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Kate reviews: Le Ho Fook — ‘great tasting, flavour-packed food’

LEE HO FOOK
leehofook.com.au

Let’s be honest, they got a pretty raw deal in the World Cup of Food, NO-ONE tipped China to crash out in the first round.

But at the end of the day, it was the gateway takeaway for most of us. Surely everybody grew up enjoying birthdays at the local Chinese. Fighting over the last spring roll, groaning when Nanna ordered the Sweet and Sour pork.

It’s kinda been overshadowed now, by an explosion of ethnic eateries from across the globe – from Sri Lankan to Sudanese, Thai to Turkish, Moroccan to Malaysian.

But don’t discount the Red Dragon, Melbourne’s got the gamut of Chinese cuisine covered, from regional specialities like Sichuan and Yunnan food and high end fine diners like the Flower Drum, to great suburban stayers like The Lucky Jade Dragon Inn in… well… {insert suburb here}.

One that debuted with a bang and has remained high on many a list of Melbourne’s top restaurants is Lee Ho Fook. With Victor Liong at the pass, it was a knockout from day one – creative, elegant, modern Chinese.

These guys are still churning it out in lockdown, and as surely is the case with any good Chinese restaurant, it’s tough to go past the banquet – in fact in this case, nigh on impossible.

This is a helluva lot of food, good luck getting through it, but if nothing else, you should appreciate the challenge. As with many of the offerings from restaurants at the moment, there is some work for you to do at home here – so a little juggling, a little finishing, a lot of plating – but let’s be honest, what else are we going to do to keep busy right now?!

So, the banquet.  Well, it starts with some pretty simple, low-fuss but super tasty Sichuan pickled vegetables, roasted chilli oil and peanuts. Whack ‘em in a bowl and suck ‘em up.

Next, easily one of my favourite dishes, half a kilo of Goolwa pippies served in house-made XO sauce, with Chinese doughnuts. Oh, lordy. Super simple to whack together, steam the pippies in half a cup of water, take them out and heat up the sauce, whack ‘em back together, top with spring onions and devour. Use those springy, warm, Chinese donuts to mop up every last skerrick of XO sauce.

For the first of your mains, a generous slab of Hiramasa kingfish from South Australia has been marinated in a rich chilli, black bean and white miso paste. You’ll warm it up with the marinade in the oven, while heating up a larger pot of the sauce. To serve, it’s the fish, some finely shaved white vinegar-pickled fennel infused with fresh ginger, slow roasted red and green bullhorn peppers, into some baby cos lettuce with a dollop of that rich sauce. Gorgeous.

Next, the char siu glazed pork belly.  Free-range pork belly is marinated in a sweet and sticky rich char siu glaze of honey, red yeast -fermented tofu and dark soy sauce – then slowly roasted to achieve a charred and sticky glaze. You’ll warm it up in the oven, then stuff it into some warm, fat, fluffy bao with garlic-infused cucumber and a classic Cantonese style ginger and spring onion relish.

If you’re not full yet, the cumin-spiced lamb ribs should finish you off nicely. The boneless ribs have been braised in an aromatic master stock then crisped up and spiced with an aromatic mixture of cracked Sichuan peppercorn, fennel seeds and cumin. You’ll finish them off in the oven, and warm up some Uyghur-style flatbread at the same time. You can layer up eggplant relish, roasted chilli paste, garlic sesame sauce and the ribs in the bread. Let’s be honest, I was fading by this point.

Lucky, then, there were only TWO desserts! It’s funny because it’s true. This banquet from Lee Ho Fook brings it home with a couple of Jasmine tea infused custards with burnt caramel; and a generous dark chocolate mousse with salted butterscotch, candied kombu, pumpkin seeds and cocoa nibs to share.

You can pick up your banquet, or Lee Ho Fook can arrange delivery within 20km of the CBD.

Priced at $130, it’s great value, and to be honest, you could just about stretch it over two nights. No – there is no Number 69 lemon chicken. No sweet and sour pork. No home-made dim sims. But this is still exactly what you expect from a good Chinese banquet – great tasting, flavour-packed food, and PLENTY of it.

NOMINATIONS FROM LISTENERS – CHINESE RESTAURANTS DOING TAKEAWAY AND DELIVERY

CITY

Ruyi Modern Chinese – this city favourite is serving up terrific dumplings, pork buns, and pancakes and deliver available to certain areas. Check their Intagram for details.

Flower Drum – yes, I’m serious, you can order from this Melbourne icon via the Providoor website and have it delivered up to 35km from the CBD. www.providoor.com.au

Tian38 – 350 Flinders Lane, City – A new school Chinese restaurant and bar whose menu also encompasses Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. They’re doing takeaway and delivery.

NORTH

Ivanhoe Chinese Restaurant – Unit 1/63 Upper Heidelberg Rd, Ivanoe – locals say they have the best dim sims and spring rolls, and also recommend the crispy shredded Cantonese beef, sweet and sour pork, special fried rice and the Char Kway Teow.

Chin Chin at Koto Moon – 647 Rathdowne St Carlton North – a bit of an institution for locals, they’re doing some great pick up banquet options.

Lagoon Dining – 263 Lygon Street, Carlton – a newcomer to this Italian section of Lygon Street, these guys have been cooking up brilliant, modern Chinese.

SOUTH

Coconut House – 30/477 Warrigal Rd, Moorabbin – they deliver locally and we’ve been told to try the salt and pepper squid

WEST

Dragon Temple – 25 Somers Parade, Altona – regulars say order the Combination Seafood Bird’s Nest & Crab Claw

EAST

Colourful Yunnan – 826 Glenferrie Road Hawthorn – boasting, not surprisingly, Yunnan cuisine, from the region in China bordering Myanmar. It’s basically a mix of south-western Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Burmese and Laotian influences. There are sister restaurants in Burwood East, Box Hill and Carlton.

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