Flower Drum

Welcome to a fancypants edition of Ballroom Blintz! Yes, it’s time to dust off your tiaras and straighten your monocles, we’re going classy with a visit to one of Melbourne’s most venerable dining institutions, the Cantonese mainstay Flower Drum.

Of course, being that this is not the kind of dining that the Blintz household indulges in on a regular basis, we had a very good excuse for such extravagance. My pop was turning 90 and, well, people just don’t turn 90 every day, so we all considered this a fine excuse to treat him to a deluxe version of his favourite cuisine (well, I’m actually not sure if it’s his very favourite, he’s always been very fond of dim sims, yet highly distrustful of anything with a high vegetable content).

The question I was hoping to get an answer to was this: was Flower Drum to be an exciting adventure for a vegetarian? Or was it to be a letdown for those not prone to being carnivorous? Come, intrepid travelers, let us discover the truth!

After getting over the excitement of the fact that we had to go up an escorted elevator to reach the dining room, which prompted my siblings and I to discuss how awesome it would be to have a job where all you had to do was press an elevator button (we are lazy people), we were then wowed by the restaurant space itself. It’s tastefully decked out, as one would expect, where each table is situated in a way to make it feel like you’re sitting in your own private alcove (although the noise emanating from the table closest to us that seemed to be full of boxers and/or wrestlers went someway to disturbing this sense of privacy).

As I kind of secretly expected was going to be the case, there definitely wasn’t a wide range of vegetarian items to choose from. While the rest of my family ended up going with one of the banquet options, I ordered the fried stuffed eggplant as an entree, followed by the braised vegetable claypot for my main.

The fried stuffed eggplant rested on a nest of crisp fried noodles, surrounded with a scattering of diced red and green capsicums. As soon as my teeth bit into the crispy, crumbed crust I was in heaven. The eggplant was perfect (and we all know how fussy I am with eggplant), all delicious fried goodness, and the noodles and capsicum all combined to heightened the dish rather than just being empty carbs and garnishes. I was highly impressed.

Next, the claypot of braised vegetables. Every mushroom under the sun seemed to be in this huge pot: oyster, shiitake, clouds of black and white fungus, those tiny rubbery ones that I always want to call champignons even though I know they aren’t. Some snowpeas and Chinese cabbage floated around in the tasty sauce as well, but this was clearly a dish for mushroom lovers. While I had great fun eating the mushroomy goodness and then subsequently soaking up the sauce with a bowl of white rice, I can’t say that this dish was anywhere near the impressive level of the eggplant, and at around $35 it’s definitely leaning towards the “far too pricey for something that’s a pretty standard” end of the spectrum.

For dessert I went for a more traditionally Chinese option with the sweet red bean soup with black sesame dumplings. The rest of the table, assuming that I was insane, all went for the fried ice-cream (which I suppose is also traditional in its own way). The sweet soup was just the sort of lovely, light thing I needed to finish the meal off. The black sesame dumplings were softly gelatinous, almost melt-in-your-mouth-ish, and the red beans were flavoursome (I still kind of freak out excitedly at dishes where beans are used as part of a sweet. It’s like the world’s gone deliciously topsy-turvy!). I also manged quite a few bites of the fried ice cream, as my family members were quite dramatically full by this point, and I have to say that it may have been the High God King of all fried ice creams. Quality oozed out of it, I say! Topped off with a pot of chrysanthemum tea and I was quite content.

Here’s the big question though: despite my mostly positive experience, would I wholehearted recommend Flower Drum as a good venue for a vegie? I think it would really depend if you were dining with omnivores or solely vegetarians. Because you seem to get a more full experience as an omni: my family were rendered practically speechless by the quality of their dishes (as I had been told by those who had already experienced its apparent magnificence, the stuffed garfish is apparently a dish so divine that wars will probably one day by started over it). Every dish in the omni banquet was greeted with gasps of delight, and the fact that my pop said it was probably the best meal he’d ever had in 90 years speaks for itself (he still left anything suspiciously vegetable-looking alone, bless him).

If your enjoyment on a night out hinges on your compatriots having a delightful time, vegies can take their omni friends to Flower Drum safe in the knowledge that they’ll have a blast while you still have some nice dishes to experience. If, however, you’re an entirely vegie group looking for a fancy time who would probably baulk extremely at seeing a whole suckling pig wheeled over to another table (seriously, I need a warning before shit like that happens!), Melbourne has plenty of other more vegie-centric options that would probably serve you better.

