I have to admit, fusion isn’t something I usually get excited about. The word is thrown about so loosely these days, it seems that you could pick any two dishes from two different menus and somehow sell it as fusion. While there are some fantastic examples of fusion out there (a la Nobu’s marriage of Japanese and Peruvian), on most occasions it’s more of a miss than a hit (Bonta Vita anyone?).
During my recent trip to Melbourne, Ziba from Harvey Publicity invited us to dine at Pan Asian, an asian fusion restaurant located on the Chapel Street precinct. Feeling adventurous, I put my skepticism aside and kindly agreed.
Walking into Pan Asian is like steppingback in time onto an old Chinese movie set. There’s an eclectic mix of antique dark wood chests, woven bamboo chairs and grand floor-to-ceiling carved wooden screens. The manga-style mural on the kitchen wall is a little over the top, but no doubt adds to the atmosphere of the place.
Once seated, we were greeted with dinner and drink menus. Pan Asian has quite a refined menu offering with an interesting mix of dishes – some more bold (or should I say, ‘fusion’) than others – such as the stir fried shark or blue cheese and leek gyoza.
We start with drink orders, and the lychee infused black tea catches my eye. As does the mojito on the cocktail list, which our waitress reveals to be the most popular cocktail on the menu. I can’t say I’m usually a fan of mojito, but the Pan Asian version, I can certainly warm to.
As we wait for our dishes, we are brought two shots of the housemade soy mushroom broth.
The first dish to arrive is the beef tataki. The slices are thin but tender and come accompanied with Japanese mayo, black sesame seeds and shoots.
Our next order is the char grilled cuttlefish and green papaya salad. Papaya or paw paw salad is a personal favourite of ours and although we’ve had quite a few variations, this dish lacks the depth of flavour and spiciness we’ve come to expect. That said, it is quite light on the palate and the supple cuttlefish curls are a nice addition.
The tea smoked duck breasts was a real stand-out for me. Although the duck alone was a winner in its own right, it was the pickled watermelon rind and toasted pistachios that brought all the flavours together in one intoxicating mouthful. I’ve never seen or tasted anything like the pickled watermelon rind – it was both sweet and sour and resembled the texture of a firm pear. I couldn’t get enough of it!
The last main to arrive on the night was Chinese style pork belly. We were both surprised by the generous serving of pork belly, it was probably the most generous we’ve ever seen in any restaurant. The strips of pork belly arrived doused in a blood orange sauce and tossed with celery and radish. While I didn’t eat as much of this dish as I would’ve liked (Mr. Taste and I were both loosening notches on our belts by this stage), I thought it was an interesting, if not clever combination.
Of course, we couldn’t leave without having dessert.
Our order of pandan panna cotta, blood orange sago and mandarin shortbread was absolutely amazing. This was the perfect fusion of flavours for me and I couldn’t have been happier to end the dinner any other way. The panna cotta was velvety smooth, with just the right amount of pandan. The blood orange soup was a little unusual but a treat with the sago pearls. And finally, the mandarin shortbread was delightful end to the meal.
267 Chapel Street
# 03 9533 7022
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 12:00-3:30pm and from 5:30pm to late.