As Melbourne emerged from its final lockdown last spring, a different kind of rebirth was happening inside an unassuming restaurant in Aberfeldie, a tiny suburb-within-a-suburb in the city’s north-west. Eight months on from the closure of St Kilda Cantonese institution Lau’s Family Kitchen, chef Yip Wu and three from his kitchen team – Tang Au-Yueng, Xing You He and Qiang Wu – opened Benyue Kitchen, a southern-Chinese family restaurant of their own.

“If you go and work for someone else, you have to cook what the other people expect you to cook,” says Yip’s sister Shuna Wu, who works on the floor at the Buckley Street restaurant. “They basically wanted to continue to do what they know the best – that’s why they decided to look for place to open by themselves.”

Behind the brown brick facade – with its ’80s-suburbia vibe and Spanish mission-style archways – was local Chinese restaurant Imperial Garden, which existed for years before the new owner-operators moved in. “They came and saw the area – there’s not many Asian or Chinese restaurants around – and they did fall in love with the place, especially because it has a car park, which is great to have for our guests,” Shuna says.

As an Aberfeldie local, I’ve witnessed the sleepy suburban restaurant transform into a destination diner. The quiet pocket – formerly overshadowed by Puckle Street in Moonee Ponds and Keilor Road in Niddrie – now has a place on Melbourne’s culinary map.

Inside, decor was revived, floors were replaced and walls were given a fresh lick of paint. “We did keep a couple of paintings in here,” Shuna says. “We wanted to keep some history from [Imperial Garden].” Colourful artwork by Yip’s young son also add to the family feel of the place.

Lau’s Family Kitchen favourites such the lamb spring rolls, the phenomenal steamed scallop siu mai and the fluffy crab omelette are mainstays here, too. In fact, Shuna says 70 per cent of the menu channels that of Lau’s, which was launched by lauded restaurateur Gilbert Lau. But the focus here is on family-friendly dining. “We’ve added more of those Cantonese-style dishes – those very popular dishes – into the menu.” You’ll find Peking duck with crisp skin, sticky honey chicken and textural char kway teow.

In February, the Benyue Kitchen team took to Instagram to announce new menu accommodations for vegetarians and gluten-free diners and make a timely statement about unavoidable price increases.

“Now, ‘the elephant in the room’ is the topic of pricing,” it read. “With the increase of premium fresh produce in our current market, we and many others face the difficulty of balancing the cost spent on produce, the pricing of our menus and everything in-between.

“With ‘using premium and fresh produce to create the best dishes’ at the forefront of our business, we have realised we will only be sacrificing the quality and experience if we decide to cut costs,” the post continued. “Therefore, to be as fair and as reasonable as possible when tackling the problem, we have meticulously gone through each cost price to produce each dish and individually amended each price rather than unfairly increasing all items at a standard [percentage] price increase. We concluded our approach to the problem ensures that you will not be paying extra for a dish on our menu that has not suffered from an increase in procurement costs.”

And they’re not alone. Many Australian cafes, food suppliers and more are being forced to pass on rising costs to customers thanks to three years of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. “We were hoping that the price was going to drop off at Christmas or New Year [but] unfortunately it hasn’t happened. Instead of dropping, it’s actually increased,” Shuna says. Despite that, though, “everyone is very understanding about it”.

Benyue Kitchen
365 Buckley Street, Aberfeldie
(03) 9337 1991

Hours
Mon 12pm–3pm, 5pm–10.30pm
Tue closed
Wed to Sun 12pm–3pm, 5pm–10.30pm

benyuekitchen.com.au