China Bar Signature Asian Buffet

222 Exhibition Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9078 9781

I am not a fan of buffet restaurants, however my parents love them. And because it was their birthday weekend way back in July (their birthdays are only three days apart), they decided that they wanted to go to a buffet restaurant for their birthday dinner.

We normally eat in the ‘burbs for these sorts of dinners as my parents are too lazy to drive into the city these days unless, of course, they really have to. However, my brother had to be at a certain place in the city at a certain time that Saturday night so the dinner had to be in the CBD. Eating at Crown or The Langham was a no go because parking cost too much and dad refused to pay. And if you thought that my parents would be open to my suggestion of parking at my secret free parking spot and tramming, then walking to Crown, then obviously you don’t know my parents very well.

In the end, we decided on the city brand of China Bar Signature, the younger sister of the already established buffet restaurant of the same name in Burwood East.

I may turn my nose up at buffet spreads with their limited variety and questionable freshness of food but I couldn’t help but utter an involuntary ‘wah!’ when I saw the spread here.


And so the carnage began. My family and I were led to a table in a not-so-central area where the only way we could see what we were eating was via a spatter of meek red lights. For $69 a head (which, according to my parents, was ‘wah, so expensive!’), we feasted on an array of seafood items, dumplings, rice dishes, fried and steamed proteins of various kinds and lots and lots of desserts. The food was essentially the same as what we had during at lunch at the Burwood East branch all these years ago but obviously with more variety (given that it was dinner and we were, of course, paying double).

I started off with some roast meats. The roast chicken and duck are what China Bar franchises  all over town do pretty well and the ones I tried on the night were no exception. Both the chicken and duck meat were juicy and the skins crispy like awesomeness. I wasn’t expecting much from the Peking duck so I was surprised when I realised that it was actually not half bad; in fact,  it was pretty damn tasty.

The steamed dim sum at China Bar are usually reliable. Although you would undoubtedly be able to find better har gow or siu mai dumplings in Melbourne, it’s hard not to go into a China Bar Signature restaurant without picking up at least a couple of steamers of dim sum.

If there weren’t heaps of other dishes to try, I would have picked up $69 worth of siu mai, har gow and scallop dumplings. Unfortunately, I had to limit myself to one of each (well okay, I did have two har gow steamers).

I picked up what I reckon was China Bar’s version of a mini hybrid claypot and Taiwanese three-cup chicken. The chicken thighs were served with Chinese sausage and ginger on rice and steamed in a small bamboo steamer. It wasn’t the best rendition of this dish but I was happy with the size of this dish – it didn’t fill us up but it was enough to give us a fair sample.

Of course, no visit to a buffet restaurant is complete without trying a few deep-fried goodies. I had the prawn wrapped in fried beancurd, crumbed prawns, pork dumplings and a fried prawn ball coated with almonds, all of which actually tasted decent. To make myself feel healthier though, I also grabbed some slices of salmon sashimi and a grilled salmon sushi. I was also pleased to see more unusual forms of sashimi available such as the ark shell sashimi (which I had a little bit of, but undecided that I wasn’t a huge fan of because of the too-crunchy texture).

We shared a plate of sautéed greens to make ourselves feel even better.

We then worked our way through the richer dishes. By this stage, we were starting to fill up so we could only afford to have bite-sized portions of everything. The stuff I sampled (pineapple fried rice, fried quail, fish in ginger and spring onion sauce amongst other things) were actually better than the stuff you find at your local Smorgy’s – it was fresher, hotter and ‘less artificial-tasting.’ You won’t expect hatted cuisine here but I’m quietly confident that everyone can find at least one dish that they would be happy with here.

Their chawanmushi (Japanese steamed egg custard) with shitake mushrooms, chestnut and prawns was okay. It wasn’t the best I’ve had, but I was glad to see it being offered. Not pictured was the shark fin soup that my parents and I shared. While we suspect that fake shark fin was used, we were nevertheless happy to treat ourselves to a bowl.

