Having recently been to the Man Tong Kitchen at Crown Casino I couldn't imagine that East could possibly be anywhere in its league. But this was a gross mistake. I should have remembered that the revered Hutong Group, the guys behind the Hutong Dumpling Bars, has created them both. Renowned for their impeccable food and service, the East presents their innovative interpretation of traditional Chinese flavours.
In contrast to the traditional red and gold colours of the Man Tong Kitchen, the East has modern grey and green tones with floor and wall tiles. This color scheme is contrasted with large modern rice paper lookalike shades.
All staff was professional, attentive and friendly. They quickly and discreetly served the food and refilled the water several times without request. We were fortunate enough to have Dixon as out personal waiter.
Dixon was able to answer all of our questions about various ingredients and cooking techniques that made the food extraordinary. In addition he gave us an education into Chinese culture.
Apparently in China, restaurants often serve cold platters to start with while the main course is cooked. He pointed out to us the Chinese calendar that we thought was just a clever wall decoration. He told us that these would've been used by his grandparents like a horoscope. As they were in Chinese and we don't speak it, he explained that the particular page read that it was not a good day for farming or marriage - so it was lucky that I had neither in mind.
On arrival we were offered Chinese tea. They serve premium tees such as Chrysanthemum, Rose flower, Jasmine Pearl and Tai Hu Green Bamboo.
A delicious healthy start
There were many unknown dishes on the menu so I was relieved when Dixon suggested that we leave it up to him to select items to try. After checking that we had no allergies he quickly presented the first course that was a sumptuous roti roll with steamed chicken and a Szechuan sauce. This was hot and spicy and similar to satay with fresh crisp, very thinly sliced raw vegetables and multigrain roti. At $8 it was quite a bargain.
Designed for sharing
A tasting plate was switched for our empty plate. This included 'drunken clams' that had been soaked for two days in wine. The Signature pork spare ribs were crispy and delicious. I'm not a big seafood fan so to my surprise I also enjoyed the smoked barramundi, which have an earthy sweet taste. It was crisp on the outside but flaky on the inside. These were served with an abalone, mint and cucumber salad with mild wasabi dressing. You can order your own East Signature tasting menu for $59 pp.
One of my new favourites which I tasted for the first time that night was small potato balls with melted cheese centres. It was served with an addictive creamy chili sauce. These were presented to the table in a small black deep frying basket.
I could have eaten a bucket load of these
The signature steamed juicy pork dumplings aren't a feature for nothing. You need to take off the top and pour in vinegar. This creates a soup inside the dumpling and they just melt in your mouth. At $10.80 they cannot be missed. At twice the price they would still be underpriced.
Signature dumplings served in a bamboo steamer
These juicy steamed pork dumplings were bought to Melbourne by the Hutong Group and since then many other Chinese restaurants have tried to copy them. I doubt if they could come anywhere near this quality.
You must not overlook the stir-fry beans that were cooked in a sweet black bean sauce and included fried garlic. I think they must have a secret ingredient because they never tastes like that when I cook them. My partner adored the fried rice which was cooked to perfection and was chock-a-block full of meat and vegetables including mushrooms, pork, carrots, peas, celery, spring onions, corn, prawns and eggs. It was unbelievably only $12.80.
Very special fried rice and stir fry beans
One of the most attractive dishes of the night was the night was the rockling fish fillets cooked in chili oil. Traditionally the chili would have been cooked in oil but now it's just on top. This dish roars at you to be eaten and is for those who like it hot. The heat was reduced for our taste however is still on the warm side for me.
Rockling fish fillets cooked in chilli oil
The other piece of food art was the slow cooked pork spare ribs served in a spicy bbq sauce with butterfly shaped buns. I confess I have never had animal shaped steamed buns! The attention to detail at the East is impressive. The photo does not do it justice so you will just have to go and see for yourself.
Almost too good to eat
In writing this review I am aware of how much food we actually consumed, however in my defense I hadn't eaten much all day in anticipation and besides it was all-irresistible.
The East is a wine bar so I need to make mention of the Asian inspired cocktails. How will you choose between the Lychee Martinis, Lemongrass Illusion or The Great East?
Although many were tempting the drink of the night for me was the Strawberry Dream. This was a long and strong combination of strawberries, dark rum, pineapple juice and cream. It was decorated with mint and strawberries and I suggest that because of all the fruit it must have been low-calorie.
Impressive wine bar
I really couldn't squeeze in any dessert until I was told they had mango cheesecake. This was more like a delicious creamy mousse with fresh mango at the base. My suggestion: keep room for dessert because you must give this a go.
This understated name, East, gives you no clues about the exceptional quality of the dining experience. This is the whole package.
The East has only been open three weeks so if you have not found it, seek it. It is north of the central CBD, south of Parliament house, west of the Yarra, east of the theatre precinct and just under Melbourne's newest five star hotel Sheraton (although it's not a hotel restaurant). East can be found along the popular Lt Collins Street culinary strip and is bound to be a must find wine bar and Chinese restaurant.
Mark my words; the East will become a landmark in its own right. Forget the traditional compass pointing north. My compass for an unforgettable, classy contemporary dining experience is always going to take me to the East.
If you love the East you must go to the Man Tong Kitchen at Crown. If you love the Man Tong Kitchen you must try the East.