Secret Kitchen review

Steamed red bean sweet buns.
Steamed red bean sweet buns. Photo: Wayne Taylor

222 Exhibition St Melbourne, VIC 3000

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Features Licensed, Groups, Private dining, Accepts bookings, Yum cha
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9988 7778

The first thing that catches the eye at Secret Kitchen is the fish tank, apparently the largest restaurant aquarium in Melbourne and full of finned and shelled creatures lolling despondently before their sudden dispatch from tank to wok to plate. It's a $700,000 investment delivering freshness beyond dispute.

Beyond the glass and gleam, Secret Kitchen's lavish majesty is revealed with prestige wine displays, throne-like chairs, private chambers, scores of name-tagged staff and a general air of efficient excess.

The restaurant opened last Christmas Day and is one of three Secret Kitchens under the China Bar restaurant group's broad umbrella – there's another at Eastland and one at Westfield Doncaster.

Secret Kitchen features an aquarium.
Secret Kitchen features an aquarium. Photo: Wayne Taylor

The offering is broadly Cantonese, with dumplings, roasted meats and trolley yum cha every lunch time, but many regional dishes make an appearance.

Seafood is a proud focus, available in numerous signature styles. I had Murray cod cooked in an oil bath spiced with chilli, and Sichuan, white and black peppers. The hot, zingy liquid contrasted brilliantly with the earthy indigenous fish: it's rich, so enjoy it with a large group.

Goose is little seen in restaurants – it's a pesky fowl to farm – but Secret Kitchen has a breeder on the case and many diners come especially for it. No wonder. The roasted bird is lean but juicy, gamey yet sweet, with long-marinated meat and glossy glazed skin.

Murray cod in oil with chilli and Sichuan, white and black peppers.
Murray cod in oil with chilli and Sichuan, white and black peppers. Photo: Wayne Taylor

I had to plead with my waiter to let me have one of the special medicinal soups. I am not Chinese and she was sure I'd prefer mild-mannered chicken and sweet corn to pork broth with dried scallop and cordyceps flower, a cultured fungus that is apparently good for lungs, kidneys and restful sleep.

I fought for my right to eat weird potions and supped the bitter, powerful concoction with determined delight. I'm happy to report that I slept exceedingly well that night.

Dumplings are served in square bamboo steamers; the savoury items are elegant and tasty but nothing is as cute as the sweet red bean buns decorated to look like little piggies. They're part of an elaborate dessert menu which also includes layered green tea and osmanthus cake.

Secret Kitchen's menu goes beyond yum cha.
Secret Kitchen's menu goes beyond yum cha. Photo: Wayne Taylor

I'm glad to spill the word on Secret Kitchen. It's got bustle and hum but there's finesse too.

If you want to spend big on lobster and shiraz it's all here waiting. (Note the lucky eights in the big ticket prices, including a lobster in "superior broth" for $1688 and 1995 Henschke Hill of Grace for $888.)

However, if you want to come for dumplings and san choi bao (also lucky at $8.80) then that's easy too.

Glossy roasted goose.
Glossy roasted goose. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Think of this restaurant and its suburban siblings for group eats, business dining, family dumpling feasts, pre-theatre and dates – and medicinal soup, if you're allowed.

Rating: Four stars (out of five).

http://www.secret-kitchen.com.au/