Thursday, November 18, 2010


If you have no expectations, you will never be disappointed.  In terms of eating out, arguably the most delight comes from the places you have little or no expectations about - the round-eyes place your friend has insisted you go to which ends up being really good, or the empty, foreboding restaurant that ends up serving you a delicious meal (and fills up with people just after you have the courage to sit down and order).  Unfortunately, the opposite is too often true - the places we most build up can let us down, whether through their own shortfalls or perhaps our stratospheric expectations.

Hot pot 037

A friend and I have been excited about "the hot pot place in Barkly Street" for as long as I can remember.  It sits under a new apartment building and took a couple of years to finally get its somewhat odd name, "Foodcrazy", displayed on the windows.  Numerous attempts to go there have continually been foiled.  Finally we made a date.  Text messages went back and forth in a flurry - some I think were nothing but "HOT POT!!" in excited capitals.  The hot pot night approached and finally arrived.

Foodcrazy serves Szechuan food from the Szechuan region in central China.  This has become quite popular in Melbourne over the last few years and is characterised by the mouth-numbing Szechuan peppercorn and liberal use of whole dried chillies.  Bean sauce is a staple of Szechuan cooking, as used in Grandpa's special noodles as well as the classic Szechuan dish "ma po tofu" or "pockmarked grandmother's tofu", a warm, comforting dish of pork mince and silky tofu.  The hot pot - a bubbling pot of light stock in which diners cook their choice of meats, starches and vegetables at the table - is popular in different guises across Asia, but particularly so in the Szechuan provinces of Chengdu and Chongqing.

Hot pot 026

Upon entering Foodcrazy one is asked if one would like the normal menu or the hot pot menu.  Accordingly there are two different types of marble table in the restaurant - a regular table and one with a large circular well cut into it, under which sits a small gas burner.

Hot pot 025

The hot pot menu itself is two photocopied "tick-the-box" order forms.  One can go a la carte, paying around $15 for a pot of broth and then adding on the various meats, vegetables, condiments and sides.  We chose to go with the buffet where for $25 each we could choose an almost unlimited array of goodies to dip in our "double-taste" hot pot, as well as a number of cold side dishes and dipping sauces.

Hot pot 031

First came a delicious chicken salad in "special sauce".  Poached cold chicken, spring onion and crunchy peanuts in an oily, chilli sauce - I believe this is the famous Sichuan mala sauce?  Love the 'Nanna's soap dish' plate.

Hot pot 033

We also chose the Szechuan pickled vegetables.  These were different to those I had had at Hu Tong recently - while Hu Tong's were spicy, a little oily and hot with green chilli, these were large, sweet and very mild - similar to Vietnamese pickled vegetables.  Still, they were really good.

Hot pot 029

The moment arrived - our 'double taste' hot pot was finally here!!  One side was evidently a very mild broth, perhaps chicken-based, while the other was a very dark brew, slicked with oil and full of bobbing Szechuan peppercorns and dried chillies.

Hot pot 035

Our goodies arrived and were placed on this neat little shelf at the side of the table.  Above you can see 'frozen tofu', lamb (strange, circular, very fatty frozen slices), 'seasonal vegetables' (wong bok) and underneath 'sweet potato noodles'.

Hot pot 034

We also ordered the chef's special beef as well as the 'blue crab'.  Other choices on the menu were gluten (probably like seitan?) and 'mini muffin'.

Hot pot 028

We chose a sesame sauce which was very similar to tahini, garlic oil, and paid $1 extra for chive flower paste.

So, time to get stuck in.  We didn't really know where to start, though.  We tried to ask the staff what was meant to go where - was there some kind of system?  Did the noodles go in one broth and the meat in the other?  Which sauce was for what thing?  They were friendly but a little bemused by the questions, just saying that yes, you cook it all in there, before leaving us to it.

