Despite the fact that I’ve eaten from Miss Chu’s Exhibition Street location in the city quite a few times since it opened, I’ve never felt particularly compelled to blog about it. This is for the reason that even though I’ve always really enjoyed the food, the vibe of the restaurant itself has always left me stone cold. From frequently being ignored as a solo diner by waitstaff who always seem to be more focused on prepping or talking among themselves, to being overcrowded in the furniture-stuffed small space, to that slightly paranoid feeling that everyone else around you is in the venue purely to be seen, Miss Chu as a place has always made me feel uncomfortable. Indeed, the times I’ve enjoyed Miss Chu the most has been those times when I’ve been with friends in the city and we’ve ordered Miss Chu’s to deliver: that way I was able to focus on the delicately flavoured, well put together food without feeling that I was far too uncool to be allowed to experience it.
So when I discovered that the second Melbourne Miss Chu location was to be opened around the corner from one of my workplaces, I was all kinds of conflicted. Because even though I was excited to get delicious rice paper rolls is a location convenient for me, I was worried that the same problems that I’d experienced at Exhibition Street would also be prevalent at South Yarra.
Biting the bullet, Muffin and I decided to visit for lunch after we had seen a film at the Como. I was interested to see how Muffin would react to the food and space, given that she had never had Miss Chu’s before.
The South Yarra space is still a bit furniture-crammed, but it’s much more brightly lit and cheery than Exhibition Street’s dark cavern. I particularly liked the strings of light fittings with blue and white patterned porcelain bowls that had been converted into lampshades, an idea taken from the Exhibition Street store and refined in a much more striking way.
There was a bit of a kerfuffle in ordering – you order using little take out sheets where you tick the boxes next to what you want, which is simple enough, but when I took it to the counter it took quite a while for any of the numerous staff to acknowledge me, then once a waiter had noticed me there was drama with the till – it seemed like no one present was terribly familiar with how to use it – then the wrong bill was tallied up and my correct docket had to be re-found. This isn’t intended as a slight against the staff, they were very apologetic and much friendlier than any I’d encountered at Exhibition Street, it just seems that this might be a case where the many staff are trained to fulfill certain roles on the floor and in the kitchen and aren’t briefed on things that fall outside of those roles. Which probably works marvelously well when the joint is pumping but, you know, less well when there’s not much happening.
Anyway, onto food. We got the two types of vegie rice paper rolls, the vegetarian with egg omelette, avocado and balsamic caramelised onion, and the vegan option with tofu, mushrooms and spinach. I’ve always really loved the egg omelette roll, despite the fact that the caramelised onions never really make their presence known, it’s still a lovely fresh burst of a thing to bite into. The vegan option is much the same, just lacking the same touch of umami possessed by the egg ones (umami is one of those pretentious, over-used food blogger words that I should avoid using, isn’t it? I just feel like I use ‘savoury’ too much in place of it. Eh, bygones). What really makes the rice paper rolls exciting is the little bottle of, by all accounts house made, chilli sauce served with them. This stuff is liquid crack – it’s not terribly hot, but is more subtle with loads of spice and sweetness and I just want to slather it over everything.
I can’t go without dumplings, so I had to make sure some English spinach and tofu steamed dumplings hit the table. They had lovely thin and delicate wrappers that were steamed into a smooth gelatinous consistency, and come swimming in a gingery soy sauce. Gingery anything always goes down well with me, and it made up for the fact that the filling itself wasn’t amazingly flavoursome.
Next were the vegetarian net spring rolls. Or LITTLE CRISPY TUBES OF AWESOME. The net pastry means that you get a huge dose of crispy, which is just how I like my fried things. Do be aware though that you only get four in a serving, they’re not terribly big and you will be struck with the desire to want more almost immediately.
Wanting a cooling beverage, I decided to order a coconut water, which I’ve never had before. Annoying diet food trend side, it was quite refreshing, and I did like the fact that it contained softened curls of coconut flesh as well.
So my conclusion by this point was this: despite various annoyances with the set up of the place, the food is genuinely pretty good. The flavours have clearly been softened slightly for the desired clientele (so if you’re looking for a proper Vietnamese chilli punch, look elsewhere), but is still tasty enough to mostly be worth the bother. Muffin had been very pleased too with the food, and came away with a very positive first impression.
And then as we were leaving, I spotted the delivery scooters lined up out along the footpath in front of the restaurant. In particular, the large slogans emblazoned on the scooters proclaiming “You ling, we bling!”
WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK.
Did I miss the memo saying that it was totally cool now to use racist caricature language in marketing? I mean, we’re talking about a venue and a brand that has set itself up to be as cool and on-trend as humanly possible, and presents a menu of “authentic”-branded Vietnamese food that, and let’s be blunt, is deliberately designed to appeal to young white people. This smacks pretty forcefully of being straight up hipster racism.
Upon further research it appears that this is a pretty standard part of Miss Chu’s marketing strategy. For instance, on the Miss Chu website, the button to click in order to like them on Facebook says “Me likey!” GROSS. GROSS GROSS GROSS.
I sent several ranty emails to my friend Jen (who is well accustomed to receiving numerous frothing, CAPSLOCK-heavy email cries of despair from me) about this whole thing and asked her whether I was over-reacting. Her response started with “Well, considering the business is helmed by a Laotian-Vietnamese woman, maybe they’re being self-consciously ironic and re-appropriating racist phrasing?” but quickly plunged into doubt the more she researched, to finally culminate in her own rage-filled email: “Oh, it gets worse – I just tried to order Miss Chu’s delivered and the website came up with the message ‘WE NO DELIVER WHERE YOU LIVE.’ Whyyyyy, Hayley, whyyyyyy.” Why indeed.
Look, I was willing to forgive a whole avalanche of pretentiousness in order to get some good food, but tacitly endorsing horridly cutesy, ‘ironic’ racist sloganeering for the sake of a few delicious rice paper rolls? Yeah, that’s not something that I’m okay with. Adios, Miss Chu.
276 Toorak Road, South Yarra
Ph: 9041 5848
Update: My friend Joe alerted me via Twitter of yet another example of grossness on their website.