The opening of a Merivale venue in Enmore ought to well and truly confirm that as far as things in food and drink are concerned, Sydney has taken a big tilt towards the inner west in recent times. ("Recent times" being code for "since the introduction of lockout laws to licensed venues in the inner city".) The takeover of the Queen Victoria Hotel by one of the country's biggest and shiniest hospitality conglomerates on a street that was formerly better known as the home to the Cat Protection Society and the Black Rose anarchist bookshop might dismay some of the neighbourhood's more antiestablishment residents, but the pub itself was far from a treasured landmark, and Merivale brings with it a peace offering that's going to be very difficult for any self-respecting inner-westie to refuse: yum cha that could well be the best in the country.
Eric Koh, the chef the group lured to Sydney following his star turns at celebrated London dim sum houses Hakkasan and Yauatcha, raised the bar for dumplings when he joined Dan Hong in opening Mr Wong in the CBD, and the menu he has put together for lunches on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at Queen Chow, the restaurant at that's now called Queens Hotel, looks mighty promising
Koh's signatures are all there - the jade seafood dumpling, the intricately folded har gau, the duck spring rolls - and they're complemented by a contemporary Hong Kong-style menu from Merivale alums Patrick Friesen and Christopher Hogarth that takes in a good selection of roasted meats (duck and pork spare-ribs among them), and the likes of steamed scallops with XO sauce and vermicelli, and beef with oyster mushroom and potato. And, as at Mr Wong, selections from the dim sum menu are also available at dinner, too, in the form of the platters of steamed and baked and fried dishes.
Roast duck and pork
Beyond the bamboo baskets, mud crab is offered with ginger and spring onion, in kombu butter, or done typhoon shelter-style, a Hong Kong approach that sees the crab fried with a heaping dose of garlic, black beans and chilli. There's a touch of New York's Mission Chinese in the Chongqing chicken wings on the bar menu (though the "hot-and-numbing" descriptor could also apply to Newtown on a Saturday night), while dessert is short and sweet: a fruit plate, something called "coffee milk tea" and the even more opaque "forgotten koi fish in the frozen pond".
In what could be read as a nod to the social mores of the neighbourhood, there's a separate vegetarian menu. It's not huge, but the appearance of the likes of snow pea leaves stir-fried with ginger and Shaoxing wine and the rather impressive-sounding silken tofu with vegetarian XO sauce, pickled long beans and mushroom floss suggest that some thought has gone into it.
The cocktail list is full of drinks that for some reason feature carrot, green capsicum, rhubarb, date, nut milk or marmalade, and the beer selection leans more big-brewery than might be expected in this part of the world. Fortunately the wine list is typically on form, balancing the tried-and-true (Crawford River does the rosé by the glass, Cape Mentelle the sem-sauv blanc) with deeply drinkable bottles from such darlings of the indie sommelier world as Bobar, Ochota Barrels, Latta, and Jean Foillard. The split between wines under $70 and wines over $70, too, is weighted more in favour of the former than the list at, say, The Paddington, another Merivale pub reboot the other side of Oxford Street.
Patrick Friesen reckons it's quite a contrast to his and Hogarth's last post, at Papi Chulo. "I love Manly, but it's great to be back on this side of the bridge," he says. "All my friends live over this side and I've been commuting for three years anyway, so happy to be here permanently." Friesen says he's pretty pumped about the menu in general, and is a big fan of typhoon shelter crab, but if he had to nominate a single dish that he's most excited to unleash on the public, it's Koh's new cheong fun - fried bread stuffed with cuttlefish mousse wrapped in a rice-noodle sheet.
Typhoon shelter crab.
Given that Chinese food is the internationally recognised treatment for any kind of hangover, in bringing the Queens Hotel project to fruition on Enmore Road, Merivale may have invented a venue equally suited to recovery as it is revelry in a neighbourhood that appreciates both sides of the equation. Do not let the cure become the cause.
Queens Hotel opens Saturday 10 December, 167 Enmore Road, Enmore, NSW, (02) 9240 3000, merivale.com/queenshotel