Once we decided that we had enough savoury dishes, we went straight for dessert. A waitress then asked us if we could like a soufflé. We didn’t see any soufflés in the dessert cabinet so we guessed that they were made to order. My sister and I decided that we’d share a soufflé, so we requested a chocolate one. Big mistake. The soufflé did not even have a ‘rise’ and it was very dense and egg-y, rather than soft and fluffy. The chocolate sauce that was poured into the make-shift hole on top didn’t really do much to improve its taste either. Next time, we’ll be saying ‘no.’

Dad decided to go all Masterchef -y with his desserts. He had a chocolate macaron (‘not that nice’), a bit of croquembouche and some mango jelly. His favourite dessert, however, was the tau foo fah which he kept having seconds of.

I had a coconut jelly topped with kiwi fruit, a green tea mousse, a honeydew sago pudding and a crème brulee that had not been blow-torched. All, except for the crème brulee, were better than okay and were portioned perfectly so that we could spare room in our tummies for other desserts.

I should also mention that the city restaurant has a second storey where more food is located. Given how full I was, I never got around to venturing upstairs but from what my brother told me, it’s a haven for hot pot and grilled meat lovers.

My parents had a ball during dinner and even I had to admit that it wasn’t so bad. My mum is already in talks about taking her sister there the next time she’s visiting the country (i.e. next year) while dad was quick to recommend China Bar Signature to his friends. While my parents weren’t fawning over lunch at the Burwood East restaurant, they definitely did enjoy dinner at the city branch. They couldn’t stop raving about the food after we had left, and even stopped making disparaging comments about how ‘expensive’ the whole thing was (of course you would if you were being shouted dinner!).

I may be a buffet restaurant hater but if I had to recommend a buffet restaurant in the city, I’d recommend this one. I like that it’s in a convenient location and that they serve a great variety of food for the price charged per head (if you wish to pay less, weekday dinners are $55 and lunches are even cheaper but with less variety). While I won’t be coming here every second weekend, I will not be quick to say ‘no’ should I get invited to eat here further down the track.

China Bar Signature (Asian Buffet) on Urbanspoon

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  1. I don’t like buffets either, and I work next door to the Burwood branch. Been there twice for lunch and have not enjoyed it. Maybe dinner, or the city branch is better….

    1. Everyone I’ve spoken to (who’s been to these restaurants) have said that dinner is much better than lunch. Whether or not you’re willing to fork out $55-69 per head, though, is the issue…

      I wouldn’t do it all the time but if it’s my parents’ birthday, Mother’s/Father’s Day and they really wanted to go, I’d be happy to take them 🙂

  2. We’ve been to the Burwood branch a number of times (we being “avec le parents” lol) and quite like it so I’m sure the parents would enjoy giving the city branch a try sometime! I’m not a fan of buffets either but I do like the variety that they have at the Burwood branch so glad to hear the city one isn’t half bad 🙂

  3. I remember reading your review on the China Bar in burwood, and thinking ‘HAH, my parents are exactly the same’ – looks like some (asian) thing never change! I’m surprised you didn’t indulge in the chocolate fountain, surely it’s there at night too? Did you try anything from the stone grill and hot pot? I went at lunch so I couldn’t, wahhhh 🙁

    1. Oh yes! There was a chocolate fountain too but I didn’t touch it as I’m not a huge fan of chocolate hahaha.

      I didn’t try anything from the stone grill or hot pot – I’m guessing that you’d need to go upstairs for those and unfortunately, I never ventured upstairs that night. There was just too much food on the main level!

  4. lol they should go to the Melba Restaurant on a sunday… it’s like $90.. that’s ‘Wah so expensive’ 😛

    I still want to try China Bar Buffet, not usually a buffet person either, but it’s worth a shot!

