Dahon Tea Lounge
This is what my friend (and I guess a lot of Melbourne) have been waiting for – a Filipino restaurant. Located in the shopping centre of South Melbourne Central, we found Dahon Tea Lounge a little hard to find the first time, until we realised its entrance is much easier to find from York St and not from within the centre itself.
As a tea lounge, they have a range of interesting sounding gourmet teas, which you can find here. I always enjoy their refreshing flavours of iced tea, my first time opting for my favourite fruit, mango, with passionfruit (below, $5.20) and my second, a berry and lychee (above), which even had some lychees at the bottom. The tea mixes in well with the fruity flavours, so you don’t feel like the flavour is too diluted or either the fruit or tea overpowers each other. The drink on the top right, is a vanilla sago drink, which I can’t say I enjoyed the taste of and would very happily try the entire gourmet tea menu instead. Perhaps the pandan sago version tastes better, but I don’t like pandan either haha!
On our first visit, my friend was so excited we pretty much ordered everything. By everything I mean longganisa (Filo sausages), pancit canton (wheat noodles stir-fried with vegetables, prawns and chicken, $9.70), deep fried pork belly ($10.20) and a serving of BBQ pork skewers in a meal ($6.90 with garlic rice, extra $1 for egg).
It’s lucky I have a Filo friend to assist with judging the authenticity of our meal. My friend’s first impressions were that they did not taste as good as her homeland. The pork belly was a little dry and salty. Similarly, the noodles did not reach my friend’s expectations, tasting a bit flavourless and watery.
However, the BBQ pork and longganisa were both delicious, but had a different taste compared to food back in the Philippines. As my friend has mentioned numerous times, she loves Filo BBQ. As a non-Filipino, I find there is something about how Filipino people marinate or barbecue meat that gives their BBQ dishes a distinct, rich and smoky flavour, and makes it stand out from your average BBQ.
Thus it only makes sense for Dahon to have added BBQ wings to their menu ($10.50, above) on our next visit. Once again, it had a delicious BBQ taste but a little too dark/burnt in some areas. My friend also asked for java (tomato) rice and but the waitress said we had ordered steamed rice, so perhaps we weren’t listening properly when she read back our order, although it would have nice for a swap to have been offered.
They have also introduced the longganisa in a rice dish, so I went for that, having enjoyed them previously. They were a bit darker than last time, still fat, juicy and full of flavour but I think the first time was better.
And of course, we couldn’t visit without some BBQ skewers (right, 2 pieces for $3.80), so we had the BBQ pork again (top) and pork tocino (bottom). The BBQ pork was again perfect and mouthwatering with its smoky BBQ flavour, however the pork tocino somehow didn’t emanate this same, addictive taste.
In fact, we love the BBQ pork so much, we shared another meal, this time with java rice (below)! In the top left corner, my friend ordered more of the side that the Filipino dishes come with (a little tub for $3), called atchara, which is pickled papaya, sometimes with other vegetables such as carrot. It adds a sour side of vegetables to balance out your BBQ dishes.
We also ordered seafood sinigang, a sour tamarind soup. To share, I think the dish was $20+ and I was surprised by the many prawns and abundance of fish that is included. It’s a little too sour for my taste, although it is similar to the Vietnamese dish, canh chua. I prefer the Vietnamese soup that uses tomato and egg, less watery/sour and more flavoursome for my taste than both the sinigang and canh chua. Despite this, I still happily enjoyed the seafood, whereas my friend preferred the soup itself.
The question you may be pondering now is probably, did we have room for dessert? Well the first time, in the excitement of it all we went for the classic halo halo (below, $7.80). Similar to some other Asian desserts that use shaved ice, halo halo usually includes shaved ice, evaporated milk, yam, ice-cream, and various other ingredients such as beans, nuts and fruits. You pretty much mix this all together and eat it! The serving was large, but could not compare to the motherland for my friend. For me, it was definitely interesting but it had quite a lot of shaved ice diluting some of the flavour and I think perhaps it could be too exotic for my taste.
The second time we were unsurprisingly quite full, so even though we eyed the leche flan (a Filo dessert like crème caramel) and the ube (purple yam) cake in their display cabinet, we had to take our full bellies and save it for another time. I have heard their cakes are quite good though.
So after these visits, I can conclude that Dahon is not 100% authentic. However, with the lack of Filipino restaurants in Melbourne, it makes an exciting venue and provides a change to other Asian restaurants that there are plenty of. This may be a start of many more Filo restaurants popping up – who knows! It’s not amazing, but there are plenty of aspects that can satisfy your Filo food cravings or curiosity as to what Filo food tastes is like.
Dahon Tea Lounge is open Mon, Tue, Thurs, Sun 11-4pm, Fri-Sat 11am-9pm and they are closed on Wednesdays. It is located at Shop 5, Sth Melbourne Central, enter from York St.
You can view an old version of the menu here, or view their Facebook for more updated items.
UPDATE 23 Nov 2013: I’ve just heard that Dahon is now permanently closed after deciding not to renew their lease. I have since heard of other Filipino restaurants in the suburbs, so stay tuned!