182 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9417 0071
Disclaimer: I dined as Thanh’s guest; he got invited by Blue Chillies for a complimentary meal and I tagged along.
I’ve always been sceptical of modern Asian restaurants, especially when the end result tastes like nothing even remotely resembling Asian food (and no, splashing fish sauce on everything doesn’t work). That said, there are some excellent modern Asian restaurants in Melbourne that do a great job; they’re the ones that strike the perfect (and usually difficult) balance between paying tribute to decades-old cooking methods and contemporary ingredients. Blue Chillies on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy is one of them.
I liked my lunch there because the menu stays true to traditional Malaysian flavours but casually throws in some surprise twists here and there. There’s none of that contrived hipster wankery that you see all too often in this part of Melbourne – and there are no signs of wooden serving boards anywhere. It’s the sort of place you can easily bring your young work buddies before Wednesday night trivia at the pub or your fussy Asian parents to for lunch on weekends.
Our host Ricky warmly greeted us, suggesting we start off with some booze. Thanh stuck with a glass of white wine while I said yes to an aperitif called ‘Linh’s party starter,’ a refreshing mix of ginger wine and apple juice topped with sparkling wine, served in a champagne glass.
We began our meal with some steamed buns filled with duck rendang. This dish itself isn’t on the a la carte menu (at least the current version of it anyway), but it appears as part of Blue Chillies’ celebration and deluxe banquet menus ($50 and $65 per head, respectively). The a la carte menu does offer duck rendang as a main, though so I’m guessing they serve it in bao form to prevent wastage.
As an Indonesian, I grew up eating lots of rendang – but only ever the beef kind. I’ve never even thought about using duck in rendang and I kind of wish I did. The gamey duck flesh paired beautifully with the aromatic spices and chillies in the curry, making it more exciting to eat than the traditional beef version (but probably costlier to make).
I’m not a huge fan of soft shell crab so I didn’t attack this dish as ferociously as Thanh did. Still, I ate it all, piquant black pepper sauce and all. Also, it may not look like it in the photo but the batter arrived on our table super crispy and light.
The rockling with butter egg floss was, by far, my favourite dish of the day. Fish is my favourite meat and I love duck eggs so really, this dish was a winner in my eyes before I even touched it. Take rockling pieces, lightly fry them in batter until they’re gorgeously crispy and then add some duck egg floss on top along with fried curry leaves and chilli for good measure. True, you really can’t go wrong with duck egg but the combination of textures and flavours just made this dish a ‘must order’ for when I next visit Blue Chillies.
Blue Chillies offers a range of curries and noodle dishes for lunch, but Ricky suggested we try the assam prawns instead. The prawns were gently cooked in a beautifully tangy tamarind curry that was light and piquant with the slightest hint of chilli. I like my curries heavy but sometimes it’s nice to go for a version that’s less likely to make you bloat like crazy.
We shared a serving of belachan spinach on the side. At $19, I found the price point of the spinach a bit odd given that it’s a side dish – especially also given that Blue Chillies’ medium-sized dishes were on the $18-20 mark. That said, the serving size was extremely generous – I love belachan (shrimp paste) so much that I would have happily enjoyed this one dish on my own for lunch.
I was a bit of a dill and accidentally deleted the one and only photo I had of our dessert, the pandan crepes ($10). Sorry folks, you’ll just have to rely on my flimsy description of this dish. Picture a pair of mutant-green crepes filled with wok-roasted coconut and palm sugar and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Yup, it’s Blue Chillies’ version of kueh dadar, a sweet Nonya-style dessert that many Malaysians would have grown up eating.
Later on, I was surprised to find that Blue Chillies had been trading since my rebellious teenage years – 1999, to be exact. Yet, I had only just heard about them. I think it’s great that Blue Chillies managed to survive on such a competitive street for so long and continue to do well. Hopefully they’re still around when I’m in Melbourne and craving those butter egg floss rockling fillets.