The Verdict | United Kitchen Dining & Tapas

By Clare Acheson
9th Feb 2016

united kitchen tapas and bar
united kitchen tapas and bar

Cocktails, tapas and fusion flavours, by way of the UK, China, Mexico and Australia?! Melbourne’s latest fusion food venture is bringing together inspiration from all over the globe in its jaw-droppingly beautiful southside venue. Listers, meet St Kilda’s latest newcomer: United Kitchen Dining & Tapas.

United Kitchen Dining & Tapas popped up on our radar just before Christmas. Buried under a slew of end of year party invites, Christmas cocktail parties and family-focused soirees (it’s a tough life, right?), we unfortunately didn’t get around to checking out this fresh-faced southside bar-restaurant until 2016 hit - and boy, are we sorry we didn’t discover it sooner!

The brainchild of food and drink loving couple, chef Tong Li and his business partner Lee Li, the venture brings influences from all over the world together with no less than four twists on the classic margarita. (One includes ginger infused compressed watermelon – but we’ll get to that later…) It’s a fantastic spot for everything from a one-drink first date, to an evening of foodie indulgence, to a catch-up with friends that you just know will last into the small hours.

While fusion is definitely having its moment right now in Melbourne, these guys are serious when it comes to jamming with their flavours. Whether you’re sitting down to a bowl of tom yum-spiced edamame peas, Chimichurri-laced soft shell crabs, or prawns tossed in a cacophony of spices sourced from the four corners of the globe, we can pretty much guarantee that your mouth will be globe-trotting, no matter what you order.

Having already updated the menu three times to accommodate for nature’s ever-changing seasonal bounty, it’s clear that chef Li is a man of his word: “You need to work with the ingredients rather than asking the ingredients to work with you,” he tell us, as tender octopus, freshly blended guacamole, and melt-in-your-mouth beef cheek make their way onto our table.

Beef cheek aside, it’s the cocktails and desserts that really bowled us over. Inspired by Li’s two-year stint in Mexico, the margarita list itself is worth checking out, especially the watermelon interpretation that spices up fruit flavours with a hit of ginger. Spiced rum fans, you’ll love the Knickerbocker, which includes tangy raspberry and a shot of Triple Sec. And as ever, coffee lovers can indulge in a walnut espresso martini or the mighty Café de Ximinez – espresso, coffee infused tequila and a dash of Pedro Ximinez sherry, a bitter-sweet reinvention that we could drink all night long. 

While St Kilda’s food and nightlife offering might still be dominated by old favourites, it’s refreshing to see a new face on the block serving up some tasty bites and innovative drinks. United Kitchen Dining & tapas may have snuck onto the scene quietly, but we’re sure it won’t stay quiet for long. Pull up a seat at the bar now, folks, before the word gets out.

Image credit: Neiyo Sun

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