Chinese gone modern

Chef May Wong
Chef May Wong

There’s a danger with Chinese food for a lot of it to taste the same, the original ingredient swamped either in batter or a gloopy sugar syrup.

So it was with this at the back of my mind that I went with friends to review Private Dining, the new Chinese restaurant in Yarrara Road, Pennant Hills. There just six months, it’s a low key affair with plenty of tables and modest decor of white walls, cane chairs and chandeliers.

Here, it’s all about food and family, and the night we went was filled with local Chinese families having a riotous evening out, grandparents seated side by side with their little grandkids, all harmoniously tucking in to steaming bowls of something aromatic and warming.

Hong Kong chef May Wong brings to the menu her considerable 20 years’ experience in the Sydney restaurant scene. Owner Karl Chan explains that Chinese cuisine from Hong Kong differs from mainland cuisine in that it is lighter and more subtle. Seafood is purchased fresh daily from Flemington markets depending on what’s available that day, and the menu is MSG-free.

Seated by our ebullient host Karl, we barely had to pick up a menu and were asked to trust our hosts and the chef to bring out the best of their cuisine. First up was a Prawn Toast, done in a way I had never tried with sesame seeds and a chilli glaze – succulent and plump and delicious, followed by salt and pepper squid, which though spicey was not crispy, then deep fried oysters. As an oyster junkie, these were crunchy and creamy at the same time, and I devoured most before drawing breath to see who else may have wanted one.

The absolute knockout starter was the Typhoon Crab, named after the eponymous wild weather that Hong Kong gets – a peppery whole crab with garlic, black bean, chilli and shallot coating, which bought out the carnivore in everyone around the table with grubby mouths and filthy fingers as we gnawed our way through the peppery flesh and sucked the last morsel out of the legs.

The main course was a process of spectacular dishes starting with the crunchy, sticky Fried Pork with peppers which was sublime and deserved full marks, fried ribs with a honey sauce which came a close equal second in texture and looks with the Mongolian Lamb – a dark, sticky dish of succulent lamb with just a hint of chilli, in a reduced glaze. All three were delicious, memorable and authentic – and just what you want in Chinese food.

A dish worth travelling to Pennant Hills alone for was the Shang Dong Chicken named after the province it emanated from – chicken pieces with a garlic, chilli and red vinegar sauce which was tart and delicious, holding its own against everything else.

Who knew that for the Chinese, the prawn represents a smile and so they eat prawns, particularly the King Prawns with Soya Sauce, at the end of the year to show their happiness and gratitude. So naturally we had to sample some of these and they definitely induced smiles around the table.

One of my fellow dining companions admitted she hadn’t eaten Chinese food for 25 years, adding that she’d definitely picked the right place to break the drought as the cuisine here didn’t disappoint. Dishes are presented well with authenticity and the flavours all pack a significant punch.

“Back then,” she observed, “there was no chilli and very little garlic and a lot of Chinese food relied on sugar and MSG to pack a punch. This is Chinese food gone modern.”

The menu is vast, the service friendly and efficient with plenty of smiles and food brought out at regular intervals till we were more than replete. Though we declined the offer of dessert, we were offered the deep fried ice cream to try. While surreal and interesting, it’s probably an acquired taste.

Private Dining has 50 covers downstairs and seating for another 70 upstairs, as well as a huge wall-mounted karaoke machine (inherited from the previous owners when it was an Indian restaurant), making it a strong contender for big functions like parties, wedding and work functions.

If you want some authentic tastes from Hong Kong, Private Dining offers giant flavours from this little island full of mystery and flavour.

Where: 114 Yarrara Rd, Pennant Hills
Tel: 9484 4662
Open: Lunch: Wednesday to Friday 11.30 to 1.30
Dinner: Monday, Wednesday to Sunday 5pm to 9.30pm

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