I should be cleaning my oven right now. I got up this morning so very excited for a day at home, a long to-do list: eager to use the public holiday to wear myself out to my heart’s content doing house type things today. I immediately committed myself to the most dreaded of chores by putting the cleaning foam on the oven, before heading out to play with my new herb garden. (If a selection of pots on a narrow balcony can be called a garden, but I think they can). The floor is now vacuumed, the bathroom cleaned, all my bills have been paid. Yet I find myself continuing to convince myself that a) leaving the cleaner on to soak just a little longer really will produce superior results and b) the next task on my to-do list is very important and I should really do it while still motivated because I’ve put the foam on and have to clean the oven now, so I can’t get out of it if I leave it till later. Ah logic, never have you let me down in finding excuses to do (or more often, not do) what I don’t want to but know I should.
I’ve been incredibly busy visiting people and places outside of Canberra these last few weekends, and just plan busy during the week. And being exhausted, I’ve tended to lean towards spending my spare time with my new Community Season 2 DVDs instead of my oven or my keyboard. So I don’t have any new adventures in cookery to tell you about, and sadly, no recipe to share. What I do have is a wonderful eating experience to tell you about. I’ll admit to being quite nervous to be writing review. I don’t feel particularly qualified, I like to eat, but I’m pretty sure there’s more to judging a restaurant than that.
I went for a most splendid dinner at The Chairman and Yip the other night, a Chinese fusion restaurant with a good reputation and a spot on Gourmet Traveller’s Top Ten for the ACT. We had the banquet, because I wanted to try as many things as possible and that seemed the best way to go. We made the right choice.
I’m not normally a fan of banquets. While I love the abundance of food stuffs they provide, I tend to get sharing anxiety. I worry that I’m taking more than my share; I get irritated because I miss out on something that disappears onto peoples plates too fast, I end up starving in my attempt to be fair, or stuffed like the little piggy I’m my companions think I am. No such drama’s at the Chairman. Here attentive wait staff move round the table placing your portion on your plate, a dish at a time, telling you what they’re serving. And the portions were perfectly sized – large enough to get a good taste and appreciate the dish, but not too large. By the meals end I felt comfortably full, not hungry, definitely not sick. My companions were also impressed by the option of half glasses of (very nice) wine, which were much more appropriate for a week night when we were all driving.
I don’t have any pictures, because the lighting was quite low, which creates a nice ambience and added a class to decor which flirts with the staples of a suburban Chinese restaurant (lots of red and occasional bamboo) but succeeded at invoking the glamour they often miss. I was particularly impressed with the small hand painted square plates we were eating from, all quite different from each other, all featuring the word Yip. The tables are reasonably close together, but the staff could move around easily, and conversation flowed freely throughout the night with no real awareness of our fellow diners.
We ate, oh, so many lovely things. The duck pancakes were the best I’ve had, and preassembled to provide a perfect balance (I always end up with too much sauce and far too aware of how fatty duck is when assembling myself) with tiny shitake mushrooms adding a really interesting dimension. There was a splendid salad of chilli and salt calamari, and lovely pork cakes, in which the highlight was the crisp tart sensation from the accompanying appleslaw.
Rounding out the starters were fantastic, fabulous grilled mushrooms stuffed with herb and cashew pesto. One dining companion announced her desire to marry the mushrooms, I responded that we’d better move to Utah, cause I wanted to get in on that marriage. But in hindsight I better marry the chef. I want to make those mushrooms, I really do. But I’ve yet to find a pesto recipe that I suspect is even close to what we had. It was really a mix of herbs, not just basil and parsley; I think maybe the star was dill? My palate isn’t trained enough to pick out much beyond yum. I have filled my little balcony with pots of herbs though – so once they look established I’ll get experimenting (and try to figure out how I’ll do the mushrooms in my crazy oven/grill. I really do have a terrible relationship with the oven in this apartment).
The mains saw a parade of taste sensations. The Sesame Encrusted Ocean Trout in Cinnamon Infused Soy was so lovely that I found myself thinking I’d be happy to order it as a main, wanting to go back another time so I could order it as a main. This is high praise because I’m not really a fan of fish at all. I recall that the Spicy Shang-Tung style lamb was amazing, but, I find it was not particularly memorable so I can’t give more of a description. The Portuguese Chicken was fine, but somewhat bland and disappointing in comparison. And the Eye Fillet with shallot and spring onion sauce gave the mushrooms a run for their money for best dish of the night.
Then, to top it off… Sticky Date Mousse! Which was fluffy and airy and topped with crumbled Kalhua dates and just wonderful. It wasn’t as sweet as its pudding inspiration and the dates came through with just a hint at (but not of) bitter. I doubt I could have handled a heavier desert after the bounty I had just consumed, but the mousse made me glad I’d ordered dessert, rather than regretful.
I really enjoyed every dish of the evening, and while is probably too strong a word – especially as we’re dipping our toe into the edges of fine dining where the standards get that much higher – I did find some of the flavour combinations to be nice twists on the known. My tastebuds were working overtime all night to process the new data and the part of me who likes to pretend I’m a bit more than a passable home cook was busy thinking how I could incorporate various elements. And, as I said, I really want to have a go at those mushrooms. And that was the beauty of the meal. It wasn’t necessarily fancy (though it was a bit) or groundbreaking, but while I’m tempted to try my hand at recreating some of the dishes, I don’t have much confidence in my ability to capture all the flavours. Which is what you want when you go out for a meal after all.