Poussin braised in a master stock that must be among Melbourne's most precious heirlooms. Photo: Wayne Taylor
The duck wontons weren't the first thing I loved about my recent visit to Flower Drum, but those silky dumplings certainly cemented the romance.
Two warm welcomes - at the street entrance then at the first-floor dining room after a stocking-adjusting, butterfly-bellied lift ride - were a good start.
Adding to the sense of occasion was a long, escorted parade to my table through the proudly conservative rose-hued dining room, with its timber screens and origami napkins.
Flower Drum's dining room adds to the sense of occasion. Photo: Wayne Taylor
The solicitous discussion of menu was heart-warming, as though the bow-tied veteran waiters really cared whether we had a good dinner. And indeed we did. The pace, the presentation, the silver service, and the food - oh, the food - were nigh on perfect.
All dishes were exemplars of the Cantonese approach to cooking: good produce and careful cooking that underplays its artistry with apparent simplicity.
So, those wontons: the pastry was thin and slippery, the filling succulent, the translucent reduction both lip-stickingly rich and astonishingly clean.
Garfish fillets came in a gossamer batter, attended by sugar snap peas and mushroom sauce. The dish was served on very hot plates so the batter remained light and crunchy to the last bite.
A complex, subtle slow-braised soup of wallaby tail, yam and red bean was a wintry tonic of untold depth - it was my dish of the night.
Poussin was braised in a master stock that must be among Melbourne's most precious heirlooms.
Honeyed pork ribs came with vinegary sauce and slow-cooked onions, plus finger bowls and towels because there's no way you wouldn't suck those babies clean.
For dessert, there's nothing wrong with deep-fried ice-cream, but I prefer red bean soup with pudgy sesame dumplings.
Many people think Flower Drum isn't for them, that it's too expensive and clubby. Well, it is easy to spend a fortune here, but it's also possible to eat extremely well and to drink modestly for about $100 a head (steer clear of shellfish and avoid the hero end of the wine list).
There's also a notion that occasional diners don't get the great service or secret dishes reserved for VIPs. I disagree about the service: I think everyone is feted as a special visitor.
On the question of secret dishes, don't sweat it, because whatever you end up eating, it will be memorably marvellous.
4.5 stars out of 5
- 03 9662 3655
- Cuisine - Chinese
- Prices - Entrees, $11-$25; mains, $20-$55 (more for specialty dishes); desserts, $6.50-$135
- Features - Licensed
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Mastercard, Diners Club, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Mon-Sat, noon-3pm, 6-11pm; Sun, 6-10.30pm
- Author - Dani Valent