HOT: Supernormal, 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Supernormal 180 Flinders Lane Melbourne 2 HOT: Supernormal, 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Flinders Lane has arguably Melbourne CBD’s hottest eat street right now and one of the newest residents is Andrew McConnell’s Supernormal.

Supernormal 180 Flinders Lane Melbourne 1 HOT: Supernormal, 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

It’s hard to tell from the name but the restaurant specialises in Asian-inspired food. It’s mostly Japanese with a hint of Chinese and Korean, as you can tell by some of the signage and the little touches such as sesame grinders and a Japanese candy vending machine by the toilets! Downstairs there’s even a private karaoke room.

Supernormal 180 Flinders Lane Melbourne 3 HOT: Supernormal, 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

I went for lunch with my (Asian) parents and they were impressed by the food, not so much by the prices. While the mostly concrete interior design is stark, utilitarian and almost canteen-like, I think you’ll be hard pressed to eat a full meal and spend less than $40-$50 a head on just food.

Supernormal 180 Flinders Lane Melbourne 5 HOT: Supernormal, 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Part of the reason is that we found a disproportionate amount of protein compared with the side dishes and starchy staples eg rice, buns, bao. So you have to order more to compensate (steamed rice at $4 a bowl) or eat pulled pork or duck meat on its own. This may be ‘paleo’ but it is anathema to any person brought up on Asian cuisine.

Nevertheless, the food was generally spot on. We started with some slippery prawn and chicken dumplings ($14) swimming in some a hair-raising chilli sauce.

Supernormal 180 Flinders Lane Melbourne 4 HOT: Supernormal, 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

The spicy eggplant was not the Sichuan dish that I was expecting but rather a cold salad of black-braised eggplant with spring onion, coriander and wobbling cubes of house-made tofu ($16). Full of flavour but not really my style.

Supernormal 180 Flinders Lane Melbourne 7 HOT: Supernormal, 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

We enjoyed our quarter of twice-cooked duck, crispy and juicy at the same time with a hint of star anise in its skin. The steamed buns (just three) were pillowy light and perfect for nestling bites of meat and cucumber.

Supernormal 180 Flinders Lane Melbourne 8 HOT: Supernormal, 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

The piece de resistance was the Korean BBQ pulled pork shoulder ($74). We were warned that it was huge and would take 20 minutes to come to the table. With anticipation mounting, a large steaming bowl of spicy/tangy/salty molten pork meat arrived at the table, accompanied by a bowl of kimchi and some perfectly domed steamed buns. We had a lot of meat left over after our bun intake so we ordered some steamed rice.

Supernormal 180 Flinders Lane Melbourne 6 HOT: Supernormal, 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

If you have enough people to share it with then this dish is a must-have at Supernormal. Luckily we were able to take the remainder of it home and it was delicious the next day wrapped in a tortilla with some salad!

Supernormal 180 Flinders Lane Melbourne 9 HOT: Supernormal, 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

If you have room try the avant-garde dessert of pink lady and miso soft serve icecream. Yes miso! Surprisingly the combination worked in harmony – nectar sweet apple ice cream with a hint of umami now and then on your tongue. The now defunct Golden Fields’ famous peanut butter parfait reappears on Supernormal‘s menu but I reckon it’s time to try something different.

Supernormal is an imaginative combination of fast food/fine-dining where the food and service will win you over. Go and enjoy it and just don’t gasp at the bill at the end.

Supernormal, 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 03 9650 8688

Sunday – Thursday 11am – 11pm

Friday and Saturday 11am – midnight

minilink HOT: Supernormal, 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

HOT: New Shanghai, Shop 323, Level 3, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

New Shanghai Shop 323 Level 3 Emporium 287 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 1 HOT: New Shanghai, Shop 323, Level 3, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

I am really, really fussy about dumplings. My (Asian) parents taught me to be so!

The hunt for excellent dumplings is an ongoing quest and I am honestly surprised to report that the best dumpling experience I’ve had in a while was in a food court.

New Shanghai is a Sydney-based restaurant chain which has set up its first store in Melbourne inside Emporium’s upmarket ‘cafe court’. When I was invited to its launch I was not expecting too much – a chain restaurant? in a food court?

Well, I was genuinely impressed with the dumplings, and all the food, that I had at New Shanghai. The Shanghainese cuisine was fresh, flavoursome, consistently high quality and reasonably priced.

New Shanghai Shop 323 Level 3 Emporium 287 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 5 HOT: New Shanghai, Shop 323, Level 3, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

While the entrance to  New Shanghai is through food court seating, the interior design is more befitting of a restaurant. Inspiration came from the 20s hutongs of Shanghai and there are touches of Chinoiserie without being over-the-top kitsch. I particularly liked the cobblestone tiles to create a feeling of being in a Shanghainese backstreet.

