11 Bridge St Sydney, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Lunch daily from noon; dinner daily from 5.30pm|
|Features||Business lunch, Accepts bookings, Licensed, Romance-first date, Private dining, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9252 1888|
"Neil Perry opens new restaurant" is not, perhaps, the headline it once was. Our response used to be Pavlovian – oh wow, must go.
But this is the third restaurant he has opened on this site alone in the past three years.
And now that he's culinary director of Australia's largest dining group, we're just going to have to find a more rational response than hail him as a demi-god every time new doors are opened.
So let's start again.
"Rockpool Dining Group opens new restaurant."
Nah, doesn't work. Not when Perry can be heard yelling out the orders in the kitchen. Not when he's out chatting to the faithful, raving about designer Grant Cheyne's reboot of the imposing two-level space from dark and moody Eleven Bridge to light and airy Jade Temple.
And definitely not when the menu comes across as half classy Hong Kong Cantonese and half Perry's own late-night Chinatown order. There's live seafood from the tanks, Peking duck with pancakes, and noodles with ginger, shallot and shrimp floss amid old-school faves such as lemon chicken, fried rice and fried ice-cream.
Skip the har gau and siu mai dumplings until dim sum chef Moon Kuen Ng arrives from Macau at the end of July, and give the raw tuna with spring onion oil a miss, especially at $34. Instead, start with good old prawn toast ($12). Cut into fingers and stacked hashtag style, it's a childhood treat revisited.
Cantonese roast duck ($39/$74) is done well, as is fried chicken with eight treasure rice ($39), the boned meat rolled around glutinous rice, lotus seeds, goji berries and red dates.
Roast pork with plum sauce ($32) feels firm; its crisp skin too shattery, while dong po belly pork ($39), slow-cooked in master stock for 12 hours and served with a soft-yolked tea egg could also be wobblier, although the flavours sing true.
But for me, this place is going to be all about the seafood: market-priced South Australian pipis, Eastern rock lobster and Northern Territory mud crab, served five different ways, with or without noodles ($4 extra). Way to go.
The pipis ($25) are magnificently plump, simply dressed with ginger and spring onion, and that old staple, honey prawns ($36), sees sensational king prawns hit with the lightest touch of sweetness.
The golden-hued dining room is now lined with elegant Chinese prints and Shanghainese wooden shutters, with bamboo chandeliers wafting overhead like the sails of junks on Hong Kong harbour. Naked ducks on display in a drying cabinet evoke those of the nearby Mr Wong.
Jade Temple benefits from being part of a larger restaurant group in a few different ways. Spice Temple chef Andy Evans is helping out until chef Peter Robertson starts, and service already has the right attitude, headed by restaurant manager Steve Senturk and dapper sommelier Gary Armstrong. The 300-bottle cellar features a strong Austrian contingent, including a ripe, breezy, juicy 2015 FX Pichler Federspiel gruner veltliner ($22/$105).
Cultural appropriation is inevitable in any sort of Australian/Chinese restaurant (I'll excuse the red satin cheongsams on the girls only when the boys wear changpaos, the male equivalent).
But Australians have always loved Chinese food at every level, from suburban take-away to high-level Hong Kong – and few more than Neil Perry. I mean, Rockpool Dining Group.
Best bit Sensational Australian seafood.
Worst bit Yum cha doesn't start until August.
Go-to dish Pipis with ginger and shallot and noodles (market price).