Update: Lee Ho Hook is now based in Melbourne’s CBD.

Every generation has its own hipster enclave. In Melbourne, the city’s laneways and the suburbs of St Kilda, Fitzroy, Carlton and Richmond have all had their turn. At the moment though: Hipsterville, thy name is Smith Street, Collingwood. To celebrate dear friend Pucci Girl’s birthday, we headed to Smith Street earlyish on a Saturday night and Lee Ho Fook where chef Victor Liong serves up his own take on Chinese food. Like most of the shopfronts along this strip, on the city’s north-east fringe, there’s a long dining room with a kitchen at the back. As is the custom these days, the restaurant has two sittings; we decided to head in for the earlier sitting with a view to kicking on somewhere else afterwards.

As such, the noise level hadn’t yet reached its full potential as we started sipping a very nice bottle of Perrier Jouet. We could even hear some of the music which, unsurprisingly, featured a fair smattering of 70s classics. Greedy Girl knew she’d heard the name ‘Lee Ho Fook’ before – Warren Zevon’s 1978 cult classic Werewolves of London. 

“I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand/Walking through the streets of Soho in the rain/He was looking for the place called Lee Ho Fook’s …”

But I digress. We were there, of course, for the food. After noting that there were no mushrooms on the banquet menu (a particular dislike for Pucci Girl), we asked for an extra dish and tucked in. First up were tea-smoked eggs. These were served very cold which was a slight shock to the system but were, nonetheless, quite tasty. The yolks were still runny and they were topped with fronds of dill and avruga ‘caviar’ (a herring roe) and served on a pool of spring onion oil.

Tea-smoked eggs

Tea-smoked eggs

Next was the chef’s take on pork buns. Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband consider themselves to be pork bun connoisseurs, having enjoyed Momofuku guru David Chang’s version many times. These were presented more like sliders, with the pork belly sandwiched between a ‘milk bun’, with fermented chilli, peanut sugar, salted cucumber and some coriander leaves. They were particularly yummy; the meat was soft and the combination of condiments was perfectly balanced. Even Greedy Girl didn’t mind the coriander.

Pork belly buns

Pork belly buns

Next up was a variation on traditional spring onion pancakes: a fried pizza base topped with spring onions and buffalo mozzarella. At first bite, the mozzarella didn’t do much for Greedy Girl but she came to appreciate its smoothness as a good foil for the spring onions. Only a few scattered onions remained on this plate.

Lamb and spring onions

Lamb and mozzarella with spring onions

We then moved to one of the dishes of the evening – the lamb tartare. This was done in ‘Xinjiang’ style (in China’s north-west) and was served with roasted capsicum, pickled fennel and some incredibly light, almost puffy potato crisps. It was absolutely delish; just the right amount of heat and a lovely moistness. Greedy Girl’s only quibble was the difficulty in separating some of the fennel out.
Lamb tartare

Very tasty lamb tartare

Next up was another revelation – crispy eggplant (pictured at the top of this blog). If all eggplant dishes were this good, Greedy Girl would have one every week. The pieces of eggplant were crisp on the outside and beautifully soft on the inside. The menu described the sauce as ‘spiced red vinegar’. It was superb. Slightly sweet with a little heat and tang. Incredibly yummy.

More veggies were next. Described as new season ‘jade’ vegetables, we were treated to some asparagus spears, snow peas, broccoli and sugar snaps dressed simply with some sesame oil. Fresh, crunchy, yummy.

New season 'jade' vegetables

New season ‘jade’ vegetables

Next was the only real disappointment of the evening, the twice-cooked free range pork belly. This was served in a red braised ‘Dong Po’ style – basically, rice wine, rock sugar and different types of soy. While some friends reported getting the odd tender piece, it was mostly pretty tough and dry. Given the pork belly we’d had earlier in the meal was uniformly melting, this was a bit of a let down.

Pork belly 'dong po' style

An unmemorable pork belly

Next up was white cut spatchcock served with Hainan-style condiments. This was a play on the traditional chicken rice. The spatchcock was tender, moist and delicious.


Spatchcock with Hainan style condiments

It was accompanied by the restaurant’s signature fried rice which worked very well with the poultry which has a rather more pronounced flavour than chicken.

The 'signature' fried rice

The ‘signature’ fried rice

 Greedy Girl tried only one of the accompanying sauces – the onion oil (pictured at the top), but there was also chilli, spring onions and English mustard.

Sauces for the spatchcock

And so to dessert. First up was creme fraiche with granita. Vinegary desserts seem to be the in-thing. Greedy Girl isn’t fond of them and found this mixture of goji berry and date vinegar granita to be a bit strong. She’s not particularly enamoured of creme fraiche either and the addition of lime and vanilla didn’t do enough to cut through. After a spoonful, it went over to gluttonous husband.

Creme fraiche with granita

What’s the deal with vinegary desserts?

Second dessert was a caramel custard. This this was a jasmine tea custard on top of a very rich and dense caramel. It was too sweet for Greedy Girl and again, gluttonous husband came to the rescue.
Jasmine tea and caramel custard

Jasmine tea and caramel custard

Several tables had already been turned over and our time was coming to a close. We enquired among ourselves as to whether anyone wanted tea or coffee. Our waitress chimed in to say they didn’t offer coffee because this was ‘a Chinese restaurant’. Greedy Girl has been to a lot of Chinese restaurants in her time and at many she’s tried in China, coffee has been available for us Western philistines. Given the use of other western ingredients throughout the dishes, the coffee comment seemed rather strange.

Anyway, Lee Ho Fook is an interesting culinary odyssey. Greedy Girl would happily go back and order a la carte to try some more of the chef’s take on Chinese. With a resume that includes stints at Sydney fine-diner Marque (a very enjoyable night out) and Mr Wong’s, Victor Liong clearly has plenty of talent and imagination.

Lee Ho Fook

11-15 Duckboard Place, Melbourne


Lee Ho Fook Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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