Feb 01, 2016
Forget sweet and sour pork. Chinese restaurants in Australia have never been more innovative. To celebrate the Year of the Monkey, we bring you the country’s finest.
New South Wales
Back in 2000, Kylie Kwong altered our perception of contemporary Chinese cuisine with her tiny Surry Hills eating house. Since then her food has evolved to embrace Australia’s native flora and fauna, which are treated with the Chinese cooking techniques that best suit each ingredient. In 2014 she moved to a larger site in Potts Point and it’s here that her vision of Australian Chinese cuisine has been fully captured. Groups congregate in the front and back dining rooms as couples pull up a pew at the long bar to dine on crispy saltbush cakes, wallaby tail red-braised until it’s caramelised and gooey, and stir-fried yabbies with sticky pork and sea parsley. Billy Kwong is truly Australian – the considered melting pot of cultures in each bite. There’s really nothing quite like it.
1/28 Macleay Street, Potts Point
The Merivale Group has made an indelible mark on Sydney’s dining landscape but surely no-one could have predicted the impact Mr Wong would have on landing smack-bang in the CBD. With its two floors of raucousness, it has fed in excess of 500 punters a day since 2012 with some of the best modern Cantonese Down Under. A sense of timeless colonial Shanghai tea house pervades in the fit-out, featuring timber floors, bamboo woven chairs and exposed brick. Chef Dan Hong celebrates the bounty of Cantonese cuisine for a packed house of white-, blue-and no-collar diners. Classic pork xiao long bao dumplings deliver a bold broth inside. Sichuan-style Wagyu carpaccio brings spice and sophistication. Crispy Peking-style pig’s ears offer satisfying crunch. Make sure you get in early to avoid the disappointment of missing out on the crispy-skin chook or Peking duck – they sell out fast.
3 Bridge Lane, Sydney
Sometimes the exuberance of youth can cause a kind of culinary confusion in the kitchen. But when harnessed properly, stunning results can ensue. At Master, the new player to join the throng of Surry Hills eateries, the young crew are cooking contemporary Cantonese with maturity far beyond their years. White walls, black chairs, marble tables and rocking tunes set the scene for co-owner John Javier to playfully please. Slow-cooked Peking-style pork jowl replaces duck and partners pancakes with condiments. Fish sauce butter brings a velvet lather to a wedge of smoky, charred cabbage, while masterful technique turns XO-smothered scallop into a flat, silky veil. Master is the perfect balance between youthful ambition and a reliance on the building blocks of good cookery, with finger-licking results.
￼368 Crown Street, Surry Hills
Me Wah has long been a Hobart favourite for lunch, dinner or yum cha. It’s the house-made dumplings that make this institution so popular, from the steamed vegetarian dumplings with bamboo, water chestnut, mushroom and black fungus to the Shanghai xiao long bao (pork soup dumplings). For textural contrast, try the shredded barbecue pork pastry and gai lan (Chinese broccoli in vegetarian oyster sauce and seasoned soy). Want something a bit fancier? Don’t miss the delicate crayfish sautéed with fresh milk and eggwhites then sprinkled with conpoy (dried scallop). Or go for a hit of umami via stir-fried fresh shiitake, king oyster and button mushrooms with black truffle sauce. Dessert doesn’t disappoint, with a fun menu designed by Alistair Wise. His excellent sweet treats include fried banana fritter with chocolate mousse, caramelised wafers, burnt honey ice-cream and dehydrated mandarin.
16 Magnet Court, Sandy Bay Road, Sandy Bay
T’s Chinese Restaurant
For the Zhao family, home used to be Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang, in north-west China, which borders Russia, Mongolia and Afghanistan, where lamb is popular. Now they have three generations living on and working the farm and restaurant in the picturesque town of Sheffield in Tasmania’s north-west. Alex Zhao studied agriculture and originally focused on breeding dorper lambs, which don’t need shearing and have wonderfully marbled meat. He then turned to pork (Berkshire) and beef (lowline Angus) so he could serve the best meat possible. It’s worth the drive just for the guotie (crispy potsticker dumplings filled with juicy lamb, pork or beef) or the Xinjiang-style traditional hand-pulled noodles (pre-order the day before) with lamb, capsicum and asparagus. There’s also plenty of tofu and fresh vegetables from the farm.
