I've been surrounded by so many waitstaff.
We head to Chinese Herbal King Seafood Restaurant on a lazy Sunday for lunch, keen to sample this new shiny addition to Wattle Street and to discover what lies behind the giant neon signage.
The answer, it appears, is an army of waitstaff. Whilst I count about 18 people in the restaurant during our lunch, there are nine eager waitstaff milling within eyesight, there are three clustered at the welcome desk on the street, a couple hovering in the alcove near the kitchen and the rest seem to wander aimlessly throughout the dining room. Perhaps they've over-anticipated dining numbers today.
The floorstaff--all female--are dressed in traditional sarong kebaya, a uniform synonymous with Singapore Airlines flight attendants, although the elegance of their outfits is notably compromised by an assortment of footwear, especially the sneakers and stripey sock combination.
Hainan chicken (boneless half) $16.80
It takes us some time to decide on our order. The house specialties include Hainan chicken, bak kut teh and fish head soup. We order all three, along with a plate of belacan water spinach.
The Hainan chicken is served boneless, plump morsels of juicy chicken sheathed with slippery smooth chicken skin. There's not a lot of flavour to the chicken itself, but a compartmentalised dish of thick sweet soy, ginger and shallot oil and a bright orange chilli sauce offer a multitude of dunking possibilities.
Hainan chicken condiments: kecap manis, ginger with shallots and chilli sauce
Chicken rice $4.50
Chicken rice is served as three compact spheres the size of golf balls. Cooked with chicken stock, they're a rich but essential companion to Hainan chicken.
Fish head noodle soup $18.80
Fish head noodle soup is a bit of a disappointment, perhaps because I hadn't anticipated coconut milk in the soup. Thick and opaque strands of rice spaghetti huddle beneath a whole fatty fish head, deep-fried till golden. Coriander, fried shallots and rings of green onion provide contrast, but the thin creaminess of the soup doesn't really win me over, even though I do like the buttery but elusive scraps of white fish.
Belacan fried vegetables with spicy sauce $16.80
Belacan fried vegetables could be a little more fiery, but the water spinach is crisp, tender and a bright and vivid green. I'm surprised by the inclusion of fresh baby prawns, although in hindsight dried shrimp would provide more pungent and better flavour.
Bak kut teh Chinese herbal soup with spare ribs $16.80
Bak kut teh has long been a favourite of mine. Roughly translated as "meat bone tea", it's a herbal concoction made from pork bones, star anise, garlic, Chinese angelica, cinnamon and cloves. This version is mild and relatively sweet. I'd been expecting and hoping for a more potent herbal kick. The spare ribs are tender though, and there's a jumble of tasty treasures hiding in our clay pot, fluffy sponges of deep-fried tofu and gnarled ribbons of dried bean curd.
I can't help but notice the nearby and numerous orders of deep-fried prawns in shell with coconut butter sauce ($33.80). We'd resisted them when we'd ordered but now my greedy stomach is full of regret. It's also full of food but hey, that's always beside the point.
Chinese Herbal King Seafood Restaurant
Shop 328, 310 Wattle Street, Ultimo Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9660 7588
Open 7 days, 8am to midnight
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Malaysian--Malay Chinese (26 Apr 07) and (3 Apr 07)
Malaysian--Mamak (Nov07) and (Oct07)
Ultimo--Apprentice, The (May 06) and (Mar 06)
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11/11/2008 09:50:00 pm