Where better to celebrate the Lunar New Year than one of Melbourne’s top 10 Chinese restaurants where you can dine like an emperor.
The stir-fried pearl meat is a classic. So is the Peking duck, plated tableside by the waiter team’s answer to a Ferrari pit crew. The peerless Cantonese food at Flower Drum has kept it at the top of the Australian pack for more than 30 years and it shows no signs of abating thanks to innovative new dishes such as the elastic barramundi noodles containing a whisper of Chinese sausage and tangerine zest. In a word: outstanding.
17 Market Lane, Melbourne; (03) 9662 3655
HuTong Dumpling Bar
The team of white-toqued chefs busily shaping dumplings in their glass-windowed kitchen set the scene for the star of the HuTong show, the Shanghai soup dumplings known as xiao long bao. Order a serve of these pleated pork numbers (eating method: nibble a hole in the side and slurp out the soup before devouring the rest with black vinegar and a sliver of ginger) but also explore the broad menu that covers thrillingly spicy dishes from stir-fried chicken in a thicket of red chillies to a luscious scallop and eggplant claypot.
14-16 Market Lane, Melbourne; (03) 9650 8128
162 Commercial Road, Prahran; (03) 9098 1188
Lee Ho Fook
Welcome to the Chinese restaurant new guard. This buzzing, neon-lit, super-hip joint tucked down a city laneway is where chef Victor Liong plays homage to the classics without being tied to history. He serves up a pitch-perfect steamed barramundi with ginger and spring onion sauce but is equally happy to experiment with raw kingfish and pickled kohlrabi or appetite-revving crisp Chong Qing-style chicken skin.
11-15 Duckboard Place, Melbourne; (03) 9077 6261
A slick Hecker Guthrie-designed Scandi and modern Chinese menu make perfect sense at this smart laneway dweller. Peking duck bao, salt and pepper soft-shell crab in citrus sauce and classic Sichuan eggplant re-spun as eggplant fries make a compelling case for a reimagining of the classics.
16 Liverpool Street, Melbourne; (03) 9090 7778
The touch screen menu revolution arrives in Melbourne with China Red, an offshoot of the HuTong empire yet a player in its own right. Beyond the technological thrill lies a menu of dim sum excellence – the pork wontons in chilli oil are a highlight – augmented by a greatest hits selection from the expansive Chinese canon.
Shop 6, 206 Bourke Street, Melbourne; (03) 9662 3688
The dumplings are the drawcard at this no-frills, unlicensed eatery tucked into an arcade on the Chinatown fringe. Rustic, rugged and completely out of the ordinary, they’re filled with a cloud-light mousse of mackerel, pungent with coriander, ginger and chives, or minced herby chicken or zucchini with speckles of fried tofu, coriander and ginger. Order the housemade beauties either plain boiled or pan-fried – just add liberal doses of chilli oil and black vinegar.
Midcity Centre, 7/200 Bourke Street, Melbourne; (03) 9650 3818
A Prahran warehouse styled as an elegant Shanghai teahouse, David Zhou’s eponymous restaurant is renowned for its extensive tea menu (Zhou is also a tea importer) and the excellence of its all-you-can-eat weekend yum cha.
4 Cecil Place, Prahran; (03) 9529 5199
Lau’s Family Kitchen
A welcoming neighbourhood restaurant with pedigree (it was opened in 2006 by former Flower Drum doyen Gilbert Lau and his family), Lau’s is the always-pumping home of signatures such as the wok-fried toothfish and crisp-skinned poussin – not to mention the best ma po tofu in town.
4 Acland Street, St Kilda; (03) 8598 9880
Ricky & Pinky
Andrew McConnell puts his years working in Hong Kong and Shanghai to good use at Ricky & Pinky, his restaurant within the Builders Arms Hotel. The retro fit-out references Australia’s 1970s suburban Canto restaurants and the lazy Susans twirl with spicy fried quail, honey-glazed duck breast and shredded cumin lamb.
211 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy; (03) 9417 7700
Most of Melbourne is in on the joke that there’s nothing dainty about Dainty Sichuan. The fire and ice of the Sichuan region’s signature mouth-numbing peppercorn is at the fore across the menu, whether it’s the ma po tofu at the original South Yarra restaurant or the roiling hotpot at their new-style CBD restaurant, where a smorgasbord of seafood, meat and vegetables wait their turn to be dunked.
149 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne; (03) 9662 2019
176 Toorak Road, South Yarra; (03) 9078 1686
Top image: Ricky & Pinky