Wander into a sleek, modernised pocket of Myanmar in the middle of corporate Melbourne.
If there is one cuisine type that Melbourne does particularly well, over and above all the other “food cities” of the world, these Dessert Correspondents would say, modern Asian, or specifically, modern South East Asian. With the likes of our old favourites of Gingerboy, Coda, Easy Tiger, Longrain, to some extent Chin Chin, Red Spice Road and Circa, and the melee of more casual (less quality) options launched in the last year or so (think, Saigon Sally, Bang Pop etc), it’s a pretty saturated landscape at the moment. Opening late last year, Burma Lane sought to bring an underrepresented, more regionally ethnic flavour to Melbourne. Set over two levels, aside from its name, other telltale signs that Burma Lane is well, about Burmese food, are the long scroll poster depicting Aung San Suu Kyi, the less conspicuous holiday snapshots and the uber-cool birdcage lighting. Other than these aspects, the restaurant is all modern minimalist, sleekly, darkly, Melbourne-style. The outside facade itself, one could easily bypass during the day, as yet another glass-and-steel office tower.
At Burma Lane, the food is sharing-style, divided into several categories, “Small, salad, bird, meat, fish, veg, and desserts.” On the first visit late last year and on another just a month ago, the wait staff still insist on edifying us about “how to” order from a sharing-style. Maybe necessary a decade ago, truly not necessary in the year 2013/2014. Aside from perhaps being a little over-detailed in menu description, service at Burma Lane is generally good. No condescending, patronizing hipster staff here, thank God. Turning to the food itself, the best value has to be the $65 pp option, where you leave it entirely to the hands of the chef for a generous, flavour-filled banquet. A la carte though, we highly recommend the smaller bites and the salads. In particular, the “Betel Leaf” ($6 each) topped with spiced coconut chicken. Yes, it’s ubiquitous now, done everywhere and anywhere, but nothing can compete with such an appetizer and a zingy tropical cocktail to start off a mod-Asian meal. And damn, Burma Lane’s cocktail (and mocktail) list is excellent. Also worthy of stomach space were the “Potato Lamb Cakes” ($16) drizzled with a sour note of yogurt, a touch of colonial Britain and Arabia all into one. We much preferred the flavour-saturated salads variously enlivened with lemongrass, chili, sesame, lime, coconut etc, rather than the meats and the fish dishes, which were executed with a heavier hand, and possessed far less flavour distinction. Curry dishes are certainly not an Australian forte. The accompanying condiments of a tomato chili chutney, chili seeds and the pungent belachan (dried shrimp) paste that any Thai or Malaysian would be familiar with, were more liberally used on the meats and fish items as a result. The food is served on interesting, ochre brown-toned glazed ceramic ware, a great change from boring white dinner plates, or worse, those hideous, Japonesque black stoneware that almost every new Melbourne restaurant seems to be buying.
And so we come to the dessert menu of course, the reason why you read our reviews! There are usually four desserts on offer at Burma Lane, some of which are seasonal and others, such as a sago coconut pudding and a semolina cake are menu stayers. Excellent in its own right is the (unpictured) “Burn Butter Semolina Cake” ($16), think heartwarming, British-style cake pudding topped with an orb of cloying palm sugar ice cream. In terms of congruity with the rest of the menu however, we found this dessert somewhat too rich and dense for a meal of this sort. Rather, of the desserts that we have sampled over two visits, we recommend two. The aforementioned, “Sago Coconut Pudding” ($14), is probably the best option after a mod-Burmese meal — slightly sweet, substantial but still light enough not to overwhelm the sense. It’s served as a a compacted wide stump of sago pearls layered with a coconut cream jelly-pudding, and is flanked with a fresh, light fruit salad dotted with beads of pomegranate. For something a little more “regional,” and perhaps one that is likely to prove more divisive among diners, we also quite liked the seasonal “Coconut and Pandan Steamed Cake” ($14). A little thicker in mouthfeel than a Malaysian Nyonya kuih, it was another good dessert option.
Burma Lane doesn’t try to be “authentic” in any way. Yet, it’s because of this spirit, of bringing a touch of that country’s little known cuisine, that it succeeds. Particularly good for its small bites, East-meets-West cocktails and vibrant salads, we can see Burma Lane fitting into the gap between the just-a-little-too-safe, group-friendly Red Spice Road, and the more upmarket Longrain.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Burma Lane, 118 Little Collins Street, Melbourne CBD, Vic 3000.
- ☑ Budget: $$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Restaurant dessert. Modern South East Asian / Burmese.
- ☑ Must-eat: The “Sago Coconut Pudding.”
- ☑ The short and sweet story: Wander into a sleek, modernised pocket of Myanmar in the middle of corporate Melbourne.