In this day and age when branding is key, many eateries focus too much energy on a catchy name. There are some imaginative business names that would make a marketing guru jealous, the bakery, Bread Pitt or the bar Tequila Mockingbird are just two examples. My subject today chose a different path – they settled on an easy to remember name and focused their energies on what gets dished up to the punters. The result is Happy Boy and each of my visits has left me embodying the name on the door. Sure the name “Happy Boy” is vague, resulting in a few bemused looks from my friends when I gushed about my experiences there. Judging by the smile on my face and the strut in my step, they figured it was some “adult” destination in a seedy back alley of the Valley. Paying a repeat visit to Happy Boy should be in part of the Brisbane City Council by-laws
My introduction to this place of dreams was via my friend that I hadn’t seen since the Bianca meal. She had been a frequent diner there and knew it was a sure fire winner. My intel painted a picture of an Asian foodery which has a reputation for funky food done well. The only negative feedback I came across was around the level of service that a minute portion found “lacking”. A risk I am willing to take and let’s face it, I am paying to put yummy food in my gob, I’m not expecting graduates from the Jane-Dally Watkins Deportment School to wait tables. I can live with the wait staff being a bit of salty (or in this case is it fish sauce?) providing that my taste buds are drowning in flavour. I’m betting the genesis of this negativity was the snobby inner-city types who themselves treated the wait staff like shit.
There’s only one way to find out, befriend them early and use those manners that were drilled into us from an early age to win them over. My friend threw all conventional thinking out the window.
Waiter: “Would you like a drink to start?”
Friend: “You look like you are strong but I reckon I could take you.”
Waiter: “I reckon you’d fight dirty.”
Friend: (Flexing at this point) “I certainly do if you give don’t recommend a good wine.”
This unorthodox approach somehow reaped benefits in the form of the friendliest service one could wish for. Maybe it was fear, maybe it was the humour, or the anticipation of a tasty meal that our faces couldn’t hide? The staff member not only ensured that the wine was nice, but brought out their favourite off-menu dipping sauces with each dish and made sure that both our tummies and glasses were full.
While waiting for our food you notice the fig trees on both sides of the street receiving a bright 16v embrace from the fairy lights coiled around the branches. Let’s hope that this isn’t a fire hazard, the only fire I want to see tonight is the chilli in the dishes. Being a Thursday night there isn’t a spare seat in the joint and I was about to see why.
Not being Asian I had this preconceived notion that fried rice, whilst nice is filler and should be only ordered as a last resort. Tonight was an exercise in blowing these archaic notions away. The fried rice was as good as any I have tasted. The proof is that I have been back since on two separate occasions just to get a faceful of those addictive grains.
From the first dish to the last mouthful, it was all impressive. Duck pancakes allow you to get all arts and crafty, manufacturing small scrumptious parcels when you stumble on the perfect ratios of duck, sauce and cucumber. It is a bit reminiscent of making pancakes at home, it takes one or two to get into the swing of things.
It is not often you hear the words “tofu” and “divine” in the same sentence but there is a time and a place and that was now. Lightly battered and fried, it was crunchy on the outside and Dad bod soft on the inside.
The beef ho fan noodle was delicious and the best bit was my friend didn’t want anything to do with them. Something about too many carbs. How stupid, you can never have too many carbs – a world without carbs is one that I don’t want to be involved with. Eating these was possibly the most enjoyable thing to do with your pants on?
Giving the noodles a wide berth she insisted that we order the fish dish. A devotee of this dish, her judgement was impeccable. Fleshy white fish bobbing in a sea of Sichuan broth. Getting all of the fish with chopsticks was difficult so we had to fashion our cutlery into a makeshift dragnet to make sure that none got away. The broth was too good to waste and when added to the fried rice (don’t know if this is culturally frowned upon) it was worthy of a big smile and a little groan of pleasure.
So this libel about the less than friendly service was all bunkum. Let that be a lesson to all, don’t believe everything you read (with the exception being the honest recount of my three Grammys, six Academy Awards and thirteen Olympic medals in both the Summer and Winter Games).
Last month I had to drive my parents to Brisbane for a series of medical appointments. With a couple of hours to kill I took my Dad along to put the lunch buffet under the microscope. His first time in an Uber and his first Happy Boy experience all in the one day. Given the Omicron issues of that time, the patronage was down from what I had expected. Fingers crossed this isn’t reflected in the quality of the food? Plonked at a table against the wall we were quizzed about any dietary requirements, likes and dislikes and then the food kept coming until our jaws stopped moving.
