The spasmodic neon lights that embellish some of Melbourne’s most legendary Chinese family restaurants seem to be dying down forever, as swanky renditions of authentic and contemporary Chinese cuisine open throughout our city.
But there’s something deeply nostalgic about parking up on a sticky vinyl chair around a lazy Susan adorned with mismatched plastic crockery and a serve of lemon chicken. Westernised Chinese cuisine has been a major part of suburban Australian and it is the beautiful contradictions deeply rooted within this melting-pot that make it so hard to leave behind for good.
When Happy Palace Restaurant and Bar became available in Melbourne’s CBD, it was no surprise that restaurant revival star Jerome Borazio (St Jerome's, Ponyfish Island, 1000 £ Bend, Sister Bella and Workers Club to name a few) and business partner Josh Lefers (Big Dog Creative) jumped at the opportunity to revamp the perfectly preserved 1980s Chinese kingdom.
Overlooking the corner of Bourke and Exhibition Streets, Happy Palace has been re-contextualised for contemporary consumption by Moth Design, however almost all of the restaurant’s original interior charm has been conserved. Tabletops are decorated with chopsticks, Mahjong pieces and the original geometric wall murals and chandeliers still hang proudly.
Head chef Kim-Maree Moore’s signature Happy Palace dishes include mu shu pork served with house-made pancakes and hoisin (the DIY Chinese taco), alongside bar snacks such as minced pork balls with egg noodle crust, Kewpie mayo and chilli caramel. The ‘Mango pudding goldfish in pond of condensed milk’ – as articulated on the menu – sings praise to the sweet and mysterious adventures of the orient we sampled as children.
For something slightly more grown-up, Happy Palace’s cocktail list includes the XiaolongPOW, a tasty bourbon and apricot cocktail, slurped down with a Happy Palace dumpling.
From its menu riddled with spelling mistakes, to the Anglo waiters darting attentively around the room in red vests and cheongsams, Happy Palace is delightfully tongue-in-cheek and is a hyperactive reincarnation of everything we loved about suburban Chinese dining.
87 Bourke Street, Melbourne
(03) 9972 3699
Mon to Sat 11am–1am