A gathering of leading Sydney restaurant reviewers enjoys a private banquet at Imperial Kitchen and Bar
Australia’s links with China extend back a great deal further than most people might think, the first Chinese settlers arrived in the early 1800s helping Australians gain a taste for mainly Cantonese cuisine; in recent times the options for local diners have increased exponentially
For the past decade Sydney’s rapidly growing Chinese community has exposed the city to a broad cross-section of Chinese culture and nowhere is this better seen than in the area of cuisine. Prior to the 1990s the overwhelming majority of Chinese migrants to Australia traced their roots to Canton province and its most famous city Hong Kong.
Whereas a generation ago Chinese restaurants almost exclusively offered Cantonese cuisine, today there is a wide choice from northern Chinese, southern and eastern cuisines, traditional hot pot to the spicy delicacies of Sichuan and Hunan provinces.
Opening in 2019, Imperial Kitchen and Bar (its Chinese name is Diao Xiao Yan) offers diners a perfect mix of traditional mainland Chinese dishes to Cantonese dishes more familiar to western diners. Its specialty is definitely the wide range of, fresh from the tank, seafood.
The real treat, which has been taken up by numerous western diners, is the restaurants private banquet rooms. These have not only proved popular with Australian businesspeople who have links to China and are familiar with Chinese culture; the banquet rooms have proved a hit with regular diners thanks to the authentic Chinese dining experience.
In the look, decor, atmosphere – and of course food – this is a very authentic Chinese dining experience the likes of which you would normally only find in major Chinese cities.
Located on the northern fringe of Chinatown, and just two blocks from Sydney’s Town Hall, co-owner and restauranteur, Wenjun Wang says, “Our vision for Imperial Kitchen and Bar was to offer something for every palate, from the Chinese diners expecting traditional fare, to other diners maybe not so familiar with traditional Chinese cooking.”
For western diners there are plenty of familiar dishes on the menu, ranging from Crab Meat and Sweet Corn Soup, to Mongolian Lamb and Peking Duck. While the dishes may be familiar, they are prepared in an authentic Chinese style far more faithful to the original recipes.
Says Wenjun Wang, “We wanted a menu that would make non-Chinese diners feel comfortable by offering a selection of dishes they recognize. The flavours and textures are a little more refined than they may have experienced in the past; what we offer is a real taste of China.
“Our menu is called fusion, because it is a fusion not only of different Chinese cuisines but of cooking styles which cross over from slightly western tastes to very authentic Chinese dishes.”
Tasked with bringing this vision to life is executive chef Jimmy Lee. Originally from Hong Kong he’s refined his cooking style of the past 30 years working with some of that city’s leading chefs before moving to Sydney where he headed up his first kitchen as executive chef ten years ago.
His devotion has been to put his own twist on traditional Chinese dishes, with his most praised dishes including Garlic Butter Lobster, Black Pepper Glutinous Rice, Lotus Leaf Crab, XO Sauce Fried Pipis and Chaste Chicken. For diners who appreciate delicately prepared game birds, his Braised Crispy Pigeon is a must.
Also a great innovator, Chef Lee’s Signature Pumpkin Soup is one of the best surprises for diners at Imperial Bar and Kitchen. A light pumpkin soup, with a hint of Thai flavour, it boasts a generous mix of seafood, with perfectly sautéed pineapple that complements the assortment of perfectly blended flavours. Entirely Chef Lee’s creation, it is served in a hollowed-out pumpkin which easily satisfies 4 to 6 diners.
Unlike many Chinese eateries, Imperial Kitchen and Bar has much in the way of vegetarian choices. There are more ten vegetarian dishes from Traditional Seasonal Vegetable & Garlic, to Deep Fried Crispy Eggplant with Black Pepper & Salt, Silken Tofu and, house specialty, “Di San Xian” Sautéed Potato, Green Pepper and Eggplant.
The live seafood selection of Imperial Kitchen and Bar – and its world class preparation – is one aspect which really sets this new Sydney eatery apart from its contemporaries. Lobster, mud crab, snow crab, abalone, pipis and barramundi are all cooked straight from the tank.
Those familiar with the ‘wet markets’ of Hong Kong will appreciate that a chef like Jimmy Lee learnt his craft selecting the finest fresh seafood, for immediate preparation and cooking. From Jumbo Live Pipis, prepared with his special XO sauce and served on a bed of perfectly fried noodles; to his Deep Fried Barramundi in a soy and ginger sauce, all have remarkable textures and flavours that stand alone perfectly as individual dishes – or better still enjoyed as part of a seafood banquet.
Imperial Kitchen and Bar offers five different banquets four of which are seafood, with between seven and nine courses with each. Jumbo Pipis, Abalone, Mud Crab and Lobster – all prepared fresh from the tank – make up the impressive seafood choice. The fifth is a Peking Duck banquet.
The banquet rooms are normally booked out in advance and don’t just expect to see local and overseas Chinese diners, among the regulars are Australians of French and Lebanese culture and even a couple of Hungarian-Australian regulars.