Most Asian restaurants I’ve been dining at recently have been fast food or close to it. There is one exception, and that’s U-Village in St Kilda. When I was given the chance to dine there as their guest, I was a little unsure as to what to expect, but I was very pleasantly surprised.
The decor is clean, modern and comfortable with a touch of chic. It might be a little different to what you’d expect from an Asian restaurant, but I thought it was quite fitting of the type of food on offer and the locality. It is casual, yet classy.
Soothing classical music was playing in the background amongst pot plants and fresh flowers. The decor reminded me more of a hip cafe than a Malaysian restaurant, although I suspect they’d do quite well if they decided to offer breakfast/brunch options with an Asian twist.
We were greeted by the lovely owner of U-Village Zhao Kai Yee who looked after us the whole night. He also made us a cocktail with lemongrass, lychee and lime. It was a very refreshing and delicious cocktail that wasn’t too strong. It served as a perfect starter to the meal.
Zhao said that he wanted this establishment to be known for its bar and I do agree that they have a great selection, especially what was on tap and the great range of unique cocktails. I would have wanted to try many more of them if it wasn’t for my Asian genes…
The menu was carefully prepared for us with 3 entrees, 2 mains, a side with rice and 2 desserts. Talk about a lot of food!
The entrees arrived all together, beautifully presented and intricately prepared.
The first dish we tasted was the five-spiced prawn with sambal (a chilli based sauce), lime and caramel sugar ($8). It was a little spicy, just the right saltiness and crispy on the outside. I normally don’t like shiso leaves but I thought the shiso leaf in this case added depth of taste and refreshingness to the fried prawn. It tasted best with a squeeze of lime juice. Did I mention the prawn was bouncy and cooked to perfection? Too bad the plate only came with 2 because I could have eaten many more.It definitely did its job of whetting my appetite though.
The second entree was the five-spiced duck with pomegranate, pine nuts and sweet soy ($10). This dish was sweet and very textural with the crunch of pine nuts and the lettuce cup as well as other ingredients all adding to the enjoyment. I liked the little bursts of sourness from the pomegranate but felt I could have done with a bit more. The sauce was provided separately so I could drizzle on the right amount of sauce.
Although Yuye didn’t like this dish at first because of the pomegranates, he decided it wasn’t all that bad in the end. I on the other hand thought it was quite nice, although the five-spiced prawns were a lot better.
The third entree was satay prawns with peanut chilli sauce and cucumber relish ($10). It came with three fried rice crackers on the bottom which added a nice crunch but I did think the satay was a little on the lighter side. The prawns again were perfectly cooked but compared to the other 2 dishes, this dish wasn’t as creative although still delicious.
I’m going to just put it out there because I thought the mains were just fantastic. Although it was chosen for us, these 2 dishes would have been our choices as well and you’ll know why.
The first main to arrive at the table was the “thick red rendang curry soft-shell crab, with kaffir lime leaves, eggplant & mint” ($25). It wasn’t the kind of rendang I was expecting but it was so delicious in its own way. The soft-shell crabs were cooked so beautifully that gives a little crunch when you bite into them. The curry was quite spicy but still bearable and had both Yuye and I licking our fingers and lips clean.
As it was a slightly heavier dish, a bit of rice and wok tossed snake beans with sambal sauce ($12) on the side was perfect to mellow out the flavours.
The second main and my favourite dish of the night was the “24 hour sweet vinegar braised pork belly with cinnamon, chilli, black peppercorns served with mango salad” ($28). Pork belly heaven!!! The slightly sweet and sour braise cut through the fattiness of the pork and the mango salad also gave it a wonderfully refreshing and textural feel. The meat itself was melt in the mouth kind of good and we both couldn’t get enough of it. Until we got too full of course, there was just so much food to get through!
I could hardly walk or even talk after I polished off the mains, but wait, it wasn’t the end of our meal at all. Zhao was very thoughtful and paired our food with 2 desserts he thought could help cleanse our palate.
The first dessert was the “lychee lime granita” ($6) which was sweet, refreshing and smooth. Just like he said, it was perfect to cut through the heavy dishes we had earlier. It was a lot better with a squeeze of the lime juice which added zing to the already delicious dish. At just $6, we thought it was a bargain.
The last dish and one of my favourites of the night as well was the “black sesame peanut butter parfait with peanut crumbles and tangy lemon” ($13). I couldn’t express just how excited I was when I laid eyes on this dessert. Black sesame and peanut in my opinion are in perfect harmony with one another. The rich, full-bodied flavours of this dessert made me melt inside. It was well balanced and not overly sweet (which can be a big problems with some desserts) and had wonderful textures and visual appeal. We particularly liked the tangy lemon bits on top, it seemed like lemoned honey of some sorts and added a bit of zing to the sweet dish. Eat it before it melts!
They also had another dessert which I wanted to try and that was the pandan brûlée. Zhao said was it was the second most popular dessert on the menu, second to the black sesame peanut parfait. Just imagining it is making me drool. I think a return visit to U-Village is in order.
U-Village is a family run business which expanded from Malaysia to Australia. However, according to Zhao, the restaurants under the same name in Malaysia have completely different menus and feel. I love what Zhao and his family have done with this new addition to St Kilda and I’m excited to see what else they can offer.
Yuye and I both had a fantastic time chatting to Zhao, drinking his great cocktail and eating the lovingly prepared dishes. I don’t think I’ve had better quality food in an Asian restaurant in a long time. If you do decide to visit U-Village (which I think you all should), I highly recommend the braised pork, soft-shell crab and the black sesame dessert. I’d go back just to eat those again any day! Yes it may seem on the slightly more expensive side compared to other Asian establishments but if it’s a great host, great environment, a bit of sophistication and of course high quality food and drinks you’re after, then it’s definitely worth the bucks you’re paying.
I will be back to sample more of their menu for sure.
Phone: (03) 9537 1129
1/29 Fitzroy St, St Kilda VIC 3182
Note: Ichigo Shortcake dined as a guest of U-Village thanks to Chique Productions Melbourne.