All sewn up – Seamstress

Seamstress Restaurant & Bar
113 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne  VIC  3000
03 9663 6363
Open: Lunch  Mon – Fri  12-3pm; 
Dinner  Mon – Thu  6 – 9:30pm; Fri – Sat  5:30 – 10pm

Have you ever visited the strip of Lonsdale Street between Exhibition and Russell?  It is a dearth of urban sophistication – there’s not really a lot around here.  I mean you can’t call the Golden Nugget Gaming Lounge or an outpost of the Central Queensland University outposts of high culture.

However, there is a great little restaurant here, sitting amongst the metropolitan miscellany, that is a great destination for delicious food, wine and cocktails – Seamstress Restaurant & Bar.

Originally opening in 2007, it has been offering exceptional modern Asian food and fabulous cocktails to an astute and selective public for over 4 years.  Unbelievably, in 2010 it had to shut its doors – and there was a real danger that the restaurant would have to call it a day – but thankfully it reopened under new directorship within days and appears to be doing well.  It would have been a great loss to the Melbourne dining scene if the closure had been permanent.  It is well worth taking a detour from the usual dining precincts of Flinders Lane and Bourke / Little Bourke to check out the offerings this fabulous restaurant has to offer.

Seamstress is made up of three levels – the ground floor is the kitchen, the first floor is the restaurant, and on the top you’ll find the award winning bar – Sweatshop.  It is a 100 year old building full of history. For the majority of that hundred years it was a textile factory (hence the name of the restaurant), and at one time it was also a buddhist monastery – probably due to it’s proximity to Chinatown.  The building backs onto the Chinese Museum on Cohen Place – but it shares more with the neighbourhood than cobbled alleyways – delivering an array of mouthwateringly beautiful Cantonese and Malay food with a modern twist.

The inside of the restaurant has a beautiful ambience – with swathes of material lit from above, softening the ceiling.  This results in a lovely atmospheric mood, and there’s a spirited buzz in the room from happy punters enjoying the food.  It is decorated throughout with some creative sewing and textile features that engender an engaging and quirky style, never overdone or kitsch, but tastefully mounted throughout the building. Make sure you check out the huge thread spools on the way up the rickety stairs.

The other thing I love about this place is, aside from having a great menu to choose from, you can order the dishes in three different sizes – small, medium or large. This means you can have anything on the menu your heart desires for entrée or main – because all you have to do is order the appropriate size! On top of that – the front of house staff here are great, and they will tailor the size of any of the dishes to your group size – you just need to tell them how many will be partaking. A fantastic way to make sure you get a taste of everything!

One thing that both the restaurant and the bar have quite the reputation for is great cocktails.  So, it was important that I sampled the wares…

The Tri-fecta

Mmmmm…. yummy!  Polish vodka, fresh lime, sugar and elderflower cordial shaken with cucumber and mint. So good – and a great foil for our first courses….

Pan seared scallops

My first course, was a small serve of the pan seared wild harvest scallops stuffed with house XO paste, chili &  fresh lime. They were divine, although could have been a little warmer. They were gorgeous – perhaps erring on the side of undercooked, but I would prefer them this way than the alternative.  They were large and tender – proving to me that we can get good scallops in Melbourne, and we shouldn’t be accepting anything less. The seasoning was actually quite mild – not chili hot at all. And I quite liked the sauteed greens they were sitting on – perhaps lettuce (which is surprisingly good when cooked).

Twice cooked five spice quail

Andrew opted for a small serve of the the twice cooked five spice quail with a salad of fresh garden herbs, julienne cucumber  & pickled pink ginger.  This was the dish of the night – the quail was tender and juicy, and there was lots of meat – ‘cos let’s face it – these birds come well endowed in a Dolly Parton sort of way.  The accompanying salad was the most brilliant complement for the bird – it packed a wallop of flavour with vietnamese mint, julienne shreds of cucumber and pickled pink ginger. Together with the seasoned quail it was divine.  Next time we would order a large!!!

Onto main dishes… I was torn between the duck and the slow cooked pork neck, but given Andrew was definitely ordering the pork belly – we thought two lots of pork might be too much, so I opted for the duck.

Plum sauce glazed duck

This is a medium serve of the plum sauce glazed roast duck with sweet pickled candy lemon zest, jasmine rice, and orange jus. Just divine – the duck was tender, succulent and juicy, and I loved the candied lemon zest which gave it a sweet lemony edge. Lovely.

12-hour braised Berkshire pork belly

We ordered a large serve of the pork belly, because I wanted to make sure I got a piece, and didn’t want to deprive Andrew! This pork has been braised for 12 hours – so it was tender and unctuous, with lovely layers of delicate fall apart meat and soft, yielding fat (I know – how can something so wrong be so right???).  It was accompanied by drunken potatoes (which were amazingly soft, tender and juicy with chinese wine and delicate soy sauce), steamed baby bok choy, and red wine jus. Really wonderful flavours that worked so well together.

The only glitch throughout the whole night was that our cutlery didn’t seem sharp enough – I know – that’s a truly weird thing. We found ourselves sawing through our meat dishes a bit – but once we put it into our mouth, it actually wasn’t tough – so the only thing I can put it down to is the fact that the cutlery must be a bit blunt. Perhaps an upgrade might be in order.

On the whole – we had a fantastic dining experience.  The service was brilliant – Amanda being a particular standout because she provides personable, flexible service and a brilliant attitude.  She’s great at remembering faces and is entirely focused on providing you with the best dining experience possible. She will happily customise your meal sizes and offer advice to ensure you have a great evening.  And the service is fast – at least it was for us on the night we dined – having 2 courses in just over an hour. This makes it a great option if you’re looking for a quick bite – and given that it’s less than 200m from Her Majesty’s Theatre – could be the right choice for a brilliant and flavourful pre-theatre meal (especially on a Friday or Saturday night when they open at 5:30pm).

Seamstress is a fantastic restaurant – with great food and service. I highly recommend it – I know it’s a little off the beaten track – but that makes it a great find in this city where secret and idiosyncratic dining locations seem to be the norm!  Take the journey, you won’t regret it – and you might just find yourself with a new favourite up your sleeve.

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