Friday, January 3, 2014

Temple of Heaven in World Square

An evening at:

Newly opened at the Chinatown end of World Square (it's easiest to locate by heading to the corner of George and Goulburn Streets, the escalator takes you right to the entrance and makes you feel like royalty!) the highly anticipated China Republic (it was two years in the fit-out) is a feast for the eyes as much as the stomach.
Once you enter the authentic metal studded doors guarded by a 4 metre tall replica of an entombed warrior harking from Xian, you leave Sydney behind. While atmospherically dark, the spot lighting, with an array of fittings ranging from elaborate to sleekly modern, and light projections, create pools of warmth, highlighting specific architectural features.

The restaurant spans two levels. The lower level is a shallow U-shaped dining room wrapped around a drinks bar and two bar-like showcase food preparation areas ...

... surrounded at floor-level by a metre-wide koi pond, keeping the curious from getting too close while adding its own charming element of feng shui. Keeping the dining room narrow with partitioning maintains intimacy and you can easily forget that you are dining with up to 260 other patrons. 

The upper level, while providing an overflow general dining area, also houses the restaurant's four private rooms, seating variously from 6-7 and up to 18 patrons in the largest. 

Each room has its own subtle variation on the theme, the smaller rooms allowing grander chairs.  

The piece de resistance, however, is the Emperor's Room or, as we called it, the "throne"room.  
Accessible via its own private entrance, and with plinths for your feet, the starting price is a $10,000 membership, already subscribed and plans are afoot to introduce $20,000 and $30,000 memberships. Imagine walking in, ordering whatever takes your fancy and leaving without being presented with a bill. Yep, in my imagination too, but we can dream!   

The fittings, from the stacked roof tiles which make up an entire wall of the restaurant, the open bricks which make up another, the display cabinetry, the teapots which form part of a display wall (at least 140 of them - but who's counting? - hand-made and unique), the multiple scale bamboo replicas of the Imperial Palace which take pride of place in each private and the main dining rooms, were all imported from China. As a result, the authenticity of the restaurant is a given. 
(Even the unisex toilets, each an ensuite complete with basin and hand towels, are worthy of a visit!)

This dedication to authenticity flows through to the selction of Executive Chef and co-owner Mayson Yu and his team. Harking from Beijing and with an impressive folio of previous engagements behind him, his vision for China Republic is to take traditional Chinese flavours and present them in a modern way. 

Decadence aside, although the dishes aren't as massive as your normal cheap and cheerful, with the arguable exception of the Peking Duck, the prices certainly aren't exorbitant for the setting and the presentation. 

Whilst not billed as the signature dish, (indeed, it doesn't even make the Top Ten menu, and Executive Chef Yu declaring that, having personally developed each of the dishes, they were all his signature dishes), the Peking Duck bar has certainly been raised a notch and if you really want to know how it's done, click on the following link: How do you make Peking duck? (courtesy of Fairfax Media). This 3 1/2 minute clip, featuring Chef Linyi Yuan of China Republic, takes you through the process and helps you to appreciate the Duck just that little bit more.

Dining as guests of World Square's PR company, The PR Partnership, our menu was chosen for us and showcased key dishes, but the main menu and the Top Ten menu teased us with many more, providing an incentive to return another day. And so we ate:

White Cut Chicken with Spicy Lemon Sauce - smooth-as-silk chicken served cold as an appetiser with a lemony wasabi-infused emulsion. Whilst the flavour was lovely, I would like to have had less sauce overall, some for presentation but the rest served on the side. This would allow those who want less of the condiment to take as little as they wanted. 

Sauteed Eggplant served with a bean sauce - never have I been served eggplant so delicately prepared and presented. The flesh was smooth and melt-in-the-mouth yet held its shape. 

Chicken Broth with Seasonal Mushrooms - a wave of umami with every spoonful, my dining partner declared it the dish of the night. My only reservation had to do with the fact that I had so much of the wasabi seasoning in my bowl from the previous dish, that I didn't really have a clean taste of the soup. That said, I can say it was very rich and satisfying, main meal worthy! 

Spicy and Sour Cucumber - palate cleanser!