You walk in and the ridiculously expensive fitout has done it's job: you definitely feel transported to another time. Wood everywhere, a mountain of steamer trays, staff in classic suits.
I'm not sure if it's because it's this end of the CBD or because the restaurant is part of the Merivale group, but this "other time" we've been transported to is full of wankers: Nearly every table around us is waiting for someone to arrive before ordering, another table takes (I kid you not) an hour to decide on what to order and another table of over-privileged rich fucks decides that this is a nice setting to take a lazy 50 photos of their happy family gathering (flash on of course; this dark lighting produces horrible photos (see below)) in between sips of champagne and tosses of the overly-maintained hair.
It's almost enough to distract from what is a seriously good effort from Dan Hong and his team.
Almost. It ticks so many boxes: late night sittings, modern chinese, live seafood, BBQd ducks and pork, dumplings, good service, good cocktails, great wine, awesome fitout and good food.
Apart from feeling contempt for my fellow humans, I'm here for the food. Lunch is a dim sum heavy fare, with dinner offering a sort of best of selection of steamed and/or fried (above) dim sums. Never one to shy away from dim sum, we go for the "and". It's up there with some of the best dim sum in Sydney, and still shows more promise (the Chinese mushroom dumpling, for example, was a little starchy). Anything of the dim sums that include seafood are generous, perfectly cooked and excellent quality. A lot has been said of their interpretation of prawn toast, which includes foie gras. But, as with most Australian restaurants, there isn't that much foie gras to write home about. I'm more impressed by the crunchy coating and the chunks of prawn.
While the menu has more of a Canton vibe about it, there are greatest hits from all over China.
Sichuan steak tartare managed to yell louder than some of the tempting items on the menu. It's a nice mound of steak with a sichuan spiced cracker, that could probably benefit from a slightly lighter cracker and less supurfluous cucumber on the side of the bowl to allow the excellent meat to star.
Remixing drunken chicken by boning out the chicken and rolling it is a nice touch, with a couple of minor missteps in a piece of bone and a bit of blood being present. Small problems that the kitchen will iron out with time.
Ducks sway seductively in the breeze, calling my name. But, no, must be strong. The char sui pork gets the nod over the duck and there are no regrets. Sweet, well cooked and packed with flavour. Great with the super light rice on offer.
If there's one dish the rice was designed for it has to be the mapo tofu. This is a pretty strong version, with a steamed egg custard under the stew replacing the traditional chunks of tofu. It's silkier to eat and the differentiation of flavours is better. The stew itself probably isn't as good as some of the great Szechuan restaurants, but it's certainly above average and definitely something I can see myself getting again and again.
A side of fried green beans with pork is generous and nicely done, but, again, might fall a little short of some traditional places offering this dish. Though there's no denying the quality of the produce is better.
Dessert time and the fried ice cream is a gimmick that can't be resisted. Unsurprisingly, it's a big step up from the suburban Chinese takeaway version. A fluffy, crunchy batter covers perfectly textured ice cream and it all sits in a nice butterscotch sauce.
All of this we decide to have with some cocktails off their list which offers a taste of various Chinese provinces with the added benefit of making the table taking photos a lot more tolerable.
All up, a welcome arrival to the Sydney dining scene with good food, good booze, good service and a huge menu which demands you explore it in detail. Some of the dishes may not be any better than the traditional places, but the setting and the quality of produce more than makes up for it. You get the feeling it's what they set out to do, and that's definitely what they've achieved. With time his place will get even better.
RATING: Will return to [?]