Peko Peko, South Melbourne

Peko Peko is a Taiwanese restaurant located in South Melbourne just off St Kilda Rd, easily accessible by any trams that go past the domain interchange. I had been here once before and remember particularly enjoying the wasabi prawns dish and the Bento Box sets they had. Peko Peko has undergone a change of menu recently, and I was lucky enough to be invited to try out the new menu. It was a really enjoyable experience for me and my friends, and I would definitely recommend going for a taste of some authentic Taiwanese food.

The interior design of Peko Peko is quite simple, with modern artwork hung up on the walls - I was told these were all drawn by the owner - and there were also more traditional Taiwanese style photos and an old telephone near the entrance. There's a range of booth seats and couches, as well as the normal wooden chairs. There was upbeat music playing in the background, and there was a constant stream of customers coming in and out of the restaurant the whole time we were there, making for a busy and lively atmosphere. The staff were friendly and all customers were greeted with a 'Hi, how are you' upon entering, though I'm not sure if this is always the case, or because the staff were extra alert since we were there.

The menu is very extensive, with a range of 'small eat' (entree size dishes), 'just eat' (medium size main course dishes) and 'big eat' (large size main course dishes). There is also a specials board, as well as a separate drinks menu and a range of desserts. We were given a total of ten dishes (mostly entree style small eats), as well as three types of drinks, including a limited edition Taipei Brew beer ($15), an Apple Plum Wine Soda ($10) and Green Tea Latte ($4) to go with our dessert. I'm personally not a huge fan of beer, but this one was quite light and not as bitter as normal beers, and it also came with sour plum on the side, which also helps to take away some of that bitter taste. The apple plum wine soda had a strong apple and alcoholic taste, though we couldn't really taste the plum at all - either it was very subtle, or it was overpowered by the apple. It was quite an enjoyable drink and would be good in summer as it's very refreshing.

The dishes we had were the Seared Scallop with Taiwanese Sausage ($9.50), Wasabi Mayo Prawns ($9.50), Avocado Miso Prawns with Chilli ($12), Peko Sausage ($8), Silky Egg Tofu ($8), Sesame Broccoli Salad ($3), Grilled BBQ chilli squid ($14), Big Boss Fried Ribs ($16), House Fried Rice ($10) and for dessert, a Salted Caramel Yoyo Pancake with ice cream ($9). As we were given quite a few dishes, the portions we got for each were probably less than what you would normally get for the price.

The seared scallop with taiwanese sausage was served on a house made chilli mayo sauce, and was probably one of my favourite dishes from the meal. It's an interesting fusion, having seafood and sausage together as it's not something you'd usually think would go well, but the textures and flavours worked surprisingly well, with the soft scallop contrasting with the slightly harder sausage, together with a hint of chilli from the mayo sauce. The presentation was simple but good, and the aromatic smell of the scallop was quite distinct, especially when the dish was first brought to the table.

The wasabi mayo prawns was one of the dishes I had the last time I was here, and it was just as enjoyable this time. It consists of prawns lightly battered, with a light wasabi mayo and pineapple. There was a strong wasabi taste from the mayo, but it wasn't too strong or overpowering on the nose, and this was balanced out by the sweet tropical flavour of the pineapple. The fibers from the pineapple contrasted nicely with the crunchy texture of the batter and the elasticity of the prawn. The other prawn dish we had was a new one, the aovcado miso prawn with a chilli mayo similar to the one in the seared scallop dish. You could really taste the miso flavour in this dish, with a hint of chilli that started off being okay but became spicier the more you chewed. The use of the avocado added a creamy taste/texture, and the prawn also had a crunchy batter like the wasabi mayo prawns.

The Peko sausage was a simple dish of house made Taiwanese sausage that came with a garlic and soy dipping sauce (the same as what you would get with another dish, the King's Fried Chicken we were told). The sausage was very authentic in flavour and texture, with a crispy outer skin and soft inside. I felt that it was good by itself as there a slight sweetness to it, but of course with the sauce, it made for a more savoury flavour that had quite a strong garlic taste.

The silky egg tofu was served in a sweet soy broth and came with lots of tempura sprinkles on top. This tempura sprinkle was nice and crispy and didn't go soggy very quickly despite being soaked in the broth. It contrasted well with the smooth, soft egg tofu, and the sweet soy broth had a great balance of sweet and saltiness to it that made for quite a light dish. The sesame broccoli salad was also a really refreshing cold dish, with the sesame sauce being sweet but not too overpowering, and good, crunchy broccoli that was well cooked.

The grilled BBQ chilli squid was fresh and had good elasticity, and the use of cucumber and lemon made it more refreshing. However, we found that the squid could've been a bit hotter in temperature - it felt only like room temperature when bought out, and went cold quite quickly afterwards. There was good spice to it that didn't really hit you til the end of each bite, but not too bad if you can handle chilli.

The Big Boss fried chicken ribs with a caramel soy glaze is also one of the new menu items at Peko Peko, with a slight spice to it that you could only taste very subtly at the end. It would've been good if this spicy flavour was a bit more distinct or maybe not there at all, as only a slight hit of it felt a little unsatisfying. The dish was quite sweet but not to the point of sickening, and the chicken was cooked perfectly; soft and tender with strong flavours.

The house friend rice came with chicken, egg, mixed vegetables and soy sauce, and was typical of what you'd expect from a fried rice dish. The use of fresh lettuce did make for extra crunch to the dish, and the rice was nice and fluffy.

For dessert, we were each given a salted caramel yoyo pancake with vanilla icecream, and this was also another of my favourite dishes of the day. The yoyo pancake had a crispy outer layer that was light and fluffy with just the right amount of moisture so it wasn't too dry, and egg custard in the centre for extra flavour. The vanilla ice cream went really well with the caramel sauce and the pancake with its strong and not too sweet flavour. We noticed that there were two types of caramel sauce used in this dish - the one on the top of the pancake was slightly sweeter than the one the ice cream was served on, which made for a good balance of flavours. The green tea lattes we had to end our meal had a good strong flavour, and was a great way to end, though there was probably a bit too much froth in it for my liking.

I would definitely recommend coming to Peko Peko whether it be for lunch or dinner as there's a wide range of dishes to choose from, both designed to be shared or to have by yourself. It's a lot more authentic than some of the other Taiwanese food I have tried, but the prices do feel a little higher than what I was expecting. I did notice a few people seem to be asking about bento boxes as this was one of the most popular items at the restaurant - according to the owner, this change in menu has been to reflect and emphasis Taiwanese food, which is not as popular in Melbourne as some of the other Asian cuisines.

Once again a big thank you to the owner Jack for having us, and a special shout out to my friend Jess who also works there (and suggested I come try their new menu)! :)

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