In the heart of Melbourne’s CBD on Market Lane, you’ll see a slightly worn sign on the side of a building with the words Flower Drum. For first-timers, it looks like any other Asian restaurant, but for those who have dined there before, the understated red sign is a beacon to some of the best Cantonese food in Australia.
Gilbert Lau opened Flower Drum in Melbourne’s iconic Chinatown in 1975, naming the venue after a Chinese dance meaning elegance and beauty. The restaurant quickly gained attention for creative Cantonese – a completely new dining experience for Australia. With this fast rise in popularity, Flower Drum soon moved to its current location in Market Lane, where Hong Kong–born, Anthony Lui, took on the position of Executive Chef.
The menu at Flower Drum showcases traditional Cantonese food, transforming dishes with subtle hints of modern Australian flavours. The savvy waiters recommend the six-course signature banquet, but should you choose to navigate the menu on your own, there are plenty of exciting and intriguing options.
After starting with some Jiaozi, a Shanghai-style dumpling, try the Crispy Garlic Ribs or Stuffed Boneless Garfish. Anthony praises the fresh, local produce available in Australia, and this appreciation is evident throughout the menu. The seafood selection is broad, including crayfish, coral trout, blue cod and prawns – the latter inspiring one of the Flower Drum’s signature dishes: King Prawns in a Mandarin Sauce.
For something a little more modern, the Lamb Pockets are something you won’t find in a traditional dumpling house. Yeringberg Lamb is sautéed in leek, ginger and garlic, and served in a sesame bread pocket. It’s such a simple yet strong flavour combination that you’ll find yourself ordering more as you soon as you’ve finished the first round.
If you’ve saved some room, the Flower Drum puts a Melbourne twist on traditional Chinese desserts. There is, of course, a classic Banana Fritter. The Peking Apple Toffee is another customer favourite, but for true decadence in both price and taste, the Bird’s Nest Almond Soup is a must-try. This dish is so extravagant it was once only served to Chinese royalty.
It is easy to feel regal here. The red carpets and white table settings give an elegant Hong Kong vibe, while the big dining room feels spacious, yet intimate. One of the biggest attractions are the waiters, famous for their impeccable table service and witty charm.
The waiting list for a reservation speaks volumes: Flower Drum is a Melbourne classic known and loved by both locals and food-connoisseur travellers. Open for almost five decades and continuing to add hats to its stand, this restaurant is a legend of the industry, offering amazing food and service on every visit and a reputation to match.