A funny little thing happened to me whilst I was minding my own business at work the other day. My phone rang, an unknown number, nothing too unusual about that. I answer the call and the voice on the phone explains that they are calling from Gingerboy, a restaurant in Melbourne that I dined at last week.
This pretty much astounded me. In the hundreds of times (my arse indicates it is thousands) that I have eaten out and given my phone number to secure a reservation, there has never been any instance in which this has happened before. The restaurant had no idea that I was a food blogger, and according to the lady that phoned me, they were contacting everyone to see how their experience was. What a fantastic idea. I think people that had both a negative and a positive experience would feel happy to give their feedback. I ended up telling the lady that I was a food blogger and that the restaurant would be welcome to either a) ring me back at another time (I was busy at the time she called) or b) read my review- so hello to any Gingerboy staff that may be reading.
So, as you all know, I went to Melbourne a couple of weeks ago and spent the whole week there. Whilst I was there, I took the opportunity to eat at various places around the city - read this first blog post to check out the full details of the trip.
Anyway... I wanted to catch up with one of my family friends from home, Sam. Sam just happens to be an up and coming chef in Melbs (who will be appearing in this blog soon!) so I thought I would leave the dinner options up to him. Sam came back to me with two options, Cutler and Co and Gingerboy, and asked me to choose between them. I was staying close to Gingerboy so decided that would be the best idea, as I had walked past a couple of times and wanted to check it out. Cutler and Co would have to wait.
We managed to grab a last minute booking for 6:00 p.m. on Thursday night. In Melbourne terms, this is incredibly early, but as they had nothing else available until 9:30, I decided to take it whilst I could, and probably for the best too; I had lots of meetings to attend to the next day.
Gingerboy spruiks itself as being a bar/restaurant with a South East Asian street food and hawker identity. The street kitchens and hawkers have clearly been a huge source of inspiration for Gingerboy. Quite fitting that it should be up a little ally.
When I trundled up the Crossley Lane, and into Gingerboy, Sam was already waiting for me with a drink at the bar. The kitchen and bar looked to be a lively place, and already the restaurant was starting to fill up. In true G.G. style, I decided to go for a 'Rising Sun' cocktail. The cocktail was made from house made rhubarb syrup (oh my how I love when places make their own syrups), orange bitters, agnostura bitters, pama pomegranate liqueur, johnnie walker black, orange and lemon juice and was priced at $17.0
I should explain that there are two sections to Gingerboy- the restaurant and bar downstairs, and the bar area upstairs. We were downstairs as I was there to eat, not just nibble! Before my cocktail arrived, we were taken through to our table and they promised me they would bring it in for me. The dining room is super cute, with a dark room dotted with beautiful fairy lights, which I'm guessing aim to look like the night sky. They bring a nice feeling to the room, although if they are trying to emulate South East Asian Skies, they should probably add some smog into the atmosphere too. Just kidding.. But on a more serious note, the red lampshade and depth of fabrics, combined with clear chairs, and a busy restaurant floor, mean this is an interesting place to be.
As the food is designed to share, they are fairly flexible with the serving sizes, so if there are only two of you, you can have two of each of the dumplings, and two spring rolls rather than three. This actually worked quite well, and the waitress suggested we have a combination of either four street food, and one of the larger dishes, or two smaller and two large. We had the first option and it turned to be a good amount of food.
By this time, my cocktail had well and truly arrived (and I'd made some serious inroads to finishing it) and it was good. I liked the almost deep taste of the orange and rhubarb syrup, and the johnnie walker added a nice warming zing.
The first of the street food we had ordered, the braised pork leg spring rolls with spiced plum and hoi sin sauce ($10 for 2) arrived within a reasonable amount of time, unfortunately looking like they had spent a little too long in the fryer. The edges were far too crisp, but we wasted no time in breaking them open, which revealed some sweet duck meat, complimented by the sultry plum and hoi sin sauce. These weren't by any means the most exciting or tasty spring rolls I have ever eaten, but they were a pleasant start to the meal, sans burnt edges.
