Ants Bistro bears the distinction of having one of the most eccentric menus we’ve seen in Melbourne. The first six pages are taken up by a lengthy explication of the Chinese zodiac. Dishes bear names like the Minister Chicken (“very exciting”) and the Tasty Chicken (cold). Vermicelli and dried scampi is listed under vegetables. Braised eggplant is listed under meat. The cocktail list offers a (sic) Harveywalll Banker. We could go on for a while. But we won’t, because of course what here matters isn’t the abundance of Engrish, or the name – it’s simply great food for a great price. That’s what places Ants among Chinatown’s winners.
Located on Corrs Lane, opposite Time Out favourite Berlin, it occupies two levels of a fairly unprepossessing building. The soundtrack is muzak, and all that sets the crimson-heavy décor apart from that of a dozen of its neighbours is the strangely-chosen entomological theme which keeps popping up.
The dishes on offer range the breadth of culinary China, from Peking duck to jellyfish, “straightly vegetarian” turnip puff-pasties to Ants Climbing a Tree. Sizzling iron plates of beef emerge from the kitchen on a regular basis but there are several standout vegetable dishes. These include the fisherman’s eggplant and fried string beans with pickles and mushrooms and the deep fried silken tofu with plum sauce (always a treat).
All the wines save one are midrange Australians, and most of the beers are local too, though there is Tsing Tao on offer. Takeaway is available, and we happen to know that Fad Bar across the way lets customers bring their food in. If you’re eating in, however, you’ll find the young, black-uniformed staff efficient and attentive.