Where: Plus 852 Café, 5A/155 Franklin Street Melbourne
What: Celebrity treatment alongside delicious Hong Kong food
Who: Chicken Man, Steph of All Trades
Bloat score: 3 – I could have balanced a glass of wine on my bloated stomach
What is Hong Kong food, you ask? It’s fluffy scrambled egg sandwiches. Stinky tofu. Pineapple buns. Claypot rice. Egg tarts. Roasted everything – goose, pigeon, pork, chicken. Congee. Wontons. Dim sum. Beef brisket. Ranging from traditional Cantonese dishes to English-influenced ones, Hong Kong cuisine is a veritable treasure trove of varying influences, and it has found its latest home in Plus 852 Café.
Tucked away in the illustrious 155 Franklin Street hub – home of Ichigo, a Japanese café I blogged about a few weeks ago, and many other Asian restaurants worth their salt – Plus 852 is no-frills. But what it lacks in ambience it makes up for with some tasty renditions of Hong Kong’s most famed exports. Fun fact: 852 is the country code to call Hong Kong.
I visited with Chicken Man, my friend who cooks and consumes a lot of chicken (enunciate his nickname as Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig do in this SNL clip from the 2.28 mark) and Steph of All Trades, who made her debut on the blog back when I was forced to cook in lockdown. Chicken Man’s parents are from Hong Kong and he’s also visited several times, so the pressure was on.
Steph of All Trades had done her research and had pegged a couple of must-order dishes, complicated by the fact that we asked for the waitstaff’s recommendations and had even more dishes we wanted to order. The menu you see online isn’t all Plus 852 do – on the day we visited, they had three pork chop specials and other specials ranging from mapo tofu to braised pork belly and soy egg on rice.
Feeling falsely bolstered by the fact that there were three of us, we ordered three savoury main dishes and two sweet ones. Our drinks got the first tick of approval – Steph of All Trades and Chicken Man found the Hong Kong milk tea ($4.50) strong but not too sweet, and I enjoyed my safe option of lemon Ribena ($5.50).
The first dish to arrive was one of our sweet choices, the pineapple bun with butter ($11 if you get it as part of a ‘gourmet sandwich meal’ – we ordered it alongside our Nissin Demae Ramen).
Said to have originated in Shanghai, the humble pineapple bun has become one of Hong Kong’s most famed pastries. It’s served on dim sum trollies, for breakfast and as a dessert. There is no pineapple in it, and the bun gets its name from the pineapple-like cracked pattern of its baked top crust. Plus 852’s milk bread bun was soft, light and slightly sweet, with a wonderfully crumbly, pale golden top crust. Two slabs of butter were stuffed in Plus 852’s pineapple bun, giving it the appearance of a face. Though I believe Chicken Man slathered his portion of pineapple bun with said butter, I steered clear to give my lactose-intolerant gut a fighting chance. Chicken Man said it didn’t compare to what he’d had in Hong Kong – told you he’d be a tough critic – but remarked that it was a top-notch iteration.
The highlight of our meal was one of the specials we chose: the fried egg and pork chop with shallot sauce on rice ($15). Every element in this dish worked complementarily with each other – the pork chop was fried to perfection with crisp edges and tender meat, the runny egg coated the rice in a pleasant creaminess, and the combined toppings of the gingery, spring onion sauce and the fried shallots added a wonderful umaminess to the entire dish.
I don’t know how exactly they cooked the rice, but I remember thinking I could’ve eaten it by itself, so infused it was with the savouriness of its toppings. They say sharing is caring, but as soon as I tasted this dish, I wanted to have the entire thing to myself. If this dish is on the specials menu when you visit, I can’t recommend ordering it enough.
Another highlight were the stir-fried beef ho fan noodles with gravy ($15). The savoury, velvety egg gravy blanketing the thick flat rice noodles (not that you can see them from the pictures) would be a wonderful salve in winter.
The trick is to stir the concoction together, so you get a perfect mouthful of noodles, gravy, thinly sliced beef and greens.
An unfortunate lowlight, though its appearance alone was supremely appetising, was the shredded beef peppercorn stir-fried Nissin Demae Ramen. This Japanese brand of instant noodles is incredibly popular in Hong Kong and while the noodles themselves were pleasantly light and springy, the overall flavour combination lacked dimension and complexity – it could’ve very well been a lack of salt or chilli or both.
Not content to stop there despite reaching our eating thresholds – even Chicken Man, who is famed for his huge appetite – we decided to top off our meal with Plus 852’s Hong Kong-style French toast ($8). If you think French people’s French toast is rich, Hong Kong-style French toast features deep-fried, egg-battered slabs of white bread slathered generously with peanut butter and doused in sweetened condensed milk. Cha chaan tengs (Hong Kong-style cafés) commonly serve this dish, substituting the peanut butter with the more traditional kaya (coconut jam), though jam and Nutella are also used. Although we approached it as a dessert, it’s commonly served as a midday snack or a weekend breakfast in Hong Kong.
If I wasn’t bloated beforehand, this rich and decadent dish catapulted me to three bloats almost immediately. It was an exceptionally good time, albeit a risky time for anyone who has to rely on the powers of Lacteeze to not soil themselves. As someone who doesn’t typically enjoy cakes and slices for dessert yet is perfectly content drinking a teh tarik alongside any meal, I enjoyed both the cloying sweetness of the condensed milk and the savouriness of the peanut butter.
Apart from the food, what was perhaps the most memorable part of our meal was meeting the convivial chef, who constantly popped out to converse in Cantonese with Chicken Man and Steph of All Trades. In perhaps the biggest ego boost I’ve received in my silly little life, he asked them to take a photo of me and him because, to paraphrase from Cantonese, I looked “as beautiful as a famous person”. Thank you, Plus 852 chef!!! From what I’ve read in other reviews, the chef often pops out to talk to customers, so you too could perhaps have your ego stroked.
Apart from this celebrity treatment which made my compliment-shy self highly abashed, I really enjoyed nearly everything we had at Plus 852. While I’m unlikely to order the Hong Kong-style French toast, the mother of all intolerance breaches, again, I will be back for the fried egg and pork chop with shallot sauce on rice.
Plus 852 Cafe is open on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 11am to 10pm and on Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 10pm.