138 Queensberry St Carlton, VIC 3053
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri 11.30am-3pm; Mon-Sat 5.30pm-late|
|Features||Licensed, Accepts bookings|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
There are things you should know about the mapo tofu toastie at Super Ling. Firstly, the spicy pork and silken tofu has ousted fresh tomato as the surprise assassin of jaffles, erupting like delicious lava as you bite. Second, that golden round of gloriously trashy bread gets some of its glow from a chilli dust you only discover as crunching contact sends flecks into your eyes. It's worth every tear and stained patch of pant.
If this is your introduction to Super Ling, the new 30-seater from Hotel Lincoln publican Iain Ling and chef Michael Li, it's not a bad one.
The pair are calling it a Chinese-ish diner, and their resumes give you clues of what to expect. Ling, former Movida Aqui manager, introduced frontier wines and polished pub food to the Lincoln, but retained the pubby-ness enough to keep the tradie crowd coming. Li's last posts were Lee Ho Fook and Restaurant Shik, both genre-bending Chinese and Korean restaurants respectively.
Super Ling brings their styles together: quality product, casual vibe, with a lean towards Hakka Chinese cuisine (Li and Ling both have Hakka heritage) but not a dogmatic one. There are some authentic dishes like pork belly with fermented mustard greens but it's largely modern dishes like that mapo tofu jaffle, a take on tartare and an interesting drinks list that includes Japanese sakes and a shiso leaf liqueur.
The look is modern acid-washed minimalism dodging most "Chinese restaurant" tropes, bar Bruce Lee posters and chopsticks topped with rubber kitty hinges (ask for normal ones, they're a bugger to use).
It's snug: a small bar, small, wall-mounted tables, a stool-lined communal bench and just a handful of bentwood and banquette-lined tables beside. The menu is equally tight featuring a lunch-only noodle option that makes a repeat day and night visit essential.
Egg and wheat-based, those handmade ribbons best resemble fettuccine, dressed simply but effectively with either a sweet salty nubbins of chicken thigh, masterstock-braised beef or brilliantly spicy eggplant, a handful of green onions and intense dark gingery chilli paste.The real kicker (for the meat versions at least) is the last-minute lubrication of the ribbons with chicken fat. It's a solid one-bowl lunching situation. Ditto slippery wontons with properly porky filling given a little bounce from cuttlefish, washed in a light, restrained chicken broth to amp with house-made fermented chilli paste.
Come nighttime there's beef tartare, with lineage from Lee Ho Fook in the ethereal, voluminous rice crackers and intense flavours including ginger, a little Sichuan tickle and potent spring onion aioli.
There's a barramundi collar, arguably the best part of the gently muddy fish when deep-fried, as they do here in a lightly salty coating, so you have crisp golden skin, soft flesh for plucking out by hand and fins crunchy enough to eat like crisps.
It's an economical operation. The small numbers mean attention on the floor is good, and ingredients do double time, possibly harking back to Li's stint at Oakridge Winery under anti-waste chefs Jo Barrett and Matt Stone. That creamy eggplant from lunch, kicking hard umami-full bean paste and chilli oil comes back at dinner as the topping for a slippery egg custard with the consistency of silken tofu.
Offal gets a serious play as a meat platter of sliced brisket, beef tongue, sinuous shin, and for the gamer players, tripe and sliced pigs' ears separately braised in a master stock until they hit peak tenderness, then dressed in the reduced sauce with pickles and peanuts for finishing crunch.
But that's as challenging as Super Ling gets. Mostly it's just an easy, tasty time. Fried rice gets extra pep from sweet lap cheong sausage. Big hunks of tender broccoli stem are nicely contrasted with the texture of ripply cloud-shaped black fungus that has a satisfying chomp.
Small producers provide interesting pet nats and shiraz that have some element of intrigue without getting too deep into the freaky zone if you're a straighter drinker.
There isn't much room, or privacy, but there is a lot of flex. You'll come here for a fast few snacks on a Tuesday, but could embed for hours. And not too expensively given there are many good drinking times in the $50-$70 zone.
Dessert is a single option, but a good one, of caramelised pineapple sandwiched between fried wonton skins with a lightly Sichuan pepper-infused custard. It's the bare essentials, nailed. That's Super Ling. Get in.
Pro Tip: Noodles are a lunch-only option.
Go-to Dish: Barramundi collar ($15), mapo tofu toastie ($7).