If the queues out the door of this tiny Swanston Street spot are any indication, Melbourne can't get enough of Taiwanese at the moment. We carpe diem'd at a momentary lull and got the last table right away.
It sure is tiny inside, with tables just a hair's breadth apart. I don't mind eating like this if I'm in the mood - the busyness creates a real buzz, and the dark decor here adds to the sense of cosiness. The lanterns and wall art give a feel of winding through a busy Taipei backstreet in search of great eats.
Over gorgeous fresh soy milk and lemon tea, M broke it to me. He's joined the good guys - he's gone vegetarian. NOOOOOOO!!!! Where has my cartilage-chewing, bone-nibbling, stock-dribbling eating buddy gone? Sigh.......... It's cool. We can still be friends. Just... I can't do vegetarian ma po tofu. I just can't.
This Ma Po Tofu was yummy with cloud-like silky tofu pieces with a light sauce, tasty pork mince, lots of black pepper and chilli. The "thing" here, however, is the range of bento-type boxes with rice (dressed with a little pork mince), greens, fried egg and something fried to outrageously golden crispiness. I tried, I really did, but I just have to have some time away from batter. Those jeans aren't gonna shrink themselves.
The menu helpfully picks out the recommended dishes, but when you order one that doesn't have the little stamp of approval, it's with trepidation. These vegetarian noodles were one such unmarked. They were of good consistency and flavour but the total lack of wok hei made them a bit tedious.
Their pork dumplings, apparently a specialty, were merely acceptable. The mince was not very juicy and it was slightly grainy. Far better at Shanghai Street or next door Dumplings Plus.
Their vegetarian counterparts were quite horrid unfortunately, with muddy, underseasoned spinach and not much else.
At least we found some common omnivore ground in the spring onion pancake DMZ. This was great with a flaky, roti-like texture.
Taiwan Cafe isn't a very vego-friendly restaurant which constrained our ordering. I enjoyed the ma po tofu a lot and am keen to try the fried offerings when I'm out of elastic waistband territory. Taiwan Cafe is hot but a commitment in the face of all this deliciousness to karma-free eating is decidedly hotter - well done my friend.
273 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Phone: 9663 6663
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