Finding amazing food in the least likely places is one of the best things about Sydney. All that sprawl means more hot spots for ace noodles, baked treats, and in this one very specific case, a smoked chicken katsu. That ridiculously juicy fillet in a golden crust carries a whisper of smoke in the meat – they’re not going the full Texas treatment here. And all that crunchy fry comes into its own as the bridge between the tangy Chinese barbecue sauce on one side and a peppery mayo on the other.
Wolli Creek might not be somewhere you can immediately pinpoint on a map (it’s on the way to the airport for a lot of Sydneysiders) and like in many highly developed suburbs, a lot of the ground-floor businesses are your day-to-day necessities. In many ways Yan looks just as serviceable, with big glass walls looking into a plain white room. Turns out they’re channeling all their creativity into the food.
The dishes getting the smoky treatment in the oven are the four big hitters on the protein scorecard, and three quarters of them are ribs: lamb, pork and beef. Lamb conveys a Northwestern Chinese influence with cumin and green onion, and the fatty beef number is for big appetites. But our vote goes to the leaner pork ribs, in a sweet honey-soy marinade that ensures you get a really good amount of smoky char on your meat. Things get spicy and mysterious thanks to a fragrant curry oil, and the smooth cauliflower purée underneath reminds you that this menu is aspiring to something more refined than a paper-napkin barbecue joint.
It’s not that there aren’t excellent vegetarian dishes on the menu – an orderly line of fried tofu cubes are a Thai-Chinese collab of numbing Szechuan pepper and a peanut sauce; a salad of crunchy fresh cucumber slices goes toe-to-toe with a rich, creamy sesame dressing. But it’s the smoked meats that will ensure you clock up frequent diner points here.
You aren’t done until you’ve added a fluffy cinnamon doughnut in a crisp, fried shell to your order. They pipe red bean and matcha cream piped into the hole and in four bites it’s gone, but the earthy sweetness will stay with you for the drive home. As will the urge to return to Wolli Creek. That’s what having a destination restaurant can do for a little-known pocket of Sydney.