The commanding, curvaceous art deco building on the corner of Carlisle and Nelson streets in Balaclava has led many lives. In the early 1900s, it was a branch of the Commonwealth Bank. Then, after the turn of the millennium, it got a mustardy paint job to become a Red Rooster. And most recently it was south-side Italian favourite Ilona Staller, which closed in 2020.

The heritage-listed spot is now home to Moonhouse, a moody Chinese-inspired bistro by the Commune Group – also behind Hanoi Hannah, Tokyo Tina, Firebird and New Quarter.

It’s helmed by long-time Commune Group chef Shirley Summakwan alongside group executive chef Anthony Choi. And the pair is serving classics in new ways, giving people a spin on familiar dishes: think sesame-crusted prawn toast with prawn bisque dipping sauce, and a Hainanese chicken club sanga.

Traditional dishes like XO pippies, dan dan noodles and black bean sirloin sit alongside sharing options like the Duck Ceremony, a half roast duck with plum salt, hoisin and pancakes. And for dessert, find five-spice doughnuts with black-pepper ice-cream, and fruit and jelly (zingy citrus jellies set in hollowed-out citrus skin) by pastry chef Enza Soto.

The well-thought-out wine list is entirely Australian – save the champagne. For cocktails, the brief is simple but slightly elevated: a Negroni comes with a scoop of savoury orange sorbet and the Martini comes with a trio of skewered pickled grapes.

The modern fit-out reflects the building’s exterior, with curves all over, elegant burgundy booths, art deco chandeliers and red glass partially shielding the kitchen.The building’s evolution has continued upstairs too, with a second bar and grand private dining room (with lazy Susans) for special events.

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Updated: October 31st, 2022

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