Kowloon Cafe review

Cantonese traffic signs and a retired minibus help recreate a Kowloon streetscape.
Cantonese traffic signs and a retired minibus help recreate a Kowloon streetscape. Photo: Christopher Pearce

27 Belmore St Burwood, NSW 2134

View map

Opening hours Lunch and dinner daily
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 9745 3888

When was the last time you visited Burwood? Like, properly visited and had a good look around? If it's been a couple of years between lunches, consider a return mission soon. Burwood might be the most thrilling place to eat in Sydney.

Stroll down the main drag and you'll encounter chefs thwacking hand-pulled noodles on benchtops with more force than a heavy-metal drummer, window displays of beautifully burnished ducks, and fat chive-filled breakfast buns the size of a Sherrin.

Keen for one juicy pork chop to rule them all? Head to Macau Noodle Kitchen. Soupy (read: explosive) Shanghai-style dumplings? You'll want the crispy-bottomed sheng jian bao at Yang's. Pan-fried lamb pie thumping with cumin? Seek out Apandim Uyghur Restaurant and ask for the goshnan. Or, for molten-hot Japanese octopus balls, there's a takoyaki stand at the back of Burwood's official Chinatown precinct. The neon-lit laneway, linking Burwood Road and Clarendon Place, launched in 2019 with no end of rolls and bowls to service occupants of the nearby residential towers.

Comfort food: Beef curry with rice.
Comfort food: Beef curry with rice. Photo: Christopher Pearce

One block over is Kowloon Cafe. There are better restaurants in Burwood, but few are creating the same buzz. This diner opened five weeks ago and the pitch is Hong Kong cafe – or cha chaan teng – serving a kind of Cantonese-European fusion cooking based on nostalgia, comfort and value.

Jonesing for scrambled eggs loaded with shallots and barbecue pork ($15.80)? Come on down and join the queue.

Cha chaan tengs originated in post-war Hong Kong when business owners offered affordable riffs on the food enjoyed by British expats at Western restaurants. Tinned corned beef and spaghetti are trademark ingredients and strong milk tea is essential. Sydney's best outpost for the cuisine is Hurstville's Sun Ming (don't miss the congee), while Kowloon Cafe also has a site in Haymarket.

Hong Kong-style French toast with butter, condensed milk and maple syrup.
Hong Kong-style French toast with butter, condensed milk and maple syrup. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Ferociously long menus are common to cha chaan tengs, likewise modest interiors harking back to the 1950s. The Burwood cafe does a top-shelf job of replicating a streetscape in actual Kowloon, thanks to vintage theatre banners, Cantonese traffic signs and the odd retired minibus. The room is a little bit Hong Kong Disneyland, but it's created with reverence and love – and I like it.

I'm also a big fan of the thick-cut French toast drowned in condensed milk and maple syrup ($8.80). Deep-fried with a sealed section of peanut butter, this brunch-dessert is unapologetically heavy.

Consider sharing a slab, particularly if you have plans for other carbohydrate-charged treats, such as the wonderfully soft pineapple bun ($6.80).

Fish balls in curry sauce.
Fish balls in curry sauce. Photo: Christopher Pearce

This bread doesn't contain any actual fruit (the name comes from its craggy, golden-yellow crust), but it does contain a level of butter even the Country Women's Association might think "a bit much". In other words, perfect for dunking in a tangy tomato soup bobbing with macaroni ($14.80). Again, to be clear, you're here for nostalgia and comfort.

Squidgy fish balls (six for $6.80) are engineered to be dipped in a sweet curry sauce that tastes like the stuff served on chips in London kebab shops. They're an acquired taste I'm yet to acquire. But steamed and tightly coiled rice-paper rolls ($7.80), covered in a slick of hoisin and sesame, are a snacky delight.

Beef brisket noodle soup ($14.80) features a broth of gelatinous depth, and I expect it will taste even better in winter. On autumn nights still warm enough for chilled lemon and lime tea ($7.80), try the stir-fried pork chop and instant noodles enlivened by a vigorous XO sauce ($16.80).

Stir-fried pork chop and instant noodles in XO sauce.
Stir-fried pork chop and instant noodles in XO sauce. Photo: Christopher Pearce

If you live in one of Burwood's soaring new apartment buildings, know that I am incredibly jealous of your dining options. However, I also worry for the future of Sydney's original Chinatown in Haymarket, where trade has been severely affected by COVID-19 and rapid development in the suburbs.

Here's hoping local and state governments can partner with landlords on initiatives to bring Sydneysiders back to those historic Dixon Street gates. Burwood restaurants are currently serving a throng of customers most Haymarket operators can only dream of.

Meanwhile, I'll keep dreaming of dumplings, lamb pies and barbecued duck – perhaps with a pineapple bun as my pillow.

Vibe: Retro diner for Hong Kong-style comfort

Go-to dish: French toast with condensed milk and maple syrup

Drinks: No alcohol, but plenty of iced teas, lemon drinks and coffee

Cost: About $50 for two

This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine

https://www.kowlooncafe.com.au/