East China Trading Company
Some people will tell you Hardware Lane is for tourists. That there aren’t any proper bars here (at least nowhere you’d choose to impress a Tinder date).
But those people probably never sat down for dumplings and rum cocktails at East China Trading Company.
This is the sister bar to Golden Monkey (which you’ll find in the basement downstairs). But where Golden Monkey is wall-to-wall 19th-century opium den (lattice screens, red neon and hanging silks), East China Trading Company draws its inspo from the ports of Shanghai. Inside you’ll find timber booths, textured walls, hanging red lanterns and jade-leather upholstery.
...oh, and some of the best dumplings outside of China Town.
“East China Trading Company is about all-day drinking and all-day dining, where you can enjoy amazing cocktails and delicious dumplings. We also have a fantastic collection of rums,” says owner Michael Chen.
The cocktail menu first. In fact, there’s actually three menus here. The first breaks cocktails into trade goods from the 19th century: coffee, tea, spices and sugar. The second is all about booze-free mocktails (handy for desos).
The third is East China’s “new age rum manifest”. Think 200+ artisan rums, broken up by production method (as opposed to origin or colour). There’s also 50 classic rum cocktails in there (although personally we’ll just keep ordering Dark & Stormies till we die).
Pairing rum and dumplings is a bloody genius idea. We’re struggling to think of anywhere else in Melbourne doing something like this. Gives East China a real ‘smugglers’ kind of vibe. The best way to go is the 12 dumplings for $27. You can load up with combos of pork xiao long bao, pork, prawn and chive shui jiao, tender chicken and shitake dumplings or sticky rice siu mai (to name just a few). Vegans and veggos, there’s options for you as well.
There’s also a few bar nibbles like baskets of crispy pork crackling or chilli-spiked broad beans. You can either have pre-drinks here then kick-on to a nearby restaurant (Palermo is good), or just settle in for an all-night rum and dumpling feast (that gets our vote).
Hardware Lane skeptics, you need to check this place out.
Image credit: Griffin Simm