Masters of intrigue.
Fascination built on understated confidence leaves you with so many questions… and wanting more. Noodlies, Sydney food blog checks out a new “Chinese influenced” restaurant.
It’s easy to miss Master on busy Crown street. A simple black on white sign is about all that announces this intriguing new modern diner. The simple heavy bold font doesn’t give much away. For a Chinese influenced restaurant the decor is neither kitsch Chinoise or brash and bold red and gold.
The place begs you to ask questions.
Inside it’s simple. Repetition of squares in the walls, tables and windows. The only hint of Asian inspiration comes from a piece of art on the way to the second floor and simple white rice bowls and spoons with wooden chopsticks.
I reckon the exceptionally warm and knowledgeable staff will get sick of punters asking questions.
“What possess you to burn cabbage?” comes to mind when I see burnt cabbage, fish sauce butter on the menu. I’m much more polite when I pose the question but apparently the cabbage, a common Chinese vegetable, is roasted until the outer is charred and black, then roasted for an hour to cook the inside, sealing moisture. To help you swallow the bitter outer and add flavour to the inner, it’s doused with a fish sauce butter. Intriguing!
Scallop silk, XO sauce is slinky sexy stuff. It unfolds easily and melts with the mild chilli sauce. Each morsel disappears easily in one mouthful.
Cold cut chicken, white soy, Sichuan spices will invite comparison with that classic, hai nam chicken – pieces of fillet chicken flesh in soy will do that. My palate gets the similarity, fleshy, simple chicken flavour is the hero, with Sichuan spices taking a back seat.
Chicken skewers, cashew, kaffir lime is another deja vu in looks and flavour. Unlike hai nam chook, traditional satay chicken is meant to be overwhelmed by satay sauce. There’s no sauce here, but the juicy chicken comes packed with plenty of cashew flavours.
What could be more Chinese then whole fish with black bean? Mercifully, this whole snapper, pickled green chilli, black bean dish doesn’t get over powered by black bean or chilli. Thank god, as it allows, in true Canto style, the incredibly fresh white snapper flesh to shine. One of my favourite dishes of the evening.
Lots of questions cross my mind about the strange flavour pork neck. Why serve it so thinly? What is that delicious sauce? When the mind slows down, I get that this is a nod to the ubiquitous Chinese cold meats. Here, the mild Sichuan oil really helps the pork to hum.
I still don’t know if the cumin lamb, grilled lettuce is my favourite dish of the night or not. It’s so hard to tell… bite past the crust and you’re rewarded with soft almost oozing flesh and lamb fat (lots of fat). It sends you on a flavour high for a few minutes, which can be assuaged with crispy grilled fresh lettuce which is so flavoursome thanks to a wicked (soy based?) sauce. It’s a rich dish which is easy to love but for me, clashes a little with the subtlety of the other dishes we ordered tonight.
Dessert provides the greatest opportunity of a mind f*ck. Congee, pear, coriander are ingredients which you just wouldn’t think works together. Yet they do. The congee is closer to a rice pudding and is too more-ish with cubes of pear and drizzles of coriander sauce.
Probably the cheekiest dish on the menu, and one which will elicit the most questions, is the bizarrely named, a roast potato. Yes, it’s a humorous take on Chinese fried ice cream, though it stirred vigorous debate at our table.
Where is the potato? Is it in the fried batter? Or is it in the ice cream inside? Thanks to instagram, Master enlightened us all:
Hi @thangngo the potato is in the ice cream, we infuse milk and cream with potato skins that have been roasted in butter.
Master is brought to you by Jarred Roker and John Javier, with pedigree that spans some of Sydney’s finest restaurants including Quay, Noma and Momofuku Seiobo. Perhaps not fine dining prices, it’s still high mid-range, our meal average $70 per head.
Master oozes confidence reflected in the understated decor and intriguing menu. All of which makes this new restaurant so fascinating. Thanks Penny for introducing me to Master.
Confucius says Master is intelligent dining.
368 Crown St, Surry Hills, NSW
(02) 8065 0838