Mid-Autumn Banquet at Silks
Disclaimer: I did not pay for my meal, Silks hosted a free media dinner. The opinions reported below are based solely on my thoughts at the time of my visit.
Address: Crown, 8 Whiteman Street Southbank, Melbourne
Phone: 03 9292 6888
Menu Available: until September 22nd
Once you get your head around celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival in the first month of spring, you can start enjoying yourself. The seasons are out of whack because the celebrations are part of the Chinese Luna calendar. Mid-Autumn festival is held when the moon is supposedly the brightest (in China) on the 15th day of the eighth month of each year. This year it falls on September 19th (this Thursday). But what you really need to know is that it runs until the 22nd at Crown.
Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the Mooncake Festival. As part of Crown’s celebrations, Silks Restaurant is putting on a special banquet menu. It’s perfect for an occasion, which is a euphemism for ‘it ain’t cheap, but it’s worth it’. The eight courses were exactly the sort of standard you’d expect from a double Michelin Star chef like Tsang Chiu King.
Two over-sized steamed scallops on saucy vermicelli noodles were utterly saturated in garlic. They could not have been better executed; steamed just enough to push them over the line from ‘raw’ to ‘cooked’.
My favourite dish came early in the banquet: cloudy, double boiled chicken consommé with squares of spongy dried scallop and a piquant shitake mushroom.
The giant coral trout “enrobed” in minced shrimp was almost deserving of its royal description. It arrived on an elongated plate with a deep fried prawn head and tail arranged so they appeared to be diving into the table. Between them, a piece of flaky trout was indeed enrobed in a firm layer of prawn mince, sitting on a throne of sweet sprigs of spring onion. The novelty and tradition was there, but the quality fillet didn’t need its prawn cape.
The centrepiece of the banquet was a chunk of sautéed lobster in black bean sauce. Lobster is such a luxury for me, so it’s a personal opinion when I say it should never be paired with a rich sauce. It doesn’t matter whether it’s black bean or Mornay – serve that shellfish with some lemon and enjoy it in its full glory. The black bean sauce was overpowering. I still enjoyed the dish regardless, although no points were made up by presentation.
Glistening chunks of diced beef tenderloin arrived glossy and luscious with mixed mushrooms, capsicum and leek in a sweet gravy sauce. I could have slathered it all over rice and lived off it, but I regrettably had to leave it unfinished to save room for the rest.
Chinese fried rice in XO sauce was next on the agenda. It was a necessary classic, but not as exciting as the rest of the banquet. It would have been better served at the same time as the beef.
After the rice it was time for dessert: walnut soup. Those without a Chinese heritage or little knowledge of food may have thought another savoury dish was on its way, but this thick silky liquid – served with dumplings made from glutinous rice and filled with black sesame paste – is a traditional delicacy. It was too sweet for a few of my fellow Caucasian bloggers, but I lapped up every last drop.
The finale? You guessed it – mooncake. Before it’s sliced, the dessert looks like a gourmet pie. Sugary Chinese pastry is filled with dense, smooth lotus seed paste and a couple of salted egg yolks that represent the moon.
Again, an acquired taste, but one that I acquired quite easily. The festive food was a delight, but it’s worth mentioning the Silks setting, too. High ceilings, oriental wooden finishes and giant brass pendant lights almost distract from the view of the river. There’s a decorative tent with a large table inside reserved for functions. And every hour on the hour, Crown’s famous boardwalk flames cast a golden glow inside the restaurant.
This Saturday 21st September at 7:30pm, the flames will be outshone by a Mid-Autumn festival fireworks display. It’s not just to reduce the crowd to ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, but also to ward off evil spirits. Visitors can expect lion dance parades, traditional lantern fairy dances and calligraphy artists over the weekend. It’s worth visiting during the week for daily mooncake making demonstrations and tea ceremonies. See Crown's website for the full schedule and more information.