A few Saturdays ago, like a deer in the decision-making headlights, I was having trouble deciding what I wanted for dinner.
Weighed down by Chapel Street choice overload, I remembered reading about this unexpected find of a Chinese restaurant in Prahran. Decision made. And despite having stored this factoid of information in my restaurant-recalling Rolodex of a brain, I was completely surprised, in a good way, by what I found.
Proof the best Melbourne finds are down dark laneways
Turning into the tiny Cecil Place laneway off Chapel Street, I hesitated. Barely lit, I had to ask myself what I was doing. Before reminding myself that the true test of a Melburnian is if you can throw safety to the wind and explore poorly-lit laneways. Looking up and seeing the expensive-looking ‘David’s’ signage my anxieties eased and after walking through the doors they were quickly forgotten. For I’d just walked into a strangely provincial Shanghai palace; all white walls, Chinoiserie-style lamps and lush hanging plants creating a surprisingly peaceful ambience.
So why was I surprised? I guess when I made the booking I was imagining your typical Chinese yum cha restaurant. Good steamed dumplings, but slightly kitsch and shabby furnishings. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find a beautiful Asian-inspired beach house in the heart of Prahran, serving up some of the best tasting Chinese food I’ve ever had. Although that seems naïve given we’re in a postcode where appearance is everything.
Seated in one of the mismatched wooden chairs, underneath a table adorned by Chinese accoutrements, I was a very happy, toasty pork bun, with winter well and truly left out in the alleyway, while I was relaxing in my summer beach house.
David is an actual person
Again, I don’t know why I was surprised by this either!
David’s restaurant is the brainchild of former tea importer David Zhou. Born in Zhouzhuang, a rural town in Shanghai, he wanted to bring the flavours of his Chinese countryside upbringing to a very grateful Prahran audience, opening the restaurant in 1999 (and revamping it in 2012).
The menu is typically authentic to the riverside Zhouzhuang region and created using locally-sourced produce, making the food fresh and flavour-filled. David’s offers a unique twist on your everyday Chinese food.
From the garden. From the pen. From the paddock.
Inspecting the large placemat menu, I insisted on husband Jude and I sharing. I was struggling to make a solitary decision, weighed down from my earlier choice fatigue. I wanted at least a dozen different dishes.
But the drawback of sharing with my carnivore husband is that anything that falls outside the realms of meat-based falls outside the realms of possibility. Some of the menu items ‘from the garden’ looked delicious, but ‘from the pen’ and ‘from the paddock’ it was.
Our prawn and chopped chive dumplings, which sprang up on the table mighty quickly, were super fresh and delicious, clinging to our chopsticks like glue. They were a quickly-consumed little appetiser, leading into a shared main meal of Auntie’s fried rice, with Chinese sausage and egg; salt and pepper calamari; and Gong Bo chicken stir fry, with white radish, peanuts, cucumber, chilli and garlic.
I was slightly hesitant in ordering the salt and pepper calamari given A) we were in a Chinese restaurant and B) the boat load of bad salt and pepper calamari I’ve endured in my time, but it was another surprise. I ended up placing the calamari in front of me and swatting Jude’s pesky hands away with my chopsticks whenever he tried to steal a piece. Whose idea was it to share? The batter was unusually light and weirdly tasted like salt and pepper. Go figure!
The drinks list was another unexpected surprise, with a good selection of spirits, cocktails, and international and local beers (including South Australian Coopers Sparkling) and various big name wines. I enjoyed my Italian Prosecco so much that when the waiter asked if I wanted another one it felt rude to decline. Jude boringly tells me the water was surprisingly good too.
Or if none of the drinks David’s has to offer floats your boat, raid your wine rack (or Dan Murphy’s across the road) beforehand and bring a bottle from home*, paying only $10 corkage per bottle and it’s FREE on Tuesdays. Get around it!
* Not available Friday or Saturday dinner, and Sunday lunch.
David’s is a wonderful surprise package, proving that I need to throw safety to the wind more often and start venturing down some poorly lit laneways.
The four dishes we ordered and two glasses of sparkling set us back just shy of $100. Which, given we were satisfyingly full and didn’t have room left for dessert dumplings (which I was less satisfied about), wasn’t too bad. Their set sharing ‘feed me’ menu looks to be good value for money too.
In fact, I was all but ready to go back the next day to critique their unlimited yum cha offering (available Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30am or 1:30pm). I also pocketed a take-away menu on the way out, as with free delivery over $30** I have a new dumplings-delivered-to-my-door favourite.
In fact, since I was introduced those few weekends back, I now ‘cook’ David’s at least once a week.
** Update: Deliveroo now manages David’s delivery, so free delivery is a thing of the past.
David’s | 4 Cecil Place, Prahran, Victoria
Phone: (03) 9529 5199