The essential guide to Chinatown

Published on 3 February 2021

Photo: Chinatown by night (credit: Ray Reyes for What's On Melbourne)

Melbourne is home to the southern hemisphere’s oldest Chinatown, dating back to the gold rush, but Little Bourke Street and its tributaries are no yesteryear relic.

Covering the gamut of Cantonese to Uyghur, hole-in-the-wall dumpling bars to white-linen fine-diners, Chinatown is a vibrant food destination that’s always evolving.

The latest addition? Street dining every weekend, as eight laneways across the precinct close from 11am to 11pm every Friday, Saturday and Sunday to make way for more diners.

And with Lunar New Year on the horizon, there are even more reasons to visit, with restaurants creating special menus to mark the Year of the Ox. (Beyond the streets and laneways of Chinatown proper, too, great New Year menus are being offered at the likes of Lee Ho Fook, just off Flinders Lane, and Spice Temple in Southbank.)

Here are nine of the best restaurants to get a true taste of Melbourne’s Chinatown year-round, and celebrate Chinese New Year safely and in style.

Supper Inn

So you want to eat where the chefs and hospo workers of Melbourne eat when they’ve knocked off for the night? Head up the unprepossessing staircase that leads to night owl Supper Inn. Opened in 1977 and reliably packing a late-night crowd 40 years on, the Supper Inn canon includes pippies in XO, steamed oysters in ginger and soy, and spicy fried quail. And whatever the time of day, barbecued suckling pig is always a good idea.

15-17 Celestial Ave, Melbourne, (03) 9663 4759. Open 7 days 5.30pm-2.30am

RuYi

A sleek Scandi-style fit-out from design mavens Hecker Guthrie helps RuYi stand out from the pack, as does the produce-driven pride in the mostly classic Canto dishes given a modern twist. The likes of sang choi bao and Peking duck are cut down to canapé-size, all the better to taste more of the menu, while bigger-ticket items include wagyu oyster blade lavished with a hit of truffle paste and a wealth of fungi.

16 Liverpool St, Melbourne, (03) 9090 7778, ruyi.com.au. Open Mon-Fri noon-2.30pm, 6pm-10pm; Sat 5.30pm-11pm.

ShanDong MaMa

There are few design frills, but the excellence of the dumplings overrides any aesthetic concerns at this always jumping family-run joint. Shandong-style mackerel dumplings with a lively hit of ginger are a cloud-like revelation while even non-vegans can respect the plant-based numbers stuffed with zucchini, black mushroom, rice noodles, coriander and ginger. Get ’em boiled or pan-fried; just add chilli sauce and a bottle of something great (Punchin’ Bottles is round the corner).

Shop 7-8 Mid City Arcade, 200 Bourke St, Melbourne, (03) 9650 3818, facebook.com/shandongmama. Open Mon-Sat 11am-9pm.

Rising Embers

The DIY-barbecue revolution hits Chinatown with this sizzling addition to the esteemed Dainty Sichuan empire. For best results, grab a bunch of friends and argue over who gets to wield the tongs over produce ranging from the luxe (wagyu beef and king prawns, for example) to the more quotidian delights of cumin-dusted lamb or pork chitterlings. Whichever way you swing, file Rising Embers under “fun”.

139 Little Bourke St, Melbourne, (03) 9663 7616, daintysichuanfood.com.au.Open daily noon-3pm; 6pm-late

HuTong Dumpling Bar

The chefs pleating precise xiao long bao behind glass are part-performance piece, part-visual stimulus at the flagship location of this growing restaurant empire. Beeline to HuTong for those Shanghainese soup-filled dumplings as well as Sichuan food served in the key of fire. The ma po tofu is reliably comforting, as is the scallop and eggplant claypot.

14-16 Market La Melbourne, (03) 9650 8128, hutong.com.au. Open 7 days 11.30am-3pm; 5.30pm-10.30pm

Dolan Uyghur Food Heaven

Hailing from Xinjiang province in China’s west, the Uyghurs and their cross-roads geography have given rise to a delicious cuisine that’s equal parts Central Asian and Middle Eastern. Dolan champions this fusion food in a heavenly room decked out with Silk Road-inspired artwork and perfumed by clouds of cumin-scented smoke from the kitchen. The menu is lamb-centric thanks to the Uyghurs’ mostly Muslim faith; enjoy it threaded on skewers, encased in flaky pastry or matched with the region’s hand-pulled wheat noodles.

166 Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne, (03) 9041 8802. Open 7 days 11.30am-10pm.

Flower Drum
Hailed (deservedly) as the best Cantonese restaurant in Australia, this refined institution serves impeccable versions of the classics including dim sum, roasted suckling pig and Peking duck. Chef-owner Anthony Lui has a particular love of showcasing top local seafood: think garfish fillets in silken shiitake sauce or pearl meat tossed in a wok with spring onions and garlic chives. Flower Drum is a place deserving of splash-out bookings but if you’re worried about bill shock, check out the great-value express lunch menu.

17 Market Lane, Melbourne, (03) 9662 3655, flowerdrum.melbourne. Mon-Sat noon-3pm; 6pm-11pm; Sun 6pm-10.30pm.

China Red

Melbourne’s original touch-screen restaurant is fast and furious, with added dumplings. Claim a table and strap yourself in for slippery-skinned wontons sluiced in chilli oil, fluffy pork buns and shredded turnip pastries, chased by the big guns of pippies in house XO with Chinese doughnuts for mopping duties, or fish fillets flash-fried in sizzling Sichuan oil.

Shop 6, 206 Bourke St, Melbourne, (03) 9662 3688, china-red.com.auOpen Mon-Thurs 11.30am-3pm; 5.30pm-10pm; Fri and Sat 11.30am-10.30pm; Sun 11.30am-10pm.

Shark Fin Inn

It’s classic Chinatown dining at this august stayer of the scene. As comforting as chicken and corn soup, Shark Fin Inn is replete with white linen, lazy Susans and the certainties of an excellent daily yum cha. Bargain-hunters should check out the $44 banquet menu (available for tables of four or more) that flits through the Chinese regions across nine courses.

50 Little Bourke St, Melbourne, (03) 9662 2681, sharkfin.com.au. Open Mon-Sat 11.30am-3pm; 5.30pm-1.30am; Sun 11am-3pm; 5.30pm-1.30am.

This article is presented in partnership with City of Melbourne.

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