  5. Upstairs isn’t so great – some roast meats, although you can ask them to roast some mussels up for you too.

    Glad you liked the desserts more than I did – I didn’t have the best experience with desserts there, but hey, willing to give them a second chance 😛

    1. Ah, good to know that I didn’t really miss out on much 🙂

      I think I was just lucky with my dessert selection though – some of them did look a bit dodgy (didn’t touch them, phew) and I’m never getting the creme brulee or souffle again!

  6. How does this compare to ‘mesh’ at Crown?

    I found your blog by googling “the very hungry caterpillar in Indonesian”. I now follow your blog!

    1. I’ve never been to Mesh so I can’t compare. If you do prefer Asian food, you’ll definitely like Chinabar Signature though.

      And what a coincidence, I happen to be Indonesian too! 🙂

  7. Ahhhhh very helpful review, Lib. I love this. I’ve been wondering how this place fairs for a while, glad I came to your blog. You really are the queen of buffets in the blogosphere, IMO. Haha. And omg at the price! For some reason I always thought that it was in the $30++ range since it was Chinese. Sooo naive. But guess if you got other stuff like sashimi and prawns, it wouldn’t really be fair to them. I agree, variety does look pretty satisfying and good location too. Maybe drop by for a special occasion. Or if it’s cheaper for lunch haha

  8. I LOVE buffets, but only buffets that offer decent food and a HUGE variety. Nothing annoys me more than a so-called All-You-Can-Eat and only less than 15 dishes to choose from. In Melbourne, definitely Melba @ Langham and yessss China Bar Signature!! I completely stuffed myself the last time I went in Burwood.. ate lots of fresh oysters, and sashimi (that was my “entree” and I’m pretty sure I already ate half the price I paid for by then, lol) and then everything else … it is the most amazing Asian buffet ever and I cannot wait to go back when the opportunity presents itself.

    Oh, and back in Malaysia I used to go to a Chicken Buffet as a child which started my whole craze for buffets… can you imagine All-You-Can-Eat fried chicken??? Lol!!

    PS your parents are so funny, they remind me of my parents haha!

  9. Great write up Libby 🙂 i’ve gone to Signature Dishes China Bar a few times and I feel the same way you do ~ for the price you pay the food there is decent and wow they even have macarons now?! I’ve also heard the one in the city serves better food than the one in Burwood, either way I hope they have better service at the one in the city. Cuz last time I went to the one in Burwood they were kinda rude and wanted us to leave at 9:45pm…even though they said they close at 10:30pm 🙁

    1. Haha yeah, but they were crappy macarons though.

      Regardless, we all did enjoy our meal at the city restaurant more than the Burwood East one. And yes, very stupid of them to say that they were open until 10:30pm only to shoo you away at 9:45pm. Ridiculous!

  10. This is a wonderful Asian buffet restaurant. It includes things like beautiful fresh prawns and other seafood, sushi, curries and just about everything else you can think of. We went for dinner, and provided you are very hungry, $50 per head (plus drinks) is pretty good value. I recommend booking a table with chairs, as opposed to the white leather couches on the periphery, as it is a bit of a pain when you’re sitting near the aisle and others want to get in and out all the time. By the way, the plates aren’t large, so be aware that you’ll need to go back to the buffet several times if you’re really hungry.

  11. Dear Libby,

    I am not a fan of buffet either as overeating is an obvious tendency. But I would make an exception to buffet spreads in some hotels in Singapore which have some of the most awesome variety of local delights.

  12. I tend not to like buffet restaurants also because the food is usually inferior as it has to sit out for hours and so nothing arrives on your plate ‘just cooked’. But having said that, the variety of what you were offered amazes me xx

  13. I don’t really like buffets either, unless if it’s at some super fancy 5 star hotel. 😛 My family used to eat at buffets a lot but not anymore, none of us have big enough appetites to make it worth it and the food’s usually not that good anyway. I drive past this place SO much but have never gone in! Good to know it’s not bad, maybe we’ll try it some time too. 🙂

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