Walking into new late-night eatery Hey Chu feels like you’ve just stepped off the plane somewhere in Southeast Asia, albeit without the humidity. Red, yellow and orange lanterns gently sway from the ceiling (we’re told they’re handmade in Hoi An); plastic stools are dotted around at tables; and half of the floor is painted like a zebra crossing. The bar is lit up with neon pink and purple lights and there are live musicians singing old-school R'n'B bangers to guests.
It turns out this is exactly the vibe owner chef Cuong Nguyen (also of Hello Auntie and Fugo) wanted to create in his latest venture, which is found on level one of Hotel Downing on Castlereagh Street in the Sydney CBD.
“I wanted to create a space where people can come late at night to eat, drink and listen to live music,” says Nguyen, just like the eclectic mix of late night offerings found in Asia. And he really does mean late – Hey Chu is open until 3am on Friday and Saturday nights, and Nguyen tells us the joint turns into a dance party with DJs. (As well as food, live music is another big passion for Nguyen, who also has a rotation of up-and-coming artists performing each night at Hey Chu from Monday to Thursdays.)
While Hello Auntie was very much a homage to Nguyen’s Vietnamese background and his mum – his family immigrated from Vietnam to Australia when Nguyen was a baby – Hey Chu isn’t strictly Vietnamese, but takes inspiration from all over Asia. Though whatever you do, don’t call it Asian fusion. “I call it Asian eclectic,” says Nguyen. “There are some Japanese, Cantonese, and even Korean influences. Alot of the dishes are what my chefs love to cook and eat.”
Those dishes – overseen by head chef Bremmy Setiyoko (formerly Spice Temple and Sepia) – are mostly made up of bar snacks that are big on fun and flavour, like the house-made potato chips with whipped ricotta, fiery lao gan ma chilli and anchovies (which is Nguyen’s take on Le Snak). Kingfish sashimi comes with a turmeric vinaigrette and kaffir lime leaves; and the prawn toast encases hunks of sweet flesh and is topped with lime gel, prawn head mayo and lardo.
Another must-order is the chicken congee pot pie with abalone, it's cooked in roasted chicken broth, which is served in a pretty bowl with golden pastry on top; and the spicy mala fried chicken wings. Hey Chu also serves a handful of more substantial plates, including premium cuts of beef, which they dry-age on site and are best ordered with a side of grilled cabbage dressed in kombu butter.
The wine list has been curated by sommelier Patrick Harrowsmith (formerly Love, Tilly Devine and Dear Sainte Eloise), and features beers and drops designed to go with the Southeast Asian food. While Peter Pham (Hello Auntie) devised the fresh and quirky cocktail list, which has drinks like What The Pho, made from house-infused coriander tequila, ginger liqueur, Cointreau, pho syrup, spiced fish sauce and lime. (What the pho, indeed.)
Come along and say hello to Hey Chu, and we reckon you won’t want to be saying goodbye anytime soon.