Flower Drum

17 Market Lane, Melbourne, VIC

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Poussin braised in a master stock that must be among Melbourne's most precious heirlooms.
Poussin braised in a master stock that must be among Melbourne's most precious heirlooms. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Dani Valent

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.
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.

Rating

4.5 stars out of 5

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17 Market Lane, Melbourne, VIC

  • 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
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1 comment so far

  • Flower Drum is really the best restaurant in Melbourne from all points of view and you get what you pay for: from that point of view it is not expensive: however there are quite a few restaurants in Yunnan which (apart from the service and the ambiance) are nearly as good and cost a tenth of what one would pay in Flower Drum. None of them however go close when it comes to seafood although the dishes here are works of art.

    Commenter
    horse2go
    Location
    Kunming Yunnan China
    Date and time
    June 06, 2013, 12:22PM

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