118 Little Collins Street, Melbourne (map)
Open Monday-Friday 12-3pm and 6pm-late, Saturday 6pm-late
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With the just-opened Burma Lane, the Apples and Pears Entertainment Group promised a modern, Australian take on the best of Burmese cuisine, and it looks like they've delivered. Unlike the Group's other Red Spice Road restaurants, where the emphasis is on sharing large plates, here the menu is structured more in the Chin Chin mould, with several small bites, a few noodles, a few salads, and half a dozen bigger bites in which curries feature prominently. The drinks list includes a selection of lassis, and any cocktail list that includes a 'Margaret Pomeranz' (Tromba Blanco tequila, pomegranate liqueur and lemon juice, in case you were wondering) gets a thumbs up from me.
I wandered in for lunch yesterday and started with a hard-to-go-wrong kun sar thi ($4.50) betel leaf with shredded chicken, shallot, green mango and Sichuan pepper. And as it's virtually impossible at this time of year to not order broad beans when they're on a menu, I ordered a tasty little broad bean fritter with crunchy broad beans and spinach relish ($4.50).
For the Kachin beef salad ($16), the beef is slow-cooked and then pounded in a mortar and pestle with the spices and herbs, which include sawtooth coriander, chilli and Sichuan pepper (the northernmost province of Burma, Kachin, shares a border with China). The pounding that the beef takes gives it a wonderfully tender texture, and the fresh herbs, onion and belachan gave it a big flavour punch. Highly recommended.
The Little Collins St space that was Mahjong Black was a bit of a tricky site, at once shiny and gloomy. The new owners have lightened the place up, and will continue to tweak the interior over the next year. The main focal points are the Shepard Fairey street arty portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi that watches over the restaurant from above the stairs, and the bird cage chandeliers. The floor staff are skilled at explaining some of the more unfamiliar elements of chef Adam Trengrove's Burmese menu, and the restaurant seems to have all the elements in place that have made its Red Spice Road siblings successful.