Madame Shanghai is no ordinary Chinese eatery.
It’s time to give up the local Friday night takeaway, Madame Shanghai is the international fusion of oriental flavour and culture we have been waiting for.
Bathed in emerald lamplight and overlooking one of Sydney’s most recognisable attractions, Madame Shanghai isn’t Head Chef, Chris Yan’s first attempt at fusing Chinese street-food with the rapidly amalgamating international palate. Previously working at Billy Kwong, Yan is no stranger to uniting his Shanghai-culture with Australian tastebuds.
Introducing Hyde Park and Darlinghurst to the aromas and vibrancy of Shaokao-style Chinese BBQ, Yan is determined to emphasis the cultural importance of sharing in food and flavour.
Although Yan is the leader of the open-grill kitchen in Hyde Park’s newest emerald temple, Kate McGraw is the cocktail queen. Our night begins with Great Imperial ($20), made with lemongrass vermouth dulcetly fizz with spiced lychee, rosé and flora. Going down with a pop, the hint of lychee was somewhat subdued by the presence of the rosé. Nonetheless, the Imperial heat aptly cleanses our palates before we begin our fiery adventure into the days of Shanghai gone by.
With the radiant open kitchen buzzing profusely behind us, we sip our cocktails overlooking the slowly building traffic surrounding Hyde Park. The comfortable but plain exterior decor is a shadow of the extravagance hiding inside.
Drops of lemon aspen sorbet float atop of a round of oysters ($18), a subtle accompaniment to the cocktail. A childlike creation, we indulge in three oysters each. The zing of finger lime easily trailing the molluscs down our throats.
Behind the secrecy of velvet drapings, a moody navy plush carpet with pops of oriental flowerings beckons us inside to the main dining room. Our Yum Cha entree awaits.
But how could Yan and Co not take advantage of being only a glittered stones throw away from Oxford Street? For tonight is “Blingo Night” and our host is a colourful cross-dresser from Kings Cross. Madame Shanghai truly is the fusion of the two great cities.
Before we have our first chance to play a bedazzled round of bingo, a trio a steamed dumplings hit the timber set tables. A taste of Madame Shanghai’s Yum Cha menu, the first steamer basket carries a round of Vegetable Dumplings ($10). Simple and light, we tear through the pre-show to get to the main event. Generous rounds of scallop and snow pea tendril ($14) and BBQ duck and spinach ($12) dumplings await us. The chewy scallops hidden in the tender dumpling wrapper are the victor in this dumpling battle.
We could have easily stayed a passive observe in the dumpling duel, but instead the spicy chicken salad ($18) sounds too appealing. Served cold, a pop of Australian Bush Tucker wanders perfectly into this salad. Adding a reserved crunch to the zesty peanut salad, muntrie cranberries, sourced from South Australia are a surprising addition to the otherwise safe dish.
Pushing boundaries again, Yan dishes up grilled octopus doused in heirloom tomato sauce ($18) to complete the Yum Cha taster. Serving the dish lukewarm appears to be a conscious decision, however the dish misses the sizzling sensation of being delivered straight from the grill.
Our fusion experience is paired with a worldwide selection of wine. We opt to match our roundabout trip to Shanghai with a local touch of 2015 Clyde Park ‘Locale’ Pinot Noir ($62 per bottle). Travelling from Geelong, Victoria, the cleansing wine is just what we need to combat the rapidly changing flavour combinations.
Distracted by an elaborate round of Blingo, we are drawn back into the ring for round two. An overwhelming encounter with Madame Shanghai’s grill and large menu.
Still sizzling, Yan throws enough shrimp on the barbie to warrant a Fisheries investigation. Placed on a bed of crumbling macadamias, the king prawns ($36) are the stand out on the larger shared menu. Drizzled with schezuan sauce, this dish is no trip to you local Chinese take-away. Be ready to fight your friends, these king prawns are the ruler of the evening.
The soft shell crab ($28) smothered beneath a tomato and chilli blend gives a kick unrivalled by anything on the menu. The grilled milk bread attached to the dish isn’t a visual sidekick, however it is the much needed cure for your welcomely seared tongue.
Next, the sticky pork hock ($29), takes a trip to Africa on its way to Shanghai. Paired with tamarind and rosella, the effect of the dish pales in comparison to its predecessors. Nevertheless, it is further evidence of Yan’s inventiveness, which amplifies an infectious appreciation for his creations.
A generous portion of oven baked oxtail ($26) is left unfinished by the food sharing squad. We choose instead to to pick at the delectable pastry that blankets the rich delicacy hiding below.
Vegetable dishes round out the selection of mains but are nothing revolutionary. Topped with a well rehearsed tamarin dressing, pumpkin and broccolini with hazelnuts ($18) and fried cauliflower mixed with aged vinegar and chilli halves ($16) are safe successes.
A mix of old and new, safe and truly imaginative dishes cultivate in a successful main menu. Designed to be shared, it is easy to see how Madame Shanghai will become a favourite hang out for crowds eager to please everyone at the table.
Before we can say Zàijiàn to our worldwide adventure, dessert is needed. An Australian favourite, Yan turns the Wagon Wheel on its head coupling it with oriental coconut and matcha. The rich chocolate duels with the coconut scent, with neither party winning the battle. It is the perfect sweet treat to close out the evening.
Tasting the grapes of Victoria all evening, we conclude our night of international drinking leizing with our licorice desires. The Poets and Artist cocktail ($20) is a strong nightcap. With buttered cognac, saline and the power of liquorice root, the creamy taste will stay with you for the rest of the night.
From the wine list, to the Yum Cha menu, everything in Madame Shanghai screams worldwide, despite hiding behind the oriental mask. If you are willing to let Yan and his team take you on a trip around the world then chances are you will leave wanting more.
Classic menu options are aplenty, it is up to you to search out the oriental diamonds.
18 College St, Darlinghurst
(02) 8318 8618
Open Tues-Wed: 5pm-11pm, Thurs-Fri: 12pm-11pm, Sat-Sun: 11am-11pm