Tag Archives: Chinese

Lee Ho Fook, Melbourne


Chef: Victor Liong   Website: www.leehofook.com.au   Cuisine: Modern Chinese

Making your mark in a neighbourhood saturated with great restaurants is no easy feat. What, however, does help is having a solid resume like Head chef Victor Liong who opened up Lee Ho Fook in late 2013 with the support of restaurateurs behind MoVida and Pei Modern. Departing from the euro-centric styled cuisine at Marque where he trained as a chef, Liong has continued to retrace his Chinese root via his short stint at Mr Wong before holding the reins to the latest venture, Lee Ho Fook. Labelled as a neighbourhood eatery, I was curious to see what all the fuss was about when I saw a few articles popping up lately.

P1150849The interior decor was not too dissimilar to what many restaurants have adopted on Smith Street; minimalist with some contemporary lighting design. For a Saturday night we did notice that the place was not at full capacity, but then again that could have been because we were in the first sitting. Yes, the cardinal sin adopted now by many restaurants where you get turfed out before you could finish your after-meal tea despite having forked out over $80 a head!!

P1150857The menu was simple and broken down into small, medium and large plates. For our small bites we started with the Tea egg avruga and dill. The eggs had been boiled and then cured in a mixture of soy sauce, stock and black tea until the yolk became creamy and jammy. It had a nice umami to it contrasted with the salty avruga, and was one of the more interesting dishes of the evening.

P1150862The Milk bun, braised pork belly, salted cucumber, fermented chilli and peanut sugar was strangely not very Chinese looking but certainly tasted so. It was perhaps one notch better than the similar katsu-bun we had at Northern light recently with the difference being the salty cucumber and chilli that gave the dish an interesting flavour.

P1150866One of the specials of the day was the Crispy chicken ribs and spiced red vinegar. We were not sure of what to expect with tiny poultry ribs but there was plenty of meat to this tender and crispy bird. In fairness though, this was essentially a very simple dish and nothing to get overly excited with.

P1150868Our medium plates started with Xinjiang style lamb tartare, roasted capsicum, pickled fennel and potato crisp. I found this dish to be rather bland and disappointing on many front. The lamb had very little flavour and the potato crisp was just a tad too oily, not to mention too delicate to scoop the tartare. The only thing that had any substance was the chilli, which dominated the whole dish. An addition of a seasoning component to bring out the flavours could have made this dish rather more appealing.

P1150870Our disappointment continued with the Tripled cooked duck that was served with…

P1150871Valencia orange, chrysanthemum leaves, Peking pancake. While the duck had a nice crispy skin and was soft and succulent on the inside, it rather lacked in depth of flavour. My wife joked that she could not taste the orange at all from this dish. On the contrary, she had not seen what laid beneath the leaves for all I could taste was orange! Furthermore, when you are given essentially only four pancakes between three of you and have no idea on how much orange paste to apply, it’s pretty disappointing to find out on your first bite that the minimal application had in fact ruined the flavour. It would perhaps rather be more appropriate to call this Orange a la Duck?

P1150873On to our large plate (which were, to be honest, not dramatically different in size than the medium ones) with a slightly better Crispy pork hock, black vinegar, cucumber, baby cos lettuce. Cube of fatty pork with a crispy layer accompanied with black vinegar sauce. I did however find it rather one dimensional and boring after a couple of mouthful. All you could taste was the dominating black vinegar sauce, which was very salty, although the crunch of the pork was very enjoyable against the fresh lettuce.

P1150875We opted for some Lee Ho Fook Fried Rice as a side dish to accompany our mains. Whilst it was light and not too oily, it had virtually zero flavour. I also found the rice rather overcooked and too soft, and the absence of a firm texture was a turn off for me. Good fried rice should be made from rice that has been left to dry for a while to reduce its moisture content, giving it that all important bite. Whilst I wouldn’t call this a mush, it was certainly did not fulfil this important requirement.

P1150877Our favourite course from the medium and large plates was the Steamed Cone Bay barramundi, ginger and shallot sauce. A well balanced sauce and perfectly cooked fish; delicate and the flavour of the fish was very prevalent. We wished there was more.

P1150879Even in during my time in China I found many top restaurants to struggle coming up with a creative Chinese dessert. Dessert here was rather leaning on the Western style, particularly the Warm chocolate and cocoa nib brownie, Banana cream and coffee. Don’t get me wrong, I thought this was the star dish of the evening. Lovely gooey chocolate encrusted in cocoa nibs and a marriage in heaven with the banana cream. A surprisingly rustic dish which I didn’t expect from a Chinese style restaurant.

P1150880My wife opted for Our neighbour’s fig leaf ice cream, custard apple, walnut and winter melon jam. Fresh flavours and it wasn’t overly figgy. I had a bite of it and found my palate to be dominated by a green tea / matcha flavour with a slightly bitter after taste. Suffice to say, my wife had food envy with my chocolate delight.

P1150855As we were just about to pour our mint tea after brewing it for a few minutes, we were encouraged to vacate our table due to the two hour policy. Furthermore, whilst the intention to tip was there as the service was generally good, an assumption was made that the $26 change was in fact a tip (the service was good but not that good!), requiring us to embarrassingly ask for our due change. Cheeky. Leaving aside the administrative faux pas’, I thought the food in general was nothing special and it would have been fine if the price reflected that calibre of cooking. Sure there were a couple of good dishes but they were nothing to shout about. Top that with a bill that came to the same price bracket as Northern Light next door which was in an entirely different calibre, I seriously doubt the longevity of this restaurant.

