Inside King Clarence's Pan Asian Menu, Sydney

King Clarence, Sydney

King Clarence is a new restaurant from the Bentley Group with a Pan Asian Korean, Japanese and Chinese menu. The restaurant is helmed by executive chef Khanh Nguyen who has left his restaurants Sunda and Aru in Melbourne and returned back to Sydney. The restaurant opened in the first week of December 2023 but even during these early days there are already dishes that are must-orders. So what is the dining experience there like?

King Clarence, Sydney

"Was there an actual King Clarence?" Mr NQN muses out loud as we are driving to the restaurant with Monica and Marco one sunny Sunday afternoon. The name King Clarence actually references the restaurant's location on the corner of King and Clarence streets. Monica and I hadn't seen each other in a couple of weeks and when we were looking for somewhere to go I suggested King Clarence as Sunda was one of my favourite Melbourne restaurants. The interior at King Clarence is industrial with mixed textures in shades of grey with pops of red and the occasional disco ball. It seats 100 people with a long banquette area along the windows and Japanese style linen Noren curtains.

King Clarence, Sydney

Service is very friendly and welcoming from the staff although they have to come back a couple of times to take our order as there are quite a few things that we want to order and we have to narrow down the selection. I ask one waitress for her recommendations and after she leaves Monica (who is a chef) notices that every selection she made from each section was the most expensive item so we end up going with mostly what we wanted to eat rather than her recommendations.

King Clarence, Sydney
Negroni $24 Strawberry Kombucha $14

Mr NQN and I aren't drinking today because we went out the night before but Monica and Marco order drinks. Monica's choice is a strawberry, shiso and jasmine kombucha which is delicious and quite sweet and not very carbonate while Marco orders a Negroni.

King Clarence, Sydney
Fish Finger Bao $14 each

There is one item that we all agreed we had to order: the fish finger bao. It was inspired from when Khanh used to work at McDonalds making Filet-O-Fish. While it looks like a classic fish finger, it isn't. Khanh explains the concept, "This dish is a cross between a Filet-O-Fish (from Maccas where I got my first job in the kitchen) and xiao long bao (soup dumplings). The flavours can remind you of a Filet-O-Fish with crumbed barramundi, American 'plastic' cheese, and tartare sauce. Our tartare sauce is spiked with pickled chilli and fermented Chinese mustard greens. The fish finger itself is made by using the XLB technique, where a soup stock is gelatinised and set into the casing. The stock we set with the barramundi is dashi stock seasoned with lemon zest, the 'casing' is the bread crumbs encasing it. If its not crumbed properly then it can easily explode in the fryer, losing all of the soup." Wait a couple of minutes, lean forward and then take a bite of the luscious bao and try not to get all of the filling on the table like I did. Mr NQN and I are sharing one and I immediately want another. Of my own. In a quiet room without any noise or distractions.

King Clarence, Sydney
Torched Bonito $25

Monica was just recovering from being sick so all she wanted was something fresh. Her selection was the torched bonito and it's bright, zingy and fresh with an element of smokiness to it from the torching and tamari. The bonito fish is paired with smoked tamari, rings of onions and malt vinegar. "The bonito fillet itself goes through quite a number of steps before it reaches the diners. First its hung to age for a day before being filleted. It's then cured in a salt, sugar, shiso and spice cure to remove any excess moisture. After the curing process the bonito is thoroughly rinsed, dried before being pickled in dashi and rice vinegar. Yep! That's bonito being pickled in bonito stock. The dressing is smoked tamari steeped with katsuobushi (bonito flakes). It's then garnished with pickled shallots and nasturtium leaf to add some heat and burnt paperbark oil. We make this by burning paperbark over the fire until completely black and then blended with oil to infuse," says Khanh.

King Clarence, Sydney
Drunken Chicken Liver Skewer, Sansho Pepper, Vegemite Toast, Parsley $19

I still remember how good the Vegemite roti was at Sunda and so I'm drawn to the chicken liver skewers on Vegemite toast. The dainty chicken livers are paired with sansho pepper and parsley on sourdough Vegemite toast and are a satisfying and balanced snack. Khanh describes the inspiration for the dish, "Drunken chicken has been one of my favourite dishes but many times I've had it, I always found it too intense in alcohol for my liking. So this is pretty much a play on that dish. We use cockerel livers from Aurum Poultry Co. which I find very unique and delicious. We brine the livers in chicken stock overnight. We grill the livers over charcoal and ironbark wood before glazing it with a sweet glaze made of up Chinese Shao Xing rice wine, rose wine, soy sauce and sansho pepper. The livers are served on a sourdough toast smeared with kombu and vegemite butter and a salad of parsley, coriander, shallot dressed with extra virgin olive oil and white balsamic."

