Flower Drum has been on my wishlist for a long time. I love Chinese food however the fact that the prices are so expensive did stop me from going. Also over the years, I have heard from people that the restaurant itself, although serving great quality food, does not meet the expectation that is set based on the prices. I decided (with voucher in hand) it was time to try the famous Flower Drum for myself and see if it did live up to my own expectations.
The Boy & I arrived promptly for our 6.30pm reservation and were one of the first couples at the restaurant. The first thing we both noticed was how many waiters were there. I think there was about 20. They were all standing on either side of the restaurant basically waiting until they were required to assist the patrons. I had heard that the waiters at Flower Drum would feel your drink as soon as you had taken a sip from it and would basically be at your beck and call but to actually see it shocked me. I have never seen even half the number of waiters at other restaurants.
The Boy & I were deciding between getting a banquet or a few items from the A La Carte menu and because he is not a fan of seafood, we decided to order a number of different dishes so we could have a sample of what Flower Drum has to offer.
Sang Choi Bao - Minced quail meat cooked with Chinese sausage, shiitake mushroom, bamboo shoots and spring onion, served in a lettuce leaf - $18 per serve
One of my favourite meats is quail. However, quail are very small and difficult to cook because if they are overcooked they will be too dry. I have only cooked quail twice and both times I was not really happy with the result. I found it amazing that the chefs would actually take all the meat off the little quail and mince it to use in this Sang Choi Bao. The serving size was also very generous (considering it was $18, you would hope it would be). The quail was really juicy and this dish was the highlight of the meal for me. I would have easily been able to have another 1 or 2! I did add a little bit of chilli sauce to the quail and this gave it an extra kick but I could have easily eaten it without the chillies.
Chillies at our table
Calamari with Spicy Salt - $19 per serve
The Calamari was really soft and cooked perfectly. I loved the coating on top and the dipping salt that came with it (picture below). However, for $19, the serving size was quite small and I have had calamari at other restaurants that was a very similar level of quality but half the price. So although I really enjoyed the calamari, I think the price was not justified. At this point The Boy wanted to order the Lamb Spring Rolls, however we were told these would not be ready until 8.30pm as this was the first day back in business for the restaurant after the Christmas/New Year break. This was a bit disappointing as he was looking forward to them, however we had ordered quite a few items so perhaps it was a blessing in disguise as we were full by the end of the meal.
Spicy Dipping Salt & Lemon Juice for Calamari
Peking Duck - $20 for two serves
Peking Duck is something I regularly order at Chinese restaurants. At places I go to locally, you can usually get six pieces for between $20 - $30. $20 for two serves is very expensive. The waiter came to the table an prepared the Peking Duck for us with so much love and care. The Boy & I were mesmerised by the way he would fold the pancake just using the serving spoon & fork. There was a generous amount of sauce on the pancake and to the side (which is a must!) The Duck was really crispy on the outside but cooked perfectly inside. I was so glad we ordered four serves of this because it was just delicious. I felt the piece of duck was slightly larger than what you would get at other restaurants and the quality of the duck was amazing but similar to previous dishes, it was difficult to be able to justify the price.
Honeyed Pork Spare Ribs served with Caramelised Onion - $33 per serve
This is one of the dishes that The Boy chose. He is not usually a fan of Pork ribs but I was happy he chose this dish. We each received 3 ribs and the meat fell off the bone. The honeyed sauce was wonderful and worked really well with the ribs. It had the perfect level of sweetness. The Boy really enjoyed his serve as well. There was heaps of sauce in this dish and I really loved mixing my fried rice through the sauce. Yum!
Special Fried Rice - $18.50 (small serve)
The Fried Rice was delicious but it did not differ from Fried Rice that I have at a local Chinese restaurant. The bowl of fried rice that we got was very small and I would only expect to pay $7 - $9 for this usually. However I did like that it has real prawns in it as opposed to the shrimp that you would usually get.
Wagyu Beef Cheek - Slow Cooked - $29 per 100g
We ordered an 100g serving of the Wagyu Beef Cheek. Looking back at the menu whilst writing up this blog, I notice that it is not on the menu at the moment. I am not usually a big fan of beef but The Boy loves it, so I though he would enjoy this dish. This dish was one of the disappointments of the night. Whilst the beef was really soft, the sauce and the meat itself lacked any flavour. I cannot actually pinpoint what I did not like about the sauce. It just seemed watery and a whole lot of nothing. Even The Boy did not like it. I struggle to finish my serving because simply I was not enjoying it. However, this was the only dish that disappointment (flavour wise) for the night.
We decided to skip desserts. Because we did not have any drinks, our total bill was about $165 for two people. Not too bad, but looking back, we would have been able to get a similar amount & quality of food (perhaps excluding the Sang Choi Bao & Peking Ducking quality) for around half the price at our local Chinese Restaurant.
So would I go back to Flower Drum?
The simple answer? No. One of the criticisms I had about the restaurant was the amount of waiters and the fact they are at your table (or very close by) during most of your meal. Every time I had a sip of water, the waiter would rush up and fill up the glass. I found this a bit uncomfortable as it felt like they were listening in to the conversations that we were having. For me, if my glass was empty and they filled it up within a few minutes or kept a jug on the table, I would have been satisfied. Some people might enjoy such a high level of service, but for me, it felt so stiff & formal and I saw it as a negative aspect to the night. I also wonder, if Flower Drum reduced their waiter staff by half (which would still be the largest amount of waiters that I have seen at a restaurant), they would be able to save a vast amount of money and possibly consider reducing some of their prices.
The second criticism I have was quality of the food in comparison to prices. Aside from one dish, the food was of a good quality with the two standouts being the Peking Duck & Sang Choi Bao. However, The Boy & I paid $80 per head (without drinks). If I compare it to restaurants such as Gingerboy, Chin Chin or Red Spice Road, they too have the quality but I am looking at about $40-$50 per head. It may only be a $30 price difference but multiplied over the number of heads, it does make a difference. I also think at my local Chinese restaurant, The Boy & I would eat the same amount of food for $80 between us. The food would be good but not as great at Flower Drum but the difference in quality would not justify double the price. I am happy to spend money on food but I want to have something amazing if I am going to spend the money. The food at Flower Drum seemed a bit pedestrian and I think their formula is a bit tired.
I am really glad that I had the opportunity to cross the Flower Drum off my bucket list, but unless someone else was paying for it, its not a restaurant that I would feel the need to dine at again when they are so many more exciting and affordable options in Melbourne.
17 Market Lane,