A lot of Melbournians still don’t know about Golden Monkey, which is weird. It’s an underground Shanghai dumpling bar that’s been kicking around since 2005.
Mates Michael Chen and Adam Ong are the bosses here, and they’ve recently given the interiors a bit of a tzuj. The result? Bloody brilliant. Unlike sister venue East China Trading Company upstairs, this place doesn’t mind being a bit OTT when it comes to ‘theme’. The theme, in this case, is red-neon Shanghai opium den (minus the actual opium).
The guys have done a brilliant job with the décor down here. You step off Hardware Lane and suddenly you’re in a subterranean world, full of crimson lighting, red lacquered screens, dark timber and hidden cocktail nooks. There's a DJ in the corner, an old-school mural behind the bar and dozens of dark, date-night drinking nooks.
The food down here is wall-to-wall steamed baskets, steamed dumplings and steamed bao. The ‘Favourites Basket’ is a good place to start—you get three serves of pork xiao long bao, vegan shui jiao, chicken & prawn shui jiao and pork & prawn siu mai. All the food groups, right there, and not bad for $27.
Otherwise just go a la carte—load up with sticky rice siu mai, studded with Chinese sausage, or maybe the lamb, spring onion and coriander dumplings. It’s all delicious stuff. You can’t help wonder...if more dumplings were available in the 19th century, maybe fewer people would have turned to opium.
The cocktail list has had a refresh too, and plays along with the theme. You can get Emerald Peach Mojitos, swizzled with peach nectar and T2 tea syrup, or giant ‘Tea Punch’ bowls (for 2 – 10 people). Our pick of those is defs The Fujian Fountain Of Youth—Chinese lychee tea infused with vodka, absinthe, elderflower syrup, aloe vera and cucumber.
So how do you know if Golden Monkey or East China Trading Company is your bag? Personally we like both, but in different ways. East China is all about the rum and the dumplings. Golden Monkey is for later at night, as the streets mist and the neon comes on—you come down here and sip mandarin Negronis like it’s 1887.
Don’t check our history on that one...
Image credit: Griffin Simm