It is universally acknowledged that wherever one goes, there is bound to be a Chinese restaurant, be it a chop suey takeaway or a seafood diner. Chinese restaurants outside of Hong Kong, Taiwan and China are undergoing a revolutionary movement to modernize. They make the best of local ingredients while preserving the traditional cooking methods such as steaming, deep frying and braising. Chan’s Garden Restaurant in suburban Burwood, less than half an hour from Sydney, Australia does just that.
On entering the restaurant, I was not surprised to be in a rather non-descriptive dining hall. Seasonal specialties were posted on the wall. Two big aquaria spoke for the freshness of the day’s catch. The ambiance is typical of Chinese restaurants in small towns, just plain.
I was invited for a “light Chinese meal’, which in fact was an oxymoron. First to appear was the “wet fried” (i.e., with gravy) flat noodles with beef and scrambled egg–soft noodles, tender beef and a gravy that was not thick. The chef had good control.
This was followed by fried rice with diced salted fish and chicken, and a fried vermicelli with shredded pork. The rice is not sticky and taste was well-balanced. The fried vermicelli remained crunchy even after the sauce with shredded pork, mushroom and bean sprouts was poured over it.
We ordered black bean chicken and stir fry gai lan with ginger and wine. The chicken tasted a bit over powering to me, probably I was tasting it with the more subtle flavors of the vegetables.
I could not wait for the eel to arrive. It was an over 1 kilogram live eel that we picked at the beginning of the meal and it was prepared two ways–steaming and deep frying with garlic salt. These dishes were the highlights of the meal.
The special dessert was a rare offering of black jelly, which would normally be found in Chinese herbal stores. It is made from boiling the shell of turtles to extract the gelatin parts and then the liquid is chilled like jello. It is served with a clear syrup and is believed to be good for one’s complexion. Like the tropical fruit durian, you either like black jelly or not, because it has a medicinal after taste.
It was a pleasant meal. Overall, the atmosphere was casual, though not lackadaisical. I think that the owner and staff were aware that their regular customers would come back regardless, because they knew the food was good. The food was indeed delicious, and never felt heavy to the palate given the amount we had eaten. However, in this relaxed atmosphere, the presentation was sometimes sloppy. Besides, they did not seem to pay much attention to the order of the food to arrive, and yet I could not complain, because light Chinese meals were supposed to have all the dishes on the table at once, so that everybody could dig in together. Unless you are inviting guests and expecting excellent service, this restaurant is still worth going to for a hearty family meal.
Chan’s Garden Restaurant, 78-82 Burwood Road,m Burwood, NSW 2134, Australia.