As much as I sometimes have a craving for cheap and greasy combination plate/food court Chinese, the sight of Sweet and Sour Pork is always a signifier that the food is most probably not going to be very authentic. It's not that I'm being fussy - I'll still eat it as I sometimes crave its trashiness - but I'm always aware of the fact that this is Asian food bastardised for Western tastes. Sweet and Sour Pork is an easy target for derision since it seems more loved by people of European descent than Asian, however what is not as often acknowledged in the criticism of Westernised Asian food is the lack of authenticity in Easternised European cooking. In my early years growing up in a first generation Australian household, my parents often cooked European food the way they learnt to make it in Singapore because they just didn't know any better at the time. They wouldn't cook like this anymore of course (my Mum is a devoted disciple of Jamie Oliver), so its been a long time since I last tried anything like the home cooked 'European' food of my early childhood. That was until Alissa and I visited the oddly named Steak and Food Concepts 2.
Located upstairs from our beloved local Japanese restaurant Kai in Bull Creek, the space it currently occupies was an Italian restaurant when Alissa and I first moved to the neighbourhood, and when it changed over, the strangeness of the food combinations had us a little skeptical; Curry with a side of Spaghetti Bolognese for instance seemed like a fusion bridge too far. Nevertheless, after almost a year of thinking about it, we decided to bite the bullet and give it a go.
We never tried the Italian restaurant out when it was open, but much of the decor throughout the space looks like the current owners felt the fit out didn't need much in the way of a change. I'm fairly sure I saw a tacky wall mounted sculpture of an Italian chef near the kitchen, and it reminded me of how G'Fun Cafe in O'Connor has the odd distinction of being a Chinese restaurant housing a fairly impressive (and disused) pizza oven thanks to also taking over the space of an Italian restaurant.
With the weather heating up, we decided to start with a refreshing Ice Lemon Tea. The style was typical of what you'd find in Singapore and Hong Kong - right down the the style of the plastic faux-glassware - and it took Alissa and I back to the fun times we had in Hong Kong during our honeymoon.
For the meal, Alissa and I decided to order the set meal for two, as its 4 courses for $30 a head seemed like a bargain. The first course was a Creamy Mushroom Soup. The soup had a good depth of mushroom flavour, with finely minced mushrooms and a surprising but nice milky flavour that suggested it was thickened by milk powder - a trick that you find used in a lot of Asian restaurants. It wasn't exactly fine dining of course, but it was nice and comforting in a home cooked way. The Garlic Bread served on the side was nothing more that standard white bread toast, however there was something charmingly Sizzlersesque about it that made it work.
Our Second course was that super cheezy 1970s classic - the Seafood Cocktail, literally served in a cocktail glass. Like Heston Blumenthal, I have to admit a soft spot for this somewhat unfashionable dish as its actually a very tasty and refreshing salad unfairly maligned due to ubiquity. Steak and Food Concept's version featured a fairly generous amount of nicely cooked prawns placed on top of finely sliced lettuce, and the Marie Rose Sauce had a nice spice kick to it. Again, this was not exactly sophisticated cooking or anything particularly complex, however it was enjoyable, fresh and light.
For her main Alissa chose the Mix Grill, which was the better of the two dishes. Consisting of steak, pork, a chicken wing and sausage served with fries and steamed vegetables topped with a home made roast sauce, the dish was a typically Asianised interpretation of steakhouse food, complete with sizzling hot plate presentation. All the meat was well cooked and tender; the steak was cooked well done as was/is the norm in places like Singapore and Hong Kong, but was still juicy and tender, as was the pork chop. The chicken wing had a delicious crispiness that suggested it was fried and yet it didn't taste overly oily, and the small sausage served on top reminded me of the style used for making the Eurasian Pot Pie often served at Christmastime - not the highest quality sausage, but a tasty and nostalgic nonetheless. Fries tasted much like the frozen mass productions that they were, and the steamed vegetables were about what you'd expect.
Talk about carb-loading. I wasn't thinking when I ordered, and I soon regretted the fact I ordered the Chicken and Ham Pasta Bake, considering it came with a side of Spaghetti Bolognese! The Chicken and Ham Pasta Bake was cheesy and a bit gluggy, with the sauce having a similar milking creaminess to the soup and a thickened floury quality that suggested the use of cornflour. The chicken and ham themselves were probably the best parts of the dish, with the chicken pieces being nice and tender, suggesting low level brining to enhance the juiciness. The pasta of both components were decent if generic packet pasta, with the Bolognese sauce tasting strangely sweet and with an odd cinnamon or anise spice in the background. It reminded me of how my parents would have probably approached Bolognese before they knew any better, and Alissa likewise felt it would be like something her grandmother might make for similar reasons. It tasted like pasta made for a non-Italian market; it was totally unauthentic, but it so removed from the real deal that it becomes it own thing that works somehow for its target audience.
Finally, a complementary dessert of cake was served as our fourth course. The Cake was a butter cake. I don't like dry cake at the best of times, and it was drier than I would prefer, while for Alissa it was just a bit too sweet with nothing to cut it. While earlier courses were not exactly sophisticated, they were at least tasty, and it was unfortunate to end the meal on a bit of a low note.
The Verdict: Good
The food at Steak and Food Concepts 2 is gloriously tacky - its not sophisticated or even particularly impressive food, but if you're attuned to the kind of nostalgia it invokes, its a really enjoyable experience we'd go back for. Of course, it would be unfair to compare it to authentic pasta joints like ilPasto or to a steakhouse as esteemed (and as expensive) as Rockpool. Steak and Food Concepts 2's cuisine is a totally inauthentic simulacra of Western Food, however its right on the money when it comes to capturing the flavours of Easternised versions served in Singapore and Hong Kong. If that means something to you or if you enjoy a nostalgic trip to simpler times, Steak and Food Concepts 2 is recommended - price to quality is very fair, just don't expect anything overly fancy. Or understand what the 2 in the name means.