Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mr. Wong hits all the right notes

On a cold Sunday afternoon, it was an evocative laneway stroll down an empty, minimally-signposted Bridge Lane to Merivale's latest restaurant, Mr. Wong. The glass doors were opened graciously for us to enter the expansive, wood-and-brick-toned venue that I barely remember as Tank nightclub.

Mr. Wong is a serious Chinese-Cantonese addition to the Merivale empire, taking on the likes of Golden Century in the corporate diner and hospitality industry stakes with its lunch and late night hours. But with so much style and the magnetic attraction that Merivale boasts, the dining masses are bound to descend upon Mr. Wong in hoards.

As we headed towards seats at the drinks bar, I was stopped in my tracks by an unlikely sight up this end of town.

Chinese barbeque goods on display at Mr. Wong, Bridge Lane, Sydney
I'd heard about their duck-roasting escapades and seen their pre-opening food tweets, but the tall feature display of roast and to-be-roasted ducks, soy chickens, roast pork and char siu barbeque pork is still worth stopping at for an ogle.

The dumpling kitchen
We bypassed the bamboo steamer-lined dumpling kitchen, headed by Eric Koh (ex Michelin-starred Hakkasan in London), where the many industrious staff are only a small fraction of the Mr. Wong kitchen army.

We also passed a bright private room occupied by a large, round table of industry somebodies, while the left side dining area - where the feel is a little Shanghai colonial - featured a range of table set-ups including tall, long tables with stools down the middle of the room.

Needless to say, for a Merivale venue, the ambience is easy to love and charmingly opulent in an other-worldly fashion.

Fujian Province cocktail
Old-world jazz plays just over the buzzy room, inciting the immediate desire for a classy drink. The cocktail menu is a fun read across the world's most populous nation, with drinks named after Chinese provinces and each featuring a key ingredient from said province.

The Fujian Province was my first pick, featuring a combination of shochu Japanese liquor, sake, Choya plum wine and Russian Standard vodka, with a vanilla hibiscus tea syrup - tea presumably being the area's famed ingredient.

The pretty fizz, served tall on lots of ice with a meringue-like egg white top, was a light and refreshing drink without much of a kick, but appropriately easy to drink on an early Sunday afternoon.

Beijing Muncipal cocktail 
I must have gone from one end of the cocktail scale to the other with the Beijing Municipal cocktail, featuring a dangerously irresistible duck fat-washed Havana 7-year-old rum and Chinese hoi sin sauce bitters, which apparently take three months to make.

Duck fat from the in-house duck roasting process is fat-washed into the dark rum, which is cut with normal Havana 7-year-old and stirred on ice with the potent spice and hoi sin bitters, finished with orange zest.

The rather straight rum and spices are immediately warming, with notable hoi sin sweetness from the bitters. As the bartender put it, this cocktail was "not for the faint of heart".

Pan-fried pork bun
The dim sum menu at Mr. Wong comes highly recommended, with everything made fresh in-house which, believe it or not, is a differentiating factor to most yum cha venues in Sydney.

Diners can opt for the full yum cha experience by going all out on dim sum, or just mixing and matching a few with the rest of the food menu which, in proper Chinese style, is huge (but not quite as enormous as the endless pages of the wine list).

We start with one of my favourites: Shanghai-style sheng jian bao pan-fried pork buns, which arrive startlingly soon after ordering, without vinegar sauce (which is available on request).

The bun pastry is pleasingly thinner than most versions I've had - probably between bun and dumpling thickness - with plenty of squirty soup inside plus a fine pork filling.

Mr. Wong's drunken chicken
The drunken chicken from the entrée menu is a small dish of de-boned and rolled chicken served cold - all the better for the delicate flavours of the Chinese rice wine-cooked chicken to shine.

The perfectly round pieces feature silky, white chicken skin on the outside and moist, just-cooked chicken within, garnished appetisingly with ginger slivers and baby coriander.

Foie gras prawn toast
Back on the dim sum menu, the sight of the foie gras prawn toast brought back memories of childhood meals in suburban Chinese restaurants for some.

Mr. Wong's version, deep-fried to an almost orange hue, features some very decent minced prawn atop the inevitably oil-soaked but crunchy bread, while the small dab of foie gras within is a tiny touch of decadence.

Xiao long bao
The xiao long bao were most commendable, looking authentic with circle-forming pleats and soup bulging at the bottom of the steamed dumpling wrappers.

The meaty, soupy flavours were superb while the skins were a little thicker and less delicate than my favourites, although their almost al dente characteristic put up some very good competition.

Roast ducks (and soy chicken and barbeque pork) on display
We went for a change of scenery after a few drinks and bites at the bar, moving to the kitchen bar seats for more food with full view of the main kitchen and barbequed meat display.

It is so impressive that Mr. Wong roast their ducks and other meats in-house as, again, it's not something all Chinese restaurants do themselves. If I were to be picky I might say the char siu and ducks need to be glossier, but I'll leave it to a taste test next time for more definitive thoughts.

