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High end Chinese dining is the shiny, new addition to Enmore’s eat street
Mud crabs are the new dining status symbol. Forget lobster – either you can afford to shell out on the fleshy crustaceans (that usually go for $140-odd dollars a kilo) or you can’t. And when a restaurant is boasting hefty little pinchers that weigh in north of three kegs your cash will disappear faster than a dirty dog on bath day. Happily, all the bright orange, heavy-clawed beauties at Queens Chow, the restaurant inside Merivale’s latest glamour pub, only just tip the one kilo mark, which makes ordering one exxy, but not unspeakably pricey if you’re in the mood to treat yourself.
Maybe you never bothered to venture into the Queens in her former days, which is not surprising – it was an underwhelming pub whose major drawcard was a TAB – but now that Merivale have sprinkled some fairy pub-mother magic (and a whole lot of cash) on the place it’s an impressive sight. Downstairs the public bar at the front and the dining room up the back are lined in dark timber and lit with an antique, golden glow, making it the classiest spot for a Coopers on tap on this stretch of the Inner West.
A new look requires a crack new team. Now you’ve got the combined kitchen prowess of Patrick Friesen (Ms G’s, Papi Chulo), Christopher Hogarth (Papi Chulo) and Eric Koh (Mr Wong and Work In Progress) making sure any crustacean blow-out you indulge in is a solid investment in your future happiness.
If your idea of a crab dinner is the-elbows-in-sauce, shell-in-your-hair, two wet towels and a pile of napkins to clean up the aftermath variety, then you need to order the deeply savoury kombu butter version, spiked with lemongrass. It’s funny, because you are eating at the top end of the dining bracket, but this dish also tickles the parts of your brain that are highly attenuated to that umami sucker-punch you love in Mi Goreng and chicken salt. It’s a high-low mix that totally works.
Next time though, we’ll be trying the typhoon shelter crab, a style famously made at the Under Bridge Spicy Crab restaurant in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district. They deep-fry the crab with garlic, chilli and black bean and then add the fried pulp from house-made soy milk for crunch.
If you’re not willing to get cracking, order a snack plate of salt and pepper squid, prawns and soft little pucks of silken tofu – it’s like a salty, fried pick’n’mix and it goes a treat with the Churchill’s Downfall, a long tall refresher made with aged tequila for that old world woody flavour, vermouth and smoky, black Chinese tea.
We’re also very into herbs as a side – they’re serving a stack of gently cooked garlic chives with little flower buds on their ends in a mix of chicken fat and dark soy sauce they're calling a ‘schmaltz’. The combination is so gratifyingly savoury it’s almost a condiment.
Our favourite part of the venue is definitely the upstairs dining room. It’s decked out like a long greenhouse from an ambassadorial manor with distressed shutters, reeds across the ceiling and plants hanging from the rafters and it opens to the elements at one end, like they’re expecting a monsoon any minute. Elsewhere upstairs, the walls are decorated in Asian artefacts, old-worlde art and giant lamps. The piece de resistance of the whole place is the taxidermy waterfowl and mallard display behind the bar – it’s all very Beatrix Potter during the height of the British Empire.
Given Sydney is quite partial to muggy summers, the whole ‘1930’s Hong Kong come to Enmore’ vibe kind of fits. Yes, you can just come in for a drink, but like many of Merivale’s latest projects, it’s kind of a pub in name only now. You can expect wait times on a table because it turns out that on a steamy evening all anyone wants to do is eat crab, drink cold bottles of chablis and pretend that we live in the age of F Scott Fitzgerald.
167 Enmore Rd
|Opening hours:||Mon-Thu noon-2am; Fri noon-3am; Sat 10am-3am; Sun 10am-midnight|