Tuesday, April 9, 2013

U-Village Restaurant

I've been fairly busy the last few weeks, so it was undeniably nice to receive an invite to relax and have a date night checking out the newly opened U-Village in St Kilda.

First established in 2003 in Malaysia, this is the first international expansion for the group, overseen by the friendly and inventive Kai Yee (he's the creative mind behind the menu). The dishes are designed to be shared in the typical Asian style. With fusion cuisine that melds Malaysian, Thai and Chinese influences together, making full use of fresh Australian product, there's unique combinations that I'm not entirely sure would work, but are intriguing enough for me to want to try out. A flavour combination of red bean, ginger, pork, cranberries and chillis? Definitely something to try next time I'm there!

U-Village (Hi Kai!)
We were fairly late for our reservation on a Saturday night, but the staff were super accommodating and seated us next to the window so we could watch the world go by. 

Not long after we sat down, someone famous sat down on the other side of the window. We only know that he was famous because people stopped to take pictures. Obviously in a band. With long dreads. Probably Australian. After we contemplated these facts, we came to the conclusion (and with supporting evidence from Google) that it was non-other than John Butler!

U-Village has a seal of approval from him, so that's got to give it major brownie points.

I'm getting a little off track though. What we had for our meal was a selection of the most popular items on the menu as a combination of small plates, mains, and dessert. To start things off were three small dishes, all showcasing very different ingredients.

Five-spiced prawn, sambal, lime, caramel sugar on perilla leaves 
The five-spiced prawn, sambal, lime, caramel sugar on perilla leaves was crunchy and well balanced with sweet, spicy, salty and sour flavours all making an appearance. A very tasty dish that didn't stray too far from expectations. 

Duck San Choy Bao with pomegranate pine nuts & sweet soy sauce

The Duck San Choy Bao with pomegranate pine nuts & sweet soy sauce is a similar crowd-pleaser with a delicate contrast in the sweetness of the pomegranate and earthiness of the pine-nuts. The best thing about this dish is that it's deconstructed, so you get to have fun building it yourself.

What did confuse me was the third starter:

Yellowtail tuna sashimi with dressing of scallions, sesame, chilli, fried ginger, shallots, coconut and lime juice
The tuna slices were not your typical sashimi slices being larger, yet flatter than I am used to getting in Japanese restaurants. Raw fish needs sauce and often salty or sour varieties are provided, not sweet ones that are heavy on coconut flavour. It's jarring to the palate, but not necessarily unpleasant. It just took some getting used to.

The main course usually requires some sort of carbohydrates on the side, and U-Village have a range of simple rices, as well as fried rice and various noodles on offer. We chose the pineapple fried rice.  

Pineapple, crabmeat, prawn, shallots, spring onion and egg fried rice $26
Which came in what else, but a pineapple! The presentation was clever and unique and I found the rice  interesting as I've had little exposure to this Thai dish. 

Our first main was my must-order on most menus: pork-belly.

24 hours braised sweet vinegar pork belly, cinnamon, chilli, black peppercorns with mango salad
My first impression was that the pork was on the dry side, but that's because I'd picked the top-most piece without much sauce. I soon learnt my mistake and enthusiastically dunked it into the pool of sauce surrounding the other pieces. The green mango salad was a refreshing accompaniment, and overall the dish felt somewhat healthier than other pork-belly dishes I've eaten. Not that I'm sure pork belly and healthy ever really belong in the same sentence. 

Thick red rendang curry soft shell crab with kaffir lime leaves, eggplant and mint
Wow. It was undoubtedly the star of the menu and my favourite dish of the night. It's a perfect curry base that's slightly spicy but not too hot, with plenty of crunchy crab, small eggplants, and fresh green beans. I could have devoured the entire plate by myself but 1. I had to share with M out of courtesy, and 2. I needed to leave room for dessert. 

The desserts continued to be interested twists on old classics.

Pandan creme brulee with salted honeycomb
The Pandan creme brulee had a strong pandan flavour, but was lighter than your standard creme brulee. I would have preferred the honeycomb to be the saltier side, and had no idea how I would eat the two together in a way that was classier than just putting both in my mouth, but I really enjoyed this dish. 

Deep fried taro wrapped vanilla ice-cream with gula melaka sweet and tangy sauce

Deep fried taro wrapped vanilla ice-cream with gula melaka sweet and tangy sauce
The deep fried ice-cream was tastier than standard versions found in Chinese restaurants thanks to the taro skin, and the ginger enhanced syrup highlighted the creaminess of the ice-cream. My only gripe was that there should have been more solid ice-cream rather than the runny liquid. Still tasted great though. 

U-Village Restaurant has an interesting menu, and the experience is enhanced by a great host, great service and overall a great atmosphere. Classy enough for dates, yet casual enough for catching up with a group of friends, I can see myself coming back next time I'm in St Kilda. Plus, there are so many dishes I want to come back and try! The soft-shell crab is a must order and I'm having a whole plate to myself next time.

We dined as guests of U-Village and Chique Events

U-Village Restaurant
1/29 Fitzroy Street, St. Kilda
Mon-Sun  Lunch 12pm-3pm, Dinner 6pm-late

U-Village Restaurant on Urbanspoon