Textural salad of poached chicken, jellyfish and pig's ear
The so-called "textural" salad might prove challenging to some palates, particularly those unfamiliar with Chinese style jellyfish which I would describe as more crisp than gelatinous. The dressing is traditional with sesame oil although it veers towards a bit too sweet for my tastes.

The thin slivers of brown braised pig's ears have a different sort of crispness, of the cartilage variety I suppose - and which I think are better eaten in this firm fashion than cooked soft.

Poached chicken breast pieces add bulk to the 'surf and turf' salad and a degree of familiarity for most, while I adored the abundant coriander and thin, shredded green vegetables.

"Mapo tofu" - stir fried pork mince with chilli and Sichuan pepper,
served on f
reshly steamed soy milk custard
Things started to get homely with the mapo tofu, with which steamed rice is a must-have accompaniment, especially at just $2 per person and presented in a cute woven vessel.

Garnished with coriander, the mapo minced pork is decidedly spicy, almost too much for me, but that shouldn't have surprised me given the reddish hue and chilli and Sichuan pepper mentions on the menu listing.

Freshly steamed soy milk custard beneath the pork mince
While the big-hitting flavours of the pork are a standout, so too is the "tofu" or steamed egg custard, which makes for an interesting twist on the popular Sichuan comfort food dish.

Mimicking the smooth, creamy texture of silken tofu, the in-bowl steamed custard is almost as delicate in flavour and texture as its completely soy cousin, but a bit sturdier for its egg content.

The main kitchen
Our front row seats at the kitchen gave us full views of the order, not chaos, on other side as the chefs cleaned up following the 3pm close for lunch.

Saying that, we weren't kicked out at 3pm but rather, even offered desserts, so it would seem the restaurant remains open between its lunch and dinner hours - for drinkers at the very least.

Cooked ducks drying before roasting
"Follow the ducks" was the instruction to get to the bathrooms: past the cooked ones in the kitchen display; past the open kitchen where shelving is head height and you can't really see the chefs; and then past the slightly creepy room filled with hanging, white, cooked ducks awaiting their basting and roasting fate.

As we polished off our second round of food, there was much appreciation for the relaxed but buzzy Sunday afternoon vibe at Mr. Wong, with plenty of attentive service from the large crew of well-dressed floor staff, keen to impress.

While I didn't catch a glimpse of the downstairs, Merivale seems to have gone all out converting the ex-nightclub into a destination restaurant, and even three days in, I think Mr. Wong is hitting all the right notes.

Mr Wong on Urbanspoon


Tina @ bitemeshowme said...

It's amazing that within several days of opening, I've read more reviews than I can count on one hand, and have read nothing but positive reviews. Can't believe that Tank night club is no longer but so glad Mr Wong has now entered the streets. Great write up!

chocolatesuze said...

ermahgawd dying to try the foie gras prawn toast!

Jacq said...

That's a lotta ducks they have hanging up!

john@heneedsfood said...

I seriously love the "hanging ducks" feature and it's nice to see something good become of that former nightclub. Can't wait to go there!

Richard Elliot said...

This place looks amazing. I ate at Hakkasan before I moved to Oz and it was pretty special. If Eric Koh is in the kitchen I'm disappointed I won't be able to visit!

I haven't had any Asian food since moving back to the UK. We've got lots of Chinese restaurants, but I don't think they are the same style as Sydney. I don't think being further away from Asia helps...

MissPiggy said...

The menu options seem so varied! Is Foie Gras something common in this type of food, or are Merivale just being fancy schmancy? I like that the BBQ their own meats - I'd like to see that in action.

Kiki @ simplykiki said...

OMG... the textural salad sounds so freaking awesomeeee... I can't wait to try it! :DD

gaby @ lateraleating said...

I must try those ducks!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

That's quite a display of ducks there. And I don't think Sydney could ever have too many Chinese options :)

Annie said...

xiao long bao, drunken chicken AND foie gras prawn toast?! i'm so there!

Tina said...

Hi Tina - Thanks. There's a lot of love and appreciation out ther, for good reason!

Hi suze - Yup, and so much more I wanna try!

Hi Jacq - Yeah, that drying room is insane!

Hi John - It's an unbelievable space for a restaurant, so much going on too.

Hi Richard - You'll have to visit if you come back and visit then! :)

Hi MissPiggy - They're just being very fancy indeed. Sit at the kitchen bar too see all the kitchen and oven action ;)

Hi Kiki - I really like jellyfish, and it's kind of an uncommon dish, so great to see it here.

Hi gaby - Me too, next time!

Hi Lorraine - Agreed, especially of this calibre!

Hi Annie - They sure have an interesting menu variety from all over China..!

Ramen Raff said...

Oh man! Can't wait to visit this joint. I wanna try their pan fried pork bun and the foie gras prawn toast sounds interesting. Nice write up too!

Tina said...

Hi Raff - Thanks. I've only heard good reviews so far,aside from a few price grumbles ;)

Anonymous said...

The sight of those ducks turns me off. Seriously a gross third world presentation.


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