The large double-sided placemat menus are overwhelming so fortunately the dishes for the night had already selected for me. Not that some items are helpfully highlighted as house specialties so you can’t go too far wrong.

My favourite dishes included:

New Shanghai Shop 323 Level 3 Emporium 287 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 10 HOT: New Shanghai, Shop 323, Level 3, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Sheng Jian Bao, my favourite combination of bao and dumpling. New Shanghai’s version was the fluffiest of pillows, well fried and crispy on the bottom yet still nestling a piping hot, juicy filling ($10.50 for 8). The dough was amazingly light and I could have easily eaten the whole plate without experiencing a stomach full of lead.

New Shanghai Shop 323 Level 3 Emporium 287 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 3 HOT: New Shanghai, Shop 323, Level 3, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Their xiao long bao were similarly excellent ($7.80 for 8) with soft pliable skins and a soupy centre. Marks down for no fresh ginger and no chilli sauce though.

New Shanghai Shop 323 Level 3 Emporium 287 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 7 HOT: New Shanghai, Shop 323, Level 3, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

The Shepherd’s purse and pork wonton with red chilli oil, peanut butter and spices ($11.50 for 10) satisfied my need for heat and I particularly relished the slippery skins and peanut flavours in the sauce.

New Shanghai Shop 323 Level 3 Emporium 287 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 4 HOT: New Shanghai, Shop 323, Level 3, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Vegetarians do not despair, for the steamed vegetarian dumplings ($9 for 8) were delicious open parcels of velvety skins and shredded vegetables. They needed a dash more seasoning or you can just add a liberal dose of soy and vinegar.

New Shanghai Shop 323 Level 3 Emporium 287 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 2 HOT: New Shanghai, Shop 323, Level 3, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

If you like dumplings then New Shanghai is a place to watch. What amazed me most about their dumplings was the consistency in execution. You can watch the dumplings being made on site at the front of the store and those quick fingers produce thousands of dumplings fresh every day.

New Shanghai Shop 323 Level 3 Emporium 287 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 12 HOT: New Shanghai, Shop 323, Level 3, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

From the main plates my stand out favourite was the crispy duck with steamed buns ($31.80 for half duck). The meat was similar to that of Peking duck but instead of a thin pancake wrapper we used a featherlight butterfly-shaped purse to hold the meat, cucumber and spring onion. A textural and flavour sensation.

New Shanghai Shop 323 Level 3 Emporium 287 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 9 HOT: New Shanghai, Shop 323, Level 3, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

The other must-have dish is the salt and pepper soft shell crab ($29.80). Large fleshy pieces of crab encased in a light flaky batter, these morsels were seriously addictive.

New Shanghai Shop 323 Level 3 Emporium 287 Lonsdale Street Melbourne HOT: New Shanghai, Shop 323, Level 3, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

While the rest of my meal was generally good a lowlight was dessert. There are some traditional Chinese desserts on the menu (mostly involving red bean, green bean or sesame paste) but we were offered shaved ice with seasonal fresh fruit ($12.80).

New Shanghai Shop 323 Level 3 Emporium 287 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 6 HOT: New Shanghai, Shop 323, Level 3, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

I’m not sure that mango and strawberries are seasonal for winter (maybe if you’re in Queensland) but the combination of bland commercial vanilla ice cream and fluorescent, fake-tasting fruit sauce did not endear the dessert to me.

New Shanghai is a really exciting addition to Chinese dining in Melbourne. While it’s been a few years since I’ve been in Shanghai I think it rivals some of the best food that I had in that city. Don’t be prejudiced by its food court location and chain restaurant branding – go and judge for yourself.

New Shanghai  are currently running a competition through their Facebook page, which gives fans the chance to win free dumplings for a year at the Melbourne Emporium restaurant. Click here to enter.

New Shanghai , Shop 323, Level 3, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday & Sunday 11am until 7pm

Thursday to Saturday 11am until 9:30pm

minilink HOT: New Shanghai, Shop 323, Level 3, Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

HOT: Ruyi, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne

Ruyi 16 Liverpool St Melbourne 4 HOT: Ruyi, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne

At first glance Ruyi looks and sounds like a Japanese restaurant. Its laneway windows display  blond wood furniture, handmade ash and concrete light fittings (from France), white tiling and small gold details. The Japanese-style aesthetic continues with the custom handmade crockery by Melbourne ceramic artist Andrei Davidoff.

Ruyi 16 Liverpool St Melbourne 5 HOT: Ruyi, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne

But this cool, serene laneway restaurant is actually a modern Chinese restaurant. It serves mostly Cantonese favourites, with some Sichuan and Shanghai dishes thrown into the mix.

