Melbourne is almost an Asian city, packed with Asian tourists, Asian residents, Asian students – and some very fine Asian restaurants. “Australia has undergone a food revolution in recent times,” says Penny Watson in the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s premier English language newspaper “and Chinese cuisine is now at the forefront of a dynamic dining scene, especially in Melbourne.”
The Flower Drum has sat at the top of the heap for years. “Combining the lacquer-and-red-carpet glamour of a Hong Kong dim sum palace with the refinement of a Michelin three-star, this would be one of the finest Cantonese restaurants anywhere if its style weren’t more aptly called ‘Canto-stralian’,” says Conde Nast Traveler. “Here, what appears to be a typical double-boiled soup is made with wallaby tail, to deliriously rich effect. Dumplings are stuffed with the sweet, delicate flesh of Queensland mud crabs. And the traditional abalone has been replaced with native Australian pearl meat, sautéed with asparagus and chives and served in its lustrous shell.”
But what's really remarkable about the Flower Drum, writes Michael Harden in Gourmet Traveller, is that after 35 years in the business it’s still delivering so much more than a theatrical experience. This has become even more apparent recently, he says, with the introduction of a new menu that “emphasises co-owner and executive chef Anthony Lui's deft, creative touch with great-quality seafood but also taps into the sharing zeitgeist with a combination of increased flexibility (through more small dishes) and a couple of tasting/banquet menus of various sizes.”
Another Asian establishment at the cutting edge is Kappo, where “everything about the place from the dense carpets to the chance to choose-your-own-chopsticks is considered, refined, writes Gemima Cody in The Age Good Food Guide. “The omakase-style degustation is built on a daily changing list of ingredients that you get to pick or nix but has consistently had at its heart this ocean tartare, an assortment of sea treats that may include sea grapes, uni, salty roe and diced squid and little black sesame crumbs you get to chop and mix into one pure taste of the ocean.”
Then there’s Chin Chin, a modern Thai favourite on Flinders Lane which famously doesn’t take reservations. “People queue in the rain for this place, a bubble of action and excitement that at five years of age continues to blitz the competition,” says John Lethlean in The Australian, strongly recommending the wok-fried spanner crab omelette with snow pea & coriander salad, chilli & garlic sauce.
At Tonka, the crew work with two tandoor ovens “to bring us inspired Indian cuisine,” says Concrete Playground. “Start with a crisp pocket of spiced potato, mung beans, date and tamarind chutney complete with a jar of 'aromatic water' which is heavily spiced with coriander,” then move larger dishes like the “tender Avani’s lamb curry with roasted coconut, black cardamom and white poppy seeds, or the light John Dory and king brown mushroom laksa with snowpea tendril salad.”
Kenzan is one of Melbourne’s oldest, and swishest, Japanese restaurants where “sushi runs from warm, smoky eel to pearly scallop, while table-top cookers fill the room with garlic-scented sizzle as marbled beef hits hot metal,” writes Gourmet Traveller. “Some of the kitchen's greatest pleasures come from its specials - a tomahawk of kingfish neck might have you sucking the bones for every skerrick of lemony meat.”
For modern Cantonese offerings, Lau’s Family Kitchen in St Kilda serves a “quartet of house-made siu mai dumplings, steamed and filled with a flavoursome mince of pork, prawn and Chinese mushrooms” followed “salt-and-pepper squid in a delicate, crisp batter, enlivened with spring onions, chilli and add-your-own lemon and five-spice seasoning,” reports Good Food.
The best Chinese restaurants in Melbourne, by Broadsheet