Whenever I come across the term "modern Asian" I hear little bells ring an alarm in the back of my brain. Not because I don't like Asian food, but because I love it so much, I don't want it mucked about with. Unnatural fusions, muddy flavours, chilli instead of complexity ... you get my drift.
I said as much to former Mr. Wong head chef Brendan Fong and he struck his chest with his hand. "Me, too!" he cried. Given that he has just been installed in Parramatta's newest modern Asian restaurant, Lilymu, it was a good sign.
Taking up some high-profile space right next to CicciaBella in the so-new-you-can't-find-it Parramatta Square, Lilymu is the latest venue from the unstoppable Ibby Moubadder, Jorge Farah and the team behind Nour, Henrietta and Cuckoo Callay.
It's also their first dive into Asian cooking, for which Fong has teamed up with fellow Mr. Wonger, Bass Songphum.
So let's see what two chefs of Chinese and Thai backgrounds put on a modern Asian menu these days. Quite a few surprises, it seems. Tom yum dumplings. Black garlic mee goreng noodles. Duck katsu sando with chilli jam. Red curry of Clarence River prawns with makrut lime and betel leaf.
Even a shredded chicken and banana blossom salad ($24) isn't as straight-up Thai as you might think, but something more akin to cold Sichuan noodles in a creamy, spicy sesame dressing.
Julienned banana blossom plays the part of the noodle, tangling with remarkably tender chicken leg and thigh meat and spring onions. It's even better with Tsing Tao beer ($10), although everyone else seems to be sipping cocktails.
Then there's the katsu sando ($23), made up of layers of crumbed, spiced, minced duck, chilli jam, raw shredded cabbage and Thai herbs sandwiched between compressed white bread. It's like Peking duck schnitzel wrapped in mandarin pancake, and it's just as much fun as it sounds.
The space is flashy and confident; a clever mix of concrete, dark timber and bronze largely open to the large square.
Today is officially quite gusty with the wind licking at ankles and necks, but by full-on summer, Lilymu's indoors-but-outdoors vibe will come into its own.
So will the food. I love the way each dish is recognisable and respectful of its various provenance, but then suddenly takes off for Bangkok or Chiang Mai and ends up tasting Thai. It's as if they have created an Asian country that doesn't yet exist.
Those tom yum prawn dumplings ($26) are adorable; their skins delicate, their insides true to the flavour of everyone's favourite Thai soup, with little crunches of nutty fried garlic.
Roast duck ($46) isn't just roast duck, but a masterful building of flavour that comes from brining with aromatics, dipping in maltose, stuffing with garlicky, unfermented Laotian duck sausage, and drying for two days before roasting to a perfect burnished glaze.
There's a focus on curries; complex, rich and layered. Massaman curry ($35) is made with lamb, the requisite potatoes being kipfler and the sauce tanned, velvety and satisfying enough to eat on its own.
Even Lang Walker, whose Walker Corporation is behind the multibillion-dollar transformation of Parramatta's city centre into Sydney's second CBD, stops by my table to take a closer look at the mee goreng ($23), a right little umami bomb with black garlic and soft egg yolk.
Dessert is just as effortlessly original. Pastry chef Emi Echizenya does Latin America's tres leches cake ($16) a favour by crossing genoise sponge with chiffon cake, soaking it in milks infused with Thai tea leaves and frosting it with a dreamy white chocolate cream.
In spite of the streets still being construction zones with more drills than the Army Reserves, it feels good to be eating so well in the new Parramatta.
It's a very polished offering that knits good hospitality with outrageously good cooking to create a destination diner for a brand new destination.
Address: Parramatta Square, 153 Macquarie Street, Parramatta, 02 7809 4952, lilymu.com
Open: Lunch Thu and Fri from noon; Dinner Tue-Sat from 5.30pm
Vegetarian: Limited selection, but the kitchen advises more dishes can be adapted.
Drinks: Asian beers and cocktails (Singapore Sling Spritz, Chow Sour) and a 60-strong wine list with a reserve list of 20 premium wines.
Cost: About $150 for two, plus drinks.
Score: Scoring is paused while the industry gets back on its feet.