A Shanghai woman in traditional Chinese dress greets you on entry to TuanTuan. She’s not a waitress, nor is she bar staff – she’s the beautifully hand-painted mural that adorns an otherwise concrete wall.
Painted by Big Bite Designs and under the direction of Wall Architects, the woman on the wall looks down on the diners filling this popular Hong Kong-style eatery, but a dramatic four-metre-wide canopy tree is the centrepiece. Pastel-coloured seating, scattered smaller plants and vertical timber panelling make up the remainder of the sunny dining space. There are elements of French flair, too – from the plating to the service.
“We are trying to be a bit more stylish,” says co-owner and chef Dominic Li. “Compared to some Chinese or even Hong Kong restaurants – they’re more traditional.”
Li and business partner Clarion Xie founded Chinatown’s Dessert Kitchen together, and exported the concept to New York, the Philippines, Thailand and Canada, before opening the first TuanTuan just outside of Manila.
“Filipinos’ taste buds are sweeter,” says Li. “In Melbourne we’ve changed it a bit, to be more simple – we like to bring the freshness of the ingredients out.”
TuanTuan’s signature snow buns – pillow-soft buns with a sweet, flaky crust – are available in four flavours: barbeque pork, pineapple, salted egg custard and almond cream.
All menu items – such as the Malay fish laksa with rice vermicelli, prawns, tofu and fish balls, and the punchy chicken curry – are ordered via a form at your table.
If you’re into rich and creamy congee it’s available nine ways, including pork meatball and liver, sliced abalone with chicken, sliced pork and century egg, and a sliced-beef option. Macanese dishes (baked fish with almonds, and the Macau-style Cajun chicken on rice) are also on the menu.
A Hong Kong-style milk tea is milky and herbal. “We tend to mix several tea leaves together,” says Li. “We use the Carnation milk [unsweetened condensed milk] that we import. It’s [richer].”
Cantonese lemon tea, Horlicks (a malted milk drink), Ovaltine and Ribena also make the drinks list.
Li has plans to develop a more seasonal menu, “to localise the recipes,” he says. “I don’t want [customers] to feel like it’s Chinese food in a traditional Chinese way."
TuanTuan Chinese Brasserie
R1, 139–151 Queensberry Street, Carlton (03) 9995 5407
Tue to Sun 12pm–3pm, 5pm–10pm
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on October 16, 2018. Menu items may have changed since publication.