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The Hainanese Chicken Hunt: Chun Po vs. China Bar vs. Viet Star

Submitted by on February 22, 2010 – 10:52 am23 Comments

Calling out for Melbourne’s ultimate Hainanese Chicken Rice! Anyone?

For a few weeks now, some friends and I have been venturing the streets of Melbourne in hunt for the best Hainanese Chicken Rice. Rules are that we go off no recommendations but our own intuition, (damn…that Jewel song is in my head) taking a risk at each eatery we randomly walk or drive past. Personally, this was quite difficult at the same time, exciting for me as I’d either tweet my fellow bloggers for advice or prowl the interweb for reviews prior to a restaurant visit.

Found in Hainan, China- Hainanese Chicken is commonly associated with Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine. The whole chicken (skin on) is boiled in a chicken and pork stock whereas the rice is prepared using only chicken stock, resulting in an oily texture and a fragrant aroma.

China bar 2

I’m sorry if I offend anyone, but when I see someone not devour any chicken skin especially if it’s been fried, a dark cloud starts to hover over my head as I grit my teeth wishing that this crispy ‘kill me now’ goodness would instead land on my plate.

Southern Fried chicken is my comfort food, having had plenty when I was in New York.  Of course everyone has their reasons, but if you’re a chicken skin stripper, you will not get to experience this wonderful dish fully. Like I do, just spend some additional hours at the gym if you’re worried about the fat content. :)

” Don’t be a chicken skin stripper! “

Being in Australia, I’m not one to expect that the dish be totally authentic. However, depending on the restaurant cuisine, I expect that it should be tender and flavorsome with all the hairs properly plucked and served with several dips including chili sauce and pounded ginger as well as an oyster sauce combined with garlic or a lightly sweetened soy sauce base. Pluck those hairs people!

So I’m glad to bring you this month’s Food Battles and here are the contenders:

Contender # 1 Chun Po

Details: 18 Glenferrie Rd, Malvern, 3144 Phone: (03) 9509 9624

Growing up in the neighboring suburbs, I’ve been eating at Chun Po since I was in primary school, but never have I eaten their Hainanese Chicken until today.  My favourite dish is their version of Deep Fried Pork Ribs with Steamed Rice. Prior to their refurbishment, I still remember a time when instead of normal water jugs, they used Cottees Cordial bottles and the walls were covered with wooden laminate. I actually preferred it being so oldskool and nonchalant.

Mains: Served on a bed of freshly steamed bok choy and sweetened soy, the chicken was nicely thick and juicy. The serving was very generous; it felt like I was eating for two.

Chun PO

The accompanying soup was also good as I followed the:

4 step program

1. Soak the chicken piece in the soy

2. Lightly coat with chili sauce

3. Add atop the spoonful of rice

4. Carefully take a dip in the soup. With all the four steps taken, I had finally arrived in food rehab.

Bring a date here? Why not.

Night out with friends here? Yes, would also make a great lunchtime pit stop.

Service: Courteous and friendly.

$$$: Under $10 Cheap Eats Certified

Food Rehab Verdict: Sent me to food rehab (book this place now! Wowzer) – Greenlight

Chun PO on Urbanspoon

Contender # 2 China Bar

Details: 235 Russell St, Melbourne, 3000 Phone: (03) 9639 1633

Mains: Riding on a dingy styled dish, China Bar’s version came with all the required trimmings-we especially loved their house chili sauce and frequently went back for more heaped spoons. The bird, sunken in sweet soy, proudly showed a little tenderness hitting a taste bud TKO when combined with the fragrant rice. It was silence at the table- usually a good sign that the dish has passed with flying colours.

China Bar

Bring a date here? Not a first date, perhaps when you’re over the honeymoon period

Night out with friends here? More like a get in and get out quickly joint, perhaps just lunch.

Service: quick, but don’t expect too much

$$$: Under $11 Cheap Eats Certified

Food Rehab Verdict: Sent me to food rehab (book this place now! Wowzer) – Greenlight

China Bar on Urbanspoon

Contender # 3 Viet Star

Details: 750 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn, 3122 Phone: (03) 9818 5090

Being so close to my work, this was the first on our list as we drove past after work.

Mains: Viet Stars’ version at first glance looked a tad bit more pleasing to the eye, but compared to Chun Po and China Bar, it lacked the flavour and required more dips in the chili to compensate. Although the rice was relatively fragrant, it wasn’t the oily rice that we are accustomed to when it comes to this dish. Still, it was good so when I have my cravings during work, Viet Star is a mere 15 minute walk away! How convenient!

Viet Star

Bring a date here? More suited to a lunch date.

Night out with friends here? I’d suggest a lunch meet.

