If you’re undoubtedly a fan of delicious Asian cuisine, there’s no better place to sample a bit of everything than at the heart of Box Hill Central. This busy shopping complex located in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs is home to a diverse range of restaurants and cafes serving up some of the best traditional foods outside of Asia. There’s no need to worry if you’re a bit indecisive; we headed along recently to experience all that Box Hill Central could offer us on a plate and have compiled a list of the tastiest picks from some of our favourite establishments, all to make your next trip there a little bit easier.
For the finest of cheap Japanese eats, make a beeline for none-other than Umaido. Originally dedicated to udon, this kitschy little joint has recently expanded their menu to include everything from rice dishes to sushi, hot pots and divine bubble teas. We fell head over heels for the tobiko salmon maki [$11.80] with its rainbow palette of cucumber and pink slivers of salmon all topped elegantly by generous helpings of black caviar and bright orange salmon roe.
They say that when in Rome do as the Romans do. Well when in Umaido, there’s simply no going past the fantastic selection of udon that they have on offer. Try the pork belly with salty pork broth [$10.20]. The delightfully flavoursome soup imparts a sense of umami while the noodles are springy and fresh, making for a pleasant texture as you slurp your way hungrily to the bottom of the bowl.
Japanese food is not often spicy so those with a penchant for a little heat will revel in the subtle kick of the chilli pork mince don [$8.00]. The centrepiece of this dish is a gratifyingly gooey poached egg, served with spring onion and topped with snippets of seaweed. Best of all, a selection of rotating specials at Umaido means that if you head in on a Friday, then expect to receive a Hokkaido chocolate lover drink thrown in for just 80 cents extra!
If you’re feeling a little thirsty, sip on the Uji green tea with black sugar jelly [$5.00], which is guaranteed to refresh you from the inside out. We were smitten with the sweetness of the rose apple red tea [$4.30] but if you’re after a bit of caffeine, then opt for a mocha [$5.00] topped with fluffy tiramisu-flavoured froth. Before you go all-out with the quirky drinks though, keep in mind that Umaido is licenced and serves up Japan’s popular Hakutsuru Junmaishu sake [$4.50] to match perfectly with sashimi!
Tina’s Noodle Kitchen
You may be familiar with Dainty Sichuan, which is well known for its cult following of chilli fanatics and lovers of Sichuan food. However, if you can’t make it to the city establishment for your next fiery hit, then the next best thing is chef and owner Tina Li’s Noodle Kitchen. Nearly everything on the menu here will leave you gasping for water in true Sichuan style. The noodle-soups are extremely generous and you may be surprised to see children polishing them off when you’re struggling to even get to the middle of the bowl!
Although the menu specialises in a variety of offal, vegetarians won’t be left hungry with mouth-watering veggie skewers [$5.80] of black fungus, tofu, cauliflower, potato and quail eggs drenched in toasty, sesame-flavoured chilli oil.
Other vegetarian offerings include enticing local snacks from Chong Qing<, such as the spicy green-bean jelly noodles [$3.80] (which appears to be the hotter cousin of Korean japchae) and Sichuan cold noodles [$3.80].
Let’s be honest though – most people come to Tina’s for the noodle soups and if you don’t think you’ll be able to finish one to yourself, then simply order one to share. Rated in terms of chilli factor, these bowls will leave you breathing fire like a dragon in no time. Try the spicy stewed beef [$13.80] or stewed lamb ribs soup [$13.80]. Both are sure-fire winners with tender chunks of meat cooked for hours in daringly red broth.
For those who aren’t keen on torturing their lips, take the notch down a little in terms of spice factor and try the fish slices with pickles soup [$13.80]. The broth is slightly sour but thoroughly heart-warming, poured over basa fillets that melt away blissfully with each mouthful.
If you’ve somehow managed to make it to dessert, then you’re likely in need of something to help you cool down. We recommend the rice jelly pudding with brown syrup [$5.80] – a creamy, sweet and smooth dessert that will have you licking the bowl for more.
For something a little more traditional, there’s no going past the chilled jelly with brown syrup [$4.80]. This refreshingly light mixture is both delicate and floral, with the inclusion of toasty black sesame seeds making for a beautiful fusion of flavours.
There is a saying that in Taiwan, a country where people seem to live to eat, there is a snack shop every three steps away and a restaurant in every five! If you’ve ever been there, then you’ll be well aware that the Taiwanese love their local night markets and spend their evenings trawling through them in search of their favourite snacks. Thankfully, Kitchen Republik has made this task a lot easier by serving up some of the best-known Taiwanese street food in its large, bustling establishment.
One of the most recognised Taiwanese dishes (we’re not sure if it’s because KFC made it popular) is popcorn chicken [$7.80] and it’s certainly perfect for sharing. These boneless chicken pieces, seasoned with salt and pepper, are absolutely delicious paired with beer.
Despite feeling ready to burst, we had to try the famous soup dumplings, Crystal Jade xiao long bao [4 pcs, $6.20] and were very happy that we did. Traditionally steamed and served in a small bamboo basket, these famous Jiang Nan delicacies contain a sweet broth and fresh pork filling within.
Let’s face it, dumplings are dumplings, but not when they come like this. The pan-fried pork dumplings [6 pcs, $5.50] at Kitchen Republik are not only crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside; they come with a delicate deep-fried netting (just like you saw on MasterChef) that will see all of your buddies instantly whipping out their phones for the purpose of Instagram.
The most simple but widely loved Taiwanese dish is none other than beef noodle soup [$9.90]. It is something that you must try at least once and is so popular that the city of Taipei holds a beef noodle festival every year in which various chefs and restaurants compete to see who has the recipe! At Kitchen Republik, the braised beef is cooked until tender in an authentic herb and spice noodle soup, served with spring onion and savoury caramelised garlic. Pace yourself though, or you may not have room for the next destination on our list.
Okay, okay, it’s not Asian – it’s Swiss, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t end your trip to Box Hill Central with some of the best ice-cream in the world. Born of a passion for gastronomy, each flavour of ice-cream at Movenpick is an absolute masterpiece of culinary inspiration. Try the fancy matcha tea infused ice-cream [$4.95 a scoop] or do as we did and go all out with a tasting plate [$14.95] of six flavours. Our top pick is caramel but vanilla brandy is pretty darn good too.
Box Hill Central
Address: 1 Main St, Box Hill, VIC
Contact: (03) 9843 3900
Hours: Mon – Wed, 9am-5:30pm; Thu 9am-7pm; Fri 9am-9pm; Sat 9am-5pm; Sun 10am-5pm.
Photos by Serena Ho for the AU Review