Next came the two serves of dumplings. Yes, that's right, we ordered one serve of each of the dumplings - just couldn't help ourselves! The chicken and chinese cabbage dumplings with mustard soy ($10 for 2) were nicely cooked, but a little lacking in flavour. The soy sauce with mustard seeds was an interesting condiment, and one that saved the day - it really made the cabbage and chicken combo go from ordinary to moreish. Obviously that is what the sauce is designed for, but I think the dumpling could have had more flavour to begin with.
The more aesthetically pleasing prawn and ginger dumplings with red vinegar came out at the same time. The pasty white pastry of the chicken and cabbage paled in comparison. Literally. The flavour of the chicken and cabbage also paled in comparison to the bitey, lovely and soft gingery and prawn insides of this dumpling. The traditional vinegar was also a nice touch.
Last and definitely least was the salt and pepper chicken ribs with green chilly soy. You all know what I am like with the whole chicken wing thing, and I thought this may just be a new extention of that craze. It's not going to be. This was just far too much deep friedness for me. Not enough chicken, too much batter. That is not the restaurants fault, and it's not Sam's either. I chose this one and take full responsibility for it. It just didn't do it for me. I was a little sad actually because there looked like there was some fantastic dishes going to other tables!! Next time I'll go for something unfried, maybe like the soy ocean cured trout, or the son in law eggs to balance it all out.
Sam decided that the large dish we ordered would be the red duck curry leg for $36.5. This however wasn't an easy dish for me to concede on. Also on offer were a delicious looking chargrilled eggplant rice noodle roll with vinegar and chilli ($31) and seductive whole fried baby snapper with hot and sour banana flower salad ($34). Both these dishes show that Gingerboy is more than just a pretty face, and the chefs have a real understanding of the food served in South East Asia. It's a pity that we didn't have more people dining with so I could have tried more of the dishes. I must say, the snapper looked quite spectac when served to the table opposite.
That being said, I wasn't disappointed with his choice and decided to roll with it! He is the chef, after all- I'm just a food blogger! When the dish arrived onto the table, I immediately thanked Sam for the good choice. Even from looking at the curry, it was obviously a good choice. The sauce looked just the right consistency, with generous sized pieces of duck. My eyes didn't deceive and the curry was amazing. Thick but not gluggy, with an alluring, rich, sweet red curry flavour, that was in no way, underwhlemingly or overwhelming. Somehow, it struck the perfect balance. The only problem with the curry, was that the duck pieces were a little dry. The moist meat duck flavour would have created the perfect dish, but even without this, it was still a stunner.
The service throughout the evening was pleasant and unobtrusive. It was clear that some of the staff were better versed on the menu than others, and it really showed. This being said, everyone was very pleasant.
Now I don't know why I am going to use a cricket analogy to describe the food, but for some reason it just popped into my head, and it seems to make sense. (I don't even watch cricket). The food was reasonable. It made a few runs but didn't hit any sixes. From their reputation I would have expected to be blown away, and whilst elements of the meal were pleasing, the experience as a whole wasn't outstanding.
I do however, commend the duck curry. I'm also really impressed that they phoned around for feedback, I think this is a fabulous idea. Friends and I have been speculating about whether the restaurant are having internal difficulties etc, but even if they are, actually phoning and speaking to people is a great way to sort stuff out.
I will probably go back to Gingerboy, mainly because I'm not sure if I ordered badly, and that reflected on my experience. There did look to be some other options, and upon reflection I really want to go back and eat them i.e. smashed green papaya salad or the steamed silken tofu. They also have a "street hawker style" menu on offer for $70 per person which seems reasonably priced and could give a more rounded glimpse into the whole menu. The fact that they called to ask for feedback is also enough to make me go back on principle.
Aside from having a good time catching up with Sam, it was good to know that when talking about the food, he echoed my sentiments. Perhaps I'm not some crazy girl ranting about food afterall! Surely
When to go: If you are after street style food in Melbs, a cool cocktail or two in a cool place, give it a try- just don't make the same mistakes we did and get too many fried options from the street menu.
So readers, Tell me... What do you think about Gingerboy phoning up to find out about my experience? Good or bad? Has this ever happened to you?
27-29 Crossley Street
03 9662 4200