26 February 2010

Oriental Secrets

Craving some spicy Asian goodness, but lamenting the fact that we seem to have already visited all of Beaufort Street’s scant supply of oriental eateries, the Bloggers were transported with delight to discover that their favourite Asian takeaway on Chelmsford Road actually has a Beaufort Street address. (Well, at least according to one website, but that was good enough for us.)

Oriental Secrets is tucked away up Chelmsford Road behind Caffissimo (home to the once-unbeatable Eggs-On-Fire, but more on that later) and is indeed so secretive and inconspicuous that the Sponge and BOOTO had walked past it every Saturday for almost 2 years without it registering. It is a strange place, more akin to a hairdresser than a high-calibre takeaway operation, with a door (invariably open) behind the counter leading straight into the owners’ house. This gives the fantastic impression that you are ordering food in someone’s lounge room, and allows one to occasionally catch a glimpse of Mr and Mrs Secrets sitting on the couch watching Dancing with the Stars in their jim-jams. This impression spills over into the front-of-shop too: while technically a dine-in restaurant, the tiny 2 or 3 table space out the front will often be strewn with newspapers, toys, laundry and shoes, giving it a distinctly lived-in feel. Suffice it to say, the Bloggers have never seen anyone actually attempting to dine in, and decided to tackle this one as a takeaway option.

But on to the food: At risk of flogging the term to death, Oriental Secrets offers a “pan-Asian” experience, with standard Chinese offerings spiced up (pardon the pun) by some Malaysian, Thai and assorted noodle dishes.

Starters are quite a strange affair at Oriental Secrets: on paper, all the old favourites are there (prawn toast, spring rolls, satay sticks etc) however they come served in a c.1982-style Big Mac box with a squeegee pack of an “appropriate” type of sauce (which in the case of the prawn cutlets, oddly, was tomato sauce). Whether it’s their preparation or the polystyrene coffin they come served in, the starters are often quite soggy and not particularly tasty. The Bloggers have in the past compensated for this by simply foregoing starters and ordering another main or six. Or (as on this occasion) simply ordering a shitload of food and then just leaving the bits you don’t want (well, at least until the compulsory booze-fuelled second-sitting at around 11pm).

The mains are fantastic: pepper beef was a particular stand-out, with so much pepper you could just about carve it. Szechuan chicken was juicy and spicy, and the chilli squid, spare ribs and pork dumplings were bloody magnificent. Not for the faint of heart though – Mr and Mrs Secrets definitely err on the side of spicy. Something (or perhaps everything) in the heaped medley of Oriental loveliness on the Sponge’s plate had enough shtang in it to reduce him to a mewling baby. And necessitate the consumption of 85 lagers.

Deserts were, of course, omitted.

The real kicker about Oriental Secrets though is the price – $95 bought the 4 bloggers about a million main courses with rice and noodles, which necessitated BOOTO and the Brains (being the designated picker-uppers) having to take a backpack. All served with a very nostalgic little plastic bag of rice crackers and 4 fortune cookies to celebrate Chinese New Year.

In summary:

Service: Friendly and top notch. (We should mention that, some months ago, BOOTO and the Sponge ordered some takeaway which they were told would take around 30mins to arrive. Worried that she would not be able to make this deadline, Mrs Secrets ended up bundling her young son up into the car and delivering it herself, then knocking $10 off the price because she was around 2 minutes “late”. Exceptional.)

Food: Other than the limp starters, top quality pan-Asian. (Shit, I said it again.)

Ambience: “Homey”

Highlight: Pepper beef. And the price. And the prawn crackers.

Lowlight: The limp starters. And catching a glimpse of Dancing with the Stars.

Rating: 3.7 secretive orientals out of 5.

Will we be back: Definitely, although not to dine in. Offers a lot of good quality, cheap and varied dishes from many different Asian countries. (That’s better.)

Details: Oriental Secrets is either at 5b Chelmsford Road or Shop 1, 595 Beaufort Street (depending on which website you believe) and can be contacted on 9227 9578. $95 for the amount of food we ordered is pretty incredible. Really.