Thursday, 4 April 2013

U-Village

1/29 Fitzroy St 
St Kilda, VIC 3182

Pub. Kebabs. Pizza. Pub, Ice Cream, Pub, Kebabs, Pub, Pub. Just four months ago, this is what walking down Fitzroy Street in St Kilda would’ve been like. Then all of a sudden, U-Village, a Malaysian fusion restaurant pops up, and St Kilda is looking to be a much more interesting culinary destination.



U-Village is a big change from all the surrounding restaurants; it’s wonderfully bright and spacious, the modern wood panelling tempered by potted plants and vases of flowers. The staff were polite and hospitable, taking me right back to my holiday in Malaysia. And I was lucky enough to be invited to try out their new menu – YIPEE!




The owner, Kai, was a bubbly bloke of a thousand smiles. He greeted us enthusiastically before sitting us down and telling us a bit about the restaurant. Turns out U-Village is actually one of an entire family of Asian fusion restaurants based in Malaysia, but whilst its Asian cousins specialises in Hong Kong-Malaysian fusion, Kai wanted to do something a bit different. ‘Melbourne has such a great variety of ingredients’, intoned Kai passionately, ‘and I wanted to make use of them’. What came out of that was a Malaysian restaurant that borrows from all corners of Asia. 



After a little chat, Kai started running down all the things he had in store for us tonight. By the end of it I was practically salivating – he had listed all of the things that I would’ve ordered for myself, if I had to choose. We were also given an impressively sized wine and cocktail list, but as tempting as they sounded, I wanted to save room for the upcoming feast.

Five-Spiced Prawn with Sambal, Lime, and Caramel Sugar on Perilla Leaf ($8)

The first starter we tried was the Five-Spiced Prawn with Sambal, Lime, and Caramel Sugar on Perilla Leaf ($8). We were instructed to put a squeeze of lime on the prawn, then wrap it up in the leaf and shove it into our gobs. The sweetness of the prawn, which all but bounced back with freshness as we bit into it, went perfectly with the spicy-sweet smear of sambal hidden underneath.  I loved the velvety and slightly bitter perilla leaf, which together with the lime, balanced out the crisp deep-fried-ness of the prawn. 


Five-Spiced Duck, Pomegranate, Pine Nuts, and Sweet Soy Sauce San Choy Bao ($10)
Five-Spiced Duck, Pomegranate, Pine Nuts, and Sweet Soy Sauce San Choy Bao ($10)

The next dish was a classy take on the San Choy Bao, consisting of Five-Spiced Duck, Pomegranate, Pine Nuts, and Sweet Soy Sauce ($10). The traditional leaves of lettuce were trimmed into perfect circles, on which we spooned a warm mix of duck and vegetables, finally topped off with a spoonful of sweet soy. Biting through the crunchy lettuce, you get a mouthful of tender duck and crispy veggies, and the occasional sweet pop of pomegranate. It wasn’t anything remarkable, but it was a tasty dish with lots of umami. 


Crispy Taro Soft Boiled Egg with Sweet Chilli Mayo ($12)

The Crispy Taro Soft Boiled Egg with Sweet Chilli Mayo ($12) really impressed us. The crispy shell of taro was good, and the beautifully running yolk was great, but it was the pool of slightly-spicy-slightly-sour sweet chilli mayo that sealed the deal. The soft taro was wonderfully moreish, soaked in the resulting creamy yet tangy mixture. 


24 Hour Sweet Vinegar Braised Pork Belly, with Cinnamon, Chilli, Black Peppercorns served with Mango Salad ($28)

Then the mains started coming out, and thank goodness one of them was the 24 Hour Sweet Vinegar Braised Pork Belly, with Cinnamon, Chilli, Black Peppercorns served with Mango Salad ($28). I heaved a sigh of anticipation as I saw this, and indeed, the cubes of pork were marvellous. Fantastically flavoured with regular vinegar’s more flavoursome cousin, Zheng Jiang Vinegar, it melted into fatty goodness the moment you bit through the sticky, flash-fried exterior. Some may find it much too rich but as an Asian, I say BRING IT ON! Especially when you have the perfect accompaniment – sour strands of mango salad – to the caramelised fattiness of the pork belly. 


Thick Red Rendang Curry Soft Shell Crab with Kaffir Lime Leaves, Eggplant and Mint ($25)

If there’s one thing I’m always disappointed with when I order it at a restaurant, it’s the soft shell crab. If the shell isn’t too tough, then the meat is too non-existent. If it isn’t dripping with oil, then it’s been sitting around for 20 minutes. So I can safely say that this Thick Red Rendang Curry Soft Shell Crab with Kaffir Lime Leaves, Eggplant and Mint ($25) was the best soft shell crab I’ve ever had. The giant halves of crab were lightly battered and fried so they remained delicate and juicy, but with a slightly crispy exterior. The amount of time the crab spent in the deep fryer was crucial, stressed Kai. I spent most of my time enthusiastically tearing into the gorgeous crustaceans, and spooning the thick curry sauce, rich with lemongrass and coconut, onto the Steamed Thai Jasmine Rice ($3pp). Can you tell that I absolutely adored this?


Stir-Fried Chinese Broccoli with Crispy Garlic and Pine Nuts ($14)

And a side of Stir-Fried Chinese Broccoli with Crispy Garlic and Pine Nuts ($14), which was a well-executed classic. The greens were lightly stir fried in a savoury soy and oyster sauce mixture, and the result was a crunchy, vibrant side-dish. 


Black Sesame, Peanut Butter Parfait with Peanut Crumbles and Tangy Lemon ($13)

Were we full? Definitely. But then the desserts came out and just maybe, we weren’t as full as we thought. The first of the two desserts was a Black Sesame, Peanut Butter Parfait with Peanut Crumbles and Tangy Lemon ($13) – a log of nutty ice cream, drizzled with surprisingly zesty lemon syrup. This was good, but would’ve been even better if we had been able to get to it! Whilst the exterior slowly melted into a puddle, the center was still frozen like petrificus totalus. We should’ve asked for a knife, but we did eventually manage to finish it with a lot of cooperation. 


Pandan Creme Brulee with Salted Honeycomb ($14)

We’ve had a lot of crème brulee in our time, and the Pandan Creme Brulee with Salted Honeycomb ($14) is in the running to be one of the best. The hallmarks of the perfect crème brulee include a toffee lid that needs a few taps to crack open, and cool custard that is thick, eggy, and smooth. This one had all of the above but with an added twist – fragrant pandan essence that gave the dessert a hint of the exotic. The salted honeycomb almost seemed like an afterthought.

I was so glad to be invited to U-Village to try the food. Not because it was complimentary (though that was a nice bonus), but because I got to try out a restaurant that I had never heard of, and it turned out to be an absolutely fabulous evening of indulgence. I really, really hope U-Village does well; not only was the food delicious, but it also had heart. And everyone knows that’s the secret ingredient that turns good food into great food.

Rating: 15.5/20 -  heart is hard to find.   

Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of U-Village


U-Village Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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