“Food was a very big thing in our family. What I remember the most was that every Sunday, grandpa Francis would invite the extended family to his house to have dinner,” recalls Fiorn Lee, one half of Aunty Franklee. “He made a chicken soup and a few home-cooked dishes and all the uncles and aunties would bring dishes, too, so it was like a big pot luck.”
Born in Borneo, twin sisters Fiorn and Francesca Lee moved to Melbourne to study architecture and nursing, but eventually found their way back to the family business. Back in Malaysia, their family owns the popular fast-food chain SugarBun. While the sisters opened their first Melbourne venue under the banner SugarBun, it turned into Aunty Franklee, their own concept.
Today, Fiorn is in charge of ground operations at their two locations (CBD and Hawthorn), while Francesca takes care of admin.
The superstar bak kut teh
If you order only one thing at Aunty Franklee, make it the bak kut teh.
“The history of this soup is that it was cooked by labourers in West Malaysia, I think either [by] miners or workers building train tracks. They would buy offcuts of herbs from Chinese medicine doctors and boil them with pork ribs. They would eat the soup in the morning before going to work,” explains Fiorn.
At Aunty Franklee, the bak kut teh embraces the Hokkien style. The pork bones are slow-cooked in a strong and comforting broth with 23 herbs and spices sent from Malaysia.
BKT, as it’s often called, is popular in Malaysia and Singapore and eaten at every hour of the day. Each region does a slightly different version, playing on the strength of the broth and the herb combinations.
At Aunty Franklee, the bak kut teh embraces the Hokkien style. The pork bones are slow-cooked in a strong and comforting broth with 23 herbs and spices sent from Malaysia. The clay pot ($14) is still simmering when it gets to the table: it's filled with pork (ribs, belly, slices and meatballs, which you’re encouraged to dip in soy sauce mixed with chilli and garlic), tofu puffs and mushrooms (enoki, shiitake and button). For a few extra dollars, get the multigrain rice and Chinese doughnuts to soak up the broth.
You can also get your bak kut teh in a dry version ($23), which Fiorn tells us is a modern version of the dish. The pork is braised in the soup, and then cooked in a wok with dark soy sauce, garlic, chilli, okra and lotus root.
"It’s a tribute to my grandpa and all the Sunday dinners he’s done, it made us all fall in love with food."
Bak kut teh is traditionally accompanied by oolong tea; this is where the name comes from (it translates to “meat bone tea”). Aunty Franklee is doing things a bit different by offering iced teas and Borneo milk tea. Our beverage choice is the refreshing pear and white wood drink, which contains goji berry, longan, red date and white wood ear fungus.
What else can you get?
Despite proudly claiming they’re “all about the bak kut teh”, the rest of the menu at Aunty Franklee is also worth a try, starting with the light Mother-Hen Soup ($8). “It’s the soup my grandpa used to make every Sunday. We use the mother hen chicken that lays the egg to make the soup stock, which is sweeter than normal chicken,” says Fiorn.
They also have another Malaysian/Singaporean classic, char kway teow ($14.50), a rice noodle dish with prawns, Chinese sausage and home-made sambal.
The CBD location boasts more grilled meat and fish dishes, while the Hawthorn location has a longer menu focusing on share plates.
Whether you're at the CBD or Hawthorn location, dining at Aunty Franklee feels like enjoying a nice home-cooked meal. “It’s a tribute to my grandpa and all the Sunday dinners he’s done, it made us all fall in love with food,” says Fiorn.
205 Russell Street, Melbourne, VIC
Mon – Wed 12 pm – 3.30pm, 4.30pm - 10:30 pm
Thu – Sat 12 pm – 11 pm
Sun 12 pm – 10:30 pm
64 Burwood Road, Hawthorn, Victoria
Tue - Sun 12pm - 3pm, 5pm - 9pm