Chairman Mao is from the Hunan province in China and he loved his red-braised pork (紅燒肉). He even had his personal chef preparing this Hunanese dish to satiate his cravings. This dish has become his legacy and now Sydneysiders are able to try this dish at a Hunanese chinese restaurant in Kensington and undoubtedly the restaurant is named after one man – Chairman Mao himself.
I wanted to try this restaurant since I read a recent review on SMH. Hunan is famous for its fiery hot and salty cuisines, two flavours that I absolutely adore yet hate the after effects. I decided to have my birthday dinner with a group of foodbloggers at this restaurant but it was soon cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. The opportunity comes when least expected, we eventually found ourselves at this restaurant tasting some home-style Hunanese cuisine Chairman Mao once loved.
With very little knowledge of the area in Kensington, surprisingly the restaurant is easily to be located. At first I thought we have come to the wrong restaurant, as the first thing I noticed that the restaurant’s name is actually called “湖南人” – “Hunanese” written in big Chinese characters, but Chairman Mao in English. Despite its confusing names, the striking orange walls are unmistakeably noticeable from afar. From old photographs to propaganda posters, and a huge Andy Warhol inspired pop art painting, Mao’s portraits are hung all over the restaurant, looking down like he is judging everyone whether you deserve a piece of his favorite red-braised pork.
The restaurant is already busy with diners on a normal Wednesday night but they are still able to accommodate us to one of the vacant tables right in front of the cashier counter. Helen also spotted Pauline Nguyen and Mark Jensen from Red Lantern are also dining with their friends in the restaurant.
When we finally decided what to order, we are sadly informed that the must try red-braised pork is already sold out. Leaving no choice but soon replaced with stir fried smoked pork with five-spice tofu which turns out to be an excellent dish. The fatty pork belly slices are slippery tender with an intense smokiness, stir fried with the firmer aromatic five spice tofu and white leek. The bird’s eye chillies secretly add a fiery kick in the background.
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The pig ears cold dish on the menu have got both me and Helen’s attention immediately. However, others are not so keen on the idea of biting one’s ear, hence we resolved with the assortment cold dish which everyone can find something to chew on. The bouncy pig ears strips deliver a cartilage crunch, the pork belly slices simply melt in the mouse, pig’s tongue is surprisingly smooth and tender, and the aromatic firm five spice tofu is a nice breakaway from all the pork-a-licious.
The shallot pancakes is one of the best I’ve tasted in Sydney. The pancake is pan-fried to a golden brown with blistered skin which is crispy and not too oily. Speckles of shallots infused the pancakes beautifully.
Another dish that I really like is the stir-fried pig intestine with red pepper chillies ordered by Simon. The intestines had been braised in herbs and spices along with soy sauces for hours before being cut into strips then stir fried with hot pepper chillies, ginger and shallots. The combination of chewy, pasty tenderness of the intestines with the crunchiness of the chillies and shallots are a joyful symphony of flavour of texture. The intestines do have an acquired aftertaste that Simon finds it peculiar and orders a Tsingtao Beer to wash it down. It is quite disconcerting to see the amount of oil sitting in the plate towards the end of the meal.
The only vegetarian dish that we ordered is the stir-fried cucumber with chillies and garlic. Don’t be fool by this dish imagining the cucumber will provide a refreshing cooling element to counterbalance out all the fiery hot meaty dishes, you’d be wrong. It is hot and heaty, the cucumber slices are soft and slippery, not from its texture but the pool of cooking oil they soaked in on the plate. The dish also seems to be bottomless, as we have eaten most of it but still half of the dish left behind.
It is truly an enjoyable home-style Funanese meal full of great flavours but it gets a little too much towards the end of the meal. I simply have to stop eating before I start to burn and drown myself in chillies and hot oil. The complimentary pot of Chinese hot tea is constantly refilled throughout the evening, the best remedy to wash down all the greasiness from the meal. Somewhat disappointed that I didn’t get to taste Mao’s favourite red-braised pork, but on the bright side, it gives me a perfect excuse to come back again and try other dishes on the menu.
Chairman Mao Chinese Restaurant 189 Anzac Pde Kensington 2033 NSW Phone: (02) 9697 9189 Business Hours: Mon, Wed-Thu 5pm-10pm Fri-Sun 5pm-11pm BYO (wine only) $3 corkage per person.