mandarin dumpling & bar
11 September 2013 mandarin dumpling & bar
new opening: mandarin dumpling & bar
Step from Fort Lane’s cobbled pathway into a sophisticated eatery serving modern Chinese fare.
Dumplings. Here at Denizen we love to loathe them. It has nothing to do with the dumpling itself - in fact, we’re highly fond of these delicate parcels. What we’re not so sure about, are the compromising surrounds in which we find ourselves when submitting to our cravings for these authentic Chinese morsels. Fluorescent lighting, plastic covered dining chairs, and the absence of a decent wine list have been some of our complaints, until now.
Tucked away in the basement of Imperial Lane you’ll find a charming new eatery that’s set to change your perception of Chinese cuisine. Helmed by Jiahao Lin and Daming Qu, the inspiration to open Mandarin came from the desire to showcase the origins of authentic, provincial Chinese fare. The menu showcases China’s culinary heartland, a tantalising tour of Sichuan, famous for their diverse range of dishes all of which include elements of heat and freshness. The tour continues through the territories of Hunan and Xinjiang, finishing in Yunnan, which borders Thailand and Vietnam and from here flavours are influenced by their neighbour’s cuisines, introducing lemongrass, chilli and basil.
If you blink, you may miss the entranceway, but trust us, you’ll want to pay close attention. The space, designed by Cheshire Architects, has been masterfully transformed from a dark, abandoned cellar into a lively, yet moody dining scene. Exposed brick complements the long line of banquet seating, while dark timber and traditional hand painted Chinese cabinets add to the charm. At the back of the restaurant is a notable private dining space, possibly reminiscent of an opium den; its industrial vibe, large square table and low ceilings have us instantly pondering our next event.
We sat facing the open plan kitchen and were recommended a selection of shared plates for the table. To start we were given candied walnuts speckled with toasted sesame seeds - a delightful snack to whet our appetites. After ordering, the dishes came out swiftly. To begin, steam baskets full of vibrant green and intensely deep purple dumplings. The green vegetable parcel was packed full of vermicelli noodles, spinach and cabbage, while the purple dumplings took their unusual colour from a squid ink dye. Inside was perfectly cooked crab and prawns, with the unmistakable zing of lemongrass and a subtle hum of chilli. To follow we sampled the Taiwanese Pork Sausage served with Kombu seaweed, white sesame seeds and dried chilli – beautifully simple and full of flavour. From the Yunnan province we tried the incredibly fragrant shredded chicken – cooked within a sous vide, the chicken is melt-in-your-mouth tender, while the punchy spices and herbs paired with crunchy baby cos make this dish a masterfully balanced act. And last, but not least in the slightest, was the fried tofu – a complete standout dish. Jiahao mused that the chefs nearly lost their minds when he insisted that the tofu be made in-house. It’s an extremely difficult skill to master, but with much patience (and huffing and cursing), the result from Daming’s kitchen is extraordinary – the outer case delicate yet crisp, the inside creamy, almost custard-like. Paired with a fish-fragrant sauce and garnished with candy cane striped Daikon, we can attest that the pain of perfecting this recipe was worth it.
As you might suspect, we’re chuffed with the opening of this much-needed inner city hideaway, serving up authentic and delicious Chinese fare. One thing is for certain; you won’t see us dining under fluorescent lighting any longer.
Mandarin Dumpling & Bar is open from Monday to Saturday from 12pm until late and Sunday 5.30pm until late.