83 Main Street, Sheffield
The first sign that Lee Ho Fook is no cultural artefact but an exciting embodiment of new-style Chinese? The name, which comes from Warren Zevon’s song Werewolves of London. Housed in an inner-Melbourne warehouse that has been renovated to keep its bare-bones charm, this is Canto but not as we know it. Chef Victor Liong is a fan of the mash-up; he produces such marvels as the tea-smoked egg with dill and avruga dabbed on the runny yolks and a silken slick of spring onion oil, and the hiramasa kingfish crudo with poached leek, white soy cream and burnt garlic and ginger. Eggplant meets its maker in caramel-slicked crunchy fried batons and fried rice is luxed up with scallop, crab and home-made XO. It’s unexpected and all the more thrilling for it.
11-15 Duckboard Place, Melbourne
There’s nothing remotely dainty about this regional specialist embodying the fire of China’s south-west. (Handy hint: order chilled soy milk to take the edge off.) The latest addition to the Dainty Sichuan empire specialises in individual hotpots, currently a huge trend in China. Choose your base broth (seafood, chicken or mushroom – spicy or not), order the add-ons to dunk into the roiling depths (the menu is an encyclopaedic listing including exotic fungi, pork belly, whole prawns, beef strips and kidney) and off you go. Dainty Sichuan is a class act and a helluva lot of fun.
149 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
The formal waiters, plush, red-carpeted room and old-school dishes will be familiar to anyone who crossed this celestial doorway 30 years ago. That’s not to say this habitué of world’s-best-Cantonese lists isn’t keeping up with the times. Chef-owner Anthony Lui likes to tweak the venerable menu: velvety drunken chicken is answered by his modern invention of noodles made from wild barramundi and Chinese pork sausage with a hint of tangerine zest. Peking duck remains the zenith of the art and the thinly sliced pearl meat wok-tossed with spring onion is a classic. Add service so smooth it could be on rails and the stars are right in their heaven.
￼17 Market Lane, Melbourne
This is perhaps the coolest place in town to celebrate Chinese New Year. If you believe in the theory about the cooling effects of spicy food, there’s no better place to be on a steamy evening in Brisbane. The Bang Bang banquet comes with a good whack of the fiery dried chilli, Sichuan pepper and bold flavours for which Sichuan food is renowned. While the dishes closely follow tradition (the heat turned down slightly for delicate Western palates), the décor takes a contemporary approach. This tiny, tastefully tarted-up former Chinese takeaway has a boutique feel. The New Year’s celebrations spill onto the footpath of this normally quiet suburban street, with dragon dancing and street food.
8 Wongabel Street, Kenmore
If you want your Chinese New Year to be bigger and brighter than Beijing, head to Chinatown in Fortitude Valley, where the cacophony of firecrackers, drumming and lion dancing goes on all weekend. There’s a reason why Enjoy Inn has been around for 33 years – it excels at the old-school Chinese fare that’s become a mainstay of our national food culture: think salt-and-pepper deep-fried quail, steamed oysters with ginger and shallots, Peking duck and flaming pork ribs. The same favourites are on the menu at the younger Hamilton branch, served up in the slick surroundings of Hamilton Harbour.
167 Wickham Street, Fortitude Valley
Shop 28, 8 Harbour Road, Hamilton
It took a while for From Orient’s authentic Sichuan cooking to catch on but once the serious intent of its Chengdu-born chef became obvious, there was no looking back. Now everyone, from dedicated chilli fiends to daytime office workers, lines up for his contemporary presentation of northern and southern Chinese food, including traditional Sichuan dishes. Stand-outs include shui zhu (sliced fish soaked in chilli and green peppercorn sauce featuring three types of chilli) and a meltingly tender whole pork hock poached in ginger and spring onion broth. While the restrained style of the downstairs section has echoes of a simple traditional Chinese tea house, there are two more glamorous private dining areas upstairs.
