389-391 Brunswick St
Fitzroy, VIC 3065
The funny thing about being a food blogger is, you get to know a lot of restaurants very well by name and the food they serve, but only have the vaguest idea of where the restaurant is and what it looks like. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve walked past a restaurant, glanced at the menu on the window, and said Oh that’s where so-and-so is! Rice Queen is one of the many restaurants in that list; I know of the restaurant, and I know of the dark building on Brunswick Street festooned with garlands of flowers, but I’ve never put two and two together.
I’ve walked past Rice Queen at least a couple dozen times in my wanderings around Fitzroy, but this is the first time I’ve ever taken a proper look inside. The vast space has been converted to a pan-asian cocktail bar and restaurant, and has been decorated lavishly in red, gold, and turquoise to match.
It was the first real warm day of the year, and the brightly coloured Red Mule ($8) went down a treat, the lemonade layered with juicy raspberries and cooling mint. Just as refreshing was the Yuzuade ($8), the citrus flavours of lemon and lime augmented by yuzu, giving it a sharper, more astringent edge.
The Fried Tofu Banh Mi ($6ea) wasn’t really a banh mi at all; rather, it consisted of a squishy white bread roll, layered with pickles, kewpie mayo, and gochujang. But that’s not to say this wasn’t nice; not only was it full of contrasting flavours and textures, the tender silken tofu made the sandwich taste incredibly creamy without being cloying.
The Ssam Style Pulled Pork ($7ea) was the carb-free alternative to the banh mi, with its ingredients wrapped in lettuce as opposed to a bread bun. By itself, the pulled pork, braised in chilli bean sauce, was tasty but unremarkable. Wrapped up in a lettuce leaf with fresh herbs and sesame gochujang mayo however, this became a bold but balanced mouthful of meat and veggies.
We were tossing up between the Korean Fried Chicken ($15, 6pcs) and the caramelised pork bites, but chose the former on the recommendation of our waitress. These were very moreish indeed, the chicken fried in a nubbly batter flavoured with cumin, pepper, and a hint of chilli. For those who like things a little lighter, there’s a dipping sauce of mint and lime on the side, but I personally preferred to jack things up with the bottle of sriracha sitting on the table.
It was a warm day, and we weren’t all that hungry, so we finished our meal by sharing a plate of Salt and Pepper Squid on Glass Noodle Salad ($18). The batter that worked so well on the chicken wasn’t as good here, its heaviness overpowering the delicacy of the squid. The salad on the other hand was clean and refreshing, the slippery noodles contrasting with crunchy veggies and herbs, in a savoury dressing of lime and fish sauce. I thought the addition of goji berries rather inspired, adding a mellow sweetness that complemented, rather than competed with the energetically-flavoured salad.
All up, I thought Rice Queen was more of a crowd pleaser than anything. The food had a bit of personality without pushing any boundaries, there are cocktails and drinks galore, and it’s all served up in a gorgeously decorated and spacious environment big enough for almost any group (as long as you pre-book). I wasn’t particularly fussed about the food, but I liked the menu’s versatility that allows for anything from popping in for a snack and drink before a night on the town, all the way to a leisurely family get-together. I can’t see myself coming back, but I can see myself recommending it to people who need to feed a fussy crowd.
Rating: 12/20 – queen of the people.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.