These days many Cantonese restaurants in Sydney have ‘seafood restaurant’ in their name and with good reason too.
Chinese cuisine is probably the epitome of communal dining. When dishes are shared among many diners, the average price of Chinese food per diner for similar quality food is usually a lot less than a 3-course meal in a western style restaurant. This is good news to customers. So, in order to increase average spend, many Cantonese restaurants complement traditional dishes on their menu with a variety ‘live’ seafood which are relatively more expensive.
The Chinese have a fixation for ‘fresh’ seafood. When everyone is gathered at the dining table, nothing beats the joy of tucking into a whole fish and a platter of stir-fried lobster or mud crabs. The stark silence when the seafood arrives is usually broken by the sounds of crustaceans being cracked open by food hammers or the sheer determination of bare teeth.
The inclusion of these ‘live’ seafood dishes to a Chinese meal can be an expensive affair. But if you are familiar with a Chinese restaurant’s menu or the manager, ‘strategic ordering’ can result in a very good meal without busting the wallet.
And we are here tonight at Fook Yuen Seafood Restaurant in Chatswood with our friends Mr. & Mrs Coconut, who dine at the restaurant at least once or twice every week.
This restaurant is owned by the King Fook Group, who also operates the Kam Fook restaurants in Chatswood, Bondi and King Fook in Carlingford.
It’s easy to tell if prawn crackers are of good quality. A plate of complimentary prawn crackers is crisp, non-greasy and have good prawn flavours.
A 2005 Chateau Rollan de By has dark berries on the nose and tannins are nicely balanced. Although it has good length, this wine can well afford a few more years in the bottle.
The special XO sauce at this restaurant is rather special. Not too spicy, it has some intense flavours of sauteed chilli, shrimp and seafood.
Add a dash of light soy sauce and this condiment is a top complement to seafood or a simple plate of fried rice or noodles.
Floral with hints of lychee and rose petals, a 2011 Albert Mann Vin D’Alsace Gewurztraminer would appeal to wine lovers who like it a little sweet. This wine will make an excellent pairing with curries and spicy stir-fry dishes.
A plate of deep-fried whitebait and squid is tossed with chilli flakes, salt, shallots and deep fried onion. The combination of salt and chilli makes these chunks of squid extremely tasty and the whitebait is crisp and not overly greasy.
This dish would be a guaranteed hit in any pub with an ice cold beer.
Spring rolls with beancurd skin is light and crisp. Finely diced shitake mushrooms, water chestnuts, celery and beansprouts make a filling with good flavour and texture. Dipped into a rich savoury sauce, these two dishes make excellent canapes and finger food.
Stir-fried pipies in XO sauce is a perennial favourite in most fine Cantonese restaurants. The quality of this dish is predicated on fresh pipies from seafood tanks.
The XO sauce has a gentle chilli kick but the seafood flavour from fresh pipies is unmistakable. The vermicelli noodles is like a big, crispy biscuit and that is how it should be. It does its intended job of soaking up all that delicious XO sauce. Having tasted so many interpretations, this one ranks among the very best in Sydney.
To me, this is a must-have dish at this restaurant and it beats many more expensive seafood dishes in terms of taste and flavour.
“Man, this duck tastes like an ashtray!!” Monk exclaims upon first bite.
Monk’s comment is with good reason too. The ash-like tea aromas are so distinctive, I am enjoying a few good sniffs on a duck wing tip. The duck skin and meat around the bones are the most flavoursome. The breast meat is filleted into thin slices with its ribbon of fat and skin and fanned out for a majestic looking dish.
This tea-smoked duck comes with steamed Chinese buns to wrap those duck breast fillets with. Personally, I prefer it without the buns as it does little apart from reducing those addictive smoky aromas. I have tried other tea-smoked ducks and this one ranks number one in my mind.
I detect tobacco and tea leaf aromas in a 2008 Cullen Cabernet Merlot and this wine is a good complement to our tea-smoked duck. With a deep red hue, there are hints of dark berries on the palate with a dry finish.
A slab of braised pork belly comes in a tangy sauce which is more deserving of plain steamed buns to soak it up.
The meat is wobbly succulent and it is good, honest Chinese food.
Deep-fried cod fillets are in beer batter style. Crisp and golden brown, the fish inside is tender.
In itself, these cod fillets are subtle in taste.
A spicy tangy dipping sauce instantly brings those cod fish fillets to live. Thick and gooey, this sauce is made up of slices of onions, red and green capsicum and tomato.
Our vegetable dish is in the form of glass noodles, spinach and preserved egg cubes. Egg white finds its way in this comfort dish that is a bit like having a bowl of soup with some greens and noodles.
Dessert options in Chinese restaurants are almost non-existent. We spot two options of ice-cream and mango pudding in the menu for $7 per person. But who needs these when after dinner fruit and cookies come complimentary.
A sago soup is subtle and not overly sweet. It is just the kind of finish to a good Chinese meal. The nine of us agree this is a fantastic Chinese meal at a reasonable price.
So dear readers, are you keen on expensive live seafood or prefer to stick to good traditional dishes in Chinese restaurants?
Fook Yuen Seafood Restaurant
7 Help street, Chatwood
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9413 2688
Opening hours: Lunch Monday to Sunday 10am to 3pm, Dinner Monday to Sunday 5.30pm to 11pm.