It's Sunday night, a freezing cold winter's night hitting a low of 8°C/46.4°F, the sort of Sunday night that means snuggling in and taking it easy before the work week. But inside Lee's Fortuna Court it is bustling. Every table is taken. Overseeing it all is a fleet of older Chinese waiters who keep the machine well oiled.
These waiters shake hands with regulars, place napkins in their laps, give women Kit Kats and charm their customers. One says, "You didn't tell me you're bringing a pretty girl tonight!" to the sparkling eyed octogenarian couple. I hear one crooning, "Baby don't cry!". I think it is someone talking to their lover but it's a waiter talking at an actual baby. Lee's Fortuna Court first opened 39 years ago in 1978 and it seems to have amassed a devoted following on the North Shore.
There's a large bowl of prawn cracker that we nibble on while we're deciding what to order. Once we've ascertained this we look around for our waiter. He's headed into the kitchen but a waitress spots us looking and comes over to take our order.
We look around-there's plenty of rugby memorabilia on the walls with signed jerseys and plates. We're dining a week early for Father's Day as I'll be away on the actual day. My father grumbles that the food is expensive compared to his cheap and cheerful takeaway and my mother chides him for being so frugal on Father's Day.
The Peking Duck arrives, two pancakes for each of us and eight in total. I think you can get at least a dozen pancakes out of a duck but who am I to argue? The pancakes are soft and not floury at all and the duck, hoi sin, cucumber and shallot are pretty fab. "Very good," my father says grudgingly.
This is followed by a bit of a lull before we get our second course, sang choi bau lettuce cups. They're also terrific with chunks of water chestnut for crunch and just the right amount of seasoning and sauce. The lettuce is so crunchy you can hear it in your ears.
Earlier they had scooped this 800g barramundi out of the fish tank and showed it to us. It's my father's only request and his favourite food at a Chinese restaurant. It's steamed the classic way with ginger, shallots and soy sauce. What I love about this was the generous amount of finely shredded ginger-the fish was completely packed with it and filleted so that there were only a small amount of bones.
The house fried rice is good with plenty of char siu and small prawns throughout it.
There's another lull before the next two dishes arrive. Then comes the twice cooked pork belly dish, a Cantonese dish that is very moreish. The pork belly comes as soft meat, jellied fat layer and crispy crackling on top and the flavour of the twice cooked belly is intense but begs more sampling.
The XO scallops are also very tasty. However the XO isn't really strong in XO flavour but I enjoy the crunchy broccoli pieces that come with it too.
There's cake waiting at home so we don't really bother with ordering dessert. In lieu of this they bring over fortune cookies, chocolate mints and fruit. And then a waiter sees that we don't have Kit Kats and throws a couple on the table from his pocket, "Girls get Kit Kats!" he says.
We tear open our fortune cookies and mine reads, "You may only be one person in the world but to one person you may be the world". I think of little Mochi of course!
So tell me Dear Reader, are you the one person in the world to someone? Do you have a dish that you always want to order from Chinese restaurants?
Lee's Fortuna Court
24-26 Falcon St, Crows Nest NSW 2065
Phone: (02) 9906 3838
Lunch: Tuesday to Sunday 12:00-15:00
Dinner: Tuesday to Wednesday 17:00-22:00, Thursday 17:00-22:30 Friday to Saturday 17:00-23:00 and Sunday 17:00-21:30