From the first day they flung open the doors and invited us down the brightly lit neon red hallway from the cobblestones of Melbourne's Oliver Lane, I have had a thing for Lucy Liu. It is one of my Melbourne staples and they do pan Asian food so very very well.
A change of ownership and the departure of Michael Lambie, Scott Borg and Owen Brockfield haven't changed the place a great deal, meaning the legacy remains intact, the food is equally as good and Lambie's influence on chef and part owner Zac Cribbes is patently and deliciously obvious.
The inspiration for Lucy Liu is a bright neon Shanghai Bar meets industrial Melbourne chic in a simple, fun and at times, very noisy experience. It's very Shanghai in that regard and is not the place to go for a quiet and austere dining experience. As some things change they also remain the same and there are a couple of menu stalwarts that will never go away, lest there be anarchy from devoted fans.
I always over order - let that be said. A starter of a Kingfish sashimi with coconut foam and some wizardry of thai basil with green chili was, as always, superb. We also had some oysters with ponzu, and the eponymous scampi and barramundi wontons, with a piquant ginger shallot and chili dipper. They are so yum I could eat these all day, along with their fried chicken buns with gochujang (a fermented soy and chilli paste, my most used ingredient of 2019) tempered with some tangy pickled radish. And a tasty kara'age style Japanese chicken, just because. All were bloody good.
We did, for some reason, decide to keep scoffing on other plates including a beef short rib from Cape Grim, prepared in the Malay Rendang style. Heady with ginger, garlic and spices, and a good dose of coconut milk, it fell from the bone and was well worth scoffing our way through. Add in some steamed rice and a few tasty sides, including a crispy roti and I was in heaven.
There is a big, cracking contemporary wine list, overseen by Ollie Wang who seems to have been there from day one, and knowing I was going to go to my usual choices, we had a Riesling Gewurtz blend and a an Adelaide Hills Gruner Veltliner for good measure.
Lucy Liu has hit on a formula which will keep it going strong for years. Lenticular placemats serving as menus, some doof doof music on the wireless and a sense of fun and whimsy from the minute you arrive. Service is very efficient, and usually seamless. Take a seat at the open kitchen and watch the magic being created, book a table in the bar for a few plates at lunchtime or sit down to a full on dinner. Any which way you choose, Lucy Liu is a very safe bet.
Lucy Liu is at 23 Oliver Lane
Open 7 days a week from noon - bookings essential