Momoda Chinese eating house and bar

Update: Momoda is no longer in operation.

Housed in the Melbourne Building on Northbourne Avenue, Momoda is a Chinese eating house and bar that offers a unique take on fusion flavours. Intrigued by their unconventional dishes and cocktails on offer we ventured in.

Intricate wood carvings from Guangzhou and oil paper umbrellas dot the entrance.  A feature wall of hanging bright red lanterns ushered us in. We were hypnotized and chose to sit by it. The red beams of light emanating from the globes set the tone. It is, a casual dining place, somewhere to put your elbows on the table and get armpit deep in the experience that is Momoda.

So how does a double cheese burger dumpling sound? Have we peaked your interest yet? We could have started our lunch with a small plate of dumplings but instead we chose to embark on a madcap journey through a chef’s imagination by working our way down the list of items on the menu.

Made up of small and share plates, Momoda’s menu is cheeky and delightful. To tease the palate, we began our peregrination with something light. An order each of Hakka edamame beans and lotus chips with a Chongqing spicy salt prune mayo was placed first. Perfect bar snacks if you ask us. It paired well with our cocktail and mocktails.

On recommendation, we savoured the Penang Curry cocktail—a must try. Made up of vodka, aperol, Malibu, fresh curry leaves and tamarind, it left our palates feeling fresh and invigorated—the curry leaves, while not visible in the drink, provided a mild pungent bite to each sip.

Co-owner Irean Tan said: “Curry leaves are now pantry staples for many cooks, but our bartenders are also finding uses for the aromatic seasoning in deliciously complex cocktails. We want our diners to embark on a unique journey with us and we think our Penang Curry cocktail does just that.”

The dumplings arrive—there’s finely cut gherkin on the dumplings with a bright atomic tangerine coloured sauce smeared on the base of the plate. We pop a whole dumpling into our mouths and an immediate explosion of finely minced beef and sharp cheddar took our minds for a whirlwind. Disguised as a dumpling, these miniature double cheese burger delights brought a smile to our faces.

Next up was the beef short ribs platter. What we loved about this dish was that we could construct it ourselves. With a shallot pancake in one hand, we placed a piece of tender beef strip and a dollop of blood red Chinese mustard dressing with the other hand. Then both hands came into play as we rolled the pancake and held it firmly to our lips. The dressing had the perfect amount of heat to alleviate the dish. It was our favourite small plate dish order so far as we made our way through the menu.

Open till midnight, Momoda hosts Canberrans looking for more than just bar food to tickle their fancy. “What we do here, is an amalgamation of flavours. We also have local and international beers on tap from Zierholz and Asahi beer to homegrown BentSpoke ale,” adds Irean.

We take a look at the menu again. It’s time to order our mains. First on the menu and a dish that immediately peaks our interest is the Sichuan dry-braised tiger prawns. Our second dish to make the list is the turmeric spatchcock and to bring this altogether, we order fried rice.

Meanwhile, our eyes wander to the red lantern wall and we start reminiscing about our trip to Wuxi and Suzhou some time ago. It’s amazing how restaurant décor can instigate memories. When asked about the meaning of Momoda, Irean states: “It means ‘kiss-kiss’, it’s Chinese slang, almost an expression of affection used at the end of text messages, similar to ‘mwah’ in English.”

It was hard not to salivate when our mains arrived. The Sichuan dry-braised tiger prawns were large and covered with cherry tomatoes and amber walnuts. While the prawns retained the flavour of the sea just the way we like it, it paired well with the tangy flavour of the tomatoes and sweetness from the amber walnuts. The charred prawn skin offered a smokiness with each mouthful.

Brussel sprouts and micro herbs doted the plate of our turmeric spatchcock—a welcoming surprise as it wasn’t mentioned on the menu. The knife cut through like it was slicing soft butter. Moist, slightly piquant, and flavours of South East Asia coming through with the use of Bull Head barbeque sauce. It packed an umami rich punch.

Now the two dishes mentioned can be eaten on its own, but we liked adding some rice to each spoonful intermittently. The fried rice topped with a fried egg and fish roe (which we left off) wasn’t your typical light-coloured rice you’d find in most quintessential Chinese restaurants. This was dark, deep and rich in flavours that the fermented olives, snake beans, shiitake mushrooms and sweet corn produced. It was the most unique take on fried rice we’re ever had!

“Momoda isn’t like Wild Duck, our fine-dining restaurant in Kingston,” says Irean. “We’re offering an eating house atmosphere—you can come in and choose to just order small plates or even just come in for a drink or two! Apart from a social gathering place, we offer that extra something—traditional Chinese street food with an unexpected, modern twist.”

Asian cuisine is known for some beautiful desserts and Momoda’s sweet treats to end our food journey is no exception. It the first set of Asian desserts true to its roots. The cold interior of black sesame ice cream is strikingly contrasted with the warm crispy charcoal bamboo exterior—yes you guessed right, we had fried ice cream! This dessert danced on every section of our tongues, the charcoal was bitter, the ice cream slightly sweet and umami at the same time and then there was the delicious salted condensed milk that brought everything together in a magical way.

If you’ve been to Malaysia and fell in love with the way tea is made in the country, then the milk tea panna cotta will be the way to go. The moment we tasted it, ‘teh-tarik’ came to mind—and the Okinawa black sugar custard, walnut praline and milk crumbs took it to another level.

What’s great about Momoda is that it’s an eating house, so if you just popped by for dessert, you won’t come off as crazy, you’d be welcomed with open arms! Like a cheeky Momoda kiss itself, every mouthful we had at Canberra’s newest establishment was created to taste, to love, to share.

Momoda is located at 39-47 Northbourne Ave, Canberra ACT 2601.

AGFG put Travel and Beyond in contact with Momoda, all opinions are our own.

Rosemarie John and Joseph Ellis