29 Crossley St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Melbourne, VIC 3000
I am super duper excited. Not only am I eating at Gingerboy for the first time ever, but I am also doing so armed with a brand new second hand DSLR! I was also going to go see the Hunger Games before our booking at 6, but didn’t end up making it due to rogue session times. Phooey.
I’m about to openly admit to poor food blogger form, and say the reason that I’ve avoided the much-lauded Gingerboy for so long is due to nothing other than my own apprehensions towards westernised hawker food. Well, apprehension and forty dollar mains. But after being told countless times by Alithat Gingerboy is the most amazing restaurant in Melbourne, I finally caved in and made a booking for Friday night dinner.
We were walked past the bar area and seated in the dining area, which was decorated cleverly to resemble a cave with star-studded walls and ceiling. It was a lot smaller than I had expected it to be, but that’s probably a good thing – it prevented the decor from being tacky, and the plastic stools from making it feel like a canteen. Hawker-styled food they may be, but they’re gunning for gourmet here.
As soon as I whipped my camera out, a waiter was next to me asking if I were going to be doing some food photography tonight. He proceeded to take very good care of us for the rest of the evening, including showing me the nicest angle to photograph the dishes from, and patiently answering all my questions about the food, despite how busy it was. Shame the evening still turned out to be very stressful, between working out the intricacies in my new-old camera and trying to get decent photos in the semi-demi-light. Not good first-time conditions for photography, though excellent for a first date.
|Son in Law Eggs ($13.5 for 3)|
We started out with a pair of Gingerboy’s signature Son in Law Eggs($13.5 for 3), which we were supposed to pop into our mouths in its entirety, chew, and hope for the best. Having heard nightmarish tales about yolk getting up sinuses, I opted to carefully bite into it instead. And proceeded to get half of the runny yolk onto my shirt. Flavour-wise, the eggs were lusciously creamy under a slightly chewy exterior, but it’s the chilli jam and really makes them come alive. Spoon it on, slather it on top, just don’t skimp on the sweet and spicy sauce that makes your palate dance.
|Crispy Chilli Salt Cuttlefish ($15)|
Crispy Chilli Salt Cuttlefish ($15) is a surprisingly easy dish to get wrong. Too much batter, too little squid, flavourless seasoning, way too greasy, and so forth. But this red-headed bloke manages to get them just right. A piece of cuttlefish so fresh that really, it would be a sin to have it any way other than sashimi, was lightly encased in batter that rivals tempura for lightness. A deceptively simple looking spice mix got our lips tingling with heat and flavour. A quick squeeze of the lemon, ingeniously wrapped in a little square of mesh, is all that’s needed to cut through the decadence.
|Red Duck Leg Curry ($38.5)|
|Red Duck Leg Curry ($38.5)|
For mains, we shared another one of Gingerboy’s signature dishes, the Red Duck Leg Curry ($38.5). Four whole legs of duck reclined in a pool of saffron sauce, drizzled with coconut and topped with Thai basil. This curry was a winning concoction of robust yet delicate flavours, and the sweet and creamy sauce hid a slow-building heat. The duck was a bit dry towards the outside, but the center was pink and juicy. This was a very rich dish that’s best had with some rice, and a lot of greenery on the side.
To finish up our meal, we couldn’t go past the Dessert Share Plate($39.5), which included a smaller serve of every single dessert on the menu. And because the field of view of my lens was, by that point, infuriatingly narrow, I had to take a picture of the desserts one by one. And four out of the five desserts had melting components, which did nothing for my stress levels. The desserts however, did.
|Aloe Vera and Young Coconut Tapioca with Pineapple Sorbet|
The first dessert was a refreshing Aloe Vera and Young Coconut Tapioca with Pineapple Sorbet. One taste of this and I am immediately glad that we ordered the share plate. Normally I wouldn’t even consider this dessert, but it actually turned out to be my favourite. Little pearls of tapioca cooked to a perfect al dente and aloe vera seeds floated in a light and fruity syrup that’s reminiscent of those drinks you find at Asian grocers, in the best way possible. The sour pineapple sorbet and shard of dehydrated pineapple lent dimension to the mouthful of sweetness.
|Banana Fritters, Yellow Rock Sugar, and Pandan Ice Cream|
And it just goes to show, never judge a dish by its name. If we had ordered the individual desserts, I probably would have decided on the Banana Fritters, Yellow Rock Sugar, and Pandan Ice Cream and missed out on the amazing tapioca. This was possibly the only disappointing dish of the night, with bananas that are much too ripe, and pandan ice cream lacking the intense fragrance you would normally associate with the plant.
|Espresso Tofu Cheesecake, Milk Jelly and Chocolate Coffee Beans|
The Espresso Tofu Cheesecake, Milk Jelly and Chocolate Coffee Beanswas a perfect and intriguing little cylinder. My spoon was confused as it cut into the cheesecake – the wobble said tofu, but the airy softness said cheesecake. My taste buds settled the argument, and decided on cheesecake, even though we were informed that there’s actually no cheese in it whatsoever. This was a creamy treat, with just enough coffee for Chris to not mind it, and for me to not wish for a bigger caffeine hit.
|Coconut and Chilli Chocolate Splice, Candied Chilli and Lotus Root|
The fancy sounding Coconut and Chilli Chocolate Splice, Candied Chilli and Lotus Root was a gourmet take on the Splice ice creams sitting in supermarket freezers. The wedge of ice cream was creamy with coconut, but disappointingly light on the chocolate, and non-existent on the chilli. The fresh coconut slivers however were a welcome taste of the long-gone summer, and the bright green dehydrated lotus root was an adventure in itself.
|Spiced Apple and Rhubarb Cashew Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream|
At the other end of the plate is the Spiced Apple and Rhubarb Cashew Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream. Sitting in a cute little clay bowl with a pinch of fairy floss (DIBS) and a stick of dehydrated rhubarb (someone in the kitchen clearly loves dehydrating), this was an excellent segue from the summery flavours of the splice into the wholesome harvest flavours of autumn. Tangy baked rhubarb topped with a sweet, nutty crumble and scoop of ice cream, what’s not to love?
I’m quite disappointed to say that I wasn’t blown away by Gingerboy – it has the essence of south-east Asian food, but it lacks the raw guttural punch that’s characteristic of it. The sharp and tangy flavours have been moulded and reshaped into something more subtle and suiting to western palates. However, it would also be entirely wrong of me to not acknowledge Gingerboy as a good restaurant. The food is tasty, the vibe is hip and happening, and the waiters managed to check up on us throughout the night despite being rushed off their feet. I know it’s a bit of a strange thing to say but, I think Gingerboy would be much more enjoyable for someone who isn’t so set in their ways about what Asian cuisine should and shouldn’t be.
Rating: 14/20 – gourmet hawker by the red-head