Ruyi 16 Liverpool St Melbourne 1 HOT: Ruyi, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne

We visited on a weekday lunch when it was fairly empty. A shame because their set lunch menu of $18 is great value and you’ll definitely come out full. Not to mention soothed by the quiet and subtle interior and the friendly service.

Ruyi 16 Liverpool St Melbourne 11 HOT: Ruyi, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne

The two of us shared one $18 set menu and one $35 set menu, which included some overlapping dishes. First up was the soup of the day fragrant duck and tofu broth, with tangles of eggwhite swirled throughout. It was warming and hearty without being heavy and flavours of all the various elements shone through.

Ruyi 16 Liverpool St Melbourne 8 HOT: Ruyi, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne

From the $18 menu came one ‘bao bao’ with a curious combination of chicken, mayonnaise and coriander. The bao itself was feather-light marshmallow so on balance still a winner.

Ruyi 16 Liverpool St Melbourne 6 HOT: Ruyi, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne

From the $35 menu came the lettuce cup with a choice of waygu, chicken, seafood or vegetarian fillings. The frilled lettuce leaf was daintily presented in a specialist egg-cup style plate and the filling was on the verge of being too soggy – but overall not bad.

Ruyi 16 Liverpool St Melbourne 9 HOT: Ruyi, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne

Back to the $18 menu came some fried chicken wings. They looked blackened and burnt but in fact the crust had retained the juiciness of the meat and they were an unexpected highlight of our meal.

Ruyi 16 Liverpool St Melbourne 3 HOT: Ruyi, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne

Another highlight were the handmade chilli wontons, fat slippery parcels in a soy and vinegar based broth. They were not just stodgy meatballs wrapped in dough but elegant parcels of pork and prawn and our waitress advised us to scoop the leftover sauce onto our bowls of steamed rice.

Ruyi 16 Liverpool St Melbourne 10 HOT: Ruyi, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne

Our least favourite dish were the thickset, heavy pan fried pork and chive dumplings, a stark contrast to the lightness of the wontons.

Ruyi 16 Liverpool St Melbourne 2 HOT: Ruyi, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne

The main course from the $35 menu was a choice of kung pao chicken, citrus pork, oyster beef steak or vegetarian. Our kung pao chicken was not overly fried and not too sweet or sour. But without the numbing heat of Sichuan peppercorns it detracted from the authenticity of the dish, so I’d describe it as a lightly-flavoured sweet and sour chicken instead.

Ruyi 16 Liverpool St Melbourne 7 HOT: Ruyi, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne

As one of the owners noticed me taking photographs she offered one of their desserts for us to try. We each received a serve of warm sticky rice pudding ($12) with a mound of warm sticky rice, a drizzle of coconut sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream sprinkled with pistachios. It was a dessert that I’d not normally order but it was very good – not too sweet thanks to the relatively bland rice and a playful contrast between hot and cold on the plate. My only gripe would be that the ice cream could have been better quality – no evidence of vanilla beans in the making of the commercial product that I could see.

Overall we really enjoyed our lunch at Ruyi. The Hecker Guthrie decor is to die for – a polished Scandinavian palate with hints of warmth and lots of beautiful little details. Everything has a feeling of being handcrafted and handmade and its a space that’s obviously been built with love. The food was just as well presented and included many familiar Chinese dishes done without fluorescent artificial colours, excess grease and throat-drying MSG. Ruyi is a refined experience and a fresh take on our traditional perceptions of Chinese food in Australia.

Ruyi, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne 03 9090 7778

Monday – Wednesday 12:00pm-3:00pm, 6:00pm-10:00pm

Thursday – Friday 12:00pm-11:00pm

Saturday 6:00pm-11:30pm

Sunday CLOSED

minilink HOT: Ruyi, 16 Liverpool St, Melbourne

HOT: Zhou Zhou Bar, upstairs Oriental Tea House, 455 Chapel St, South Yarra

Zhou Zhou Bar upstairs Oriental Tea House Chapel St South Yarra 21 HOT: Zhou Zhou Bar, upstairs Oriental Tea House, 455 Chapel St, South Yarra

Oriental Teahouse in Chapel Street now hosts an (almost) secret bar upstairs called Zhou Zhou, named after its owner, the well-known Melbourne tea specialist and David Zhou.

