The joy of China Doll is the overall experience. Photo: Christopher Pearce
Hannah Saul, model and owner of fitness app HanxFit; from Sydney city
China Doll, Woolloomooloo
"I was first invited for a business lunch a couple of years ago. The whole vibe of the wharf is awesome. There's a great atmosphere, great cocktails, great food and it's a great location for a long lunch or for summer nights. It's a step up from yum cha. Coming from Lennox Head/Byron Bay originally, we get basic international food.
Hannah Saul has recently launched fitness app HanxFit. Photo: Supplied
"Definitely the salt and pepper king prawns, the dumplings, the pork belly. They're all really delicious. We usually get one of the waiters or waitresses to put together a chef's tasting selection because, I think, everything is amazing. Definitely the sago pudding [for dessert] and the rhubarb sour is insane – it's like an Amaretto sour, but it's made with fresh rhubarb."
"I love to cook. I travel a lot so when I come home I try to cook as much as possible. It's one thing I really look forward to. I love doing a lamb roast, baking savoury muffins and protein balls for when I'm on the run. And making lasagnes or home-made pizzas – I love cooking Italian food. I launch my app in Sydney this week then I've got a consumer event at the Apple store in Covent Garden next week, where people can come and ask questions [about the app]."
Shop 4, 6 Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo
9380 6744, chinadoll.com.au
Share plates from $12
FOUR OUT OF FIVE
Dry red curry of snapper with snake beans and wild ginger. Photo: Christopher Pearce
My eyes light up when I discover I'm to review China Doll. It's an old favourite.
There's always a pleasant buzz on Woolloomooloo's finger wharf, so it feels special. That said, eating anywhere on Sydney's glorious, sparkling harbour always feels like a treat. It seems everyone else shares the feeling, so the ambience of China Doll is always festive without being too rowdy or obtrusive.
China Doll's ambience is always festive. Photo: Christopher Pearce
The perennially busy restaurant, which spills out onto the wharf, is the crown jewel of the China Doll group's ventures, which also include Bondi's China Diner and China Lane in the city.
The staff are polished and helpful and while it is the kind of place you can go and dress up and celebrate a special occasion (my parents had their 40th wedding anniversary there), it manages not to feel formal or stuffy.
My group of four tuck into mushroom spring rolls with lettuce and garlic vinegar dip ($18 for four) to start. They are cigar-fat, crunchy and actually have vegetables in them, instead of the usual nondescript gluggy fillings. The tangy dipping sauce is a refreshing change from your standard sweet chilli squirted straight from the bottle.
We order an earthy, mushroom-imbued Italian sangiovese to match and the evening is in full swing.
The vegetable san choy bau ($14 for four) are disappointingly dry and lacklustre, while the fried tofu with five spice salt and ginger soy ($12) are perfectly crisp on the outside, pipingly soft on the inside and flavourful with the salt and ginger soy, which cannot always be said for the sometimes flavourless tofu.
Duck pancakes with hoisin cucumber and shallots ($46 for 8 pieces) are expensive but enjoyed all-round.
The dry red curry of snapper with snake beans and wild ginger ($38) is a standout and, quite literally, finger-lickingly good. Any sauce left on the platter is wiped off by greedy fingers and savoured.
The eggplant and tofu with sichuan chilli bean paste ($26) is always a winner, beautifully combining textures with soft and sharp flavours. Our side of Chinese greens ($12) is nice for the clean taste among so many rich flavours, but underwhelming and overpriced.
The joy of China Doll is the overall experience. The food can be outstanding. It is consistently good and occasionally average – particularly considering the prices. But the food, combined with the views, the ambience and the excellent staff and drinks list, make for a very special Sydney experience.