Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
PCL

Review(s): Gastro Marathon

Recommended Posts

The weekend turned out to be a gastronomic marathon.

4th November, The Flower Drum.

5th November, Murasaki.

6th November, Tea House on Burke.

It had been over a year since the family’s last visit to the post-Gilbert Flower Drum, and it must be said, I was skeptical. After hearing unconfirmed reports of considerable ‘Westernising’ of the cuisine, and ever increasing prices, it was enough to make anyone’s chopsticks quiver in nervous anticipation. To heighten the pressure on the evening, it was mum’s 60th birthday dinner. Table of 7, to span over 6 dishes.

From the beginning, the experience was just as how it always was. Warm welcomes from all, with the diligent front of house crew pouring out from the woodwork to shake hands and re-welcome one back to this venerable institution of Melbourne fine dining. Even Gilbert himself (now a consultant to the operation) was at the 1st floor reception, pressing flesh (coincidental no doubt!) Even the quality of the tea poured may be said to be exceptional. Fat chance picking up whatever it is they serve you at some place like T2!!! For the record, the tea we had was “Iron Buddha” aka “Ti-Kua-Yin”.

Needless to say, course by course, the presentation and actual in-mouth experience can be described simply as superlative. The traditional birthday classics were present, such as:

- braised sea cucumber (sea slugs) with fatt-choy (fine black funghi), dried shitake and lettuce

- long-life noodles with crayfish in ginger/spring onion sauce

- steamed whole sand grouper

- abalone in the shell, steamed with ginger/spring onion soy dressing

In a break with tradition, there was no chicken, but “pei-pa” crispy skinned duck was served instead. This is a dish that no one else in the region (meaning Australia), in my experience, has come close to serving it up in a way that even approximates how it’s done at the Drum. It’s not peking duck, and it’s not a traditional roast duck. With ‘pei-pa’ duck, the seasonings used are different, and apparently a special treatment is used on the skin, resulting in crisper, tastier skin, soft fragrant flesh, and a superb plum based dipping sauce. My wife says it tastes like chocolate. This was served with the most excellent young tender tips of steamed asparagus. There were more greens, in the form of excellent kai-lan, lovingly cooked with stock, ginger and garlic.

The word that captures food at the Drum is ‘essence’. Each dish is exactly what it should be. That cray was swimming just moments before being broken up and worked over in hundreds of thousands of BTUs, sauced with velvety stock, garnished with spring onions that were just a moment ago, sitting in an iced bath to maintain crunch. And the noodles, procured by Gilbert himself from Hongkong, where artisanal producers still operate, were light, full of sauce, but maintaining mouth feel and resistance, ‘singing on the teeth’ if you like. And the fish? Yes, alive till the last moment, gutted and cleaned, and into the steamer before being sauced with a sugar/ginger/garlic combination held together with a soy sauce that should probably be tasted and ranked by a vintner. Exaggeration? Maybe, but well deserved.

The service? I hear you asking, and the answer is, attentive beyond belief. You will do better by referring to the Good Food Guide, and all past issues of Mietta’s for the unending descriptions of what Flower Drum service is all about. My criticism would be that sometimes, they do try too hard, and the plentitude of ‘thank you’s’ after each and every service action (serving/removing/topping up) can sometimes become a little grating. The solution? Keep drinking the good stuff, and we had a Macedon sparkling to kick things off with (non-vintage @ $60 or so a bottle) and a lovely Yarra Valley Pinot from Turramurra, 2001, to complement the banquet.

For dessert, we snacked on long life buns, steamed with lotus paste in the centres, all shaped as peaches which are traditional symbols of longevity. To accompany the buns, the Drum had prepared a visual feast of a fruit platter resembling the something along the lines of Monkey Journeying to the West, but sadly lacking in flavour. Every piece of fruit was chilled and crisp, but a sluggish end to an otherwise noteworthy meal. My sister had ordered a sensational birthday cake and in total, 8 dishes for an auspicious occasion.

On interesting side note as far as I’m concerned anyway, is that of the thousands of words written about the Flower Drum, I’ve yet to see anything on the almond biscuits/cookies they offer at the end of the meal. Everyone I know who has experienced the Drum rave on and on about these sensational little critters, baked with lard and all the good things one expects. I do have one piece of advice here, and it’s something I never follow all the time: ask for them to be packed away if you don’t finish them, because then, they’ll oblige by handing back a full pack.

For the price and the occasion, the Drum can’t be beaten. You get pretty much what you pay for, but it must be stressed that you get something you don’t need everyday. I note too that most of what we ate, you won’t find on the menu. It also means, they will work on a flexi-pricing system with ‘market price’ being the leading justification. Whatever the damage at the end of the day, it sure beats lemon chicken and beef ‘n black bean sauce. For an everyday experience of gastronomic significance, but not requiring re-financing of your mortgage, stay tuned to part 2 or 3.

