I arrived at the Mabuhay Palace of the Manila Hotel where a Chefs Gallery pop up was set up between 17 March to 17 April, eager to taste the renowned Chinese cuisine from Sydney, Australia. I was in for a treat for sumptuous authentic Chinese dishes, but I got more than what I came for.
Before the dishes were bused out of the kitchen, Chef Sun Bing, Executive Chinese Chef of the premiere hotel was ushered into the dining hall. I was briefed at the start that the he spoke little English and some Tagalog, as the Beijing native has been living in the Philippines for a number of years. Meanwhile, I, a Filipino-Chinese, knew little Mandarin. This was going to be quite a challenge.
He scanned the dishes I picked and told me about the four Chinese culinary regions which inspired the menu. Chef Sun generously shared the taste characteristics of these traditions.
First on the list was the prawn and pork wonton in a chicken soup. Beautifully-wrapped wontons, seemed like the shape of a flower sat on a soulful chicken broth that was not inundated with MSG. Dimsums usually come from the Guangdong region, an area near the coast and boasts of fresh seafood. And when seafood is prepared, Chef Sun said that condiments are limited to preserve the actual flavour of the catch. This is how the prawn tasted; it was clean and not overpowered by seasonings.
Then came the rock star of this menu, at least for me, the Tataki Wagyu beef with a Sichuan style spicy dressing. This is a total giveaway, it being Wagyu puts it on top of the Chef Gallery pantheon of dishes. It coming with Sichuan dressing tells that the food is spicy, having hailed from that region where chili, garlic and ginger are staples.
A feast for the eyes, the thin strip of beef is sandwiched between two mint leaves, and topped with is a combination of chilies and fermented vegetables. When I popped the beef rolled with the mint in my mouth, it was a sudden burst of heat. Sichuan dishes are known to numb the tongue, but the surprise in this dish is the mint leaves that serve as a palate cleanser. The taste was overwhelming at first but restrained later. The preparation was simply careful and thoughtful.
The Peking duck roti, I thought initially, would be like the usual fare I have in Chinese restos in Manila. From Chef Sun’s description, this dish must have been from the Shandong region where the royals lived.
The duck was tender and combined really well with the cucumber, hoisin sauce and leeks. What leveled up the dish is the roti, handmade and prepared upon order, which was light and delightfully crunchy.
I also like the hand made egg and spinach tofu. This was a great treat after taking the ultra-spicy Wagyu beef. It was mild and milky and the texture was not crumbly. This was yum for its simplicity, and double yum for health benefits.
Chef Sun mentioned a fourth regional influence, the Hui region but I couldn’t classify any of the savoured dishes in that category. But the amiable chef hastened to add that their dishes fused a lot of these flavours, that sometimes it’s hard to tell where one tradition begins and where one ends.
Future diners should not also overlook the hand pulled noodles for these are a Chefs Gallery specialty. These noodles are prepared only upon order, so you know that a lot of care has been put into the dish whether served in soup or stir-fry.
Make sure to order the Macanese style mini-burgers, with pork fillet, pork floss, lettuce and dressing. The buns smelled great, and were fried but were not greasy at all. The pork duo has great textural contrast with the crunchy lettuce.
Overall, this was an immense gastronomical feast, having tasted flavours that delighted my picky palate. It was also a nostalgic conversation with Chef Sun as he reminded me of my two grandfathers, who both came to Manila and worked as chefs.
Too bad, I was too young and my palate was too indiscriminate to taste authentic Chinese flavours. However, Chefs Gallery reacquainted my taste buds to what is interesting about Chinese food and culture and reminded me of the chef grandfathers who first brought us to these soils.
Chefs Gallery has four branches in NSW. For details ChefsGallery.com.