Lee Ho Fook Doing Warren Proud
"I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand..." I remember recording the cryptic song "Werewolves of London" from the radio to my tape player. Warren Zevon (died too young, tonnes of charisma) wore a tight suit and tie with nerdy specs and sported long straggly hair and sideburns in the clip, his imagery bold and eclectic. Not out of place on Smith St.
Lee Ho Fook is adventurous and bold restaurant and offers simply delicious cuisine without over finesse, the name based on the Warren Zevon hit of yesteryear. This is a restaurant that deserves to be hatted offering funky new style Chinese. Victor Liong (ex Marque and Mr Wong) has the place singing and the rave reviews have deservedly ensued since its opening. My wife and I ventured here on a date night, she the Personal Trainer who loves healthy food and me the pork belly tragic. Lee Ho Fook pleases both of these tastes. Surprisingly it was the healthier side of the menu that captivated this pork belly tragic.
"He was looking for a place called Lee Ho Fooks..." Yes we were - the signage isn't obvious and this restaurant is a hidden gem in the street. If I can also say we were looking for a place called Lee Ho Fook's in the sense of something adventurous in the Chinese cuisine sphere.... Lee Ho Fook offers a modern take on Chinese cuisine, something unique in our city. Having enjoyed Chinese food most of my life, this cuisine is a far cry from the favourites that we have identified with over the years. No honey chicken or beef and black bean sauce here. This is traditional Chinese cuisine with technique and a modern twist.
For me it's about nuances. Lee Ho Fook holds key ingredients as the hero with subtleties in texture and flavour (unlike some Chinese restaurants that hit you in the face with bold flavours without subtlety). And not a dumpling in sight (or indeed the beef chow mein referenced in the song).
"I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada..." An innovative drinks list at Lee Ho Fook brings added appeal. Not a pina colada, but the 500ml of Tsingtao Chinese long neck beer hit the spot on a warm night, as did my wife's order of Lucky Duck local apple cider from the Yarra Valley. A large carafe of sparkling water for only $5 was an excellent score on a hot night.
The Silken Tofu was a masterstroke of simplicity yet wonderful combination of flavours and textures. It was a dish I ordered to please my PT wife but ended up glad I did. The tofu was high class and like velvet in your mouth. The accompanying sauce had a delightful kick to match. And the avocado was a suitable creamy accompaniment to the silky tofu. Crunch was added with the shallots and nuance of herb. So simple yet convincing. As Warren would exclaim, "Aaoooooo!"
Lee Ho Fook has a killer fit out. Like the food it's not overdone but is chic featuring artistic walls with brooding cloudy paintwork.
"If you hear him howling around your kitchen door..." Another showstopper (that will get you howling) is the Crispy eggplant with spiced red vinegar. Once you start to eat this, you wish you'd ordered another plate of this sticky goodness. You are lured in to the sweetness of the dish like the Sirens of the Sea, until you realise the heat of the Sichuan spices has you in its grip. Such a pleasure.
Lee Ho Fook has resounding signature dishes and on a hot night the Steamed barramundi was a temptation. However we were compelled to order the special of Crispy pork hock, enough meat for about three people, to be shared between us for $60. This dish was served with thin pancakes and hoi sin sauce, along with pickled cabbage. We enjoy participative dishes where you have to do something - in this case put together your pork pancakes.
The pork lived up to its name, super crispy skin and tender inside. We were keen to try the Lee Ho Fook fried rice but were talked out of it by the waitress - there were already enough accompaniments with the pork.
Check it out in all its glory...
The pickled cabbage was a treat in itself. My only problem is how much hoi sin sauce to put on the pancake? Load up or smeer? I made the mistake of loading up on hoi sin sauce, just because I love it so much, possibly to the deteriment of the dish. Still this dish was rewarding. We enjoyed the pork with a red from Denmark WA (the La Violetta YÉ-YÉ Syrah, spÄtburgunder, muskat-silvaner of course), while my wife enjoyed another cider.
As I gazed out the window I saw a dude on Smith St dressed as an elf and thought I was on the set of a Warren Zevon song clip... By the way little known is that Mick Fleetwood and John McVie both play on Werewolves of London, hipsters that would also not look out of place on Smith St.
Front of House Evelyn Liong was engaging and happy to encourage us into experimentation and new frontiers. Tofu and eggplant are not normally on our radar.
We intended dessert but it was the huge serving of Crispy pork that undid us for any further consumption. Satisfied we were, with a half hour walk around Collingwood necessary after such a large meal.
Lee Ho fook impressed with its Asian modern cuisne, fine service and chic ambience. The restaurant fits the Smith St scene perfectly and is a keeper for The World Loves Melbourne.
Aaoooooo! Warren Zevon and werewolves would approve...