Monday, July 4, 2016

West Lake Restaurant, Melbourne CBD by Foghorn Leghorn

West Lake has been around for two or three decades, and in that time it’s had good patches and bad patches. It’s now in a good patch, so five of us visited for a weekday dinner just after the winter solstice.

The first thing to know is that West Lake has two fairly different menus. If you’re a big-nosed customer, like I am, they hand you a menu loaded with prawn toast and similar Aussie Chinese stuff. If you want a more interesting choice, you can ask for the Chinese menu. It has a wider range of food, and it helpfully provides English translations of everything. The two menus are bound in different colours, I can never remember which one’s which. If you’re not sure which one you’ve got, just flip through and see whether your menu includes a page of congee – only the Chinese menu has that.

After a bit of discussion, we ordered five dishes: lamb hot-pot; beef brisket with radish; eggplant with minced pork and fish sauce; pi-pa bean curd; and snow-pea shoots with dried scallop.

West Lake Restaurant, lamb hot pot
Normally in a Cantonese restaurant I avoid lamb. In pastoral Northwestern China, lamb is a popular meat, especially among Muslims, and I’ve enjoyed many lamb dishes from that region. By contrast, the Pearl River delta is not prime sheep territory, so the locals don’t traditionally each much of it. There are, however, exceptions. In winter, some Cantonese restaurants offer a warming hot-pot of lamb or goat, and West Lake offers a very good version of this. The meat is on the bone, and slow-cooked until it’s falling off the bone. Extra flavour comes from dried beancurd skin and other ingredients, so the meat sits in a rich dark broth. It hits the spot on a cold winter’s night. One detail – I don’t think the lamb hot-pot is on either menu. It’s a seasonal special listed in Chinese on the wall, and also on a specials insert you might get with the menu.  

West Lake Restaurant, beef brisket hot pot
The beef brisket with radish is in a similar vein. The meat’s not on the bone, so I think it misses some of the richness of the lamb hot-pot. But it’s also slow-cooked, and brisket fans will know that it’s a meat whose flavour only improves with hours of cooking. Big Fil, who chose the dish, is a brisket fan.

West Lake Restaurant, eggplant
The eggplant was Bureaucrat’s choice, and it has a complex mix of flavours. A bit of spice, a bit of smooth eggplant. It’s a common mistake to overcook eggplant, but this one was just right.

West Lake Restaurant, pi-pa beancurd
The pi-pa beancurd was a hit with the group, but it’s not the best one I’ve had. Pi-pa beancurd is beancurd minced up, mixed with various tasty ingredients, then deep-fried into golden balls in the shape of a pi-pa, or Chinese lute. Ingredients can include prawn and ham. The West Lake version seemed to have mushrooms, but it was hard to detect what else.

West Lake Restaurant, snowpea shoots, dried scallops
The snow-pea shoots with dried scallops are an archetypal Cantonese dish, combining a delicate fresh ingredient with a preserved ingredient to heighten flavour. Ruby Grapefruit commented that she expected the dried scallop to have a stronger taste, but I think that a stronger taste might detract from the subtlety of the snow-pea shoots. It’s a contrast, for example, to water spinach, which has a strong taste and requires a strong accompaniment.

Snooze summed up the consensus that the snow-pea shoots and the beancurd were the best dishes of the night. This confirmed my observation that these two dishes disappeared from the plate much more quickly than the others.

We ended the night feeling well-fed but not overfed. We’d had a good range of dishes, even if the lamb hot-pot and beef brisket were a bit similar. We paid just over $30 each, which is very good for food of this quality. If we had ordered a straightforward menu dish instead of the lamb hot pot, it would have been more like $25 each.


We loved it
We loved it.


In its good phases, West Lake is definitely worth a visit for dinner. If you want genuine Cantonese food, you need to seek out the Chinese menu. Daytime yum cha is a different story, I don’t find their yum cha to be anything special. But with the continuing expansion in Melbourne of northern Chinese restaurants (dumplings, Xi’an food, Lanzhou food, etc), it’s good to have an established restaurant keeping up the tradition of quality Cantonese food.

Find it at

West Lake Restaurant
189 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9662 2048

Westlake Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 


Anonymous said...

Snow pea shoots look delish! I'm always hanging out for them to be in season (stole some from my mum's garden, which she couldn't understand "no pea, just the leaf?")

Foghorn Leghorn said...

Snow pea shoots are a great indicator of Cantonese restaurant quality. Some places put them on the menu, but never actually have them - fail! If they have them, and they're fresh, and they're cooked right - thumbs up!

In a similar vein, liver on the menu, and cooked properly, is a good indicator of Italian restaurant quality (for me, anyway). And petai goreng (stink beans) for Indonesian restaurants.

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