The best Chinese restaurants in Sydney
You can’t call yourself a true Sydneysider unless you’ve had at least one post-rager dinner here ordering sticky, burgundy-hued barbecue pork, steamed prawn dumplings, fried spring rolls and salt and pepper squid. In fact, they’ll salt and pepper pretty much anything that stays still long enough, and while the tofu is good, the pork ribs are better. The extra flavoursome meat has for the most part been stripped off the bone then deep fried, the golden shell shown no mercy by the hand that seasons it, with extra garlic and fiery red chilli on top.
They’ll tell you to go for the Peking duck. They’ll tell you it’s a juicy bird with crisp skin and sweet meat. And they’d be right. It is. This is just one of the many roast delights at Mr Wong – a two-level Canto-extravaganza offering everything from fancy dim sum to green beans stir-fried with pork mince and house-made XO sauce.
The food here, a fusion of Chinese and native Australian cuisine, is sensational. Get the saltbush cakes to start things rolling. Four little crescents of crisp, flaky, buttery pastry will arrive, stuffed with native saltbush leaves and a dip each of soy and hot, fermenty chilli sauce on the side. Do not miss the steamed mini pork buns. They are served with more of that chilli sauce and filled with meat marinated in local honey from the Wayside Chapel’s rooftop beehives. (Hot tip: if you don’t fancy a full meal, you can come and sit at the bar and just have a snack of these – or anything else for that matter – with a drink.)
Holding court in the red and gold dining room of the Palace Chinese Restaurant comes with great responsibility. If you are in the power seat by the trolley channel you need to be decisive when the extra-juicy pink-hued roast pork rolls around, served in thin slices with the right fat-to-meat ratio. Move quickly when the blistered greens beans come out of the kitchen, scalding hot, salted like the sea and dressed in garlic. It’s worth checking every basket, because in addition to taut-skinned, tightly packed prawn and garlic chive dumplings there might be a sneaky serve of duck dumplings on the trolley.
This efficiently buzzy noodle house in World Square specialises in Chongqing (a subregion of Sichuan) spicy noodles, the foundation of which is a dark, aromatic chicken-based broth topped with an unapologetically thick layer of chilli oil. Compared to other celebrated noodle soups like pho or ramen, it’s a confronting bowl of fire truck-red, but well worth the risk to your freshly pressed whites.
Did you know that above Chinatown’s dingy-but-dependable food court, Eating World, is one of the hottest dining tickets in Haymarket? Spicy Joint, a wildly popular Sichuan chain in China, has expanded south – bringing peppercorn-littered braises, fiery hotpots and nightly queues to Dixon Street.
Did you know that dumplings are double the size in Sydney that they are in Melbourne? Scout's honour - the ones in Sydney you pretty much need to bite in half, whereas Melbourne's versions generally go straight in the cake hole. You also get more variation here and the trolleys make the rounds more regularly. Best bets at Marigold are the pork knuckles, beef tendon, fried radish cakes and prawn dumplings. Banqueting it up? Expect stuffed crab claw, scallops in birds nest and all your seafood favourites.
They do things differently at Spice World, Haymarket’s very own truly quirky and ultimately delicious eating experience. The first Australian outpost for one of China’s biggest hot pot chains is peddles Barbies draped in beef; a giant soup-based stock cube fashioned into the shape of a Hello Kitty; robots that glide around the venue serving up digital smiles and mints; and there’s also a sauce banquet.
What is it about picking from an assortment of bits and bobs that makes eating just a little more exciting? Those child-like instincts will almost certainly coerce you into ordering Spring Yunnan’s signature dish, ‘Crossing the Bridge Noodles’. Resembling a one-person mini hotpot, the dish arrives deconstructed. There’s a stone bowl of still-boiling pork and chicken broth, accompanied by an array of dainty plates bearing carefully chopped portions of pork, fish, chicken, prosciutto, coriander, shallots, garlic chives, bean sprouts, beancurd skin — even a tiny quail egg.