Service: Ok

$$$: Under 11

Food Rehab Verdict: Still sane (good, not great but check it out if you’re in the area) – Orangelight

Viet Star on Urbanspoon

And the winner is…

Chun Po. I loved the added touch of freshly steamed Bok Choy as I hardly get my veggies as it is. Their sweet soy was just plain addictive with no drop spared. The abundance of quality chicken in one serving was also a welcomed surprise.

So um, can you tell me where else I could find some finger lickin good Hainanese Chicken?

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  • Have you tried Malaysian Oriental Work in Causeway in the CBD? Also Old Town Kopitiam Mamak at QV does a great version too.

    Jetsetting Joyce
    .-= Jetsetting Joyce (MEL: HOT OR NOT)´s last blog ..HOT: Gastronomica Slow Food Quiz, Collins Quarter, 86A Collins St, Melbourne =-.

  • Tom says:

    You missed the best one! Hawker Cafe (in both Russel Street and Hawthorn) is the winner.

    Service is great at Russel street too, while not perfect, (they forgot my meal once) when a mistake is made they quickly and professionaly remedy it. Good enough by me.

    Also, the Bah Kut Teh is best I’ve found in Melbourne. Doesn’t beat the real stuff!
    .-= Tom´s last blog ..Naked Pig? =-.

  • Hainan chicken rice is the best dish around, and there are so many places that serve great ones. Sorry I can’t help you with places in Melbourne, but if you are in Sydney, I can recommend a couple :)
    .-= Belle@OohLook´s last blog ..Lychee Panna cotta with Raspberry Jelly =-.

  • Didn’t know that Chun Po had chicken rice! YUM. There isn’t many good chicken rice places here. used to like oriental wok but the portion is too small and the aunty is too grumpy!
    But next time you are in town, try coconut house. The chilli is good 😉
    .-= penny aka jeroxie´s last blog ..Cookbook Challenge W14 (Japanese) – Tartare of Tuna with Goat Cheese =-.

  • Katherine says:

    Oh this is one of my favourite dishes. I love it. The chicken is always so moist and you get so much for your dollar.
    .-= Katherine´s last blog ..Gruyere Gougeres =-.

  • i’m looking forward to you finalising the best chicken rice in Melbourne before i visit in April. I want to check it out when i come down :-)
    .-= Simon Food Favourites´s last blog ..Eveleigh Farmers’ Market: Kylie Kwong Cooking Demo, Eumundi, Achacha, Yalla, Blini Bar (20 Feb 2010) =-.

  • I thought the first one looks the best too! I cook some whenever I have a craving. I’m with you on the skin issue!
    .-= 3hungrytummies´s last blog ..Fish fragrant eggplants ???? =-.

  • I agree with Tom – I adore Hawker’s Cafe for a CBD option – you may remember my review on it some time back – and as for China Bar – well I stay as far away as possible from that place! That being said, the Chun Po version looks really good and authentic! I’ve heard excellent things about the chicken rice at Malaysian Oriental Wok but terrible things about the service. Shame they don’t open for dinner though, which is when I eat out mostly!
    .-= Vee @ Munching (in) Melbourne´s last blog ..Old Kingdom: Go Duck Yourself =-.

  • Ms Baklover says:

    Oh yum! I first had this in Singapore and couldn’t believe something so simple could be so good. I have also had the Hawker Bar version a few years ago and remember it being pretty good. I’ll take up the challenge and try to find a good plate in the inner West!
    .-= Ms Baklover´s last blog ..Recipe: Pad Thai =-.

  • Yum! I agree I love the chicken skin on for everything really! I’ve never quite understood people that remove the skin. it’s so delicious! 😀

  • Chun Po is across the road from my work =D so it looks like I might have to get me some chicken rice from there!

    Hainanese chicken rice is one of my all time favorite dishes.
    .-= Iron Chef Shellie´s last blog ..Week 14 – The Cookbook Challenge: Sushi =-.

  • Leona says:

    You always do interesting challenges! Only a food addict like yourself would think to compare hainanese chicken! To be honest i have no idea where the the best hainanese chicken is in sydney… but i can recommend where the best roti is 😛

    “Bring a date here? Not a first date, perhaps when you’re over the honeymoon period” << hahaha lmao i believe that expression is gold. Any girl would be worried if their partners took em there id be like "hey arent i good enough for Chun po anymore?" lol
    .-= Leona´s last blog ..Sushi Rio =-.

  • Billy says:

    I can’t believe so many comments have been written on this post and yet nobody has mentioned Raffles or Malaymas!?

