Mr Porter Eats
The Seven Best Chinese Restaurants For Lunar New Year
It’s the year of the dog, but that doesn’t mean sad bowl food – here’s where to celebrate in style
Dumpling selection at China Diner, Double Bay. Photograph by Mr Dominic Loneragan, courtesy of China Diner
It is one of the biggest parties on Earth, stretching across China to Malaysia, Indonesia and far beyond, and it is about the only thing anyone has to look forward to in February. Yes, Chinese New Year is finally upon us and, unlike the Western world’s shortsighted single-night blowout, Lunar New Year, as it is also called, lasts a fortnight. Alongside the clashing symbols, lion dancing and kaleidoscopic parades, the celebrations are a time of belly filling. Endless feasting is the order of the day.
To pay homage to all this and, well, to save you the bother, we have pulled together a list of the most distinguished modern Chinese restaurants around the world in which to celebrate Lunar New Year.
Take note, though. The new wave of chefs running these establishments advocate eclecticism over strict territorial demarcation. What do we mean? Well, these days the buzz in Chinese cooking is in referencing several regions, from Dongbei to Sichuan, in a single menu. You might find an essence of the traditional, but these culinary pioneers are equally united in their love of fusion, hyper-local ingredients and world-class design. Scroll down to find out where to say “San Nin Fai Lok” (Happy New Year) in style.
Monkfish, morel mushroom and garlic shoot with crispy dough fritter. Photograph courtesy of Duddell’s
Photograph courtesy of Duddell’s
Restaurants parachuted into London from abroad tend not to fly. But the newly opened Duddell’s, near London Bridge, has been venerated by even the most hard-headed critics. When the London Evening Standard’s Ms Fay Maschler reviewed it, she declared it to be “not a dud in any way but a rather glorious wind-up to the year”.
Housed in an 18th-century church, the restaurant has retained its dramatic wooden altarpiece, stained-glass windows and rather statementy chandeliers. Head chef Mr Daren Liew, formerly of the Hakkasan Group, also dazzles in the open kitchen. Eaters come in droves for the Peking duck – cooked to a copper hue and carved into melt-in-the-mouth slivers – and the dim sum symphony, and the munificent limpid dumplings (some resembling goldfish, which we rather enjoy). That said, the rest of the Cantonese menu is also well executed and attracts tourists and local food pilgrims in equal measure. The general ambrosial experience is made all the more delicious thanks to the genial front-of-house staff, who shimmy seamlessly through the tables in the plushest of settings.
What to order: the monkfish, morel mushroom and garlic shoot with crispy dough fritter
What to wear
Chinese Tuxedo, New York
Photograph courtesy of Chinese Tuxedo
Fried brussel sprouts, five spice tofu and black bean sauce at Chinese Tuxedo, New York. Photograph by Special Sauce NYC, courtesy of Chinese Tuxedo
Despite the name, you are not required to wear a dinner jacket at Chinese Tuxedo. Still, persevere, because this is a top-drawer restaurant. With a menu that plucks like a magpie from across China, it is a real delight.
The chef isn’t scared of putting dishes such as stir-fried chicken next to kung pao shrimps sprinkled with Sichuan pepper, for example. There’s a whole gamut of vegan plates, too, with dishes such as fried Brussels sprouts with five spice tofu and stir-fried iceberg lettuce in garlic and soy being particular standouts.
The restaurant is housed in a former opera house on the increasingly gentrified Doyers Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown, and cleverly, restaurateurs Mr Jeff Lam and Mr Eddy Buckingham have kept a number of theatrical features. Alongside the exposed brick walls and Greek columns, there is a gallery that once hosted tenors. A nice touch, but don’t try to have a go yourself.
What to order: the fried brussel sprouts, five spice tofu and black bean sauce
What to wear
Mott 32, Hong Kong
Signature smoked black cod at Mott 32, Hong Kong. Photograph courtesy of Mott 32
Photograph by Ms Joyce Wang, courtesy of Mott 32
Descend into the basement of the Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong and you soon find yourself in a world of art deco chinoiserie, antique chandeliers and rattan, the result of the assured hand of Ms Joyce Wang, a Hong Kong-based designer. It drips with old-world glamour.
At the helm is head chef Mr Lee Man-Sing (previously he held two Michelin stars at the Mandarin Oriental), who serves mainly Cantonese food with some Beijing and a few Sichuan dishes thrown in. Signatures include roasted 42-day Peking duck and handmade, day-fresh dim sum.
The drinks menu is equally heady. Signature ingredients for the cocktails include osmanthus honey, infusions with ginseng roots, goji berries, pomelo, air-dried tangerine peel, shiso leaves and spices galore. Our favourite is the Old Harbour (a twist on an Old Fashioned): Hakushu whisky and Rittenhouse Rye with chrysanthemum and grapefruit bitters.