Zhou Zhou Bar upstairs Oriental Tea House Chapel St South Yarra 5 HOT: Zhou Zhou Bar, upstairs Oriental Tea House, 455 Chapel St, South Yarra

I was invited to check out the Zhou Zhou on opening and after some confusion about the entrance I climbed the stairs from the brightly lit Oriental Teahouse to enter a dim Shanghaiese drinking den. The décor was moody and dark with timber floors and murals of Shanghaiese ladies in cheong-sam and touches of Chinoiserie and kitsch Asian paraphernalia dotted around. Zhou Zhou Bar upstairs Oriental Tea House Chapel St South Yarra 3 HOT: Zhou Zhou Bar, upstairs Oriental Tea House, 455 Chapel St, South Yarra

Zhou Zhou Bar upstairs Oriental Tea House Chapel St South Yarra 1 HOT: Zhou Zhou Bar, upstairs Oriental Tea House, 455 Chapel St, South Yarra

Zhou Zhou serves over 50 Asian inspired craft beers, which apparently was quite a feat of research for David Zhou, a self-professed tea man. The drinks list is rounded out with wine, sake and Asian-inspired cocktails such as the Hello Vera – a mix of West Winds Gin, peach, aloe vera and mint, or the Mekong Hijinks of lychee, lemongrass and hibiscus tea and more West Winds Gin. I preferred the latter cocktail for the balance of sweet and tart and it was served with a lychee sherbet lolly for a comical twist.

Zhou Zhou Bar upstairs Oriental Tea House Chapel St South Yarra 8 HOT: Zhou Zhou Bar, upstairs Oriental Tea House, 455 Chapel St, South Yarra

The kitchens of Oriental Teahouse provide the savoury and sweet snacks, mostly dumplings, all for sharing and to match your drinks.

Zhou Zhou Bar upstairs Oriental Tea House Chapel St South Yarra 4 HOT: Zhou Zhou Bar, upstairs Oriental Tea House, 455 Chapel St, South Yarra

I tried the fat and fluffy pork buns and the chilli dumplings, always a favourite with their slippery pliant skins and kick of heat. But there’s lots of choose from so you don’t just have to stick with dim sum.

Zhou Zhou Bar upstairs Oriental Tea House Chapel St South Yarra 7 HOT: Zhou Zhou Bar, upstairs Oriental Tea House, 455 Chapel St, South Yarra

The relaxed vibe and hidden nooks of Zhou Zhou create a cosy counterpoint to the noisy street life happening downstairs on Chapel Street. It’s a place you can linger as you’ll be fed and watered in comfort and style while the rest of the populace fights for parking spaces. And if you’re at Zhou Zhou with a larger group I recommend commandeering the room across the hallway for your own private party!

Zhou Zhou Bar upstairs Oriental Tea House Chapel St South Yarra 6 HOT: Zhou Zhou Bar, upstairs Oriental Tea House, 455 Chapel St, South Yarra

Zhou Zhou, 455 Chapel Street, South Yarra 03 9826 0168

Wed-Thu, Sun 5pm-11pm Fri-Sat 5pm-2am

minilink HOT: Zhou Zhou Bar, upstairs Oriental Tea House, 455 Chapel St, South Yarra

HOT: 1+1 Dumpling Noodles, 84 Hopkins St, Footscray

1+1 Dumpling Noodles 84 Hopkins St Footscray 2 HOT: 1+1 Dumpling Noodles, 84 Hopkins St, Footscray

Dumplings + Noodles = my favourite two carb-loading Chinese dishes. And at 1 +1 Dumpling Noodles you can order not only dumplings and noodles but lots of other interesting Xinjiang food, a far cry from your run-of-the-mill Cantonese food that often labelled as ‘Chinese’ food in Australia as if it was one huge, homogenous cuisine.

To whit – the one must-have on the menu are the lamb skewers ($2 each, minimum of 4). Many (Han) Chinese turn their nose up at eating lamb as being too smelly but lamb features heavily in Xinjiang as it is a Muslim Uighur province in north-west China.

1+1 Dumpling Noodles 84 Hopkins St Footscray 4 HOT: 1+1 Dumpling Noodles, 84 Hopkins St, Footscray

Thescharred and heavily cumin-ed chunks of lamb were closer to Middle Eastern shish kebabs than what most of us would consider mainstream Chinese food. You can order them with or without chilli and the long sizzling sticks were very tender and moreish.

1+1 Dumpling Noodles 84 Hopkins St Footscray 3 HOT: 1+1 Dumpling Noodles, 84 Hopkins St, Footscray

Now, back to the dumplings and noodles. The picture menu helpfully indicated all the different dumpling options and we ordered pork steamed dumplings ($10 for 15). They were very juicy morsels, with slippery thick skins which cried out for a dose of DIY black vinegar and chilli. I think next time pan-fried would be a better option, just to stave off a little bit of the wateriness in the dish.

