For Victor Liong, it’s essential to his craft that he swear like … well, like a chef. “That’s part of our job: to be fucking angry and passionate,” he says. “No one really wants to see that, especially if they’re having a nice night out; me sweaty and weird and screaming at someone.”
Obviously, Liong wasn’t into the idea of an open-plan kitchen at Lee Ho Fook when it relocated from Smith Street to its new home in the CBD. “Everyone in Melbourne’s doing a fucking open kitchen where you can see the chef,” he says. “You don’t really produce your best work with an audience.”
So, the owner-chef has gone for a more classic vibe, building a restrained, dimly lit dining room overlooking Duckboard Place. “I like the idea of the old-school dining room where the food just appears,” Liong says.
And, in the almost year-long fit-out process, Liong tried to think up other ways to go against the flow of Melbourne dining. “What else is old school, or has fallen out of favour?” he asked himself. “Carpets. Half of Melbourne’s got polished concrete and pine furniture. I don’t want that.”
While the site itself is a far cry from its Collingwood origins, the food inside is much the same. Only three or four new dishes appear on the menu, such as Chongqing chicken crackling with Sichuan peppercorns, fried chilli and garlic; a classic sweet-and-sour pork; and a milk pudding with goji berries and longans in a red vinegar. “Diners were happy with the way we were cooking, so we’re focusing on slightly more precise techniques,” says the chef. “In terms of food style, we’re doing more interesting flavour combinations as opposed to tasty, cheap, quick-to-produce foods.”
What has received a significant overhaul is the LHF wine list, which has grown from 60 bins to around 120 under the care of sommelier Masa Nishimoto. The restaurant’s even installed a coravin, a high-tech system that pierces the cork and pressurises the bottle allowing high-end vintages to be poured by the glass. “You can get Premier Cru Burgundies and things people don’t usually get into because they’re expensive,” says Liong.
Meanwhile, the Smith Street venue is likely to host a pop-up bar for the remainder of the year, after which it’ll turn into Goldfish, a more casual Chinese venue headed by Liong. “We’re looking at interesting drinks, big fuck-off punchbowls and small snacky things,” he says. And everything will be under $25 bucks. He swears.
Lee Ho Fook
11–15 Duckboard Place, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9077 6261
Tue to Sat 6pm–11pm