Former Mr Wong chef Jowett Yu to lead Merivale's first Melbourne restaurant on Flinders Lane

Jowett Yu has returned to Australia from Hong Kong and will lead Merivale's first Melbourne venue on Flinders Lane.
Jowett Yu has returned to Australia from Hong Kong and will lead Merivale's first Melbourne venue on Flinders Lane. Photo: Supplied

One of Hong Kong's shining stars, Jowett Yu, has been named as the chef who will lead Merivale's first Melbourne restaurant on Flinders Lane.

Forty-year-old Yu spent seven years in Hong Kong as executive chef at Ho Lee Fook, one of the city's most sought-after reservations, where he served a compelling modern take on Cantonese cooking. Before that, he led celebrated Sydney venues Mr Wong and Ms G's, both part of the Merivale stable.

The hospitality giant has welcomed back its prodigal son and named him executive chef of its new, as-yet-unnamed venue in Tomasetti House, an 1853 building that Merivale boss Justin Hemmes bought for a reported $40 million last April.

Tomasetti House in Flinders Lane will house Merivale's first Melbourne restaurant.
Tomasetti House in Flinders Lane will house Merivale's first Melbourne restaurant. Photo: Supplied

The seven-storey site could house several eateries but Yu says the current plan involves only one venue.

He describes the menu he's working on as "Cantonese but loosely bound by dishes from other regions [in China]".

But we are still at least a year away from trying the talented Taiwanese-born chef's cooking.

Since he first set foot in a kitchen when he was 15 in Vancouver, Yu has trained under some of Australia's sharpest chefs.

He arrived in Sydney in 2004 with a singular goal: to work at Tetsuya's. He staged for three months, unpaid, then worked as chef de partie for nearly three years. During that time the restaurant achieved its highest ranking, No. 5, on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, and Yu worked alongside Martin Benn and his future collaborator, Dan Hong.

"There was nowhere else. I didn't have a plan B," Yu says.

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After a stint at Mark Best's Marque, Yu teamed up with Hong on the first Lotus and the two went on to open Ms G's and Mr Wong, delivering rule-breaking fun at the former and more classic Cantonese at the latter.

This opening, though, comes with extra scrutiny. Will the Merivale magic work away from its home turf?

"It's exciting at the same time as kind of daunting," says Yu. "I'm not sure how the public in Melbourne will receive the space and the food… But we just have to give it a go."

A recent sell-out dinner he cooked at Nomad for Melbourne Food & Wine Festival put the spotlight on Xinjiang cooking from north-western China, a cuisine he admires for its "directness".

Travel is a huge source of inspiration for Yu, who also oversaw five other restaurants while he was in Hong Kong.

Le Garcon Saigon celebrated wood-fired Vietnamese cooking, and spawned banh mi shop Le Petit Saigon next door. Fukuro was inspired by a new tradition of izakayas in Tokyo, while Canton Disco in Shanghai was another outlet for Yu's passion for Cantonese food. The Last Resort was his fried chicken homage to the quality of Hong Kong's birds.

What seams he'll mine in Melbourne for his next project will be hotly anticipated as the opening draws closer.

For now, all he'll say is he's excited to be working with Australian seafood, beef and lamb, and to share Hong Kong's sub-regional dishes he discovered in neighbourhoods like Sai Wan Ho.