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Credit: Riley Wolff

Food, Family, and Festivities at one of Melbourne’s Modern Cantonese Spots

For those who celebrate it, Lunar New Year is a special time filled with old traditions and new hopes, where people gather with family, friends, and loved ones to ring in the new year. 

If you don’t celebrate, you’re at least familiar with some Lunar New Year traditions – namely the gifting of red envelopes, usually containing money and passed from older members of the family to the younger generation. But beyond red envelopes or firecrackers, there’s one thing that you can count on at every Lunar New Year celebration, and that’s good food. To celebrate Lunar New Year in Australia, we linked up with Kiet Diep, proprietor of Yum Sing House, one of the hottest Asian restaurants in Melbourne. Yum Sing House not only dishes up modern Cantonese food amongst a backdrop inspired by the bright lights and back alleys of Hong Kong, the upper floor boasts a truly epic karaoke bar. Nice.

Kiet, how would you describe Yum Sing House for people who haven’t been?

Kiet Diep: Yum Sing House is really my way of bringing together a bunch of my passions under the one roof. I love Hong Kong culture, and I also love food in general. So I get to build a brand that is fun, synonymous with having a good time, but it’s also about really high quality food and drinks, but in a fun way. I’m also passionate about music – while we’re eating we’re satisfying our sense of taste and smell and sight, but I believe there’s a way to heighten the dining experience with music.

What does it mean to you to be opening the doors for Lunar New Year and have people choose Yum Sing House as their place to celebrate this special time of year?

It means a lot that people want to celebrate with us. There’s an air of excitement around this time. For people who don’t know Lunar New Year, I liken it to the western traditions of Christmas and New Year, but combined – the build up and excitement of each of those moments is what we feel at one time for New Year. As well as the celebration aspect, it’s also a time for new hope. For our team, it’s about putting all the bad luck of last year behind us, all the interruptions we’ve had through lockdowns, and looking forward. The Lion Dancers we have at this time represent good health and good fortune.

It has been a rough couple of years for the hospitality industry, but Melburnians love restaurant culture. It must be nice to feel the buzz of a busy restaurant again?

Definitely – we haven’t hit back to ‘normal’ yet, but we’re on the right path. Melbourne feels a bit cautious in our response to the pandemic which makes it hard for us, but we will get there.

How would you describe the typical Yum Sing House customer?

Generally they’re in their 30’s, and they love to have a good time. It’s not just about food for them, it’s about the whole going out experience, and they come here because we create such a vibrant, fun, warm and welcoming environment, with the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. I call them ‘social diners’ – they were clubbing in their 20’s, but now they want to do something a bit more relaxed but still full of energy.

You guys are in such a legit spot – you’re literally across the laneway from Supply Store, which is an institution in Australian streetwear and sneakers. I know you’re a sneakerhead yourself, talk to me about that.

I grew up in a working class family – we never had money for luxuries like nice sneakers. As a kid I was always wearing shoes from a brand called ‘Aerosport’, which I’m sure a few people remember, but all the other kids at school had Converse or Nike. I would always look at what the other kids had but it wasn’t possible for us, I knew that stuff was out of reach for my parents. But the pair that always stood out was the first time I saw some Jordan 5’s. They just stuck with me, I knew that one day I would get them. I think the silhouette is just beautiful – the reflective tongue was such a big thing for the time. I like the vents on the side, it’s a nice carry over from the Jordan 4. It’s also a nice throwback now to the 90’s which was such an important time for me growing up.

Finally, tell me a bit about the team you have here at Yum Sing House. We’ve got to hang today with Head Chef Aiven and Bar Manager Linh – it feels like a tight team and of course they both have skills!

Our team here has always been a really tight bunch. We wanted to develop a certain culture – everyone is very close. We’ve been through a lot together – whether that’s lockdowns or holidays, those moments bring the team closer together. And as far as Lunar New Year, this is a special time for all of our team who celebrate it. It’s also something of a marker for us, a time for reflection. It’s a time to acknowledge that we’ve made it through all of the lockdowns over the last year and we’re through the other side.

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