Familiar haunts and hipster hangouts top the chef’s hit list to Melbourne’s Chinatown and beyond.
Melbourne’s Chinatown, with Little Bourke Street at its heart, is home to many amazing restaurants. But the city’s diverse and nuanced approach to Asian cuisines – Korean and Japanese among them – reaches beyond the borders of the precinct. Take a short stroll south through the CBD to Flinders Lane or west to King Street and you’ll find eateries that are drawing crowds for their unique flavours and buzzy settings.
If you want good value
Shanghai Street is a well-priced dumpling and noodle joint. Be sure to order the crab dumplings and pork mini buns with black vinegar. The noodles with spicy pork mince or braised beef are also super-delicious.
If you want a quality experience
Flower Drum is the king. Not only is it Australia’s best Chinese restaurant, it’s one of the finest in the world. The service team, led by Jason Lui, is extraordinary. Order the shallot cake, crab dumplings, stir-fried pearl meat, drunken pigeon and Peking duck and you will be a happy camper. This isn’t an inexpensive place to dine but the quality ingredients, craft of cooking and assured service make it well worth the price.
If you want a chilli hit
Sichuan House (22-26 Corrs Lane, Melbourne; 03 9650 8589) is a must for those who love a touch of heat. The kung pao chicken is a standout but be warned: if you don’t leave most of the chilli and Sichuan pepper on the plate, you’ll burn up. This old-school establishment – with the walls painted flame-red and chintzy slip-covered dining chairs – features dishes such as the twice-cooked pork, the fish-fragrant eggplant (fish-fragrant sauce is a thing – there’s no fish in it but it’s sweet-and-sour), mapo tofu, cold noodles and cumin pork ribs. All of them are great.
If you want something modern
You’ll have to leave Chinatown proper and head down to Flinders Lane to find some really good contemporary Japanese, Chinese and Korean. Andrew McConnell’s Supernormal opened in 2014 but still hums from lunch through to late. It’s even better now that Ben Pollard – one of my long-time Spice Temple boys – is running the kitchen. Get stuck into the raw dishes and have a few dumplings. Wagyu buns and duck bao are also favourites.
If you want somewhere that’s open late
Supper Inn (15 Celestial Avenue, Melbourne; 03 9663 4759) is a classic “hospo” hangout (read: a place that chefs and waiters head to after work) because it’s open every day until 2.30am. This is standard Cantonese fare and you’ll do best to stick to the traditional – steamed oysters with soy, stir-fried beef with oyster sauce, fish with ginger and shallot and roast duck. Grab some greens, steamed rice and a cold beer and you’re set. ￼
If you’re looking for timeless favourites
I like two options. First is Mr. Ramen San, which is a build-your-own-bowl ramen place in the heart of Chinatown. Just choose your topping and preferred broth (the Tonkotsu is a sure bet here; pork skins are boiled through the stock to give it a rich texture and flavour). It’s a serious meal but if you have a big appetite, extra noodles are complimentary. Fukuryu Ramen, just 300 metres away, has various broths on its menu, too. I like the lighter shio ramen with clear chicken and fish broth. If you don’t feel like soup, you can also have Japanese curry and rice dishes, as well as salads.
Ignore the décor at Jin Dumpling and Noodle House (172-179 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne; 03 9663 3838) – think laminated tables and mirrored walls – because the focus here is squarely on the food and it delivers. The hot and sour soup with pork intestines is one of my go-to noodle dishes. I also love the cold noodles with beef; shredded over the chewy noodles with hot dressing, the beef is so very tasty.
I absolutely love ShanDong MaMa (Shop 7, Midcity Centre, 200 Bourke Street, Melbourne; 03 9650 3818), an eatery with a mother-daughter duo at its helm. While all the dumplings and baos here are great, the mackeral dumplings are awesome and worth the visit. It’s no-frills and located inside an arcade but serves a good selection of craft beers. There’s no better place for a snack.
You’ll find the usual yum cha dishes on the extensive menu at Secret Kitchen – har gow, dumplings, siu mai and xiao long bao. Other star dishes include chicken feet and fried calamari, as well as lots of great roasted food such as duck, suckling pig and barbecue pork.
At Woodo (179 King Street, Melbourne; 03 9995 9612) you cook at the table, making it ideal for a group. Order Wagyu rib and pork belly for the barbecue. Add some kimchi (which comes with salad), a bowl of rice, tofu soup (something of a revelation) and you’ve got yourself a meal. Bornga (180 Little Bourke Street; 03 9650 8878) is equally good with friends. Choose the kimchi and salads, seafood pancake, bulgogi and barbecue short ribs. It all goes down well with beer and if the night turns celebratory, a few shots of soju.
A bit of everything
Opposite Flower Drum, HuTong Dumpling Bar serves cracking xiao long bao and pork dumplings. The twice-cooked pork and noodles are also fantastic. This laneway restaurant is seriously busy – for good reason.