Yum Cha at Claremont Tonic: New Style
Disclaimer: I did not pay for my meal, Claremont Tonic hosted a free media lunch. The opinions reported below are based solely on my thoughts at the time of my visit.
Address: 15A Corner Claremont Street and Yarra Lane, South Yarra
Phone: (03) 9827 0399
Open: yum cha on weekends between 11am and 3pm
‘Boring’ is not a word you’ll ever hear at Claremont Tonic in South Yarra. Nor is ‘dull’ or ‘common’. Up until this weekend, you wouldn’t have heard the words ‘yum cha’, either. A couple of day ago I was invited to a media lunch to sample the new yum cha menu at Claremont Tonic, another restaurant by young gun restaurateur, Davis Yu. To be honest, there wasn’t anything remotely ‘yum cha’ about the whole experience, which is probably why Claremont Tonic has coined a cuisine: ‘yum cha new style’.
Claremont Tonic’s yum cha new style is available on weekends as of this Sunday (Feb 17th), from 11am until 3pm. You won’t find trolleys or trays here, but paper menus where you scribble down your order in the allocated boxes (the same way diners do at Miss Chu, and also at David’s in Prahran for their Chop Chop express menu).
It’s not the lack of trolleys that make Claremont Tonic’s new menu distinctly different from yum cha, it’s the imaginative and flavoursome dishes from Head Chef Dylan Roberts.
We started with prawn, almond and corn toast, which was the closest thing to a traditional yum cha dish on the menu. The firm prawn disks were coated in a thick, fried crumb, dotted with corn kernels and the subtle crunch of crushed almonds.
The classic dumpling arrived next, a pork belly and scallop shui mai. The Claremont twist came in the form of a pumpkin pure crown, sprinkled with spiced seeds.
One of the more creative dishes – a Thai spiced pulled duck taco – stole the show. Deep-fried nori posed as the taco shell, stuffed with juicy shredded duck, plump lychees and peanuts. There are always bonus points up for grabs if your food is tasty as well as fun, and this dish – a variant of my favourite Claremont Tonic dish, the ‘King of the Chimichichangas’ – fits the bill.
Now I’m not usually a chicken kind of gal. I’ve always found it pretty bland and even when it’s not, chicken struggles to outdo red meat and fish, in my opinion. I was alerted to my crude generalisation the moment I bit into the quinoa fried chicken lollipops at Claremont Tonic. Chicken drumsticks in a crisp batter were sprinkled generously with hon dashi salt (made from kelp and fishy bonito flakes) and served on a dollop of yuzu kosho cream (a combination of chilli and citrus). No chopsticks required.
The tender steamed ox cheek and sweet onion cheung fun (rice noodle rolls) didn’t disappoint, either. Finished with homemade XO sauce and shitake mushroom crisps, these little rolls of heaven were rich and saucy (there’s definitely a ‘just how I like my men’ joke in there…)
Finally, we were taken over the edge with red braised crispy lamb belly, salsa verde and smoked yoghurt. These tasty morsels are sure to be a crowd pleaser once yum cha new style gets the ball rolling.
Claremont Tonic is also sprucing up their cocktail menu, which is just as interesting as their food. The Tiki Showdown is a battle between two original cocktail recipes. Two fellas, Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber, are credited with inventing the Mai Tai, but no one knows for sure who did. The Tiki Showdown cocktail is in fact four: two of each version of the original Mai Tai served as a rack of milk bottles. The idea is that you share them with three friends and decide who deserves the title of Mai Tai Extraordinaire.
The Panda(N) Stick, aptly named because it’s served in a bamboo receptacle, is an invigorating combination of crushed ice, pandan, chilli, cinnamon, rum, fresh lime and cane sugar. The chilli wasn’t overpowering and I couldn’t help but think ‘beach’ when I drank it.
The last cocktail, Voronoff and Moreau, resembled a tropical intravenous bag. Surprisingly for Claremont Tonic’s reputation, you don’t inject it; you drink it from a straw protruding from the plastic. Gin, grenadine, pomegranate seeds, star anise and rehydrated orange make for a bright combination. A touch too sweet for my personal taste.
My final thoughts? If you were Chinese and took your Nan to yum cha new style at Claremont Tonic, she’d probably faint. But if you fit neatly into Gen Y or X and get sick and tired of the repetitive Melbourne food scene (we’re so spoilt, it’s ridiculous) then give Claremont Tonic’s ‘yum cha’ a go. At the very least, every dish is a conversation starter.