The orange red walls of Chairman Mao Chinese Restaurant are an ideal backdrop for the propaganda posters that adorn its walls. The hue might also give an indication of the heat your tongue is about to endure - this is a restaurant that specialises in Hunanese cuisine, its spicy offerings favoured by Chairman Mao.
Celery salad (complimentary)
Most of us love chilli; Suze, not so much. She obligingly comes along anyway, reassured by our comments that surely a few dishes won't be laden with heat.
The restaurant is reasonably busy on Wednesday night, and we take our seats at a table only two over from where Pauline Nguyen and Mark Jensen, of Red Lantern, are sitting with family and friends.
A complimentary celery salad is placed at our table. The crisp celery has been dressed liberally with vinegar and chilli, a perfect appetiser that awakens our tastebuds for our dinner ahead.
Hunan assorted braise $15.80
Braised sliced pig ear with spicy chilli oil
We're disappointed to discover that the signature dish, Chairman Mao's favourite braised pork ($16.80), is sold out of the evening, and console ourselves with a platter of Hunan assorted braise instead.
Five spices braised beef
We're presented with an impressive platter divided up into four offerings. Braised sliced pigs ears are a lovely combination of soft gelatin and a cartilage crunch. Five spices braised beef consists of tender slices of aromatic beef sprinkled with sesame seeds and dried chilli flakes.
Five spice tofu
Thin planks of five spice tofu have a satisfying firm texture, tight with protein.
Braised pig trotters
Braised pig trotters are a soft melding mouthful, cooled by the ribbons of gelatinous joy. The variations in textures mean we happily revisit this dish throughout the meal, revelling in a little crunchy pigs ear there, a meaty morsel of tofu there.
Preserved plum drink (prune drink)
The boys down Tsingtao beers, but I'm more interested in the preserved plum drink on the menu. I'm expecting something sweet and salty, and then realise when the bottle is brought out that it's merely a prune drink I've had before. The prune drink is not thick and pulpy but thin and sweet, like a fruity flat cola - in a good way.
Chopped green onion pancake $3.20 each (two pictured)
Green onion pancakes are crisp, flaky and light, impressively devoid of any oily residue. In a night filled with chilli, this is the only dish Suze manages to eat with her plain boiled rice. It makes me wonder what the little kids we spot in the restaurant are eating for dinner.
Stir-fried pork intestine with hot chillis $19.80
Stir-fried pork intestines have quite a strong aroma that follows through on the palate. This isn't my favourite dish of the evening - the spongy tubes a little chewy with a pungency that cannot be disguised, even with the generous addition of oil and chilli.
Stir fried cucumber with perilla spice and red chilli $12.80
We look to the stir fried cucumber for some relief, only to find this dish is probably the spiciest of them all. I quite enjoy the contrast of the soft cucumber with the heat of chilli and Szechuan pepper, and whilst it doesn't soothe the tongue, it does offer a welcome element of vegetables to our meat-heavy dishes.
Stir-fried house-made smoked pork with five spice bean curd $18.80
The most popular dish we try that evening is the stir-fried house-made smoked pork with five spice bean curd. The pork is incredibly aromatic, slices of pork belly that smell and taste of woodfire smoke, resplendent with thick layers of fat. Five spice bean curd add firmness to the dish, mixed with wilted strips of sweet Chinese cabbage.
We found the dishes do have an element of oiliness to them, but it's a small price to pay for the way it carries the flavours of chilli so well. I relish the way my tongue increasingly tingles throughout the meal, the front of the tongue numbed by the Szechuan pepper.
It's like there's a party in my mouth, and the conga line is just about to begin.
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Chairman Mao Chinese Restaurant
189 Anzac Pde, Kensington, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9697 9189
Monday, Wednesday and Thursday 5pm-10pm
Friday, Saturday and Sunday 5pm-11pm
Closed on Tuesdays
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12/07/2009 02:30:00 a.m.