Here is a little history lesson. My parents migrated from India to Australia in 1987 and the place where they set up as home was the Western Suburbs of Melbourne. Over the years the West continues to receive negative critique and its main townships are frequently given a bad rap for the amount of crime and other 6pm Newsflashes . While this may be true to some extent, it does not mean that the place is a total write off. I would say that other suburban areas in Melbourne would have their fair share of news worthy dramas but I am not about to get all demographical – this is a food blog after all.
The main area that I grew up around was Footscray – a major Western Suburb synonymous in its fame and notoriety. On the good side Footscray is well known for – it’s heritage in its local Aussie Rules Football team the Bulldogs and the heroes past and present that derived from the sport and secondly I associate Footscray with its highly popular Vietnamese quarter – and this paves the way to my lead in to food.
Footscray, like other major suburbs has its own fresh food market and many an afternoon have I paced the broad aisles scouring a bargain – whether it be Seafood or a nice cut of Lamb or even Longaniza sausages (Pilipino recipe sold at almost every meat stall at the market). When hunger calls in Footscray you are spoilt for choice – plenty of bakeries selling buns filled with everything from bbq pork to taro to beef curry – there is the famous Vietnamese Pork Roll which is a monster crusty roll laden with pork, ham, pate and vegetables – there is the Olympic doughnut van that has been in its fixed location at Footscray train station. They used to sell hot jam doughnuts for 30 cents when I was 8 years old (the price is more now…damn inflation!!!). In recent years the restaurant scene has opened up and I will be sure to review some of my new favourites in future posts along with a comprehensive guide to eating in Footscray…stay tuned for those ones.
When I was about 15 years old I started working a casual job at Footscray’s largest department store Kmart. When I worked long shifts that afforded me a lunch break I would make my way down to my first ever foodie lunch experience – Hong Kong BBQ. On the busy strip of Hopkins Street is where you will find this little restaurant. With its out-dated décor and olden day charm it invites you with barbequed meats almost beckoning to you to come on in.
Strung up in the window in a most enticing manner (as morbid as it sounds) is Hong Kong BBQ’s speciality – Duck Roast, Crispy Pork Belly, Char Siew BBQ Glazed Pork Fillets and Ribs, Soya Chicken, Pork Sausages and then the bits that are a little bit to the tune of offal – Chicken feet, Duck heads, Tripe…etc. etc. It has remained the same since way back when, and to this day I still consider it the best Chinese BBQ food that I have tasted around Melbourne and some of the other cities that I have visited in Australia.
I thought it was high time that I reviewed this eatery that I have been a patron of for so many years. We walked in on a busy Friday night and was almost turned down due to no seats for our party of three. In the end the waitress relocated a couple of diners to accommodate us on a shared table. Now unless you speak Vietnamese it has always been a feat to place an order with the staff here and in all this time I have been going there, perhaps I should have learnt enough phrases to set them straight. With a small level of difficulty we managed to order a couple of soup starters and roast meat on rice mains – the latter has been my staple dish from here for the last 15+ years. Surprisingly the waitress guessed that I was not the world’s best chopstick wielder and she brought cutlery to our table.
The roast meats arrived first – not the soups – and as hunger was paramount we didn’t even notice at first. There is a bit of choice in the roast meats and if you wanted to you could sample three different meats of your choice served on steamed rice for $11.95. My choice was the duck, naturally, and a crispy pork and bbq spare ribs ensemble. My other fellow diners were pronounced non-Duck eaters for reasons unexplained (and unjustified) so their order consisted of a trio of Pork meat.
Hong Kong BBQ cook their duck to perfection and while the establishment is far from ranking with 5 stars its Roast Duck and Pork is at the top of the class. The Duck is always flavoursome and succulent – and even though you will find a little fat on the bird, it is minimal – after all any seasoned lover or duck expects a little fat to fuel the flavour.
The Crispy Pork arrives at your table and it is always, as the name suggests – Crispy. It has a unique crackling (the crispy part) that you look forward to and to date has not disappointed and the roasted pork belly meat is cooked without any overpowering additions, so all you taste are the naturally sweet and salty flavours of the meat. Hong Kong BBQ serves the best Char Siew pork around and I think it would rival some of restaurants in the motherland itself (I am yet to travel to China and prove this theory). The pork fillets, although roasted and resting in the window after the cooking process that renders them a bright red, are still juicy and not dried out like some other imposter Char Siew that tastes like it has been pot boiled and then merely glazed with the red marinade…you know who you are!!! The BBQ ribs add the element of bone to the char siew dish and where there are bones there’s a party (Imagine a rack of Ribs American Style…cooked by Hong Kong BBQ – I should have discussions with the head chef sometime…after all I am a regular.
And if you are like me and like your steamed rice a little more seasoned feel free to ask for a bowl of their Stock Sauce – this is the good stuff and probably years in the making – Master Stock (remind me to post my recipe on here sometime!). Also a visit to an Asian restaurant would not be complete for me without Chilli Oil of some sort and the staff at Hong Kong BBQ gladly oblige to your request with a very nice chilli number and fresh chillies just in case you like it hot – and I do!!.
Our soups did finally arrive as amidst the hullabaloo of a bustling Friday night service the kitchen forgot the order.
The Combination Soup is a simple clear broth with poached chicken, pork, prawn and a very creatively scored piece of calamari with a couple of rehydrated Chinese mushrooms. Somewhat lacking in flavour but easily fixed with the chilli oil and some soy – at $4.50 it is rather basic and worth skipping.
For a little more flavour in a soup bowl order the Hot & Sour Soup which is neither hot nor sour, but has a fresh Thai inspired base served with pineapple pieces and the regular meaty bits – a little bit of garnish like Kaffir Lime leaves or lemongrass would take this soup a little further. It may have been due to the soup arriving after the main but the meal would have been complete without it.
Hong Kong BBQ also sells a variety of Seafood and the fresh aquarium in the front of the store is open for your selection. On many occasions families are congregated around a large table feasting on a big plate of self-chosen Crab or Whole Fish spinning dizzily on a central “Lazy Susan” There are also dishes served on sizzling plates that crackle whilst the aroma of the dish wafts by you as it is brought out to the ordering table. Although not the most likely venue but I will make a bold call and vow to have at least one birthday celebration dinner at Hong Kong BBQ with a group just to experience that communal dining I see quite regularly. I have not had the opportunity to try a number of tantalising dishes on their large menu and a group setting would be the perfect opportunity.
Hong Kong BBQ has etched a big mark on my foodie heart and I have to be most forgiving for their service at times as their Roast Duck and Char Siew dishes have always delivered on taste and flavour and presents value for money. For me it definitely is one of many gems located in Footscray and it has spoilt me quite favourably, when it comes to BBQ Pork. Until I find a better place that serves up the same quality, as I have for the last 15 or so years, I will always rave on about Hong Kong BBQ.