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Thursday, 13 June 2013

Rice Queen

Equal parts vague, kitsch and regal in name, Rice Queen has been a staple of the inner north for years. Previously, it operated chiefly as the fun, cheap food option on the way up to Panama Bar on Smith Street. In its new(ish) home at 389 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy (which used to house St Jude's Cellars), it has undergone both a facelift and a personality shift, and seems to have settled into its ruling role comfortably.

Spruiked as an "Oriental Diner & Bar", I must say I prefer Rice Queen as a bar. I remember enjoying the food more at its Smith Street site. It was tastier, better value and more soulful. Now, whilst still tasty, it seems overpriced and trying too hard.

Side note:  I do realise I use several phrases repeatedly (as well as far too many adverbs and extraneous information in general) - and "trying too hard" is undoubtedly one of them. How can FOOD try too hard, you ask? Isn't it inanimate, and therefore incapable of any kind of action? Well, sure. But I am actually talking about how genuine and organic something is. I have a natural tendency to detest anything even remotely pretentious (and/or wanky, fake, manipulative or manipulated). Although I admire clever, I admire something more when it is naturally awesome (which in itself is potentially problematic in other ways, but WOWEE could we get deep here) - or at least gives off an easy, natural vibe. We could be talking atmosphere, decor, food, staff - and that's just in cafes, bars and restaurants. Don't even get me started on music, art, languages, politics, fashion, personal traits, media... gahhh, I'm getting hunchy shoulders just thinking about this stuff! 

Where was I? Oh, yes - food, trying too hard. The interior design, however, works seamlessly, with colours popping, floral motifs, bright lights and dark surfaces interweaving to create a strong, rich, moody space. I quite enjoy letting my eyes drift around the place, catching different bits and bobs. It's kinda like a candy shop for eyes.

Colourful liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiights

I digress. Again.

Fortunately, the 'eating' part of Rice Queen, towards the right and back of the venue, is fairly segregated from the 'drinking' section(s) at the front left. There are a few long tall bench tables which seem to be used for both purposes, but the bar tables at the left when you walk in, and the enclosed outdoor section which looks onto the street, are clearly 'drinks only' areas.

From the enclosed outdoor area, looking inward

Their sav blanc has the unfortunate effect of making me sneeze (damn sulfites again) but I usually ignore that and drink it anyway, because I'm not a big cocktails fan and wine is way more shareable. One time I asked a lovely young staffer for assistance in the matter, and bless him, he tried, but the other wines were not matching my tastebuds that day, so I sucked it up and suffered the sneezes later. Lovely boy also wrote down the name of a beautiful piece of classical music that happened to be playing that day. Wonder where that went. Hmmm.

Evil wine. Looks less evil when decorated all pretty-like

The staff on the whole are self-assured, cool and friendly - that is, when they're not so busy they look frantic with stress.

This place has a hidden feature that I am determined to try one day: a KARAOKE ROOM that you can hire out for private use. I assume you would then need to commit to a certain amount of food/drinks. But HOW COOL! (...Anyone??)

Rice Queen is easy to find - the 112 stops almost at its door - and is breathing a whoosh of fun nighttime air into the stretch of Brunswick Street that gets drier and slightly dodgy the further north you go. I vote you should give it a burl.

Rice Queen Oriental Diner and Bar on Urbanspoon