Review: Does Melbourne’s new cult chicken sandwich live up to the hype?

282 Carlisle Street

See the map

Opening hours Lunch Sat-Sun; Dinner Wed-Sun
Features Takes reservations, Private room, Bar
Prices Moderate (dishes $20 to $40)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Call 03 9088 8022

We should start with the Hainanese chicken club sandwich ($16 for 2) because that’s probably where you’ll want to start your meal, and this little treasure says a lot about Moonhouse, a chic new Chinese restaurant in Balaclava.

The snack is made with Hainanese Chicken Rice – ginger-poached chicken with grease-glazed rice – a dish that evokes extraordinary passion in Southeast Asian communities around the world. I’ve talked to people who moved because chicken rice wasn’t nice where they lived.

The Moonhouse redesign ticks off key flavor notes, but is also extremely new. The poached breast is infused with ginger and garlic, shredded and layered in crustless white bread with spring onions, cucumber and crispy chicken skin. Chef Shirley Summakwan will tell me later that there is a deep, mysterious saltiness because the bread is coated in chicken fat and Vegemite – what a clever trick. There is also a dip made from thickened poaching liquid. It’s a chicken rice redux that nods to hotel club sandwiches (crispy skin replaces bacon crunch) and whimsical cucumber triangles.

Must-Try: Hainanese Chicken Club Sandwiches with Dip are an instant hit. Photo: Chloe Dann

Taking liberties with the classics is brave, but can also be exhilarating, especially in Melbourne where a culinary culture of thoughtful, respectful riffing makes culinary sense. The sandwich is also a signal of Moonhouse’s ambition to tap into the nostalgia of old-school Australian Cantonese restaurants and reframe them in a bistro setting. That misty-eyed penchant is nurtured in an alluring interior in an iconic art deco building, which for a decade housed Ilona Staller and, before that, an all-too-beautiful red rooster.

The two-story restaurant is the sixth in the communal group. Maybe you’ve been to Tokyo Tina, Firebird, new neighborhood or either Hanoi Hannah, each of them offering Asian cuisine. My alert system goes off when white men open Asian restaurants with women’s names in nicknames (Saigon Sally has since closed), but Moonhouse feels mature and respectful.

Senior executives include Korean-born group executive chef Anthony Choi, dessert whiz Enza Soto (Japanese-born with Mexican and Sicilian heritage) and Indonesian-born Summakwan, who started with the company there. five years as a sous chef. Restaurant groups have an advantage in this tight recruiting climate, especially in the ability to retain people with attractive backgrounds. It also means that while Moonhouse is new, it’s on the way.

Vegetarian dan dan noodle sub with mushrooms for pork.

Vegetarian dan dan noodle sub with mushrooms for pork. Photo: Chloe Dann

Dishes showcasing the “Chinese bistro” concept include Pan-Seared Shrimp Toast ($16) served with French bisque sauce and presented in a checkerboard pattern rather than Canto-retro triangles. It looks great and there is a balanced balance between the sweetness of shellfish and the chewiness of egg white.

The Beef in Black Bean Sauce ($42) looks like a stir-fry, but it’s more like a pubby peppercorn steak, grilled medium rare in the piece and plated in slices, but still in its sirloin form. The mid-priced Aussie wine list and themed cocktails pair perfectly with the food offering.

Vegetarians have it easy. Dan dan noodles ($22) spin a classic Sichuan dish that features sesame paste and pork. Summakwan’s version is reminiscent of a dish his grandfather made with instant noodles and peanut butter. She chops mushrooms rather than pork and dresses a tangle of bouncy ramen noodles with Sichuan pepper oil. It’s simple and tasty, a glamorous revamp of trashy late-night snacks.

Sweet and sour cauliflower.

Sweet and sour cauliflower. Photo: Chloe Dann

Sweet and sour pork is remodeled with cauliflower ($26) to create another meatless dish, a heady mix of pineapple, bell pepper, onion and breaded cabbage in a bright, not-too-sweet sauce.

Bistros and Chinese restaurants both love duck, so it’s fitting that Moonhouse doubles down on its incredible duck ceremony ($44). The ducks are aged on site before being roasted, the leg confit served with lettuce wraps and the breast sliced ​​and served with pancakes and plum hoisin, prepared during a summer stone fruit conservation project at Firebird. Light lacquered duck is delicious.

Chinese meals often end with fruit and that’s not a bad way to go. Instead of just slicing the oranges, the skins are scraped off, stuffed with fruit paste, then cut into translucent, wonky wedges ($12). You might be lucky on grapefruit and lychee or blood orange and strawberry, both pleasingly pleasing.

The duck ceremony comes with lettuce, pancakes and plum hoisin.

The duck ceremony comes with lettuce, pancakes and plum hoisin. Photo: Chloe Dann

Carlisle Street does pretty well for food. Featured features include an umbrella Turkish restaurant Tulumdinner style, 20 seats nice little and optimistic izakaya The bounty of the sun; there are also a bunch of great cafes, including the original shabby-chic Wall Two 80s and the Syrian charmer Levantine. Moonhouse is an exceptional addition, a smart project intended to appeal to locals and also serve as a dining destination on the south side.

Vibe: A love letter to Australian Chinese in a bistro setting

Essential dish: Hainanese Chicken Club Sandwich

Drinks : Trendy and friendly Aussie wine list and fun themed cocktails

Cost: $120 for 2, excluding drinks

This review was originally published in Have a nice week end magazine; Besha Rodell is on leave

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