15/20

Chow Bar and Eating House

320 Crown Street, Surry Hills, NSW

All Details
Chow Bar & Eating House is a stripped-back, savvy, gritty-but glam space.
Chow Bar and Eating House is a stripped-back, savvy, gritty-but glam space. Photo: Steve Lunam

Terry Durack

Eating out these days is getting more and more like an episode of Go Back Where You Came From, as chefs start ransacking their own heritage for inspiration, instead of the latest chef cookbooks. Hottest menu credits are no longer Alain Passard or Michel Bras, but the chef's Italian mum, Argentinean dad, Vietnamese auntie or Greek grandmother. Not, obviously, all at once.

Chui Lee Luk has been making veiled references to her own Malaysian heritage over several years of fine dining at Claude's in Woollahra, until she and former business partner Phillip Haw recently decided to call it a day. In what has been a pretty fast turnaround, Lee Luk has opened "a modern day interpretation of a contemporary Chinese inn" in the recently vacated Bentley Restaurant and Bar premises. The short (less than 30 dishes) menu channels favourite eats from China, Singapore and Malaysia, all of which have been Chui'd to varying degrees.

Listed under Small Dishes is a platter of crunchy, punchy, fluoro-bright pickled vegetables ($10) including "Uncle Tony's achar", lively with turmeric and blachan (dried shrimp).

Go-to dish: Lemon chicken, on the bone, lemon confit.
Go-to dish: Lemon chicken, on the bone, lemon confit. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Cannon-shot dumplings ($9) make a direct hit: deep-fried balls filled with roast pork, yam bean and shitake mushrooms, their squidgy/chewy glutinous rice flour casing deliciously reminiscent of yum cha staple, ham sui gok.

Hot favourite is the lemon chicken ($21), which is so not your local Chinese take-away's sticky sweet version. Instead, it's cooked on the bone, brined and fried, with lightly peppery spicing, then served with Vietnamese mint, a swipe of creamy lemon curd and – genius – pearls of lemon sago. Twice-cooked duck with yellow bean sauce is also a big order ($35 half, $55 whole), coming with a miniature loaf of steamed bread for sauce-mopping.

The ripe and earthy 2011 Williams Crossing Pinot Noir ($45) makes a good fit with the duck, from a drinks list that has everything from beer to espresso martinis to contemporary, natural-leaning wines.

There's a terrific toss of choppy kale and chrysanthemum leaves strewn with cubes of 5-spice tofu and dressed with sesame oil, black vinegar and light soy ($11), and  "drunken'' mussels cooked with blachan, galangal, garlic and beer ($18) that don't have the clean, distinct flavour of other dishes. And don't be thinking the crab with chilli and fried bread ($31) is the saucy, sweet, eggy Singapore chilli crab experience. It's more of a Malaysian sambal, coated in a paste of chilli, ginger, garlic and blachan, and would perhaps be better with mud crab rather than the somewhat plasticky limbs of king crab.

There's even an egg custard tart ($8) to finish; a ginger-scented Frenchy version of the layered, lard-rich Cantonese original.

Hopping with post-work shared tables and couples, Chow is a fun place to be. Manager Gavin Wright, last seen at the Wine Library, has a good tableside manner, although the youngies are still in various stages of confidence with a full tray of beers (you're OK until you have to remove one). Giant Design's Chris Wilks has created a stripped-back, savvy, gritty-but glam space with both high-top and low-bench seating; a glowing, green-tiled, spot-lit bar, and a long communal table inlaid with mahjong tiles. Monochromatic wall murals use a similarly restless pan-Asian attitude as the menu, referencing lucky cats, hair curlers, cheong-sams and ming vases.

This is very much chow for now, as Chui Lee Luk brings her considerable intelligence, focus and skill to a genre (modern Asian) that can often stop dead at the deep-fryer and the mayonnaise squirter. By going back where she came from, she's managed to move forward at the same time.

THE LOW-DOWN
Best bit Fish cooked whole, chicken on the bone, etc
Worst bit The loos need sprucing up
Go-to dish Lemon chicken, on the bone, lemon confit, $21

tdurack@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Rate this restaurant

Rate this restaurant:

Use [left] and [right] keys to rate, [enter] to submit, [esc] to cancel.

Rate this restaurant with 0.5 a star Rate this restaurant with 1 star Rate this restaurant with 1.5 stars Rate this restaurant with 2 stars Rate this restaurant with 2.5 stars Rate this restaurant with 3 stars Rate this restaurant with 3.5 stars Rate this restaurant with 4 stars Rate this restaurant with 4.5 stars Rate this restaurant with 5 stars

Write a review

Thanks for voting!

Write a review

320 Crown Street, Surry Hills, NSW

  • Cuisine - Chinese
  • Prices - About $100 for two, plus drinks
  • Features - Licensed
  • Chef(s) - Chui Lee Luk
  • Opening Hours - Daily noon-late
  • Author - Terry Durack
Close map

Similar Restaurants

Mahjong Room

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Reader ratings (3)

Billy Kwong

15.5/20

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Reader ratings (18)

2 comments so far

  • It's a shame that I don't live close by! A friend of mine mentioned to me "I know a lovely place where we eat great foods but it's a bit far from where we are...", I didn't regret travelling a long way to Chow Bar from our home! The food and drinks was really nice, loved the green tea pearl cocktail. This gave me an idea of going back again to this restaurant and bring some of my friends and enjoy some other dishes that's on the menu.

    Commenter
    Jon123
    Location
    Sydney, NSW, Australia
    Date and time
    January 21, 2014, 5:16PM
  • Food is excellent and great wine list, it's a great place to have a simple meal. Very cool space – love the feel. Read that some of the servings were small, but disagreed with the comments as we had the banquet and we could not finish a lot of it.

    Commenter
    Hayden Ordell
    Location
    Sydney, Australia
    Date and time
    January 28, 2014, 6:24AM

Make a comment

You are logged in as [Logout]

All information entered below may be published.

Error: Please enter your screen name.

Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

Error: Please enter your comment.

Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

Post to

You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

Thank you

Your comment has been submitted for approval.

Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.

Most viewed restaurants in Sydney

View all

You can also view recent reviews for:

Most viewed restaurants in Melbourne

View all

You can also view recent reviews for:

Most viewed restaurants in Brisbane

View all

You can also view recent reviews for:

Most viewed restaurants in Canberra

View all

You can also view recent reviews for:

Promotions

Hotels and tour companies have realised the appeal of take-no-prisoners picnics.

Eclectic fare showcasing a rich selection of local ingredients in capital country.