The new CBD restaurant from Malaysian chef Esca Khoo is an education in the cultures of our nearest neighbours – and it's tucked inside an under-the-radar hotel.
"I find myself chasing memories or tastes," says Khoo, who this week opens Miss Mi in Melbourne's Movenpick Hotel, where bright colours, futuristic arches and geometric patterned carpet create an eclectic look that matches his food.
He'll be delivering high-wattage flavours from across Asia with the finesse you'd expect from his time at Lume, Dinner by Heston and Restaurant Andre in Singapore.
But Khoo, born in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo, says he has been most influenced by a 2019 trip to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and other parts of south-east Asia when writing Miss Mi's menu, his first as head chef.
He's drawn on the cuisines of 11 countries for his menu, and is determined to show diners things they would usually only experience through travel. That includes Borneo's hinava, a ceviche-like dish topped with sea grapes; the spicy Laotian condiment jeow bong with vegetables for dipping; and Sri Lankan watalappan, a flan-like cake made with coconut milk and jaggery. Top Victorian produce is a mainstay throughout.
It's a cut above what you might expect in a hotel diner, but Movenpick (yes, makers of the Swiss ice-cream) is one of several new Melbourne properties raising the bar with its food and drink.
Being a hotel, the tropical-meets-futuristic lobby bar seating 12 people is a focal point, with cocktails such as Pandan Colada matched by Khoo's bar snacks. Malaysian curry puffs, kangaroo satay and mussels cooked in chilli and garlic butter are among a selection he'll change frequently.
The restaurant's set menu, however, will be tied closely to the seasons and Khoo's own exacting standards.
The Khmer-style chicken salad, for example, went through many renditions before its current one, with Khoo even deliberating what size the herbs should be cut to ensure every mouthful was balanced.
Those lucky enough to try Khoo's takeaway menus exploring Papua New Guinea, Bali, the Philippines and Malaysia during lockdown will soon get a chance to see what else he can do. The venue opens on November 18.
Open Wed-Sat 6pm-9.30pm.
Cnr Godfrey and Bourke streets, Melbourne, 03 9600 5488, missmimelbourne.com.au