It was Ms M's birthday so six of us headed off to try Empress of China. Only one of us had been there before for dinner and not for a long time, but while it never came up in conversation about possible locations to eat I remembered its good reputation back in the early 2000's and it turned out to be a lunch time favourite of one of our group.
On the inside Empress of China is bright and well lit, with white mirror lined walls. While starting to lose some of its sheen, I think it's a much more attractive setting than most of the restaurants on or near Little Bourke Street. Quite busy too, on a cold and wet Thursday night.
Ms M was doing the ordering so as per usual the food was plentiful. First dishes to arrive were the steamed mini crab and pork buns and the tea smoked duck. The crab and pork buns were well filled and tasty, with juicy fillings inside relatively delicate outer casings.
The duck, which was served with steamed buns, was good but not the best version of this dish I have tried. I felt the duck was a little dry and the skin could have been crisper. Still I seemed to be in the minority and it went quickly.
The next two dishes were the noodles with dry shrimp paste and pork ribs with sweet vinegar sauce. The noodles were good, well cooked with a bit of a 'punch' at the end.
I was always going to like the pork ribs. As I've said before, I'm a huge sucker for slightly fatty pork with any sweet sauce, and I did like the way the vinegar sauce didn't give the dish the gluggy texture some similar dishes can have.
The last three dishes to arrive were the Shanghai fried noodles, garlic crispy chicken pieces and the braised fish with bean curd in hotpot.
I'm not always the biggest fan of Shanghai (or Hokkien noodles) because many places drown the dish in strong sauces, masking the flavour of the noodles and other ingredients. Not a problem with this dish, with the vegetables fresh and the flavour of the noodles discernable through the sauce.
The crispy chicken was crumbed on the outside and nicely moist on the inside. Or at least the one piece I got was, with the chicken disappearing quickly while I tried the other dishes.
Lastly and my favourite was the fish and bean curd in hot pot. The fish had a much softer flavour than the other dishes, and unlike what I was expecting the fish definitely dominated the dish, to the extent we had to search for the sliced bean curd.
We finished off the meal with a Tiramisu cake from Browns Bakery. After a series of misadventures trying to take the plastic wrapping off the side, we sang happy birthday to Ms M after which she blew out the three candles the restaurant managed to find for us.
After visiting once I was left wondering why I haven't been here before. Above average to good food, in a respectable setting with polite and helpful staff, and prices competitive with most restaurants in Chinatown. The bill came to just under $90 between 6 of us. I can see this place becoming my regular Chinatown haunt when feeling like a cheap eat which isn't dumplings.
Food - 7.5
Service - 7
Ambience - 7
Price - 8
120 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne Vic 3000