Before Mr Wong had even opened, the Merivale juggernaut was already in full operation. News stories, reviews and general hype on social media meant the opening of the 240-seat Cantonese-style restaurant was going to be one of the most anticipated this year.
I certainly jumped on the bandwagon.
Merivale owns restaurants like est, Bistrode CBD, Felix, Ms G’s, The Fish Shop and Ash St. Cellar, with its influence setting the trend for Sydney’s food scene. Love him or despise him, CEO Justin Hemmes has fine taste when it comes to food. The calibre of Mr Wong’s chefs – Dan Hong (from Lotus, Ms G’s, El Loco), Jowett Yu (Ms G’s) and Eric Koh (from Michelin-starred Hakkasan) – shows this.
Make your way down the dodgy-looking alleyway from George St via Hunter St and you’ll see Mr Wong.
We were running late for our 1pm booking so I dropped Shannon off beforehand then found some parking nearby. Seeing as it was the restaurant’s second day open, I thought it would be packed. Surprisingly, the restaurant is busy, but not flat-out.
Our group was seated near the long dumpling station, where an army of chefs worked to create steamed goodness. What I noticed about Mr Wong was everyone was done on a grand scale: furnishings, decorations, hype and design. Merivale went all-out for this opening, with a rumoured $4 million price tag in total for the restaurant.
We had to wait about 15 minutes to receive the menu but I was too excited to be bothered. Flipping through it, there was a dim sum menu (lunch only), roast meats, live seafood, meat, tofu and vegetables, rice and noodles and dessert. There’s an even larger wine list, which would surely impress those fancying a tipple with their food.
Executive chef Dan Hong was busy manning the dumplings coming out of the kitchen, and head chef Jowett Yu was scanning the diners, almost looking to see if they were enjoying themselves.
First up, the steam BBQ pork buns ($9.80) arrived and there were looks of bewilderment around the table; not because of how impressed we were, but because of how small the portions were.
Once we tasted the buns, all was forgiven. Soft, smooth buns filled with tender BBQ pork was so satisfying, but just not enough.
Next, we had the xiao long bao ($9), which are little dumplings filled with pork and some broth which is meant to burst into your mouth, exploding with flavour. They were excellent and very fresh.
What I noticed at Mr Wong was the high quality of its dim sum menu; everything came out hot and steamed just right. The pork and prawn shumai ($12), which is one of my favourite yum cha dishes, was very good and included the fish roe on top.
I’ve never been a huge fan of prawn toast, but the version at Mr Wong included foie gras ($12), so I just had to try it. It wasn’t too oily and the foie gras was both subtle and quite effective in combination with the prawn. A winner.
To finish, we tried steam rice roll with barbecue pork ($10.80) and Mr Wong’s special fried rice with pork and prawn ($24). The steam roll was fantastic and the fried rice was almost as good as my mum’s.
The dessert was something that surprised me at Mr Wong. I don’t really have a sweet tooth but I’m talking about the strawberries, meringue, macadamia praline, cream cheese ice cream and Thai basil ($14). With this dish, you get a mixture of soft, solid, crunchy and kick. The strawberries are fresh and the meringue not too hard; the ice cream is not too sweet and when you combine it with the aromatic Thai basil, I would say come to Mr Wong just to try the dessert. It really is a beautifully-presented dessert.
The others had Mr Wong’s deep fried ice cream served with butter scotch sauce ($14) which was met with rave reviews.
The amount of hype behind this Cantonese-inspired restaurant certainly set a high standard but the offering at Mr Wong certainly surpassed it. Service was touch-and-go, but as with all new restaurants, I’m sure this will be ironed out. While Chinatown eateries have been around for years and provide a sense of authenticity, Mr Wong takes the concept of a Cantonese restaurant and turns it on its head. If you want to impress someone, take them there.