Lee Ho Fook moves to Melbourne CBD

Author: Larissa Dubecki
Photography: Sharyn Cairns

There will be dumbwaiters when Smith Street's Lee Ho Fook relocates to much bigger new digs in the Melbourne CBD on August 8. Carpet on the floors, too. And - brace yourself - no open kitchen. Clearly the restaurant's brief to modernise the Chinese dining experience doesn't preclude a little old-school action.

"I've never worked at a place with a dumbwaiter before - only one of my staff has - so it's a little crazy," says chef Victor Liong. "But Supper Inn has one so it can't be that bad."

The dumbwaiters - for the uninitiated, they're small elevators that carry food between floors - are a necessary evil in the two-floor brick warehouse with the kitchen on the ground floor and most of the diners on the first.

"We really don't want the waiters spilling barramundi poaching-liquor on diners as they walk up and down stairs," says co-owner David Mackintosh. Techne architects were responsible for a revamp in shades of green and eggplant purple, with dark gloss timber and hand-turned timber and brass lighting.

Diners can expect to see other changes at the upscaled version of the Smith Street original. "We have a real sommelier now," says Liong. "Masa Nishimoto, who's got a great palate and a really cool take on wine." The list will run to around 100 labels. Diners in the initial stages can expect to see the LHF menu transplanted in its entirety while the nine-strong kitchen crew, up from four in Collingwood, get used to the new space. Liong also intends to keep his favourite dishes, the crisp eggplant, tea egg and steamed barramundi with ginger and spring onion sauce among them. "I opened the old shop with these and I don't think they're ever coming off the menu."

The Smith Street space, which closed last week, will be revamped in the new year as Goldfish, serving casual Chinese food. "I hate the word 'street'," says Liong. Among the "slightly reworked classics at a lower price point" will be something he calls a Chinizza - consider it a cross between a fried pizza and the spring onion pancake. "We'll really get back to what we were intending to do with it in the first place, and then in the city hopefully we can just keep polishing it a little further."

Lee Ho Fook, 11-15 Duckboard Pl, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9077 6261

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