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22° & PARTLY CLOUDY ON THURSDAY 23 MAY IN SYDNEY
New in Town
Canton! Canton!
By Cordelia Williamson
February 20, 2019
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By Cordelia Williamson
February 20, 2019
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George Street's former Tim Ho Wan site is now home to a traditional Cantonese haven, with a dim sum master of 28 years at its helm.

A new Cantonese restaurant has arrived on George Street, filling the dumpling-shaped hole that formed in our hearts since the closure of Tim Ho Wan last year. A project by The Jewel Pantry Group, Canton! Canton! is the dining group’s luxe flagship venture — a second, more on-the-go eatery, Mr. Fatt has taken over the Pitt Street Mall outpost. And not only has the group nabbed Tim Ho Wan’s CBD locations but also the chef Jacky Chan, a master of dim sum.

“We brought Tim Ho Wan to Sydney under its brand and after working with that for a few years we came to realise that their food philosophy didn’t quite work in Sydney,” says The Jewel Pantry’s owner David Howe.

“Tim Ho Wan is a model that works very well in Hong Kong but it doesn’t translate well to the Australian market,” adds Howe’s partner and the group’s designer Raymond Teo. “Here, people want more variety.”

Canton! Canton!, then, seems a natural progression in the ever-demanding market that is Sydney and, while perhaps not as affordable as the one-time cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, it promises to deliver “genuinely authentic Canto food using traditional Cantonese techniques while still being open to innovation.” as put by Executive Chef Chan.

Having opened its doors last week, Canton! welcomes in the Year of the Pig with all-day dim sum, succulent roasts in the evening and a space that transports you to the opulent times of industrial pre-war China. In partnership with Zantac we’re uncovering the best new restaurants and bars around Australia as they open. We’ve got the lowdown on the team, the design and — most importantly — the menu so that you can head in educated, excited and ready to take it all in — with a few dishes recommended by the chef, no less.

The Team

Leaving behind the in-and-out (and at times brusque) service model of Tim Ho Wan — and with Howes’s hopes to “provide the best restaurant in terms of service in Sydney” — it was important for The Jewel Pantry to bring over the best. Interestingly, the chef, rather than the concept, came first. The group’s decision to start their portfolio with a traditional Cantonese restaurant is mainly due to the chef Chan’s expertise in southern Chinese cuisine, particularly in dim sum.

Chan was a natural fit, having worked with Howe previously as the head chef of Sydney’s Tim Ho Wan outposts. He has 28 years of Cantonese cooking under his belt, including training under Tim Ho Wan’s co-founder and dim sum extraordinaire Chef Mak Kwai Pui ,as well as holding the position of head dim sum chef at The Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore.

“I started learning the art of dim sum from my father who was also a chef,” says Chan. “Throughout my career I have been fortunate enough to have learnt from some of the very best chefs in the business…and much of what I have learnt has gone into curating the menu.”

Roast master Ron Ooi will be joining Chan in the kitchen who, like Chan, began learning his craft from his father. Perfecting the art of roast meats in Singapore before moving to Australia, Ooi will be leading the charge of all the roast dishes at Canton! Canton!

Continuing to work with two Tim Ho Wan managers, Nick Yang and Winnie Wu, Howe is adamant that the service at Canton! will be attentive, inspired by restaurants he’s visited in Bangkok.

“This is the type of service you will not find too often,” says Howe. “I told my staff: ‘if anyone is looking for the toilet, you walk them to the door!’.”

The Design

The aim of the design for Canton! Canton! was to elicit the lavish bygone jazz era of 1930s Canton (now Guangdong) and its bustling markets. Envisioned by Raymond Teo, in collaboration with interior stylist Dorian McCartney of Hydra Design, the space is a far cry from the metal stools, nondescript tables and harsh lighting of its former occupant.

“I thought it would be appropriate to have a bit of theatricality in the design, seeing as it’s in an entertainment area of Sydney with the Metro and Event Cinema nearby,” says Teo. “The vision was to be something larger than life, something exciting.”

The 68-seater, albeit ‘theatrical’, is comfortable and inviting. Canopy-covered booths inspired by opium dens offer a more secluded experience while the weathered timber banquet tables are perfect for corporate lunches or larger affairs, with smaller tables dotted throughout alluding to the vintage market theme. Exposed brick, latticed screens and golden lanterns complement the dim lighting and the roasting station and cashier play off the use of antique wooden shipping and tea crates. Think Mr. Wong but smaller, and almost more overt.

“We wanted to make everything look as authentic as possible to that period. I referenced ideas from historical and cultural artifacts such as the old opium dens, the canopies, vintage wedding sedan chairs, the rickshaws, shipping crates, tea crates. Everything,” says Teo.

With roughly 70 percent of the materials used sourced directly from China, it was imperative for Teo to be as authentic with the design as possible. From the recycled bricks coming from old hutong houses to the canopy’s tiles to the lattice screens and doors.

“Basically, every item that we sourced had to add to or protect that sort of vibe we were creating,” says Teo. “We’ve tried to create something where people can enjoy, relax and spent some time.”

The Menu

When creating the menu for Canton! Canton!, Chan was presented with the challenge of preserving the best of the previous brand without mimicking it. Drawing upon Guangdong’s rich culture, custom and history, Chan’s menu is like an ode to the region, to a romanticised pre-war China and to Cantonese cuisine in general. He’s not exactly reinventing the wheel but rather is guided by the philosophy of traditional Cantonese techniques and dishing up much-loved classics such as pork and prawn dumplings, eight types of congee (one topped with century egg) and, of course, Hong Kong-style roast duck.

“We are trying to create a genuinely authentic Cantonese dining experience, emphasising on the ‘wow’ factor with the plating and presentation,” says Chan. “In Cantonese cuisine, fragrance and colours are essential.”

That ‘wow factor’ is shown off with dim sum coming out in birdcages, and a dessert that’s plated on a chess board.

Expect yum cha, pork buns and the signature Phoenix Claws (bean curd skin topped with braised chicken feet and abalone sauce) from 11am, followed by congees, noodles and roast meats including duck, pork belly and char siu from the bespoke roasting station. In the evening, mains such as braised pork belly with preserved veggies and deep-fried crispy chicken are additionally offered alongside desserts like the caramelised Malay cake or the chilled silky soy pudding as well as a concise wine list. Three banquet menus ($33/45/58) are also on offer.

Whatever you choose, you’ll know you’re in good hands. “Jacky is probably — and I might sound biased but don’t think I am — one of the best dim sum chefs in Sydney,” says Teo.

 

 

CHEF’S PICK: FOUR THINGS TO ORDER

So what should you order? Chan has championed this menu, so we thought he’d be the best person to ask. Here are four picks from the Canton! Canton! menu.

Canton! Canton! is now open at 580 George Street, Sydney. For more info, visit thejewelpantrygroup.com/canton-canton.

Keen to check out more newbies? Have a sift through the newest crop of Sydney openings.

To find out more about Zantac, visit the website. Zantac relieves heartburn. Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, worsen or change unexpectedly, talk to your health professional.

Words: Cordelia Williamson. Images: Nikki To

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