Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy's Chinese Restaurant

Location: 17 Garema Place, Canberra City ACT 2601
Phone: (02) 6249 7015
Cuisine: Chinese

As many would know, Canberra has a distinct lack of what a Melbournian or Sydneysider, would consider to be a 'proper' Chinese restaurant. There are a couple scattered throughout different town centres, but within Civic, I have only found one that comes close. Happy's makes people happy.

Puns aside, I've found that Happy's has struck the right balance between authentic Cantonese cuisine and Westernised Chinese food (for those not so keen on the authentic flavours). The menu ranges from your Westernised basics - honey chicken, sweet and sour pork and beef in black bean sauce - through to the more authentic dishes such as eggplant hot pot and Szechuan chicken.

One of the reasons my non-Asian friends like Happy's is the existence of the banquet deals. With banquets ranging from $18 to $28 per head, you can get a whole array of dishes, including soup, entrée and dessert, for a reasonably low price.

On one such occasion, we ordered the $20 menu, which gave us soup, three entrées, five dishes, fried rice and dessert.

chicken sweet corn soup
First up was the soup. It was your typical chicken sweet corn soup - it had the right consistency and the balance of flavours was right on the mark. Nothing fancy, just simple chicken sweet corn soup.

dim sims, spring rolls, prawn toast and prawn crackers
Again, this was nothing special. General deep fried goodness. All were deep fried until crispy although the dim sim was a bit on the dry side. Again, nothing special and I found that they all needed the plum sauce to balance out the dryness.

honey prawns
One thing I've noticed about Happy's is that once the food starts coming out, it rolls out continuously. Before we had even finished our entrées, the mains were brought out. First up was the honey prawns - juicy prawns coated battered then coated with a sweet sticky honey sauce to balance out the oiliness of the batter.

chicken fillets in a birdnest
I generally love bird's nest dishes, but this one disappointed. Mostly because they replaced what is traditionally a potato base with deep fried noodles that was dry, bland and tough rather than crunchy. That aside, the chicken fillets were tender and juicy, and the vegetables and the sauce were cooked to the texture.

chilli beef
The chilli beef was one of the more impressive dishes of the night. The beef had a nice 'wok hei' aroma and the chilli gave the dish a nice 'kick'. Unfortunately the beef was overcooked, leaving it a little dry and chewy.

sizzling Mongolian lamb 
Dishes that come to the table sizzling always create a little food excitement for me, so when the Mongolian lamb hit the table, my meal was pretty much complete. The lamb was tender and well-marinated and the onions had been caramelised, adding some sweetness and texture to the dish.

pork ribs in plum sauce
Having two deep fried dishes on the one banquet menu was probably not the best choice in menu design as by this stage, there had already been a series of fairly oily dishes. That aside, the ribs were cooked reasonable well - not quite falling off the bone, but they certainly not overcooked and still retained some lovely meat juices. The sauce provided a nice acidity to the dish, and was strongly flavoured but not too overpowering.

special fried rice
I can never understand why all restaurants like to call their fried rice dishes 'special'. It's fried rice. And certainly nothing that sets it apart from any other fried rice. The fried rice was a very average dish and there was probably a little too many ingredients in it for it to be an accompaniment to the fairly strongly flavoured dishes. Steamed rice probably would have worked better.

Service-wise, Happy's is your typical Cantonese restaurant. The waiters and waitresses take your order, bring your dishes out and take the dishes away once you've finished. There is minimal communication and the waiters and waitresses were reasonable polite.

$20 is not bad considering most meals out there these days cost around that, we definitely had enough leftovers for lunch the next day. However, if you're after a more authentic Cantonese dining experience, I'd suggest that you skip the banquet and just order n-1 dishes (one less dish than you have people) plus rice. the servings are generous and you'll probably save yourself some money.

Overall Impression: 7.5/10
Happy's Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The London

Location: 121 London Circuit, Canberra ACT 2601
Phone: (02) 6257 1986\
Cuisine: Burgers and beers

Located in the Sydney Building in Civic, the London is a relatively new eatery and one to add to my list of Canberran eateries that have decent food at reasonable prices.

The London specialises in burgers and beers. And by that I mean, the menu is about 90% burgers and beers. Just as well we were after burgers then!

The menu sports four burgers under each meat category (beef, lamb, chicken or scotch fillet) as well as vegetarian burgers, salads and oddly enough, a crumbed fish dish. We ordered a scotch fillet steak burger with bocconcini, and a Mexican chilli beef burger. Both came with beer battered chips and sweet chilli with sour cream dipping sauce.

Scotch fillet steak burger with bocconcini, tomato and basil salsa, garlic aioli, lettuce and onion
The burger was one of the best I've tasted. The flavours were well-balanced between the smokiness of the scotch fillet, the creaminess of the bocconcini, the acidity of the salsa and the freshness of the salad ingredients. The scotch fillet was cooked just right - well cooked enough for my liking, but still retaining the meat juices and being tender enough to bite through in a burger. There was a very small part that was a little on the stringy side, but for the price paid ($14), it was a negligible problem.

The chips significantly exceeded my expectations. Far too many places fail to reach the compromise between having a chunky chip that remains crispy. These ones achieved just that - chunky chips that had a solid amount of fluffy potato encased within a crispy batter coating that actually made a 'crunch' sound when bitten into. Perfection? I'd have to say it was pretty much there.

Mexican chilli beef burger with melted Swiss cheese, spicy tomato salsa, sour cream, lettuce, tomato and onion
Reports indicate that the Mexican beef burger was similarly pleasing.

Now, I would probably get in trouble if I did not spruik the drink deals. The menu lists eight beers available on tap, and you can get a jug for $10, and $8 on Sundays. And yes, the deal also applies to cider.

$8 jug of cider

Prices were good, the burgers range from $12 to $14 and drinks are reasonably cheap. Service time was average but it was well worth the wait.

My dining companions were also very impressed with the decor, and the large televisions showing the rugby.

I think we've found a new 'local'.

Overall Impression: 9/10
The London - Burgers and Beers on Urbanspoon