Kitsch crowd-pleaser ... tables turn over quickly at Sky Mountain. Photo: Steven Siewert
Go to dish ... lamb dumplings. Photo: Steven Siewert
In fact we don't, as affable owner Jim Han speaks excellent English, as well as his Mandarin mother tongue and a smatteringof Cantonese, which comes in handy for his clientele.
We settle into the only empty table at the back of the compact Ashfield eatery, sipping complimentary jasmine tea while poring over the photo-heavy, laminated menus. Specials are written on a wall-mounted whiteboard in Chinese characters only, so we don't know what's on offer. There's a touch of kitsch about the decor, with a ceramic waving cat and ubiquitous red paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling.
Not surprisingly, given the restaurant's name, handmade noodles and dumplings are the highlights. Many of the dishes at this northern Chinese-style eatery are the legacy of Han's late mother-in-law, a Beijing master chef who specialised in noodles, pancakes, pies and dumplings.
Lamb dumplings are worth the trip alone, especially for Lulu, 6, who eats one then stockpiles another five in her bowl just to be sure she doesn't miss out. Stuffed with whole pieces of tender lamb and a drizzle of fragrant broth, the pastry parcels are boiled then pan-fried. Delicious on their own, they're even better when doused with vinegar.
''Mmm pizza,'' says Archie, 7, as a chive and egg pie is brought to the table. The pancake dough is beautifully crisp and golden, encasing masses of chopped chives, albeit with little evidence of any egg.
Several dishes go hard on the chilli including the signature lamb skewers laced with chilli powder; however with our junior diners in tow, we err on the mild side.
Fried handmade noodles in family sauce – a secret recipe, according to Han – is a crowd pleaser, the elastic, slightly uneven noodles soft and silky. I'd like some more oomph and heat in the dish but the kids gobble it up, as they do with the double deep-fried pork – crisp, crumbed bites of tender meat, served with a sweet and sour sauce.
Chilli beef, poached meat slices in steaming, soupy chilli oil, is too much for the kids – but we grown-ups devour it. Sliced bamboo shoots add a pleasing crunch to the beef slivers, while the unctuous sauce is both spicy and complex.
Deep-fried beans, one of 15 vegetable dishes, are salty and aromatic. It's a wickedly delicious way to eat your greens, but the numbing Sichuan peppery heat proves too much for Archie and Lulu.
Tables turn fast and it's clearly not a place to linger. But we'll be back, and next time we'll learn the words.
Do ... Over-order – and take the leftovers home.
Don't ... Expect finery and fuss.
Dish ... Lamb dumplings.
Vibe ... Fast-turning tables with plenty of Chinese chit-chat.
- 02 9797 1699
- Cuisine - Chinese
- Prices - Soups $7-$10.80; Noodles, pancakes, dumplings and rice $5-$12.80; Meat and seafood mains $10.80-$20.80; Vegetables $9.80-$13.80.
- Features - BYO, Cheap and cheerful, Family friendly
- Owners - Jim Han
- Opening Hours - Open Mon-Thurs, 4pm-10pm; Fri-Sun, 11am-10pm
- Author - Sally Webb