The first few dishes were little share plates. Spicy chicken wings (one each) and fried chicken bao. Nice but I could see that look in Dad’s eyes of impeding disappointment. It’s one that I had seen before, most recently when watching the World Air Guitar championships on television. Agree that it wasn’t the showstopper I was expecting, the bao could have used more of that tasty sauce and the bun was dry. Dad reached for he water in lieu of saliva. He tried to give me some verbal feedback but his mouth was too dry to omit noise. I’d made some big promises, let hope the rest are up to the usual high standard? Ten minutes later my doubts had been laid to rest when the second tranche appeared. A dumpling each and four deep fried prawns bought a smile to my father’s face. Not one to use chopsticks, he opted for his patented hands and spoon technique. Whilst not pretty, it did transport the food from the table into his mouth.
The entrees dispatched, time for the heavy hitters. A large serving of the house fried rice, some green beans and crispy pork belly which simply dissolved as soon as it hits your tongue. Just for good measure they bought out more pork belly, this time served with eggplant in a thick transparent sauce. Before I could ask Dad if he was a pork belly fan, I was able to deduce the answer – the accordion of eighteen pieces of pork belly had shrunk, he was kind enough to leave me six pieces and a scrap of mustard. It sounds stupid to say the beans were nearly the best dish of the day but these were the kind of magical beans they write fairytales about. Dad’s critique of “Good beans” is his highest form of praise. Judging by his smile I am sure the pork belly and beans has kept my name front and centre in the will.
After the food onslaught we tapped out. Our slumped torsos on the table was the signal to the kitchen to turn off the gas and start cleaning the woks for dinner service. At $45 per person it was great value as you get to sample a cross section of the menu and you won’t have to eat for the remainder of the week. We waddled out as two Happy Boys, only to be greeted by the obscene heat in the mid 30s that was a precursor to the hail storm a couple of hours later. If we weren’t driving home that afternoon I would have camped out on East Street for a repeat performance the following day.
Last December found me in Brisbane (so much for the speedy turnaround time for the blog) and I needed another Happy Boy fix after my initial hit. This time as a solo party who needed non-liquid refreshments to soak up Christmas party festivities. A spontaneous call to my friend to sit opposite for a reprise was turned down because she had “got a better offer”. Pfft, really? Just tell me that you don’t really want to meet me, I have broad shoulders. Thankfully my party of one was able to score the only remaining table and chair out on the deck, the warm Brisbane night and a free-loading ibis my dining partners. I believe the French term for eating alone, mono-o-gutso?
The nuggets of lamb made me so glad I didn’t have to share. Who said that eating alone doesn’t have it’s advantages. Possibly the best thing out of everything on the menu that has passed my lips. If you could somehow capture that smell and harness it into an atomiser, it would make selling my house a heck of a lot easier. Dispersed in the heavy traffic areas would separate it from everything else in the street. Maybe a squirt on the side of the neck and I might have some luck selling my body too?
The fried rice was now a recurring character whenever I walk through the Happy Boy doors. During the first visit my friend recalled the story of her getting the spring rolls to go and keeping them warm in her handbag. Some comfort food for the trip home. Feedback from taxi drivers has been “mixed” but I was keen to take her sage advice and stuff a second helping in my jeans pockets for the walk back to the CBD. Sure the prawn filling wouldn’t travel too well but I think the bigger problem would be trying to ration these on the journey? My conclusion was it would be a worthless exercise, they’d be gone by the time I put my wallet back in my pocket after paying the bill.
Polishing off the last mouthfuls of fried rice my phone vibrates to attention. I’m greeted with the photo evidence of the “better offer”. She’s in the Valley having dinner at a table near some old, artistic type. It’s not until you zoom in on the photo you realise that at the table is a pixelated George Clooney (in town filming his next project). Discount the fact that he is a (legitimate) Oscar winner, has a bulging bank account, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, raises millions for charity and a holiday house in Italy – he is just a man with grey hair that is a drain on society. Damn you George you handsome man, hope you choke on a fishbone and give us ordinary people a chance. Hopefully my friend let him know “The Peacemaker” was pure cinematic vomit.
At least I can say that I have been to Happy Boy more than George.
Banquet Lunch & 2 x Dinners: Happy Boy, Fortitude Valley (Modern Asian)