1+1 Dumpling Noodles 84 Hopkins St Footscray 1 HOT: 1+1 Dumpling Noodles, 84 Hopkins St, Footscray

The noodles eaten in Xinjiang are wheaten rather than rice-based and at 1 + 1 Dumpling Noodles they are hand made on the premises. The hand stretching bestowed the uneven, knobbly noodles with a delightfully springy chew and they soaked up the spicy chicken stir-fry nicely. I recommend that you order your noodles separately to the meat to reduce the amount of sauce and oil swimming around your plate (and your stomach).

1 + 1 Dumpling Noodles is casual and unpretentious and the glamour factor is negative thanks to the plastic tablecloths, kitschy Chinese New Year decorations and commercial radio blaring from the corner. Don’t be put off by the vacant tables, particularly at lunch time. The service is friendly (especially if you speak Mandarin – the owner had a long animated chat about Xinjiang with my parents), the food is tasty and filling and the prices are cheap. For little ones they also have a high chair and plastic crockery and cutlery.

1+1 Dumpling Noodles, 84 Hopkins St, Footscray (03) 9687 8988

Mon- Sun 11am – 9:30pm

minilink HOT: 1+1 Dumpling Noodles, 84 Hopkins St, Footscray

 

 

 

 

HOT: Charlie Dumpling, 184 High St, Prahran

Charlie Dumpling 184 High St Prahran 1 HOT: Charlie Dumpling, 184 High St, Prahran
Charlie Dumpling 184 High St Prahran 3 HOT: Charlie Dumpling, 184 High St, Prahran
In a former life I used to live around High Street Prahran and there was not much going on there – a dry cleaner, a stationery store,  some furniture shops.

Well, the corner around High Street and Chapel Street has been revamped to become a cool eating and drinking precinct. The latest addition to the casual and funky restaurant strip is Charlie Dumpling. A cool place where you can drink cocktails and eat late night (and lunchtime) dumplings.

I was invited to the launch of Charlie Dumpling. The narrow space was crowded with people holding Mr C Sheen cocktails – a flirty pink mix of gin, watermelon, lime, and agave festooned with perky umbrellas – with one hand and popping toothpicks of dumplings with the other.

Charlie Dumpling 184 High St Prahran 7 HOT: Charlie Dumpling, 184 High St, Prahran

While it’s not all dumplings the menu is all savoury or sweet snacks that you’d have with drinks – so if you’re starving it could get expensive. The dumplings themselves are not authentic – more a modern interpretation of lots of Asian flavours – and the inventive combinations are a trade mark with chef Dylan Roberts (formerly Cutler & Co., Ezard, Claremont Tonic).

Charlie Dumpling 184 High St Prahran 8 HOT: Charlie Dumpling, 184 High St, Prahran

So instead of traditional har gao you get a more thickset version stuffed with bamboo shoots and topped with a drizzle of chill oil. Of the non-dumpling options choose the salmon tartare on airy nori crackers which is like eating sushi on a salt and vinegar chip! Extremely moreish.

Charlie Dumpling 184 High St Prahran 5 HOT: Charlie Dumpling, 184 High St, Prahran

The best dumplings of the night was a gyoza wrapping container water spinach and squid. Drizzled with curry leaf kewpie it was spicy and juicy and not a dish you’re likely to find elsewhere.

Charlie Dumpling 184 High St Prahran 4 HOT: Charlie Dumpling, 184 High St, Prahran

For dessert we have mochi filled with a lemon tart sorbet and salted almond caramel. These little orbs of icy tartness were a highlight and spying the other dessert dumplings on the menu (chocolate with raspberry sorbet and doughnut!) my advice is definitely leave room for sweets.

Charlie Dumpling 184 High St Prahran 6 HOT: Charlie Dumpling, 184 High St, Prahran

Charlie Dumpling‘s fitout subtly harks back to South Asian origins – lobster pot lamp shades, bamboo steamers on the shelves and rustic seaside window shutters as a wall feature. If a noisy, crowded Gen Y hangout is not really your scene then try taking a peek upstairs where you’ll find a giant lobster adorning the wall of the private dining room. The room seats 8 and stands up to 28 people and provides a great view of High Street from the tall sash windows.

Charlie Dumpling 184 High St Prahran 2 HOT: Charlie Dumpling, 184 High St, Prahran

Charlie Dumpling will no doubt be very popular given its winning combination of drinks and food – so keep an eye out for their takeaway service, coming soon.

Charlie Dumpling, 184 High St, Prahran 03 9510 4213

Monday 5:30pm-12:00am

Tuesday – Sunday 12:00pm-3:00pm, 5:30pm-12:00am

minilink HOT: Charlie Dumpling, 184 High St, Prahran

HOT: Laksa King, 6-12 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington

Laksa King 6 12 Pin Oak Crescent Flemington 3 HOT: Laksa King, 6 12 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington

In my daily life I don’t have much cause to go to Flemington…except to visit Laksa King.

