General Chao, serving up XO-llent Cantonese fare.
XO sauce is the epitome of Chinese opulence. The labour intensive condiment is made from chillies, garlic, onion, dried shrimp, dried scallops (conpoy) and Jinhua ham (think prosciutto). The scallops and ham, while costly, create an intense and complex flavour. At General Chao, XO sauce is not just a side but the main attraction. Their house-made XO sauces feature abalone, truffle and gold leaf, making it one of the most decadent ranges in Australia.
Mirroring these luxurious flavours is the physical space of the restaurant. Perched on top of Chatswood’s District Dining, the 187-seat restaurant is fitted with an open kitchen, large painted murals, neon signs and two private dining rooms for an exclusive VIP experience. Behind the bar, mixologist Michael Chiem (PS40) handcrafts intricate cocktails such as their Bloody Navy ($20). This cocktail has a subtle nutty flavour that comes from combining trail mix orgeat with Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin, lemon and bitters.
Beer and wine drinkers are in luck as General Chao offers a diverse selection of Australian and European beverages. The 2016 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Villages, Gamay ($13) from Burgundy France pairs well with the bold spices that are peppered throughout the menu.
In the kitchen, Head Chef and General Manager Son Sewoo (The Sovereign Room) creates a diverse contemporary menu that blends Australian-Asian cuisine. To begin your meal, consider snacking on Spiced Sichuan Nuts ($7.5) and Chao’s Jerky ($7). The smoky peanuts are coated in five spice, Sichuan pepper and chilli. The wagyu beef jerky comes marinated in smoked soy and sticky black vinegar. Another great bar snack is their House Pickles and Ferments ($8). The pickles include an array of salted cucumber, beetroot kimchi, apple kimchi, pickled carrot with cardamom and pickled radish with anise. Your senses will thank you for the colourful plates, flavours and aroma of spices that permeate as these dishes arrive to the table.
A standout on their menu is the Prawn Toast ($14.5), which is seasoned with ginger, sesame and white pepper, served with spicy XO mayonnaise. The sound of the crisp crunch as you bite into the golden toast is extremely satisfying. Combine this with the flavour of sweet prawn toast slathered in spicy XO mayonnaise and your mouth will be in bliss.
Another stand out dish is Laksa” XL Prawn ($8), which is scented with curry leaf oil, toasted coconut and kaffir lime. This fragrant dish has a thick creamy laksa sauce that you should greedily slurp with a spoon.
For delicious dumplings, try their Jasmine Tea Smoked Duck Dumplings ($10.5). These little parcels are filled with an oozing warm duck broth and topped with a generous dollop of Illawarra plum sauce. If you close your eyes, it will taste like you’re eating a peking duck pancake.
As a main, try Chao’s Special Fried Rice ($30), with smoky bacon, sausage, shrimp, corn, shallots, egg and XO sauce. Each element of the fried rice is perfectly cooked and coated in their salty-sweet classic XO sauce.
The fried rice can also double as a sponge to soak up black garlic butter juices from their Stir-fried Wagyu Beef ($37). While the wagyu beef is enjoyable, the star of this dish is mushrooms. The dish is a texture surprise ranging from crunchy deep-fried Enoki, soft shiitake, slippery oyster mushrooms and chewy snow fungus. The mouth feel is unique with each bite and truly celebrates the humble mushroom.
Other dishes to try include Cured and Smoked Kingfish ($21), with black sesame, yuzu mayonnaise, fragrant herb salad and pickled radish, as well as the Charred Corn ($7), with Seaweed butter, sesame and Parmigiano‑Reggiano.
By the end of the meal, you’ll probably have ordered twice what you had anticipated and the table will be buried by bamboo steamers and smoky bowls of spicy, salty and sweet dishes. Somehow you won’t be upset by this, as the leftovers provide only fond memories of a night well spent.