Chow Bar and Eating House – the new Chinese eatery for Chui Lee Luk of Claude’s – opened in Surry Hills on Friday. With Cannon Shot Dumplings ($9) and Explosive Lamb ($26) on the cards, it has one fired-up menu. Chow is Chui’s take on Chinese food, with rerouted stopovers in unexpected places.
The decor calls on some classic motifs – enough lucky cats to guarantee a jackpot win or two; tables lined with the colourful brickwork of Mahjong tiles – and is teeming with many contemporary Asian flourishes that’ll make you (almost!) forget this used to be the site of Bentley Restaurant and Bar. Chow’s look is very sleek and elegant, just like the food, which reworks items from the Chinese playbook. Will’s order of “Lemon chicken” ($21) is turbocharged as American-style fried chicken, topped with decorative pearls and a lemon confit that’s gloop-thick with zestiness and zing. That slamming amount of citrus really powers the dish.
Even something as “simple” as the Crackers ($5) can spark an expectation-flipping moment. Instead of cliched prawn crisps, here’s something that’s just lightness and snap, ready for landing through an ultra-spiced curried broadbean dip. Fried Cauliflower ($9) jolted with hot mustard and sunflower seeds isn’t something I’ve counted multiple sightings of on a Chinese menu, either. That doesn’t mean everything has been reprogrammed or retweaked – little hunks of five-spice tofu and wild greens ($11), for instance, are dressed in a joyfully familiar combination of sesame oil and soy.
Seeing as Chow Bar and Eating House has just opened, a few items appear on the menu without being ready for diners to order. (Teases, right?) I’d have loved to have tried the Smoky Eggplant ($14) or the Peanut Crumpet ($6), for instance, but will shuffle these onto my list for “next time”.
Definitely available is a Blancmange ($12) set with cocoa jelly, fanned-out pear slices and caramelised white chocolate that may easily freak out people not used to avocado overpowering a dessert. (Will was weirded out by the consistency and sweetness; having grown up with my mum blitzing avocado in Vietnamese shakes and encountering the ingredient far beyond salad plates, this didn’t seem so unsettling to me.) A more well-recognised dessert is Egg Custard Tart ($8); each spoonful takes something you know so well and gives it a light, airy spin.
And it’s not really a Chinese restaurant unless the teapots leak or leave incriminating spill trails as you try to tip green tea into a cup. And so Chow passes this test. But if brews of Silver Jasmine or Dragonwell are a little mild-mannered for you, try the Cointreau-spiked Green Tea Latte (or anything else on the ultra-fun cocktails list by Trolley’D, for that matter). There’s also a line-up of Chinese beers on the way, too.
With its casual Asian approach, Chow Bar and Eating House is a total globe-spin away from the hatted world and French origins of Claude’s. But it shares an inventiveness and determination to set itself apart. Toast it with a pot or two of messy, uncontainable tea.