Despite offering a large double-fronted entrance, you'd be forgiven for driving right past this fun, modern Asian restaurant, which sits unassumingly on a small roundabout at the end of Gilbert Road in Preston.
In a pocket of not-much-else, save for Pearl Oyster cafe next door, Chumanchu (formerly Fumanchu — why the name change, nobody seems to know) has been serving sophisticated, yet relaxed Asian (mostly Vietnamese and Thai) food to Melbourne's northsiders for more than a year now. The lunch and dinner menus feature all the favourites — pho, mee goreng, curries, pad thai and rice paper rolls (owner Marten Chu is the brother of rice paper roll queen misschu, no less) — as well as some fabulous surprises such as mussels in a hue and lemongrass broth with Thai basil and coriander ($13), banh cuon steamed gluten-free crepes with prawn or pork ($10-12 for two) and thit kho braised pork belly in a broth, with quail eggs, shiitake, Asian greens and kim chi ($18).
But why not really push the boat out and go for breakfast where you can start your day with a rice congee (that comes in a chicken broth with quail eggs and dried scallops, $13), black sticky rice with shaved coconut jelly and yoghurt ($11.90) or their popular okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) with house cured salmon and wasabi mayo ($17). While standard eggs do feature, it would seem unadventurous to go that way —although you'll feel no judgement if you do.
You'll leave Chumanchu satisfied, maybe with a new favourite dish, and definitely with a reasonably priced bill, but some may lament that it is a step too far from the authentic restaurants found a couple of blocks away on High Street. Here you'll pay more for your meal and therefore be more critical of the authenticity and flavours (pho-lovers in particular may resent paying $15 for something they could find around the corner for $8), but kudos to Chu and his team for bringing something fresh to the area, and creating a dining experience that is more pleasant and special than the cheaper, canteen-style in-and-out alternatives. The exposed brick and hanging plants provide warmth and welcome, and the menu suits groups of all sizes, sharing desires, and taste adventure levels.