You know those Chinese diners in coastal towns – unchanged for decades, brash gold furnishings and laminated menus... Well Sydney hospitality juggernaut Merivale has flipped this tacky trope into a dining destination with the opening of a high-end Cantonese restaurant launched out over the water on Manly Wharf.
At the Eight they push the boat just that little further – there's an extra lick of attention paid to everything on offer, from the moist, sweet, tender barbecue pork to the stout little mango pancakes. The congee is excellent – all loose and glutinous with little pieces of pork and preserved egg woven through, topped with little bits of fried bread and green onion. If you're not a Chinese nanna, you might have to arm wrestle the waitress for it, but persevere. The dumplings are generally a little smaller than the footballs you see around Sydney, and just a little more tender - namely the plain prawn and pork.
This is a Chinese restaurant that does not serve any Cantonese dishes. Instead, you'll find a menu that roams China from Sichuan to Yunnan to Guangxi. Go with a bunch of friends and try as many different dishes for the table as you can. You're guaranteed to taste something here that your mouth has never experienced before. In a very, very good way. The room has a bit of a swingin' Shanghai gentleman's club atmosphere with rich red carpet, deep, chubby leather banquettes, vases of bamboo and curtains that look like giant matchsticks.
The Liverpool Road stretch of Ashfield is littered with dumpling houses these days but Shanghai Night was arguably the first. Back then, staff would make dumplings at one of the back tables in the dining room; now they’re stationed within a modern glassed-in kitchen with fancy laminated menus to boot. They’re still serving up some of Sydney’s cheapest xiao long bao soup dumplings at $7.80 for eight. But wait. There’s more. Steamed and fried dumplings arrive in hearty portions of 12 for the small serve, 18 for a large.
This joint has a golden dragon with glowing eyes set into a feature wall. Oh, and enormous chandeliers sparkling from the ceiling. Fun. Carts do the rounds filled with silky scallop and snow-pea dumplings and plates of surprisingly light pan-fried rice noodles dusted with toasted sesame seeds and served with a side sauce of hoisin and sesame paste.
Jin Weigu in Campsie is doing powerhouse breakfasts, Northern Chinese-style. Here, as in Beijing or Tianjin, the only way to start the day is with a meal that’s hot, hearty, thick, and filling – the kind of food that’s sustained populations through thousands of years of bitter winters and a hardy history. The menu board and heat-lamped display offer an overwhelming variety of AM staples from the mainland, comprising everything from crunchy crullers (deep-fried cakes) dipped into freshly ground soy milk and paper-plain millet porridge, to robust lamb bone stews, and buns filled with sweet red bean.
In Xi’an, they like their noodles thick. Really thick. This northwestern Chinese city in Shaanxi Province is the home of biang biang – fresh handmade noodles three fingers wide and as long as your arm. When tossed in oil mixed with roasted chilli, they make a fast, warm and filling bowl of cheap street food. The name is thought to come from the sound the noodles make as they are pulled out and loudly slapped on a flour dusted counter to stretch them further. Bang! Bang!
This Angel Place spot (from the China Doll folks) will serve you up wagyu ‘pastrami’, dressed with black vinegar and crunched up with Chinese celery. It’s a really cool idea – they’ve been curing beef like this at NYC’s Mission Chinese for a while – and it’s great to see someone doing it in Sydney. Its combination of approachable, mostly Chinese-inspired food in a fairly upmarket setting attracts huge crowds piling in for sweet, sticky hunks of pork hock and slices of stir-fried zucchini with lup cheong sausage.
The Chefs Gallery Instagram feed is filled with lusty pictures of noodles captured mid-slurp, under-the-radar dishes like dongpo (Chinese-braised pork belly) and sweet, emoji-inspired buns filled with custard. You'll want to order it all and fill your boots at the Chef's Gallery, one of the bright spots on Parramatta's newest eat street.