Since opening in 2003, Pacific House has been notorious for churning out fast and furious meals served up by smug looking waitstaff. During peak hours, queues spill out onto the trendy Toorak Road footpath and seated diners are packed so close together that eavesdropping is inevitable. The staff work like they earn a commission based on the number of tables they turnover and they are certainly not shy to make it known that the table is due back. The bill appears even before you ask for it, with a complimentary plate of “thank you and get out now” fruit. There appears to be no discrimination as you will see the same treatment for every table at the end of their snappy meals. Don’t even bother asking for the dessert menu because there isnt one. This is probably the only Chinese restaurant that does not give a hoot about your sweet cravings. They would rather forgo a few bucks in exchange for the next group of hungry diners.
So why do we subject ourselves to such offensive service? Why, for the food of course!! It is a good sign when you see Chinese families there enjoying their tucker, especially the roastings and live seafood kept in tanks. The permanent specials are plastered all over the walls in vibrant coloured paper along with numerous critic reviews. I suspect the hard and uncomfortable lacquered chairs are a deliberate tactic keep our butts on edge. Succulent roastings hang proudly in the big feature window and refilled many times during the course of the night. You may even get to see roast ducks being carried out without trays from the kitchen with free flowing juices and oils dripping all the way to the window. I wonder if the health inspector has ever questioned the carpet stains…
As much as we oppose dining there on Saturday nights, we had no choice for this particular Saturday as it was for abirthday. We thought we were brilliant to book a table for six at 5.45pm so we could relax a bit before the crowd consumed the place. Five of us arrived at 5.35pm and we were seated immediately with menus and tea served almost the very next minute. I kept glancing at my watch anxiously as one guest had not arrived by 5.45pm. That didn’t bother them the slightest bit because with or without the last guest, the complimentary bowls of soup came out just after 5.45pm. So the last guest didn’t have piping hot soup after turning up 10 minutes late.
The menu is predominantly Hong Kong style Cantonese cooking with a sprinkle of dishes from other provinces. We wanted to try a few new dishes but we weren’t given much time to look at their extensive menu and wall specials so the choices were quite hurried but luckily they were all delicious. We ordered our favourite starter, Peking Duck.
The duck at PH is not prepared the authentic way but it entails everything a very, very good roast duck should be and it is damn good. The meal continued with three of their wall specials, Stir Fried Peppered Wagyu Cubes, Salt and Pepper Soft Shell Crab and Wok Tossed Scallops/Prawns in Foie Gras.
The rest of the dishes just kept spinning out one after another so fast that poor Mr. Photographer couldn’t keep up. The table was just inundated with food at this point. We had Steamed Prawns with Garlic/Spring Onions on a bed of Glass Vermicelli, Pi-Pa Tofu and Fried Rice with Fluffy Scrambled Egg White and Crispy Scallop Shreds. All the ingredients were incredibly fresh with intense seasoning and cooked surprisingly well given the fact that the place was jam packed by now. I sincerely commend the head chef and his army for the well orchestrated meal.
Our bill and a plate of oranges were placed at the corner of our table just as the last dish was cleared. We paid and was out in merely 45 minutes. As we approached the entrance, we had to push our way through a hoard of hungry faces who were either waiting for a table or take-away. It seems a lot of us are not phased by PH’s hard and fast ways; as long as the food remains in top shape. So I guess it is fair to say that PH claims top prize for the worst service and the best roastings! If you can look past these “minor” obstacles and the catty front desk lady, you are set for a scrumptious meal.
Note : The older and very tired sister in Richmond has lost its sparks for some years now and the intimidating drug scene along Victoria Street has added to its depleting success. The younger sister in the city hasnt quite made its mark so the choice is all too easy.