195 Exhibition St Melbourne, VIC 3000
|Opening hours||Daily 10am-10pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
Much of Melbourne's amazing food scene is owed to our migrant community and not enough credit is laid at the feet of two important parties: homesick international students and the investors smart enough to capitalise on their tears. It's thanks to this symbiotic relationship that Melbourne has many of its favourite slurps and snacks.
Some of Asia's biggest restaurant hits, from Ippudo ramen to Michelin-anointed chicken shop Hawker Chan and new Manila import Tuan Tuan, have also landed and thrived at the budget end of the market. And more are coming.
GO Noodle House is the latest chain to drop. A cult across Malaysia with 30 stores, it was founded by friends Lee Hon Wai, Alvin Tan Kok Meng, and Mok Wai Peun (the latter two studied in Melbourne) and brings two less common noodle stars to the table in their signature seafood broth embellished with rice wine. The first is mi xian, the spaghetti-like rice noodles originating from China's Yunnan region that are having a moment globally, especially in New York. And, Chinese-Malaysian pan mee, the flat wheat-based ribbons you might have met at Hakka-influenced Superling, dressed in chicken fat.
GO can be intimidating if you arrive at peak lunch or dinner. This Aussie branch (brought out by investor Lawrence Lee) is currently slinging 800 bowls of soup a day, and a line of varying lengths has become a fixture on the corner of Exhibition and Little Bourke Streets. You may be familiar with the tick-a-box order system, but theirs is extensive.
You indicate through code your choice between the superior broth (a delicate seafood reduction of undisclosed species, finished with white pepper for a little vim) or a more northern style kicked up a notch with a chilli-vinegar mix. Then it's your noodles, and whether you want to hold the white pepper, add rice wine (of three ages), and which of the 20 additions from clams to Chinese doughnuts and pork belly you'd like to add. Completed, one soup order might look like 108A MX W10, AD07, 13, 10.
The mi xian is the specialty, but possibly not the top dog. These noodles, always ultra slippery things made from non-glutinous rice, and built for the dextrous of chopstick, are quite soft. And that superior broth, though we maximally dress ours in an "emperor" serve, including every protein from spongy beef tongue to prawns and clams, bok choi and fresh sliced ginger, tastes diluted and thin compared to a plain, un-noodled version we get on the side. This broth comes with bright bok choi and exploding fish dumplings – somewhat bouncy fish balls with a seasoned roe filling that bursts, salty-sweet as you bite.
But the better bet is to go for the widest version of the fresh-made pan mee: broad straps with the chomp of al dente pasta that carry liquor well. The base order here sees your broth (get the chilli-vinegar-spiked version) dressed with crackling-like dried anchovies, crisp shallots, a rumble of pork mince, finely shredded wood ear mushrooms for textural chomp and a mass of wilted greens. Cracking in an onsen egg, (cooked in shell and barely set) enriches things further, and crisp, golden Chinese doughnuts are never wrong. Don't fancy slurping? The pan mee also come dry in a "special dark sauce" reminiscent of black bean with all the trimmings on the side.
Everything is improved with an excellently zesty, funky and fiery belachan (a chilli shrimp paste), available in big ceramic pots alongside chilli oil, and chilli-spiked soy from a station at the door. The rice wine, if you choose to splash some into soup like Qing era emperors, adds a nutty sherry aspect, turning your soup sweet if that's your bag. Beyond, snacks resemble a poster of the Heart Association's no list: porky fries are crisped sticks of what appears to be Spam. Doughnuts and shiny sheets of bean curd with mayo and sweet chilli sauce are dirty good when hot. Greasy and tough when not.
The drinks (including GO Noodle's own range of iced teas) steer Malaysia-level sweet, including the innocuous-sounding ginger tea. If you're unaccustomed (my friend takes one sip of the snow pear iced tea and bags the bottle to use as a cordial for soda at home) you can get mugs of tannic, woody, dark-coloured pu'er tea, or a Tiger beer. Coffee sweetened with condensed milk and served over ice makes an energetic sub-in for dessert.
GO is unquestionably chainy. The room is lantern-strung and dark wooded, with some nice ceramics, but otherwise built for slurping, and churning. There is a lot of talk about signature sauces, GO's own brand of mi xian, and its exploding beef balls (you have to join the queue very early to get these), though you won't uncover ingredient provenance or who is manning the thrumming kitchen. But the system works. The queue moves and engaged staff are well-trained and decipher that menu for the wide-eyed. Fingers crossed a homegrown noodle revolution of the kind capturing other metros is incoming. For now, we have a lean, mean mi xian machine.
Pro Tip: Branches are set to drop across Melbourne and Sydney
Go-to Dish: Pan mee with spicy and sour broth and onsen egg