By Jack Hayes
Walking down Little Bourke St through Melbourne’s busy Chinatown Precinct, you’d be forgiven for walking past Heffernan Lane without a second glace, but if you did, you’d be missing out on an iconic piece of Melbourne history.
Detached from its neighbours stands 11 Heffernan Lane; four storeys of folklore dating back to 1892 and now home to Chinatown’s newest pan-Asian restaurant, Niübi.
Stepping into the building, which lays claim to be Chinatown’s first restaurant to be frequented by Westerners, the century-old façade is immediately met by a, ultra-modern interior with hues of pastel pink and clean timber finishes, designed by T-A Square.
Niübi is the creation of emerging hospitality group, Team Rassassy, which delivers a genre bending approach to south-east Asian cooking which is both surprising and refreshing at the same time.
Dispelling with the usual constraints associated with Thai, Malaysian and Singaporean cuisines, Niübi’s relaxed and no-nonsense approach shines throughout the menu.
Whether it be their signature Curry Fish Head or lobster slow cooked in buttermilk, curry powder and condensed milk, the menu and team at Niübi, spearheaded by chef, Iven Foo, isn’t afraid to take risks in order to appeal to a broad audience.
Paying plenty of attention to the everchanging Melburnian culinary landscape, Niübi’s menu also features highlights such as spicy shredded chicken, prawn toast with salted egg yolk, roast duck with plum sauce and mud crab soup with vermicelli noodles.
As it did when run by 11 Heffernan Lane former building owner, Ah Gee, who constructed the building himself almost 130 years ago and later ran the widely popular café, Wing Ching, Niübi is a contemporary conduit between traditional south-east Asian dining and the Australian palate.
Looking out beyond Chinatown from the second-storey dining room windows, Niubi’s casual approach is joined by the cohort of professional and attentive staff to create what general manager Carr Lam describes as connections between dear friends.
“We want to create a relaxed atmosphere where customers are not only enjoying their food, but also the experience of mingling, joking with our staff through relaxed conversations and laughter,” he said.
With the CBD and Chinatown waking from a post-COVID slumber, the team at Niübi has every confidence that the venue will act as a driving force to return the cultural precinct to its former glory.
Heffernan Ln is nestled off Little Bourke St, between Russell and Swanston streets.