How many laneways in the world offer Chinese, Peruvian, Indian, and Italian? It sounds like having the opportunity to walk around the world in thirty seconds.
One of the newer restaurants adorning this incredible part of Melbourne is the relocated Lee Ho Fook. I never made it to the Smith Street Collingwood location, but it was always somewhere on the list. Besides knowing it is well regarded, I actually knew little about the entire place.
Often it is a good approach to have little expectation of your forthcoming experience. In this case however it would have been better knowing the likely cost of the meal as I had made a suggestion to a group of friends, and this place definitely did not turn out to be cheap Chinese!
As is usually the case when dining for the first time in a new place, the staff were eager to let us put ourselves in their hands to select the food. Normally it is a reasonable idea, but tonight there were several dishes that we wanted to try and we decided that we would order from the menu ourselves. We all took into account the proportions the staff were recommending for a group of four but also watered it down a little on the expectation of trying desert.
This is high quality Chinese with various Asian influences focussing on fresh ingredients and not over doing the number of tastes. For example the crispy fried eggplant is a complete taste sensation. With the liquid content in eggplant playing against you, this is a challenging task. Somehow the team at Lee Ho Fook have given eggplant the facade of being chips, with a slightly softer interior, and lashings of sweet and sour flavour in the mix.
Earlier we had started with the almost spooky black fungi in aged black vinegar. As you can imagine the colours are deep and dark, but the flavour is equally deep and powerful, this small dish packing a big punch. Along with the fungi we tried the Hiramasa kingfish, which was one of the prettier dishes of the evening, although the white plate dulls the impact of the beautifully prepared cloud fungi. As a dish it works well, but was not in the top few kingfish dishes I’d had in the past several tries.
For the more fulsome end of the meal, we decided to share the barramundi and the chicken, along with stir fried vegetables and fried rice. My favoured dish was the silken white cut chicken with a Hainan style garnish. The chicken is poached perfectly and there is a generous quantity. The barramundi with a ginger and shallot sauce was Darren’s favourite, and given we’d earlier been introduced to him for the first time by Melita, we were glad he enjoyed it! Add to that the spice content in many of the dishes is mild to medium, it meant that sharing with those less affiliated with chilli heat is more than possible.
This was a good amount of food for four people, especially since most of us were sharing the jugs of tap beer on offer, which is a nice touch. Keen to top off a great evening we ordered two desserts to share. Both were excellent but on the presentation side the baked chocolate mousse could not be matched. This time the plate used is perfect, the creme Chantilly showing up like the moon penetrating through the clouds on a stormy night. The custard is not as spectacular, but is well executed, and a delicious end to the evening.
Service tonight was good, with some tongue in cheek comments adding some spice to the interaction. As I reflect on our meal, a return visit is assured, but with so many great modern Asian options all along Flinders Lane, deciding which establishment to go back to next is a difficult task that is nice to contemplate.