10 Oxford Street Woollahra, New South Wales 2025
One of the best meals of my life was at Claude's, the small Oxford Street restaurant that opened in 1976 and became an icon of Sydney dining. So many people must have their own stories of memorable meals served there over the years until the doors finally closed in September. Mine was a long degustation lunch from another chapter of my life as a wine writer.
So to think of going to the venue that once was Claude's for yum cha requires a switch in expectations. It's not the sort of Dixon Street dim sum to take your children to (unless of course - unlike mine - they are game enough to eat the rabbit spring rolls). And there are no trolleys, just an extra menu of dumplings to choose from for lunch at the weekend, in addition to the fairly short regular menu. Think of it as more of a girls' day out, or somewhere you go with a crowd so you can share the fare.
I go for a late Saturday lunch with two girlfriends after a shopping session at Paddington Markets, just across the road.
Phillip Haw, Claude's former co-owner and the man in charge of the Red Rabbit rebrand, greets us and leads us to the eclectic upstairs dining area. No, they are no relation to White Rabbit (the art gallery on the other side of town), he explains as we climb the steep staircase. He brings us some Red Rabbit spring rolls for starters, but it turns out my girlfriends are as squeamish about eating bunny as my son. We order champagne, which helps calm my own Thumper-eating anxiety. The taste doesn't bother me, but they're greasy and not a great start.
My girlfriends start to reminisce about their favourite Claude's experience. One dined there in the Josephine Pignolet era when she was first married, the other, an Adelaide native, was a fan of Tim Pak-Poy's. Today, there are eight dumplings to choose from; we order a mixed platter to try them all. The scallop and chives and mushroom gow gee is our favourite; they are mouth bombs of flavour. Then we order from the main menu, divided into a choice of ''smalls'' or ''bigs''. The 7 Spice Tofu with black vinegar is the only dish I've ever eaten with tofu that I would call divine. The chargrilled salt and pepper squid is so delicately battered, you could convince yourself it's healthy, or maybe it's the finely spiced accompanying salad. The duck pancakes are a twist on the usual Peking variety - the duck is cooked rare and served with green yoghurt, pickles and cucumber to wrap in the pancakes. But our favourite dish unanimously is the bok choy salad, a wonderful melange of flavours including bitter mango, crushed sesame and finely chopped bok choy.
The extensive wine list is one of the best I have seen with Asian fusion food, with a reserve list of fine wines from France and a selection of sakes, too. Service is friendly and fast. We contemplate a cocktail from their fun sounding line-up: a Rabbitini, Lucy Liu or Jackie Chan - but shopping wins. Red Rabbit continues the Claude's story, which has just entered its pan-Asian chapter.
Menu Asian fusion.
Value Pricey for yum cha. Dishes cost from $3-$25 but they add up quickly.
Recommended dishes Bok choy salad and seven-spice tofu.