Lucy Liu

December 3, 2014

23 Oliver Lane, Melbourne

A couple of weeks ago, I had a fun little date night out with my mum. We heard Yotam Ottolenghi talk at a Wheeler Centre event (love that man, so intelligent and witty), and then treated ourselves to a girls’ dinner at hot new restaurant, Lucy Liu. Previously French bistro PM24, which I have written about previously and loved, the same space has taken on an entirely different feel. With a colour scheme of black and red, a huge bar at one end, and a beautifully designed ceiling and northern wall made entirely from pale blonde slats of wood, the place is bitching. They’ve even put in a new door along Oliver Lane to get that “laneway cool” vibe that many other restaurants, such as Coda, Tonka and Chin Chin, have going for them.


The trendy upgrade in interior design is matched by a trendy upgrade in clientele. Where PM24 was largely populated by business people, Lucy Liu is largely populated by achingly beautiful people with great hair. Man, I’m a sucker for good hair. Admittedly, mum and I were disappointed to see a number of girls in sequinned, tight dresses “just having a drink” while the rest of the table had dinner. Maybe it’s just me, but that left me feeling disappointed and a tad mad, because I hate to think that Melbourne is the kind of place where restaurants exist just so that people can go there to be seen, not to enjoy food and company. On the other hand, that is the vibe Lucy Liu is putting out, and it didn’t stop us from enjoying our meal, so perhaps I should quit with the judgment.


Normally, a place that is so hip and trendy that people go there not to eat, but just to look good, is not my kind of place. Normally, I would go there, be dissatisfied with the meal, and write up a huffily worded and angry review later. But actually, the food at Lucy Liu was really good, mum and I had a wonderful time chatting about all sorts of things, and while the service could be improved (it was very difficult to get anyone’s attention, let alone have the correct dish delivered to our table), all-in-all it was a fun dinner out.


We began with some cocktails: myself, a deliciously refreshing lychee martini; mum, a non-alcoholic glass of ginger beer jazzed up with mint, lime and passionfruit. The menu at Lucy Liu is very large and covers a wide range of Asian cuisines. I’d say the food is predominantly Chinese, but Thai, Japanese and Korean also make appearances. We began with a delicious little plate of Kingfish sashimi with green chilli, hot mint and toasted coconut. I never knew that hot mint existed but it is HOT. This was the perfect little spicy starter to get our tastebuds ready for the following dishes.

I should say, as an aside, that the pair of ladies at the table next to us ordered the rare breed sticky pork belly, which we were tempted to get, and I am telling you now that at $20 for two tiny pieces it is a rip-off of the highest order. Avoid if you can.


Seriously delicious, and the predictable winner from the evening were the crispy pork buns with spicy kimchi and kewpie mayo. Kimchi and kewpie, the bro-est, coolest condiments of 2014, made a fantastic combination. A little cucumber pickle topped things off nicely. I would very happily have had the pair all by myself.


Also good, and my surprise favourite from the evening, were the barramundi and scampi dumplings with chilli, ginger and spring onions. Don’t get me wrong, the dish sounded delicious on the menu, but being such a fan of Shanghai Street and HuTong as I am, I was skeptical of the dumpling prowess at Lucy Liu. Let me tell you, these silky, slippery babies were awesome, with a beautifully light filling. Lucy’s dumpling game is tight!


From the mains section of the menu, we shared the crispy fried Szechuan duck with watercress, water chestnuts, and a tamarind and sesame dressing. To be fair, maybe I should have known not to order Chinese-style duck from a place that’s not A) in Boxhill, or B) called Old Kingdom. This was nice, it was tasty, I’m not sure what the Szechuan element was, but it certainly didn’t compare to other Peking style duck I’ve had. Having said that, I loved the tamarind and sesame dressing, it worked so well with the duck.


To accompany the duck, we had a green papaya salad with beans, tomato, peanuts, dried shrimp and hot chilli. This was pretty good, I could taste all the requisite sweet/sour/salty/spicy elements, but having eaten the same dish at Jinda Thai a week earlier, Lucy’s version didn’t quite hit that som tum sweet spot for me.


All up, a fine meal at Lucy Liu! I’m not going to speculate on why the owners named their restaurant after the actress (there are claims that there is no causal relationship between the two, but in the wise words of the author of XKCD, correlation doesn’t imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively while mouthing the words “look over there!”). I suppose if I had to describe the restaurant in one sentence, I’d say “think of Chin Chin, then replicate”. The price point is similar, the Pan-Asian food is similar, the too-cool vibe is similar, the laneway entrance is similar. The food, I would say, is better at Lucy Liu, and they take bookings which is not only a gift from the Gods, but assurance that you won’t be drunk by the time you finally sit down to eat. I think on that basis alone, I’m prepared to put it ahead of the double chin down the street. So while there will probably be a table of dieters next to you, I’d recommend it for a dark and sexy night out.


Lucy Liu Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

Filed under: Asian, Chinese, Melbourne CBD, Thai