With just one mouthful, I am grateful to have lost my smoked bean curd rolls virginity.
I care less they are not on most Chinese restaurant menus.
I care a lot more that I shall return just for them.
Notwithstanding the luxury and refinement of Cantonese cuisine which originated from China’s south, Northern Chinese holds the Peking duck trump card that encapsulates Chinese as one of the great cuisines of the world.
Tucked away in the northwestern corner of Sydney CBD at Millers Point is an old Northern Chinese restaurant that’s been around for Google knows how long.
The menu is extensive as most Chinese menus are. Food is clinically categorized, Chinese restaurant style – duck, chicken, lamb, pork, beef, prawns, fish, scallops, calamari, vegetables, fried noodles, rice, desserts and so forth.
“Standard Chinese food” I tell Mysaucepan after a cursory glance of its on-line menu at home. “By deduction, I think the food should be quite good since this restaurant has been around for yonks.”
Dated as it may be, I like this no-nonsense-no-fancy-menu-description style because each category showcases dishes which have been around for centuries. Grandma’s tofu, Shanghai style fried noodles, Peking shredded beef, Shantung chicken, sweet & sour pork and Peking duck are Northern Chinese heavyweights. It is difficult to see a good restaurant mucking up these tried and tested, all-time favourites.
Today, Mysaucepan and I are having lunch with our friends Niall, Jeffrey and their respective families.
As we walk into Mr Chow’s at noon this lazy Sunday, the smallish dining room is far from capacity.
White tablecloth, black chopsticks and white leather-bound chairs do make an elegant difference compared to your average neighbourhood Chinese restaurant.
From its vibrant burnt sienna, three vegetarian bean curd rolls need no announcement they have been smoked.
Stuffed with julienne carrots, bamboo shoots, ginger and Chinese mushrooms, smoky aromas on the bean curd skin are aromatic and intense.
With just one mouthful, I am grateful to have lost my smoked bean curd rolls virginity. I care less they are not on most Chinese restaurant menus. I care a lot more that I shall return just for them.
Crunchy jellyfish is heavenly with soft shredded chicken breast.
Here at Mr Chow’s, julienne celery is substituted with cucumber. Fine strips of carrot add colour and crunch but the most important ingredient is amiss. Without a generous sprinkle of roasted white sesame seed, this dish is sadly akin to a bride without her groom.
Twice cooked tea-smoked duck is coated with some crisp batter and served with Chinese pancakes, hoisin sauce and cucumber batons.
I am sniffing for fragrant smoky aromas having been spoiled by our smoked bean curd rolls earlier. If any at all, these aromas are subtle. Perhaps too subtle.
“My son loves the xiao long bao here” Niall tells us.
A double decker of these steamed dumplings is beckoning us to tuck in. The skin is delicate and the moment I sink my teeth in, a burst of hot, flavoursome soup floods my mouth.
King prawns encased in light and crisp batter are waddling in a shallow pool of fiery red Kung Po chilli sauce.
Dried chilli flakes and chilli seeds ensure the crisp and succulent texture of these prawns is matched with a spicy attitude.
I’m not a fan of Peking style shredded beef because I dislike the spicy sweet taste sensation.
Nevertheless, I have tasted my fair share of good Peking style shredded beef to know this one is not sufficiently caramelized. Too much spicy sweet sauce is rendering crispy strips of carrot and beef soggy.
Two servings of guotie are majestically fanned on a plate that resembles a large pot sticker sunflower.
I love guotie for the firm yet slightly chewy texture of its skin.
Pan-fried to a golden brown, they are tasty even on their own without the usual condiment of red vinegar and ginger shards.
According to wikipedia, the first restaurant specializing in Peking duck (cover image above) was established some 598 years ago in the Xianyukou, Qianmen area of Beijing (then known as ‘Peking’) in 1416.
This restaurant, Bianyifang, still thriving today must surely rank as one of the oldest in the world.
So, it can be difficult to fathom the history and tradition of this Peking duck dates back almost six centuries.
Served with Chinese pancakes, hoisin sauce and batons of shallots and cucumber, this duck is tasty, provided you have a choice slice of its skin.
Taste-wise, this duck packs a good flavour but is let down by the way it’s carved. Tradition dictates each slice of duck to be at best all crispy skin only or with a thin layer of lean meat, achieved by slicing horizontally just under the skin.
Unfortunately, there are large slices of lean meat with small ribbons of skin. Bacon with a ribbon of rind is fine but it’s a disaster when you get the equivalent in Peking duck.
Remnants of meat from our Peking duck carcass have been diced with bits of onion, mushroom and spring onions. Stir-fried with a splash of Shao Xing wine, I detect good wok aromas in a sang choy bao.
Scooped onto a chilled iceberg lettuce cup, this is popular Chinese food cooked well.
Chinese broccoli is blanched in hot water to soften its texture before being stir-fried with ginger and Shao Xing wine.
These vegetables are crunchy with its fragrant gingery sauce.
Traditional home-style dishes at Mr Chow’s are good because they are well-executed. These dishes should be on your radar because I believe it’s what Mr Chow does best.
So dear readers, which is your favourite northern style Chinese restaurant in Sydney and what dish do you enjoy there?
Note: We have been advised by friends who regularly patronize this restaurant to avoid coming on busy Friday and Saturday nights as service can be extremely slow. We neither concur nor reject this advice as we have never been to this restaurant during these times.
Mr Chow’s Peking Restaurant
33-35 Kent street, The Rocks
Millers Point, New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9252 3010
Opening hours: Lunch Tusday to Sunday 12pm – 3pm Dinner Sunday, Tuesday to Thursday 6pm – 10.30pm Friday & Saturday 6pm – 11.30pm.