Fusion concepts, like a really well tossed boomerang, have come back from the ‘90s to excite and confuse us once more. In the city you’ve got Chinese-Mexican joint La Chinesca, and here on Chapel, above the Oriental Teahouse, David Zhou has built a bar serving the Chinese yum cha you know from downstairs and a pan-Asian craft beer list that steers heavily towards Japan.
The room itself is attractive and airy, but slightly formal, featuring large communal tables and wicker lounge chairs in a mix designed to evoke 1930s China.
Cocktails lean a little cute name-wise (hello, Monkey Magic), but the drinks themselves have decent kick. A Khe Sanh Shizzle is an infusion of ginger, chilli and tequila served in a large conical glass. Garnished with a further spike of chilli, it smells dangerous, but drinks smooth and warm. The Gee and Tea – gin combined with lemongrass and ginger tea (which can be purchased downstairs – synergy!), is downright refreshing.
Asian beer selection in Melbourne rarely ventures beyond the Asahi/Tiger/Tsing Tao-nexus, but Zhou Zhou offers fifty shades of interesting – most coming from Japanese brewers. Special mention to the Hitachino Dai Dai Ale - an American-style IPA without the bitterness you might expect. The wine list doesn’t slouch either, with a playful collection focussing on Australian producers. There’s also a page dedicated to sake, because, you know, Asia.
The food menu is focused on sharing – wontons, spring rolls, dumplings, and tasty little chicken ribs. You’re encouraged to collect your own chopsticks, bowls and condiments when your food arrives, which can prove messy, depending on how much you’ve drunk. There’s minor dissonance in some of the menu – the Chinese broccoli ain’t really finger food and feels a little formal for a bar snack. But for all the casual touches, service is still sharp – staff are friendly, knowledgeable and forgiving of those who spill their soy sauce.
The pan-Asian country hopping is a little confusing, but the predominantly young crowd don’t seem to mind. And in a Melbourne bar scene fixated on the USA, a change of region is no bad thing.