Merivale executive chef Dan Hong is going back to his roots. This spring, he's re-opening Lotus in Sydney's Potts Point, the kitchen where he first made his start in the hospitality industry.
The modern Asian bistro and bar, which had its heyday in the late 2000s, will temporarily re-open for about a year in its original location on Challis Avenue. The three-storey venue is currently occupied by The Fish Shop, which will close in mid-June.
"Merivale has just sold the building, and part of the deal was to trade for another year. Justin Hemmes [Merivale's CEO] called and said: let's go out with a bang. What do you think about doing Lotus again for another year?," says Hong.
Back in 2008, Hong took part in a gruelling "audition" where he cooked 12 dishes in 30 minutes for Hemmes, before being hired on the spot at Lotus. "I walked into the room right after I served all the dishes, and he said: when can you start?," says Hong. He was 24, and he'd just scored his first head chef posting.
Under Hong's watch, Lotus rode the wave of East-meets-West dining championed by chefs Tetsuya Wakuda, Christine Manfield and Neil Perry – you'd find dishes such as beef carpaccio with a Thai-inspired dressing, späetzli with sautéed shiitake mushrooms, and deep-fried quail with tartare sauce on the menu. Then there was that hot fudge sundae, a dessert so popular that it even made the cover of Gourmet Traveller in August 2008. ("It's my downfall," a younger Hong said. "Every single table orders it.")
You can bet that sundae is making its return to Lotus. So too is that cheeseburger, a product of the dude-food movement of its time, though upgraded with a meat patty comprised of brisket, chuck steak and dry-aged beef fat.
But this is Lotus 2.0, not Lotus: A Retrospective. Hong is looking forward to dreaming up new dishes that fit Lotus's modern Asian vibes without time-warping completely to the 2000s. Recent years at El Loco and Ms G's have refined his approach to serving food that's simple, fun and delicious. "When I started at Lotus, I hadn't developed my own cooking style. It was an amalgamation of what I'd learnt from previous mentors – a mishmash of techniques, flavours and dishes," says Hong.
He'll be leaving the dishes cooked sous vide and finished with foam to history, but is looking forward to two things on his return to Lotus. There's the modest four-person kitchen team, tiny compared to the 40-strong team at his Cantonese restaurant Mr Wong; and the conviviality of diners eating and drinking in Lotus's bar until 3 o'clock in the morning. In the city of lock-out laws, can that late-night revelry persist? "I'm not sure," says Hong. "But that's what I'm hoping Lotus will be."
Lotus is slated to re-open in September, 22 Challis Ave, Potts Point, NSW, merivale.com