My new favourite - Barbie Kitchen!!!
Yes, I am KIDDING! It's not that type of Barbie Kitchen I'm talking about, it's this kind:
Chinese Spicy & Barbie Kitchen is a new Szechuan eatery that has opened in Flemington/Kensington (I get so confused which side of the street is which) and is already one of my all-time favourite restaurants.
Firstly the menus are gorgeous - big shiny pages with droolworthy pics and not so drool-y names like "saliva chicken" (better translated as "mouthwatering chicken"). So many non-Anglo restaurants have very perfunctory menu descriptions - you know, "chicken on rice" or "spicy fish" - that if you want to branch out and try something new, you're never sure if your dish will be big, small, swimming in chilli or full of offal. Barbie Kitchen's pics mean it's easy and exciting to try things you might not otherwise place a bet on.
The fitout is simple but it works - big, satisfying, hand hewn-look wooden tables with low, cushy chairs, perfect for adults and kids alike.
Themed tissue boxes, aesthetically-pleasing tableware and decor and the cleanest high chair this side of Chengdu. With all this relative luxury, it would be easy to assume that Barbie Kitchen is not authentic, too expensive or both, but far from it.
A complimentary appetiser - thick kelp-like seaweed dressed with chilli, garlic and a hint of sesame. Gorgeous! The menu here features traditional Szechuan dishes, what I think of as Northern-Chinese style fat white dumplings, as well as a whole selection of BBQ-grilled meats and vegies (the latter only available at dinner time).
Dry fried string beans, $14.80
This is a classic - well-fried green beans and pork mince with XO sauce, which is an umami-rich blend of dried seafood, Chinese prosciutto-like ham and chilli. This was a truly awesome version - sweet mince, fresh beans and lots of rich, satisfying, lipsmacking hum from the XO. It wasn't too hot for the kids who loved it (this is very easy to make at home although I don't deep-fry the beans! Fry garlic, brown pork, add beans, add couple spoons XO, season with soy and perhaps a little white sugar, done!)
Spicy eggplant, $12.80
This is a first for me and I am a total convert. The eggplant has been peeled and I suspect fried, to emerge velvety-soft, sweet, slippery and luscious. The sauce is pleasantly oily, sweet, with a hint of vinegar. If you want to know how good it was, my 3-year-old could not stop eating it. We had these with bowls of rice for $1 each.
Leeks, $3 per "string"
The first of our BBQ dishes - these were delish. I'm not sure what sort of leek they were as they seemed like a cross between a sping onion and a chive, but they were fabulous.
Lily mushroom pork, $2.50 each and squid, $2 each
These were both lovely - the "lily mushroom pork" (which I wouldn't have ordered but for the photo, which showed it as pork wrapped around enoki mushrooms) was a delicious contrast of textures and flavours, while the squid was tender and tasty.
All the BBQ dishes were dusted with a rustic chilli-and-cumin blend which was delicious and seemingly very un-Chinese, but it did get a bit same-same over time. In my opinion, just order a few select BBQ dishes and round out your meal with selections from other parts of the menu to get the most flavour variety. Perhaps the BBQ'd chicken skin next time? Take that, KFC Double Down "burger"!
Pork dumplings, $7 for 15!!!
LURVED these dumplings. They are really a huge step up from the likes of Camy - the meat inside is luscious and juicy, like Hu Tong's dumplings - no hard meaty nuggets. The pastry is just feather-light, not at all leaden or chewy as these can sometimes be. There's also a vegetarian option (which I always think are best pan-fried).
Steamed buns, $9.8 for 6
These are somewhat like xiao long bao but are juicy rather than soupy. The same sweet, tasty filling of pork and spring onion/leek-y vegetable. Apparently these differ in that they are made with self-raising flour, giving them a more bun-like consistency. I prefer the former simpler version. Still, these were delicious!
Laoshan Haisheng Pie, $2
Yum yum yum - again, the pork and vegetable filling, this time in a large pupusa-like parcel panfried and squished down. Super juicy, crispy - fabulous!
At the risk of being disloyal to my local non-Cantonese Chinese restaurants, 1+1 and Dumplings and More, Barbie Kitchen is, I have to say, far superior. I haven't had Szechuan food this good in years - I normally prefer Cantonese as it seems less oily and lighter/more complex in flavour, but this was unreal. I honestly can't wait to go back. Even if it had wonky chairs and greasy chopsticks I would love it, so the decor is the icing on the cake.
This is definitely my kind of Barbie Kitchen - although I do like that the Barbie has a glass of champagne on the counter - that much is realistic!
Chinese Spicy & Barbie Kitchen
311 Racecourse Rd, Kensington (map)
Phone: 9372 5218
Hours: 7 days, 11:30am-3:00pm, 5:30pm-11.00pm