With two outlets in Sydney and one in Indonesia, Ma La Tang is an expanding chain with their eyes already set on China and Singapore. In Sydney they’re taking on the masters at Yang Guo Fu Ma La Tang by launching stores in Central Park shopping centre in Chippendale, and in the Discovery Point development in Wolli Creek.
Good placement on the edge of the level two food court makes the Central Park store an attractive dining proposition. With a mix of marble and wooden tabletops and school room chairs, plus plenty of natural light pouring in through floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, it’s definitely the classiest place we’ve slurped this Sichuan-style soup.
The other big plus is Ma La Tang is licensed, so you can drink beer, without smuggling in your own in a suspicious looking brown paper bag. Spicy soup really begs for beer, and TsingTao ($7) answers that call quickly and decisively.
The process here is pretty much the same. Bowls and tongs are located on the far right of the store, in a terrible bottleneck that they didn’t think through very well.
Three levels of well-lit ingredients make choosing your own dining adventure here quite enjoyable.
Everything looks fresh and plentiful, though I’ll cherish the day when someone thinks to label what everything is, particularly all the mystery balls.
There were some new items at this outlet, from fresh button mushrooms to kelp to scored squid, cleverly cut with dips and grooves to make the soup adhere better.
This time I decided to have a bit of a theme - textures of bean curd. Starting with deep fried tofu puffs, I collected tofu skin (sheets of thin tofu), firm tofu, silken tofu and cute little tofu knots.
With a few quail eggs and thin coils of pork, lamb and wagyu beef thrown in, at weigh in, my bowl came to a very conservative $10.59.
My dining companion’s more generously proportioned bowl of soup set him back $24.25.
What makes Ma La Tang unique is that once you’ve weighed in, you can choose between the spicy Sichuan soup (malatang), laksa, chicken broth or a dry wok cook being applied to your chosen ingredients. When your buzzer goes off, you collect your bowl from near the cashier. This leads to a very hot-fingered dance holding the metal handles down to the sauce station at the rear of the kitchen (where the bowls probably should come out).
It’s my view that the bone-broth soup base here is a little less exciting, so don’t be afraid of throwing in some toppings - garlic, soy, chilli oil, sesame oil, freshly chopped coriander, black vinegar and white sugar. They’re all on display in the only part of the store that looks like it could do with a good wipe and tidy up.
Both bowls of soup are enjoyable, though as I mentioned, the broth lacks the depth, spiciness and complexity of the competitor.
As a result we hit up the sauce station a second time for more garlic and chilli oil. My textures of bean curd experiment was highly successful - and an inexpensive way to compare which type of tofu eats best for you in soup. From start to finish this inexpensive meal for two took less than half an hour, ensuring we had plenty of time to make our way up the escalators for our movie at Palace Central Cinemas.
Ma La Tang
Level 2, Central Park,
28 Broadway, Chippendale
Ph: (0438) 689 119