Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The people’s China Republic

With the rise of China's global and economic influence, it seems a timely development that modern Chinese restaurants are finally getting their time in the Sydney dining spotlight.

The long-awaited China Republic has recently opened across two grandly-decorated stories in the World Square complex, just north of Chinatown.

Entry to China Republic, World Square, Sydney
Following many months of delays related to importing crucial bits of the restaurant from China, the restaurant has now opened for lunch and dinner seven days a week in the space that once was Equilibrium Hotel with its many beer taps.

Pastry kitchen
In many ways, there's a distinct feel of 'new' meeting 'old' at China Republic, particularly in the restaurant’s décor – much of which was imported from China.

Terracotta warriors
Replica terracotta warriors and handcrafted bamboo models of Beijing’s Forbidden City imperial palace stand next to boldly colourful oversized chairs and tables, teapot shelf displays and upturned umbrellas on the ceilings.

I think it’d be pleasing for both modern Sydney-siders and Chinese traditionalists, which is probably also where the menu aims to be.

Counter seats looking into the pastry kitchen
Also a little different is that China Republic does not prescribe to one regional style of Chinese cuisine. Instead, the menu happily traverses the entire nation, as if taking a 'best of China - today' approach to its modern Chinese offerings.

Dedicated duck kitchen
The downstairs level features an ornate cocktail bar beside the duck kitchen and ovens – a dedicated Peking duck kitchen featuring two fiery, purpose-built ovens which can produce up to 20 ducks an hour.

The elevated duck kitchen is surrounded by a moat-like goldfish pond, with real, live koi goldfish swimming about.

The rest of the dining area is split between an corridor area with natural light and inside which is darker and moodier, while there is also counter seating in front of the glassed-off pastry and dumpling kitchen. All up, China Republic seats 250 diners.

Entry to private dining room
The spacious upstairs seating and décor feel a little more formal with four private dining rooms (including a super VIP room that can be accessed from the service lift) set around the central open space which can be used for functions or normal sittings.

Private dining room

Private dining room

VIP private dining room

Media launch table settings
We were welcomed to one of the media launches with flutes of Moet and the sweet Concubine Yang cocktail, and tours of the restaurant before moving upstairs to settle in for 13 courses featuring dishes from Executive Chef and Co-owner Mei Sheng Yu's 'Top 10' menu – chef Yu's hand-picked special dishes, if you will.

Beijing-style spicy and sour cucumber
The meal commenced with cold entrées matched to 2010 Pegasus Bay Riesling from the restaurant’s premium wine list.

Crisp pickled cucumbers are always a great way to start a meal, and these slightly spicy Beijing-style ones with kaffir lime leaf were no exception; readying the palate for more food and flavours.

Eggplant and coriander salad with garlic dressing
The eggplant salad was also a northern Chinese dish featuring soft, steamed logs of eggplant doused in a dark, thick, green dressing pungent with raw garlic.

White cut chicken served with spicy lemon sauce
We then headed south to the Guangdong province, which diners of Cantonese food will be much more familiar with, for a rendition of delicately poached white cut chicken thigh.

The chicken was well cooked and served with an unusual, creamy lemon sauce that was a little a overwhelmed by Sichuan pepper.

Tofu dish presentation
As part of the restaurant's 'modern Chinese food meets art' ethos, presentation of dishes is immaculate and at times, astounding.

Small bowls of cold tofu topped with tobiko flying fish roe arrived on an intricately carved wooden stand that certainly elevated the dish to a piece of art.

Beijing-style tofu with shallots and fish roe
Crumbly-textured, as must be characteristic for the Beijing-style, the tofu was particularly subtle in flavour, highlighted by thinly sliced shallots. The salty, smoky fish roe, popping on the bite, was the perfect accompaniment to the delicate tofu.

Mushroom broth
Chef Yu cooked and served the next course as two dishes, starting with a pleasantly earthy, herbal-style soup of six mushroom varieties including enoki and shiitake mushrooms.

China Republic special coral trout hotpot with mushroom broth
It was in the mushroom broth that chef Yu cooked boneless fillets of coral trout - a revered and favoured fish of many Chinese - infusing some of the mushroom flavour into the smooth, skin-on fish.

Condiments for coral trout
And not that the fish wasn't well flavoured but eight separate condiments were served with the coral trout, including chopped peanuts, soy sauce, vinegar, minced ginger and shallots.

Flaming Peking duck
There was a bit of fanfare when the whole roast duck arrived for the Peking duck dish, carved at the table as is traditional.

