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China Doll, Woolloomooloo

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When your work­place holds a Christmas din­ner, you don’t usu­ally expect a eight course meal that lasts four hours. At least, not unless the repu­ta­tion of your work­place is ‘built upon the food it serves at con­fer­ences’, which mine is appar­ently, even though we don’t work even remotely in the food industry

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The ‘lux­ury ban­quet’ was at China Doll, which is loc­ated on Woolloomooloo Wharf and has expans­ive views of the city sky­line. It is, accord­ing to the inter­net, the kind of res­taur­ant at which Russel Crowe likes to dine.

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Despite its name, China Doll doesn’t just serve Chinese food — it’s does a classi­er sort of fusion than is nor­mal. It serves dishes from dif­fer­ent parts of Asia, with each dish remain­ing authen­t­ic or ‘true’ to its ori­gins.

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First course was sashimi of black king­fish and ocean trout with blackened chilli dress­ing (above). The sashimi was fresh and the bed of apples that the sashimi res­ted on was an inter­est­ing and tasty touch.

Second course was shu mai with chilli oil, and prawn and green bean dump­ling with Chinese red vin­eg­ar. Both were pretty stand­ard, although the chilli oil and the red vin­eg­ar were so strong that it burned your mouth.

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Third course was duck pan­cakes. The duck was rather floury, which is a strange way to describe meat, but it didn’t have the same meaty tex­ture that I expect from roast duck.

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Fourth course was wok fried Alaskan king crab with black pep­per, black ses­ame and lime (above). Who knew it took that much effort to get the measly bits of meat out of crab claws/​legs? This was the first time I’d had crab in some­thing like 10 years, so it was an over­due remind­er of what crab tastes like. I couldn’t really taste the crab meat as much as I could taste the sauce, but that was fine ’cause the sauce was tasty.

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Fifth course was whole steamed mar­ket fish (above), which I assume means pretty much whatever fish they can get from the fish mar­ket that day. An inter­est­ing bit of Chinese tra­di­tion arose in con­ver­sa­tion about this dish. According to this con­ver­sa­tion, in Chinese cul­ture, a steamed fish rep­res­ents a boat. Therefore, when eat­ing whole fish in Chinese cul­ture, one must nev­er flip the fish over because it would mean that a boat would cap­size and sink. Instead, you eat the meat on one side of the fish, use a knife to sever the bone at the head and tail, and lift the bone away to get to the meat on the oth­er side of the fish.

By the sixth course, we were head­ing into the third hour and it’d got­ten so dark out­side and tiny light boxes at the ends of the table meant we (or the cam­era on my phone!) could barely see the food.

Sixth course was organ­ic wok fried beef fil­let with cap­sic­um chilli and cumin. I’m not much of a fan of cap­sic­um but the beef was incred­ibly juicy and melt-in-your mouth tender.

Seventh course was mas­ter­stock pork belly with chilli car­a­mel and nam pla phrik. This is def­in­itely my favour­ite of all the dishes that night. I love pork belly gen­er­ally, and this did not dis­ap­point — it was beau­ti­fully crispy on the out­side and tender on the inside. I’m used to roast pork belly, but the sauce they used here was sweet and tangy, and went well with it.

Steamed broc­colini with oyster sauce and jas­mine rice accom­pan­ied the sev­enth and eighth courses.

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And then there is dessert. By now, we were well into the fourth hour and hold­ing our bel­lies. But dessert goes into a sep­ar­ate stom­ach, right? Dessert was black sticky rice; chai, Vietnamese chocol­ate and mango gelato; and sago pud­ding.

The black sticky rice was presen­ted with slices of peach and rice bubbles. It was warm, though, and quite an unpleas­ant way to end off a din­ner seated out­side in the sticky, humid heat.

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The chai gelato tasted dis­tinctly like cin­na­mon (urgh), and the mango gelato tasted more sharp and harsh than I like gelato to taste. The Vietnamese chocol­ate gelato, how­ever, was quite nice — some­thing like a mix between chocol­ate and cof­fee, but not wholly like a mocha. It was the high­light of the desserts.

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The sago pud­ding con­sisted of sago, coconut milk, and pas­sion­fruit. This was cold unlike the black stick rice, and I could eat this eas­ily, and prob­ably more so if there were more pas­sion­fruit (my great weak­ness).

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This din­ner was quite epic for my exper­i­ence with din­ners — not neces­sar­ily some­thing I’d be keen to repeat any time soon, but def­in­itely an exper­i­ence.

China Doll is loc­ated at Shop 4/​6 Cowper Wharf Roadway, Woolloomooloo NSW 2011.