Tuesday, June 4, 2013

U-Village, St. Kilda: it’s not ALL bad.

An 'A for effort' for U-Village

Disclaimer: I did not pay for my meal, U-Village invited me to dine free with a guest at my convenience. The opinions reported below are based solely on my thoughts at the time of my visit, whether they like them or not.

Address: 1/29 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda

Phone: (03) 9537 1129

Open: Daily, 12pm until 3pm, 6pm until late

It’s hard to go wrong with contemporary, pan-Asian fusion. It’s also hard to stand out from the crowd. Chin Chin stands out from the crowd, as does Longrain, Gingerboy and Coda. Even Hanoi Hannah stands out from the crowd. U-Village in Saint Kilda, my friends, does not stand out from the crowd. 

That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy dining at the international Malaysian chain. The soft shell crab curry in a thick, red rending sauce was a flavour phenomenon of kaffir lime leaf, thai basil and the freshness of the sea. I could live off the rice crackers that left an oily slick on my lips, sparkling with jewels of salmon tartare, highlighted with lime, ginger and sesame.

So what was the problem? Firstly, not everything was good. The press release touted U-Village’s decade of experience overseas, claiming it would “not disappoint”. In my experience, pork belly braised for 24 hours in sweet vinegar with cinnamon, chilli and black peppercorns shouldn’t require a chainsaw to be eaten. It should dissolve as it comes into contact with your knife. The mango salad that accompanied the dish was sad and wilted, as if it were embarrassed to be associated with the pork. 

Gado Gado, an Indonesian staple of boiled veggies in a thick peanut sauce, was a disappointment as well. Let’s just say it tasted about as good as it looked. On the up side, five-spiced prawns with sambal, lime and caramel sugar on perilla leaves were delicious, the perfect start to a meal.

Duck san choy bao was presented sweetly in little teacups, even though the appetizer was impossible to assemble without the contents overflowing onto the table. The dryness was disguised by bursts of juice from the pomegranate and sweet soy sauce.

As for the cocktails, don’t. Just don’t. They’re $18 a pop and resemble the sort of drinks I used to partake in at 16th birthdays... after they came back up. Stick to wine by the glass or bottle, U-Village has a decent list.

Desserts were better. Black sesame and peanut butter parfait was a sugary ingot scattered with peanut crumble, although the “tangy lemon” did nothing but confuse my taste buds.

Pandan crème brûlée made the appropriate ‘crack’ when the spoon went in—sweet, light and with a hint of mint. The salted honeycomb on the side was a nice touch, but nothing memorable.

The interior of U-Village is elegant and modern, if not a little sterile. Other blogs and online publications have been more gracious, one even mentions a ‘village feel’. A couple of planter boxes do not make a restaurant feel like a village. There is nothing ‘village’ about U-Village. And if you’re seated in the back half of the restaurant facing the kitchen, expect a bleak, grey-walled outlook; ‘U-Box’ comes to mind.

Staff here are friendly, regardless of the gratis nature of our dinner. I know their amiability was genuine because we were charged at the end of the meal, before quickly being ‘un-charged’ again by the owner.

The menu at U-Village is big, designed to share and has plenty of potential. It just isn’t there yet. That being said, I hold a minority opinion, with other blogs raving about U-Village, which has a rating of 89% on Urbanspoon with over 120 votes. 

Maybe I visited on an off night. Maybe I'm simply spoilt by the standard of Melbourne’s food scene, especially over the other side of town where I usually eat. But with establishments in the same street such as Fitzrovia, Golden Fields and Lau’s Family Kitchen charging the same prices as U-Village for superior food, I’d be lying if I said I was going to return to see if they ever reach that potential, regardless of how tasty that soft shell crab curry was.

U-Village Restaurant on Urbanspoon


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