Lotus Restaurant at The Galeries isn’t just a good spot for recovering from Muji-Browsing Fatigue, it’s a fine choice if you’re plain hungry, too. This 270-seater restaurant is the blockbuster-sized sequel to the tiny dumpling bar of the same name down at Walsh Bay, but doesn’t feel like a cynical franchise at all. In fact, with its massive floor plan and shopping mall location (just footsteps away from everyone’s favourite Japanese department store), Lotus could’ve easily resembled a characterless airport boarding gate, with an assembly-line approach to feeding people – but Paul Papadopoulos and his design team at DS17 have cleverly extracted pockets of charm and intimacy from this space, creating hiding spots and corners that disguise how damn big this place is.
A blue-and-white calligraphy brush hanging at the entry and a terrazzo tile sample that is pattern-stamped through the flooring are some of the decorative strokes on show. There are also Chinese drums, a tea station and blossoming magnolia branches raining down in one dining area. Kathryn Ashley, DS17’s interior designer, worked closely alongside Paul Papadopoulos to create cosy, tucked-away sections of differing sizes to soften the room, so you don’t feel like you’re just eating in an anonymous food court.
It makes sense that the interiors are inspired by the lightness of brushstrokes, because the menu has a similar elegance. Head chef Chris Yan worked at Billy Kwong for 18 years and his food here shares that restaurant’s deftness – it doesn’t have the heavy load-bearing that can sometimes weigh down an over-rich Chinese dining experience, yet eating at Lotus at The Galeries still feels satisfying and substantial. Yan says he was strongly influenced by his time with Kylie Kwong, where produce scored the headlining credit, rather than a chef’s stagecraft. “I really like to show customers what I am putting on the plate and let the honesty of fresh ingredients be the stars of the dish.”
You can see how he fully flexes the power of everything in his pantry, fridge shelves and condiment box. I love the Dumplings with Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms ($12 for four), where the flat-out earthy flavour of jumbled shiitake and king brown mushrooms – studded with asparagus slices and coriander – is as unmistakably transparent as the clear pastry casing the appetisers come in. Another favourite is the Crystal Ice Plant Salad ($16), where loose tangles of enoki, cucumber slices and tactile curls of the West Australian green are dressed in the brisk and sweetly acidic zing of black vinegar, palm sugar syrup, extra-virgin olive oil and gluten-free soy sauce.
The strong focus on indigenous ingredients is something else Yan inherited from Kylie Kwong. Here, Wok-fried Wallaby Rump ($29) is served with salt bush and sweet bean paste, Deep-fried Calamari ($21) is seasoned with native spice salt and lemon dressing, and Lobster and Mud Crab from the live seafood tank come with sauces powered by roasted tomato and native basil or native spice salt and pepper. The standard salt-and-pepper tofu gets a feisty local makeover, served with salt and wild fire dukkah ($15) – although the real firepower comes not from the light dusting of the bush spice mix, but from the accompanying house-made chilli sauce with soy.
Not everything needs – or gets – stamped with a local accent. Sometimes a dish done well is novelty in itself. So serves of Steamed Dumplings with Pork, Prawn and Garlic Chive ($12 for four), Baked BBQ Pork Buns ($9 for two, and a raspberry garnish or two, mysteriously), Deep-fried Chicken with Spiced Soy Sauce ($29) and Deep-fried Sticky Rice Balls with Sesame and Chocolate ($12 for four) land on the table and earn good scorecard averages and plate-clearing approval.
And sometimes standards are just standards and that’s fine (I have yet to try a spring roll that elicits a high-contrast distinction from every other spring roll I’ve ever eaten in my life).
Disclosure: I did go to a media preview of Lotus, but this write-up is based on three dining visits made independent of that. And even if I hadn’t gotten that original introduction, I still would be on the cheer squad for this restaurant’s shiitake dumplings, crystal ice plant salad, deep-fried sticky rice balls, etc.
What I like most about Lotus is its all-purpose appeal. It has plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options; it can suit a solo diner as well as big group; it’s not too fancy, but it’s still got star-grade appeal. It doesn’t feel suspiciously underpriced, but it’s still in the ballpark of being affordable, too. With its 200+ seat capacity, you can just turn up after some Muji-related exhaustion/hunger (for now, at least), but you can also make a booking, if you like the relief of knowing you’ve got a guaranteed reservation. And so far, it’s yet to elicit painful three-hour waits for a table. It’s just really easy to deal with.
And you can opt for the divide-and-conquer route to the menu, where you order big and share everything among your friends. Or go totally separatist, pick what you love and swoop in on all your selections like an overzealous traveller at baggage claim.
So award it many ticks. Lotus wins for being a restaurant with total “all-of-the-above” charm.Chinese, Lotus, Sydney, The Galeries, vegetarian