A few weeks ago Michael said for what was probably the fourth time, "We really should go back to Easy Tiger for the banquet!". I chuckled on the inside - just the day before I'd booked us a table as an early anniversary celebration. An early celebration, but a late table - Easy Tiger are running two discrete sittings on Saturday nights and we spent a little time waiting outside for the first cohort to settle their bills. But we weren't wasting any time over the menu and they started our procession of dishes quite promptly.
First comes a bowl of taro chips, sprinkled with chilli salt (and, I'm guessing, a bit of sugar besides). Light and crisp, I loved the lively seasoning but they really got stuck in my teeth.
The vegetarian ma hor replaces the minced meat with crushed peanuts. They're minced up with chilli, garlic and galangal, rolled into a ball and placed on top of pineapple slice, to be gobbled in one bite. Michael was a fan; me, not so much.
The vegetarian betel leaves were much more to my taste! A sweet-and-sour mix of peanuts, fried shallots, lime zest, puffed rice and fresh coconut, with a dab of drip-down-your-hand dressing that reminded me of fish sauce (but wasn't - rest assured, these guys know what vegetarian means).
We were both very happy to revisit the silken tofu with smoked eggplant. The tofu now has a light salt and pepper crust, which is lovely but secondary to the deep, dark eggplant smear.
The main course comprised several dishes to share. The first to arrive was the sour orange vegetable curry with radish, watercress and winter melon. This was the only dish with much heat to it and Michael scooped up the sauce liberally. The winter melon looked a lot like potato chunks and it was difficult to adjust our expectations as we ate; it is a nice curry component in its own right.
I was more taken with the king oyster mushrooms, wok fried with rice noodles and soy beans. The noodles were tender and not at all rubbery, reminding me strangely of gnocchi, and the overall flavour was sweet and soy-ish with a wok hei smokiness.
These dishes were accompanied by bottomless steamed rice, a sparingly dressed iceberg lettuce, witlof and chive salad, and a son-in-law egg each. This is one of the few ways I really enjoy eggs and I found the chilli jam rather sweet (though Michael picked up a few chunks of more potent dried chilli). Though it felt odd to receive a big bowl of iceberg lettuce chunks, I found them refreshing and cooling and they helped me kid myself that I wasn't really that full.
Michael was that full. Though he'd eaten a little more than me, he was one cocktail, two beers and at least a half-litre of water ahead of me. He wasn't too enthusiastic about dessert.
That changed. Dessert looked very, very modest but oh, it was astounding! Four melon balls and two pandanus leaf dumplings filled with Monsieur Truffe chocolate served on a salted coconut cream. The intermingling of molten chocolate with salted coconut was other-worldly. The melon was a nice light finish, though I'm ambivalent about how it works with chocolate. Never mind, those dumplings had me in a trance and I was surprised how satisfied I felt after this small taste.
This banquet exceeded my expectations. It reprised the dishes we enjoyed most on our first visit (silken tofu with smoked eggplant, son-in-law eggs), featured some new flavours and ingredients (winter melon, jumbo sweet-soy rice noodles, iceberg lettuce on the side) and had a killer finish (those crazy, crazy dumplings). We found the staff to be friendly and attentive throughout. The venue was a bit loud and echo-y this late on a Saturday night but then, grabbing our coats and venturing outside, Smith St itself was much worse.
Looking ahead to longer days, I hope to visit their courtyard soon.
You can read about our previous visit to Easy Tiger here. All the blog posts I've found subsequent to that are positive, see The Value-Add, Tour de Clance, Bombolone Blog, lunchosaurus, Temasek, Friday Night, Date Night, doublecooked, Double Dutch Oven, Food Fable, melbourne food journal, Mouth to Mouth and Sharking for Chips and Drinks.
96 Smith St, Collingwood
veg banquet $65 per person, small veg plates $4-$10, veg mains $28, desserts $14
Accessibility: There's a ramp on entry, somewhat crowded tables with a decent walkway through the restaurant and female and disabled toilets on the same level. Male toilets and a downstairs courtyard are less accessible. There's full table service.