Monday, 4 August 2014

Madame Wu - fine dining Chinese - take two

Fine dining Chinese.  Take a moment to get your head around that statement.  Ever since learning that one of Melbourne's finest restaurants over the last ten years was a fine dining Chinese restaurant, I've thought that it would be a great idea. I've never been to the Flower Drum in Melbourne but I've always wanted to get in and check out the Melbourne three hatted restaurant.  Every time I've been in Melbourne, its been booked out on the nights that I've wanted to go (note to self - plan better for August trip).

I thought we were on to a winner a few years ago when Zen Central opened its doors on the site of the old Rugby Club in the Eagle Street precinct.  Touted as Brisbane's only premium Chinese restaurant, it was to be our Flower Drum equivalent.  Quoting from one review "Its master chefs, direct from Asia, us only the freshest ingredients and first class produce to create delicate dishes..."  I have to say, Zen Central didn't last too long, in fact, it was closed before I could even get in to check it out, but SC did manage to get in there with some work colleagues and her response was a very loud 'Meh'.  Over priced and quality that was reportedly not much better than you're average Valley Chinese, the fine dining Chinese cuisine dream was over before it began.

Intriguing then that only a few short years later I received a cryptic email one day stating that Madame Wu was coming.  It was not a lot of information, but slowly over a couple of months, I was drip fed details and managed to hear rumours that a new attempt at Chinese fine dining was on its way.  I was pretty excited but a little apprehensive that someone was brave enough to have another crack at a concept that had failed in recent memory - and in almost the same location.  I got my first taste of Madame Wu at the formal opening a couple of weeks ago and I have to say that I was impressed, so impressed in fact, I came back to have a full meal as quickly as I could.

The old Zen Central was in the failed Rugby Club and Madame Wu had also chosen a location vacated by a failed restaurant, this time where one time Brisbane favourite Siana was located.  Walking up the stairs for the first time, I was not sure what to expect but coming back for a return visit with SC, I was much more prepared for the amazing fit out inside the restaurant.  They have spent some coin at Madame Wu's, of that there is no doubt, and the area continues to transform by easily matching another recent and quite magical transformation at Black Bird (see post here).  The first thing you notice, after the plush fit out, is the striking cement tree ensconced in a glass box that is a centre piece of the dining area.  It's quite beautiful, especially with the purple haze that highlights the tree and helps it stand out, which is impressive given how beautiful the rest of the dining area looks.

We'd come across to Madame Wu on a Sunday night, which had surprised us that the dining room was open but unsurprisingly, it was pretty quiet.  We were asked if we wanted to sit outside or in but given that it was a very cold and slightly rainy night, inside seemed the better option....  Plus, it gave us more of an opportunity to look around the restaurant and marvel at the wonderful concrete tree centrepiece. I'd immediately gone to check out the bathrooms (also very special) and by the time I'd returned, the menus were on the table and SC already had one of the many great looking cocktails on the table.

Looking over the menu, there was no doubt that we'd arrived at a premium and fine dining establishment, with the list of ingredients showcasing quite high end cuisine.  There were the usual suspects on the menu, dumplings, poultry, seafood, beef and pork as well as a couple of banquets that looked incredible, but at $60 and $80 per person, probably at the high end of what we wanted to spend on a Sunday night dinner.  I'd sampled quite a few of the dishes at the opening party, but each was bite sized and I was looking forward to enjoying the full experience and between us and when the waiter came over to take our order, we listed out a heap of delicious looking options.

We started off with the Moreton Bay bug dumplings with xo sauce and lime, which came presented in the traditional bamboo container and were quite lovely to look at.  As good as they looked, they tasted better, much better.  The four fat dumplings were stuffed full of fresh and delicate bug meat with the think dumpling pastry just providing a little bit of texture.  There was a little bit of heat in the xo sauce and the touch of lime helped the bug flavour pop.  

As much as we loved the bug dumplings, the pan fried scallop dumplings with verjus butter and black tobiko were from another planet.  Presented in quite an unusual way, the dumplings were panfried flat and covered in lashings of the verjus butter and topped off with the black tobiko (a type of fish roe). The dumplings were stunning, with the subtle scallops working in perfect harmony with the caramelised pastry, sweet butter sauce and the salty roe.  The were so good, they would be worth visiting for on their own!

