The Flower Drum turned 40 on May 26th this year. An amazing achievement in longevity and relevance for any restaurant, but especially one in town obsessed with the latest openings and anything new. At the forefront of Chinese fine dining for all of those 40 years, it delivers the complete package.
Your dining experience starts with a warm welcome as you walk in from Market Lane on the red carpet and continues after a short ride up to the spacious first floor dining room. With plush carpet, lacquered timber frames and bow tied waiters, it does look a little like many other Chinese restaurants, but its unapologetically classic style, impeccable and intuitive service show its sense of purpose and make it stand out.
Whether you choose to order á la carte or try one of the banquet menus the dishes at Flower Drum are best shared. Executive Chef and owner Anthony Lui uses high quality local ingredients to create perfect renditions of Cantonese classics. It’s little wonder that the signature dish, Peking duck, portioned and served tableside, is considered the best in the country. The tender pieces of roast duck wrapped within a thin handmade pancake accompanied by spring onion and cucumber with a splash of sweet plum sauce is pure pleasure.
Across the menu skilful treatment of the best seasonal produce showcases the delicate flavours that Cantonese food is known for. Due to Canton’s (now called Guangzhou) proximity to the South China Sea, cooking seafood is a specialty, so it comes as no surprise that it is a standout on the Chef’s 6 Course Signature Banquet.
A dish of aromatic handpicked mud crab in turmeric sauce with onion garlic baked in a blue swimmer crab shell is an elegant start to the feast, and is nicely followed by lightly battered and fried S.A. King George Whiting wok tossed with spicy salt served on a bed of enoki mushrooms.
Quail Sang Choi Bao – minced quail meat cooked with chinese sausage, shiitake mushrooms bamboo shoots and spring onions – is a decidedly Flower Drum take on a classic and well known banquet dish.
If an emphasis on preserving the natural flavour of the food is the hallmark of Cantonese cuisine then the South Australian Crayfish sautéed with ginger and egg noodles is the poster child.
Their Peking Duck is exceptional. Melt on your tongue black angus eye fillet with Sichuan sauce, Asian greens and Special fried rice pays respect to the produce and is hard to beat.
It’s easy to spend a fortune at Flower Drum, but if you avoid the expensive seafood and are considered with your drink choices (the sommelier is always on hand to guide you through the wine list) then it is possible to dine extremely well without too much of a hit to the hip pocket.
It’s a Melbourne culinary institution for a reason and should be on everyone’s must visit list.
*Dining Room photo credit: Eddie Jim