23 Railway Parade N Glen Waverley, VIC 3150
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri 11am-3pm, 4.30pm-9.30pm; Sat-Sun 11am-9.30pm|
|Features||BYO, Cheap Eats|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9887 9698|
The ancient capital of Xi'an, in Shaanxi province in north-western China, is famous for its Terracotta Warriors, extraordinarily long "biang biang" noodles and roujiamo (flatbread burgers).
There's not much Shaanxi food in Melbourne but as we welcome in the Year of the Rat – indicative of innovation and fresh beginnings – I thought it a marvellous time to open mind and mouth to a cuisine many of us don't know much about.
Because of its wheat-belt latitude, Shaanxi is more about noodles and breads than rice. There's also Muslim influence, dating back to seventh century Silk Road travellers. Shaanxi-Style honours the various strands of the cuisine, rattling through most of the classics (burgers, soups, cold dishes, noodles, skewers) with a few Melbourne adjustments.
In China, if you order the famous "paomo" lamb soup you'd first be given bread to tear up and place in an empty bowl. This would then be sent back to the kitchen for filling with broth and meat. Food safety regulations make that a tricky proposition here: the housemade bread is pre-chopped, but the broth is authentically rich and spicy, made here daily.
It's a hearty, warming dish, using characteristic Shaanxi spices including cumin, Sichuan pepper, clove, cinnamon and star anise, part of a complex house blend of 20 spices that's used liberally here.
The "dao xiao Shaanxi special biang noodle" is exceptional – I get a thrill thinking about it. It's based on sliced wheat noodles (dao xiao mian) with other elements arranged on top, like a fabulously spicy Chinese wellness bowl.
There's pork mince with soy bean paste, a loose egg and tomato scramble, a stir fry of potato, carrot and celery, and a splash of hot oil spiked with garlic and chilli. It's shareable but it also makes a bright, sustaining, cheap meal for one.
Unfortunately, Shaanxi-Style doesn't do biang biang noodles. Luckily, the shorter dao xiao mian are springy and pert, deftly sliced from a block of wheat dough straight into the pot.
Hand-cut noodles also star in a generous chicken and potato stir-fry, notable for the carb-on-carb joy (a feature of Shaanxi cooking), the prickly heat of Sichuan pepper, and the depth of flavour from soy bean paste. It's colourful, soupy and bountiful.
Cold dishes are great on hot days, including the chopped "evergreen" vegetables, studded with tofu and seasoned with garlic and sesame oil.
The restaurant is proud of its pig's ear, marinated, braised, sliced and served chilled with cucumber strips, chilli oil, black vinegar and garlic. Chewy and tasty, ear is an easy entry point to the offal and odd bits dotted through the menu.
The Liu family who owns Shaanxi-Style has a connection to most of the Shaanxi restaurants in Melbourne; their first place opened in Box Hill 11 years ago and this restaurant has been here four years. Xi'an Famous in Russell Street – highly recommended for its roujiamo burgers in paper bags with "G'Day Mate" printed on them – has an ex-staffer in the kitchen.
Shaanxi-Style's street-foodie one-hander roujiamo are great too. The sliced lamb version is a juicy classic, stir-fried with cumin and loaded into unleavened bread pockets with green chilli.
This is a no-nonsense restaurant with close-set tables. Most customers know exactly what they're doing and newbies aren't necessarily steered or gently guided.
No matter: dive in, eat bravely and may your Year of the Rat be open-minded and open-mouthed.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five).