Flower Drum

Flower Drum
17 Market Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000
03 9662 3655

I remember when Hubby and I first came to Melbourne, we tried to find out what yummy restaurants there are in Melbourne. Someone told us that one of the world’s best Chinese restaurants is hidden in a laneway, but being skeptical and broke we wondered if it’s worth the money to go there.

Fast forward 8 years later, we still thought that it’s too expensive for us, as eMeow from Twitter said that it costs about AUD$200 per person and having a peek at the menu, their mains are on the high $40s-$60s mark.

Thankfully, Flower Drum participated in the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival’s Spring Grazing event, which means for a “steal” of AUD$99, we get to try their five course Spring grazing menu.

We went with high expectations, hearing rumors of attentive yet discreet services, whereby if you are left handed (which I am), they would notice and discreetly place your chopsticks on your left hand side etc.

We were greeted by the maitre’d with an upbeat “Hello how are you? Have you got a booking?” but his smile doesn’t quite seemed to reach his eyes. We got ushered into the dining room- expecting a brightly lit Chinese restaurant with huge chandeliers like the ones in Hong Kong, only to find a dark (and not moody dark wood sleek kinda dark), dingy room that looks as if it hasn’t been renovated since the 60s. Hmmmmm first impression was not good.

We ordered some cocktails and soft drinks, and the cocktails came in a miniature martini glass, which felt very stingy for $15. We clinked glasses to celebrate coming to Flower Drum, but instead of a crisp clink of glass, it was a dull thud of plastic. You would have thought in a place in its class they could invest on some glassware.  Another gripe: their XO sauce was $15!  They should have told us how much it cost!  It was homemade and everything but Hubby’s mother makes better XO sauce and we wouldn’t have ordered if it costs extra!  STINGY!

Our first course came, and it was a cheong fun (rice roll) with scampi.  I must admit, due to Flower Drum’s fame, I have very high expectations of the food here.  The scampi was fresh and yummy, and the soy sauce provided subtle flavours that did not overpower the scampi.  The only gripe is that the rice roll itself is not as good as expected.  Providing great produce is one thing, but having great technique is another, and I think they have let me down by giving me a slightly rough rice rolls- it should have been silky and smooth.

Our second course was battered garfish.  For some reason Ahmanda and I had this blonde moment when we thought the waiter said “Starfish” =_= and started to wonder what does Starfish flesh tasted like.  Thank goodness three people were present to clarify things.  This is one of my favourite dish of the night.  The garfish was deep fried with bamboo shoots to give it a nice texture contrast.  Once again the fish was very fresh and perfectly cooked.

Our third course was pork in bread pockets.  This time, the bread pockets were awesome.  Slightly sweet tasting, it creates a fantastic flavour balance to the pork.  Alas the pork was a bit chewy and there are times I had to decide to do the unladylike thing and use my finger to tear the pork from my mouth or do the ladylike thing and swallow it…:/ (for the record I swallowed it and choked a bit)

Sometimes, in these restaurants, you can never assume whether something is a “course” in your 5 course meal or it’s a complimentary dish.  Case to the point: when we went to The Press Club a few years ago, they counted the side salad as one of their five course menu, which I found unacceptable.

Anyway, back to our four course at Flower Drum.  We were presented with braised beef cheek and special fried rice.  We were unsure whether the fried rice was the fifth and last course or whether it’s the fourth course together with the beef.  Thankfully it’s the fourth course with the beef!  I was quite full already but the braised beef was extremely tender and flavoursome.  I wasn’t entirely sure whether braised meat is suitable for a spring menu but either way I was very impressed by this dish.  The “special” fried rice though, not so special.  I can do better fried rice than that!  Even the $15 XO Sauce can’t save that dish!

The waiter came and asked whether the food was OK and I took the opportunity to ask him what sauce was used to make the braised beef.  He stuttered a bit and then said “it’s the sauce that comes with the beef” Erm…  We sniggered a bit and joked that it came out of a packet :P  I think if they don’t really want to tell us they should tell us straight up or saying something like “beef jus, soy sauce and spices”

Our final course was the dessert flight of contradictions.  Okay, I made the name up.  I just don’t really understand this dessert.  On one hand there is the spring-like berries sitting in a pool of blood period raspberry coulis.  On the other hand we have a chestnut mini pie that is more for autumn.  I am not saying that it’s not yummy, it was just really weird.  There is also a coconut pudding with goji berry jelly, where some of us got no goji berries or 2 goji berries and mine was fully of goji berries.  Weird.

In terms of service, I felt that range from trying too hard, to really faking it, to slightly amateur.

We started with the fake smile on entry, then two waiters asked us whether tea has been ordered. When I went to the bathroom they noticed I have a camera so they gave me a little stool for the camera, but didn’t notice I am left handed :P nor gave me a stool for my handbag.

Of course there was the incident of the “sauce that came with the beef” as well as the slight uncertainty of what chef was serving us for dessert.  Our night ended with going downstairs back to the maitre’d, who was talking loudly on the phone this time behind the counter.  He didn’t even bother coming out from the counter- he just yelled out “Thank you!  See you later!”  With his signature fake smile.

All in all, what I really like about Flower Drum is that they try to feature a local produce on every dish, the food is fresh and the quality is good.  How does it compare to a pretty good restaurant it Hong Kong?  The short answer is it can’t.  Was it value for money?  We didn’t think so.  Service was slightly disappointing and therefore I gave it a 6/10.

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