The Boy and I really enjoyed our first visit to Darlinghurst's Mahjong Room so I was delighted when I was invited to try their newly launched "Open Table Open Rice" lunch menu.
We're told that "Open Rice" means to start a meal in Cantonese and "Open Table" translates as opening up the table for a game of mahjong. Not surprisingly VegeTARAian are here just for the "Open Rice" part of proceedings - such is the want of a food bloggers life.
The "Open Rice" menu is a tasty hybrid of Chinese yum cha and hawker-style street food. The Yum Cha experience at Mahjong Room is a much more relaxed affair than your traditional yum cha whirlwind. There are no trolly dollies vying for your attention - you simple tick what you'd like to order on the paper menu and voila, yum cha is served! I've been known to chase the trolly dollies around a restaurant looking for what I want - so I really like the idea of ordering off a menu (it makes me look less crazy for starters).
The restaurant layout is broken into various sections- a light-filled front area, a large upstairs room and a cosy room out the back. I'm really happy that we get to sit in the covered "back-alley" section as it really makes me feel like I've left Sydney and am eating "street style" in a little Shanghai laneway somewhere. A gal can dream, can't she?
We started our lunch with a few cocktails (and finished lunch with a few more...opps)! The Lychee Martini was a BIG hit with both Tara and I. I loved the sweet, floral fruitiness of the lychee and the drink felt refreshing (and rather alcoholic too...hic)! The Spiced Sangria would be a perfect tipple for the cooler weather with the addition of warming spices cinnamon and star anise.
The food at Mahjong just "feels" healthy. The flavours are light and vibrant, and so many of the dishes are full of crunchy, fresh veggies. It's a clean, modern take on Chinese food that really appeals to me.
Often shallot pancakes can err on the side of oilness and they aren't that great to eat. When done right (as they are here) a pan-fried Shallot Pancake is a great, but simple pleasure. The thin, crisp and flaky pastry is quite plain in itself but the little slithers of shallot studded throughout the pancake add a great savoury, almost peppery flavour to the pancake. Our bowl of egggplant + tofu is a perfect example of the simple yet flavour packed dishes served up at The Mahong Room. The eggplant is thinly sliced it feels like it's been steamed rather than fried which is pretty unusual to me as I find eggplant so tricky to cook so that it's tender. The eggplant is topped with slithers of slippery, cool tofu and strings of chewy enoki mushrooms and sits in a puddle of soy, ginger and shallots. So flavoursome. So simple. So healthy.
The roasted pork belly bun is The Mahjong Room's signature yum cha dish and it's fabulous. A fat slice of roast pork, resplendent with the most crackly of salty crackling sits snuggled into a soft, pillowy steamed bun. The pork is topped with a dollop of hoisin sauce and shredded shallots. It reminds me a bit of a pimped up Peking duck pancake.
The Rice Roll with Vegetables is another example of simple, fresh ingredients combining to make a stellar dish. The fresh rice paper is wrapped around crunchy batons of carrot and what I think just might be taro judging by the colour and texture of the "mystery white vegetable within". The Vegetable San Choi Bao was great - again fresh, light and wholesome. A medley of lightly cooked diced vegetables sat within a crisp iceberg lettuce "cup" and was topped with a pile of crunchy noodles. I've had this dish before and it was good as I remembered.
The mushroom and Asian greens dumpling were so plump that they reminded me of a fat belly (mine perhaps)? The dumpling skin was perfectly cooked, not gluey at all, and the veggies within were a perfect textural combination of soft, earthy tasting mushrooms, vibrant greens and crunchy water chestnuts. We finish the savoury elements of our yum cha with a little deep fried goodness - vegetarian spring roll. The skin of the spring roll is thicker than I'm used to seeing and it looks more like a brandy snap than a savoury spring roll. I love how crisp the skin is and the vegetable filling is again, fresh and light. Nothing is overcooked, oily or soggy.
Once upon a time I used to HATE egg custard tarts but now I cannot imagine ending yum cha without at least one, possibly two, of these flaky little pastries. These little gems were straight from the oven, piping hot and the egg custard with thick and wobbly with just a hint of vanilla.
I'm really keen to come back to Mahjong Room for one of their "Play Lunches" where they teach you how to play Mahjong and feed you delicious yum cha. Sounds like a great bit of Saturday fun to me. Who's keen?
The Mahjong Room is at 312 Crown Street, Darlinghurst. Phone them on 9361 3985.