Dainty Sichuan Box Hill

Well, it has finally happened. I have, after years of unrepentant, seemingly bottomless gluttony, been defeated by food.

How it happened: Mere weeks after experiencing my first taste of Dainty Sichuan at their South Yarra restaurant, Steph invited me along on a food bloggers expedition to Dainty’s new hotpot-orientated outpost in Box Hill, in the company of Cindy and Michael from Where’s the Beef, and W from The Simple Eater.

Up on the first floor of a building a street back from Box Hill’s Centro and train station, this new Dainty is HUGE. And it is constantly bustling, steam curling up in billows above full, chattering tables. Hotpot is a very social eating activity, and best enjoyed with a group of friends over a few hours.

There’s a variety of stock bases on offer to start your hotpot, with the most obviously vegan ones being the mushroom base, and the chilli base. Being wracked with indecision as per usual, I decided to cut my loses and and go for the half/half option so that I could have half a pot of each (they don’t mix them together – instead a divider in placed in the hotpot to keep the two stocks separate). When your pot is delivered, you then turn on the little hot plate set in the table in order to keep your stock bubbling away through the evening. Each person has an individual pot, and the waiters will refill it for you throughout the evening as you eat it/it gets evaporated into steam.

There’s a vast cornucopia of vegie things you can order for your hotpot. Here’s what we went with, following Steph’s lead:

  • potato slices
  • lotus root
  • seaweed threads
  • vermicelli noodles
  • pumpkin slices
  • Chinese cabbage
  • mushroom combo, involving oyster, enoki, and lord knows what else, it was a BOUNTY
  • extra oyster mushrooms, because
  • potato noodles
  • cubes of frozen tofu
  • dried tofu sticks

HELLO GLUTTONY.

I made the very quick discovery that while everything I put into the mushroom side of the pot to simmer away in turned out incredibly tasty, only certain things worked well in the flaming heat of the chilli stock. The potato slices made the most use of the chilli stock, soaking up the heat and becoming molten discs of intensity. The pumpkin slices worked equally well, leaving me with the impression that chilli and starches were clearly the best of friends in this situation. With the other ingredients though the chilli was definitely too much for them and didn’t lend anything complimentary, so I ended up sticking most things in the mushroom broth. The potato noodles were a particular favourite, as well as the lotus root and the oyster mushrooms, which just soaked up broth like tasty fungi sponges.

Make sure you also visit the enormous condiments station to whip together some wee bowls of sauce to dip all your hotpot ingredients into. I ended up being very boringly anglo and just mixed together some soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds (which WAS delicious, I stand by the obviousness of it), but there is so much for you to play around with, seriously, go wild.

To drink, nearly all of us went with a lychee ice. Cool and refreshing and definitely required if you go with a chilli stock base – being able to cram a cooling whole lychee in my mouth became necessary at certain chilli-numbing portions of the night.

Also if you end up with any leftover hotpot ingredients, Dainty will actually pack them up for you to take home with a small 20c fee to cover the plastic containers. Waste not want not!

Over the course of nearly three and a half hours we ate and chatted, and this is the deceptive nature of hotpot coming into play – it is very easy not to realise how much you have actually eaten until it is too late. In my case, I didn’t realise until I got home and laid down on the couch to watch some Rage.

Yeah. That was a mistake.

Cue me spending the next 24 hours gingerly only imbibing lemon-honey tea and the occasional Ryvita, while my tummy ached and made many upsetting sounds.

Touche, Dainty Sichuan, you bested me with your endless spread. I’ll be handing in my Glutton’s Card now with the requisite amount of shame.

Dainty Sichuan

Level 1, 2a Cambridge Street, Box Hill

Ph: 9041 4318

You can read Where’s the Beef’s account of our visit here.

Red Cup

I absolutely love it when friends suggest to me places for brunch dates that I had no idea even existed. It’s especially wonderful when they’re places out in the east, as I’m always looking for good food places closer to home.

Bec suggested that Red Cup might be a good place for us to meet for a catch-up brunch on a sunny Sunday, as it was a halfway point between our respective suburbs. It’s easy to pick out on a residential strip of Whitehorse Road, with families with dogs setting up camp on the pavement tables, above which swings a red sign in the shape of a cup and saucer.

I was feeling like a proper Sunday breakfast dish, which meant I required a significant portion of it to be fried. The potato and pumpkin bubble and squeak fit the bill: a giant slab of cobbled potato and pumpkin served with lightly sauteed baby spinach leaves, a poached egg with a bright orange centre that was properly gooey, topped with a damn good hollandaise that was mustard yellow and delightfully creamy, with just a slight vinegary tinge. It was an enormous brekkie, and given that the potato/pumpkin ratio was heavily stacked in favour of the pumpkin, it also got a little bit overwhelming towards the end. But still, good tasty stuff.

Bec had the eggs benedict, with more of that amazingly bright and creamy hollandaise, and thick slabs of bacon that by their charred bands looked as if they’d been cooked in a grill pan, and were certainly reported as being super delicious. She wasn’t much of a fan of the pot of baked beans she ordered on the side, though, saying that the relish they’d been mixed with was far too sweet.

It seems to be the only cafe of its kind in the area, and therefore was massively busy on the Sunday morning we visited, so a little patience would definitely be a virtue. You should definitely NOT be like the gentleman with three children in tow who decided to complain about the wait in an extremely loud and rude voice that no one could ignore (honestly, anyone who purposefully complains so that the whole cafe can hear deserves a jug of burnt milk to be poured over their heads, but that may just be the embittered ex-barista in me talking). Especially as all the staff bar one were very cheery kids in their late teens who were dealing with the fuss and bubble in a professional and pleasant manner.

Red Cup is worth seeking out, especially if you live out here in the east and are longing for a nice cafe where you can get yourself a nice meal, or even just a simple coffee and cake (seriously, the sweets selection looked quite boss, I was disappointed that I was too full to fit any more in!).

Red Cup

1124 Whitehorse Road, Box Hill

Ph: 9899 1893

http://www.redcup.com.au/