This seems to be a favourite lunch spot for my church group who go to lunch together after service every other Sunday or so.
Location: 7 Corrs Ln, Melbourne (in Chinatown, between Russel and Exhibition, off one of the Lt Burke St side lanes)
Website: the official website is informative, with a whole menu of items you can order online and have delivered, or pick up in person.
Price: ~$10 meals, which includes most items I reviewed on this post. Below was the lunch menu, and there is also a full menu online:
Food: my apologies for less than ideal phone photos, but I will assure you that in this case, the food did not actually look any more appetising in real life.
Shanghai fried pudding (上海炒年糕) - served with shredded pork, mushrooms and buk choy. On a previous occasion I also tried the vegetarian version of the dish with spinach and bamboo shoots. The ingredients individually were fine. Rice cakes were of a good texture - chewy, soft and in distinct slices (often they can stick together in clumps when you cook them). Vegetables were fresh, there was plenty of shredded meat and mushrooms. However, the flavouring was salty and colour was wrong. Maybe it depends what you grow up with but in Shanghai, rice cakes had always been white and soy sauce was not used as the main seasoning. Also, I can't pinpoint it but there is something wrong about the general taste of the dish - I suspect it has something to do with reused oil which tastes stale and tainted.
Rice cakes (年糕) is made of glutinous rice paste and has a soft, chewy, and slightly sticky texture. Often, when we talk about rice cakes, my friends from Malaysia / Singapore / Hong Kong think of the Cantonese-styled pan fried sweet brown rice cakes, which are popular during Chinese New Year. There are sweet white rice cakes too. However, in mainland China, 年糕 would most commonly refer to savoury rice cakes which are eaten throughout the year, stir fried with vegetables and shredded meat, or with the same ingredients in a soup (similar to noodle soup). Both fried and soup rice cakes are one of my favourite foods to eat and cook, and I also look forward to having it every time I visit Shanghai!
Crispy fried egg noodles with beef - the vegetables were surprisingly fresh and well cooked, and the beef was tender. But unlike the delicious crispy noodles at Thuan Phat, these noodles were firstly often burnt on the bottom, and secondly easily soaked up the gravy so that it would become soft within minutes. This had an unpleasant greasy taste too.
Minister chicken - "chicken spare ribs lightly battered and tossed with spicy sauce". Comes with rice. This seems to be a favourite, a third of the group ordered this. I would rewrite the description as heavily battered, and soaked in a sweetish, dark vinegar, spicy sauce. Which is rather tasty, but way too salty and overpowering.
Sliced fish with vegetables - basa fillet, healthier option, nothing much to say.
Rice - according to my fellow diners who frequent Ants Bistro, you can have a free upgrade from plain rice to vegetable rice!
Other: traditional dark red colours are used for walls and curtains, the tables are covered with white tablecloths and (white butcher) paper. Lighting is slightly dim, depending on where you are seated. There is a spacious upstairs dining area. Service is pleasant enough.
Rating: 1/5 I would never come back on my own accord. The dishes are terrible, are poorly flavoured, overly salty, and all permeating with a dirty oily taste. There is a good reason why during what should be busy weekend lunch times, this place always has plenty of space to accommodate our large groups of nearly thirty people! I recommend you actively avoid it too, because there are numerous surrounding restaurants which serve authentic, delicious Chinese cuisine.
Usually I end up only reviewing places which I feel are worth writing about. I enjoy rather than criticise most meals, and with limited time I don't write about every dining experience. Plus, writing about bad food is dry and uninspiring, and I believe it reflects poorly on a reviewer to use the anonymity of the net to vent their frustration at restaurants, ranting on with unhelpful hateful comments. But, I will say that Ants Bistro definitely shortlists on my "top terrible Asian restaurants" list. I really dislike this place, along with Your Thai and Ajisen Ramen in Melbourne CBD, and China Bar (which is now China Style) and Mark's Place (which is now closed) in Carlton.