Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I don't have the foggiest about what started--or even if it's true--but, for some reason, I think Flower Drum has been on my restaurant wishlist for longer than anything. I think it even pre-dates my love of Chinese food. Maybe I saw a story on Sydney Weekender or something and thought "oh, that would be nice."

Regardless, I've made a few visits to Melbourne since the commencement of my pining, but my travelling companions never really seemed fussed about it enough to want to go there. On this trip though, I'm flying solo so nothing was going to keep me from finally ticking the box.

Full disclosure aside, I'm not sure how I feel about my meal at Flower Drum.

The wine list is definitely good. A bottle of Henri Germain hits the spot and then some.

But the food? I dunno.

Stir fried pearl meat with shallots and asparagus is soft, sweet and one of those very enjoyable Cantonese dishes that are packed with delicate flavours.

So too the live scallop dumplings. A delicious and simple preparation for good produce.

I think that reveals a pattern. Crayfish stir fried with my favourite sauce: ginger and shallot. Nothing too complicated, but good produce and well shelled crayfish.

Again the kobe beef. Cooked, sliced thinly, over a mound of Chinese spinach and sauce. Good produce, fairly simply done.

There are some dishes that they seem to regard as something more modern. Like the lamb pockets, pictured above, which are pretty much a more clearly flavoured presentation of the awesome Northern Chinese buns which come filled with cumin flavoured lamb and onion.

Peking duck pancakes are good, though the duck is slightly dry. I'm willing to chalk this down to the perils of dining solo in a place designed more for large groups. And, come on, they're peking duck pancakes, they're always bloody great.

Desserts are pretty old-school. I opt for the fried ice cream, which I don't think I've had since I was a kid in a dodgy suburban Chinese place some 20 years ago. It's definitely better than that version, but, at $17, you'd definitely want it to be.

But what does it all mean? I think it means that what we have is good produce done in a fairly traditional manner, with some slight leanings to please western palates. The dishes I enjoyed most were the seafood dishes where little had been done to them; just solid, well-versed Cantonese flavours complimenting good produce that you still want to taste a lot of.

Apart from the produce (which is definitely a differentiator, don't get me wrong), I didn't see a staggering difference between other "good" Cantonese restaurants that don't have the same critical acclaim as Flower Drum. I think I could even see how this sort of thing could be executed better, in a similar vein as Neil Perry's Spice Temple restaurants.

But for what it is, Flower Drum is a damn enjoyable restaurant to go hard at. Get lots of good wine, get lots of good food and enjoy the place and the awesome service.

Flower Drum on Urbanspoon


Jasmin said...

Neil Perry has mentioned in the past that Flower Drum is one of his favourite Melbourne Restaurants and a big inspiration in terms of Spice Temple.
It's long been on my list of places to try, but I had a similar feeling after my first visit to Quay recently.

Ben said...

Yeah it's hard to find a chef that doesn't love Flower Drum.

I think the thing that really sets Spice Temple apart is that there's a big focus on areas of Chinese cooking that we don't see as often, certainly not in a refined setting. And everything is good.

With Flower Drum I think you really need to go all out and hammer the seafood and good wine to get the best out of it, since it's hard to get decent versions of those elsewhere.

joey@FoodiePop said...

Having dined here twice I'm not enamored either, but the service is excellent and I enjoy the large space around each table. Very good Cantonese food but not exceptional by any stretch.