It can be hard to find a good meal before hitting the theatre. Usually it’s sushi, rushed and guzzled en route to the show, or one of those questionable boxed “salads” offered at the venue bar. At Walsh Bay in The Rocks, where both the Sydney Theatre Company and the Sydney Dance Company are based, there are alternatives. Unfortunately, few excite us. Then we walked into Lotus Dumpling Bar.
It opened about a year and a half ago, but Lotus still feels like a bit of a secret spot for pre-theatre diners (it empties out right before the shows starts across the road on the night we’re in). The small, brick-walled space channels the surrounding suburb’s industrial past – there’s a gigantic copper bar in the heart of the room and an open kitchen up the back. The wine and cocktail list is extensive; we recommend the Battle of Bosworth pinot noir from McLaren Vale, which will bring just the right level of bounce to your meal.
We often fear we’ll be let down when we order pork xiao long bao somewhere other than Din Tai Fung. Not so at Lotus, which makes bao that officially puts the Fung’s version on notice – finally, a worthy competitor in these parts! The pastry isn’t too thick, and the broth within is a flavourful slap in the face: deeply porky, with hints of sesame and seasoning that’s bang on. Make a dip of chilli sauce and equal parts black vinegar and soy from the cute blue and white bottles on your table. Then, get stuck in.
The argyle beef dumplings have had half their casing dyed an eye-catching purple, but we remember their flavour more fondly than any pretty embellishments. The meat within is tender, and sings with garlic. Order the pan-fried pork buns, too. They look dainty but pack real punch, the base nicely caramelised and the top gently steamed. We reckon we could eat dozens in one sitting. We’d be sick. But we wouldn’t be sorry.
Follow your dumpling party with a more regal selection of mains. The skin on the barbecue duck is crisp and the meat itself soft, but most importantly, they bring you a generous serve – a rare thing for this queen of poultry. Wok-fried seasonal vegetables are a selection of sugar snap peas, baby corn and broccoli. It's unfussily cooked in a straightforward soy-based sauce, and its very simplicity makes it work in context – nobody wants strong flavours fighting over each other; you need something to balance it all out. These do the trick.
A tip for ordering your sides: get a couple of small serves rather than one large. We pick nicely seasoned fried rice studded with tender pieces of duck and crunchy slices of asparagus. And don't go past wide, silky rice noodles tossed to caramelised perfection with lightly cooked steak, bean sprouts and garlic chives. Who needs plain rice?
If you're not seeing a show and feel like lingering, there’s a banquet menu for groups of four or more. But we love this place for a quick meal that'll sustain you for a show. Few things beat well-prepared Asian dishes for an on-the-run feed. And you certainly don’t want to be tardy for hosts like Hugo and Cate, now do you?