100 Edinburgh Rd Castlecrag, NSW 2068
|Opening hours||Lunch Fri-Sun 11am-3pm; Dinner daily 5.30pm-9.30pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9958 3288|
Eight glistening, ochre-skinned roast ducks hang in the window at Holy Duck! (their exclamation mark, not mine), which is a promising statement of intent. Come closer, however, and you realise they're not real.
It's not a great start to dining at this new Castlecrag offshoot from Dr Stanley Quek, managed for the entrepreneurial property investor by the Chef's Gallery group, but it does a good job in helping to lower one's expectations.
As I soon discover, the classic roast duck on the menu here is brought in from Holy Duck!'s funky Kensington Street mothership (possibly because the local council took one look at the upright duck oven and went "nup, no way"). The half duck I try ($35) is lukewarm but feels reheated, the meat dull and dry.
It's the other "signature crispy duck" (half $39, whole $68) that is done on site, and is subsequently more successful. You know the one – marinated with spices and steamed until soft, then deep-fried to order and shredded at the table.
Originally from Sichuan, xiang su ya is generally now served in the same manner as Peking duck, so there's thick hoisin sauce, cucumber, finely shredded spring onions and decent mandarin pancakes for wrapping and rolling. Solo diners and couples can even order a quarter portion of the duck for $22, a nice touch.
There's an excellent crisp/soft, salty/sugary bean curd dish, courtesy of Chef's Gallery. The golden fried bricks of house-made egg tofu are like custard, topped with lids of spinach that taste like "mermaid's tresses" ($19).
Order that, and a decent dish of super-crunchy, super-green steamed gai laan in oyster sauce ($17), and you'd do OK.
Dumplings are not a strong point. Our mixed, steamed dim sum ($24) are oversteamed, xiao long bao soup dumplings ($16) are thick of pastry with little broth, and the prawns in the steamed scallop and prawn dumplings ($18) are seriously overcooked.
Fried rice noodles with wagyu beef ($19) is a heartier version of Cantonese beef hor fun.
The large dining room, with its vistas of eucalypts outside, has been smartened up with glossy, framed prints, white-clothed tables and Scandinavian chairs, but will still be familiar to those who grew up in suburban Chinese restaurants.
Staff are willing but not particularly able, bringing a lipstick-smeared glass to the table at one point, and delivering a wrong order here and there.
They've tried harder than most with the table setting. Cutlery is matte gold and chopsticks are smaller, more delicate and pointier than usual; halfway between Chinese and Japanese in style. They've even been roughed up at the tips for extra grip, like, um, a cricket ball.
Not that you'll need extra grip, because you'll do what everyone else does and order the crispy duck wrapped in pancakes.
Somebody hasn't thought this through. The flagship Holy Duck! in Chippendale would have done well here with its cheeky Asian fusion dishes and mighty duck oven. Instead, Castlecrag gets a spruced-up, old-school Chinese restaurant. The group intends to build the Quadrangle into a food precinct similar to Chippendale's Kensington Street, and good luck to them. In the meantime, this feels like a stopgap, something to hang in the window while we wait for the real thing to come along.
Vegetarian Two dumplings, one noodle and four large dishes
Drinks Grant Collins list of cocktails (espresso martini) and mocktails (smoked wattleseed cola), short wine list of a dozen bottles.
Cost About $100 for two, plus drinks
Go-to dish Handmade pink salt and black sesame egg and spinach tofu, $19
Pro tip The wine list is limited, so think about BYO at $10 a bottle
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.