So we did our best.  We dipped, we swirled, we scooped... and we did not like it.  The noodles got lost somewhere at the bottom of each murky broth and were extremely hard to fish out, constantly slithering back in like a giant squid's tentacles off an ancient mariner's ship.  The lamb slices were unpleasantly fatty, like streaky bacon, but without the corresponding smoky, delicious flavour.  The 'chef's special beef' was heavily treated with bicarb, giving it a strange spongy consistency.  The 'frozen tofu' was just that - frozen tofu - and if you have ever, like me, left your tofu up the back of your crappy share-house fridge only to find it rock hard, you will know that tofu does not freeze well, losing its structure and becoming soft, watery and mushy.  Not nice.

We tried to be positive.  I tipped various sauces on various things, having no idea what went with what.  The chive flower paste, although it had an intriguing grassy scent, was so heavily salted it was inedible.  I did enjoy the sesame paste, though, and the cabbage was quite nice.  I did not like the chilli broth at all - the Szechuan peppercorns were almost whole and gave the noodles fished out of there an odd gritty consistency.  The mild broth was flavourless.

To add insult to injury, we never received our 'blue crab', and upon reminding the staff we were summarily presented with a plate of frozen crab sticks.

Eventually we both stopped eating - still hungry, but with totally no appetite for the food.  We scrambled for the last of the pickled vegetables.  Even the cold chicken salad had lost its shine by then, the oil separating from the dressing and making it greasy and unappealing.

Upon leaving my friend remarked that it had seemed like fast food.  I didn't know what she meant but after some research, it appears that Foodcrazy is part of a Chinese chain who have two other restaurants in Melbourne.  I hesitate to totally bag it, though.  We had no idea what we were doing, really, and to say that the hot pot at Foodcrazy is bad or indeed that Szechuan hot pot is bad is like pouring orange juice over Weet Bix and then saying Weet Bix are bad.

I am reminded of the time I sat next to an older Asian gentleman on a flight somewhere.  We were presented with a scone and I watched him cut it up with his knife and fork and eat it, without butter, jam, or anything.  It must have tasted horrible.  I wanted to tap him on the shoulder and tell him that he should cut it in half, spread it with a little butter and/or jam, ask for a cup of milky tea and then enjoy what is quite a nice afternoon snack - not to mention the virtues of homemade scones with stawberry jam and stiffly whipped cream with a pot of proper leaf tea.  So perhaps there was a secret to the Szechuan hot pot we did not grasp.

Luckily our enthusiasm for 'HOT POT!!' has not waned and we next plan to try Vietnamese 'steamboat', hoping that it will have perhaps a clearer stock and fresher ingredients.  The anticipation is building.  We really should keep our expectations in check... but anticipation is the purest form of pleasure.

Shop 2-3, 250 Barkly St, Footscray (map)
Phone: 9687 2361


  1. I've always wanted to try the hotpot ... I have done many a steamboat (both commercial and home made)in my time and I have often wondered what the "mainland" equivalent was like. I will approach with caution! Oh and I would have kicked up a stink about the blue crab ... I was on the verge when they served me hor fun in a soup at a recent visit to Chef Lagenda ... people from Singapore are not very forgiving when it comes to messing about with food! You should try steamboat though ... and its so easy to do it at home ... its basically asian fondue ... and you can make the stock to your taste.

  2. Great review as you were giving it your best to try to like it and like you stated FoodCrazy isnt the best representative for this.

    I recommend you try Hot Pot House in Glen Waverly. Their soup is much tastier and ingredients are of a better quality. Try ordering their home made noodles as they are quite yummy.

  3. Glad I wasn't the only one that didn't like this place.

    I went about a year ago, pre Foodcrazy (honestly that name to begin with puts me off!) and was sorely disappointed. Alot of the items we ordered were frozen and not even defrosted properly. When they brought out the prawns, which were in a frozen block, it almost slid off the plate and onto the floor. That was nice comic relief because from there it just went downhill :(

    At the prices I was paying I expected fresh (or even properly defrosted) food. Footscray market is literally around the corner, surely it's not that hard?

    P.S Love your blog, I'm finding it very helpful since my alternating dinner places are Phu Vinh and First Taste :)

    - Monica

  4. Yeah.... it wasn't you that made the hot pot bad. This place is just plain horrible. There really is not that much mechanics to eating hotpot. You just place the meat and vegies in the pot and wait for it to get hot.

    Unfortunately for you and your friends that this place sucked so hard. Hopefully your vietnamese steam boats will be better. (chances are it will)!

