Gilbert Lau was part-owner of the Empress of China restaurant in Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, one of the first upmarket Chinese restaurants in the city. He left to open the Flower Drum, which became renowned as one of Melbourne’s finest restaurants and was eventually recognised as one of the world’s top restaurants by Restaurant magazine in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. Lau sold the Flower Drum Restaurant in 2003.
In 2018, here’s what their website had to say about the restaurant’s history:
In 1975, Gilbert Lau opened the Flower Drum in Chinatown on Little Bourke Street. What began as a humble desire to serve good Cantonese food to the people in Australia soon grew to be a reputable restaurant that sent food critics into an excited flurry. Gilbert’s high standards for both himself and his staff allowed Cantonese cuisine to penetrate the tough Australian food market, ultimately establishing a Chinese restaurant that would rival the dominant European cuisines.
A decade later, Flower Drum moved from its initial premises in Little Bourke Street to its current location, at 17 Market Lane to accommodate a growing clientele with a more spacious dining room. It was also during this time that chef Anthony Lui was appointed Executive Chef, a position he still holds today.
Flower Drum was among many Melbourne Chinese restaurants that suddenly lost much of their custom when the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, hit Australia early in 2020. Since the virus seemed to have originated in China, customers were reluctant to venture into restaurants where they might encounter recent arrivals from that country. Some long-standing restaurants closed forever.