General Chao
District Dining, 436 Victoria Ave, Chatswood
Mon-Fri: 12-late
02 9411 7977

There’s something mysterious about General Chao – some-thing curious, indeed – which begins with its apparent tribute to China’s infamous commander, General Tso.

Hovering above the busy railway interchange of Chatswood is District Dining, and offering first impressions for anyone who dares to enter its domain is General Chao. It harnesses an oriental-style “Charlie’s Angels” theme, generated mostly from the four seductive temptresses bewitching incomers on the wall above the bar. And yet, no matter how open it is – from the hip-high fence surrounding the front to the open kitchen that overlooks the dining area in the back – it still pervades some level of mystery. I guess that is what makes this place a beckoning gesture for curious minds.

But while its interior design offers tantalising secrets, the food is easier to decipher. For one, we know the taste and textures are lovely. They play along with culinary traditions across Asia and Australia while throwing in some interesting curveballs. Take for instance the crispy caramelised pork belly salad, where the caramelised pineapple pieces balance the status quo against the tangy nam jim dressing. Or even General Chao’s obsession with XO sauce – a condiment consisting of dried scallop, chilli peppers, dried shrimp, garlic and canola oil, which arose in Hong Kong during the 1980s and is now attracting contemporary taste buds.

“A highlight of the menu, our special house-made XO sauces featuring abalone, truffle and gold leaf, is the most decedent XO sauce range in Australia, and the perfect accompaniment to any Asian meal that will take diners from the traditional to the luxurious,” said Head Chef and General Manager, Son Sewoo.

The same mystery revolves around the beverages. We never thought Chardonnay, which is generally more full on the nose and tongue, would be better suited to a bulbous red wine glass. After all, the general saying is that “white wine goes in a white wine glass”. They are smaller for a reason, so we can comfortably hold the stem. Red wine glasses are larger, so you can cup the bowl. But General Chao knows that wider rims and surfaces give flavours more room to move and blossom. Sometimes rules are meant to be broken.

Perhaps we can uncover the mystery within the cocktails. Their signature ‘Jean Claude Pandan’, with clarified milk punch, Plantation 3 Star rum, pandan, coconut and pineapple, adds to the evidence of China’s military history influencing the name of General Chao. But then their ‘Whisky Smash’, with pink peppercorn syrup, scotch whisky and Vietnamese spicy mint served over ice, adds more questions than answers – no matter how tangy and biting the cocktail is.

But then came dessert, and it’s here where the mystery unravels. The dish we received is called Shanghai Banana, which combines the flavours of east and west. It’s a banana piece wrapped in crispy egg noodles and served with coffee caramel and stem ginger ice‑cream, which was crunchy enough to warrant a fork to accompany the spoon. No doubt this dish encompasses the spectacular relationship between Australia and Asia. From our tropical bananas and rich coffee to their traditional egg noodles and love for odd mixtures like ginger and ice cream.

When you match the intriguing mystery and culinary delights with conventionally expected service and a quirky atmosphere, you get a slightly avant-garde evening that may catch you by surprise – and it all starts with a sensual beckoning from the four Asian ladies on the brick wall. The kind of sensual women that could be dangerous for military men. Be careful with your secrets, General Chao; these women seem to love them.