After reading some positive reviews of Chilli Padi online, I thought maybe I’d found a great restaurant in Melbourne Central with which I could bribe RM to come Christmas shopping with me. Unfortunately, our experience was a case of generally good food marred by comically bad service. Read on….

On arrival on a Wednesday night we were given a choice to be seated downstairs in the alley or the spacious upstairs area. We chose to hang out with one other table upstairs, away from the hubbub. After some time, we were provided with menus and as we had coupons we didn’t have to choose – it was the premium banquet menu for the two of us, which consisted of a choice of one entree each and five mains between us (normally $45  per person).

The restaurant calls its cuisine ‘pan-Asian’ which means it runs the gamut from Chinese to Japanese to Malaysian to Indonesian, with a stronger focus on South East Asian fare. After selecting our dishes from the banquet menu, we waited for the requested bottle of tap water and beer (shopping is thirsty work). And waited. And waited. The restaurant started filling up, mostly with couples and small groups, and the lone waiter didn’t look like he was handling two tables well, let alone more.

The drinks arrived with a couple of friendly reminders and then we waited some more. In fact, we waited almost 30 minutes for two entrees to arrive – Szechuan hot and sour soup with chicken and woodear mushroom and seafood gyoza with soy mirin and ginger dipping sauce.

Both of the dishes were disappointing. The casing of the gyoza was dry on the edges yet oversteamed generally, as if it’d been sitting in a bain-marie for too long. Normally hot and sour soup is a fiery red/orange colour and full of body – this was an insipid chicken broth with no hint of sourness and the heat seemingly provided by a couple of shakes of the chilli oil bottle. An extremely poor rendition of a Szechuan classic.

While we waited for our mains to arrive, I watched the interactions of the surrounding tables. The two girls who had arrived before us and were the lone table before our arrival still hadn’t eaten.  After some questioning as to the whereabouts of their order they were given some roti without the accompanying sauce and then told that their order had been mislaid and that they’d have to order again. They took this with good grace and their food eventually arrived after our main courses.

A table of four in front of me had to wait a similar amount of time as RM and I for any sort of food to appear. Another couple who arrived later had one of their dishes disappear and they decided to cancel it, only for it to arrive anyway. A table of four sat down, were ignored for about 15 minutes and decided to leave. The hapless waiter (with a second man now) was apologising left, right and centre and reminded me of Manuel from Fawlty Towers – it wasn’t his fault but unfortunately he was bearing the brunt of everyone’s frustration.

When our main courses finally arrived, they did somewhat appease my grumpiness (caused by waiting for food for so long). Dishes of vibrant colour, lots of varying flavours and a large amount of food! Our favourites were the Indonesian beef rendang with a good balance of roasted coconut, a classic Malaysian curry chicken perfect with steamed rice and lots of juicy prawns in spicy sambal with green herbs and ginger flower. On the other hand the chilli soft shell crab was a little too fried for my liking (more batter than crab) and while the Cantonese-style John Dory steamed with ginger, garlic, spring onions and soy consisted of balanced flavours and a juicy piece of fresh fish, it just couldn’t match the punchier South East Asian dishes. Between the two of us the five mains were more than enough, sating my growling hunger.

We gestured for the bill but there was more of a kerfuffle so went up to the counter while Manuel tried to process the voucher, the payment for the beer, the credit card etc etc. I just rolled my eyes up to the heavens.

Having only been to Chilli Padi once it’s hard for me to tell whether I visited on a particularly bad service night. I enjoyed the majority of the main courses and using coupons the dinner only cost us $40 plus drinks, but my experience of the service plus my observed experiences of my fellow diners hasn’t convinced me to return.

For other South East Asian restaurants in the CBD, try Old Town Kopitiam Mamak and Singapore Chom Chom.

  • Chilli Padi, Shop OE7, Menzies Alley, Melbourne Central, Melbourne +61 3 9663 5688

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