Icon review: Liu Rose

The main dining room is a controlled riot of octagons, gold and floral prints.
The main dining room is a controlled riot of octagons, gold and floral prints. Photo: Edwina Pickles

243 Concord Rd North Strathfield, NSW 2137

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Opening hours Daily noon-3pm; Sun-Thu 5-10pm; Fri-Sat 5-11pm
Phone 02 9743 2209

"Sir, we find it objectionable that the majority of Sydney is continually ignored in your restaurant reviews. Today's article on Chinese eating houses totally ignores approximately 60 per cent of all readers. That is, those living west of the city. We agree that Chinatown deserves prominence, but cannot fathom why restaurants such as Liu Rose in North Strathfield have been ignored. Yours sincerely, Peter Stevens."

Mr Stevens of Northmead was right to be upset when he wrote that letter to the Herald in 1988. Liu Rose has been frying Cantonese-style rice since Whitlam was in power and the pan-Chinese restaurant is rarely featured in food media. Now, Mr Stevens: it's time.

Peter Liu opened the Concord Road institution in 1971 after starting out in Hong Kong aged 14 as a pastry chef. His was the first sense-of-occasion eatery in North Strathfield and it eventually expanded into the site next door. The restaurant is still owned and operated by the Liu family and every waiter still wears a bow-tie.

The Liu Rose Flower has more in common with the Chiko Roll than cha siu bao.
The Liu Rose Flower has more in common with the Chiko Roll than cha siu bao. Photo: Edwina Pickles

With respect to Bennelong, Liu Rose is my favourite dining room in Sydney. You might recognise it from the new CommBank commercial spruiking a savings app. It also happens to be the San Francisco-style Chinese restaurant of my dreams where Moonraker-era Roger Moore shares mud crab with Barbara Bach. A lot of Dubonnet is involved in this scenario.

Coral pink walls are trimmed with gold and the main dining room is a controlled riot of octagons and floral prints. Ornate carvings on a timber ceiling are so pristine I figure they must be scrubbed daily with a toothbrush and it seems rude to order anything but Harvey Wallbangers ($14) at a padded bar straight out of Boogie Nights.

By my estimate 95 per cent of diners are Anglo-Saxon at any given time. A $46-a-head banquet seems the popular family choice, featuring Australian-Chinese smash hits such as dim sims, spring rolls, and lemon chicken.

Temptress spring beans braised in ginger and bolstered by pork mince and dried shrimp.
Temptress spring beans braised in ginger and bolstered by pork mince and dried shrimp. Photo: Edwina Pickles

The first and only time Liu Rose was properly reviewed by the Herald was in 1982, when Leo Schofield reported on a menu listing 177 dishes and "the most extraordinary offering of deep-fried starters" the food critic had ever encountered. One of those snacks was a three-ply arrangement of bread, chicken and banana dropped into boiling oil and emerging with the banana "a most unwelcome shade of battleship grey".

Banana chicken is no longer with us, but a lineage of intense entrees lives on. Seafood fritters ($28), for example, and a chicken and ham roll ($21.50) featuring chicken wrapped in "ham pastry" and deep-fried. Slightly more appealing is the Liu Rose Flower ($7.50 for two), a tennis ball-sized fried dumpling filled with pork, prawn, ham, mushrooms, water chestnut and cabbage. It has more in common with the Chiko Roll than cha siu bao and could go a long way towards fixing a hangover.

A dice roll of more than 200 dishes are prefixed by words like "curried", "special", "sizzling" and "flaming". Sticking to the menu's house specialties page is advised, where you can find highly agreeable "temptress spring beans" ($19.50) braised in ginger and bolstered by pork mince and dried shrimp.

Peking duck is on hand if you want to split a BYO pinot over pancakes.
Peking duck is on hand if you want to split a BYO pinot over pancakes. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Pan-fried ling fillet in Sichuan sauce ($24) contains a negligible amount of numbing spice, but the bright, white fish is still a rib-sticking good time in a pool of honey, rice wine and vinegar.

Peking duck ($38/$70) is on hand if you want to split a BYO pinot over pancakes and sang choi bao.

Schofield awarded Liu Rose one hat in his 1982 review when one hat indicated a restaurant was "worth visiting if you're in the neighbourhood". Schofield's assessment is still en pointe with a postscript that Liu Rose is also a must for anyone keen on kitsch chinoiserie and competitively priced Wallbangers.

The Liu Rose bar - open for competitively priced Wallbangers.
The Liu Rose bar - open for competitively priced Wallbangers. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Now. If anyone knows Peter Stevens of Rifle Range Road, please let him know his letter has been actioned.

Signature dishes: Liu Rose Flower ($7.50 for two); temptress spring beans ($19.50); kung po chicken ($21.50); Mongolian beef pancakes ($22.50), Peking duck ($38/$70).

Famous diners: Richard Roxburgh as Cleaver Greene while filming an episode of Rake in the dining room.

http://liurose.com