Zhou Zhou, Melbourne, VIC

The last time I was in Melbourne, OTOT enjoyed a divine dinner at David's in Prahran. In fact, it was so good that we vowed to go back for their weekend yum cha feast ($38 for all-you-can-eat dumplings on a Sunday - how can you say no?) the next time I was in town. Lucky for me, and thanks to a good friend's impending marriage, I only had to wait a few months to overindulge in those edible morsels of Asian delight and reacquaint myself with the best of David's.Feeling rather satisfied I'd been able to fit in "some good Chinese food" before leaving for London, we were pleasantly surprised and super excited when owner David Zhou extended an invitation for OTOT to experience his new venture, a bar atop the Oriental Tea House in South Yarra called Zhou Zhou.zhouzhou3Unlike the bright and white-washed nature of David's, Zhou Zhou has more of a brooding, yet comforting vibe. Featuring rustic wooden and cane furniture interspersed with comfy patchwork cushions and chic pixelated portraits of elegant Chinese ladies, it's the kind of place you want to hole up in with a good book on a rainy evening - or drop in to with a bunch of friends after a hectic day at the races. And here's why...zhouzhou7Zhou Zhou serves food, and not just any food. They serve yum cha - the same dumplings, buns and sweet treats we overindulged in just a few days prior at David's. But this time they're in a bar. And they're served at night. After chasing down canapés, devouring unsatisfying burgers or munching on the most boring sandwich in the world at the racecourse, think of how relieving it would be to head to Zhou Zhou, collapse in a comfy chair and eat some real (delicious) food with your next (refreshing) drink?We had the pleasure of talking to the genius who came up with the concept of dim sum as bar snacks, David Zhou, who greeted us upon arrival at the bar and explained the theory behind Zhou Zhou and his menu selections.zhouzhou1Although tea has always been paired with yum cha offerings (the name literally means "drink tea" in Cantonese), David said he was inspired to create a cocktail list to enhance the flavour of the tasty morsels (priced from $14-$18). Combining more unusual herbs and spices (think Thai basil, wasabi and lemongrass) and succulent additions (like aloe vera, lychee and hibiscus tea) with the usual and not-so-usual alcoholic suspects (plum wine and sake), the idea was to offer thirst-quenching mixes rather than boozy, dehydrating ones. As David explains, "When you're thirsty, everything tastes a little bit sweet, and you don't taste flavours like you normally would."Another way to quench your tastebuds is with one of Zhou Zhou's carefully-sourced beers - that's if you can make a decision from the staggering list containing over 50 ales, stouts and lagers from Asian and Australian brewers. As relative beer novices, we enlisted the help of another David - our 'beer expert' bartender - who suggested a refreshing "Kung Foo" rice lager from Victorian brewery 2 Brothers ($9.50), and later a velvety espresso stout for dessert (yes, really) from Japanese brand Hitachino Nest ($14), which was brewed with whole coffee beans - a must-try for all the caffeine addicts I know.zhouzhou9For those wanting a no-nonsense glass of vino, you'll be pleased to know Zhou Zhou has a decent wine list also, presenting a nicely balanced selection of glasses and bottles from Australian producers. Then there's the sake list to consider - just in case you want something a little more Asian than a glass of chardonnay with your spring rolls.With so many tipples and nibbles to choose from, the most difficult part of spending a night in Zhou Zhou is trying to narrow down the list of what you want to eat/drink, and what you really want to eat/drink. We cheated slightly and left our initial snack order to Mr. Zhou, who suggested the quintessential Pork & Chive Dumplings, $8.80; the health-conscious Chicken Dumplings and Quinoa Salad, $10.80; the crispy and rather large Plants Only Veg Spring Rolls, $6.80; and the addictive Edamame in Rice Wine, $6.80, which I couldn't stop eating despite there being a ton of food on the table. After this, we also dared to order the oh-so-tasty China Fried Chicken Ribs, $11.80, which were like a Michelin-starred version of KFC, and of course we couldn't depart without devouring the pillowy, cloud-like sweetness of the BBQ Pork Buns, $5.80.Clockwise from left: Angela and the BBQ Pork Bun; the China Fried Chicken Ribs; Pork & Chive Dumplings; Chicken Dumpling & Quinoa Salad and Edamame in Rice Wine.According to David, there's no right or wrong way to navigate the menu, no special drinks to be paired with certain snack bites. "We want you to try everything and find what you like," he encourages. And so we did - as much as our waistbands would allow. But, alas, it wasn't helpful in determining what we liked, because we liked it all.
Zhou Zhou, upstairs at 455 Chapel Street, South Yarra. Open Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, 5-11pm, and Friday and Saturday, 5pm-2am. For reservations and enquiries, call (03) 9826 0168.By Lisa Tan