United Kitchen (Invited)

Saturday, May 06, 2017 Sharon Halim 0 Comments

We found United Tapas in the middle of Fitzroy St and from the outside, the place looked rather nondescript. Once we entered the restaurant, the place was warm, with unique hanging tea pots dangling from the ceiling and other unique touches along the tables. It had the perfect ambience for a night hanging out with friends. 

We were greeted by the co-owners of the restaurant - Lee who also designs jewelry. Her husband, Tong, was the chef and owner of the location. We had a lovely conversation before dinner and I had the pleasure of hearing fascinating stories about their lives. One that particularly struck out to me was how Tong, who originally lived in China, decided to pack his bags and move to Mexico spontaneously to learn cooking. Lee had come from the UK, and had moved to Melbourne where they started on Tong's dream of opening a place of his own over at St Kilda. 

The restaurant menus reflecting the seasonal produce so Tong himself had rigorously tested and experimented with various producers to source the best ingredients for the restaurant - and you can definitely feel the quality of the produce in the meals! We started out with a round of cocktails - a beautifully concocted Margarita with delicate, fresh mint leaves in it. I had also tried the cocktail called "The Sphere" which had various fruit syrups mixed together with vodka and a stand-out, solid raspberry vodka sphere! The drink was refreshingly sweet and absolutely delicious - the type of drink where you can down multiple glasses of and not feel the alcohol kicking in you until you stand up. They were nice enough to offer a second cocktail for me, a chance that I won’t waste. I asked for something more creamy and it was very kind of them to offer me Botanical Fizz in a long glass. Nothing too remarkable unfortunately, but it was certainly not bad at all.

Now on to the meals. Crab Meat Stuffed Avocado - blue swimmer crab, cherry tomato, onion, chili and fresh lime juice ($16). My absolute favourite. One of the best appetizers I've had in a while! The freshness of the blue crab was definitely the star of the dish - it added an interesting, almost Asian twist to a well seasoned guac and blue corn chips dish. The crab went so well with the salsa, even better than the typical carnitas or carne asada, you would have thought that the first tacos are made of crab. It just makes perfect sense. At some point, I pondered, did this dish just broken a law of the universe? I suppose there is an unwritten law somewhere that sets the upper limit for deliciousness of healthy food. It is just unfair if a healthy food can be delicious as well. And this dish just broke that rule. Mark my words, this restaurants is going to get sued by the universe.

Lamb Ribs - slow cooked lamb ribs with fresh salsa & BBQ sauce ($16). I'm not a big fan of lamb, but these lamb ribs - wow. They were perfectly cooked, wonderfully juicy and still blushing pink in the middle. The tossed salsa, I'm not sure how they did it, but it was the most flavoursome salsa. No jokes. It was just bursting with kicks of acidity, tanginess and sweetness as I bit into it. Just divine. This is the best lamb rib I ever had. Period. With one exception, the quality is not consistent between ribs. My first piece was perfect. There is just no other word to describe it. It was Michelin stars good. The subsequent piece however, was just good. Don’t take me wrong, it was still amazing.

Crispy fried chicken - smoked pimento and chili lime mayo ($12). The chef had talked to us about this dish and it's one the favourites at the restaurant. The frying of the chicken is an exact science - an exact 4 minutes (and well, I can't tell the exact second because it probably is trade secret!). I've had many fried chickens and this one belongs on my top 5 list. It was boneless, juicy and crisp on the outside. The housemade mayo, in particular, was nothing like I've tasted before - creamy with a hint of smokiness. The fried chicken was tender and smooth, nothing like any poultry I ever tasted before. I thought only beef could melt in your mouth, well I was gladly proven wrong. The outside was crunchy without being oily. The spices complement the meat without overpowering it that you can still taste the chicken basked in its full glory. 

Grilled corn - parmesan, ancho chili, lime and stilton ($8/2pcs). I couldn't really taste the stilton sauce, but the corn, like everything else so far that's been brought to us, was perfectly cooked. The produce itself was excellent - the corn was very sweet. It's as good a grilled corn with cheese can get.

Twice cooked cauliflower - parmesan, thyme and schichimi ($8). The cauliflower for this dish was first battered, fried and then baked. I've always thought of cauliflower as a pretty boring vegetable, even when the vegans started making them into steaks. But this dish, wow. It definitely has an interesting texture - who knew deep frying cauliflower could make it taste so good? The slight burnt taste of the cauliflower was delectable. It was grilled to perfection. I think grilling any food is hard. In most food, you want to have some that browning from charring, but not burnt. Unfortunately, in most cases, some parts will become burnt before the rest are perfectly charred, giving you a mix. But not this cauliflower. It was beautifully browned on all surfaces. You might not be able to tell from looking at it, because it looks rather flat, but when you taste it, it you know it and the parmesan that went on top added an extra oomph to the cauliflower.

Paella with seafood and chorizo with a sprinkling of edamame (not on the regular menu). The paella was the special for the day with fresh seafood. What interested me the most was the sprinkling of edamame - who knew edamame could go so well with paella? The paella was a little too salty at some places, and I would've loved the dish more if it was slightly cooked more at the bottom to get that crunchy rice-in-the-bottom-of-the-pan. The seafood was gorgeous but I think the rice was a bit too soft for me. 

Mango panna cotta - coconut rum granita and torched lime ($12). The panna cotta itself reminded me of the delightfully creamy mango jellies I used to binge on in Hong Kong. This panna cotta wasn't too sweet and I appreciated this after the meal we had! The potent sourness of the lime just bursted in my mouth and went so incredibly well with the mango panna cotta - would've loved a bit more of the lime! The coconut granita itself added a nice kick to the mix. Definitely grab a piece of this panna cotta if you're visiting!

Peanut butter spring roll - vanilla bean ice cream ($12). By this time I was just too full to fully process everything! The spring rolls were definitely interesting - it was definitely reminiscent of an Indonesian dessert but I couldn't just figure out what it it.  The crispiness of the spring roll was great against the nutiness of the peanut butter. 

I left United as a very happy diner and customer. Definitely would come back to try more of their interesting cocktails and food! The one adjective that I would use to encapsulate the venue as a whole, is humble. On one level, the owner were very humble, taking their time to talk to us about the exciting journey in their life that led to his restaurant. But on another level, it hides all its goodness with very unremarkable guise. The name doesn’t stand out at all, United Kitchen. So was the venue. From the street, it looks like just another establishment in St Kilda. Blends in perfectly. When you step inside, it feels familiar, just like another typical dimly lit restaurant with a good atmosphere. But the gods of design live in the details. When I took my camera out and found myself not being able to stop taking pictures, I realized the ingenuity. You can tell that so much effort and considerations are put behind every single details, to such an extent that everything just form a symphony with each other. Like a virtuoso who can produce complex melodies effortlessly, so was the venue. And so was the food.

United Kitchen Dining & Tapas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

United Kitchen Dining & Tapas
2/52 Fitzroy St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Monday-Wednesday & Sunday: 3pm-11pm
Thursday-Saturday: 3pm-12am