Malamay Great West of China dinner

13 Oct

It’s Good Food Month in Australia, and Canberra hasn’t been spared from (a handful of) the events. The first event we book into is the Great West of China dinner at Malamay. We visited Malamay back in January, and, while I rated it worthwhile, we were a little underwhelmed with the experience. It didn’t leave us with the wow factor that we expect – and experience – at other Canberra restaurants of the same reputation (and price tag!). I’m more hopeful this time around: the chef from The Chairman restaruant in Hong Kong has teamed up with Malamay to bring this special dinner.

We’re led to our table in the very dark restaurant. Malamay’s colour theme is black, black, and more black, and then splashes of deep red which, needless to say, get lost within the black. We opt for the matching wines with the dinner. Our table is set with a menu for the evening, which lists nine courses. On the back is a very detailed description of each dish, and what each flavour and each ingredient is supposed to achieve. On ordering the matching wines, we’re given another piece of paper, this time with tasting notes for each of our wines.

Dark!

Dark!

Overkill of notes to go with the dinner

Overkill of notes to go with the dinner

We learn quickly that the list of nine courses is a bit cheeky: our first dish contains two of them, and it’s small!

Pear, ginger, tomatoes, apple with Nam Yu chicken

Pear, ginger, tomatoes, apple with Nam Yu chicken

The chicken tastes like fried chicken, and it’s fatty (and tasty) without being chewy. The larger bowl contains bean paste pickled pear, rice vinegar young ginger, plum scented tomatoes and sweet wine apple. The flavours all fall into one another so there’s no individual taste for me, but the overall tart sweetness is a lovely counter to the chicken.

We’ve been served our first wine with this dish – the Ocean Eight Pinot Gris 2012. There’s a clear mismatch between the number of wines on offer and the number of dishes (or so we think) – despite the elaborate tasting notes, it’s not clear what wine matches to which dish.

Dish two emerges a little after; the pinot gris is matched to this dish, too. The waiters do their best to explain the dishes, but often move between each seat as they do so. With the increasing din, it’s difficult to know exactly what they’re saying, and after this dish, I give up listening and refer to the menu on the table instead. The pork & prawn dumplings have Szechuan chilli oil and the heat stays on my lips well after I’ve finished the dish. The dumplings are al dente and the mushrooms are purposefully room temperature. I like it, and I’d eat a lot of it, but I’m not excited by it.

Pork & prawn dumplings with szechuan chilli oil and mushrooms

Pork & prawn dumplings with szechuan chilli oil and mushrooms

We’ve opted not to have the steamed mud crab, which comes at $25 a head extra. The prawns two ways comes next. The prawns are (to my not quite discerning eye) deep fried in their shells, as well as fried (?) with no shells.

Prawns two ways on a bed of taro chips

Prawns two ways on a bed of taro chips

The prawns are served with taro chips, and everything’s coated with a heavy dose of Chinese five spice. We’re starting to get the impression that these are fairly standard dishes just served with a big dollop of spice. The deep fried prawns are very, very crunchy and stick in our teeth like popcorn. The taro chips are tasty but overall, I’m not wowed. We’re served the Ocean Eight Chardonnay 2010 with this dish.

We’re also served a red date tea – essentially a sweet, room temperature tea – and sake. The sake lingers in the mouth. It’s a long wait between dishes at this point – a real intermission – so I’m lucky to have such good company at the table.

Eventually the Xian spicy roast duck emerges with local vegetables stir fried yunnan style.

Duck with vegetable medley

Duck with vegetable medley

The duck is very tasty, with the fat melting in my mouth, but the vegetables leave no impression on me. This is a dish where – according to the notes – the ‘fierce way’ of the Scechuan is very different from a Cantonese roast. To me, this is a dish we could be having in any Chinese restaurant. This is served with the Ocean Eight Pinot Noir 2010. As you might have surmised from my lack of discussion about the wines, they’re all pleasant enough, but again don’t add that complement I’d expect.

Oxtail with mantau

Oxtail with mantau

The final dish is an oxtail stew served with mantau (a kind of steamed bread). The bread is sweet and has a crispy crust, and soaks up the juice and the flavour of the oxtail nicely. The oxtail itself is … you guessed it: underwhelming. Again, it tastes like something I could get anywhere. It’s been ‘perfected’ with three days of slow cooking, but I can’t taste the effort. This dish is served with an Aylward Pinot Noir 2010.

The final dish does have some wow factor, but it’s undone by being superficial and artificial.

Earl Grey custard with coconut pearls and peanut candy

Earl Grey custard with coconut pearls and peanut candy

The earl grey custard is distinctive but has to be dug out of the bototm of the glass. The glass is lined with something I can’t discern – I’d describe it as a tasteless sugar. On top of the custard are a few crumbled pretzels (which appear storebought), tiny coconut pearls, crushed peanuts and pop rocks. Yep, pop rocks. It tastes fine (and it’s probably my favourite dish), but if this what comprises a ‘wow’ dish, then something is seriously wrong.

The meal itself is fine. But for $170 and for all the hype gone into it, it’s entirely underwhelming. The extensive tasting notes should be a red flag – if the dish can’t explain its own flavours or tell its own story, there’s trouble. Our table agrees that the meal appears to be more Western-influenced, with a handful of chilli or spice (or pop rocks!) thrown into each to give it that Chinese touch. Choosing all wines from one winery is a mistake. I know that some of the wines are rather expensive on their own, but I don’t think there’s $65 of thought gone into trying to match the wines to the foods.

Date: Thursday, 10 October 2013

Cost: $105 for the meal ($25 extra per person for the mud crab) + $65 for ‘matching’ wines

Food creativity: 3 (out of a possible 10)

Ability to take photos without a flash (ie lighting quality): 0 (out of a possible 10). One of the waiters even apologises for the darkness when she catches me taking a photo.

Canberra region wines on wine list: n/a

Waitstaff pretentiousness: Low; the waitstaff are pleasant, if impossible to hear

Restaurant noise: LOUD. We’re almost shouting at one point. I do wonder if a lot of people are talking it means they’re not eating, which means…

Worthwhile factor: Not worthwhile, particularly for the cost. This isn’t the special experience I expected.

Want more? The Great West of China dinners finished this past Saturday, 12 October. You can find the usual menu and more details at the Malamay website here.

Malamay on Urbanspoon

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6 Responses to “Malamay Great West of China dinner”

  1. Gary Lum October 13, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    I love this review especially the photography light rating πŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒ

    • inthetaratory October 13, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

      Thanks Gary! The photography light rating is a bit of a self indulgence, but it can be so frustrating! Especially at this venue. I feel very disappointed with the quality of my pics 😦

      • Gary Lum October 14, 2013 at 4:57 am #

        Given the low light I thought they were good

  2. whisperinggums October 13, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

    Ah, this has been on our radar for a while as we love the Lanterne Rooms from basically the same group of people we believe, but you haven’t inspired me. I think Lanterne is more Malaysian and this is more Chinese. I tend to prefer Malaysian for tasty food.

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