Not your average local Chinese restaurant, that’s for sure.
After nearly a decade of work, for the first time I’m going to be working among the big boys & girls in the ‘business part of town’! So being excited to show my wife where I’ll be slavin’ 9 to 5, and to celebrate ‘new beginnings’, we headed to Mr. Wong’s!
Walking up George Street on a Saturday day, you’re sadly reminded of how Light Rail construction has killed off retail in this part of town, with nearly no foot traffic on what used to be the most lively and important artery in Sydney. So sad, so sad. When we reached The Establishment, we first went inside, and then after realising it was a dead end, we circumnavigated 3.5 sides of the building before we eventually found the entrance to Mr. Wong’s. I’ve been looking forward to trying Mr. Wong’s for a while now, since becoming a fanboy of Dan Hong’s since listening to the Mitchen podcast (respect to an Asian-brada who has truly made it in Australia, after starting from humble beginnings!).
**Note: This is our first hatted restaurant experience, since starting this blogging thing 12 months ago.
By this time it was 1pm, and although the alleyway where their entrance is located isn’t all that inviting, as soon as we entered through the swinging glass doors, it felt like being transported to another world! It was warm and inviting inside, the Maître D’ was all smiles, and the sounds from the dining-room echoed life and vitality (a stark contrast from the desolate-ness of George Street). Without a reservation, we were quickly seen to a table among many happy diners, who were well and truly into their Cantonese meals.
By now, you’d probably know that I’m a price conscious consumer – hey, some might say I’m frugal. *Shrug*. So before each meal we’d set ourselves a budget, if we stayed below it then we’d feel like we’d gotten our money’s worth. And if we spent more than what we had budgeted for, then we’d feel either ripped-off, or we’d feel guilty for splurging or for spending beyond our means. Somehow I’d gotten it in my mind that you could get away with paying $75 for 2 at most Merivale venues? *Shrug*. So when we flipped through the menu and saw that dishes were easily priced at $40 each, I had to sit back and loosen my collar as all of a sudden it got a bit stifling in there.
Still wanting to keep under our budget, we only ordered 2 dishes- A seafood stir fry (King prawns, scallops, and calamari) – $40, and a serving of Singapore noodles (with prawns and pork belly) – $29. When we were first seated, our waitress asked us if we wanted sparkling, still or tap water, or any cocktails. We naturally insisted only for table water. And when another waitress came to take our orders, she asked us if we’d been to Mr. Wong’s before, and she welcomed us on behalf of Mr. Wong when she heard it was our first time. She gave us a quick run-down and informed us that dishes were made for sharing, so to expect that portion sizes to be generous. So hearing that, we were buoyed that our order of 2 dishes would be sufficient to feed 2 – as hey! we’re already spending $69 here, a near banquet for 2 back down in Chinatown. But after she took our order, pen poised to take down the rest of our order, we had to tell her that ‘that’s it’ and her response was “would that be enough?” And our responses were enthusiastic head nods for the affirmative… Methinks, she probably left thinking that we were so not their target audience.
Now that we got the ordering part out of the way, we were able to sit back and take in the ambiance of the place. It had an industrial look about it, but the vibe which I felt was classiness, due to the jazzy music played at soft tones which was just loud enough to hear over all the chatter, while not being intrusive. The place was packed, many many people happily droppin’ cash on a Chinese meal out. And looking around, I have to admit there weren’t many Mr. Wong’s in sight, if you catch my drift….. A few Mr. Wong’s in the kitchen, but not many seated as paying patrons, ready to pay hard-earned cash for our own cultural food.
In moments our food arrived, and we had that ‘uh-oh’ moment, when our $40 plate of seafood was placed before us. I suggested hopefully that perhaps it was a lunch-sized portion? But who was I kidding? That was it! It’s a bit disconcerting when you can literally count how many elements there were in a dish by just looking at it- 3 King prawns, 5 scallops, 4 pieces of calamari, and 4 pieces of inch long shallots (I wonder if the chefs are also counting out the pieces when they’re tossing the ingredients into the wok?).
We were just working out how many pieces do we get each, when our Singapore noodles made its touch-down. At least the noodles were a more substantial serving.
We started with the seafood first, as we couldn’t allow our $40 dish to go cold! Can we? And as much as I’ve droned on about the cost, it was still worth the money! The king prawns were so fresh, and they were huge! It was cooked perfectly and the flesh actually reminded me of lobster meat! It was so large that it took 4 bites to finish it! Best prawn I’ve ever had! For real! The scallops were large and thick, again super fresh and tasty! And the calamari were super tender, and again you could tell that these crustaceans had only seen life in seawater and death among ice cubes, these babies had never seen the inside of a freezer before! And I guess the upside of having a small portion dish, is that it teaches you to eat sparingly, chewing very well, and really spending the time to taste each mouthful of food. The sauce was a little salty, but full of flavour! At the end, there was a pool of sauce at the bottom of my bowl and draining it like a soup- it tasted of seafood sweat ……I mean, it tasted very seafood-y!
And with all of the seafood consumed, we turned our attention to the Singapore noodles. Although both dishes contained prawns, these cockroaches-of-the-sea (I paint a beautiful picture hey?) were a different type; they were smaller prawns to begin with, diced into pieces and there were also smaller intact prawns which in life were 2cm little things? The noodles were full of flavour, not your typical rice noodles you’d usually find with Singapore noodles- but they were thin egg noodles. Black fungus were sliced into thin shreds, which gave each bite a nice crunchy texture. And the pork belly were nice meaty fatty pieces- it was all very tasty. We managed to get 2 full rice bowls each from the noodles, so by this stage we were around 60% full?
Looking around, it seemed that everyone were all smiles, most tables were people catching-up with family or friends, happily eating what they wanted, ordering drinks to their hearts content; feeling this contrast, reminded me of our cultural differences. The differences were that people were simply enjoying themselves, being out having a good time. While we were a bit too caught-up counting the dollars and cents, to properly enjoy the experience. In the end, it wasn’t that Mr. Wong’s was over-priced (although if everything was priced $4 less that would have been nice)……. but it was more me than them – put simply, I needed to make more money to be able to dine without being fixated with the cost. Haaha.
But seeing everyone enjoy themselves, we too went ‘stuff it, you only live once’, and we asked for the dessert menu on the waitresses return when she collected our used cutlery (I kind of sensed that she thought we wouldn’t order anything as we were ‘one of those customers’). But I did sense some surprise in her voice when we ordered not only one, but two desserts! Mwahahaha!
We chose the Buttermilk parfait with strawberries, macadamia, and meringue- $17
And the Green tea ‘tres leches’ cake with yuzu cream and green tea anglaise – $17 (the cost of dessert alone, could of easily been an entire meal down in da hood!).
After we placed our orders, we had to try justify in our minds for the uncharacteristic splurge, I kept reminding myself that it was a celebration of ‘new beginnings’, and with our birthdays around the corner we told ourselves that this was both our birthday celebratory meal, and our Christmas in July, and Hanukkah in June etc. etc. And yes, the arrogant side of me was also jubilant in saying ‘Just when you’d discounted us as one of those customers’ we blindsided them and brought our bill to a more respectable total! Oh yeah!
When our desserts arrived, it made the meal! As they were decadent, and quite substantial for desserts.
Not completely certain what a parfait was, we tucked into this first as it was served frozen, and put simply, it was sooo good! Turns out that parfait is like a milk based sorbet, this particular parfait tasted like Yakult, the strawberries were the stand-out, the fingers of meringue gave it that added sweetness, and the toasted macadamia gave it some crunch. All-in-all, a nicely texturally-balanced dish!
Then it was over to dessert 2 – a tres leches cake is a sponge cake soaked typically in milk, but Mr. Wong’s tres leches was soaked in green tea anglaise (and perhaps a liqueur) to maintain the Asian theme. And this dessert was equally tasty, from the flavours of the cake, the sourness from the yuzu cream, and the richness of the green tea anglaise. From the 4 dishes we tried today, this was our favourite dish! At this stage we were 100% full, and 100% content!
When our bill arrived our total for 2 was $103, which isn’t too bad in the end; and there weren’t any surprises here as we had been keeping a running tally (when perhaps we should’ve been enjoying ourselves a little bit more). And maybe in the end Aussies & Asians aren’t that different? As all around us was all smiles until it came time to pay……Perhaps everyone gets a shock when you see a figure on a bill which resembles the cost of your week’s groceries? *Shrug*. The ladies seated at the table adjacent to us, were having a great catch-up until their bill arrived and they worked out that their individual total was $73 pp. Ouch! Pretty exxy for a casual Saturday catch-up with a girl-friend, and there were a few grumbles when 4 $20 notes were counted out.
Our end verdict for Mr. Wong is a resounding 4.5 Stars from 5! (3 from 3 for Food (it was utterly perfect, everything was fresh and so so tasty); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (the attention to detail and politeness of all the staff was a step above, 4 different wait staff ended up serving our little table); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (it was lively, classy, and characterful! Like all Merivale venues are!); and 0.5 from 1 for Value for Money (I did say that it wasn’t that their food was over-priced, but I’m not going to say that it was a bargain either. So a 0.5 from 1 is about right)).
In the end, Merivale group keep a small army of Sydney-siders in gainful employment, hiring more staff than what is truly necessary- commendable in this day-and-age of rationalisation and staff-cuts. Thus they’re justified in passing on their higher costs, due to their higher overheads. In the end, you price a product at a level in which the market is happy to bear- and seeing how bustling their trade is, it looks like many are happy to pay the premium price for a premium product! In the end we’ll remember this experience above all others, it is really something to dine at a Hatted restaurant, not your run-of-the-mill Saturday lunch at your local Chinese restaurant, that’s for sure. I just hope Hongie sees a good portion of the revenue, to keep him and his kids well stocked in sneakers. Hehehe. We’ll be back one day, perhaps after I’ve matriculated a bit further up the corporate ladder- but I’m sure by then with the rate of inflation, the plate of seafood will cost around $60 for 2 prawns, 3 scallops, 2 calamari, and 4 fingers of shallots. Haaha.
Mr. Wong- Saturday 11 May (4.5 Stars)
(02) 9114 7317
3 Bridge Lane, Sydney
Sun – Wed 10.30am – 3pm, 5.30pm – 11pm
Thurs – Sat 10.30am – 3pm, 5.30pm – Midnight
**10% surcharge on Sundays