Picture a cold winter's night. For me, apart from being indoors, there's no better place than to be in front of food with friends. This evening Nick, Louis, Viggo, Mr NQN and I make our way to Eaton Chinese restaurant on busy Liverpool Road in Ashfield. It's a Cantonese restaurant among the predominantly Shanghainese selection. The live fishtanks at the front remind me of Nick's suggestion for visiting: the live seafood. He had waxed rhapsodic about the XO chilli sauce lobster and chilli crab and I use any excuse every few months or so to throw dietary caution to the wind and indulge in a wrist deep feast on this dish, calories be damned, promised workouts to come later.
At 7pm we arrive at Eaton (and note, if you're driving, the parking frees up after 7pm on Liverpool Road). We take a seat at a table upstairs which is where all the large tables are located. The restaurant is full this evening. Chinese families hold up glasses of red wine and clear bags of live seafood are shown to customers for inspection, some protesting with their legs kicking within their plastic confines.
Christmas decorations still hang overhead and decor is slightly odd with cabinets above of Chinese spirits. We take a look at the menu and decide on the lobster from the waiter's recommendation while we choose a few other dishes. Naturally, we over order and realise once they show us the size of the lobster - at a whopping 1.6 kilos it's $150 a kilo.
Deep fried pigeon $23.80
The deep fried pigeon comes out one to a serve cut into quarters. The skin is glossy and crispy the bones small and not unlike quail. It requires delicate little bites to avoid the bones. It's quite pricey for one pigeon, especially when you compare it to prices overseas.
XO Chilli lobster $258.33 plus $10 noodles
If there is one item I happily absolve any diet for, it's this. The lobster which is always easier to eat than crab, is enormous with a good amount of e-fu noodles at the bottom. And this has to be one of the best XO chilli lobsters I've had in a very, very long time. The sauce is bold and strong and not shy in XO and the ginger component adds much flavour and aroma. With a lobster that size, it's not hard to find good, big easy to eat pieces and the sauce and noodles are generously portioned.
Hong Kong style sauce Pippies $28.56 ($45 a kilo)
I know, you should really have pippies with XO sauce but we just wanted to try some and they suggested either black bean or Hong Kong style sauce. The sauce is sweet with plenty of dried chillies and is quite salty - steamed rice is definitely needed for this.
Pork ribs in black vinegar $18.80
The next few dishes arrive in quick succession after a break - they apologise as the restaurant is busy. I just feel sorry for poor Viggo who isn't able to eat shellfish so he has had to wait while we were tucking into the seafood despite our asking for other things to come. The pork in vinegar is delicious although Viggo notes that the pork itself is quite fatty whereas he prefers more meat. For Chinese people like myself of course there is no such thing as too fatty pork ;) There's plenty of sliced onion and small curled up pieces of unpeeled ginger.
Sizzling chicken hot pot $18.80
Louise and Viggo had seen this coming out to a table when they first arrived so it was ordered. It's a tasty dish and the chicken pieces, some with bone in are very tender while there are also slices of lup cheong Chinese sausage and slippery, flavoursome shiitake mushrooms.
Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce $18.80
The Chinese broccoli is a good standby and here it comes as an enormous serve which has just the right texture. I do prefer the leaves though and there was a lot of stem with this serve.
We suddenly realise that even though we are completely stuffed we still have the fish coming. We flag down a waiter. "Can we cancel the fish?" we plead. Through some sort of luck or misunderstanding, our waiter hadn't put the fish on our order. Perhaps he knew that we already had too much.
Bitter melon jelly
At the end of a Chinese banquet complimentary sweets or fruit are often brought out. Here they bring out a sliced orange and bowls of bitter melon jelly. I'm not really one for bitter melon but they assure us that it is sweet and not bitter at all. It's a bright green colour and they've dressed it with some coconut milk. It's actually delicious and that's coming from someone that usually has a spoonful of jelly and then just moves onto other things (a result from the fact that my father worked for a gelatine company for 20 years). There is an ever so slight bitterness at the end.
We look around and people are standing up between tables, the men holding bottles of beer. It looks like a backyard barbecue except it is in a Chinese restaurant. The woman at the table next to us has brought her own plastic gloves to eat her crab with and I think of myself how perfectly Chinese this scene is.
So tell me Dear Reader, what is your favourite comfort food during Winter? And is there a dish that you love so much that you simply don't care how calorific it is? And where is the best Chinese seafood in your opinion?
This meal was independently paid for.
Eaton Chinese Restaurant
313 Liverpool Rd, Ashfield NSW 2131
Tel: +61 (02) 9798 2332
Open for lunch and dinner 7 nights a week