Flower Drum

17 Market Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9662 3655

Yong Green Food

So in the past year I’d gotten highly jealous every time I saw Yong Green Food pop up in write ups around the foodie-sphere. “Oh, but why is it not me that gets to write about kimchi pancakes?” I would lament from the depths of my fainting couch (every lady should have one). I made pact after pact with myself that it would be the very next next place I visited, oh yes… and then all of a sudden it’d been open for a year and I still hadn’t got there!

Then one day kicking it back in the staff room, Nadine turned to me and said “So I had this amazing dinner the other day at this place on Brunswick Street called Yong Green Food…”

I sat bolt upright. “You’ve been to Yong Green Food?”

“Yeah, it was all Korean and vegetarian, I figured you must have eaten there.”

“OH MY GOD WAS IT AMAZING WHAT DID YOU EAT DID YOU HAVE KIMCHI PANCAKE CAN WE GO THERE NOW AND JUST EAT EVERTHING?”

“Wow, I’m finding this moment right now quite confronting.”

“KIMCHI PANCAKE.”

Fortunately I was able to calm down enough to reassure Nadine that I wasn’t on the verge of having some kind of violent episode, and to organise a dinner date with her and Muffin.

The first piece of advice I can offer about Yong Green Food is to get there EARLY. I figured to myself “Hey, a Tuesday night at 6.30, going to be easy to get a table.” False. I was lucky enough to slip onto the last four-person table, and then spent the time waiting for the others to show watching a lot of people getting turned away. Yong Green is doing very, VERY well for itself.

I was about to find out why. While waiting for my compatriots to arrive, I ordered a pot of quince honey tea to mull over. A giant pot was delivered to the table, and this astounding sweet aroma engulfed me. If you like gorgeous, fruity tea that completely overwhelms any stresses that currently reside in you and renders you a happy, peaceful, nattering blob by the time your friends arrive (“This tea, guys! Wow, this tea…”) you will be well served.

To the dishes! Well, obviously I went with the kimchi pancake with soy mayo. The pancake itself is enormous, reaching the very edges of the dinner plate it was served on, yet was thin and crispy, and all in all lived up to my high expectations. The soy mayo was an utter revelation, especially as I’ve always found regular mayonnaise to be an obnoxious condiment.

Nadine also ordered the pancake (probably because I hadn’t shut up about it for days), yet was full of trepidation when informed that kimchi is fermented chilli cabbage. “Is it hot? Oh no, I don’t like things too spicy!” The pancake did have a reasonable kick of spice to it, yet once spread with the amazing soy mayo the spice was held back to a pleasant level. Soy mayo, you can be my condiment of choice anytime.

Muffin ordered some kimchi gyoza that she shared around. The skins were thin and crisp, the filling not quite as hot as the pancake but still retaining that agreeable tart kimchi tang, and the sharp dipping sauce rounded it off nicely.

For my main I went with the ‘dragon bowl’, which was essentially a fresh, light version of bibimbap, with brown rice, tofu, beansprouts, grated carrot, pickled purple cabbage, mixed salad leaves and a healthy blobbing of Korean chilli paste. This was a perfect solid main meal, with each component providing interest and contrast (I particularly liked the sweetness of the beanshoots, which seemed to have been marinated beforehand). Again, if you were afeared of heat, I would recommend asking whether they could dial back the chilli paste when you order, there was a lot of it, enough to make me slow down a bit towards the end to ingest more tea, and I’m normally okay with Korean chilli paste!

Time to finish off with a dessert three-way, with blueberry raw cheesecake, raw carrot cake, and chocolate fudge. Although we ordered these to share, the three of us managed to become partial to a different one each. For me the blueberry cheesecake was the perfect way to end the meal, with the almond and berry overtones smooth and juicy in your mouth, and having a very pleasing texture that wasn’t as grainy as some raw cakes I’ve had in the past. Nadine was a fan of the carrot cake, while Muffin took a liking to the fudge, championing it in the face of myself and Nadine’s shrugs of “It’s not BAD, it’s just… it’s not CAKE!”

Yong Green Food is a utter winner in my book. It’s vegetarian and is having what appears to be an obscene amount of fun in pushing what it can do with veggie cuisine. The staff are friendly, the fit-out gorgeous (pro-tip: Hayley will love your restaurant aesthetically if you cover a whole wall with a mural of a giant dragon), it’s the whole box and dice, people. Get along, and have a kimchi pancake for me.

Yong Green Food

421 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9417 3338