When was the last time you had lemon chicken? The entry-level Chinese dish might have had a starring role in your family nights out during the mid ’80s, but as awareness of regional Chinese cuisine grew, suburban classics took a back seat. But everything old is new again and Neil Perry has stepped up as the champion for old-school Chinese with the opening of Jade Temple.
Perry shuttered his fine diner, Rockpool 1989, earlier this year and announced that in its place would be opening a snazzy Cantonese restaurant. This was big news for a few reasons, not least because it’s so close to Mr Wong, Sydney’s fanciest spot for mud crabs and roast duck. But the news also caused a stir because at Jade Temple, Perry and head chef Peter Robertson would be going back to the future, giving the likes of salt and pepper squid, prawn toast and kung pow chicken lauded spots on the menu.
We now have a very good reason to get dressed up on a Sunday and head into the city for a boozy lunch, and that reason is the prawn and scallop siu mai, given a solid paddy whacking with white pepper and packed until their wrappers are straining.
Pudgy prawn har gow packed with MSC SPencer Gulf prawns are the right kind of sticky – not the kind that sticks to your teeth. They are one-bite wonders gently humming with ginger. Cool off with gently pickled, soft, ridged cucumber with squashy, earthy black mushroom fronds and ribbons of ginger that parry the vinegar with spice, and do not leave without a little Jenga pile of sesame-crusted prawn toasts that are extra crunchy and carrying a surprise flavour hit from diced ham in the filling.
Next time we’ll skip the steamed scallops that are more a wallflower dish than a showstopper. Instead, we’ll move straight onto the lemon chicken: free range birds from Bannockburn wrapped in batter and deep fried the kind of crisp bronze you’d expect to see on a Greek beach. They pour the lemon glaze over at the table, so that under the sweet, pucker-worthy sauce you’ve still got crunch for days.
If you feel like day drinking, do it here. Ryan Gavin has designed an artfully diplomatic cocktail list that seduces booze-first fans with the likes of Jade Emperor, a take on a Martini mixed with a Manhattan. Vodka, Chartreuse, Amaretto and dry vermouth don’t seem like people you want to party with so early in the day, but when their powers are combined the result is a clean, dry fruitiness reminiscent of a plum wine.
At the total opposite end of the spectrum of tastes you’ve got the Luck Dragon, a twist on the Brandy Crusta that keeps a firm leash on the apricot with a lug of citrus so that you get that rich stone fruit flavour without the sugar hit. And it’s never too early for a glass of the mineral-driven grüner veltliner from Oberloiben, a small region in Austria along the Danube. In fact, they’ve got a whole page dedicated to the Wachau region if you want a swift education in eight glasses.
Heck yes, you can get deep-fried ice cream for dessert, but as loath as we are to steer you from this profound childhood joy that taught you that hot and cold are not opposites when it comes to dessert, you should order the Flavours of Phil’s vacherin instead. This is a tribute dessert to Rockpool’s former head chef, Phil Wood, who is now cooking on a vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula. A little fortress of meringue discs shields a tropical cacophony played pianissimo, with a forthright lime granita, a pandan mousse and sorbet, and toasted coconut.
As a rule, we’re two thumbs up for pushing the envelope, but Jade Temple is less focussed on the new than they are the better: better ingredients, skill and service. Turns out we’re also very keen on a time warp of old school Chinese that demand a little dressing up for lunch. And we’d do it again in a heartbeat.