When I eat Chinese, I normally go for the stereotypical classics. Sweet and Sour Pork, Crispy Duck, Sizzling *Insert Meat Here*… these are the greats that have stood the test of time, and the test of different cultures, having travelled outside their region of origin to tempt tastebuds worldwide.
On a recent visit to Uncle Billy’s, I stuck to my guns… initially at least. But three beers and two champagnes later, I made a call to sample something different, IE: the least appealing item on the menu: Cold Jellyfish and Pig Trotter ($19.80).
Presentation was actually decent. It’s not going to please fine diners used to dishes plated up using a combination of tweezers and titration. However, it’s much better than what I was expecting, which was the foot of a pig and a jellyfish, as cold as the carcass and ocean from whence they came. What I got was thin slices of what was in essence very lean pork belly, complete with a thin layer of fat and skin around the edge of each. This obscured the pile of jellyfish beneath, which was also thinly sliced into strips, presumably across the dome rather than the tentacles. Basically, it looked like Kim Chee, or Korean pickled cabbage, which happens to be the food of my people, so based purely on looks, I was pretty stoked with my ill-advised choice.
It kind of ended there though. The flavours weren’t disgusting, nor were they mind-blowing; they were just amazingly unremarkable for something that sounds like it would be so much more… unique. The pig trotter was under-seasoned and quite bland. It was probably more ham than pork, and the fact that it was cold made it all the more “sandwich in a lunchbox”-esque. The jellyfish was basically jellified seawater. It was quite salty, which nicely offset the blandness of the pork, but it may as well have just been seawater. I couldn’t identify a distinct flavour of any kind.
Textures are where the dish falls down. If you’ve ever cooked pork or bacon with the rind on, you’ll know that it’s a tough, unpleasant layer when raw, but becomes an outstandingly crispy treat when cooked right. But, Uncle Billy’s asks: “why would we make a crispy skin when we could cook this pig’s foot, cool it down, and in the process pretty much leave the skin as it is when it’s raw?” That’s a missed opportunity. The jellyfish feels like those really thick rubber bands. I know this because I used rubber bands as dental floss when I was a younger, more stupid child. Terrible.
I suppose the lesson to be learned here is to go with your instincts, and if you wish to enjoy a dining experience free of mediocre, obscure dishes, keep alcohol content to a strict limit that won’t affect your judgement. If I’d followed my instincts here and stopped at the bog standard classics of Chinese cuisine, I would be writing this to you $19.80 richer.
3 jellyfish tentacles out of 10.