Fashion designer and enthusiastic dinner party host, Shu Liu has turned his love of cooking inventive and tasty food for his friends into a restaurant. Shu specialises in reinvented Sichuan cuisine, favouring sustainable, seasonal and organic products. The industrial chic décor adds another twist to the dining experience.
Tell me about the food at Shu.
The food is from the Sichuan province where I grew up. It’s provincial Chinese so I would say the cuisine is quite different to other the Chinese food, that is, northeast or Cantonese. It is a spicy cuisine and covers pretty much all cooking methods in Chinese like steamed, grilled, slow-cooked, pan fried or barbecued.
You grew up with these recipes. How did you start actually cooking them?
I started at home with my mum and my uncle. They are both great cooks. And also my uncle had a restaurant when I was growing up around the time I was at primary school and I would go back to his restaurant before I went home and learn and smell, taste in the kitchen. Later on I lived with my grandmother a little bit and she told me how to cook basic things from scratch like pickles or making sausage or preserved meats. That’s where I got my interest from, from the age of 10 until 15. Then when I was at boarding school I didn’t have a chance to cook but when I came here [Melbourne] I started cooking at home.
Can you find all the ingredients you need in Melbourne for this style of cooking?
Definitely. I am lucky to have lived here for so many years. There is pretty much everything you can find back home. Also for things like the basic ingredients such as chilli oil that I make from scratch, I have a lot of options in terms of varieties, like chillies from Thailand, Taiwan, Szechuan. So you get to choose different things. It is probably better to cook here than in Szechuan! Also I mix those ingredients up with the local ingredients like fennel, avocado and so on, which are very hard to source in Szechuan.
How do you decide what is on your menu?
That’s where the seasonal concept comes in. I’d say I keep the flavouring and the sauce the same. But sometimes when zucchini flower is in season I will have them pan-grilled but when it’s not their season, something like mushroom or king oyster mushroom is available and I get those. The menus does not change a lot but it’s interesting when I throw random stuff in.
The degustation menu is a popular choice because when people hear the word Szechuan, they have some questions or they are a bit doubtful about what to choose from the menu so that’s where I thought it’s better for me to give them what I am really good at so that, in that way, they get some variety and balance. So the idea is just like if I was cooking at home for my guests, I get to choose what I would like them to eat. That’s the whole philosophy behind the restaurant.
What experience do you want your guests to have?
I hope they would enjoy, not just the food, but also the ambiance in the restaurant. The whole concept is from factory warehouse background. When I used to live in Chengdu and I was at high school I used to hang out with a couple of rock bands and they took photos in Chinese factories, black and white photography. I really like these settings. Not for a restaurant initially. I thought one day if I had a house, it would look like that. I like the grunginess. It’s very original. Then when I got the restaurant I thought I probably wouldn’t have a house of my own for a few years so I wanted my patrons to enjoy what I really loved. The lighting is not conventional lighting; it is more colourful. And a lot of my artist friends put their work up here too. I pick all the music too, so the background music, the lighting, the service is all part of the experience. Integrity is important to me. To make it a wholesome and humble dinner experience.
147 Johnston St, Collingwood
Wed – Sun 6 – 10.30pm