    I’m surprised China Bar put in such a strong showing, but I guess the chicken is part of what they should do well, being a Chinese BBQ-centred restaurant. The Chun Po chicken looked good, but usually the indicator of perfectly boiled/steamed chicken for me is the blood/marrow inside the bone should still be red, and that clearly looked brown.
    .-= Billy´s last blog ..Fuel Espresso Bar & Cafe =-.

  • Agnes says:

    You can find some fantastic Hainanese chicken rice at my house. Hehee. 😉
    .-= Agnes´s last blog ..Cookbook Challenge: Week 14, Japanese =-.

  • Love the food battle! Damn, now I really feel like Hainanese Chicken Rice…. they all look really well presented, I’m not used to seeing the chicken served on it’s own, normally I just see the chicken wacked on a plate with rice! hehe.
    .-= Betty @ The Hungry Girl´s last blog ..Spice I Am Restaurant, Darlinghurst =-.

  • Adrian says:

    Hey Joyce- no not yet, but thanks for the suggestions!

    Hey Tom- I have heard of good H’se Chicken in Hawkers Cafe, but rules are rules- that we go off no recommendations and places we eat at are randomly chosen.

    Hey Belle- I bet Sydney has heaps of places, yes, next time I’m down, I’ll holla for suggestions.

    Hey Penny- OK cool, will checkout coconut house. Their laksa is pretyy good. Thanks!

    Hey Katherine- Mine too, it’s so good in winter served with the hot broth.

    Hey Simon- Here, here. In fact, hoping to round up a few bloggers so we can attack a few places to find the ultimate! Hopefully before you head down.

    Hey 3hungrytummies- yes, no skin strippers!

    Hey Vee- yes, I remember your review. I was tempted to stray from the rules and head down to Hawkers cafe, but….

    Hey Ms Baklover- I know right? I guess the most simplest of things/food are the best. Yes, please go hunting!

    Hey Lorraine- I know! I can never become a chicken stripper! It’s too good to go to waste.

    Hey Michele- Yes, head to Chun PO!

    Hey Leona- haha! Thanks. Yes, I aim to do the most unlikely of challenges.

    As for the date suggestions, yes, totally unromantic to head to any of these places. Plus, depending on your date- who would want H’se Chicken as the intro meal? LOL

    Hey Billy- hehe, I’ll hit up raffles and Malaymas. Yeah, China Bar…well, so long as the H’se Chicken is good, I’ll keep coming back.

    Hey Agnes- hehe- well, please feel free to send some over!

    Hey Betty- aww thanks! Yeah, I noticed that as well. They all seem to be served separately. At Old Kompitam as well as other eateries I’ve been to in the past, they would usually whack it all on the same plate.

  • Mario says:

    There is a little place in Box Hill called Wong’s Luck Bar. They also do an excellent Hainanese Chicken and at $7.50, it is great value!!

    It is located at the end of the tram line in the middle of the road on White Horse Road. Just where the main pedestrian crossing is to the Box Hill shops.

    Wong’s lucky bar
    (03) 9899 8558
    921 Whitehorse Road
    Box Hill, 3128

  • Queen Chicken Rice says:

    Hi Food Rehab Guy

    I have been a long time Chicken Rice devotee, I know my stuff. Last night I made my own from a recipe in Bill Granger’s Sydney Food (maybe not completely traditional, but all done in less than an hour and very reminiscent of the best).
    In 1991, I was introduced to this delight by an old friend, and I remember thinking, “sounds a bit boring”, until he took me to the Temple of Hainan Chicken in this country, and I became fanatical.
    You will need to travel to Adelaide, but it is truly worth the journey, and you will possibly consider moving to SA as a result.
    Go to the Central Market, and find “Chinatown Cafe”, it is a real local institution, owned by a Chinese Malay family and absolutely the sweetest cafe you will find.
    It’s busy, cheap, clean and has a great selection of all the classics. You can choose chicken fillet or on the bone, and the sambal, ginger relish and soy is all top quality.
    Sounds like a long way for Chicken Rice, it is worth every ounce of Carbon you will emit just getting there. In fact, I pretty much guarantee you won’t want to eat anywhere else for your stay.
    The Central Market is the best of it’s kind in Australia as well, so you can shop for a picnic, and park outside the cafe when it closes!
    I live in Victoria now, but I always head back to SA for this dish at Chinatown Cafe!!
    Enjoy and travel safe!!

  • Tim Chuma says:

    There used to be a good restaurant on Russel St that had the proper version with the broth that I would save until last. Is not there now.

    Definitely has to have the broth separate to be a good Hainanese chicken.

  • Chris says:

    Best Hainanese Chicken Rice in Melbourne is probably at Malay Mas in St Georges Road, North Fitzroy. Please try.

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