If a place hangs its shingle on a single dish, then you’d better believe that the laksa at Laksa King is outstanding. And while the menu boasts 120+ items of Malaysian and Chinese food, the must-have dish is definitely a gigantic bowl of spicy noodle soup. There are eight versions to choose from!

The laksa is a bargain for under a tenner ($9.80) and it comes in a deep vessel that’s bigger than my head. I choose the combination curry laksa in which lurks shredded chicken, sliced fish cakes, prawns, tofu, a hunk of deep-fried eggplant, bean sprouts and egg and rice noodles, all garnished with a sprinkling of fried shallots. Everything is revealed once I dig my spoon and chopsticks underneath the spicy, lava red soup.

Laksa King 6 12 Pin Oak Crescent Flemington 4 HOT: Laksa King, 6 12 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington

There’s much slurping and brow-wiping as I hoe into the bowl. It has a satisfying chilli spice with a good kick, the soup isn’t too oily and the coconut milk doesn’t overpower or dilute the base stock. The noodles are cooked al dente and for someone who doesn’t tend to like eggplant the squidgy vegetable makes an interesting textural contrast.

Laksa King dole out so many bowls of its laksa a day that there must be a hyper-efficient production line in the kitchen. I got my lunch around 3 minutes after I ordered it – even before the waitress could bring me a bottle of tap water. Bet you McDonald’s can’t beat that speed!

Laksa King 6 12 Pin Oak Crescent Flemington 1 HOT: Laksa King, 6 12 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington

Laksa King is hugely popular for good reason. The buzzing restaurant is very large, light and clean with stylish pendant lamps and dotted with greenery. I was expecting more grungy plastic furniture and wipe down plastic tablecloths so the decor is a nice surprise. The service is fast and friendly and the restaurant caters  for friends, single diners and families (they have high chairs). The food is delicious, cheap and fast – next time I’m going to try their dumplings/wontons which I spied being made from scratch in the kitchen.

Laksa King 6 12 Pin Oak Crescent Flemington 2 HOT: Laksa King, 6 12 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington

All hail the king!

Laksa King, 6-12 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington 03 9372 6383

Lunch 11:30am – 3pm

Dinner Mon-Thu, Sun 5pm-10pm

Dinner Fri-Sat 5pm – 10:30pmOnly closed on Christmas Day

minilink HOT: Laksa King, 6 12 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington

HOT: David’s Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

Davids Restaurant 4 Cecil Place Prahran 7 HOT: Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

Melbourne’s Lunar New Year festivities are still happening this week so this weekend is a good opportunity to sneak in a last Chinese New Year feast at David’s Prahran.

This bustling ‘Country Shanghai’ Chinese restaurant has great value sharing menus which are perfect for groups of diners and eliminates the need to make difficult decisions from the a la carte menu. We were invited to try the sharing menu, which can be organised for 2, 4, 6 and 8 people – though if you turn up with an odd number (like us – 3 people) then it’s easy for the kitchen to make adjustments by reducing the number of dishes. 

Davids Restaurant 4 Cecil Place Prahran 8 HOT: Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

To start we had gently poached chicken marinated subtly in Chinese rice wine and topped with a handful of edamame. The meat was almost marshmallow soft and the crunchy soy beans provided the dish with some textural contrast. 

Davids Restaurant 4 Cecil Place Prahran 4 HOT: Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

In contrast the other meat entree was a punchy concoction of thinly sliced lamb, dry-fried and tossed with chilli, garlic, spring onions and shredded iceberg lettuce.

Davids Restaurant 4 Cecil Place Prahran 1 HOT: Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

One of the ‘must-eat’ dishes at David’s is their DIY shredded duck and veggie wrap (their version of Peking Duck), which pairs crispy duck with some delicate rice flour pancakes. I suggest asking for more pancakes as there’s lots of filling to go around and you don’t want to overfill your wrap and make it soggy.

Davids Restaurant 4 Cecil Place Prahran 6 HOT: Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

One of my favourite dishes were the ‘one bit’ soft shell river prawns, a generous earthen bowl full of crispiness tossed in a sweet/sour sauce. The prawns are great on top of rice or just on their own.

Davids Restaurant 4 Cecil Place Prahran 2 HOT: Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

The other main dishes also paired well with the simple ‘Buddha’s’ fried rice with bok choy and egg as they were more akin to stews.

Davids Restaurant 4 Cecil Place Prahran 5 HOT: Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

Firstly, the ‘country comfort’, a rustic soy-braised dish of pork belly with chat potatoes which is a rib-sticking cold weather dish. Then a classic Chinese dish of cubes of silken tofu brimming with shiitake, button and enoki mushrooms. Other than the mushrooms vegetables come in the form of green soy beans and diced bok choy stir fried with chilli for spice and colour.

