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Published July 19th 2018
Bringing authentic Yunnan Cuisine to Melbourne
Naxi Folk you can't miss the outside signage - @nadinecresswellmyatt
Hawthorn has a host of ethnic eateries and a diverse population from students watching their spending to the well-heeled set. Naxi Folk, a new restaurant and daytime eatery in Glenferrie Road, should suit most tastes and budgets but also see foodies coming in droves from other suburbs just for the experience.
Because wherever you live in Melbourne, restaurants serving food from the Chinese region of Yunnan are as hard to find as a chopstick in a haystack in the city. And Naxi Folk draws inspiration from one of South China's most culturally preserved and unique regions. The Naxi (pronounced na-shi) people being a centuries-old, ethnic group from the Yunnan province, in the south-west of China.
Our bartender was dedicated in the great care he put into our cocktails. @nadinecresswellmyatt
Arriving for dinner, I expected versions of the usual wok tosses and dim sum but nothing could have been further from the menu. Yunnan was an important area in the spice trade, a network of ancient caravan paths winding through the mountains of Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet in Southwest China. So the region pulls flavour and inspiration from across Myanmar, Sichuan, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos.
Not all the dishes at Naxi Folk are spicy hot but the majority punch above their weight. I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to really hot dishes but I found the food at Naxi Folk so interesting and exotic that I totally embraced the spiciness. This very different dining experience begins from the moment you spot Naxi Folk on Glenferrie Road. It is impossible to miss because of the neon blue figures outside that look like discoing hieroglyphics.
Later I learnt this was Naxi pictographic script (known as Dongba) and the small humanoid figurines used in this style of writing date back to the 12th century.
While outside it might be wintry night, inside you feel as if you are entering a steamy, exotic and oriental land. There are huge potted ferns, cane chairs and bamboo light shades. It is the perfect world in which to sip a cooling cocktail and there is an extensive list to choose from.
I chose a Rum Shala because entering this new world the sound of lime, ginger and chilli, smashed to order and splashed with spiced rum sounded perfect.
Rum Shala with chilli smashed to order - @nadinecresswellmyatt
The pretty cocktail arrived with green mint and a little head of chilli looking like a rosebud through the glass. I had asked the dedicated bartender to go easy on the chilli and he made this cocktail exactly to order. Other Asian style exotic cocktails included a Yuzu spitz, Sloe Plum Cobbler (with Japanese plum wine and fresh lemon) and a sparkling tea with sloe gin and jasmine tea.
While we were only a party of two, many of dishes on the menu would lend themselves to communal style village eating. It would not be out of place to bring your whole tribe. There are plates of street food and snacks, huge share plates of mango chicken and chai-huo-hu (fried battered vegetables with Yunnan spiced chilli powder).
The mains are BBQ but not BBQ as you probably know it. You will be familiar with the main choices such a free range chicken, pork belly, scotch fillet and whole barramundi but not with the manner of cooking. Meats are marinated with Dai Style marinades and seasoned with birds-eye chilli (piquant!), lemongrass and basil before being wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over hot charcoal.
The level of heat from these dishes depends on the meats and how much of the spice they absorb due to their fat content, so be guided by your waiter.
On the first reading, the menu sounded like dude-food, as ribs, burger and BBQ are prominent choices but to label them as young male spin-offs would be a disservice. The signature burger, for example, is succulent pork belly with coriander, capsicum and a special spice mix stuffed inside a baked Yunnan pocket.
We began with the ribs. These were crispy chicken spare ribs marinated in Sichuan pepper and caramel sauce with Yunnan tea leaf and then garnished with sesame seeds.
Crispy chicken spare rubs the spicy caramel taste makes these truly memorable @nadinecresswellmyatt
They were a moreish deliciousness. Cooked in the deeply caramelised sauce, they were both sweet and savoury, lovely and crunchy and memorable We then shared a plate of son-in-law eggs. I did ask about the name of this dish because I had an inkling might be a story behind it.
I'll tell the tale because while the origins and authenticity of such stories are often disputed, they are fascinating nonetheless. The story goes that a mother fried her son-in-law's boiled eggs because she was unhappy with the way he was treating her daughter. He got the message. Desist or the next thing I'll deep fry will be part of your anatomy.
Son-in-law eggs and he hopes to keep them. @nadinecresswellmyatt
When our twin eggs arrived draped with a large mint leaf, not unlike the fig leaf the prudish Victorians put over nude statues I couldn't get that story out of my mind. But the eggs were delicious with a light salty, sweet and sourness from the Kaffir lime chilli jam and an explosion of runny yolk as we cut in.
We chose the thinly sliced scotch fillet for our bbq dish. It came decked out on banana leaves with the crisp leaves of lettuce, and a bunch of intertwining and piquant vegetables including bean shoots. There are lots of options to eat with your hand here and this is the perfect dish to do so. You can wrap your creations in the lettuce leaves and eat it with your hands.
BBQ thinly sliced scotch fillet cooked in banana leaves over a charcoal grill
I particularly loved the textures in the Yuba salad. Such an interesting and exotic creation with the chewiness of cold bean curd sheets, the delightfulness chewy-crunchy texture of wood ear mushrooms, vegetables, whole peanuts in their red skins and then topped with a spicy sweet and sour black bean dressing.
The Yuba salad is delicious - @nadinecresswellmyatt
Desserts are yet to come on this new menu but the cocktail we had post-dinner was better than any sweet imaginable. It was the Kunming Coconut martini, a mixture of light and dark rums, coconut milk, a dash of toffee syrup and a smidge of lime. The rim of the glass was decorated with panko crumbs adding to the exoticness.
Food is well priced. A signature Chinese burger, for example, is $11.50, a Yuba salad $8.50, BBQ pork belly is $14 while the top of the range dish (the whole barramundi which can be shared) is $21. Cocktails start from only $14 and there is also an excellent wine list including a French rose starting from $8.