Chinese Werewolves of Melbourne
Claim to fame: Hipster Chinese done right
Reason to go: Deep cuts from the Chinese canon
To look out for: A killer bar scene downstairs
I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand
Walking through the streets of Soho in the rain
He was looking for the place called Lee Ho Fook’s
Gonna get a big dish of beef chow mein
If only more restaurants took their names from the title of Warren Zevon songs. The late, great American songwriter was hard to pigeonhole, and it’s pleasing to think his deeply contrarian, leftfield spirit may leave its mark on all who encounter his works. Certainly it seems plausible in the case of this, one of the more outré Chinese restaurants the world has seen in recent years.
Young chef Victor Liong evinces a deep love of Chinese tradition with a fuck-it sense of the absurd that we feel would have earned even Zevon’s admiration. If you took his Xinjiang-spiced lamb ribs with cumin caramel, cashew nut butter and leaves of baby cos lettuce to, say, Xinjiang, the locals might think you were a little bit strange in the head. Or at least they might till they tasted them. However fanciful Liong’s riffs on regional Chinese ideas, they’re ultimately grounded in respect, understanding and – perhaps most crucially – simple good taste.
Transferring the flavors of Chongqing chicken to chicken “crackling” – that is, the skin of the chicken without any actual chicken attached – and offering it as a bar snack is a spicy stroke of genius. Likewise, Liong sees the potential in taking the “typhoon-shelter” style of dressing crabs in heaps of fried garlic and chilli, a popular Hong Kong dish, and slipping in two different textures of tofu in place of the crab.
And when it comes to texture, the likes of chilled pork belly, pickled celery, chickpea and garlic vinaigrette, or the signature eggplant, gooey within and beautifully crisp on the outside, dressed with spiced red vinegar, are what it’s all about.
Wine strikes a happy balance between Old World classics and the freaky funk of some of the New World’s more interesting players. Staff acts as though you’re welcome guests at a particularly cranking dinner party. There’s no beef chow mein on the menu, but this werewolf is totally ok without it.