When I first started doing some serious travel to Melbourne for the big events, like the Melbourne Cup, one of the restaurants I had to try was Flower Drum. There is an awe to dining here for the first time; an intangible in the institutional surrounds that gives your experience an entirely different air.
Like a drop of perfume, the feeling from Flower Drum wafts lightly through Lau’s Family Kitchen. It is seen with the flourishes of silver service, the multiple greetings and goodbyes, and the positive response to each and every request. It may be an unfair adjective to describe the cooking as “clean” but there is a purity in the flavours, and the fashion by which the kitchen expresses complex technique in simple presentation and fewer components on the plate, is superior to most Cantonese restaurants I’ve eaten in.
Today, on my first visit for years, and Catherine’s first ever, we had a light lunch but the two dishes we shared highlighted where Lau’s is better than most. The first subtle, but distinct, higher quality feature, was the wrapper on the pork siu mai. Dumplings are great, in that even average dumplings are still normally comforting and satisfying. But like many simple things in life, you can easily detect when something is better. Like stepping up from a nice pinot noir to a Burgundy, the wrapper here (and the filling for that matter) is memorable.
The second clearly higher quality aspect was the care in execution of the stir-fried fillet steak. In Western terms I think of stir-fry as a delicious jumble of several ingredients including at least one protein, in a soy / oyster based sauce, that is almost impossible to present elegantly. Here, you have simply and beautifully cooked fillet steak on the rare side of medium-rare, a deeply flavoured sauce with medium chunks of garlic and ginger dispersed, and some lightly touched baby snow peas. It is an eye opener when you realise that less is a lot more, and it feels like Chinese food suffers more than most with over-complication.
We had decided to see if we could get in to Lau’s at 1.30pm on a Sunday and were pleasantly surprised they could fit us in at 2pm. I expect that we were lucky. While it is by no means cheap, for a light lunch with a couple of drinks it is certainly not expensive despite the fillet steak being $45. Besides, just like trying a fragrance when browsing at a department store, that drop of Flower Drum in our dishes was completely free.