404 Glen Huntly Rd Elsternwick, VIC 3185
|Opening hours||Sun-Thu 11am-9.30pm; Fri-Sat 11am-10pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||03 9191 2520|
It's easy to lure hungry pavement wanderers into a restaurant. You don't need neon signs, special offers or spruikers. A plump, glistening roast duck hanging in the window is the most brilliant beacon of all. If you really want to up the ante, add a chef with a cleaver working on crisp pork belly, crackling turning to shards with every satisfying thunk.
Yu Chu has both of these drawcards, as well as a clean, modern look and a friendly welcome. It opened 11 months ago in Elsternwick, a suburb known more for babkas than barbecue. Sisters Becky and Kristine Phu thought they'd change that, making roasted meats the most visible offering of their broadly Cantonese restaurant.
They really opened Yu Chu for their mother, Man Dam, a dumpling specialist who has worked in kitchens for 25 years and always wanted her own place. Becky, an event manager, and Kristine, an engineer, pressed pause on their careers to fulfil their mother's dream.
So Man Dam happily makes her delicate wontons (the har gao with pork, prawn and beanshoots are particularly good) alongside a duck specialist of 40 years' experience (20 in Hong Kong, 20 in Australia; he prefers to remain anonymous) and two other Chinese chefs, who handle the steamed and wokked dishes. Most dishes are Cantonese, but there's everything from laksa to nasi goreng in the far reaches of the extensive menu.
It's all good – fresh, cooked with care – but the roast meats are particularly excellent. The duck is steamed, hung, glazed and roasted in a purpose-built rotating oven. The resulting meat is juicy, the fat rendered, the skin glossy and crisp, and flavours of five spice, spring onion and garlic permeate the flesh from skin to bone. Pork is available char siu barbecued, or roasted with shatter-crisp crackling. Again, the meat is rich and moist, the flavours true.
Roast duck also turns up in a jellyfish salad, bringing gamey depth to the mild, gelatinous crunch of the steamed fish, tossed with lightly pickled carrot and radish, spring onion, peanuts and sesame seeds. If you think you don't eat jellyfish, this is the dish to turn you around: it's unthreateningly refreshing and tasty.
If you're still jelly-phobic, perhaps you'd prefer other seafood. Barramundi comes whole or as fillets, steamed over a subtle broth scented with soy, ginger and spring onion. Calamari is tender, sizzled with rice wine, pickled cabbage and chilli in a Hakka-style wok tumble. The Phus also offer live lobster or crab by arrangement, obviating the need to head to city or suburban Chinese hubs for live seafood.
Yu Chu translates as "imperial kitchen", the place where meals are prepared for royalty, but the name is less a signal of the food style here and more a reminder that the Yu Chu team aim to treat their customers like royalty. This is a neighbourhood restaurant but it's already drawing customers from far afield, lured by warm hospitality, gleaming roast duck and snap-crackle pork.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)