365 Buckley St Aberfeldie, VIC 3040
|Opening hours||Wed-Mon noon-10.30pm|
|Features||Licensed, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9337 1991|
There's no business like show business, but a family business is better. Melbourne has dozens of dining powerhouses to prove my adage true: Grossi Florentino, Abla's, Flower Drum and Warung Agus, to name just a few. There's something about the trickling down of skill, passion and knowledge, from being truly invested in a business from birth.
But in hospitality, family doesn't have to mean blood. Those who work the trenches together, and diners who come to the table, become family by default.
That bond existed at the now-shuttered Lau's Family Kitchen in St Kilda, and caused widespread grief when founder Gilbert Lau and his children decided to call time on the business last year. Cue excitement then, that with the Laus' blessing, a core team of the former restaurant's crew have carried the torch to a new restaurant in Melbourne's west.
The whispers of Benyue Kitchen, whose owner-operators include longtime Lau's chefs Yip Wu, Tang Au-Yueng, Xing You He and Qiang Wu, ignited social media like a match at a petrol bowser.
They have tactically chosen a premises 20 kilometres north-west from beachy St Kilda in Aberfeldie, a suburb flush with families and parking but not a strong representation of Chinese food. The reappearance of Lau's lamb spring rolls and ethereal crab omelettes have turned Buckley Street into a pilgrimage route for faithful devotees.
And praise be, the journey is worthwhile. Those Cantonese classics, a study in the finessed elegance of Southern Chinese cuisine, are as good as you remember and possibly sweeter still for coming back from the dead.
A year without those spring rolls makes encountering the golden cigars again land with force. It's all in the chunkiness and juiciness of that lamb farce infused with just a whisper of cumin, and that sharp-sour exclamation point of fresh plum sauce.
Likewise, the impossibly fine batter encasing fresh, tender squid is a high-achieving version of salt-and-pepper squid, a dish that's always delicious but rarely this delicate, leaving you to add lime and the seasoning mix at will.
As is the case with Flower Drum, where regulars seem to be ordering entirely by their own rules, some of the biggest joys of Benyue require you to ask a few questions or arrive at a certain time.
The soy poussin is on the menu, but in limited portions and requires 30 minutes to prepare. Take note then, to call and order ahead or take an early sitting for the best shot at what is undoubtedly one of the biggest poultry prizes in town.
The young bird is soaked and so gently poached in its soy liquor that it has the texture of being set. It has a heady punch from what might be Shaoxing wine and is so impossibly glossy and bronzed, it could have had seven Instagram filters applied.
There's plenty of glory on the main carte, from silky siu mai dumplings, to a plate of seasonal greens that land at the critical point of crunchiness and sweetness, requiring nothing more than a lightly thickened broth for shine.
Yes, there is the signature fried rice, peppered with sticky nubbins of barbecued pork and turned into a luxe carb party with truffle paste.
But if you're smart, you'll ask about the (unlisted) vermicelli claypot. Those jelly-like noodles, lightly spicy, and layered with fat, sweet scallops, tender barbecued pork and finely shredded omelette, are a showstopper.
If the right cut is available, softly braised beef tendons can be yours, too. (This dinner, it's not to be).
It's not just the dishes. It's the return of a personal, relaxed and inviting family restaurant energy.
The bright framed drawings lining multiple walls are by a very up-and-coming artist – head chef Yip's nephew Wilson, who is five. In service, you see the influence of Gilbert Lau, a titan of hospitality who commanded a floor like a choreographer, where waiters each played a vital role from taking orders to pouring water or perhaps the tableside service of more complicated dishes.
It's a system as complex and rigorous as that of a beehive and to experience the dance is always a buzz. Right now, when Omicron is leaving most hospitality teams hobbled, the smooth delivery of dinner at Benyue is almost a miracle.
What an unbridled relief and joy that some of this great hospitality family are carrying the torch. That those tangy golden circles of battered pineapple and ice-cream live to take another turn around the sun.
Tell your friends. Gather your family. The legacy of Lau's lives on.
Drinks: Value-driven local wine list, teas and soft drinks.
Pro Tip: Call ahead to order specials.
Go-to Dish: Soy poussin.