CEO Justin Hemmes of The Merivale Group is not one for half-measures, and the spectacular new addition (Mr. Wong) to his expanding portfolio is further confirmation of that. A speculated $4m fit-out on the multi-level 240 seater former Tank nightclub site, showcasing a breathtakingly opulent and seductive space, steals your heart away on first glance. The restaurant is an ambitious venture, headed up by two of Sydney’s most talented young guns, Dan Hong (Executive Chef) and Jowett Yu (Head Chef), along with highly credentialed Eric Koh (Head Dim Sum Chef, ex Michelin starred Hakkasan), overseeing up to 40 chefs, which gives you a perspective of its scale. Restaurant Manager Andrew Jones ensures front of house has equal pedigree, with the wine list compiled by Master and Group Sommelier Franck Moreau, adding further polish to this diamond in Bridge Lane.
The impressive two-level climate controlled wine cellar, with an impressive central glass shaft that rises through the staircase, is stylishly juxtaposed against the more elegant period ambience, and massive original beams that imposingly intersect the space. Starting with a dish revived from Lotus, the pristine Yellow fin tuna ($19) with kohlrabi, soy and ginger dressing, and sweet wasabi, is absolutely complete in both balance and texture. Rarely do the planets align this perfectly, so any contextual issues are waived. The Sichuan steak tartare ($18) has a rustically cut texture, and perhaps a quail egg would have benefited the overall palate feel, but the quality and flavour of the beef is without question. Scallop and prawn shumai ($9.80), the first offering from the extensive Dim Sum menu, delivers the texture and taste expected of a fail-safe pairing.
This is followed by an inspired and playful take on Prawn toast ($12), elevated way above its station with foie gras adding a blissful twist. The swish reinterpretation is so gratifying, re-ordering is mandatory. Trust me, cut to the chase and double up on this one. Both the steamed and pan fried BBQ pork buns ($9.80) are good, but lift noticeably when some freshly cut chilli arrives at the party. The lightness of the steamed pork buns is my preference. Not exactly sure how Cantonese baked venison puffs ($10.80) are, but they are moreish and the pastry is decent, and the word style allows a certain degree of license.
Peking roasted duck ($34 for half), with lovely paper thin pancakes, is an old faithful. When the dish is executed this well, I am rolling them up quicker than my dining companions; based on the simple premise that possession is “nine tenths of the law”! Crispy roasted five-spice pork belly ($25), disappears just as quickly, as all the required boxes are more than ticked. Steamed Tasmanian banded Morwong (market price) with white soy and shallots, promises and presents as ginger central, but the texture of the fish is the real focal point. Having sampled the truly exceptional ‘house made’ XO sauce, a recipe passed down from Jowett Yu’s Aunt, I would recommend that variation. Braised asparagus ($19), broccoli and sugar snap peas, with garlic and rice wine, is a flexible and vibrant side that covers most bases.
The salt and pepper calamari ($27), a relatively simple dish that is murdered more frequently than risotto, is seasoned to the absolute edge, with textbook batter and crunch, and sublime inner texture, which is right on the money. Mr. Wong’s crispy skin chicken served with boiled rice ($28 half) is exactly that, and from a decent sized and well raised bird, judging by the taste of it. Wagyu beef and black bean ($29) could have been a bit wetter for my liking, but I understand the intention here is to move away from the drowning that occurs at your local. In fairness, the dish with red chilli, asparagus and baby corn, does have greater clarity as a result.
The green apple ice ($14) with osmanthus jelly, water chestnuts and coconut sorbet works best as a palate cleanser, predominately from the compound effect of the cold elements. In contrast, the roast white chocolate ice cream ($14), yuzu curd, longans and raspberries, is a far more textural dessert than it reads on the menu. Nostalgia or novelty pays back with the vanilla fried ice cream ($14), given most usually have an impenetrable centre resembling an Arctic core sample, but this is how they should have been done. Well made ice cream and proper butterscotch sauce, replace the ‘Blue Ribbon’ and sickly sweet bottled caramel. Surprisingly, this is the pick of trio from the compressed dessert menu. Before you scoff, try it first, and redemption shall be yours.
Mr. Wong is a highly polished take on Cantonese-style cuisine underpinned by talent, technique and Merivale’s duty of care. This provides a significant point of difference from the random approach one can tend to experience with this type of food elsewhere. Mr. Wong is clearly structured for high volume and turnover, and provides significant choice through very flexible and accessible food and wine price points. Most importantly, Mr. Wong has both soul and substance to match the breathtaking ‘period’ Shanghai-style achieved by Sibella Court and Bettina Hemmes. It is early days, but looking at my tea leaves, I would say Mr. Wong looks set to have a very prosperous future indeed.
3 Bridge Lane, Sydney
Mon-Sun 12 to 3pm, 5.30pm to late (Thu-Sat until 2am)