It was reported in the papers that due to the financial crisis, stockbrokers were cutting back their expenses and not taking their clients to Flower Drum for lunches. Business at Flower Drum has since dropped dramatically. I guess that was either good for us since we got even more attentive service, or it was bad in that they increased the prices to cover for the drop in business.
I had never been to Flower Drum before and have always wanted to go just to see what the "best" (previously anyway) restaurant in Melbourne was like. So after some discussions with my work mates, Keiran, John, Esther and Jessie also decided to join me for the meal.
We arrived at Market Lane and walked through the large red and gold (good feng shui) wooden door. A waiter helped guide us into the elevator and pressed the button up to the next level and wished us a good meal. Once upstairs, we were greeted by two waitresses who checked my name off the bookings list and a waiter led us to our table.
The decor was typical of many Cantonese restaurants. The walls were painted red with wooden railings and Chinese artwork adorning the walls. It had a slightly gloomy feel due to the lack of windows I think. I liked the spaciousness of it, with tables set quite far apart. The one thing that did strike me the most was the number of wait staff. They were like bees swarming around everywhere. It looked really busy and slightly chaotic.
We ordered drinks while browsing through the menu. The menu is again typical of most Cantonese restaurants. Since most of us hadn't been here before, we wanted to try their signature dishes as a variety of things. In the end, we all agreed on the banquet, with a bit of pressure on Keiran to follow suit. Our main waiter Paul heard our discussions and said to Keiran "do you want the banquet or bankruptcy". Keiran said he definitely didn't want bankruptcy. The waiter then said "have the banquet first and worry about bankruptcy later". By the end of the meal though, Keiran was really glad we got the banquet.
The banquet for $158 started off with Flower Drum's signature entree as explained by Paul. It was a Mud Crab Meat Baked With Cheese. The copious amounts of mud crab meat was mixed with onions and other vegetables and baked in the shell with cheese. The cheese flavour wasn't overpowering at all and the crab meat shone through still. I'm not much of a fan of cheese baked on anything besides a burger, but this dish really worked for me.
The second entree was a San Choi Bao. I was thinking this is fairly standard fare, but I was to be surprised. The quail meat used lifted this dish above the norm. Again Paul encouraged us to use our fingers for this dish and roll the lettuce up and eat it all in large bites. We made a mess but the dish was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
The third entree was Fried South Australia King George Whiting. I forgot to take a photo but imagine two large fillets of fish in a very light batter fried to a beautiful golden brown. The fish sat alone on the plate, with dipping container of salt and pepper or lemon as the only accompanyment. Again, the freshness of the fish was on full display and it worked.
Halfway through the meal and our iced water, tea and wine glasses had been refilled so many times that it was like an unending supply. I didn't mind this type of service and didn't feel it was that intrusive. When the staff filled the glasses, they always took it off the table and took a step back so you could still continue your conversation without trying to peer around them. Service here is definitely a trademark as everyone had told me. When you walk away from the table, they fold your napkins and help tuck you back into your chairs.
With our bellies filled with entrees and wine, we were already more than half full. Then the first main course came out. This was what I had been waiting for all night. It was time for Peking Duck. As Matt Preston had wrote, this was the best Peking Duck in town. A trolley containing the duck on a plate and the pancakes in a steamer rolled out to little fanfare. Our waiter Paul then proceeded to roll each pancake with the assistance of a couple of other waiters. When all 5 rolls were ready, our dishes were served together by two waiters, like the rest of the night.
The peking duck was the highlight of the night for me. The crispy skin on the duck was married with pickled vegetables and an indulgent sauce and all enveloped in the best flour pancake I've tried. When the roll was dipped in the hoi sin on the plate, this was perfection. When the waiter saw Jessie peeling away the skin (*gasp in horror*), he asked her if she wanted the skin. She said no so the next one he made had no skin for her and double skin for me (*yippeeee*). How do you make a Flower Drum Peking Duck better, double the amount of duck skin in each roll.
Our next mains was Lobster with Noodles. The lobster was extremely fresh and the meat still very "springy" and flavoursome. Combined with the noodles enriched with the juices of the lobster, this was again a classic dish done better than at other restaurants. No heavily fried lobster pieces with decayin flesh here.
Finally, our last mains, and where a horrific tragedy occurred was the Eye Fillet Steak with Sichuan Sauce. The steak was oh so tender and melted in your mouth. The sauce had a slight kick to it like an amped up version of a sweet chilli sauce. It was delicious, but the tragedy was that I was so full that I gave away half my steak, yes half, to Keiran. John also gave half his steak to Keiran, who happily ate away at what he thought was the "best steak I've eaten ever". I was amazed that Esther and Jessie were able to finish their steaks.
With my belly at a maximum elevation, when the sculptural fruit platter came around, I found more space for it. There were many fruits, including rambutan, watermelon, paw paw, mango, strawberry, honeydew melon, rockmelon, nashi, apple, pineapple and grapes. Everything was so ripe and sweet, even the strawberries and the pineapple, which are notorious for having no flavour and being really sour.
Last but not least, there were almond biscuits. I didn't care much for them as I found them too dry but Jessie liked them.
I have to say that my expectations for this restaurant was extremely high after waiting for two months to dine here. I'm happy to say that it met my expectations and surprised me. Maybe it's because I eat so much Chinese and in particular Cantonese food that I've become too cynical about it. So many places do it such injustice by using inferior quality ingredients or bastardising it by adapting it to Western tastes. I was surprised that although nothing we ate that night was novel, it was all executed flawlessly and made very tasty by using good ingredients.
Service wise, I've already mentioned that I liked the efficient service. We had so many waiters serve us throughout the night I lost count. The gentlemen wearing the coats were usually more senior and probably the senior staff in rank as well. They were very funny, especially our main waiter Paul, and chatted cordially with us throughout the night, making us feel very relaxed.
The ambience in there was also surprisingly good. It was quite raucous, which I didn't expect. I thought it would all be hush hush since it's a fancy restaurant, but that wasn't the case.
All in all, I had a wonderful meal and would go back for sure. Just not too soon as the damage on the wallet was quite substantial.
Overall Rating: 18/20, A fantastic dining experience with great food and service.
Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.