After so much ramen, I needed to eat and review something not noodly. So I went with rice.
Peko Peko (or pekopeko, it’s so hard to figure out proper spellings for a spelling Nazi like me) is a Taiwanese restaurant in Southbank (or South Melbourne, it’s so hard to… oh you get the drill). You will find that, invariably, when reviewed, the place will almost always be described as ‘cute’ or ‘cosy’ or something of that order. Much of that comes from its logo, its staff, all the cute little art on the walls and just the general vibe of the place. See, my way of avoiding cliches is by agreeing with them but in a round-about manner. I’m awesome.
Like much of popular Taiwanese culture (food and design included), the Japanese influence at pekopeko (see how I’m trying out different spelling to see which I like best?) is palpable. I’m no expert on Taiwanese cuisine, I was there in 2004 but I ate mostly street food (which was amazing) and don’t remember a great deal of it. The food at pekopeko is best described as fusion, many of the flavours will be familiar to patrons of Westernised Chinese outlets (sweet & sour? honey glazed?) but with nary a ‘beef in black bean sauce’ in sight.
I would like to point out right now to those that rail against Westernised Chinese food, pekopeko is proof that with good design, a cool vibe, and food that actually tastes good, sweet & sour chicken actually can be cool… and desirable. Let’s face it guys, much of pekopeko’s menu (clearly I’ve settled on this spelling) is heavily reminiscent of Westernised Chinese food. And that’s not a bad thing!
The menu is extensive, but the bento boxes are popular and come recommended. I have tried a number of them. And can tell you that the standout for me so far is the pop chicken (pictured above, deep fried bites of chicken, much like tori karaage but smaller, sort of like a larger version of KFC’s popcorn chicken), followed by the five spice squid (pictured below). All bentos come with rice (excellent), a halved spring roll full of carrot (not very inspiring) and some form of salad (quality varies).
Dishes that were a little more fail were the Sweet & Sour Chicken Crunch and the Honey Beef, both of which were far too sweet. The sauces used for these dishes just felt too much like that synthetic flavouring that is usually associated with Westernised Chinese but dialed up an extra notch or two. Not very pleasant.
Still, something has to be said for good rice.
It must also be said that Pekopeko’s special were kind of zomg the last time I went. The wasabi mayo beef strips were delicious as expected. Tender beef strips with deliciously large lashings of wasabi mayo. This is not an elegant dish, it’s a wasabi mayo explosion but hey, I love wasabi mayo, so why not.
The real superstar special on the night was the black sesame ice cream & earl grey tea panna cotta (pictured above). I don’t know where they source their ice cream, perhaps it’s homemade, but it was wonderful. It was full of real sesame seeds which added a mile of awesome to the taste of the ice cream. The panna cotta was amazing too, the earl grey tea flavour was rich enough but not overwhelming. A perfect dish. As you can see form the below picture, I literally licked the bowl.
Get in while stocks last folks, these specials aren’t going to be around forever. If you’re in the mood for an affordable (bentos are $12 each, the specials were under $10) and delicious meal in a cute, cosy and interesting restaurant then Peko Peko is a goer. Do it. Your stomach will thank you later.
Taste: 8. The amazing specials and solid pop chicken more than made up for the inferior dishes mentioned above.
Value: 9. A meal for this price is not uncommon but this is something different for those sick of the usual $10-15 range food options. The menu is huge, all affordable and the specials add an extra layer of quality, value and variety.
Service: 8. They seem to be always busy but the staff are always friendly, polite and attentive. The waitress forgot to bring me an extra spoon/fork for the dessert which was being shared and she apologised profusely a million times for the slight error. That is what I look for in service, not inch perfect execution but simply understanding and politeness.
Atmosphere: 9. Cute, comfortable, interesting, innovative and different. Peko peko has put effort into the way the place looks and it shows. A labour of love, much preferred to the usual blandness.
Overall: 8. Need I say more? Head on down.