160 Spencer St Melbourne, VIC 3000
|Opening hours||Wed-Sat 6pm-late|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Degustation, Licensed, Bar|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9600 5488|
Whether you've tipped into the new year fizzing with anticipatory glee or frazzled from endless tumult, it's a fine time to think about the future of Melbourne dining. There's no better place to ponder it than fascinating Miss Mi.
The Movenpick Hotel's 47-seat dining room signals welcome in forest tones, curved lines and enthused service but the momentum comes from chef Esca Khoo and his questing approach to Asian-Australian dining.
Born in Malaysian Borneo, Khoo moved to Perth 15 years ago, aged 15. Keen on soccer, he segued into cooking, door-knocking his way into little-known kitchens, progressing to stints at top restaurants including Dinner by Heston and Noma Sydney.
Along the way, Khoo started melding Australian ingredients and Asian dishes. He also refined his ideas about restaurant work culture. He appreciates the techniques and skills gleaned in fine dining kitchens but rejects the shouty pressure.
Miss Mi is a response, an exposition of modern antipodean cuisine from a kitchen staffed with inexperienced visa-worker chefs being trained with calm kindness.
The hinava is an Australian version of Borneo's lime-marinated raw mackerel. Gourd is normally used to bring bitterness; here it's delivered via sliced green almonds. Finger lime shares acidic duties with calamansi, a citrus native to Borneo. The dish is steeped in tradition but not bound by it.
The same dynamic is at play in a pretty, complex riff on Khmer chicken salad. There's outrageous detail – broths, sauces, purees, sprinkles – but the killer for me is the spritz of pomelo juice which forms into a shimmering raindrop garnish. You almost hear tropical pitter-patter.
Ask for the off-menu kangaroo skewers because they exemplify Khoo's project. A rethinking of satay but with roo, there's Vegemite glaze for salt, macadamia satay instead of peanut, and avocado smash subbing for cucumber. It's a culinary endorsement of the melting pot but the real victory is how tasty and balanced it is.
Cheese platters and Asian restaurants aren't fast friends but Khoo finds a way, sending out melty triple-cream camembert with garnishes of roasted sesame paste, Chinese date and fig jam and crunchy rice papers made with leftover rice. I chortled with delight!
There are other chefs forging paths for Asian-Australian food – Khanh Nguyen (Sunda, Aru), Victor Liong (Lee Ho Fook) and cookbook author Hetty McKinnon spring instantly to mind. Khoo's striving, heartfelt contribution to the dialogue and deliciousness is thrilling.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)