Monga Dessert Lounge

Posted on July 20, 2011

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Sweets are in vogue, surely you didn’t need me to tell you that. Chocolate cafes, cake shops and desserts bars are sprouting up every which where. But what is a Chinese dessert? Stop, I know a lot of you may be thinking banana fritter/pineapple fritter with icecream or lychees with icecream. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but poke around an old school Chinese family dinner and those are rather unlikely desserts. A Chinese, moreso Cantonese, dessert tends to be literally translated as ‘sweet soups’. Why are these not more commonly found in menus of Chinese establishments? Why are we Aussies denied this dessert experience? Well for one, a particular celebrity chef on the 2011 My Kitchen Rules program announced that the red bean sweet soup would have been a better dessert if it was served as a small condiment to icecream rather than being the main event. He appears to have missed the point of the dessert, but there you have it, mainstream Australia does not seem ready for a more traditional Chinese sweet soup.

Whatever the case, I get the feeling that Monga Dessert Lounge (1F 600 Station Street, Box Hill VIC and 2 other locations) isn’t really pitching itself towards the mainstream. The look and feel they’ve gone for, in their own words, is nostalgic of Hong Kong in the 1970s.  Who better to reminisce about Hong Kong in the 70s than the people who lived in that period, or grew up with cultural references towards that time and space continuum?

Whilst I can claim a little nous regarding South East Asian/Chinese/Cantonese desserts (hey, I read widely online, I have friends of varied ethnicity and I’ve even visited a number of Asian countries!), I can’t really relate to Hong Kong in the 70s. Generally I believe they’ve achieved the desired look. A rickshaw at the downstairs entrance, booth seating, wooden tables and chairs, retro pedestal fan and birdcages fill the spacious dining hall. Posters depicting Hong Kong street scenes filled with people going about their daily business line the walls and faux windows. The entrance is also guarded by a slightly worn black security door and ancestral shrine typical of Hong Kong apartments. Tick for an authentic look, but does it feel welcoming and comfortable? Not to me. Retro can be cool and funky or it could just be dated and daggy. I would put this one in the latter category.

Now for the dessert discussion. The menu offers the classic sweet soups (ie. red bean soup, sweet potato and ginger soup etc.), the nurturing double boiled sweet soups (ie. white fungus and papaya etc.), black rice pudding varieties, hawker style waffles, and then more new age sago/jelly/fruity dishes. The classic and double boiled soups are cooked fresh every morning and thus have a limited daily batch. Pricing starts at around $5 going up to the the low teens and with the majority of items being price at about $8. Is it good value? It’s all about context isn’t it? Well…given that Monga also serve savory rice/noodle dishes for around the $10 mark, desserts are probably a little on the expensive side of things.

We opted for two of the store’s recommendations and admittedly the ones we chose doesn’t exactly fall into the traditional category. The first was mango, pomelo (ie. grapefruit), sago, exploding bobba and grass jelly mix (~$8). It was nice and fresh, I really liked the exploding bobba as they’re quite interesting (the medium sized orange balls in the photo). They burst in your mouth with a mango-y flavour, what’s not to like? Our complaint is the very minuscule amount of pomelo in the dish, you can hardly claim it to feature pomelo when it’s treated far more like a garnish! The photo below proves I’m not exaggerating about that either.

Next up was the durian fritters with durian icecream ($10.80). How hypocritical of me right? I’d started out lamenting that deep fried fruit do not qualify as a worthy Chinese dessert, and look what I ordered. So shoot me, I have been known to eat my own words before. I was really using it as an example to show how desserts tend to be an after thought in a lot of Chinese places. And given that there isn’t much general knowledge about what Chinese desserts are or can be, I just wanted to make the point that I would like to see this trend change. But I digress, the durian was quite a nice treat, and at least it departs from the usual banana or pineapple offering. For the record, durian isn’t for everyone, some will most definitely complain about its smell. I personally rather like it for its smooth and creamy texture. The taste isn’t something that can be easily described; you will either love it or hate it. The fritters were tasty if just a little over-battered; definitely our favourite of the day.

As a drink we had their watermelon and herbal jelly concoction ($6). Fresh and tasty albeit rather steep for something non alcoholic. And this leads up to my biggest grievance about the venue…they have a ‘policy’ (stipulated on their menu) of not providing complimentary tap water or tea to paying patrons. What the? I’m sorry, that’s just rude. My personal policy is that I don’t like places that won’t give out free water from the tap. For goodness sake even bars and nightclubs will give out water when asked. Compound that with the fact that they mandate a minimum charge of $4.50 per person. Is that necessary? The pricing of the menu and the requirement to purchase a drink if you’re thirsty ensures most people will spend at least $10 each. On principle alone, those two policies are enough for me to shun a place. But then again, where else is there in Melbourne with such a wide range of traditional and new age Chinese desserts? Typical monopolist behaviour I suppose.

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