Every family has Christmas rituals. For mine, we celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day is celebrated by the downing of the tools and spatulas and eating out at a restaurant. And of course while most restaurants are closed on Christmas Day, there is always one type of restaurant open: the Chinese restaurant.
Dodging rain puddles we arrive at World Square to dine at China Republic. A quick search of the directory shows us the China Republic is best accessed from the George Street entrance. What was formerly a pub has now been transformed into dark carved wooden walls, and enormous entombed warrior statues stand guard outside while a projection of a fish tank morphs on a wall.
We're shown to our table - smaller tables for two or four appear to be in the centre of the restaurant while the outside perimeter is for larger, long tables. My superstitious Chinese mother notes that the tables are not round (said to be good luck) and truth be told the long tables aren't great for conversation because people sit around one side and at the ends. Service however is good - when I drop a chopstick, it has only hit the ground for a second before I'm presented with a new pair. They must have supersonic chopstick drop hearing ;).
We are handed a range of four menus. There's a regular menu, a cocktail menu, a drinks menu and then there's a house specialties menu which comes as a picture book with images of their signature dishes and descriptions. We I booked I was asked if we wanted to pre order the Peking Duck but at $88 a duck, I knew that my hard to please parents would perhaps baulk at that. My mother overhears the table next to us that want to order two ducks for three people but they're talked out of it by the waiter.
China Republic Braised Lamb brisket $36
Our first dish arrives and it's the lamb brisket, slow cooked til it is soft but the edges slightly crispy. It comes with a trail of pepper salt and a small steamer in which six small Mandarin pancakes are folded up and nestled within. The lamb is unctuous and tender and offset by the lightly bitter coleslaw and rich bean and sesame based sauce. We ask for some more pancakes as there's plenty of meat left. It is a bit difficult to share food as the food comes on a separate stand and you need to move both the plate and the stand up and down the table. I watch as the table next to us have it sorted - one member gets up and serves everyone and then sits down and they take turns.
Sweet and sour pork spareribs $21
The sweet and sour pork ribs have a sticky, sweet sauce strong in garlic, herbs and chilli. The pork falls off the bone easily and we wish we had ordered plain rice to soak up the sauce.
Sauteed Spicy Beef Mince Basil Served with Pocket Pancakes $21
This was my sister's choice and it was finely ground spicy beef mince with basil and green beans. To the side were open pockets, much like pita bread in texture. The texture is a little dry and there's a slight sweetness to the mince and again with plenty of mince leftover we use the extra pancakes that they've given us to wrap these up.
Sauteed Eggplant With Pork Mince $19
A favourite with most at the table were the sauteed eggplant batons coated in a crunchy pork mince. The eggplant was sweet and sticky (the flavour profile was very similar to the pork ribs above) and we all love the sticky, crunchiness of the pork against the soft, creamy eggplant flesh.
China Republic hot and spicy fish fillets $32
One of my favourite dishes was the hot and spicy fish fillets. They arrive in a plastic wrap tied together with a trinket string on top of hot stones. You simply unwrap it and scoop up the fish pieces which are tender and flavoured with Szechuan peppercorns so that you get that "ma-la" or hot and numbing sensation. The soup is too salty to eat.
China Republic Signature Fried Rice $24
The fried rice is packed with prawns so there weren't any complaints here. We just would have loved it to have arrived earlier when there were dishes that would have benefited from eating with the rice (perhaps we should have ordered the steamed rice). My mother, always one to offer an opinion finds it oily.
Ma Po Tofu $18
I usually love mapo tofu but this has an unexpected amount of Szechuan peppercorns which really numbs the tongue and mutes this normally soft and flavoursome tofu dish to just the textural elements of very small pockets of tofu and super crunchy peanuts. It would have been great to have spoons to eat the mapo tofu with too.
Dessert Plate for 4-6 people $21.50
I know that for those that aren't used to Asian desserts, the amount of beans and other ingredients may be slightly alarming. I grew up with them so I really like them but I didn't really go for many items on the dessert plate. Although it was beautifully presented with plenty of flavours, the rice pudding was the only one that I really enjoyed. There were some that were fine like the black sesame and green tea cakes and then there were the pleasant but not outstanding like the banana filled dumpling to the odd, the kidney bean cake which was like a round biscuit with whipped kidney bean topping on top without much sweetener.
The bill is a pleasant surprise at just over $40 a person which means that there aren't any complaints from the family. I stare wistfully at the table next to us which is being presented with the second round of duck. Another time perhaps!
So tell me Dear Reader, are your family tough critics of food? And are you a fan of Asian desserts?
This meal was independently paid for.
Shop 1041 World Sq Shopping Centre 644 George St, Sydney, NSW
Tel :+61 (02) 8081 0888