Lau’s Family Kitchen has quite the pedigree, closely associated with the much loved but also much pricey Flower Drum. Friends had reported a place with simple dishes but made using high quality ingredients that were perfectly cooked, and while I don’t dine in St Kilda that often it was somewhere I had long wanted to try. Finally Bureaucrat, Snooze and myself made the journey on down for what would be the most enjoyable Chinese meal I have had in Melbourne.
Given it was for a Saturday Night I’d made the booking several weeks in advance, and just turning up on the night proved to be a disappointing experience for several potential patrons. I think one other group was able to walk up and secure a table, but I expect that was from a last minute cancellation and they were just very lucky.
For a restaurant well known for the quality of its cooking and service though the setup was a little different to what I was expecting. I had heard that the dining area wasn’t anything especially fancy or ostentatious and that the tables were a little close together, but I wasn’t expecting the bare concrete floors and ceilings. While it’s all done in a comparatively classy way it did mean that it was a fairly noisy place to eat. Add to this a predominately Caucasian clientele and it felt as much like a very popular local suburban restaurant as much as one of Melbourne’s best regarded Chinese restaurants. This was reinforced by one of the nearby tables bursting into a fairly gutsy version of ‘happy birthday to you’.
Even before looking at the menu what gives away that this place is a different beast though is the extremely attentive service. In fact if anything we found the service a little too attentive at times, resulting in the occasional search for the tea pot which had sneakily been removed for refilling without our noticing.
While the menu seems predominately Cantonese in style there are a few excursions into other regions of China, with a couple of Sichuan and northern Chinese touches. In the end we went for a fairly ambitious project, four mains plus a serve of fried rice meant that we didn’t get to try the interesting sounding white bait omelette or the gorgeous looking banana fritters that some of the other tables ordered.
First dish up was a lightly steamed wild barramundi in a light soya sauce. In a typical display of the standard of service when we indicated we were sharing dishes we were each presented with separately plated serves of fish. We had ordered this after the specific recommendation from a friend and for me it was my favourite dish of the night. Loved the subtle but clear flavours of the beautifully cooked fish, and while Bureaucrat would have preferred a little more sauce I thought was perfect to complement the fish.
Second dish was the deep friend bean curd with mushrooms. For a dish described as deep fried the tofu is quite delicate, the texture not silky like agedashi tofu but more like an egg omelette. Add that the varying textures and flavours of the different varieties of mushrooms used and you have what on another occasion could have been the dish of the night.
I think for Bureaucrat though that title went to the sweet vinegar pork loin. As I understand it this is more Northern Chinese in style, and in contrast to the first two dishes the flavour is less reliant on the ingredients themselves but makes more use of a bit of a kick from the vinegar. It is very well balanced though, so that the flavour of the pork still comes through and is not dominated by the vinegar flavour.
The final main was Snooze’s choice of the Szechuan braised eggplant with pork mince. This was a little sweeter than I’d expected and without the spicy slap to the face that sometimes comes with Szechuan food. Very good though, with nicely silky eggplant rather than the soggy mess that you so often get and which I hate.
Finally to finish it all off, fried rice with mushroom, perfectly cooked as you’d expect given the quality of the meal.
Lau’s Family Kitchen delivered a great night out. It’s a fine fun if slightly loud location, walking a fine line between casual and more formal dining (and leaning to the causal side), with friendly and professional staff and delicious food. Admittedly as a higher quality product it comes with a higher price, but sometimes you just have to say ‘what the heck, I’m worth it’.
Food – 9
Ambience – 7.5
Service – 8
Price - 7
4 Acland Street
St Kilda VIC 3182
Tel (03) 8598 9880