Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Flower Drum

I’ve abandoned my blog for over a week now and there’s a good reason, I promise. N1 and N2 were back for a visit, as was another friend Slowie. Consequently I’ve been eating and drinking my way around Melbourne. Sometimes it’s hard to write about food when you’re too busy consuming it. What’s worse is the high life started on Wednesday, didn’t stop till Sunday and I had to keep turning up to work. Obviously I had the weekend off but yesterday was particularly painful and my morning run today wasn’t much better.

Still, these are the times you have to take hold and run with. They all say good food and wine is best enjoyed with great company and you can’t fully appreciate that if you’re stressing about going to work the next day, spending money or getting things done. So this was precisely my attitude when N2 suggested the Flower Drum for dinner last Wednesday night. Of late I’ve been hit by the money swallower…you know the mysterious force that keeps dragging the notes out of your wallet and you’re not sure where they’re going? Therefore, upon mention of Flower Drum after a cocktail at the Sofitel’s Atrium, my first thought was “eek…not this month, please…I really don’t think I can afford it”. Fortunately I decided I wouldn’t be a party pooper and I kept my thoughts to myself. Sometimes my inner-scrooge stops me from enjoying things and needs to be squashed.

Booked out on a Wednesday night, we had to wait a mere 30 minutes for a table which was fine. A phonecall drew us back and we were ushered into the lift. There’s a certain old world charm about the room and service, dating right back to the 1980s. I can imagine new and old money wheeling and dealing over their Cantonese; big business sealed with Peking Duck.

It took a little while for menus to be brought to our table and when they were we were bamboozled. What to order? So we let the waiter choose. You will see very few photos here. I tried, I really did but the waiters are so attentive it’s hard to get a minute to yourself. I don’t like drawing attention to taking photographs. Partly because I don’t want to disclose that I may be critiquing the meal in any written way and secondly I just don’t like to. Being as discreet as possible tends to make those at my table more comfortable. N1 and N2 definitely had a good chuckle the first time I did it, but they are used to me now. At one point the waiter saw me snap the Peking Duck and offered to take a picture of us all. I agreed and the 3 of us smiled awkwardly, explaining our food photographs under the pretence that a friend was meant to be there, couldn’t make it in the end and was very upset.

As I said, the service was very attentive. At some points I nearly felt I had been transported back to Colonial times. There was a style about the service that emphasized we were the diners, they were the staff and all are not quite equal. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m paying big bucks for a meal I want service that crawls, but never do I want to feel like we would be anything other than equals outside the restaurant.

Our food selection was nearly all thanks to our waiter. We started with Salt and Pepper Squid and King George Whiting on a bed of fried enoki mushrooms. The batter was light as a feather. You know when you’re eating fried food and your body knows it’s fried food but it tastes too good to be anything but good for you. The waiter kindly showed us how to dip our morsels into the lemon juice and then salt, warning us that the chilli sauce was very, very hot. We must have really looked like we didn’t know what was going on, as he rushed back with some raw enoki mushrooms just to fully explain what we were eating. It was very sweet (of him, that is not the mushroom).

Next came Peking Duck. We ordered our duck off the specials entrée rather than the regular menu. Our pancakes were prepared at the trolleys a little way away from our table and then delivered one by one. This whole process involved about 3 staff which was quite impressive. As you can see from the picture these are no frills and all about the food. The meat seemed a little dry to me. Some might interpret that as wonderfully lean however I would have like mine to be dripping with a little more fat. If you’re going to eat duck you may as well have it laced with the delicious fat. It was still the best Peking Duck I’ve ever had!

Mains arrived at our table all together: steamed vegetables, sweet and sour pork and what I think was Sichuan beef. As the waiter was describing the dish it sounded like he was saying Citron. However he was referring to a province in China so I’m thinking Sichuan? It was a beautiful cut of beef, quite rare and extremely tender. Chilli and blackbean sauce masked a lot of the beef flavour however this was all about texture.

Sweet and Sour Pork was my selection. I’m not sure why but I often crave the taste of sweet and sour. When I satisfy the craving I’m usually disappointed by fatty chunks of pork in deep-fried batter. Luckily this wasn’t so at Flower Drum. Unluckily Sweet and Sour Pork will never be the same again.

We polished off 2 lovely bottles of red something or other from Coldstream. That might seem particularly ignorant of me, however N2 took care of wine ordering and I was happy to sit back and let decisions be made for me as waiters dutifully topped up my glass. From what I’ve read, the winelist at Flower Drum is notable, so I’ll have to go back again, just to check it out.

I really did feel I was having a once in a lifetime dining experience. I do confess I’m not sure whether that was because of the restaurant or because of the reputation that preceded it. Either way I’m so grateful N2 suggested it, because I’m not sure that I would have got there otherwise. My evening ended at the same time as 3 other quite drunken gentlemen. Obviously regulars they pointed at a table which had held a large 21st party and said “that’s the biggest table I’ve ever seen at ‘the drum’, phft, they can’t afford it!” And whilst I was disgusted at such blatant show of snobbery, we were acutely aware that our wallets were a lot lighter. My advice? Go there if you can, throw all caution to the wind and pretend your Donald Trump cracking it big in the real estate game (that’s before he went bankrupt and re-built his empire).


Peter said...

I remember eating at the Flower Drum in the late 80's/early 90's and even then it was considered expensive. A definite treat in Cantonese food.

Just a note about taking photos in restaurants. Just tell them its your birthday and that you wanted to remember all the food that you ate!!! It works for me.
Nice write up Ali.

IronEaters said...

" know the mysterious force that keeps dragging the notes out of your wallet and you’re not sure where they’re going? " I totally understand tt!! *sigh* LAtely, I feel like this too! Anyway, back to Flower Drum. Nice review and the food all sound yummy. Btw, did u guys book in advance? as I heard u have to book at least months before? is that true?

Ali-K said...

Peter, thanks for your comments, I really enjoy comparing our eating experiences in Melbourne and Sydney now that we've switched places.

Ironeaters, we didn't book in advance however a) it was a Wednesday b) We lobbed in about 8.30 pm (on a Wednesday) and c) we did have to go away and wait about 20 minutes. That was fun 'cause I was able to scare my out of town friends by taking them to the Croft Institute for a drink.