Melbourne has always had a love affair with a good plate of carbs, whether it be rice, pasta or injera, but the humble bowl of noodles is having its time in the sun, especially with the sudden appearance of Lanzhou Beef Noodle. You probably haven’t noticed them, but Lanzhou Beef Noodle joints been popping up around universities in Melbourne. Melbourne Uni, RMIT and Monash have been given an army of hard working noodle-pullers, feeding the minds and stomachs of the next generation to enter our workforce.
The CBD location is the newest, and the décor is nothing special. You basically walk through the entrance to the counter, passing an open, refrigerated cabinet of delectable snacks and accompaniments that appeal to your impulse-purchase sensibilities. The cabinet is manned by someone diligently weighing strips of thinly sliced marinated beef, spicy pig’s ears salad, braised chicken feet, garlicky cucumbers, corn cobs and bowls of tea eggs priced per plate, next to bubble cup sealed containers of house-made drinks like sweet teas or juices with goji berries and winter melon floating about in them. It’s sensory overload if it is your first visit, but be sure to have your order ready when you make it to the counter or you’ll stuff up the well-oiled efficiency of the venue in 10 seconds flat.
Menus are plastered to the front window so you can choose between braised beef noodles, spicy noodles, pickled cabbage noodles or dry noodles before you even impulse-shop for snacks. Don’t be intimidated by all the free-flowing Mandarin, though – all the staff speak perfect English and prompt you for your noodle choice (from super thin all the way to extra wide), whether you’d like it traditionally spicy or toned down and if you want lashings of coriander and spring onions as garnish. From there, you receive a number, chose a seat (if you can get one immediately) and wait. No one lingers in this venue; the modus operandi of being a diner at Lanzhou Beef Noodle is you eat, then you leave, making room for the next hungry person to take your place.
The impersonal service doesn’t sway anyone from the experience though, as the noodles are that good. The open kitchen places the noodle puller (whose arms are chiseled out of wood and as wide as tree trunks) front and centre, and you can see him pulling noodles to order. With each docket, he rolls out a carefully practised amount of dough, and with a few movements, turns out a different width and shape of noodle to be thrown into a boiling pot to cook before a production-line of workers build your bowl of noodles. Someone adds spice, another garnish, another broth, and someone else tops it with the right protein and delivers it to your table. All that happens within five minutes.
These noodles are the best hand-pulled version we have tasted in Melbourne. They possess the perfect chew and just-cooked bite in the impossibly long string that forces you to enjoy the slurpability. Do not wear a white shirt if you plan on dining here, even if you think you’re a chopstick expert.
Broth choice and garnishes play second fiddle to the humble carbohydrate, but they are complex and nuanced in each variation. Dry noodles don’t allow you to chose your width of noodle, but there is a vegan option that is worth everyone’s attention. There is vinegar and chili oil at the table, but trust us, you won’t need them.
Topping out at $12.80 for the most expensive bowl of noodles, Lanzhou Beef Noodle have disproved the theory of the Iron Triangle, demonstrating that it is possible to get something good, fast and cheap.