Davids Restaurant 4 Cecil Place Prahran 3 HOT: Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

 

For dessert you receive a traditional gelatinous hemisphere of black sticky rice flavoured with osmanthus and red bean. It’s a bit of an acquired taste in terms of its gluey texture as well as the not-quite-sweetness of the red beans. Even though I’m Chinese I can’t say I’m a great fan and it can sit heavily in your  stomach after a large meal.

Davids Restaurant 4 Cecil Place Prahran 10 HOT: Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

If you order from the sharing menu at David’s then I guarantee that you won’t be able to finish everything! The sharing menus are $70 for 2 people, $140 for 4 people, $210 for 6 people and $300 for 8 people. Fortunately they are very accommodating with take away containers, making the dinner even better value when you can enjoy leftovers the next day. 

David’s also offer all you can eat $35 yum cha on weekends, another great way to sample lots of dishes and leave with your stomach full, rolling out the door.

David’s Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran +61 3 9529 5199

Mon-Wed 12pm-3pm & 6pm-10pm
Thu 12pm-3pm & 6pm-10.30pm
Fri 12pm-11pm
Sat 11.30am – 11pm
Sun 11.30am-10.30pm

minilink HOT: Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

HOT: Lee Ho Fook, 92 Smith St, Collingwood


Lee Ho Fook 92 Smith St Collingwood 81 HOT: Lee Ho Fook, 92 Smith St, Collingwood

Happy Year of the Horse! Celebrate Chinese New Year at possibly the hottest Chinese restaurant in Melbourne at the moment – Lee Ho Fook.

When Lee Ho Fook opened in October last year expectations were high as the head chef, Victor Liong, had previously worked at Marque and Mr Wong. Now that the initial hype has died down the small one room restaurant is still going strong.

Lee Ho Fook 92 Smith St Collingwood 71 HOT: Lee Ho Fook, 92 Smith St, Collingwood

The space fits only around 50 people at the bar and on tables and the room is sparsely furnished. There are no dragons or gold leaf in sight – in fact, nothing on the exterior or interior that would really alert you to the fact that it’s a Chinese restaurant, even if you noticed that the shape in the smoked-glass window was a panda.

lee ho fook 92 Smith St Collingwood HOT: Lee Ho Fook, 92 Smith St, Collingwood

The menu is similarly understated with its Chinese origins. Every dish is Chinese-with-a-twist, which didn’t agree with my (Chinese) parents every time but still makes for delicious food. Plus I think what they’ve done with a traditional cuisine is pretty inventive.

We visited Lee Ho Fook with 7 people and when you book for over 6 diners you are forced to order a set 8 courses ($48 per person) or 10 courses ($68). The set menus are a sort of greatest hits selection and when the bill was toted up the set menu was better value than the dinner for two my parents had ordered the night before. We were all big eaters and we didn’t feel you needed the 10 courses to be satisfied.

Lee Ho Fook 92 Smith St Collingwood 61 HOT: Lee Ho Fook, 92 Smith St, Collingwood

To start, we had the ‘Chinese Huxtaburger’ – addictive mini sliders of steamed milk bun skewered with a crispy hunk of candied pork, a slice of salted cucumber and fluffy pork floss.

Lee Ho Fook 92 Smith St Collingwood 51 HOT: Lee Ho Fook, 92 Smith St, Collingwood

The prawn toast was just as awesome, finely minced prawn sprinkled with black sesame and domed over crispy toasts. It was served with some fresh butter which was an unnecessarily rich, Western, ingredient and no one touched it.

Lee Ho Fook 92 Smith St Collingwood 31 HOT: Lee Ho Fook, 92 Smith St, Collingwood

Next up was the raw ocean trout and jellyfish salad served raw. It was an update on a classic Cantonese new year dish with sashimi-grade slices of fish, shredded jellyfish and topped with coleslaw and fried wonton crisps for colour and crunch.

Lee Ho Fook 92 Smith St Collingwood 21 HOT: Lee Ho Fook, 92 Smith St, Collingwood

Another highlight was the crispy skin Shandong Chicken. Shandong chicken is basically crispy skin chicken that has been twice cooked (boiled then deep-fried) and served in a black vinegar, chilli, soy sauce and coriander sauce. It was like Chinese KFC and just as addictive. Crunchy, paper-thin crackled skin covering juicy meat on the bone and served with the classic Shandong dressing.

Lee Ho Fook 92 Smith St Collingwood 41 HOT: Lee Ho Fook, 92 Smith St, Collingwood

More crispness in the form of lamb belly fried with chilli and garlic. A high impact, flavoursome dish perfect with steamed rice but a little too fatty for my liking.

