They could have stopped at surprising palates with the scrumptious flavours of Hong Kong. But, no. Not Monga One. This year, they took their seven-year mission to transport Melburnians to the bustling streets of Hong Kong to the next level with an immersive dining experience in the heart of Chinatown.
Seven years after opening their first restaurant, they’ve taken their mission to the next level. Monga Group’s first restaurant in Box Hill, Monga Dessert Lounge, which focused on Hong Kong Style Dessert and Cultural Snacks, has gathered plenty of passionate patrons since launching in 2010. But their new spot on Russell Street in the Melbourne CBD is something completely new. This time, they’re pulling out all the stops to transport Melburnians to the bustling streets of Hong Kong with an immersive dining experience in the heart of Chinatown.
Monga One has been well-received from the early days of their first restaurant. Perhaps this is because Hong Kong, like Melbourne, is a cultural hodge-podge, delightfully and deliciously diverse.
Tangent, director of Monga One, explains the Hong Kong hodge-podge by saying,
“Hong Kong is quite a unique place because it’s evolved with a combination of Chinese and British cultures.”
“So, for example, China has tea and Britain has milk so we have a milk tea drink in Hong Kong. Another example is the pineapple bun, which is Chinese. When the British came long, they liked to put butter on bread, so in Hong Kong, we have the pineapple bun with butter.”
Hong Kong has this fusion at its core and the cultural diversity has only grown more complex and exciting over time. Today, Hong Kong is a global hub for business and leisure, offering bite-sized bits of hundreds of cultures and intriguing composites of them all.
It’s an incredibly atmospheric place and that’s exactly what the Monga One team wanted to recreate. As Tangent puts it, “It’s not just a restaurant – we’ve been doing traditional Hong Kong food since 2010 but we wanted to do more.”
“To us, Monga One is a platform. It’s a platform to introduce Melbourne to not just Hong Kong food, but the culture around Hong Kong food.”
Hong Kong is a labyrinth, with tiny bars and restaurants hidden down alleyways and up mysterious stairwells. Tucked away at the top of a small stairway at Level 1, 217 Russel Street, Monga One starts transporting you to Hong Kong before you’ve even entered the dining room.
The dining room itself is set up to look like one of the famous seafood markets of Hong Kong. The Monga One team commissioned their own wallpaper; a stunning wall-sized photo of the owner’s favourite fish market back home. Behind the scenes, the day’s catch sits on ice, ready to be served to customers throughout the night.
Light bulbs hang from the ceiling with distinctive red shields. Tangent explains that, “Traditionally, when people buy eggs from the market in Hong Kong, they use this light to identify if they’re good. So, this sort of light is very specific to the market.”
But they’ve done far more than just hang some awesome lights. The dining room is surrounded on all sides by four model shopfronts: a seafood store, a Chinese convenient store, a noodle shop and a goldfish shop. They’re full facades with windows and awnings and goods on display where the sidewalk would be if the shops sat along a real-life street.
But no matter how interesting the atmosphere, it’s the food that rounds out Melbourne’s scoop of Hong Kong.
Traditional Hong Kong cuisine is the culmination of many different cultures, so Monga One decided not to confuse things by fusing it further with Australian flavours. The result is a unique menu that encourages sharing and tasting and talking.
Hot pots are a popular pick at Monga One but you can get a hot pot at hundreds of places across Melbourne.
What sets Monga One’s hot pots apart is their staggering selection of seafood, carefully-sourced, prepped and served raw, ready for you to pop into your bubbling pot of wholesome pork bone, slow-cooked chicken, Hong Kong curry or spicy broth.
“We work quite hard on sourcing seafood because a lot of types of seafood aren’t easily available in Melbourne. For that reason, we work with a lot of different suppliers to get those traditional but hard-to-find types of seafood that you see in Hong Kong,” says Tangent.
Their signature seafood steam pot, pictured above, features two levels– an upper level for steaming seafood and lower level that holds a rice soup, eaten last after it absorbs all the delicious flavour from the seafood above.
Monga One’s DIY noodle menu is also a highlight. They took inspiration from 1950s Hong Kong, a time that saw a unique aspect of Hong Kong cuisine emerge. Tangent explains, “People started building their own carts with gas stoves underneath and they would push it into an alley, find a spot and start selling noodles. Their cart would have lots of options for people to build their own combination.”
The Monga One team took this convenient, flexible and tailor-made type of cooking and applied the idea to a build-your-own noodle menu.
The massive menu offers soup bases, meats, seafood, vegetables and more – all to be hand-picked by the customer to create their dream noodle dish.
Tangent says that some people just pick one or two elements to combine but occasionally, they get someone ordering a super-noodle with up to 15 custom components.
Monga One is open from 5pm-2am, so the vibe goes through phases. From 5-10pm, it’s all about dinners; hot pots and piles of noodles stream past and groups chat as they tuck into their dinner. By 11pm, things calm down.
Customers come in for dessert or work their way through Tsingtao beers as they play popular table games like Hong Kong chess and dice.
Monga One also has ‘Ladies Night’ each night at 9am for all Female Hot Pot Customers and other daily special promotions as well.
The spirit of Hong Kong is everywhere at Monga One. All you have to do is head up a secret stairwell to feel a whole lot closer to that special city across the sea.
1/217 Russell St, Melbourne VIC 3000 | (03) 9654 4885
OPEN Mon – Sun 5pm – 2am