Supernormal was our most highly-anticipated meal of our 2022 Melbourne trip, and boy did its expression of predominantly Chinese-marketed-as-Japanese fusion cuisine not disappoint.
We started our meal with this excellent raw bar starter of nori cracker, seared tuna, and bonito ($14 for 2 pieces). The cracker was similar to the tempura seaweed snacks that you can get at the Asian grocery store, but with greater substance and rigidity suited to holding its toppings. The seared tuna was fresh and tasty with a good texture (contrasting to other seared tunas we had on our trip, for example at Lover), and while the topping of ginger was perhaps over-represented, overall both the flavours and textures of this starter were excellent. This was perhaps the most Japanese dish of our pseudo-Japanese fusion meal.
The soy-roasted pumpkin seeds, a complimentary snack, were sweet, savoury and had a great crunch. Good to pass the time between dishes, not that there was much delay at all.
The Hunan-style beef tartare with fragrant chilli oil ($20) was again excellent, with a title reflective of its inspirations. It was fresh and spicy, with a flavour profile highly reminiscent of liángpí (凉皮), but with a rawness that most Chinese people would traditionally not touch. This tartare was one of the better of the many we had in Melbourne, with quite innovative flavouring and good quality meat.
The sesame flatbread with whipped cod roe ($12) was another outstanding showing. It’s almost crazy to think that you could find the Platonic ideal of shāobǐng (烧饼) at this Asian Fusion restaurant that pretends that it’s not Chinese, but that’s exactly what this is. The flatbread was fragrant, soft, and warm, aided by a very generous sprinkling of toasted white sesame seeds. The bread, though excellent itself, was brought to a whole other level entirely by the whipped cod roe dip, which was impossibly creamy and umami. The green oil on top of the dip, for those who are wondering, was explained as the oil of scallion, though to me tasted like nothing. Even if the greenness is just for aesthetics, I don’t think you can walk past this dish. It is a great bread.
As an aside, the diners on the table adjacent to us asked the waiter if roe was a type of sauce, and the man also remarked to his dining partner “I know this will probably scare most people” as their bread arrived. I am glad they are trying.
We interrupt this food review for a photo of Super Soda ($11), a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage.
Though I have much praise for many of Supernormal’s offerings, I must say that the New England lobster roll ($18) was not extraordinary. While the buttery, lightly-toasted brioche bun was excellent, the taste of the lobster itself (presumably the star ingredient) was very mild and smothered by a large predominance of mayonnaise. The bun was quite small for $18, and sharing this roll between two people was ill advised.
The duck bao ($32) with twice-cooked duck leg ,vinegar & plum sauce was very good. The duck leg had a salty and hard exterior with crispy skin, which cracked open to reveal moist flesh within which paired well with the fresh cucumber and tangy sauces. The “bao” of this dish was bao in the same sense as most Western iterations of the word – folded white steamed dough – a form I don’t believe actually exists in China. We found that, given the abundance of duck, a superior topping to bread ratio could be achieved by splitting the “baos” in half. Very good.
Another dish, another focus of Chinese inspiration. The slow-cooked lamb shoulder with eggplant, Yuxiang sauce, crispy garlic with a cabbage salad (small serve, $42) exhibited a strong Sichuan influence, rather than anything Japanese. Though our waiter helpfully suggested this half-size given how much other food we ordered, we found that even this small portion was quite large. The dish was replete in both má and là, with an additional element of tomato or vinegar flavour which was reminiscent of mápó tofu (麻婆豆腐). The lamb had a crispy semi-melted fatty layer atop which made for a good texture, especially combined with the crispy garlic coating. The eggplant was soft and flavourful, being an excellent soak for all of the sauce and juices, while the cabbage salad, seasoned with cumin, was just a bit too weird for me to want to eat it in any large amount. I don’t think cumin cabbage should be a thing.
For dessert we had the peanut butter parfait ($18), featuring a dark chocolate mousse that surprised me with its lack of coldness (I had misidentified it as an ice cream). It was good. It was all good.
For second dessert we got this massive box of Pocky ($2) from the vending machine downstairs. It’s actually cheaper than your local Asian supermarket?
We had a great meal at Supernormal, easily the best of our 2022 Melbourne trip. The dishes were hit after hit after hit, melding familiar Chinese flavours with new ingredients and ways of cooking. My one very significant complaint would be how this restaurant markets itself as Japanese-fusion, with its use of katakana in its branding and promotional material. I feel that, based on the selection of dishes that we tried as well as the wider menu on offer, Supernormal should be considered pan-Asian-fusion at broadest, and honestly probably Chinese-fusion for the most part. I think at the end of the day it’s just unfortunate that it’s harder to convince someone to spend $100 per person on “modernised/Westernised/fused” Chinese cuisine than on Japanese.
Go though, you will enjoy it.
180 Flinders Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9650 8688