167 Enmore Rd Enmore, NSW 2042
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 12pm–12am ; Sun 12–10pm|
|Features||Licensed, Bar, Accepts bookings, Pub dining, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9240 3000|
Like Christmas bonbon jokes, fortune cookie fortunes are meant to be lame. I get that. But "when life serves you lemons, eat them"? And "the only thing better than a cookie is cookies"? Whatever happened to the great ones like "ignore previous cookie" and "meh"?
Lucky, then, that the rest of the food at Merivale's new Queen Chow is easier to swallow. Lucky, too, that it fuses two things Australians hold dear to their hearts – the local pub and the local Chinese. At what was the Queen Vic in Enmore, the two cultures become one east-meets-wild-west saloon, complete with long candles dropping wax onto the bar, mounted goat heads on wood-panelled walls and bottles of Kikky soy on every table.
Downstairs, you can snack on bar food and beer in the broad dark wooden bar or slide into a booth to dine. Upstairs, you can drink absinthe cocktails in a dark, library-like bar called the Smelly Goat, or keep your shades on at a table on the steamy tropical terrace.
Chefs Patrick Friesen and Christopher Hogarth – who bonded at Manly's Papi Chulo – combine to run the purpose-built kitchen alongside lunchtime dim sum master Eric Koh. Oh Mr Koh, you do it so well. Your prawn har gau ($12 for 4) are luminous, the skins fine and the prawns chunky; your scallop and prawn siu mai ($15) are the height of luxury, and your deep-fried ham sui gok ($12 for four), dumbed down as "footballs" on the menu, are glutinously golden and almost green with garlic chives. Even your silky "crystal pumpkin" dumplings ($12 for 4) are a charming new take on ye olde Chiu Chow fun gwor dumplings.
At dinner, the Friesen-Hogarth Hong Kong-inspired menu runs from the trad – three variations on mud crab (market price) and roast duck cooked in the traditional upright oven – to more creative, contemporary mash-ups. Duck and noodle soup ($21) is high-comfort food, the meat relaxed and the stock deep and clear, although the springier egg noodle would do better than the pasta-like lai fan rice noodle here.
Pipis star in a next-gen version of Golden Century's famed pipis in XO chilli sauce, doused instead in a dirty, garlicky sauce of black beans, chilli and Young Henry's Natural Lager ($36) that's as moreish as hell.
Deep-fried salt and pepper squid with prawns and silken tofu ($24) is a different kettle of fish, flash-fried and tossed in a rubble of fried garlic and chilli, the discs of silken tofu like cool pools on the throat.
Wok-tossed dau miu snow pea leaves, shot through with ginger and rice wine ($16) are straight out of a Hong Kong back alley. A weekend special of roast rooster ($45 half) is faithfully done, but seems more crisp skin and bone than meat.
There are plenty of aromatic wines on the list, but it's the quality of the house wines – such as the crisp, floral 2016 Remy by Merivale pinot gris made by Yarra Valley's Punt Road Wines ($8/$42) – that make me realise what a treasure Merivale has in wine whisperer Franck Moreau.
I live in fear of the Cantonese food I adore being hijacked by hipsters and destroyed, but this respectful take – in a neighbourhood pub, no less – makes me feel a whole lot better about its future. Fortune cookies aside.
Worst bit: Fortune cookie fortunes.
Best bit: Four dumplings per steamer! Not three!
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.
Go-to Dish: Pipis, black bean, chilli, Young Henry's Natural Lager, $36.