TOP 100 QUEST: FLOWER DRUM, Melbourne
It really is a treat going to Flower Drum. It’s like entering a whole new world, away from the hustle and bustle and interesting odours of Melbourne’s Chinatown – a world where the food and service standards are ridiculously high. This is true fine dining Chinese where the service is so attentive but in no way intrusive. Yes – this place has the formula right and that’s why it’s received accolade after accolade and remained in the top restaurant lists for so many years. Tucked away in Market Lane, it’s a large space with white tablecloths and waiters in waistcoats and bow ties.
Gilbert Lau opened the Flower Drum way back in 1975 out of the desire to serve Australians good Cantonese food. The name Flower Drum comes from a traditional Chinese dance known for its beauty and elegance and Lau has certainly emodied these things in his restaurant. Ten years after opening, Anthony Lui was hired as Executive Chef where he remains to this day and became one of the owners when Lau sold the business in 2003. Jason Lui, Anthony’s son runs the operations.
I’ve now been to Flower Drum three times over the years, each time a quality experience. The time before this most recent visit was in the good old days of the long corporate lunches. I was lucky enough to be hosted at a business lunch and there was no holding back on the food or wine. Ahhhh, memories…
My visit a few weeks ago was a bit of a trip down memory lane – a Melbourne weekend with my best friend, who accompanied me on my very first visit to Flower Drum almost going on 18 years ago! And a nice relaxing lunch was just what we needed in the middle of a Saturday shopping frenzy.
Exhausted from making shopping decisions we were more than happy to be guided by our waiter on the food. We started with the Fried spring onion pastry with minced pork. Given I’m not much of a pastry fan, it’s not something I would normally order but it was delicious. The pastry was light and the pork was really tasty. Then, Steamed scallops done three ways – fresh and plump. The Seafood soup dumpling was warming and comforting on such a cold day – a large dumpling of handpicked mud crab, scallop, prawn, wood ear mushroom and bamboo shoots in chicken broth. Subtle and fresh.
And of course, we couldn’t say no to Peking Duck. We knew it would have to be good here, and it’s quite the performance. It’s wheeled over on a trolley and the waiter makes up your pancakes with cucumber and spring onion. But the best part is the sauce art. The waiters are skilled in painting animals! I have never seen ducks and whales painted on my plate before – quite a novelty. Now somewhere else, this could seem a little tacky, but no, at Flower Drum, it’s fine art and all part of going that extra mile and enhancing the customer experience – it’s the attention to detail that makes this place what it is.
But the dish that really did it for me was the Wild Barramundi Noodles. I was expecting some stir-fried noodles served with pieces of barramundi but what came out were noodles actually made from wild barramundi fillets. Yes folks, these noodles were made from over 90% barramundi along with Chinese pork sausage and tangerine zest, stir-fried with shiitake mushrooms, garlic shoots, garlic chives and red capsicum. The noodles were quite firm and a little springy in texture. Insanely good. To accompany this we had a serve of delicious Conpoy Fried Rice with dried scallop, egg white and spring onion and also some vibrant stir-fied green veggies.
We were so well looked after and enjoyed every mouthful – while it’s fine dining, it’s certainly not at all stuffy. We couldn’t get the smiles off our faces and we certainly felt rested and nourished enough to complete another three hours of shopping.