Flower Drum, Melbourne

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The thought of Chinese restaurants brings back old memories of grand banquets and traditional weddings at the esteemed Marigold and Dragon Star restaurants (when the latter was still operating) in Sydney’s bustling Chinatown. The delicious, crispy crack of suckling pig skin and wobbly jelly noodles, messy sang choy bow and fragrant whole steamed fish come flooding back into mind.

After hearing many great things about one of Melbourne’s oldest and most revered Cantonese restaurants, Flower Drum, we occasion a visit on a recent trip to Victoria’s capital.

Entering the front door of the restaurant, off Market Lane in Chinatown, reveals an air of prestige and tradition as the heavy red door opens up to a quiet foyer, where a man greets us and ushers us into a creaky lift. Ride the single storey up to an opulent dining space crowned in deep mahogany and bold red. The grand vase centrepiece, spilling with flowers in the centre of the space, provides a visual interpretation of the restaurant’s name. 

Unlike your run of the mill Cantonese restaurant, the atmosphere of Flower Drum is not one of excited activity and rushed chatter, although the sound level does get louder as the night goes on. Rather, there is a sense of splendour and occasion, reflected in the menu which focuses on high quality, local ingredients and traditional Cantonese food.

Most items are priced per piece or per serve, with prices at the higher end of the spectrum, and there’s nothing we read that doesn’t immediately set out mouths watering. We choose the four course spring tasting dinner, which provides good value at a price of $120 per head for two entrees, to mains, special fried rice and dessert.

Each course comes as an individual serve, to save you from divvying it up at the table. While some arrive already plated, others, such as the peking duck course and main course of eye fillet, are prepared theatrically in front of the table. 

 Work Fried Wild Barramundi Fillet

As we have an early sitting, our waiter kindly informs us that this is able to be brought out as the first course, rather than the abalone which is listed first on the menu. A well-sized fillet of barramundi is cooked to perfection, with hints of smokiness and provided by the slightly crispy edges derived from  light battering. The rich, earthy, thick shitake sauce, marbled with slivers of mushroom, is absolutely divine and complements the sweet fish. A single, bright green asparagus spear provides freshness, and this is the perfect way to start our dinner. 

 Jade Tiger Abalone with Crystal Noodles

This is my favourite course of the night. Pearls of Jade Tiger Abalone are succulent and meaty, sliced to a delicate shell-shape alongside crystal noodles made from mung bean starch. It’s beautifully presented, with a salty, soy-based sauce quivering in an abalone shell for dipping, although it doesn’t need it as the toasted sesame sauce which coats the noodles is more than enough to provide an almost buttery, umami kick to the dish. 
The crystal noodles are specimens of wonder, cut in wide lengths rather than thin noodles, with a slightly crunchy, slippery texture which goes well with the seared abalone. Despite my dining companion finding a long hair on her plate, which is taken back and replaced without fuss, everything comes together perfectly in this innovative entrée. 

 Peking Duck

Freshly made pancakes wait in a bamboo steaming basket over a flame while our waiter prepares the peking duck. He artfully wraps each piece in a hot pancake with cucumber, spring onion and a smear of plum sauce before placing it on a plate in front of us, snugly rolled to avoid any messy encounters arising from a DIY affair. 

And rightly so, as each bite reveals just the right amount of sweet sauce. The duck pieces are meaty and tender and covered in the perfect amount of skin which does not overpower or provide too much fattiness. We are overjoyed when we learn that this course, as it’s a main size, comes as two peking duck pancakes each.

Grain Fed Eye Fillet with Black Pepper Sauce and Seasonal Vegetables

A Cantonese take on the Western classic steak with pepper sauce, this is served to a deep blushing pink – far rarer than our requested medium rare. But it needn’t matter, as the slices of eye fillet are mouth-meltingly soft and tender, with an outer char which is softened by the flavoursome black pepper sauce. This is a very generous main serving size – the same size as a normal steak – sliced into lengths to ensure easy eating with chopsticks. The seasonal vegetables are stir-fried snow peas and choy sum, cooked to a sweet crunch, and the special fried rice is served on the side.

Special Fried Rice

Marbled with char siu, omelette, spring onions and fresh prawns, this is an excellent fried rice in which every grain remains separate and is well-seasoned. We love the big, fresh prawns, which have a sweet, meaty flavour.

 Fried Ice Cream

As there were four of us, we all chose different desserts. Deep fried ice cream arrives as a golden patty rather than a ball, with a batter which is a bit stodgy on the inside. The ice cream, nevertheless, is rich and creamy and has visible specks of vanilla. Raspberry sauce cuts through the sweetness and heaviness of the batter. 

Banana Fritters

Save your stomach for these fritters. Two small bananas are deep-fried in a light, airy batter with a luxuriously rich maple toffee sauce and a scoop of that same creamy vanilla ice cream. Hear the crunch as you cut through the crispy batter. This is well worth the value, with the richness of the banana offset by the crunchy outer and fresh strawberries. 

Mango Pudding

A deconstructed play on your favourite yum cha favourites, fresh mango slices are draped alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream and perfectly rolled mango pancakes, the whole thing covered in a mango and passionfruit sauce. It’s fresh and light, and a wonderful celebration of the tropical fruit. Who’s ready for mango season? 

 Red Bean Soup

A nostalgic favourite of mine, three ominous spheres of glutinous rice flour and black sesame lurk among soft, sweet red beans in a deep red soup. With just the right amount of sweetness, each black sesame dumpling is unctuous and comforting, and the toasty filling gives a slightly crunchy, gritty texture. 

Almond cookies

Short and thin, these buttery cookies bring back more nostalgic memories of family get togethers. They’re moreish but not too sweet; the perfect way to end the meal despite our bursting stomachs.

Flower Drum brings Cantonese food back to its roots with refined, understated elegance. It’s wonderful to see the classics done beautifully in an atmosphere that is a touch more upmarket than the norm. 


Flower Drum Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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  1. That barramundi sounds absolutely delicious!! And I'm not usually one that goes for fish!!

    1. I love the way fish is cooked at Chinese/Cantonese restaurants!

  2. Cantonese cuisine rockz! Peking duck pancakes is a classic that I always need to order haha

    1. Definitely agree, I love Cantonese cuisine too!! Love making DIY peking duck pancakes at home as well (and much cheaper too ;))