China Doll, Woolloomoolloo

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Being of Chinese heritage, we don't go out to eat at Chinese restaurants as often as one might think. I'm a big fan of the cheap, no-frills Chinese restaurant for a good noodle feed or family yum cha, however we seldom dine at restaurants on the higher end of the price spectrum. But the iconic China Doll is no ordinary Chinese restaurant, so when time came to choose at place at which to celebrate my birthday recently, I knew that that was where I wanted to go.

Situated on the finger wharves with tranquil harbour views, the restaurant is spread over two levels with an extensive amount of alfresco seating - perfect for relishing in the warmer weather.

Contrary to what the name of the restaurant suggests, the food at China Doll is not just a reflection of the traditional flavours and cooking techniques of China, but also those of east and south east Asia. There are notable influences from the cuisines of Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Smells Like Teen Spirit Cocktail (left, $19), Ginger Honey Soda (middle) and  Lemongrass Rosewater Iced Tea (right, $7 each)
It was difficult to choose from the alluring list of tropical cocktails and mocktails on the extensive drinks menu, because they all sounded so good. The 'smells like teen spirit' cocktail is a fruity mix of Cuban rum, apertif wine, pineapple, ginger and mint - a vibrant drink with an ideal level of sweetness. The rosewater iced tea is reminiscent of a liquid turkish delight; the ginger honey soda a refreshing, palate-cleansing drink.

Steamed Prawn & Green Bean Dumplings ($20)
These plump, prawn-filled darlings have a translucent crystal skin and are filled to the brim with a mixture of sweet prawns and green beans. They're quite large in comparison to the conventional prawn dumpling, and a side of red vinegar is the perfect dipping accompaniment to top it all off. 

Crispy dumplings ($20)
In contrast to the steamed dumplings, this fried variety has a light, puffed skin which encases a juicy, well-seasoned mixture of chicken, prawn and scallop. The outer wrapping is my favourite part, with a glutinous texture that's similar to that of a ham sui gok. These are also quite large in size, and each bite is heaven.

NZ King Salmon Sashimi ($28)
The flavours in this sashimi dish are superb. Fresh, sour batons of green apple provide crunch against silky smooth slices of king salmon. The fish is dressed in a hot, sweet blackened chilli dressing that is just sublime.

Raw Tuna with Black Citrus Caramel and Rice Cracker ($26)
The combination of raw tuna and grapefruit in this raw fish dish is quite different. It's melded together with a sweet and sour black citrus caramel, while a puffed rice cracker adds a thoughtful element of texture and bite.

Salt & Pepper Prawns ($39)
This dish of salt and pepper prawns is a perfectly executed traditional Chinese favourite. The butterflied prawns are coated in an enjoyably bubbly, light batter, and are garnished with flavoursome nubbles of wok-toasted garlic and slivers of fresh chilli. The large prawns are sweet and go really well with a squeeze of lime and dip in the accompanying dry salt and pepper seasoning. 

Balinese Curry of Pacific Reef Black Cobia ($38)
Cobia is not a very well-known fish, but it's firm flesh goes perfectly with the tropical flavours of this Balinese-style yellow curry. The curry is smooth, delicate and complex, and the addition of pineapple, cherry tomatoes and crispy Thai basil provides a fruity burst that makes us feel like we're in south-east Asia. The fish has a lovely golden, pan-fried skin that we all fight to get a piece of.

Eggplant & Tofu with Sichuan Chilli Bean Paste ($26)
I love this veggie dish, which is full of punch and flair. The lightly fried blocks of soft tofu and silky eggplant batons soak up all of the funky, spiced heat of the chilli bean paste sauce. It's the kind of hot, comforting dish that is perfect spooned over a bowl of steaming jasmine rice.

Slow Poached Chicken with Spicy Soy & Bang Bang ($35)
This whole poached chicken breast is bathed in a vibrant, pungent spicy sauce that is not for the faint-hearted. Although it looks deceivingly spicy, the sauce gains it vibrant red colour from a combination of red vinegar and chilli oil, rather than just chilli oil. The chicken is succulent and tender. The flavours in this dish are quite strong, so one or two pieces of chicken were more than enough for me.

Dessert Platter (small $15) - Sago Pudding, Black Sticky Rice, Selection of Sorbet & Ice Cream
As we perused the dessert menu, we simply could not go past the dessert platter. I absolutely love Asian desserts, so this was the holy trinity for me. The platter consists of three desserts - sago pudding, black stick rice and a selection of ice creams and sorbets - and can be ordered in a small or large size.

Black sticky rice is one of my favourite Asian desserts. Here the firm, dark purple grains stand in contrast with the white sweetness of coconut cream and are served with poached pear and crunchy puffed rice. I find myself combining this with a bite of the sago pudding; everything melds together in a heavenly mouthful. I am in dessert heaven. 

The sago pudding is creamy and comforting; the spherical pearls swimming in a vanilla coconut cream and drizzled with passionfruit syrup. The passionfruit elevates the whole pudding to another level and gives it a real tropical feel. The third dessert is a selection of ice cream and sorbet. Tonight, the flavours are pandan, guava and grapefruit. We can't fault any of these; the pandan is silky and smooth, while the sorbets are refreshingly light and have a wonderful fruity flavour.

Lemongrass Pannacotta ($14)
In addition to the dessert platter, we also end up ordering the other two remaining desserts on the menu. This pannacotta has an irresistible wobble, and is fragrant with the scent and taste of lemongrass. It's served with an orange caramel, caramelised nuggets of sweet orange, and ginger crumble. The combination of ginger, orange and lemon is so good that we're all fighting over the last mouthful.

Green Tea Lamington ($14)
This green tea dessert is an Asian take on the traditional Aussie lamington. Underneath the shower of coconut and green tea powder is a white chocolate sponge, which is a little denser than a typical sponge cake. It sandwiched together with a green tea cream and sits on top of a sweet citrus gel. 

China Doll is one of those restaurants that delivers everything with high quality and little fault. Whether it be more simple, traditional Chinese favourites, or contemporary takes on South-east Asian flavours and dishes, the food is executed well with good-sized servings. It's not just your local Chinese restaurant, and nor is it an entirely removed up-market, high-end dining venue, but it manages to teeter the middle line by serving high quality, delicious Chinese and south-east Asian inspired food that pays homage to its humble roots while keeping up with contemporary food trends. It's a balance that is one to be truly appreciated.


China Doll Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

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