Where: Lanzhou Beef Noodle Bar, 379 Elizabeth Street Melbourne
What: Food coma-inducing noodles
Who: Little Miss Hangry, Asian Food Lover
Bloat score: 3 – I could have balanced a glass of wine on my bloated stomach
Confession: I used to be a noodle agnostic who would always choose rice over noodles if given the choice, but Melbourne has had somewhat of a noodle renaissance of late – causing me to reconsider my previously held position.
Ramen, laksa and pho have always been mainstays in Melburnians’ dining choices, but more varieties are fast emerging as alternatives to the established three, from Chongqing noodles at Hi Chong Qing and yang chun noodles at Nong Tang Noodle House to Malaysian pan mee at Jojo Little Kitchen and Thai boat noodles at Soi 38.
Lanzhou Beef Noodle Bar is chief among these noodle bars, and has developed a cult following. Asian Food Lover, who doesn’t ‘get’ brunch and will always choose char kuay teow over pasta, was ahead of the curve and had been suggesting we visit long before it became a trending topic on Instagram. We finally visited it together for lunch one day with Little Miss Hangry who, like me, doesn’t respond well to the slightest pang of hunger.
Lanzhou Beef Noodle Bar has also branches in Caulfield, Carlton, South Yarra and Glen Waverley, but we visited the one on Elizabeth Street. The no-frills establishment is bathed in fluorescent lighting, where you walk past an open, refrigerated counter of side dishes and Asian cold drinks before choosing between two-seaters or communal tables.
It was a sweltering 38 degrees outside when we visited. Unable to bear the thought of hot soup, we each chose dry noodle dishes – Asian Food Lover ordered the handmade cold dry noodles with carrot, cucumber, bean sprouts, beef, tomato and sesame paste, while Little Miss Hangry and I stuck to Lanzhou’s special handmade beef noodles with slow-braised beef. You can customise the thickness of your soup noodles from ‘thin’ to ‘extra wide’, and can choose to get your noodles without coriander if you’re one of those people, but takers of the dry noodles only get a choice of ‘thin’ and ‘thinner’.
Note for the intolerance-addled: unlike noodle places such as Little Ramen Bar, there are no substitutable gluten-free noodles at Lanzhou Noodle Bar. However, vegetarians do have the option of the soy bean noodles.
Lanzhou is known as much for its sides as it is for its noodles – Asian Food Lover splurged and ordered three sides for us: shredded potatoes, shredded beancurd, and chicken giblets with peanuts. Each of these side dishes were served cold – a godsend on the type of day that makes you consider if you ever want to bring children into this apocalyptic climate changed world.
The meticulously hand-pulled beef noodles that Little Miss Hangry and I ordered were served with a big dollop of chilli oil, a smattering of chopped coriander, diced spring onion and amazingly soft melt-in-your-mouth braised beef.
Upon receiving my mountain of noodles, I mixed all the ingredients together to coat the thin, springy noodles in the chilli oil and small pool of vinegar lying at the bottom. The noodles were perfectly balanced in flavours – equal parts spicy and salty with a hint of sweetness from the slow-cooked beef. They were so well balanced, I didn’t feel tempted to reach out for extra spoonfuls of chilli oil, which was readily available on our table – a highly rare occurrence for me. I almost thought I wouldn’t be able to finish the mountainous heap of noodles, so large was my bowl, but of course I did.
The cold side dishes were a refreshing reprieve from the warmth of the noodles, and the shredded potatoes, in particular, were very moreish with their slight tang of vinegar and Sichuan peppercorns, and their perfect level of bite. Similar to the shredded potatoes, the shredded tofu was elevated from its simple ingredients into something you couldn’t stop snacking on, while the slightly rubbery (in a good way) chicken giblets were well seasoned with the subtle heat of Sichuan peppercorns and the complementary crunch of the accompanying peanuts.
I was so preoccupied with the task of finishing my noodles, I didn’t get a chance to try Asian Food Lover’s cold noodles, which came served in a flatter bowl than our deep concave ones. Not that he struggled to finish his, which speaks to the quality of them.
I liked my bowl of noodles, but a) would not visit on a weekday and expect myself to do any work after and b) would love to try the soup noodles on a more temperate day. With an eat-in price of $12.80, these noodles are one of the best-value meals in Melbourne, although they’re perhaps not the most intolerance-friendly. I ended the day with three bloats and a mountain of work to rival my noodles after struggling to keep awake that afternoon.
Lanzhou Beef Noodle Bar is open every day from 10.30am to 3pm and from 4pm to 10pm.