! We ordered two serves of dumplings to share, and the first one to arrive was the Steamed Prawn Dumplings ($8 for 4). The translucent parcels were bursting with prawns, though slightly small, but they were as good as any you’d find in yum cha.
|Steamed Juicy Pork Dumplings ($7 for 4)|
The Steamed Juicy Pork Dumplings ($7 for 4) were served with sweet soy sauce and chilli sauce just like its predecessor. However these weren’t as remarkable as the prawn dumplings; there wasn’t enough soup inside, and the skin was leaning towards the doughy end of things. It’s not that these dumplings are bad – they were actually fairly pleasant – but ever since the dumplings at HuTong, nothing else could compare.
|Teriyaki Chicken Peko Box ($12.5)|
There was a half hour wait before our mains started coming out, but that’s no surprise, given how packed the venue was. The first dish to arrive was Minh-An’s Teriyaki Chicken ($12.5), which she requested with skin off (additional $2). The chicken was smoky and lean, and the sauce wasn’t overly heavy, which allowed the sweetness of the chicken to shine.
|BBQ Satay Beef Peko Box ($12.5)|
Bilge’s BBQ Satay Beef ($12.5) consisted of sliced beef and vegetables tossed in an aromatic satay sauce. It tasted more like beef in black bean sauce, but it was very pleasant and Bilge enjoyed it.
|Chilli Chicken Peko Box ($12.5)|
The Chilli Chicken ($12.5) belonged to Sophia. The bite-sized chunks of chicken were tender and well marinated in a slightly sweet chilli sauce. I thought it rather mild but it made Sophia’s tongue numb. So don’t order this if you have low-level spice tolerance!
|Salt and Chilli Chicken Peko Box ($12.5)|
Jan was the only one out of us who ordered off the specials, and she got the Salt and Chilli Chicken ($12.5). It was rather light on the spices, and we both agreed that we’ve had better. Never less, following what seems to be the trend at Peko Peko, it was still quite tasty, and Jan polished it off.
|Honey Glazed Chicken Peko Box ($12.5)|
Kathy’s Honey Glazed Chicken ($12.5) was the surprise for the night. Normally being an avid honey chicken hater, I was almost blown out of my chair when I tasted this. Encased in a light crispy shell of batter and tossed in real honey, these golden nubbins were excessively good, and nothing like the stodgy lumps you get in food courts. Kathy wanted to drink the honey at the bottom with a spoon and frankly, I didn’t blame her.
|Pop Chicken Peko Box ($12.5)|
Having done my research, I ordered Peko Peko’s signature dish, the Pop Chicken ($12.5). These will always inevitably get compared to KFC’s popcorn chicken, but I don’t think that’s really fair – these blow all competition in a five mile radius out of the water. The mountain of chicken pieces were delightfully juicy, and coated in a fragrant spice mix that’s good enough to make your taste buds do the conga. Kathy thought that it was one of the best things she’s ever eaten, and she agreed with me that they were exceptionally tender and juicy. I believe her precise words were: ‘you need to apply a bit of pressure, but it breaks very easily’. Not terrifying at all.
|Five-Spice Calamari Peko Box ($12.5)|
The lucky last dish to land on our table was Sarah’s Five-Spice Calamari ($12.5). There wasn’t much five-spice taste, but the calamari was tender instead of cooked to rubberiness, and was coated in a light batter that made an audible crunch as you sank your teeth in.
Peko Peko is an excellent candidate for a meal with friends; the accessible menu, the helpful waiters, and the fun, laid-back atmosphere made for a great night out. And by the end, we were all delirious with laughter, good food, and excellent company.
Rating: 13.5/20 – bring your friends