Bamboo House – Ducky buns…

Bamboo House
47 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne  VIC  3000
03 9662 1565

Ever since I went to the famous Duck Crawl as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival last year – I’ve been meaning to get back to Bamboo House.  Why? I hear you ask – After all… Bamboo House is just one of many ubiquitous Chinese Restaurants in in the three block stretch of Chinatown. Let me tell you – Bamboo House has something of a signature dish, and it is this dish, and this dish alone, that makes me want to go back.  It’s the Tea smoked duck.

It doesn’t sound terribly impressive – but because of the way it’s served – it’s pretty special. I feel like it’s a bit of a rendition of Momofuku pork buns,or the closest thing I’ve seen of them back here in Melbourne.  And we know how much we loved those pork buns!  So that’s a big call!  Before I took Andrew up there – I thought I’d better cross validate my thoughts with a preliminary visit.  Thankfully good friend S was happy to join me in that research trip, which happened a couple of weeks ago.  The duck was good!

Then, one Friday night, I offered my other half, Andrew, three options for dinner – and he picked Bamboo House.  So, off we trotted.  We got there a little early – and saw the restaurant was completely empty – so we retreated and opted to grab a cocktail from Mezzo Bar and Grill up the road – always a good idea (especially the Il Sorriso – really good).  20 minutes later we were back – and still the first ones in the restaurant – but what the heck.

Given we were having duck – the drinks were a cinch – it had to be Pinot Noir. I chose a 2009 Te Kairanga Estate pinot from the Martinborough in New Zealand for $48.  We decided to order half a duck as our entrée, then have another dish, and take it from there if we were still hungry.

Tea smoked duck

So, here it is!  The waiters come by your table and let you inspect the half duck you ordered before whisking it away to prepare it for you.  In this case, they prepared all the buns for us, whereas when I ordered a whole duck with wonderful friend S – they only prepared two of the buns, but gave us the platter with all the meat and condiments with a bunch of steamed buns so we could do the rest ourselves.

The meat is beautiful – tender and sweet, not too fatty at all, and with a gentle smoked flavour. The steamed buns are fresh, soft and sweet – and they are served with hoisin sauce and shredded spring onion.  You take a bite and you’re rewarded with unctuous meat, pillowy bread and sweet hoisin.  The combination is amazing.

However, Andrew didn’t think they were a match for the true Momofuku pork bun – in fact – he said you can’t compare them.  The pork belly is completely different to the duck… he then waxed lyrical about the ratios of the bread given the steamed buns were split unevenly, and then the ratio of bread to the duck, versus the pork..  oh my goodness… who knew he could be so passionate and precise about food!

I really liked them – I know they’re not the same – but as David Chang says when he invented the Momofuku pork bun, he was just doing what Chinese have been doing for centuries – he says in his book: They’re just our take on a pretty common Aisan food formula:  steamed bread + tasty meat = good eating. I agree….  and I would go back for the tea smoked duck… again! Mind you – it’s not cheap – it’s $69 for a whole duck, and $36 for half – but a whole duck would be a complete meal for two people.

Given we had only ordered half a duck – we ordered another dish.  Our only folly was that we completely missed the second half of the menu, which listed the Cantonese dishes (and the sweet and sour pork that Andrew so loves) – we settled on a beef dish.

Sichuan sizzling spicy beef with rice

We were really disappointed with this dish – it came out on a sizzling platter (oooh… it’s such a great sound, and we love a bit of theatre!) – but was then whisked away to be plated for us. That wasn’t the problem so much – it was that there was no heat at all in this dish, it was not spicy, and definitely did not have that “tongue tingling” characteristic that true Sichuan dishes have.  In fact, it tasted like sweet and sour beef – really weird.  So, we definitely won’t be ordering that again.

A lesson for newbies – the menu is split into two. The first half focusing on Sichuan and Peking (Northern regional) provinces, while the back half focuses on the better known Cantonese (Southern regional) cuisine. We fumbled because there’s a blank page between the two which makes it look like the end of the menu – what can I say – learn from our mistake and look through all the pages, even if you think you’ve reached the end!!

Overall, it was a pleasant evening – and we had a great time.  The service, ambience and décor is a little 80’s and clichéd – but the Tea Smoked Duck is divine and worth checking out.  Remember David Chang’s mantra:  steamed bun + tasty meat = good eating.  IMHO the tea smoked duck is very good eating.  Apparently other specialties include hand pulled noodles, pot stickers and Peking Duck – and the eggplant gets a lot of rave reviews. If you feel like a little trip down memory lane to take in some traditional Chinese food – the signature dish makes the journey worth it.

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