T Chow on Moonta Street is the thriving heart of Chinatown. Considered the most famous of Gouger Street’s three “Chows”, it’s been serving good food at very reasonable prices for years.
In fact, T Chow is probably Adelaide’s best fast-food restaurant: food comes out super-quick, it is fresh, it is tasty, and best of all, it is great value for money.
The restaurant is large and simple. Tables are rearranged to suit large and small groups. It isn’t uncommon to see a large round table top being wheeled through a heaving restaurant.
Fish tanks line one wall – crayfish, barramundi, crabs and occasionally abalone are there for the picking.
On quieter weeknights, the back section is closed off so diners aren’t engulfed by the gigantic space.
There is no real system to service. Staff are normally extremely busy and do things as they need doing without any real method. During peak periods, dishes and glasses overflow from the bar and kitchen – but no one is overly bothered.
On weekends, it is loud, it is busy and that is where T Chow’s charm lies.
It is quite easy for a group of four to eat their fill at T Chow, have a beer and be out of there in under an hour, paying little more than $30 a head.
The wine list comprises a nice selection of nearly all South Australian varieties and is very well priced, although BYO is also popular.
The beauty of T Chow is that you can take the fussiest of friends with you. All the westernised favourites are there – lemon chicken, crispy beef, and sweet and sour pork. They are well executed but T Chow’s extensive menu – 13 pages long – provides plenty of traditional offerings to tempt you out of your comfort zone.
The restaurant isn’t at its busiest on the mid-week night we visit, with the 40 or so diners spread across the room. To start, we order shallot pancakes, and for the first time in my dining history, “cabbage rolls”.
The shallot pancakes are nice – a decent amount of spring onion is encased in slightly crispy dough. However, unexpectedly, it is the so-called cabbage rolls that really impress.
One feels the description of cabbage roll is perhaps an undersell, as the four flat slabs of battered prawn meat, perhaps rolled in cabbage (I couldn’t quite tell), are a delight. Moist prawn meat is well seasoned and the crispy batter is light – it is a great surprise that something with such an uninspiring moniker could be so delicious.
For mains, salt and pepper Moreton Bay bug tails are served in the shell. Perfectly fried, they peel from the shell quite easily: the white flesh is moist and tender, the batter light but flavoursome.
The pork mince and eggplant hotpot comes out at a searing temperature, the combination of salty pork with slivers of juicy eggplant in a rich gravy is a delight.
No one cooks duck quite like the Chinese and the T Chow duck, carved and served mostly off-the-bone, is a favourite. Crispy fatty skin and rich flesh served in a master stock is a must-have.
However, my favourite experience of T Chow was not on this day, but a random summer Friday night.
Feeling peckish but uninspired by the price of the live crayfish, I spotted a white polystyrene box sitting on a table at the back of the restaurant. A peak under the lid revealed three unlucky mud crabs, claws bound, awaiting their fate.
Within seconds a waiter was offering numerous ways of cooking them – the salt and pepper option seeming the least likely to overwhelm the delicate flavours.
Brought out to the table in a large bowl, the crab had been portioned into about eight sections and covered in flecks of chilli and a salt and pepper crust. Crab crackers and forks were provided, indicating the scale of the challenging but worthwhile task ahead. Our table spent the next 40 minutes poking and prying claws and legs, seeking the delicious white meat – it was outstanding.
I’ve been back to T Chow numerous times since, looking for that polystyrene box.
These experiences sum up T Chow. It can be a cheap and quick meal, but just as easily it can be enjoyably drawn out. You can enjoy the ultimate in fresh seafood, while at the same time taking the fussiest of friends with you to enjoy the “usuals” in Chinese fare.
T Chow serves delicious food, quickly, and at a reasonable prices, which is why it is one of Chinatown’s, and indeed Adelaide’s, favourite eating places.
Three and a half out of five.
68 Moonta Street, Adelaide
Tel: (08) 8410 1413
Open seven days for lunch and dinner.
Daily yum cha available from 11am to 3pm
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