Sep 26, 2012

Mr Wong, Sydney.

Just in case it wasn't already pretty obvious from some of my posts, I'm going to come out with it and say that I'm a planner.  I like my day divided into time slots, I like to set due dates for tasks and divide that task into smaller sub-tasks (made that word up just then) over the intervening time, I hand write lists in this electronic age and put squares in front of each item so that they can be ticked off, I record things on Foxtel iQ (but then again, who doesn't iQ these days).

Which brings me to dinner last night at Mr Wong, Justin Hemmes and the Merivale Group's latest and most talked about restaurant in the Sydney CBD.  A twitter friend visiting from Melbourne planned dinner there a few weeks ago and because I'd heard it was notoriously difficult to find Mr Wong and its nondescript entrance, I thought I'd get and and do a spot of reconnaissance ahead of the appointed evening.  Which is how I found myself on a sunny spring day teetering on the edge of a narrow footpath as a delivery truck attempted to park at the service entrance while a large, chauffeur driven 4WD with blacked out window was trying to reverse out around it.

I wasn't the only person who feared for my life down that narrow laneway because my clumsy progress was duly noted by the on duty security person.  He was concerned enough to pop out from the restaurant foyer periodically to check on my progress upstream whilst the majority of the traffic was headed downstream.  I felt and looked like a large fish by the time I got to the door of Mr Wong which, I suppose is always better than ending up looking like fish fillets or fish fingers (gee my turn of phrase is especially entertaining today).  I was greeted by a welcoming committee of said security staffer and a lovely girl who assured me I was in the right place and gave me a business card just to make sure I returned again safely.

So theoretically, nothing could have gone wrong last night when I attempted to find the restaurant again. With a new iPhone map app and the address entered into it.  Though, having read the stories about map mishaps around Sydney with the new program, perhaps I shouldn't have placed so much faith in my phone.   Wrong town.

After an appetite building walk, I found Mr Wong again but was running late so was unable to take too many exterior photographs of the subtle sign painted on the wall of 3 Bridge Lane.  There was also the small matter of a very important looking person having a very important phone conversation as he hovered around the sign.  I didn't have the heart to ask him to move and thought that he wouldn't take too kindly to being blinded by the flash of my camera....

So we'll have to make do with this dodgy underexposed despite a flash and iPhoto editing shot of the second Mr Wong sign that's further up the lane.

I was so relieved to have made dinner running only 10 minutes late.  I bought a box of cookies from Maccas on the way, just in case I got too hungry on the walk to Mr Wong but luckily I hadn't eaten any before dinner because what I wanted to try and do was to get through a full three courses for once in my life.

There were six of us at dinner and all of us just a little fascinated with food and food photography (thank you all for being so kind and lovely about camera tricks and food and everything really, ladies).  We all had the same plan of attack for dinner - Peking Duck, the famous sweet and sour pork and that we would all be having dessert.  After the ground rules were set, we finalized the minor details like mocktails and the need for a couple of vegetable dishes and some sort of rice.  To make it a comprehensive kind of dinner.

Mr Wong is housed in a building that was previously used as a nightclub.  The current decor is garage meets semi industrial meets Shanghai Shabby Chic.  The trademark Merivale approach to bathrooms seems a bank of unisex cubicles with a more rustic approach to taps, sinks and mirrors.  The waft of expensive incense and an ecclectic play list of lounge and jazz in the air reminds you that facilities that you're visiting are in Sydney rather than Shanghai. The staff are friendly and efficient and coped well with the Tuesday night capacity crowd.

The food is Cantonese but with the influence of chefs with Vietnamese - Australian (Dan Hong), Taiwanese - Australian (Jowett Yu) and Singaporean via London (dim sum chef Eric Koh) roots.  The menu reflects the strength of this wide range of Asian cuisine inspirations, they add intriguing twists to 'standard' Cantonese dishes and set Mr Wong apart from the excellent but more traditional offerings in nearby Chinatown.

Unfortunately, my attempts to photograph the restaurant failed miserably.  The moody lighting hated my iPhone with a passion and I cut a rather unwieldy presence with my other camera as I tried to negotiate the busy dining and kitchen areas.  People do make way for bumps but I didn't want to take advantage of the courtesy by being a human road block as I tried to frame photos and adjust exposures in the narrow stairwell.
Mr. Wong, the new Merivale restaurant in what used to be the Tank nightclub. GOOD LIVING photo by Marco Del Grande on August 17, 2012
This photograph from the SMH review is of the ground level main kitchen.  It's open plan and there was an air of calm efficiency as barbecued meats were unhooked and chopped for serving, so much quieter than the Hong Kong barbecue houses of my youth.  Further along in the kitchen, dim sum chefs effortlessly rolled and filled dumplings and those large rice cookers looked the business.

Mr Wong has an impressive wine list and these are housed in a glass walled wine library surrounded by a metal and wood stair case with a bit of a warehouse edge to it.

The table decided to stick to mocktails which, from memory, cost $12 - 14.

I don't have the mocktail list with me but mine was some kind of 'sling' featuring passionfruit and it was very refreshing.  But I have to admit, I'm looking forward to those days when a glass or two of bubbles with dinner will be back on the menu.  And sushi.  And oysters.  And a cheese plate. And .....

I'd better get onto last night's food at some point, hadn't I?

Let's start at the very beginning with the shared entrees.  We were unanimous in the decision to order a whole Chinese Roasted Duck ($60, half $34).  Mr Wong serves this as a single course dish, without the option of san choy bow or duck noodles.  Apparently, the traditional Cantonese way of serving duck pancakes is to have skin presented with the meat attached.  Glossy medallions of separated skin were also presented on our platter, along with hoi sin sauce and crudites of spring onion and lebanese cucumber.  I was a bit wistful for the less chic method of having the duck skin presented on prawn crackers but when in the world of Hemmes, one must do as the Hemmes do.