If you've been to the Drum, or will do one day, I'd like to hear what you've got to say.


"Coffee and cigarettes... the breakfast of champions!"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Very enjoyable review PCL.

My criticism would be that sometimes, they do try too hard, and the plentitude of ‘thank you’s’ after each and every service action (serving/removing/topping up) can sometimes become a little grating.

Won't the finger kow-tow (light tap of the (middle) finger on tabletop) be sufficient and appropriate as a gesture of gratitude? Or is that not done at the "Drum"? :smile:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

No no no, I tap, they thank me... or you or anyone else taps, they thank you, ask for water, they thank you, ask for anything... you get the idea...


"Coffee and cigarettes... the breakfast of champions!"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Did they recognise the "hand waving an imaginary pen signing on an imaginary piece of paper" signal to get the bill?


Daniel Chan aka "Shinboners"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Did they recognise the "hand waving an imaginary pen signing on an imaginary piece of paper" signal to get the bill?

The way I do it, the paper is not imaginary. The outstretched flattened palm of the other hand held an inch or so from the signing hand represents the paper. :biggrin:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The way I do it, the paper is not imaginary.  The outstretched flattened palm of the other hand held an inch or so from the signing hand represents the paper.  :biggrin:

What you need to do is to get one of those palm pilot thingys and wave that around. :raz:


Daniel Chan aka "Shinboners"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So Flower Drum has fallen off the world's best list.

The family converged there anyway on Wednesday night for a 20 person banquet. This was the menu:

Steamed Oysters and Scallops, with spring onion and black bean sauce respectively.

Honey Glazed Duck.

Braised Abalone.

Beef Fillet.

Stir Fried Cray with Noodles.

Fried Rice.

To Drink: Moet Chandon, and a lovely Clare Riesling that I can't remember the name of.

The result? Still bloody damn good.

The summary? Not many Chinese people seem to eat there.

One reason I think they've fallen off the list is because everyone is so damned concerned with 'innovation' and the such these days. It's all so showy and ego driven and tiring. CONSISTENCY should be rewarded I say. And of course, the Flower Drum bill is also consistently high...


"Coffee and cigarettes... the breakfast of champions!"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Many thanks for the excellent reviews, PCL. :)

It's been a very long time since I last visited Flower Drum, and I've been there twice only when Gilbert was still around.

I'm going back for a third time this Sunday, and just wondering whether anyone has visited this gastro temple lately?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

First went there half a dozen years ago and it was the best meal I'd ever had at the time. Went again maybe three years ago and it was still very good, but nowhere near as good as the first time. Wasn't at all surprised when it lost a GFG hat, but I can't claim to have been really recently. My prediction is that you'll have a very good meal, but it may or may not be quite worth the cost.

*edit - I really should have checked the date of your post before replying :raz: How was it?*


Edited by Amarantha (log)

There Will Be Bloody Marys

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Now this is what I call thread resurrection!!

I'm not in Melbourne at the moment, but recent stories about the place have been positive. I have relatives that end up there every now and then after trying out the latest fads, and for them/us, it's almost like a homecoming thing. You have to be away to fully realise what's so good about what you already know.

Just try to stay away from the lemon chicken and ask for what the Chinese folk eat.


"Coffee and cigarettes... the breakfast of champions!"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Very enjoyable review PCL.
My criticism would be that sometimes, they do try too hard, and the plentitude of ‘thank you’s’ after each and every service action (serving/removing/topping up) can sometimes become a little grating.

Won't the finger kow-tow (light tap of the (middle) finger on tabletop) be sufficient and appropriate as a gesture of gratitude? Or is that not done at the "Drum"? :smile:

What's the finger tap thing? This is new to me and I'd like to know more.


Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Very enjoyable review PCL.
My criticism would be that sometimes, they do try too hard, and the plentitude of ‘thank you’s’ after each and every service action (serving/removing/topping up) can sometimes become a little grating.

Won't the finger kow-tow (light tap of the (middle) finger on tabletop) be sufficient and appropriate as a gesture of gratitude? Or is that not done at the "Drum"? :smile:

What's the finger tap thing? This is new to me and I'd like to know more.

Fingertapping


PS: I am a guy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You can tap your fingers at the Drum, no worries, why not? It's a Chinese restaurant and the staff are all Chinese so they understand what it means, but it's only really meant for tea / beverage service.

ANyone been to the Drum lately??


"Coffee and cigarettes... the breakfast of champions!"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...