Mongkok Tea House review

The casual and colourful Mongkok Tea House is open for brunch and dinner.
The casual and colourful Mongkok Tea House is open for brunch and dinner. Photo: Joe Armao

734 Burke Rd Camberwell, VIC 3124

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Opening hours Wed-Sun 11am-3pm, Wed-Sat 5pm-late
Features Licensed, Accepts bookings, Breakfast-brunch
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9813 1663

You could approach Mongkok Tea House as a cultural theorist with an appetite or simply come for flavourful Chinese fusion food and fancy cocktails and let good times roll in a chic neon glow. Both modes are rewarding. Taking the tactics in tandem is an exponential win.

The inspiration for this year-old restaurant is the cha chaan teng, a type of Hong Kong eatery that took off post-World War II.

Pineapple buns reimagined as buttermilk sourdough with char siu butter.
Pineapple buns reimagined as buttermilk sourdough with char siu butter. Photo: Joe Armao

These fast-paced "tea houses" riff on British food, serving milk tea, toast, custard tarts and Cantonese versions of Western dishes like spaghetti.

Mongkok Tea House fuses this fusion with yet more influences. Owner Jack Lin and chef Jack Tsai were both born in Taiwan: the Hong Kong diaspora there is woven in. Tsai grew up in Canada, eating a third-culture expression of Chinese food: that's in there, too.

And there's the Melbourne angle, bringing in brunch culture and this city's ever-developing knack of expressing complex culinary histories in contemporary ways.

Prawn toast meets Scotch egg.
Prawn toast meets Scotch egg. Photo: Joe Armao

Given the tapestry of influence, it's impressive that the food is so direct and easy to enjoy in this casual fine dining setting.

Pineapple buns (soft rolls with crackly biscuit topping and slabbed with butter) are an essential cha chaan teng snack.

It's rethought here as buttermilk sourdough with char siu (barbecued pork) butter. It's part bread course, part classic Canto, part pork bun and altogether delicious.

Honey-glazed roast duck.
Honey-glazed roast duck. Photo: Joe Armao

Drunken kingfish is a play on classic drunken chicken, and prawn toast morphs into Scotch egg (and there's a smashed avo version at brunch).

The honey-glazed roast duck recalls glazed, crisp-skinned Peking duck but it's aged using a technique Tsai picked up during a stint at one-time "world's best restaurant" Eleven Madison Park in New York.

Lin also owns Chinatown's Manchuria Bar and his cocktails show depth and skill. The signature Van Gogh's Sweet Dream arrives in a smoke-filled dome and is decorated with purple flowers to recall the painter's Starry Night masterpiece. It's an absinthe-fuelled delight to drink, too.

Van Gogh's Sweet Dream cocktail.
Van Gogh's Sweet Dream cocktail. Photo: Joe Armao

I love the thinking behind Mongkok Tea House but what's even better is the way the concept is brought to light with spirit and optimism. It's fun to ponder and even more fun to experience.

Also try: Aus-Asian fusion at Miss MiĀ