What to order: the signature smoked black cod
What to wear
Lee Ho Fook, Melbourne
Photograph courtesy of Lee Ho Fook
Raw kingfish, ginger pickled kohlrabi, spring onion dressing. Photograph courtesy of Lee Ho Fook
Mr Warren Zevon may have famously sung about Lee Ho Fook and beef chow mein, but don’t expect the takeaway stalwart at this Melbourne restaurant – chef and owner Mr Victor Liong has a very different vision. Growing up in Sydney with a Malaysian-Chinese heritage, his food is top-flight fusion. Influences are as likely to be from his time at Sydney’s world-acclaimed Marque Restaurant as his family’s home cooking. And the menu is a pick-and-mix of contemporary medleys. There's kingfish with white fungus and burnt garlic and miso cream at one turn, and then reworkings of staples such as sweet and sour pork at the next.
We are particularly big fans of Mr Liong's vegan banquet menu. The black fungi, aged black vinegar Sichuan pickled vegetables and Buddha’s delight – charred sweetcorn, garlic stems and smoked daikon sang choi bao – are poem-worthy.
Drinks-wise, the outlook is also good. Not many Chinese restaurants have a Coravin wine system (a très expensive tool to prevent oxidisation so restaurants can sell posh wines by the glass), but Mr Liong has made the investment. There’s a list with more than 100 vinos and a sommelier to help diners pair them with his dishes.
What to order: raw kingfish, ginger pickled kohlrabi with spring onion dressing
What to wear
China Diner, Sydney
Ocean trout sashimi, apple kimchi, aromatic soy and pickled ginger. Photograph by Mr Dominic Loneragan, courtesy of China Diner
Photograph by Mr Dominic Loneragan, courtesy of China Diner
So popular was China Diner’s debut in Bondi that in summer 2017 it opened a second place in Double Bay, the affluent harbourside suburb in the east of Sydney. “Light” and “fresh” are hallmarks of the menu. Executive chef Mr Jack James Steer drizzles barramundi with chilli, garlic and mustard greens and dabbles in fusion cookery with showstoppers such as crispy calamari with togarashi chilli salt. There’s the obligatory dumpling section, of course, where the standout is the Heavenly 8 green jade dumplings, a veggie number bulging with enough greenery to give you an endorphin hit. We suggest nabbing a booth if you want some privacy. There are teas for those who want an abstemious Chinese experience, and cocktails for those who don’t.
What to order: ocean trout sashimi, apple kimchi, aromatic soy and pickled ginger
What to wear
Little Fatty, Los Angeles
Photograph by Mr Wonho Lee, courtesy of Accomplice
XO Fatty Noodles at Little Fatty, LA. Photograph courtesy of Little Fatty. Photograph by Mr Wonho Lee, courtesy of Accomplice
Little Fatty’s chef-proprietor Mr David Kuo is a first-generation Angelino, who, after graduating with a degree in political science, ditched the office in favour of the kitchen. And thank goodness he did. His CV reads like a culinary Who’s Who. He’s trained under Mr Jean-Georges Vongerichten at fine diner Charlie Palmer, as well as with Australian celeb chef Wolfgang Puck. Yet Little Fatty, which was Mr Kuo's childhood nickname, is a place that rocks sunny, laidback vibes, and is considerably cheaper than those of his mentors.
We must, at this point, acknowledge that Taiwan and China are different countries, of course, though they share a similar culinary heritage, so consider this our cheat entry. And why not cheat when there are dishes such as biandang, deep-fried pork chop and popcorn chicken on the menu? Once sated, you can repair next door to Accomplice, the celebrated bar run by Ms Gabriella Mlynarczyk, where you can drink culinary-inspired cocktails with your food. We challenge you to name a better combo.
What to order: XO fatty noodles
What to wear
Bao Bei, Vancouver
Stir fried sticky rice cakes with shredded pork, preserved mustard greens, bamboo shoots, wood ear mushroom, and a fried egg. Photograph by Mr Hubert Kang, courtesy of Bao Bei
Photograph by Mr Chris Flett, courtesy of Bao Bei
Baobei means “precious” in Chinese, and Vancouverites certainly seem to hold this fusion restaurant close to their hearts. The moment you pass through the door and into its artfully distressed dining room, it becomes immediately obvious that this is not the type of Chinese joint most of us grew up with. Rather, it is something approaching a pan-national brasserie that serves food with Sichuan, Taiwan and Shanghainese accents, and does so by way of a freestyle sharing menu.
Order wisely and your table could be heaped with Sichuan cucumbers, dumplings bursting with chivey scallops, or shao bing, a toothsome cumin lamb sirloin and flatbread dish.
That said, Bao Bei’s owner, Ms Tannis Ling, also pays tribute to her parents’ heritage. There are piquant interpretations of her mum’s Taiwanese recipes, which you can eat beneath the photos of her parents that adorn the walls. Go in hungry, and leave with a whole new understanding of Chinese food.
What to order: the stir-fried sticky rice cakes with shredded pork, preserved mustard greens, bamboo shoots, wood ear mushroom and a fried egg
What to wear