Being greeted at the door, you would never think that this restaurant specialises in Chinese fare or that its pedigree is from the eponymous Flower Drum on Market Lane. There are no cats waving at you, Chairman Mao's face is not staring at you and most surprising, the colour red can not be found - anywhere. This is a cozy small place far removed from what you would expect in Chinatown, which is not only refreshing but it set up so that the customer is comfortable. There is a decent amount of space between tables which are not arranged like a phalanx of soldiers, but are interchanged which took some foresight.
Water was quickly poured whilst the menu was read. The wine selections are an addendum of sorts to the proper food menu which was nice. After reading War and Peace at Rococo in the recent past, I wasn't prepared for Crime and Punishment so what was on offer was not only clear and concise but ultimately easy to interpret and was impressive.
We started with a bottle of 2012 Oceans Eight Pinot Gris, which was an excellent pair with the special crispy chicken wontons ($13.80) that started proceedings. Oddly we agreed that all of the courses articulated on the front page of the menu, the "Specials" page, needed to be sampled and we ended up making short work of everything on offer. The six crispy wontons were excellent. It isn't too often that you have wontons that are intentionally crisp however when bathed in the vegetable sauce and finished off by the residual sugars that were clearly evident in the wine, made for a great way to start.
Quail for me is something that I love to hate, mainly because so many places stuff it up. This wasn't the case at Lau's as the follow-up to the crispy wontons was the breast and thighs of the small ugly bird ($13) dressed simply with salt and pepper. Perfectly cooked and thoughtfully presented where you were able to enjoy the meat and once again, paired very well with the Oceans Eight.
Although my dining partner did not feel as adventurous, after having a chat about Flower Drum and the politics of that particular restaurant no longer serving shark fin soup, I was in the mood for the special "Seafood Soup" ($15) which proved to be full of flavour and considering the cool day was very appropriate. This seafood consommé was not only rich, but it effectively distracted me from the prizes found inside this pool of wonder - a big meaty prawn, a mussel and a scallop. None of the seafood was overcooked and all the offerings were tender, complimenting the soup itself instead of the other way around. When I finished this, I was left wanting more.
Yet another special, the duck in honey and lemon sauce ($24) appeared whilst I was still eating my soup. There was plenty of room on the table so this was not a big deal and once the bowl was vacated, I quickly had chopsticks in hand and was sampling the battered duck breast. As this was simply the breast, you were not left with any cartilage to contend with and the sweet sauce just proved once again to be an excellent match for the wine, which was fully consumed during this course. The duck however remained a standout mainly because it was not only simply presented but because of the overall taste after thoughtful preparation and the inclusion of the complementary honey and lemon sauce.
Although we originally intended to order two mains so that we didn't have to share any of the duck leg with sour plums ($34) service suggested that we share it. Being an only child I do not like to share, but the advice proved worthwhile as a fair amount of duck was served for this main. The sour plums once again complemented the duck and it was a completely different taste compared to what was enjoyed previously with the honey and lemon sauce. The duck leg was poached for two hours and served with steamed rice and was enjoyed with a Beefeater gin and tonic ($12) which turned into a three-drink love affair as I sat back and enjoyed the ambiance.
I liked everything about Lau's Family Kitchen. The service remained attentive, helpful and amused by our dining style. At times I forgot that I was within spitting distance of the Prince of Wales complex and the madness of Fitzroy Street so the restaurant did its job well - very well in fact of transporting us to another place, where the only thing missing was a embrace from Gilbert Lau.
Lau's Family Kitchen
4 Acland St., St Kilda VIC 3182
(03) 8598 9880
(03) 8598 9880
My Rating: 15.75/20
Value For Money: 3.75/5
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com
At the time of this post, 88% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Lau's Family Kitchen.