La Chinesca | The Verdict

By Tash Sorensen
17th Mar 2014

Here to fulfil everyone's cross-culinary dreams, La Chinesca (which is now known as Harley House) recently invited us to their opening in the old basement of Harley House. The space previously occupied by Strange Wolf has been taken over as a Chinese Mexican bar and eatery, and has received much applause since.

The project, named after Chinatown in Mexicali and undertaken by Robert Hargrave, artist Vincent Fantauzzo and Andrew Lewis, provides the city with a new style of dining. Each of the owner's diverse backgrounds and skills is exemplified in the venue's aesthetic, only strengthened by their appointment of Mr Dave Mills (Piqueos) as Venue Manager.

The sub-level installment, accessible via Strachan Lane, represents the Mexican opium era, when tunnels led beneath borders and those in the know secretly gained access to all of life's endangering vices. La Chinesca, however, has a much more hospitable feel.

With Chef Daniel Salcedo (previously Piqueos and Rockpool) behind the flavoursome food menu, guests are also treated to an array of spice driven ingredients yet to be combined anywhere else in Melbourne. Tingling Prawns and Sichuan Chicken wings read exotically, but it's the Mantou (steamed buns) that myself and Mr Mills recommend. Asado short ribs with chipotle hot sauce, coriander and jalapenos are our choice of the menu.

A neat mixed drinks list is the brainchild of Chris Hysted (previously Black Pearl) and promotes fun Asian flavours.  Elderflower and jasmine combine with Ketel One Citroen in the delicious Tong War while Mexican maple and yuzu are teamed with Barley Shochu for an eclectic twist on a Tennessee classic, creating a modernised Rynchburg Remonade. For the spirit inclined, we quite enjoyed the whiskey and tequila selections, although the wine list is rather amazing too.

Style wise, La Chinesca is pretty unique, and there's a lot to take in. Mahogany and timber furnishings are surrounded by deep red tones and an array of portrait artwork. Aside from Fantauzzo's Archibald Prize awarded pieces of Heath Ledger and partner Asher Keddie, images of fictional pop culture icon Susie Wong also feature.

The black leather booths were a personal design favourite, perfect for cosying up with someone special. They sit towards the back of the high-capacity L shaped venue, which also provides both stool and couch options for dining and reclining. The turquoise bar front added a gorgeous pop of colour. With minimal drop pendant lighting and exposed brick, I comfortably sipped at the bar while white collar conversations unfolded around me.

With a 3am licence on Friday and Saturdays, the underground haunt will trade until 1am every other night (closed Mondays). With food and drink available until late, La Chinesca is the perfect place for that naughty evening tipple.

Editor's note: As of May 2015, La Chineca is now known as Harley House
La Chinesca
Harley House | Basement, 71 Collins Street in Melbourne
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Image Credits: Tash Sorensen & Ryan Noreiks for The Urban List.

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