125-127 Pirie Street, Adelaide
The starkly modern Wah Hing, with not a paper lantern in sight, has such an understated street presence that it could easily get lost among its sister Chinese restaurants in highly competitive Gouger Street. But Shanghai-born and Hong Kong-raised chef Simon Wong – whose daughter, Susannah, runs the floor – is responsible for some of the most authentic Chinese cooking in town. Although dishes such as dry chilli chicken cooked with Sichuan pepper, house-made chilli oil and fresh chilli are pure Sichuan, the menu is mostly Cantonese. Exceptional dishes include slow-cooked beef belly hotpot subtly flavoured with Chinese dried mandarin, cloves and star anise, and lightly deep-fried balls of whipped silken tofu, minced prawn and minced squid served with oyster sauce. A traditional three-course Peking duck is available daily.
85 Gouger Street, Adelaide
Australian Capital Territory
Canberra’s political elite is drawn to Chinese restaurants. Last year, rival frontbenchers Christopher Pyne and Anthony Albanese graced this very kitchen and attempted to make their own “bipartisan” dumplings for ABC TV’s Kitchen Cabinet. But it’s the real chef’s cooking that keeps people coming back. Try the pillow-soft pork “chatting buns” and graze on strips of salty fried eggplant laced with chilli. The pan-fried Wagyu beef marinated in homemade wasabi sauce is tender and delicious. This place buzzes on weeknights, especially when Parliament sits. Make sure you book and don’t leave without a complimentary fortune cookie. The most accurate prediction is you’ll be back here again soon.
5/11 Kennedy Street, Kingston
From funky food vans and trendy wine bars to laid-back burger joints, there’s no shortage of hip new places to dine in the nation’s capital. But the growing competition hasn’t stopped locals from returning time and again to this faithful Canberra institution. For more than two decades, The Chairman & Yip has been a magnet for the high-end folk in town keen to escape the busy CBD foot traffic and embrace old-world cooking with a modern twist. Smart, hungry suits file inside this cosy space, striking deals while devouring plates of sweet and salty duck pancakes, crispy pan-seared quail and aromatic red chicken curry. The service is always charming, as are the fan-shaped serviettes and wrought-iron chandeliers.
108 Bunda Street, Civic
Lazy Susan’s Eating House
Trust local restaurant mogul Jason Hanna to sex up Chinese food. Newly opened Lazy Susan’s Eating House seduces at first sight with its ruby-red paint job, confessions wall (“French men turn me on”, “I’m in love with my best friend”) and whisky locker (start drinking a bottle and save it for next time). But Lazy Susan’s has substance as well as style, thanks to its pared-back menu of Chinese classics and a couple of Nonya, Vietnamese and Thai dishes. Perhaps start with the lusciously pillowy little bao filled with crisp pork or eggplant, followed by a laksa, pawpaw salad, white-cut chicken or excellent stir-fried duck. There’s also a huge wine, saké, beer and cocktail list, plus free-flowing iced tea at lunchtime. The clincher? The service is both prompt and pleasant.
21 Cavenagh Street, Darwin
Could this be Perth’s new dim sum restaurant to beat? Those perpetual lunchtime queues – even on weekdays – suggest the secret about Fortune Five’s superior dumplings is well and truly out. While the dim sum selection on the lunch menu covers plenty of ground, it’s the steamed items that deliver maximum bang per basket. Fluffy char siu bao (barbecue pork buns), pleasingly juicy har gow (prawn dumplings) and plump siu mai (pork dumplings) will delight purists no end but the original stuff is just as deserving of your attention. Steamed beef brisket is a hearty way to flesh out your meal – bonus points for serving the beef boneless and cleaved into sensible, chopstick-friendly pieces – while the prawn and scallop siu mai is unmissable.
108A James Street, Northbridge
No-one celebrates the Lunar New Year quite like Crown’s showpiece Chinese restaurant but that’s to be expected from one of Perth’s most opulent, gilded dining rooms. The auspiciousness is reflected in the names and ingredients of Silks’ Lunar New Year offering. Yusheng, the classic Chinese New Year’s DIY salad of raw salmon and pickled vegetables, is billed as Prosperity Raw Fish, while braised sea cucumber and abalone star in Double Happiness. The poetic-sounding Treasures Fill the Room, named after a traditional Chinese New Year greeting, translates to deep-fried quail stuffed with seafood paste. Crown’s annual Chinese New Year fireworks, meanwhile, kick off at 9.45pm on February 13. ￼
Crown Perth, Great Eastern Highway, Burswood