So here it is. Burma Lane. The new project from the team behind upscale Thai chain Red Spice Road that’s vying for your affections with the restaurant formula of 2013: a share plate menu that updates an exotic cuisine (this time, the chilli- and pickle-packed dishes of Burma) served by pinnied waiters with the back-up of Smooth FM tunes, edgy murals (here it’s freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi – political!) and back-bracing cocktails.
If this is your first rodeo with Burmese eats, the good news is, you’ll find some new flavours that Melbourne has yet to flog to death.
The pickled tea leaf salad – staple of Burma – delivers the most potency and crunch on the menu. A trail mix of fried garlic slivers, pepitas, and dried soy beans are peppered through the vegetation of cabbage, diced tomato and fresh chilli with the wet, bitter hempy tea leaves. The potato cake is a hit too – soft braised lamb with a good lift of star anise, and soft, coconut-infused potato in a crisp, chewy shell, topped with a cool minty yoghurt like custard on a Christmas cake. It’s such a shame it’s sitting on a cabbage and chilli salad that has almost no perceptible flavour.
Burmese, like Thai and Vietnamese, requires a light touch in uniting the spicy, sweet and sour elements, and chef Adam Trengrove doesn’t hit the target every time. He gets it right when it comes to a parcel of fat prawns cooked and served in a neat banana leaf package with a sweet, salty lemongrass and chilli-forward sauce. But we wouldn’t rush back for the khaut swe duck noodles – pickled mustard greens add the only real piquancy to an otherwise fairly bland dish of smooshy noodles topped with a braised duck leg that has lost its juiciness and flavour to the cooking process. The table condiments of vinegary chilli sauces and a traditional fishy, relish infused with shrimp paste help hiccups like these, but we can't the same for the $22 price tag.
On the plus side, you can drink well here. A cocktail that sees cachaca (raw sugarcane spirit) light up sugarcane, lime and fresh watermelon juices is worth a walk-in for alone. Same goes for the smart wine list of spice-equalising gewürztraminers, rieslings and local craft beers. We just wish there was bar to drink them at.
This is old Mahjong Black site, and while they've significantly softened the place with the street-art mural and a flock of suspended bird cages, with its luxe-austere glossy black walls spanning two floors, it's caught in limbo between fun and formal.
This is, however, something they're planning on working on in the new year. Our advice? Drop in now for drinks and a few snacks, but save your big spend visit till they've had more time to find their feet.