139 Little Bourke St Melbourne, VIC 3000
|Opening hours||Daily noon-3pm; 6pm-late|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9663 7616|
The format is what you may be more familiar with from Melbourne's Korean barbecue restaurants: table grills for DIY cooking, heaps of meats both marinated and in the buff, and a delivery on arrival of your cheffing starter pack – tongs and scissors, salted oil, dipping sauces and plates of pickles. But the flavour on your meat at Rising Embers isn't the sweet and garlicky signature of Korean bulgogi. There's a section of Kobe wagyu, and the self-extracting gas grills are straight outta Tokyo, but it's not Japanese either.
Instead, there's cumin, chilli and fizzing peppercorns all over the thin slips of lamb. The big slabs of squid, tightly scored so that they hiss and arch into big, loose curls as they hit the grill, are equally fired up and lightly fragrant with sesame oil. This has the branding of Dainty Sichuan, Melbourne's messenger of what's trending in China's Sichuan province, all over it.
If you've lost count of Dainty's enormous stable of restaurants by now, that's understandable. What started in South Yarra as a rare window into China's spicy culinary province has expanded to include a fleet of Tina's Noodle Kitchens for slurps, hotpot heroes and the excellent Dainty Fish and Grill in Clayton where whole barramundi are slotted into a gigantic flaming oven like pieces of toast before being bathed in the trademark fragrant, fiery broth.
But DIY barbecue? That's new for the group. It's not really part of the traditional Sichuan canon either (street snack skewers excepted). But the kids love it, and astute Dainty owners Tina Li and Ye Shao have proved masters at giving the people what they want.
Rising Embers occupies a barn-like Chinatown loft, accessed via Coverlid Place, an alley formerly known for Melbourne's best-worst karaoke bar, Charltons, and the Club X Dendy cinema (also gone). "These places just can't compete with the internet," bemoaned an adult cinema fan on Reddit. Adding to the gentrification blow, the room has an almost West Elm aesthetic, its blond wood staircase opening out to soaring ceilings in sparkling white with a couple of ornamental cloud statues, hanging pot plants, and wine barrels for decor.
The DIY extends beyond the barbecue. Every table is set with an iPad ordering system that lets you ping the kitchen and bar for additional drinks, skewers or scallops at any time. Confused? Summon someone. Freed from taking orders, the waiters instead efficiently do the rounds greasing grills or switching them out for fresh ones, and providing new groups with dishes of boiled peanuts, kimchi, their dipping sauces and a quarter head of iceberg lettuce and onion for crunch.
Given the dozen other Dainty outlets now scratch most itches you could have for the cuisine, Rising Embers mostly sticks to giving you things to work on that grill. The menu is sectioned into seafoods, Kobe or Australian beef, lamb, pork or vegetables, all with marinated or fresh options and usually a thrill. From the poultry section comes a clutch of braised duck heads, while pork offers pieces of chestnut-stuffed chitterlings (the tender lower intestine).
How dinner progresses from here is largely up to you. Can you wait until a grill is hot enough to get the right scorch-to-melted-fat ratio on your Kobe beef? Priced between $42 for 200 grams of marbled cubes, up to $128 for a premium steak, it's well worth a nudge.
Do you know when squid is at peak curl? Will you remember to baste your mushrooms, asparagus and corn cobs from the mixed vegetable platter in seasoned oil before putting them on to sizzle? Are you sure?
Even after a few beers or baijiu (they have the refined Niulanshan Erguotou version of China's potent white liquor or the youth-oriented Jiang Xiao Bai, at the worryingly low price of $26). If not, better have a fruit-infused oolong instead.
What is guaranteed is the prepared dishes, which arrive daggily, but practically, in foil tins so you can reheat at will. Chinese chives crunched up with peanuts and fried soy nuts are grassy fresh and salty sweet with soy and oyster sauce. Eggplant, melted down to fudge, sits under a fragrant duvet of chilli oil and green onions. And even though the mountain of fried rice, polka-dotted with sweet cured pork, is always excess to need, it's worth it.
Despite the fairly singular focus, it's still a choose-your-adventure ride. Want more variety? Get the single hotpot offering (a chicken broth) and send your meats to a watery grave instead of fiery hell. This might be some PG entertainment compared to what used to happen in this alley. But it should still get a rise out of you.
Vegetarian There are vegetarian grills and a few tofu dishes.
Drinks Chinese and big brand beers, baijiu (watch out), house-made yoghurt drinks and teas.
Cost Meat plates $14-$30 ($40-$130 for Kobe), vegetables and sides $10-$19.
Pro Tip: Optimal posse size: four.
Go-to Dish: The nine-score wagyu is well marbled and worth a nudge ($42.80 for cubes).