85 Underwood St, Paddington NSW 2021
(02) 9331 3200
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East London in Sydney’s inner-eastern suburb of Paddington is like a lunch date between Australia and China,
unpretentiously sat together in a restaurant sprinkled with 1940s furniture and surrounded by rustic sophistication. Oh, and spices.
It’s a nifty spot, perched above The London Hotel, and features a menu that is simple and not overwhelming – unless you’re frugal. For a quiet Tuesday evening, it was rather intimate, with the waiter assuring me it gets busy on the weekend. Personally, I savoured the small array of locals scattered among the simple decor. It was humbling.
An interesting element of authenticness was that every table featured chopsticks for cutlery, with no signs of silverware in sight. The dark coloured bowls were daringly odd shaped as they sat atop a cylindrical plate. Walls featured woven Asian bowls and conveniently placed coat hooks, while jade money trees loom in the half-hexagon feature windows. It was simple and it was effective.
The service was swift, yet not overpowering considering the intimate amount of guests, but the dishes – made fresh in-house – took their time to arrive. The dessert – coconut sago, mango, lychee, mint and almond ($12) – took longer than one would anticipate for a cold dish. But all that you could forgive when you taste the enticing flavours. This dessert, for instance, felt and tasted like velvet milky pearls, with natural sweetness from crunchy almond scrapings and fresh fruits.
Their signature cocktails and specialised gin and tonics are perfect appetizers, with various flavours to help match with the dishes that will soon arrive. Their Aloe, Aloe cocktail featuring gin, elderflower liquor, apple and lemon juice, lychee and an entanglement of cucumber shavings ($17) tasted perky and sweet. And their Lemongrass & Coconut Sour – lemongrass infused vodka, lime juice and coconut foam ($17) – packed a punch while offering a sweet countermeasure of whipped coconut cream piled generously on top. A pina colada without the pineapple.
For food, my friend and I could not pass up on the Wontons with bug meat, prawn, chilli and Sichuan pepper ($17). We were not disappointed. It was a nice amount of spice to mix with the soft pasta coating and the expertly cooked prawn and bug meat. Their Master Stock pork belly, coated with chilli caramel sauce ($27) was crunchy on the outside and soft and moist on the inside – the way pork belly should be cooked. But the rice accompanying it seemed unnecessary considering the amount of sauce the dish held at the bottom of the bowl. And their Steamed kingfish with ginger, chilli, shallots and soy broth ($28) melted and broke apart so easily in the mouth, with a punch of chilli and locks of shallots to balance.
The servings are designed for sharing, affording constant conversations with whoever you bring along. And for intimate gatherings, there are rooms that help separate you from the rest of the crowd.
To finish the evening and to let the food digest, my friend and I continued down the list of cocktails, drinking an East end Martini – vodka, gin, sake and lychee ($17) – and a Firefly – chilli infused tequila, mango, yuzu, agave ($18). The East end Martini lacked the punch I like in a martini, the kind of punch that makes you satisfyingly purse your lips like the Firefly surely did. If there’s ever a great finishing drink, it’ll be the Firefly, as the tequila warms the throat and the infused chilli steams up the mouth. Also, there are added chilli flakes on the rim of the glass for those who like to sear their taste buds.
Overall, East London proves to be a unique spot showcasing a delicate balance between Australian and Chinese cuisine. It’s the kind of place for the second date or the anniversary, just as much as it is a place for friends wanting to spend a special night out. With attentive (but not overbearing) waiters and flavours to help purse your lips, this establishment is a satisfying spot to attend.