  5. I have been there twice now and was underwhelmed both times. I also found the staff a bit unhelpful when I asked for some help deciphering how it was all meant to work.

    To me the telling factor is the general level of patronage. I drive past it quite often and there are rarely more then 2-3 tables with diners. Seems we've had a couple of average eateries pop up in Footscray of late. Shame really, I've been looking forward to a new era of fabulous restaurants in the area.

  6. WTF frozen food, that is just wrong....

  7. Very brave and bold work Ms B! The combination of the name and the lack of patrons has always put me off a bit.

  8. im a regular customer to foodcrazy, yep a strange name but real good food. the food that remind me the taste of my hometown. It does offer some real sichuan food as well as some mild ones. the hot pot is good too in my opinion, at least very close to the one in sichuan where i was born. bwt, the real mapo tofu is made by normal tofu not the silky ones, only those who doesnt have the skill to cook properly use the silky tofu...

    unlike many other chinese restaurants who adapts locals taste and try to survive or make huge money in australia, thats really a shame. but this one stands out and give you the real taste of spicy and should feel lucky that you dont have to go oversea to eat...

  9. frozen food??? i thought you guys grown up with frozen food, KFC, McDonalds, what eles, maybe some fish n chips, most seafood, you cant have much really fresh food here in oz...

    think about footscray, man....i know some cheap vietnamese noodle shop and encore pizza are very busy everyday...

  10. well that's another place struck off the list. Penny and I have been talking about trying this place for a while now, but it looks like we needn't bother.

    we should do hotpot when Penny gets back from holidays, and we'll show you what it's all about! It's always more fun at home.

  11. First of all, everyone should read Bryan's synchronicitous experience at Dainty Sichuan for a great Szechuan hot pot, with lots of tips:

    About frozen food - I have no problem with it at all (did you know that to get the wafer-thin raw beef slices for pho, the meat is partly frozen first?) but serving something still frozen is a BIG no-no. The frozen tofu was obviously supposed to be like that as that is how it was written on the menu - perhaps the altered texture is a delicacy.

    Anon, thank you for the info about ma po tofu! I would still like to go to Foodcrazy and try the dry dishes. As I said, I really don't know enough about Szechuan cuisine to be able to critique it properly.

    Mud Shark, it's not all bad. Adulis opened in May and is great, plus Vivid Star opened recently and is also great (review coming soon). Yummie Yum Cha is dependable and don't forget delightful Los Latinos in Maidstone. I have seen Foodcrazy busy but always with young people.

    Billy - yes please! It does sound more fun at home and easier as Temasek said - more control over the stock and ingredients. I will make a really awesome broth. Maybe we can replicate that mushroom hotpot that you were telling me about... umaaaaamiiiii...

  12. Also Monica, I have been meaning to try First Taste forever... You have spurred me on!

  13. Oooh, controversey! Got a lawyer? :)

    Slim numbers? Plenty of times we've driven past this joint, it's been packed.

    Maybe they figure to focus on the students, and so don't feel they have to bother showing the ropes to anyone else who may be interested. That'd seem daft to me, but you never know ...

  14. Aaaa now i know what you meant by "SNAP" on my post! We posted about chongqing hotpot on the same day!!

    My beef was also frozen so that it could arrive in paper-thin slices. But I agree with you on not liking bicarb on my meat. I'm glad my post helped illuminate things a little on the mechanics of timing in hot pot, I was probably equally confused but had a guide to help me.

    I personally found it difficult to cook with noodles, they so sink to the bottom & become unrecoverable. With Singapore steamboat, we each have individual slotted spoons to place your ingredients in so that they won't get lost in the broth. Also good for fishing for escapees, haha!

    Billy, I want in on the hot pot tooo!! Lemme see your version!!

  15. Oooh Lauren can I recommend the dumpling soup and the fish fillet in XO sauce claypot?


I love getting your comments! They're what make blogging worthwhile. Unfortunately, the amount of spam I get is obscene and it is so tiresome to have to moderate every comment, so I have had to turn on annoying word verification. I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but please know how much I love you having your say!

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Related Posts with Thumbnails