147 Johnston Street
Collingwood, VIC 3066
03 9090 7878
Mr Frenchman texted me one day “who’s Fatbee?”, which made it obvious that we had not caught up for ages. So I rectified things by organising this ‘meet the Fatbee’ dinner.
As for where… after Mr Frenchman had guided me into Dolan Uyghur Food Heaven (such a wonderful meal), I was happy to tag along with any recommendations by him. He immediately suggested Shu.
So that’s how we caught up in this rather unusual modern Sichuanese restaurant in Collingwood, complete with see-through seats, dungeon-y chains hanging from the ceiling, and psychedelic neon lighting that continuously weaves into different colours. Trust the French to love these quirky little places!
As I marvelled at the unusual (fluorescent orange) chopstick holders and poured water into my glass beaker, I got to say hello to the owner and chef – “Shu”. Mr Frenchman forewarned him that I was going to snap photos. Arrgh… so much for going ‘incognito’.
I listened with interest to Shu’s philosophy of reinventing Sichuan cuisine with local, sustainable and in-season produce. And discovered that there isn’t any menu in this restaurant… instead, the food comes as a banquet of share plates over a few courses, featuring between 9 to 12 dishes. It’s $60 for the non vegan menu and $45 for the vegan menu, just specify your food preferences and any allergies when you’re ordering.
Daikon rolles of fresh raw veggies, chilli infused soy
Organic beef dumplings with pickled chilli relish
Flathead and spiced fennel puree wrapped in crispy fried spring rolls. Jalapeño jam.
We embarked on our first course starting with a crunchy vegan roll of raw fresh veggies wrapped with daikon. Next to it were pan fried beef dumplings that had a delightfully soft, gentle and refined filling inside. And on the right, we munched into spring rolls stuffed with flathead and fennel puree.
I’ll have to say that all these dishes were definitely quite different to the smack-in-the-face strong and spicy Sichuan dishes that I’m normally used to. As expected, they were more refined, clean, delicate and modernised.
Grilled king oyster mushroom on spicy pumpkin puree and Chinese chive
Chilled silken tofu cup. Seaweed, mungbeans, housemade chilli jam
Pan grilled honey soy organic chicken wings with sesame and chilli flakes
The next course consisted of grilled King oyster mushrooms with pumpkin puree, and on the right, a piece of grilled chicken wingette. They were both okay.
Of more interest was the item in the middle, which consisted of chilled silken tofu in a cup with seaweed, sprouts, beans, nuts and chilli sauce. You’re meant to stir it all up with chopsticks and enjoy it all mushied up. I liked how clean and refreshing this tofu ‘salad-in-a-cup’ was.
Pan grilled eggplant stuffed with preserved mustard green and roasted almonds
Chilled sweet potato noodles tossed with fennel, celery and roasted nuts in Sichuan pepper-infused soy
Beef brisket slow cooked in five spice broth topped with fresh chilli and coriander
Our third course consisted of slightly ‘beefier’ offerings. First up, we had succulent pieces of grilled eggplant stuffed with salted vegetables… it reminded me a little of eggplant antipasti. Next, we had a nice and spicy offering of chilled sweet potato noodles… I liked how it had a decent amount of Sichuan peppercorns in it. Good spicy kick! The beef brisket was also enjoyable in that it was pretty flavoursome without being overpowering (or oversalted) the way that Sichuan dishes can be sometimes.
Conversation went louder and deeper into the night as more and more glasses of wine were refilled. On this note, I’d also like to apologise for the not-so-fab food pictures. It is pretty challenging trying to white balance food dishes in this lighting, especially when it continuously changes its hue every few seconds.
But I’ll have to say that even if I found the decor weird and unusual at the start (with see-through chairs et. al.), it does grow on you eventually… not to mention there were moments where I thought I was in Shanghai rather than Melbourne. And that’s a good thing.
Organic chicken stir fried with garden veggies in chilli bean paste.
Rockling fillets poached in chilli and ginger broth
Crispy fried Dutch Cream potatoes with fresh chilli and cumin
Course number four consisted of the main dishes. First up, a long stretch of tasty stir-fried organic chicken with veggies… no complaints there. And as accompaniment, we enjoyed a platter of crisp fried potatoes with a dusting of chilli and cumin.
The rockling fillets in chilli broth was quite reminiscent of the equivalent dish at Sichuan places where fish pieces are served swimming in a scary sea of dried red chillies and chilli oil. But at Shu, the flavoursome chilli and ginger broth here wasn’t made of oil, it’s actually a lighter, more drinkable soup. Pretty neat!
Avocado & Coconut Oil Cake $8
Even though we were pretty full, we decided to end the meal with a shared serve of avocado and coconut oil cake with raspberries, white chocolate and carob.
This was probably one of the more unusual Chinese meals that I’ve had in awhile. The flavours aren’t fusionised into unacceptable territory, instead it was more delicate and ‘light’ for Sichuanese cuisine. It’s certainly pretty different from my experience with the knock-your-socks-off saltiness and ham-fisted spiciness that you’d often get at regular Sichuan places.
The ambience was also pretty atmospheric, perhaps leading you into knowing that you’re in for a somewhat different dining experience. But all the same, dining here actually made me crave for another Sichuan session, but this time in the dingy territories of spicy-oily-salty Sichuanese street food that I’ve come to love eating. I’m a bit of a heartlander like that… heh heh…!