The duck was roasted to perfection.  It was less oily and salty than the way it's often done in Chinatown.  The meat was incredibly moist and tender.  The pancakes held their contacts admirably but still yielded easily to my greedy bites.  There was more than enough duck to go around for the six of us though towards the end, the sauce dish did get a little hoisin deficient relative to the amount of duck that remained.

There's always more fun with numbers so between the six of us, we ordered both Dim Sum Platters.  Each have 8 pieces to a serve and are either steamed or deep fried.  Both arrived to the table very quickly and were beautifully presented.

The steamed platter featured a scallop shumai, Jade seafood dumplings, Har Gau and Chinese mushroom dumplings.  The flavours were light and I enjoyed the mushroom dumpling especially.

The deep fried version featured Crispy beef rolls, Lobster Mei Si rolls, Pear taro croquettes and Foie gras prawn toast.  The offerings were a little different to what is usually served at yum cha here in Sydney and were well received by the table.

We are spoiled for choice and quality in the dim sum stakes in Sydney.  It's not hard to find excellent restaurants all over the city and suburbs who consistently deliver great quality at reasonable prices.  While many of them may not be original enough or unique enough to be at the cutting edge of culinary trends in Sydney, they will always have a place in the hearts and palates of Sydney-siders.  I'm only making these points here because the expectations of the general public are often quite different to those of food critics, and rightly so.  Eating dim sum at Mr Wong is about the whole experience from the price to the wow factor of what is presented to the atmosphere of the dining room.  I did enjoy what we were served last night in the context of all of this but deep down, I know I'm a dim sum in the suburbs kind of girl.

My favourite main was the Sweet and sour crispy pork hock ($28).  I think there's a reason why I've never eaten pork hock and that would be because now that I've tried it, I'll be needing a hit of its silkily fatty goodness at least once a week.  The sweet and sour sauce was a completely different beast to that fluorescent red sweet and sour with chunks of pineapple I know I'm supposed to hate but really love.  The flavours here were a little smoky and well balanced.

The Sichuan style eggplant ($18) was served under a dressing of dark soy and chilli.  Baby slices of egg plant layered the plate and the dish was lighter than how eggplant is often cooked in Chinese cuisines.

Plain old steamed Chinese vegetables are one of those dishes where there are hundreds of ways to prepare the accompanying sauce and just as many differences of opinion as to which is the best.  There are so many variables, the type of oyster sauce you use, the sesame oil, with garlic or without etc etc.  Mr Wong's Steamed Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce and garlic oil ($12) was well executed but the sauce was drier than what I'm used to.  The dish did contrast well with what we ordered though.

Mr Wong's special fried rice with pork and prawn (large $24, small $18) hit all the right notes with me.  The rice was pleasantly seasoned and there was an abundance of both the pork and prawns.

For me, the desserts are the stand out section of Mr Wong's menu.  Somehow, Hong, Yu and Koh executed a range of desserts that blend Asian flavours with European sensibilities that may sound wacky in the menu but are actually very sophisticated and pleasing to the palate.  I think it was a sensible call to not have cake or pie based desserts as a contrast to the heaviness of the other courses but to instead focus on cooling textures such as jelly, sorbet, fruit and ice cream.

True to our pre dinner promise of making it to dessert, we ordered four of the five desserts (ordering a fruit platter on a girls night out would not have been playing by the rules) and shared them .  Desserts are $14 each and the staff were very relaxed about us eating our order in a communal fashion.  With regard to a strategy for approaching the desserts, I'd suggest starting with the lightest first.

The Green apple ice, osmanthus jelly, water chestnuts and coconut sorbet was a bit tart but very refreshing and was a palate cleanser after our robustly flavoured entrees and mains.

Adequately refreshed, next on the list was the Roast white chocolate ice cream, yuzu curd, longans and raspberry.  This dish was served on top of crushed cookies and I loved it all.

I wasn't quite sure what to make of Thai basil in a dessert but it was an inspired addition to Strawberries, meringue, macadamia praline and cream.  The savoury herbiness (for want of a better description) of the basil married well with the aching sweetness of the meringue, the strawberry tang and the richness of the praline and cream.  Definitely the dessert to try when you visit.

Mr Wong's deep fried ice cream brought back lots of happy memories of Sunday lunches at my parents' favourite Chinese restaurant in Perth.  The fried ice creams in Perth were tennis ball sized scoops of fluorescent white vanilla ice cream topped with a chocolate coated peanut which was all encased in a layer of sponge cake.  They were too good to drown in sauce....  Mr Wong's version comes with a choice of butter scotch, vanilla or chocolate sauces and would be a Magnum in comparison to the watered down Choc Wedge quality of my humble Perth favourite.  The deep fried ice cream is the richest and heaviest of the desserts on offer and a little goes a long way.

Dinner at Mr Wong's was great fun.  The modern interpretations of traditional Cantonese dishes are just a little bit quirky and added a bit of excitement in the process.  The food also triggered all kinds of happy memories of shared meals and childhood favourites.  Aside from this, Mr Wong provides diners with all the other elements of a Merivale restaurant we've come to know and love - superior people watching, funky interior design and that little bit of glamour that somehow manages to touch us ordinary folk who dine within.

Mr Wong on Urbanspoon


  1. This looks absolutely mouthwatering - going to book mark this one in case I ever find myself in Sydney again!

  2. I'm the same! I love hand writing my 'To Do List' and drawing tiny little boxes to tick off!
    It was lovely to meet you and thanks for a fab time!


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