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Madame Shanghai

Dumplings, barbecue and a $130 Negroni abound at Lotus Dining's new yum cha restaurant.
By James Whitton
June 07, 2017
By James Whitton
June 07, 2017

The Lotus Dining group have introduced their latest venture Madame Shanghai to Sydney, showing off executive chef Chris Yan's take on Shanghai-style street food. While the menu at Madame Shanghai delves into the world of Chinese barbecue, the Darlinghurst restaurant still maintains a selection of the tasty dumplings that have defined the Lotus style across their five venues.

Yan's goal is to expand on the options for yum cha in the city, and Madame Shanghai intends to open a whole new world of Chinese breakfast foods in Sydney. "The yum cha offering in Sydney can be limited," Yan says. "So if I'm doing yum cha, it's got to be different and fun." Yan also plans to keep the traditional breakfast dish going well into dinner time with a monthly bingo and yum cha night (hosted by drag queen Penny Traiton, nonetheless) to be held on the first Thursday of the month, starting June 1.

For their latest venture, owner Michael Jiang has enlisted the help of veteran cocktail slinger Kate McGraw to develop a cocktail list that simultaneously complements the menu and stands out in its own regard. "For bartenders, I feel 2016 was about experimenting with outlandish techniques and flavours," McGraw says. "Whereas 2017 is the year we are finessing and honing those skills and prioritising sensory engagement." Included in the cocktail list is the '76 Negroni, made entirely from ingredients bottled in the 1970s. This fancy drink comes with a fancier price tag, however, clocking in at $130 per beverage. So only order it if you're sure you like Negronis.

Taking hefty influence from the post-colonial era of Shanghai, the fit-out of the 60-seat restaurant and 30-seat bar is inspired by both Chinese art and decor, and chinoiserie, the style of European art influenced by Asian design that rose to popularity in Europe throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The theme is an expression of the heritage of Yan (he was born in Shanghai) and so isn't entirely misplaced. However, it does hint at the 'fetishisation' of Asian women from a particularly dark period of Chinese history that has had other venues in hot water of late, mainly through the restaurant's menu design — which pictures an image of an Asian woman with the words 'dare to have a taste' — and its original tagline, 'when the Madame is in, there will be sin'.

But in terms of the menu and the drinks list, Lotus Dining is aiming for accuracy and authenticity in the new shop, properly showcasing the possibilities of Chinese cooking. It's good to see a new player pick up the mantle and expand the population's palate.

Images: Alana Dimou.

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