Chef’s Gallery: The changing nature of casual Chinese dining

Who knew that simple Chinese Dim Sum and noodles could become so diverse and exciting?  A re-visit to Chef’s Gallery (the first time since they just opened) after being tempted by the instagrams of alwayseating, I realised just how innovative restaurants specialising in these comforting and much loved delights were becoming – not to mention their very reasonable price tag! With the global expansion of Din Tai Fung and its popularity in Sydney, the concept Chef’s Gallery definitely echoes some ideas of its nearby competitor.

[Note to self: explore the menu of Din Tai Fung i.e. drag the family there soon!]

It was a Tuesday night and knowing the never-ending popularity of Chef’s Gallery provoked my organisational side, so I had made a dinner booking for the family earlier that day.  We were greeted by a first-hand preview of our meal as the restaurant’s majority glass façade provides an exciting and tempting insight into the chefs’ processes and what looked like ‘fun’ in the kitchen.  As I studied what was literally the ‘Chef’s Gallery’, clouds of flour plumed in the air as long thread-like noodles were being masterfully created.

The restaurant’s menu is large, diverse and exciting – filled with photographs, which directed us straight to the house specialities!

Spying the ‘Spinach noodles wok fried with seafood’ on the menu, I was already intrigued!  The waitress only confirmed my order with a slight nod of the head as she told Mumma it was the most popular item on the menu.  Combining my love of seafood with such a twist took the excitement of hand-made noodles to new heights!  We opted for the addition of dried prawn roe, which was meant to give the noodles its saltiness – there were no regrets!  The noodles were fresh, slippery and the slices of mushroom were much appreciated, making this a favourite for both Mumma and I.

Over the years, I have learnt to love tofu, after much coercion by Pappa when I was a munchkin!  This dish took the popular base ingredient of tofu in a very generus serving and developed its flavours and textures with the deep frying and egg and spinach combination and topping it wish preserved vegetables, while retaining it’s much-loved silkiness.  I was truly impressed with the change a simple and traditional dish could undergo.

When people talk about ‘globalisation’ they tend to focus on notions of technology and cultural aspects and food is no exception.  Although the ‘Tataki Wagyu Beef’, was reminiscent of the textural aspect of Japanese Beef Tataki its flavour was quite different.  Typical and loved Chinese flavours of the spicy Sichuan dressing were diversified in this dish however, I admit, that I do prefer the Japanese take on this, as the meat was too thick for my liking and lacked the refreshing punch provided by the tataki seasoning that balances the otherwise less flavoursome beef itself.

With the exception of Lil’ Bro (aka fussy eater) my family loves radish cakes and they are usually a must order when we go to Dim Sum.  The presentation of these cubes of goodness was particularly exciting, indicating the modernisation and change in traditional Chinese cuisine!  The light batter provided the perfect crunch required to balance the softness of the radish.  It truly excites me to see the progression of traditionally simple dishes as dining is moving into a more contemporary age.

It seems that ‘sliders’ are all the age at the moment in dining!  These have been ever-so popularised in Asian dining by David Chang’s Momofuku Pork Bun.   The Chefs Gallery ‘Macanese Style Mini Burger filled with pork fillet, lettuce, pork floss and mayo’ were one of the coolest items I have tried in Sydney dining so far.  It combined my childhood favourite, man-tou (fried buns) with deliciously tender pork, presenting it in a way, which brings traditional components up to speed with modern dining.   The flavours just all ‘worked’! The pork was so tender and the pork floss brought me back to my summer holidays in Singapore. The best part was the slightly sweet and crispy bun….sigh! Lil’ Bro, the ‘king’ of burgers really enjoyed these – even someone who tends away from Chinese food in preference for steak and chips is a fan!

Lil’ Bro was in the mood for some Dim Sum so we decided upon the delicious looking ‘Shiu Mai topped with a seared scallop garnished with fish roe’ and ‘Phoneix Dumplings’.  It was great to be able to return to some basic, simple, comforting choices.  I was not sure if it was my bias towards the well-cooked scallops resulted in my preference of the Shiu Mai, but Mumma agreed that it was indeed the better out of the two dishes.  We found the skin of the ‘Phoenix Dumpling’ to be too thick and gluggy, which masked the flavour of the king prawn.

My Singaporean side was immediately taken by the roti dishes.  The ‘Shredded Peking Duck with cucumber and hoisin sauce rolled inside roti’ is another example of how a well-known Chinese dish can be recreated.  It was a truly genius idea and super delicious, with the crunch of the roti complementing the fattiness of the duck perfectly.  Again it was a very different idea that left me in awe of the change in Chinese dining and was definitely enjoyable!

Just to see whether their curry could compare to happiness encapsulated in a bowl of my Mumma’s, we decided to try out their ‘Chinese Curry with Roti’.  Although slightly divergent from the typical Singaporean Curry, with less ‘lemak’, it was still quite enjoyable and full of flavour, however Mumma’s speciality still holds the key to my heart J.

Although we were all quite full by this stage, we were far too intrigued by their dessert choices.  Instead of ordering the famous ‘piggy buns’ we opted for the ‘Chestnut Cake’ and ‘Tofu Cheesecake’.  The ‘Tofu Cheesecake’ was the more different out of the two, ‘Westernising’ the typical Asian tasting dessert. It was light and I could really taste the tofu itself which was awesome!  The ‘Chestnut Cake’ was slightly sweeter and richer – slightly reminding me of nutella! The cream itself was smooth and very easy to enjoy! These desserts were definitely worth trying for the experience.

All in all, the visit to Chefs Gallery was very different from my dining experience at typical yum cha or Chinese restaurants.  It’s modern vibe and visual menu indicates the changing face of modern Asian cuisine.  While maintaining the authenticity of its flavours, the dishes we have grown to love have been recreated in innovative ways, which manage to surprise the tastebuds!  Chefs Gallery seems to be following in the footsteps of Din Tai Fung, which has introduced very interesting items such as a ‘Foie Gras Soup Dumpling’ (which I’ve seen being advertised at their Singaporean chains and must must must try!).  More importantly, they have made such modern tastes and foods accessible to more diners with the very reasonable price-tag for great quality.  My only gripe would be that the serving sizes were very generous and ended up over-ordering – it would have been helpful for the waitress to give us a better indication for how much to order.  Nevertheless, I for one am very excited to see what the future of modern and casual Chinese dining holds.

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