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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chinese Herbal King Seafood Restaurant, Ultimo

EDIT: Chinese Herbal King Seafood Restaurant has closed

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 CLOSED
Shop 328, 310 Wattle Street, Ultimo Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9660 7588

Open 7 days, 8am to midnight
21 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 11/11/2008 09:50:00 pm


  • At 11/11/2008 11:20 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    it's probably evaporated milk in the fish head noodle soup, not coconut milk. at least, that's the way we serve the dish in singapore ;)

  • At 11/11/2008 11:57 pm, Blogger Karen | Citrus and Candy said…

    Yum....that Hainan chicken looks so succulent. The best part is the slippery skin. Oh and I love it when they debone the chicken. So considerate :)

  • At 11/12/2008 12:14 am, Blogger An said…

    Hmmm... Those chicken rice balls look very authentically Malaccan chicken rice ball style :D

    The chicken is meant to be very subtly flavoured.

    Perhaps the fish head noodle soup is better substituted with fish fillet noodle soup for more fish meat bits. (I picked and ate the succulent meat in the fish head, Asian style)

    Alas, I'm guessing maybe bring friends to try their seafood pots will be good. I recall seeing someone in the table next to me trying a hot pot with quite an assortment of fresh seafood bubbling away.

  • At 11/12/2008 7:11 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oooh, new place to try :) I haven't seen the rice served in balls before.

    Fantastic attention to detail on your part (for noticing the sarong kebaya/ stripy socks combo) - maybe not so much on her part? Or maybe a deliberate fashion statement!?

  • At 11/12/2008 10:47 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Looks like you made it first to Herbal King, thanks for review; I'm still trying to find time to go there, but will definitely try deep-fried prawns in shell with coconut butter sauce :)

  • At 11/12/2008 7:39 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    fish soup wasnt nice was it.. the only thing i did like was hainan chicken... i think temasek does a better job with its malaysian/singaporean dishes

  • At 11/12/2008 8:46 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I meant to go to that place, finding a "kaki" (a foodie companion who has similar taste) to go with can be challenging. Must try there since I am back from holiday :P

  • At 11/12/2008 10:11 pm, Blogger Y said…

    What a strangely named restaurant! Not too sure about the Airlines-esque uniforms for the waitstaff either.

  • At 11/12/2008 10:33 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi P - Ahhh thanks for the suggestion. Perhaps it was evaporated milk. It was very unexpected though :)

    Hi Karen - It's such a luxury to have deboned chicken, although there is some primeval satisfaction sucking all the meat off the bits of bone too.

    Hi ~an* - I had never seen rice balls served like that before. Great to hear it's very authentic.

    I suppose I meant to say the chicken didn't taste very much of chicken. And rest assured, we did attack the fish head - my favourite bit is the cheek! And yup, I'll give the eyes a go as well :)

    Hi hunnyb - It was hard not to notice the disparity in footwear. It seemed like such a shame when the outfit looked so elegant.

    Hi Joanna - Hope you enjoy your meal, and let me know what you thought of the prawns in coconut butter!

    Hi Kay - I agree, Temasek does pretty good Hainan chicken. We'll have to double-check to make sure :)

    Hi Billy - Hey I'm a kaki :) Ready when you are!

    Hi Y - Aren't Asian restaurant names always strange? I couldn't stop thinking of Singapore Airlines either, although someone told me that this uniform is quite common overseas in hotels and restaurants, and not just on airplanes?

  • At 11/13/2008 12:02 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hee hee yeah the uniforms remind me of restaurants in Asia. The chicken rice balls are interesting though hee hee but having them in golf ball sizes seem so little...

    The love the Hainan chicken and chicken rice from Temasek. How do you think they compare? Their rice is very rich and flavoursome ^^!

  • At 11/13/2008 9:28 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The chicken looks really good. I can't believe the mark up on the water spinanch. AiYah!

  • At 11/13/2008 11:31 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    After reading your review I find myself not wanting to visit LOL :) The prices aren't low, are they??

