This will be the last celebratory post for awhile, I promise. As part of my mum’s birthday celebrations I took her to Tooraking, a family favourite Szechuan restaurant. It is located on top of the Trak Centre in Toorak, so it isn’t that easy to spot.
A little dish of pickled snake beans comes complimentary to each table. Our dishes took a while to arrive, so my mum was simply nibbling on these while waiting. She has greater tolerance to spicy food than I do, because you won’t find me nibbling on these without any rice. These are sour and very spicy, with the numbing sensation that categorises Szechuan cuisine. These little bits of veggies are oddly addictive and seriously dangerous.
Yes, I went into a Szechuan restaurant and ordered something that’s not spicy. Smart choice? Not at all. I felt this dish was over-priced. It was basically a huge braised mound of what we call dong-tofu, which literally translates to “frozen tofu”. I don’t actually know the proper term in English, so I will just refer to them as “frozen tofu” for now. These are categorised by their firm texture and the large air pockets in the tofu. This type of tofu is normally used when you want the tofu to soak up large amounts of sauce in the dish. The sauce was thick and salty and unrelentingly coated everything in the hot pot. It went down with steamed white rice nicely enough, but having said that, this is not the type of dish I’d order at a restaurant. It’s more like something I’d make at home when I have odd bits of leftover ingredients.
Since it’s my mum’s birthday, by Chinese tradition we all have to eat noodles to symbolise longevity. We ordered this purely for the tradition, so frankly I didn’t care much for how it tasted. Though, if I have to comment I’d say these are quite a poor version of the famed noodles. Honestly, the soup base just tasted like the ones you can make out of Chinese two minute noodles’ flavour sachets. Also the dish lacked the necessary component of pickled vegetables.
This next dish, is something we order every single time we come in without fail and it’s the dish that makes us return to this restaurant. I salivate just thinking about it.
It’s nothing exotic, it’s just Kungpao Chicken. But don’t turn your noses up at it yet. Trust me, once you have tried their Kungpao Chicken you’d smirk in disdain at all the other variations around town. So with the expectation of curing my Kungpao Chicken craving, I was thoroughly disappointed. It didn’t taste the same as the one we ordered countless times before. The peanuts weren’t crispy at all and were actually stale. They left a permanent stale nut taste on my palate. The sauce for the chicken lacked the fiery punch and strayed to the sweet side. This stir fry should not have too much sauce on the plate, because is wok tossed and not stewed, there should just be enough sauce to generously coat each chicken piece. However, sauce pooled on the plate and lost the breath of the wok. Tooraking, what happened?
The most disappointing thing was when we complained at the end of the meal about the stale peanuts. The waiter apologised and informed us that he would tell the chef about it. If it had been left at that, everything would have been fine. However, the waitress who brought our bill over informed us that she had talked to the chef about it and the peanuts are perfectly fine. Huh? All I can say is that I’m shocked and disappointed at the response. It’s just not very smart management of a complaint.
Tooraking, if you weren’t an old friend of mine, I will not be returning. But, I’m seriously in love with the old Kungpao Chicken and haven’t found a second restaurant in Melbourne that comes even close, so I will go back and try it again. Please Tooraking, pick up your game. I don’t want to lose my favourite dish.