Sheng Fang and his wife, Qian Qian, are the brains behind Old Town Noodlery, which has been supplying some of Melbourne's best restaurants with top-notch dumplings. Well, now it's their turn to claim all the glory for themselves!
Last week, the couple opened the doors to their own restaurant, Ruyi Dumpling & Wine Bar, on Liverpool Street, across the road from cocktail joint, Double Happiness.
Something of an architecture and interior design fanatic, Sheng engaged Paul Hecker of award-wining, multi-disciplinary practice Hecker Guthrie. Sheng also project managed the build himself, with a view to subverting expectations in Chinatown.
"Chinese restaurants in the west are still very clichéd and predictable, with the interiors all red, green and gold," Sheng says. "I didn't want any of that. I want Ruyi to be a unique experience. China is a big country, with so many different facets."
The name Ruyi, which translates as 'as you wish,' and refers to items considered good luck, references an old family heirloom. The restaurant's interior is designed with Sheng's family history in mind. "I wanted to Ruyi to be dedicated to my upbringing back in China, to my family, and the house I was born into," he says. "Some people write a book or a song, I set up this restaurant."
Polished concrete floors and pale wooden wall panels set against white walls are softened with sage-coloured shelving laden with crockery fashioned by Melbourne ceramic artist, Andrei Davidoff. Concrete pendant lamps in oxblood red are ensconced in wooden fixtures, and the paired-back design lends an air of simplicity. "I wanted clean lines, almost Zen, and yet there's also a lot of detail," Sheng says.
It's not just the interior that embraces this calm, contemporary approach. The menu, designed by two young chefs formerly of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, does too. "I wanted dishes that Chinatown hasn't seen before," Sheng says. "They can be very predictable, with their lemon chicken, sweet and sour pork and black bean beef. I didn't want any of that. It's Chinese food without the grease, that looks wholesome and healthy and fresh."
The menu includes dishes like wasabi steak with zucchini and peppers, crispy prawns in a light berry sauce and scallops lightly battered with mango. Of course, Ruyi wouldn't pass its name test if those family recipe dumplings weren't present and correct. Pork and crab shao long bao join steamed prawn dumplings and handmade wontons in chilli sauce.
As for the Wine Bar bit of the moniker, there's an element of east meets west, with exciting European varietals on offer, including luscious reds like the Vissoux Beaujolais Les Griottes Gamay from France, the Spanish Felix Callejo Flores de Callejo Tempranillo, and an Italian Massolino Langhe Nebbiolo. Whites include the German Von Buhl Estate Riesling QBA Trocken, and the French Goisot Saint-Bris Corps de Garde Blanc Chardonnay. There's a wide variety of Australian and New Zealand tipples too.
Sheng's passion is evident in his enthusiastic vision for Ruyi. "This concept is a personal fulfilment of mine. Some people write a book or a song, I set up this restaurant. I want it to be a discovery and a treasure."
Image Credits: Tash Sorensen for The Urban List.