  • At 11/13/2008 10:55 pm, Blogger Implosion said…

    I think this is the same Herbal King that used to be on Dixon Street, near an RSL? It's run by some guy who purports to be a kung-fu si-fu.... look it up- he's hilarious!

  • At 11/13/2008 11:41 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi FFichiban - Hmmm maybe the rice balls were a little larger than golf ball size. I obviously don't play golf regularly! They were probably about 6-7cm in diameter. My bad, I know!

    And I think Temasek wins for the Hainan, but I'm about to undertake further research so I'll let you know!

    Hi Veruca Salt - The chicken was very soft and juicy. And yes, vegetables always seem to have a big mark-up don't they? These were very fresh though.

    Hi aptronym - lol. You never know until you try! It's a bit of a flash restaurant and the diners were (reassuringly) 90% Asian so I'm not sure?

    Hi implosion - I'm not sure. I don't think I remember that herbal store? An interesting tidbit, if it's true!

  • At 11/14/2008 4:35 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    mmmm....must visit...BIL will be sold on the hainan chicken

  • At 11/14/2008 9:03 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    this place is rubbish, overpriced for what it is.

    my fav hainan chicken rice is at the woolies asian food court in the CBD. there's this msian stall. do try it out if you ever have a chance.

    had the bak kut teh, some prawn and curry chicken which tasted like some lemon grass gooey cocounut milk slop.

  • At 11/16/2008 12:32 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I went there last week.

    The Hainan chicken, though succulent was indeed lacking in flavour, and while the water spinach was flavoursome, it was smothered in oil.

    Also, on my visit, the restaurant seemed to smell awful - not a reassuring sign when I am entrusting them with food preparation. I spotted some non-Asians being served vast platters of honey chicken. And here I was thinking at least metropolitan Sydney was over the dark ages of passing off fried protein smothered in sweet syrupy goo as Asian food! Granted, the kids probably wouldn't have enjoyed the bak kut teh, but still... live a little!

    And the prices were very steep for a place with such appalling decor and service. And they charged me for tea that I didn't order! This is not yum cha, people.

  • At 11/17/2008 9:52 am, Blogger Pat said…

    I thought the bak kut teh was a bit blah - murky, and, as you say, not much punch (and no pepper or salt!), but the chilli crab was good, even if the roti were lacklustre.

    The chicken rice was good, too - you don't see the rice rolled into balls like that in Sydney much. (Whoever said the place under Woolies is their favourite is onto something - Sayong Curry and Laksa, it's called; I like their nasi lemak.)

    On our visit the hit for us was definitely the fish head curry - meaty (bar cod, I think) and hugely flavoursome, but still nicely balanced.

    It's been a while, though, since I've been subjected to a waiter in an Asian restaurant so forcefully try to stop me from ordering their specialties (the crab, chicken, bak kut teh and fish head curry) and try to steer me instead to the sweet and sour pork, honey chicken and other gweilo treats. WTF?

  • At 11/17/2008 9:12 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Divegurl - Oh yes a Hainan chicken study of Sydney might just be in order :) Homemade is best, of course!

    Hi Lyn - I do like that food court but I haven't tried the Hainan chicken yet. Thanks for the reminder!

    Hi Yvonne - My mum has a real issue with being charged for Chinese tea, but for tea you didn't even drink!

    Hi Pat - lol. Argh, that does sound weird. Surely any attempts to order 'real food' should be applauded? Unless the mark-up is higher on gweilo dishes or they had a fridge full of honey chicken they were trying to get rid of?

    I'll have to get to the Woollies foodcourt soon. I'm getting hungry!

  • At 12/02/2008 10:48 am, Blogger Luscious Temptations said…

    I just stumbled upon your site and I really like all your lovely photos. The Hainanese chicken looks deliciously succulent. Yum!
    However, I'm pretty sure traditionally there's no use of milk - coconut, evaporated or otherwise to make fish head soup white. When my grandmother makes this at home, she deep fries the fish head and when water is added, it miraculously turns white. Needless to say I used to be fascinated :)

  • At 12/06/2008 3:33 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Luscious Temptations - Wow, that sounds bizarre. It did taste milky but maybe it was psychological because of its appearance. Thanks for the info.


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