First Look: Fiery Chinese Barbeque From the Dainty Sichuan Crew

Written for Broadsheet

The husband and wife team behind the chilli-centric Dainty Sichuan restaurant group has just opened a new eatery above a teppanyaki joint in Chinatown.

Chef Tina Li and her husband Ye Shao’s other spots are best known for fiery dishes from Sichuan Province in south-west China, but their menus navigate a spectrum that includes not just heat, but also sour, pungent, sweet, bitter, aromatic and salty flavours. Together with business partners Lulu Dai and Li Wei, the pair now extends this approach to Sichuan barbeque at Rising Embers.

Led by the scent of grilled meats, hike upstairs to be greeted by a short line of customers eagerly waiting for tables. You’ll be handed a raffle ticket, and after the host completes a few laps of the floor and other diners move out, your number is called and you’re guided to a table.

Once seated, there’s no pressure to eat quickly to keep that line by the door moving – take things as slow or as fast as you like. Scroll through categories on an iPad menu of Australian lamb, seafood, pork, poultry, vegetarian, grilled skewers and dessert, and send your order off to the kitchen with a quick tap.

Next, your personal grill is fired up and plates of raw protein and vegetables arrive at the table. Release your inner grill master, rotating and prodding until each element is charred to your liking. If you’re a grilling novice, you can leave most of it to your host.

The spread might include spicy pork ribs; squid tentacle skewers dusted in salt, black pepper, cumin and chilli; marinated pork belly packing loads of garlic; and mashed sweet potatoes blended with velvety melted mozzarella cheese. The star here, though, is the Wagyu.

“We prefer to use local beef because the quality of Australian Wagyu is competitive with the Japanese one,” says Wei. “The most important thing is we don’t want to freeze Wagyu because the quality will be damaged.”

The beef is from purebred Wagyu cattle from Strathbogie in regional Victoria, graded on a scale from 0 (no marbling) to 9 (the highest grade, sometimes called 9+). At Rising Embers, all the Wagyu is scored 9, meaning a good amount of fat to melt on the grill, adding flavour and richness to the meat.

For dessert, there’s fruit salad dusted with sour prune powder and a sweet drink made with mung beans. There’s also a combination of tea and yoghurt, which Wei says helps with the greasy feeling you can get after eating too much meat.

The fit-out is a blend of traditional and industrial, designed by Wei. Neat rows of black tables and tall hard-back chairs sit under a massive thatched roof, which is painted white to match the exposed steel beams that run below. On the mezzanine, there’s a wall-to-wall monochrome photograph of Chinatown by Melbourne-based artist Allan Li. Hanging plants break up the otherwise almost entirely black and white interior, and lights shaped like little clouds float overhead.

Rising Embers 
Level 1, 139 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne 
(03) 9663 7616

Sun to Thu 5pm–11.30pm 
Fri & Sat 5pm–12.30am

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