Northern Light, Melbourne


Chef: Adam Liston  Website: www.northernlightbarandeatery.com  Cuisine: Asian Fusion

Smith Street has come such a long way from its shady days, transforming into a well known culinary strip it is today with the likes of Saint Crispin and Huxtaburger to name but a few. With exposed brick walls and a bar counter dominating the dining room, Adam Liston’s Northern Light may appear at first glance to be yet another casual eatery that seems to have dominated the dining scene on the street. Once inside, however, you quickly realise that they mean serious business when it comes to food.

P1150800The food here could perhaps simply be termed fusion, but not of the typical west-meets-east type which has been done to death. Rather, a Sino-Japanese fusion which was riddled with so many familiar favourite flavours: something I’ve never seen all bundled on one menu. Personally, I wanted to eat everything on the menu. It was as if someone had taken all the delicious things from across the region and placed them in front of me. There was an option for a 6 or 8 course banquet menu but given we were three people we thought we’d be better off trying more dishes. A wise choice, although with the beauty of hindsight, we ordered way too much.P1150804For snacks, we started with a typical Japanese Izakaya appetiser of the Charred Shishito peppers and tōgarashi. Shishito essentially is a mild-sweet Japanese capsicum varietal which tastes delicious when charred. It was dusted with tōgarashi, a Japanese seven spice, for an extra kick of heat.P1150806Our second installment was the Sichuan spiced school prawns and curry mayo. The entirely edible juicy prawn, covered in a thin layer of crispy batter, had fortunately a mild heat to suit the local palate. The prawns were good enough on their own but the curry mayo added a new and welcome flavour dimension to the dish.P1150807The Wagyu oyster blade skewers and Bulldog sauce was cooked over binchōtan, a traditional Japanese white charcoal which emits far less smoke than other charcoal cookers, allowing one to appreciate the clean flavours of the skewer of choice. To my surprise, the common Japanese household sauce normally used for tonkatsu went extremely well as a marinade. Most importantly, the meat was moist and tender.P1150820The Chicken skewers, honey and katsuo soy was the unanimous favourite amongst the two types we ordered. The honey glazing added a beautiful sweetness to the moist chicken and was much more meatier of the two.P1150812The Pork tonkatsu roll, cabbage and grilled milk bun was decent but perhaps the least interesting dish of the evening. I could appreciate the crispiness of the deep fried batter and the sweetness of the milk bun but I found the meat rather dry and lacking seasoning.

P1150816On to our first starter of the Pork and prawn wontons, black vinegar and red pepper oil which hit the mark. The boiled wontons had the hallmark of excellence; thin silky skins, stuffed full with a juicy pork and prawn mixture, bursting with flavour and juice as you bit into it. Wow.P1150821One of Liston’s signature dish was the Air dried Blackmore beef, wasabi, yolk and fried potato and I could see why. The crispy potato-chip topping the slightly salty bresaola-like blackmore beef soaked up the runny yolk and the freshly grated wasabi provided a slight kick to cut through the rich flavours.P1150826Our last starter was a rather delicate Eel (unagi), squid sauce, salted grapers and mojama. The eel had been prepared in traditional kabayaki sauce and was served over a bed of squid ink sauce. Being a huge fan of the traditional Japanese unagi which inspired this dish, I must confess I thought they could have been more generous with the application of the kabayaki sauce.P1150829At this point we realised we had ordered far too many. As the waitress came to replace our empty plates with the Korean influenced Bo ssam, our kimchi, lettuce, red pepper jang and duck, she did remark on our amazing appetite. The choice of meat in this case was duck and it went ever so well wrapped in lettuce leaves and home made kimchi with a dab of the spicy-sweet gochujang (red pepper paste sauce).P1150834We were absolutely stuffed to the brim but were gripped with the inviting smell emanating from the Xinjiang style lamb ribs and bbq peppers. The braised and rendered lamb in Xinjiang style (similar to the spicy Sichuan style containing Sichuan peppers) had a decent level of heat but most importantly a balance of spice. The meat fell apart with ease from the bone and it reminded me of the ones I had tried in Beijing back in 2012 over a few glass of baiju, a ridiculously strong Chinese liquor.

P1150838Some Asian greens, vegetarian oyster sauce and toasted garlic to go with our mains.P1150841We were absolutely stuffed but could not turn down the offer of trying at least one dessert so we opted for the Broken ice cream sandwich which had vanilla parfait, mousse and salted caramel lurking sweetly beneath a structure of broken chocolate biscuits. The fine chocolate biscuit with a ridiculously thin layer of wafer was my favourite component, providing a surprising crisp and crunchy texture to go with the gooey salted caramel.P1150844And lastly a Warm yamazaki whiskey custard tart that had been caramelised using the binchōtan. As an enthusiast for top quality single malts, I thought this was a bit sacrilegious but the slight hint of whiskey in the custard tart really worked well.

Northern Light had everything we wanted for a relaxed meal catching up with our friend; a little bit of tongue and cheek and banter from the waitress, delicious food with bold and punchy flavours and all priced extremely well. This was exactly the type of fusion food I welcomed with open arms. It was a collection of great food memories I had over the course of my life across Asia all reliving in one evening, triggering different memories from the flavours. Above all, Liston did justice to all these dishes. They were not bastardised Western takes on Asian flavour. This is the real stuff.