Less commonly seen is the flaming of the bird, where the whole duck goes alight in blue for a bit of extra heat and crispness, and theatrics of course, before serving.

Carving the Peking duck
The speed, precision and neatness in which the duck was carved at the tableside was simply awe-inspiring, with the skin over the duck breast removed in a perfect piece within the first 10 seconds.

Peking duck pancakes
China Republic's Peking duck is served with a fabulous array of condiments and an accompanying instruction pamphlet on how best to eat your course.

It starts with what I found to be a slightly unusual dip of duck skin alone into white sugar. It ends up being like roast duck skin candy, which doesn't do it for me despite the lovely, crisp and unfatty skin.

Steamed bread pockets
With options of both thin pancakes or little pockets of impossibly thin, steamed bao-like dough, the traditional Peking duck serving with cucumber sticks, shallots and sweet bean sauce doesn't disappoint.

Another serving style with a salty pickled vegetable, raw Spanish onion and mustard sauce certainly changed my perspective on Peking duck, while the steamed bao pockets are definitely, and surprisingly, as good as the pancakes.

Sliced roast duck
The roast duck was good, very good even, without any overly fatty bits and while it was tasty enough in the Peking duck style packages, its overall seasoning was a little lacking in comparison to some Chinatown barbeque shop peers.

Peking duck steamed pocket with cucumber, onion and sweet bean paste
Even with a varied array of sauces and condiments, the duck was lovingly matched with the 2009 Etude Carneros Estate Pinot Noir.

Sauteed banana prawns
The huge head-on de-veined banana prawns, cooked in a sweet, spicy sauce, were impressive specimens with impressively tasty heads and as good a substitute for lobster as any.

Kung pao chicken with peanuts
Main dishes continued with a more sweet than spicy kung pao dish featuring boneless pieces of very soft chicken, capsicum and plenty of crushed peanuts in a thick sauce.

Chef’s special sweet and sour pork spare ribs
Familiar to anyone who's had Chinese takeaway will be sweet and sour pork, here served as tender, deep-fried pork riblets in a sticky glaze. This probably would have been nice with a bowl of steamed rice, and served at the same time as the vegetables that followed.

Stir fried broccoli
The stir fried broccoli, baby corn and carrot, in comforting ginger and garlic flavours, seemed like a vegetable afterthought; necessary but not quite on par with some of the impressive dishes of earlier.

Sichuan-style dumpling
It almost seemed a shame to finish on the boiled dumpling in vinegary sauce - it's one of my favourite Chinese foods and I was a bit full to really enjoy its well-flavoured minced pork filling.

Glutinous rice ball stuffed with mashed fruits and sweet porridge
If you can leave space for dessert the subtly sweet rice porridge, served cold and flecked with fruit, is an intriguing approach for a Chinese dessert.

The softly sticky glutinous rice ball is surprisingly lighter, filled with a mixed fruity centre and just lovely with the lightly sparkling 2012 Banfi Sciandor Moscato d’Asti Strevic DOCG.

Teapot display
There's plenty of hype and fanfare around China Republic, which is great as it's bringing modern Chinese food to brighter lights - it has indeed opened my eyes more beyond Cantonese food and yum cha.

It's the full experience at China Republic: the artful food, exciting atmosphere, amazing fitout, food theatre and more - it's all there for the people. Now, let's see if Sydney is big enough for it all.

Food, booze and shoes attended the China Republic media launch, with thanks to Liquid Ideas.

China Republic on Urbanspoon


Tina @ bitemeshowme said...

awesome shots of the decor and food. I like what I see!

Melanie Y said...

I feel like it's going to be the battle of the "fancy modern new Chinese joints" in Chinatown. I like the decor here, and that duck, whoa!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

We're headed here soon and good to know what the duck is like! I have tried the white sugar dip and prefer it without it too :)

john | heneedsfood said...

Ooh la la! This place is grand! Must suss it out sometime.

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

Tres fancy! And flaming duck! Woohoo!

Becca said...

Lovely fine dining! Plus all foods that mouth-watering.

Tina said...

Hi Tina - Yep, lots to like :)

Hi Melanie - It certainly feels that way, although there's a clear winner in terms of the fitout...

Hi Lorraine - I find the skin with sugar just bizarre. Love roast duck skin as it is.

Hi John - Yup, fancy-pants Chinese, for sure!

Hi Helen - Haha, glad you got to enjoy the duck on fire!

Hi Becca - Indeed, it's Chinese fine dining.


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