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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.