The dramatic giant glass tank on Bathurst Street with big letters ‘CHEFS GALLERY‘ written across the whole wall glowing so bright, it definitely makes a few pedestrians stop on their paths and aroused a few curiosities. While I am waiting outside for Helen, I notice a countless of passerby having a double take, leaning over so close with their noses almost touching the glass panel, observing what the chefs are doing behind the kitchen. But not all of them are having a looksy, there is also a constant flow of customers slowly pouring into the restaurant and filling up the space in no time.
Question: Is it Chefs Gallery or Chef’s Gallery?
Despite the annoyance of missing apostrophe, Chefs Gallery is the newest and most talked about dumpling/noodle house in Sydney CBD. Housed inside the Regent Place, the restaurant is located right behind KFC on George Street, where formerly occupied by Bonta Vita. The ‘fish tank’ kitchen seems to be a trend these days, Chefs Gallery has an even bigger open kitchen after Din Tai Fung and New Shanghai, a troop of kitchenhands in chefs white behind the glass tank with each busy manning their own station.
We are seated at the chef’s table which provides us the perfect view platform of all the action behind the kitchen. The boys at the front row of the kitchen are delegated to noodle making and preparing noodle dishes, while the girls at the back are responsible for dishes that need the delicate touches such as dumplings and desserts.
Every staff member is wearing a plastic mouth-guard which we presume is for hygiene reason but it looks very uncomfortable to me with two elastic bands around each ear and a plastic hook on the chin to keep it in place. And the question bound to be asked, “How do the chefs taste the food when cooking to make sure is well seasoned with the mouth-guards on?”
The noodle making process steals the show in the kitchen. It looks like kid’s play, two chefs are having a go at jumping rope with a long thick flour dough, swung up in mid air and stretch at the same time to make the dough gradually become longer and thinner. It is absolutely mesmerising to watch.
The service here is fast and attentive, as soon as Helen placed her leather jacket on the back of her chair, a waitress immediately comes back with a leather cover and placed over the top to protect it.
Our orders also arrive swiftly one after another and in no time, our little space is fully covered with many dishes. We order the fluffy Chinese roti served with pork floss as soon as we spotted it at the table next to us and captured by its beauty. It arrives in a wicker basket, a pillow of flaky golden pastry is fluffed up for extra airiness, topped with a generous amount of cotton-like pork floss. It is buttery soft and delicious, we can easily order another one.
We can’t come here without trying the noodles hand made right in front of us. There is a variety of noodle dishes on the menu to choose from, either served dry, with soup or stir-fried. We order the Taiwanese classic Zha Jian Noodle, the handmade noodle is served dry with a puddle of spicy pork minced and tofu sauce, garnished with cucumber juliennes which provides a slight relief from the spiciness.
As there are few dishes come all at once and by the time I am ready to tackle the noodle, the fresh noodle has dried up and congealed together in the shape of the bowl, clinging to my chopsticks. It takes quite an effort to finally loosen up the strands of noodle with the much needed Zha Jiang sauce which unfortunately is just enough to lubricate the noodles.
The thickness of the noodles are consistently thin and you probably wouldn’t believe that it is actually hand made if there isn’t a noodle making presentation right in front of you in the kitchen. However, Helen and I are both somehow craving for that rustic Northern Chinese style thick noodles with uneven strands of chewiness.
Another dish we spotted at the next table, we quickly change our mind and follow suit and order the pork belly roll instead. It is a very simple dish of boiled pork belly then thinly sliced and wrapped around juliennes of carrot and cucumber, served with a spicy chilli garlic dressing. The chilled pork belly is tender and sweet, in contrast with the crunchy vegetable inside, a perfect refreshing dish for the summer. I definitely will keep this dish in mind for my next house party.
The chef’s own handmade egg tofu is possibly my favourite dish of the evening. The eight blocks of tofu as its name suggested is actually steamed egg custard set with spinach layer on top. It is pan fried to a nice crispy golden skin, while inside is still silky smooth and bouncy. The softness of the egg tofu is nicely balance with a sprinkle of fine diced preserved vegetables that is salty and crunchy.
The consistency in shapes and sizes of the pan-fried pork buns are simply impeccable. Smaller than usual, the six round perky steamed buns are only slightly seared through at the bottoms which doesn’t really provide the crispiness that we’d hoping for. A small pocket of pork filling inside is well seasoned and soft, although we find the bun itself is a little chewy.
The only reason I want to try this restaurant is because I spotted all the cutesy overloaded desserts on Sugarpuffi’s blog. We did eat a lot and I am actually quite full by the time we are ready to order dessert, but they are simply too cute to resist.
The baked walnut pastries indeed look like walnuts. Each walnut is assembled with two chocolate flavoured flakey shells and inside is a morsel of crumbly crushed roasted walnuts and sugar.
Look, mini pumpkins! The steamed pumpkin pastries are irresistibly adorable, sitting inside a bamboo basket lined with custom made fabric liner instead of tracing paper. The bright orange pumpkin just like mochi, a glutinous ball that is chewy and stretchy, inside is filled with sweet lotus paste.
Cuteness overload indeed! From all the piggy buns I’ve seen on the internet off late, these steamed sesame ‘piggy face’ buns are simply the cutest without a doubt. Sugarpuffi informed me that it usually comes in a pair of boy piggy and girl piggy, and find it odd that we received two girl piggies.
We marvel the two little piggies sitting inside the steamer, looking back at us begging to have photos taken. We take one, then we take some more until we are ready to demolish the pretty decoration and chomp it down with glee. The soft bun is filled with sweet black sesame paste that is so black, we both start giggling at each other with blackened front teeth.
Despite we ordered so much food, both Helen and I did pretty good job and finished most dishes, except one last steamed pumpkin dumpling. I decided to take the honour and split it in half using the back of a chopstick with such force…
The plastic chopstick is so brittle and instantly snapped in half! A moment of silence and panic, immediately we just burst out laughing our asses off at my clumsiness. As Helen once told me, “Yes because you are a dragon, dragons are clumsy because my mum said they have to drag their big tails around wherever they go and everywhere they turn, the big tail will swing and knock things over! It’s TRUE! I thought I am the clumsy one, you are just as bad!”
As we are about to leave and ask for the bill, the waitress comes to collect our empty dishes and I quickly apologise for what I’ve done with the chopstick. “Aiyah! You eat with kung fu ah?” Even the waitress is laughing at my clumsiness which I simply cannot deny.
Chefs Gallery Restaurant Shop 12, Ground floor Regent Place, 501 George Street, Sydney (between KFC and the Lumiere building, main entrance on Bathurst Street) Tel: +61 (02) 9267 8877 Opening hours: Open 7 days 11am-3pm and 5pm-late