Welcome to my first Melbourne food review, and after hearing several good things about it I decided to check out Rice Workshop (238 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD).Nestled on the corner of Tattersall Lane, Rice Workshop fits in perfectly with the hustle and bustle of China Town and that area around the Target Centre. A little too perfectly to be honest as from the outside there’s not much to distinguish it from the many other similar places in that area (even though I was looking for it I still nearly walked straight past it).
Inside, the red and black stools are striking and the understated branded bowls give it a nice touch. There’s a good mix of seating for both couples and larger groups and although the seating area downstairs is quite small (there are more seats upstairs) it didn’t feel crammed. The only annoying thing is people have to walk through the seating area to order and then back again with their food, especially if they want to sit upstairs, and I imagine this is a pain when it’s busy (there did seem to be another door at the back and it would make more sense to have people come in through this door, but maybe they do when it’s busier).
The place had a nice feel to it and seemed to attract a mix of people, we went in mid afternoon and it still felt lively. Service was fast, with cheerful, helpful staff and tables were cleared pretty quickly after people left keeping the seating area clean and welcoming. Nothing memorable, but nothing wrong – just efficient and pleasant. While there was nothing in the service or atmosphere of the place that would make it stand out from the many similar places in the area, it’s Rice Workshop’s menu that would have me coming back time and time again. They’ve hit the perfect sweet spot of giving a good range of choice without making it overwhelming or over complicated.
The main menu falls into into 4 broad categories: rice, noodles, curry and create your flavour. There’s also fried chicken, sides and desserts. My other half opted for the original beef curry and he was impressed with how soft the beef and carrots were and felt the portion was a really good size for $9. I went for the create your flavour option, picking grilled teriyaki salmon with brown rice, broccoli and raw veggies, and it was great for many reasons. The salmon was well cooked, veggies were fresh, there was a good balance of the ingredients, I didn’t feel like I was left scooping out forkfuls of rice at the end which can often happen. I like that I could pick my ingredients and I get a simple dish that works and I’m confident if I went back again and picked something totally different it would still work just as well. This is rice workshops gem, their unique selling point as it would be – I can choose something myself but I know it taste good, the ingredients appeal enough to the mainstream eater that you are confident enough to choose something nice without having to google lists of things to check what you are getting, but it still has enough authentic ingredients and flavours that it has a distinctly Japanese taste. I’m forever moaning that i don’t eat enough veggies and this can be a real problem when we eat out, where Rice Workshop allowed me to do what I do at home and stack my dish as full with veggies as I like (without having to go for a vegetarian option).
As a casual dining experience it’s brilliant. It has a good central location, really affordable (it was just over $20 for both our meals), your food comes fast and it’s good portion sizes with nice quality food for the price. It suited both my partner’s simple taste and my more adventurous flair and need to eat something new every time. While the service and atmosphere will quickly become forgettable in the jumble of places I eat, it’s the quick, good tasting food and well chosen menu which will ensure I return. And should they be worried about the forgettable exterior and standard “service with a smile”? Probably not, it was word of mouth that brought me to the place and I think word of mouth that will give them their continued success.