By Marie-Antoinette Issa.
Chinese restaurants in Australia tend to stick to a tried and tested formula. After all, the love for prawn wontons, spicy honey chicken and stir fry pork belly is practically universal.
That’s the reason you’ll find all these Cantonese classics at Ni Hao Bar - a buzzing eatery inspired by the bustling dining scene of 1970s Hong Kong and nestled on the top floor of Sydney’s Civic Hotel.
However, alongside prawn toast (albeit a thoroughly modern take made with tangy typhoon shelter drums and citrus lemon gel), freshly shucked oysters and sizzling hot bowls of spanner crab noodles in house XO sauce, the neon-lit eatery adorned with murals of Bruce Lee boasts a menu that showcases the culinary offerings of Canton in a more contemporary light.
Here are seven of the best things we sampled:
•Bone Marrow: glazed with sweet soy and served alongside crispy wonton chips, the true theatre of this dish comes when the waiter serves it, pours a shot of Jameson Irish whisky down the centre and burns it off to leave a rich, smoky yet subtly creamy dish.
•Crab Rangoon Dip: a popular starter at American-Chinese restaurants (apparently first created in San Francisco in the 1950s), yet a surprisingly less common option on menus Down Under, Ni Hao Bar’s take on this dish is a deconstructed version of the crispy, filled dumplings of the USA. Instead, founder and Chef Howin Chui blends a cream cheese base with fresh crab rangoon and serves it with a side of fried wonton skins for an entrée that perfectly balances flavour and texture.
•Ni Hao Bao Mushroom Tempura: where most bao buns require pieces of BBQ pork to shine, at Ni Hao Bar King brown mushroom tempura takes centre stage. Paired with pickled cucumber and aioli it’s proof that ‘pigging out’ on your veggies can taste just as good as meaty proteins.
•Steamed Butter Scallops: as well as an unconventional-but-no-less-delicious dressing made with yuzu butter, Ni Hao Bar’s signature steamed scallops are enormous - with three generously sized pieces of tender meat in each shell.
•Okonomiyaki Spam Fries: a little bit Japanese, a little bit Australian and a whole lot of yum. This dish is characterised by the crispiness of both the chips and cold meat and complemented by the sweetness of Ni Hao Bar's handmade okonomiyaki sauce and a rich, creamy wasabi mayo to create a quirky dish that somehow just works.
•Mango Sago Pudding: forget mango pancakes (well, maybe don’t completely forget them, but perhaps just put them aside for a second), at Ni Hao Bar, dessert is all about mango sago pudding - a creamy, coconutty combination of tropical housemade ice cream and tapioca balls, that gives dupe Weiss Bar vibes, in a completely original way.
•Kung Fu Hustle: if the cheeky name and whimsical combination of ingredients (gin, elderflower liqueur, a squeeze of lemon juice and a splash of rose syrup) weren’t enough to convince you of Ni Hao Bar’s experimental approach to dining, then the presentation of this drink - featuring a tableside blowtorching ceremony - should hopefully do the trick!