a BLANK banquet

One of our favourite meals in China was peking duck. The food in China was amazing.  Some of it I couldn’t really eat (especially in the Sichuan provence where chefs and locals alike are renowned for their over the top use of chilli), some of it was a little gross, most of it was really yummy but there was just MOUNTAINS of it.  Every meal we would be served a soup fit for 8 plus rice and 3 or 4 main dishes. For 2 people.  When it got to the peking duck, we were almost at the end of our trip and I think the only space left in our body was that little gap between your brain and your skull.  Needless to say, we filled it.

I was delighted just weeks before our move to Melbourne to spot a $39 peking duck banquet for 2 on Groupon.  I quickly purchased it in the hope of making my unexcitable husband excited.  I was as successful as one can be at such an impossible target.  For those still struggling to comprehend the enthusiasm that oozes from my husband, consider the excitement of a dog welcoming you home… Steve is the cat.

We had booked in our lunch in the Melbourne suburbs and set off at 9:45am for our 2 hour walk.  It was beautiful.  Ok, some bits not so beautiful… but we found a new area called “Kew” (and probably some of its neighbouring suburbs) where the school buildings look like palatial mansions and the old ladies heading to church could have walked off the set of a Jacqui Kennedy biography.  People were brunching in suits that probably cost more than my first car and my adidas pink striped exercise pants felt a little out of place.

With my knees starting to buckle from the walk we found the dodgiest looking set of shops we’d seen in over an hour and of course it housed our Chinese ‘restaurant’. Gingseng House.  It was empty – strange as it was booked out the week before. In fact, they opened up because they saw me try the door.  Not awkward at all.  We were seated at our little table and given the banquet menu so we could choose our meals.  I was still optimistic at this stage just glad to be seated and resting my weary old legs.

I should have been alarmed when the waitress explained that we would share 1 main meal and be allowed three entrees each, but I wasn’t.  I really should have been alarmed when I noticed the entrees listed were more like half an entree (who seriously serves one chicken satay stick?).  I wasn’t.  No, the alarm didn’t set in until the peking duck arrived.  The 2 pancakes with a wee portion of peking duck snuggly smushed in the middle and a dollop of sauce on the side.  Oh dear. This was it. This was our peking duck banquet and Steve’s cat-like enthusiasm was now edging on pissed off pussy.

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The peking duck was ok, but nothing in comparison its true Chinese counterpart. I suppose that is forgivable as food in its native country should always be the best.  Of course, in the native country we were also served a substantial portion of meat with a pile of pancakes ready for the making – I’m sure that helped our mindset.

If I can say one thing, the service of the young girl waiting on us was great. She was very efficient and must have been feeding information back to the chef to virtual perfection as the courses followed one by one just as we finished each course.  The soups (Crab and Sweet Corn and Shredded “Duck” – I put this in quotations as normally duck soup would contain… duck) were actually very delicious.  Steve has suggested the soup may have been named due to the duck that bathed in it before being chopped and served on another lucky patrons plate – as it was most definitely missing from ours.

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The entrees came all at once and it was like a miniature banquet – by miniature I mean all the food on the table could fit in Steve’s mouth in one go.  Nothing was bad although I didn’t personally like their version of a fried dumplings.  I found it to be a bit cakey but Steve thought it was light – inspired by Japanese tempura.  Perhaps I’d put this down to personal taste.  Our one satay stick was chicken & satay so always a good start.  I enjoyed the dim sims although they were a little plain or in Steve’s words “it was a bland meatball in a pasta cup”. The San Choi Bao (lettuce dish) and spring rolls had nothing on my favourite wok in Brisbane (Top Wok in Bracken Ridge).

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The options for main courses were noodles or rice – often the types of dishes I’d order as a side when getting Chinese.  We chose the duck fried rice as we were now in severe duck remission.  It contained duck. Thank god. It was fried rice and quite yummy.

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Last came our desserts. We got one of each type (fried banana and fried pineapple).  Both were yummy enough but not anything to write home about.

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After we left we spent at least the first half an hour discussing our meal.  We discussed how the $96 value that Groupon stated was quoted as a “$25 per head” on the menu we were looking at. We discussed how we were full but not nauseatingly so – does the term banquet not invoke thoughts of a medieval spread of food that you eat so much of you want to vomit afterwards? No? Liar. Most of all, we discussed how any sort of food should be named for what it contains…. so I am very sorry Gingseng House but for this BLANK banquet, I give you only 1.5 stars. This is now a ginger free zone.

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