The last of our starters were the tang sui chicken ribs, which were deep fried and then coated in a sticky and wonderfully sweet sauce.  Each of the chicken ribs were perfectly cooked and still moist and full of delicious flesh.  The best part of the ribs were the crunchy golden coating that tasted beautiful and were completely more-ish, in fact, we could have again had a big bowl of these little wonders and been completely satisfied.

There were a lot of great looking options for our main and under different circumstances, a banquet would have been the way to go, but we needed to limit our choices to two, with the first being the roasted pork belly with coriander, peanut, chilli and fish flavoured dressing.  When we initially saw the dish, we thought that it was going to be missing a sauce, it looked a little dry.  It was a case of looks can be deceiving, with the most incredibly tender pork belly just falling apart and packing a real punch of flavour with each bite.  On top of the pork belly, the separated crackling was light, super crunchy and totally delicious.  With Asian dishes, the balance of flavours is really important and the chef completely mastered the balance with no overpowering flavours, but each clearly distinct.  

It was clear that the ingredients used at Madame Wu are of the highest quality, especially once we saw our next dish of sticky Kilcoy beef with xo sauce and steamed kai lan.  The large piece of perfectly cooked beef would not have been out of place in the finest of steak restaurants.  Cooked to a perfect medium rare, the beef was sliced into five pieces and was tender enough for us to bite through using chop sticks to hold the beef steady.  The beef was good enough to stand on it's own but the addition of the xo sauce added some wonderful sweetness to the dish, which was balanced out by the kai lan.  Our only problem was that we'd eaten so much food, it was hard to finish off the beef and the pork, try as we might!

SC was out, there was no way that she was going to be able to partake in dessert and I was nearly there too..... nearly!  I'd left just a smidge of room for something sweet and after checking in with our waiter which would be the best dessert to sample, ordered the crunchy nut cornflake with milk ice cream and strawberries.  I know what you're thinking, crunchy nut cornflakes?  Lunacy!  But it wasn't, it was genius.  The beautiful looking bowl contained some macerated and fresh strawberries mixed with micro herbs and topped with creamy ice cream and a thick piece of toast made of corn flakes.  It was a big sheet that once broken up provided some lovely texture to the smooth ice cream and fresh strawberries. It was completely refreshing and satisfying, it was so simple yet so memorable at the same time!

We were stuffed, completely stuffed.  We don't normally head out for fine dining on a Sunday night, but somehow fine dining Chinese cuisine seemed just right for a Sunday night.  It remained pretty quite the whole time we were there, which was not surprising for a Sunday evening, but it wasn't completely empty either, which is quite promising.  

Our waiter on the night was really good, very engaging and there when we needed him.  Madame Wu is a big restaurant and I could imagine on a busy Saturday night with heaps of people enjoying a stunning Chinese meal that it could get quite hectic.  While it was quite on the night we dined, the opening party had been completely hectic with people everywhere and the wait staff rushing around like crazy, even some of the bar staff were helping keep the food flowing.

There was a lot to like about our meal at Madame Wu, extremely tasty food presented in an exquisite way in a beautifully appointed restaurant.  I am a little surprised that there are now two 'fine dining' Chinese restaurants over at Eagle Street (I have not checked out the Imperial yet), especially given that Zen Central failed not too long ago and I'm not sure that the area will support both.  What I do know is that Madame Wu was a magical meal and wonderful experience in a space that just invites you back. 

It's certainly more expensive than your run of the mill Chinese restaurant and we spent about $180 on the night between the two of us, so in the end we probably could have sampled a banquet.  I'm not sure if Madame Wu will get the same reputation as Melbourne's the Flower Drum but what I do know is I'm glad it's there and I will be back soon enough.

There are plenty of seats outside for the warmer months with a great view of the Story Bridge
There are a number of private dining rooms at Madame Wu - there was a real modern Asian feel
The wonderful boxed tree made of cement is a centrepiece and highlight
Plenty of single seats around the tree
The kitchen in action
Up the steps to the old Siana and you will find Madame Wu
I just love that centre piece!
Amazing food and like most fine dining restaurants nowadays, beautiful plates and bowls
The Madam Wu special fried rice was delicious
Unlike most Chinese meals, we didn't feel hungry again an hour after we finished eating

Madame Wu on UrbanspoonMadame Wu

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