We hadn’t heard of Jishan Garden until it popped up when we were looking to book a place for dinner on The Fork. It isn’t one of the places we would typically gravitate to – multi-course Chinese banquets tend to be meals you organise to go to in a group for an occasion. It reviewed well though, better than a few other options, so we decided to book there.
Jishan Garden is located along that stretch of St Kilda Road near the Albert Park Lake, where there are lots of tall buildings that seem to be mostly daytime offices and some residential blocks. The building it is housed in is mostly hidden from street view by a hedge, but festoon lights peeped out just over the top. We no doubt had gone past before and wondered what was there.
When we could see through the entrance in the hedge, we were surprised to find a very European-style mansion, complete with Roman columns, friezes, and a toga-clad statue perched right above the entrance. It turns out that this building, Rathgael, has a bit of a history behind it.
The walk from the street entrance to the building takes you through a garden area, and this is a picturesque setting for an outdoor meal, with garden arches and egg chairs. It was charmingly lit with fairy lights at night.
The interior space of the restaurant was, again, different from your typical Chinese restaurant. While there were classical elements, like the landscape tapestries on the wall and examples of porcelain pottery on shelves, the furniture had minimalist lines, with a nod to organic forms. The ceilings were at least double height, so it felt like an even larger space.
There were diners already seated at other tables, but spaced in different sections so that people had privacy. Calming piano jazz played in the background, adding to the ambience.
We had opted for the special set menu when we made the booking – the Meat crab banquet for two. The banquet menu was brought to us – it also listed a Lobster banquet for two option, as well as a drink menu.
The drink menu had an impressive selection of teas, a larger range than we had seen anywhere apart from places that are specifically tea houses. We eventually decided to order mocktails though, as there was an option to add 2 mocktails on to the banquet for $20, which came out as a similar price to a pot of tea (for 1-2 people).
The table was already set with a plate and cup for each person, and, what appeared to be short chopsticks. What we subsequently discovered (staff explained this to us), was that the small packet to the side actually contained wooden pieces that fit into the chopstick ends. This was an interesting intersection of the drive for hygiene and a measure of environmental sustainability that we had not encountered before. The result was rather functional as well.
The first dishes were brought out together. The Mixed cordyceps flower xith (maybe they meant “with”) cucumber salad looked like a plate of noodles. The long cooked mushrooms were heaped together, along with cucumber strips. They were served chilled, and were just lightly seasoned. We had encountered cordyceps in broths before, but not as a main ingredient like this before. They had a texture like enoki mushrooms, but had a faint tartness in the finish.
The Cold cut chilli oil free range chicken was also, as described, a chilled dish. The chicken pieces were soft, and there was plenty of dressing to go with them. There was soy, and the tang of vinegar. What would get you though, was the chilli oil. It had Szechuan-style fire, the kind that left your tongue with a tingly numbness afterwards. Just a little of it definitely went a long way, and there was a lot of it..
We appreciated having the mocktails to try to cool things off a bit. We had the Grapefruit Bubble Birds’ Nest Grows Lotto mocktail, which looked the most interesting of the lot. These were served in champagne flutes, which showed off the peach-pink hue of the drink. Strands of translucent bird’s nest were layered on the surface of the drink, and a few dried rosebuds were scattered on top. Each glass was served with what looked like a stirring stick, but was actually a very narrow straw. It was also useful to lift out the remaining bird’s nest with at the end. The drink itself tasted like a fizzy pink grapefruit lemonade, quite pleasant and not overly sweet.
The main dish of the banquet was the Chef’s chilli sauce and sichuan pepper signature crab. There was a note on the menu that indicated that there was a non-spicy option. After our experience with the very fiery chicken, we asked staff if we could have the crab less spicy (but not non-spicy), and they obliged. We weren’t quite sure what to expect when we initially booked and ordered. From our past experience, food deals can be a bit hit and miss. At one of the places we had booked a two for one dinner deal at previously, we discovered that it meant each person got half the amount of food one would usually get (Madam Wu, we’re looking at you). We were therefore pleasantly surprised when a dish with a whole crab on it was brought to the table.
The crab was certainly the highlighted central element, broccoli florets making a halo ring around it. The shell of the crab was placed on top of the other separated pieces, and it was all well-stepped in sauce. There was a generous amount of cut chillies in the mix, which made us think it a very good thing that we had asked for a lower level of spice. It was a tasty mix, and the sauce wasn’t too salty, so it didn’t overpower the natural flavour and sweetness of the crab. The crab meat had a good firm texture as well. The larger segments of crab shells were mostly cracked, but we did have to break the smaller segments ourselves. It would have helped to have seafood tools (crab cracker and seafood fork particularly) as one might get in dedicated seafood restaurants, as the chopsticks weren’t quite enough for the job.
Slow cooked spring onion pork balls were the next item on the menu. We figured that they might perhaps be the “meat” in the “Meat Crab Banquet”. These were brought out shortly after the crab dish. They were larger than typical meatballs, served with sauce and snow peas. The meatballs were soft and very tender, and had no gristle in them at all.
Each person was served a bowl of Black truffle fried rice. Any Chinese banquet must have a dish rice or noodles, as a staple item. Rather than just being a token item, however, we actually found this very well done. It had definite truffle aroma. The rice was not gluggy or oily, but light and separated grains. It was even better than some of the truffle dishes we had in Croatia.
The last item was their Flower cake. Other set menu versions list the last item as “Jishan Signature Flower Cake”, but it wasn’t clear if they were the same things. Two pastries were served, a different one on each plate. They were pretty to look at, and discernably meant to be flowers. The pink one was a cookie with a red bean filling, and the green one was a fried flaky pastry with star-shaped petals and a desiccated coconut centre. Dessert probably wasn’t the strongest course of the menu, and they were perhaps more for the eye than for the palate.
The waitstaff were helpful and attentive, and we felt well looked after. They frequently checked that our water glasses were filled, and brought us extra serviettes through the crab course.
On the whole, we enjoyed our meal at Jishan Garden. It is a lovely setting, the dishes were mostly well done, and service was on point. It is certainly worth considering as an option for a next occasion gathering. They also do afternoon tea, which would be nice in the outdoor garden setting when the weather is good.
Price point: $148 for the Crab Meat Banquet for two.
Value: Not bad.
Address: 462 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
Phone: 0413 072 520
Website: Jishan Garden