Chairman and Yip

Chairman and Yip manager Cathy Zhang.
Chairman and Yip manager Cathy Zhang. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

108 Bunda Street Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601

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02 62487109
Opening hours Lunch Tuesday to Friday, dinner Tuesday to Saturday
Features Wheelchair access, BYO, Licensed
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Chef William Seun
Seats 150
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard

I’m sort of wondering how many more new places Canberra can absorb. Are people just eating out all the time now? You can’t walk past a building, it seems, without another groovy new place pulling open the doors, arranging the crates, polishing the bike racks.

Not complaining though; makes this role really easy. Just saying like, where are the people? Doesn’t seem like we’ve reached peak dining. You surprisingly don’t see many places closing. I’m thinking this as I round the corner in the city and where I thought was a brick wall last week is a huge dumpling house, dozens and dozens of chairs, mostly full (was there a vacuum previously in steamed dumpling demand?),  the kitchen, open to the sidewalk, packed with chefs, steamers, huge bowls of dough, all looking like it’s been there for ages.

So I’m finding it hard to believe that there is enough spare crust for everyone to share the pie.

Atlantic salmon with cinnamon-infused soy.
Atlantic salmon with cinnamon-infused soy. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Feeling good, though, as we are off to an old favourite. And to think of this place like that makes you feel old, as it doesn’t seem that long ago that Chairman and Yip was the new wild-child, doing crazy Asian fusion, stacking together a truly good wine list and able to match all this with close-to-perfect service. Where has the time gone? Who is that old man looking back at me in the window?

With the influx of so many urban, hip places, you can see the challenge ahead, they can’t all be ‘‘pop-ups’’ so presumably need to dig their heels in for the long haul and at some stage grow up.

Chairman and Yip stands as a testament to doing something right and sticking to a plan. The downstairs room looks as neat and interesting as usual; there’s Albert, the ultimate restaurateur looking like he had been waiting expressly for my return. I didn’t have to negotiate my arrival through a maze of bikes, nor is he likely to bring a drink in a honey jar or have an armful of ink. Just quietly and calmly shown to a table.

Crisp skin quail with a honey pepper black bean glaze.
Crisp skin quail with a honey pepper black bean glaze. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

So how is maturity working for Chairman, how is it countering the huge influx of competition across the street and in the new precincts such as New Acton and the Foreshore? How is the food stacking up against some pretty strong competition pumping out some terrific modern eclectic food?

Well, let’s get into it and see. The menu is packed with very familiar dishes, even after not crossing their verge for a year or two I could probably order by memory: duck pancakes, crispy quail, beef and scallop hotpot, sesame crusted salmon. Tonight there don’t seem to be any specials, which is a shame, as the blackboard, if I recall correctly, would add a flourish of the unexpected. All said, and as the song goes, they do what they do do so well.

There is a sense of all is good from the moment the duck pancakes ($16.50 for two) are so carefully filled, tableside, dressed in their sweet salty hoisin dressing and deftly wrapped and transferred to your awaiting plate. You know you are in good hands, confident, respectful.

A pair of pepper and honey glazed quails ($18.50 for two) follows, again very comforting food, the sweetness and peppery heat going so well with the lean, slightly gamey quail flavours. On the side is a light-as-feather, deep-fried eggplant in crispy batter, the flesh feels like silken tofu. That meaty, slightly off flavour eggplant carries through the cooking process but the texture is the key here, contrasting the crispy skin of the quail.

What is always apparent in the Chairman’s starters is the restraint and careful use of flavour and texture combinations. The third entree is a pair of char-grilled skewers of eye fillet dressed at the table with a simple galangal and lemongrass vinaigrette ($18.50). Like everything that comes out of the kitchen it is cooked perfectly, nice amount of charry skin and beautiful pink inside, the south-east Asian dressing adding a delicate zesty, camphor taste.

The wine list is large, dynamic and has always been full and interesting. Even when wine lists in Canberra were dire, Chairman had a cracking list and still does. Just a couple of glasses tonight, being midweek and a long drive home, a Neudorf chardonnay ($12) and Rockford Basket Press Shiraz ($23) the former, quite lean, shy, citric, slightly peachy, quite charming without knocking the socks off and then the latter, big and ballsy, impressive, a man’s wine if ever there was one.

Sesame-crusted salmon with cinnamon soy glaze ($33.50) is, as said, a dish that has been on the go here for a while and you could say there are many other ways to present salmon but this again works so well. The crusty, sesame coat gives way to a beautifully cooked and juicy interior, the sweet spicy soy infusion pairs so well as does the jolt of the green bean garnish. Another example of if it’s not broke, what’s to fix? If you came here weekly you might want more variation, for me after so long it’s like meeting a long-lost friend, that you’ve just realised you missed dearly.

Finishing with a stir-fry of leafy gai lan, wood ear and shiitake ($25.50), a restorative dish. There’s something about these mushrooms that makes you feel like you’re eating a potion to restore health and vitality. Silky in texture, aromatic, earthy. A meal in itself.

So, seeing Chairman as a mature establishment, one which has had its youthful adventures, has grown up and is now responsible, you want there to be a spark of the wild, throwing of caution to the wind. But, then again, you could say that of all of us.