Victor Liong once said, “The Chinese pantry is only ever going to be ginger, spring onion, coriander and whatever’s around.” “You could ginger and shallot a shoe, you know” he said. Maybe so. But as Liong (the founding chef at Lee Ho Fook in Melbourne) notes today, to be a gamechanger, you must disrupt the status quo so it creates another game. And if Flinders Lane is the epicentre for all things iconically Melbourne, then Lee Ho Fook – just a stone throw away on Duckboard Place – is a modern Chinese diner with a sure sense of identity.
In fact, Liong was completely averse to designing his restaurant in the typical Melbourne fashion; concreted floors, blond wood. “I wanted carpet, I wanted dark wood and I didn’t want the customers to see the kitchen at all,” he says with a smile. Like all good things, the diner and its dishes took a few iterations to get its zest right. “We’ve finally transitioned from creating for the sake of art to finding our own little niche,” explains Liong. “Like any kind of musical artist, with the first album all the creativity angst is in one spot and then it just spews out onto a medium. From here it gets cut and re-cut and sampled. You realise that you can put an idea onto a shelf and you can come back to it. Every time you look at it, you’ve got a fresher lens, you’ve experienced a few things and you refine it. And that’s what we did.”
“At the start, we created a massive repertoire and watched how the customer reacted to a certain produce or grower,” he continued, pointing to his European and fine-dining training as inspiration to his Chinese cuisine.
Today Liong is pairing his restaurant’s desserts with a Nespresso coffee; a chocolate mignardises with miso and cherry (“Chocolate and coffee is a very classic combination but to have it all together, it kind of tastes like a black forest”), a Jasmine tea custard with burnt caramel (“Having something creamy like a custard with burnt caramel which is quite bitter will play off well with the coffee”) and a pumpkin seed ice cream with pumpkin jam, kombu and cocoa (“All of those things – nutty, toasty, salty, a little bit bitter, chocolaty – is how you’d describe coffee anyway, right?”).
While Liong serves his customers coffee using Nespresso Professional – at home he uses the Nespresso Vertuo, a revolutionary coffee machine with a new process which involves extracting high quality coffee at the touch of a button. The Vertuo allows for a diverse variety of cup sizes, from espresso to a large mug, for coffee lovers to enjoy their favourite drink, any way they like. “The ability to experience different coffees at different times of the day and in different formats and in different settings is really cool,” says Liong. “And Melbourne is definitely the city for that.”
Creative Direction: Dané Stojanovic
Videography: Mitch Payne
Makeup: Mae Taylor