Level 1, The Galeries, 500 George Street Sydney, New South Wales 2000
|Opening hours||Lunch daily 11.30am-3pm; "Lo Tea" daily 3pm-5pm; Dinner daily 5.30pm-10pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Chef||Chris Yan, Lucy Luo|
|Phone||02 9267 3699|
Grab them by the dumplings, and their hearts and minds will follow. Give a child a dumpling at seven, and I will show you an adult dumpling tragic. You are what you eat – a dumpling. My favourite animal is a dumpling. Yep, pretty much every food cliché under the sun begins and ends with dumplings.
It's this sort of uninhibited dumpling love that made the cosy/chic little 48-seater Lotus Dumpling Bar in Walsh Bay take a big leap of faith and launch a massive 270-seater designer restaurant in the still-evolving mid-city dining and shopping precinct, The Galeries. It's a big leap.
Design group, DS17, the team behind the city's modern Greek Alpha restaurant, has broken up the vast, meandering space into a multi-skilled mix of private and public dining rooms, sleek cocktail bar, and stool-lined dumpling counter stacked high with bamboo steamers.
Owner Michael Jiang and head chef Chris Yan (formerly of Billy Kwong and China Doll) have assembled a full-on, modern Chinese menu that goes beyond dumplings to Shanghai-style drunken chicken, crispy duck pancakes, steamed whole fish with garlic and ginger, and live lobster, mud crabs and pippies.
And the dumplings? Shanghai-born dumpling chef Lucy Luo, of the original Dumpling Bar, oversees the pinching and the pleating, so steamed and pan-fried dumplings are a major part of the lunch menu, and a minor part of the dinner one.
These are dumplings that go out of their way to be different. The xiao long bao (soup dumplings) skins are dyed with carrot and spinach juice, making them look bizarrely Irish. The pork ones ($9 for 4) are nice and juicy, and a fancier pork and mud crab ($21) has an extra level of sweetness. Steamed jade (spinach-green) prawn dumplings ($14), and scallop siu mai ($14) taste fresh, their thick, slightly sticky skins, suggesting a northern Chinese influence.
The dinner menu is peppered with native ice plant, wallaby and salt bush, which is very Billy Kwong. But instead of crying copycat, I rather enjoy the fact that the unique qualities of our native ingredients can be adapted into so many different eating styles.
The snappy, snowy crispness of iceplant, for instance, is the star of a salad ($16) with cucumber, amaranth, enoki mushrooms and a black vinegar and sesame dressing. Mossy salt bush leaves form a corsage on wallaby rump; but there is little to distinguish the slightly firm slices of meat in their glossy, sweet bean paste from Chinatown's pepper beef.
There are lots of good ideas here, but too often, I register a lack of balance. There's no oomph that nails each dish to the table. Waxy Hokkien noodles are tossed with a pile of wong bok cabbage, snowpea shoots, bean shoots and an earthy, spicy XO sauce ($18).
"Crispy chicken thigh" ($19) is no more exciting than chicken nuggets; more "crispy" than it is "chicken". The most together dish is actually the most classic, the pay-per-kilo stir-fried pippies in XO sauce, at $39.50 for 500 grams.
Service ranges from plate-deliverers to super-smart, and a brief but not brilliant wine list includes a savoury, spicy 2012 Hay Shed Shiraz Tempranillo from the Margaret River ($12/55).
This is not the place to go for Cantonese finesse or Shanghainese family-style, but it is a clever synthesis of hot-ticket dishes, fashionable ingredients, western favourites, cocktails and contemporary ideas, brought together – rather like a dumpling – in one attractive package.
Best bit Black vinegar on every table.
Worst bit Eating Chinese food with pointy Japanese chopsticks
Go-to dish Steamed xiao long bao dumplings with pork and mud crab $21.
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.