Australia has a long tradition of Asian food, with the Chinese restaurant a mainstay in every suburb and country town beyond living memory. In the late ‘70s, Thai and Vietnamese entered the mix and, over time, more Japanese and Korean restaurants followed. Initially they were clusters of ‘cheap & cheerful’ ethnic restaurants in specific suburbs that are still fascinating microcosms of those cultures today, such as Vietnamese in Cabramatta, Korean in Campsie and the Thai-town section of Haymarket. With the 21st century came a new generation of chefs and restaurateurs taking these classic cuisines as inspiration, adding their own twists and some smart décor and wine lists, to create the Mod Asian restaurant category. Some have been around for decades, others are relatively new, here are five of my favourites.
Sergeant Lok The Rocks
I love a good repurposing of an historic building, like Sergeant Lok in The Rocks’ 140-year-old sandstone police station – I especially love the PDRs in the old holding cells with their original heavy metal doors. Darren Templeman’s menu showcases excellent produce with Asian flavours and a spin, including kung pao cauliflower with labneh; prawn & pork wontons in ham bone consommé; and deliciously tender rock lobster with shellfish butter sauce, tomato and charred lime.
Sáng by Mabasa, Surry Hills
Authentic Korean flavours get a modern twist at this cool narrow Surry Hills diner with great wine by the glass. Cho muchim packs a visual, textural and flavour punch with cuttlefish in an intense orange chilli sauce topped with black rice crackers; crisp mung beans and perilla take wagyu tartare to the next level; and thin slices of grilled dry-aged beef work a treat with a selection of condiments including a killer house kimchi. Go the excellent-value $80 Feed Me menu and save yourself the dilemma of deciding.
Fu Manchu Darlinghurst
Annie Lee has been serving great dumplings since opening her Victoria St hole-in-the-wall in 1994 (though these days she’s in larger digs next door to where it all began). Dumplings, noodles, san choy bao and curries still rock on the Chinese/Malaysian menu, the brief wine list is a winner and the $40 set menu feels like a price throwback to the 1990s!
Red Lantern Darlinghurst
Mark Jensen and partners Luke and Pauline Nguyen have been winning fans for their deliciously clean Vietnamese flavours for over 20 years. These days you can wander in for a street food snack and cocktail in the front bar, dine with friends in cosy Indochine booths, or grab a takeaway from the Crown Lane Drive Thru. Still the best ever salt & pepper squid and Mark gives a great haircut too!
Ms.G’s Potts Point
It’s loud, chaotic and delicious! Dan Hong’s menu spans the flavours of China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea and more, combining them in ways you’ve never seen before – I’m still thinking about the ‘strange flavoured burrata’ with sesame, chilli and peanuts. Check out the packaged cocktails in the upstairs bar including that yuzu slushie.
Updated 24 March 2023