King Clarence, Sydney
‘Mapo Tofu’, Royal Red Prawns, Smoked Marrow, Baby Corn $38

The next three dishes come out together. The first is one of my favourites. Mapo tofu is usually made with pork mince but here they pair a layer of tofu with Royal Red prawns, smoked marrow, tiny pieces of baby corn and ttebokki pieces. The whole dish is about textures from the jellied panna cotta-like tofu layer at the bottom to the curled up and tender prawns. On an occasional bite you'll get the smoked marrow, a piece of baby corn or ttebokki. Make sure to order steamed rice for this to collect all of that luscious, flavour forward sauce.

King Clarence, Sydney
Goolwa Pippies, Lemongrass XO, Garlic Scapes, Rice Vermicelli 400g $52

Another favourite dish is the Goolwa pippies with lemongrass XO with garlic scapes and a tangle of rice vermicelli. The pippies are tasty and the XO sauce is delicious although the lemongrass flavour is quite subtle. The rice vermicelli is soft, not crispy but these still do the job of absorbing the sauce although we do ask for some bread to get every last bit of that sauce. The only thing I'd note is that quite a few of the pippies hadn't opened so we couldn't eat those.

King Clarence, Sydney
Cucumber Salad, Cloud Fungus, Yuzu Soy, Pickled Red Radish $18

The cucumber salad is another choice from Monica and it's good although most of the dish is pickled which is a surprise because only the red radish was described as pickled. It's refreshing although we were hoping for a fresh cucumber salad rather than pickled.

King Clarence, Sydney
Half 14 Day Aged Duck, Black Cabbage, Davidson Plum, Radish $80

The next two dishes come out together and includes the signature duck. Khanh explains the process for the duck, "We get whole free range ducks that we then break down. We remove the necks and wings which we render down for fat, the back bones of the carcasses are used for sauce and we prepare the crown (breast on the bone) and marylands (legs) in two different ways. The crown itself is brined in a liquid infusion of spices, salt, brown sugar and lemongrass for 24 hours. Its then blanched in boiling water to tighten the skin then dipped in a maltose and red vinegar solution to help crisp up the skin. It's aged in our downstairs coolroom for 14 days. Before being roasted before each service the legs are brined with perilla leaves and other spices for 6 hours before being marinated in a char siu style marinade seasoned with Davidson plum and umeboshi. The legs are slow cooked for 12 hours before being reglazed and smoked for service. The garnish is black cabbage cooked over the fire then tossed with chilli pickled daikon radish and the sauce is made from umeboshi, roasted duck bones, chicken wings and spices."

The duck is good although the reverential hype from the staff raise it to impossible heights. I think if we had just wanted to have duck and ordered it we'd be happy with it. However the staff were strongly suggesting it while we were actually more edging towards the pork belly ssam. The result is a gap between expectation and reality. It's very good but I wouldn't really consider it a must order like say the fish finger baos. "I like duck skin crisp, what's the point if it's not going to be crisp?" says Monica.

King Clarence, Sydney
Short Grain Claypot Rice, Char Siu Pork Jowl, Garlic Chive, Egg Yolk $38

There are a few rice dishes on the menu but we liked the sound of this one because they described it to us as crispy rice. It comes in a sizzling hot pot with shortgrain Japanese koshihikari rice, chunks of unctuous pork jowl char siu, garlic chive batons and a raw egg yolk to stir through everything. There's plenty of prize crunchy rice bits in it and it's a great dish for sharing too. The rice is fried in a mixture of duck and pork fat and paired with lup cheong or Chinese sausage and char siu pork jowl that has been cured for 12 hours before being marinated and cooked for 8 hours until jellied and melting. The mixture is then baked to caramelise and char the dish before being finished with crispy fried onions, fried garlic, pork floss, coriander, spring onion and garlic chives with a raw egg yolk.

King Clarence, Sydney
Mango Pudding, Coconut, Cultured Cream, Vanilla Bean, Passionfruit $22

It's dessert time and we decide to share one dessert as we are really full. We see a waitress in the distance carrying over a mango pudding with a birthday candle in it. I whisper to Monica, "Your nightmare." Monica has repeatedly expressed her hatred at having Happy Birthday sung to her in a restaurant setting but then the waitress starts walking towards us and then she sets the dish down on our table. "Happy birthday!" she says brightly to us but we explain to her that nobody is having a birthday. But hey no harm no foul. The mango dessert is a disc of mango custard pudding set with seaweed extract instead of gelatine to keep it vegetarian with tapioca pearls cooked in coconut cream, a plant based passion fruit cultured cream, mango popping pearls, coconut sorbet and a meringue made with egg whites and ash and finished with fresh passionfruit for added acidity and texture. It's not an overly sweet dessert which I like and it's refreshing and light enough to finish off a multi-course meal.

So tell me Dear Reader, do you go with what the waitstaff recommend or what you want to eat? Do you like being sung Happy Birthday to in a restaurant?

This meal was independently paid for.

King Clarence

171 Clarence St, Sydney NSW 2000

Sunday to Wednesday 12–3 pm, 5:30–9:30 pm

Thursday to Saturday 12–3 pm, 5:30–10:30 pm

Phone: (02) 8456 7120

King Clarence, Sydney

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