It was early morning and we were were standing on the street in hot and humid Hong Kong, with our stomachs rumbling, our expressions puzzled, examining the line of people queuing up to the restaurant. We weren’t sure what to expect.
Australia Dairy Co is an experience you do not want to miss when visiting Hong Kong. It is a traditional Cha Chaan Teng restaurant (literally meaning “tea restaurant”) offering cheap dishes of Hong Kong cuisine. Don’t be mistaken to think there’s any connection to Australian cuisine though. Australia Dairy Co specialize in steamed milk pudding, scrambled eggs, toast and custard dishes. It was named by its founder, who worked on an Australian farm in the 40’s. You’ll often find this place described as an iconic restaurant, an institution, a consensus.
What does this unique experience entail? Get ready to wait in line, absorb rude service, get seated with strangers next to ridiculously small tables and find yourself out in less than 20 minutes. Doesn’t sound like much fun? Well, once you taste their scrambled eggs, you can discard everything else as part of a new cultural experience.
There’s practically no service, and all niceties are abolished. Make no mistakes though – this pandemonium is completely intentional. Australia Dairy Co want you to come in, eat fast, take as less space as possible and go on your merry way.
We arrived at the restaurant at 8am and were seated within minutes. Even if you come across long queues at the entrance – don’t be alarmed. Due to the hectic nature of the place these queues move really, really, fast.
From the name of the establishment, Opher was expecting something akin to our experience at Bills,Tokyo. The dairy here may be Australian, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. The seating arrangements are quite… dynamic. Sometimes you get moved so that other patrons can join your small table. Sometimes it’s for other patrons in other tables to clamber in and out of theirs seats. Never get too comfortable taking a spoonful – Murphy’s law dictates that at that very moment the staff will find a reason for you to move. We were seated down alone at a table of four, but by the time we ended the meal we were moved twice, and shared the table with few other people who came by and went.
Oh, and don’t think that because of the communal seating arrangements you get a chance to converse and get to know your transient table-mates. This is not a pub where you can sit with strangers and bond. Here everybody eats alone, fast, in discomfort and then gets out. Australian Dairy Co is not a restaurant, it’s a factory which produces the act of people eating breakfast.
Experiences aside, the food is where this place shines. The Chinese menu is printed on the walls and tables. We received a printed English menu which made ordering very clear.
We opted for the Breakfast Set (36HKD / $4.5 / 18₪) which includes bread or toast with butter, a choice of fried eggs or scrambled eggs, macaroni with ham in chicken soup and coffee or milk tea. We selected scrambled eggs and hot milk tea.
The scrambled eggs were soft and so-very-fluffy. The toast was quite buttery. I was blown away by this relatively simple dish. It alone makes it worthwhile to visit.
The soup was nice, but not a must. It wasn’t very rich in flavors and the macaroni pasta felt canned and industrial.
The milk tea was not to my liking – it was turbid and tasteless.
Steamed Milk Pudding with Egg White (28HKD / $3.5 / 14₪) – This was also delicious, with a creamy gelatinous texture.
Pineapple Icy (26HKD / $3.5 / 13₪) – This ice-cold beverage contains pineapple chunks, which allows you to alternately sip on the juice and nibble on the pineapple. It also cost almost as much as the entire breakfast set (which granted, isn’t much – but still).
When we asked for the bill someone came and wrote down what we ordered by simply looking at plates on the table. He wrote the number on a piece of paper and sent us to the cashier. When standing next to the cashier as Opher paid, I was literally shooed out the door by a member of the staff.
20 minutes later we found ourselves standing once again on a street in hot and humid Hong Kong. This time, our stomachs were full but our expression dumbfounded. We weren’t quite sure how to take in the experience we just had.
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