Lee Ho Fook 92 Smith St Collingwood 11 HOT: Lee Ho Fook, 92 Smith St, Collingwood

The best dish of the night for me was actually the most straightforward Cantonese dish that you’ll find in most Chinese restaurants – steamed barramundi with ginger and shallots. What was different here was that the fish was filleted, Western-style, meaning no bones or fins or popping eyes. It was steamed to perfection, with no hint of rubber and with the clean freshness of the seafood enhanced by the aromatics.

Lee Ho Fook 92 Smith St Collingwood 22 HOT: Lee Ho Fook, 92 Smith St, Collingwood

The dessert was the most removed from traditional Chinese fare. Each person received an artistically laid out platter of miniature desserts – a subtle jasmine tea custard with burnt caramel, sort of like an Asian creme brulee, plus osmanthus jelly with a gently sweet white peach sorbet.

Lee Ho Fook is Liong’s first restaurant and it’s a great debut.  It will be moving to new premises in Duckboard Lane, CBD next year. I imagine that rents are higher in the city than in Collingwood (even eat-street Smith Street) so you may find prices will necessary be going up. Just in case, I recommend that you book yourself a seat at Lee Ho Fook before it decamps south.

Lee Ho Fook92 Smith Street, Collingwood (03) 9077 6261

Wed to Thurs 5pm – 11pm
Fri 12pm – 11pm
Sat 5pm – 11pm
Sun 12pm – 11pm

minilink HOT: Lee Ho Fook, 92 Smith St, Collingwood

HOT: Tao Tao House, 815 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn

Tao Tao House 815 Glenferrie Rd Hawthorn 1 HOT: Tao Tao House, 815 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn
Everyone has their own favourite yum cha destinations. I’m usually a fan of Shark Fin House and Golden Dragon Palace – and now I think they’re both topped by my recent visit to Tao Tao House

Tao Tao House came recommended via my (Chinese) parents’ (Chinese) friends – the Chinese expat grapevine is a great source for food tips in Melbourne! I’d never heard of it but the chef Jason Au was the head dim sum chef at Flower Drum for nearly 20 years and prior to establishing his own place worked at Golden Dragon Palace.

Tao Tao House 815 Glenferrie Rd Hawthorn 2 HOT: Tao Tao House, 815 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn

The restaurant isn’t particularly big and isn’t like one of those Eastern Suburb behemoths that occupy a huge block with heaps of off-street parking. Therefore, it’s best to make a booking before you arrive – on weekdays yum cha is from 12-3pm and on busier weekends they have two sessions at 11am and 1pm.

The decor is standard-issue Chinese – gold leaf, large murals, stone lions and bamboo sheltering patrons from dull views and the noise of Glenferrie Road traffic. It is, however, quite refined for a yum cha restaurant, with plush grape-purple chairs and a sedate atmosphere as opposed to the usual frenetic pushiness you’ll find during the yum cha feeding frenzy. Having said that, the food comes quickly and steadily, pushed around on trolleys (you have to order from the menu on weekdays).

What I found most impressive about the dim sum at Tao Tao House was their consistently high quality. From deep-fried morsels to shortcrust pastry to crystal dumpling wrapping, it was all made well with excellent textures and a fine balance of flavours.

Tao Tao House 815 Glenferrie Rd Hawthorn 8 HOT: Tao Tao House, 815 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn

Highlights included the dainty chicken pies with their lids of sweet crumbly shortcrust and the warm-out-of-the-oven egg custard tarts.

Tao Tao House 815 Glenferrie Rd Hawthorn 4 HOT: Tao Tao House, 815 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn

The prawn and corn dumplings and tortellini-shaped scallop dumplings were juicy morsels with pliant wrappers that were not gluey or sticky – a bellwether for a high quality yum cha restaurant.

Tao Tao House 815 Glenferrie Rd Hawthorn 3 HOT: Tao Tao House, 815 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn

Tao Tao House 815 Glenferrie Rd Hawthorn 7 HOT: Tao Tao House, 815 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn

Finally my favourite, the perfect spheres of fluffy white buns with an egg custard filling speckled with shredded coconut.

Such excellent quality yum cha may be expensive, especially if you order a lot of their seafood specialities. Our table of 2 adults and 2 toddlers ate just over $100 in dim sum! While we probably ordered a little more than usual in order to try a wide variety of dishes, don’t necessarily expect the Tao Tao House experience to come cheap (though it will be cheerful). Nevertheless, I will definitely be returning.

Tao Tao House, 815 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn (03) 9818 0968

Mon – Thu: 12:00 am – 10:00 pm
Fri: 12:00 am – 11:00 pm
Sat: 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
Sun: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm

minilink HOT: Tao Tao House, 815 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn