Chinese food, but a little bit fancy!
When we’re talking about fancy Chinese food, we’ve seen the Taiwanese take their cuisine to the next level e.g. Chefs Gallery and Din Tai Fung being great examples. And the Cantos on occasion have tried making the humble Yum Cha a little bit fancy as well e.g. The Fat Buddha in the QVB (RIP). However, this was the first time we’ve tried fancy Chinese, Chinese food of the Central/Shanghainese variety.
Originally this space on Liverpool street was Mamas Kitchen, before they closed down in 2016? Then Pappa Rich made a year long appearance in this hidden away space, before it too shut down. And after remaining vacant for the better part of a year, Jiangnan Gallery has emerged, with little fanfare.
On this Thursday evening we were dining with my folks, and since there have been lines out the door on most evenings, we decided to head down early and take our spot in the queue while we waited for my wife to join us after work. But to our surprise we were immediately seen to a table for four, although the restaurant was still pretty full of happy diners (maybe 80% full?).
There were no longer signs of the Mamas & the Papas i.e. that this space used to be an Italian restaurant for more than 20 years, and there were no signs that a Malaysian restaurant had briefly occupied this space. Now all of the shop fittings were chic Asian, with round glass topped tables and porcelain barrel like chairs surrounding each table (although I have to admit, the chairs weren’t all that comfortable after a while).
My parents took the lead with ordering and we got a good mixture of small dishes to share (Beef Shin, and Shallot Pancake); large dishes to share (Eggplant Stew, and Pork Belly with quail eggs); and a dish of carbs (their Signature Fried Rice).
Even before my wife managed to join us, the first of the small dishes to share arrived!
Fortunately for us, the beef shin was a cold-cut, so the dish wasn’t adversely impacted from being left alone for a while. The slow cooked beef was cut super thin, and extremely flavoursome for a cold-cut meat! It actually reminds me of a slow cooked beef brisket, with the leftovers eaten the following day straight from the refrigerator. It doesn’t sound appetizing, but it was really good!
The next to arrive was the Pork belly dish with quail egg. Where the Beef was served cold, the Pork belly was served piping hot, with a bit of drama (dry ice to enhance the curls of smoke). All I can say is OMG! The pork belly was a particularly fatty piece, but the fat was the best part of the dish! Somehow, they managed to get so much flavour into the creamy fat cells- obviously you couldn’t eat this on a daily basis, but 2-3 pieces of pure fat on occasion! Brilliant! And the actual meaty parts of the pork belly? It had this nice sweet sauce to it, not too sweet but just right! And the quail eggs I hear you ask? I’ve never had hardboiled quail eggs like this before, the outside was firm but the yoke within was still melty and oozie! Yum!
To offset the heavy meats we’ve had thus far, the Eggplant stew was a nice change-up, again flavourful and the eggplant flesh was cooked until it was melt-in-your-mouth. Although the intact eggplant skin was a little chewy.
The Shallot pancake was probably the least spectacular, a little dry and not all that remarkable – we’ve had better.
And the small murmurs of complaint from my parents during the meal, were centred around the sequence in which the dishes arrived on our table. Usually the carbs/rice would make its appearance earlier in the meal, so that you can use it as a fluffy bed to place all your flavoursome meats and veg on, to absorb all the excess sauces. But unfortunately, the fried rice was the last to arrive by quite some while. So much so that we had already finished all of the dishes bar one, so the somewhat bland fried rice was even more evidently bland when eaten alone. However, having less sauces and flavours, did allow the rice to shine. There were some unusual ingredients, like orange peel, which added a subtle bitter/tart flavour, and there were dried scallops and fresh prawns in their natural flavours.
And as it was a little bit fancy, the portions were a little bit small as well. So, we ended up ordering an additional dish- a serving of Sheng Jian Baos.
The baos had a thin yet textural bao skin, with a large clump of well-seasoned minced meat nestled within, and the bottoms were nicely pan-fried to a crisp! In my wife’s opinion, with the Pork belly dish, the Baos were the top two dishes we’d tried this night!
And as my parents don’t keep track of the cost of meals as closely as we do- we all had no clue in how much the entire meal might cost. We had expected it to be a little bit ex-y, as it was fancy afterall. But in the end, it totalled to only $80, so $20 pp? That’s not bad!
Our end verdict? 4.5 from 5 Stars! (2.5 from 3 for Food (the dishes were a step above, by-and-large tasty and fresh, and we saw other tables receive their dishes in some pretty quirky presentations- like a chicken served within a bamboo birdcage); 0.5 from 0.5 for Service (Chinese restaurants aren’t known for their customer service, but the Jiangnan Gallery staff were all in traditional Chinese outfits and they were super polite); 0.5 from 0.5 for Atmosphere (outside the restaurant they had a musician playing on a Chinese harp thing, the music which then was piped into the restaurant, and all of their fittings and tableware was a little bit fancy); and 1 from 1 for Value for Money (Nothing like fancy Asian and premium produce for a non-fancy/non-premium price)).
In conclusion, we’re thinking that Jiangnan Gallery is still an un-known entity, as they have absolutely no web presence, no Foodie has reviewed them on their blogs, even Zomato is unaware of their existence! At the moment, all the diners were Chinese speakers, hopefully the word will get out there, that there is a Chinese restaurant which is a little bit fancy so more people can come out and try this new take on an age-long classic! I don’t mind a longer wait, if it means more people are trying the Jiangnan Gallery experience!
Jiangnan Gallery- Thursday 29 August (4.5 Stars)
57 Liverpool Street, Sydney
Opening hours TBC