Walking into Liu Rose is like entering a James Bond movie – The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) to be precise - which was shot in The Sea Palace, a floating restaurant in Hong Kong’s Aberdeen Harbour, that was completed in 1958. Even with a more recent external mural, the darkened glass exterior gives little hint of the rich visual treasure that lies within.
While the padded red leather surrounds of the well-stocked bar might have faded, the restaurant’s fabulous ceiling – erected in 1971 – trots along unchanged.
Hexagonal ceiling features frame shaded chandeliers that cast light upwards so you can see the jade green ceiling details.
Circular red and gold door arches take you through from bar to dining space where cleverly moderated late afternoon light adds even more sparkle to the shiny gold walls.
There’s a fish tank room divider separating the main dining room from the bar, and well-framed art positioned so it’s viewable as you move between the three dining spaces.
Waiters in traditional black and white, complete with waistcoats and bow ties, move silently and efficiently through the large dining space. With one hand behind their backs, they’ll do full silver service on your Special Fried Rice ($11/small) – this is "the ultimate in Chinese cuisine” after all.
This big claim – spotted as we drove through North Strathfield and repeated on their plastic-wrapped menu – was actually what drew us into Peter Liu’s restaurant. While it feels grandiose, there’s a sense of grandeur to this Cantonese restaurant that must have looked like a palace when it first emerged nearly fifty years ago.
While you’ll find all of your Aussie-Cantonese favourites, running from honey king prawns (that the folk at the next table highly recommend) to sizzling platters of Mongolian lamb, we combed the menu looking for exotics. The Liu Rose Flower ($7.50/2 pieces) is unique. These golden, round balls eat like a cross between a Chiko roll and a pork siu mai. Their crisp battered exterior contains a mix of pork, prawns, ham, cabbage, mushroom and water chestnuts, served with a lurid sweet and sour dipping sauce. They easily best the more commonplace spring roll.
Mermaid’s Tresses ($10) make an ideal drinking snack with your favourite bottle (BYO allowed). It piles flash fried choy sum (Chinese flowering cabbage) with pork floss and peanuts, and is incredibly compelling.
For something green, Temptress Sping Beans ($19.50) take the Peking (Sichuan) standard of lightly fried, young green beans with pork mince, and elevate it by using tender, hand cut pork pieces. Flavoured with garlic, ginger, shallots and dried shrimp (rather than the usual hot chilli) it’s an easy way to include more vegetables in your meal.
For something with a bit more heat, Spicy Quails ($28) takes farmed tender whole quails, marinates them in ginger juice and red wine, deep fries them, then chops them up before tossing them in chilli, garlic, shallots, parsley, celery and five-spice. While a bit fiddly, with lots of tiny bones to pick clean, they’re quite good eating.
Skipping over tank seafood on display in the main room, we draw our final dish from the crocodile section: Crocodile with Coconut Milk Sauce ($30). This other ‘other white meat’ scrubs up better than pork or chicken in the creamy white sauce made with sliced onions, shallots, chillies and coconut milk. It’s silky and syrupy in a way only corn flour can produce, and eats particularly well over fried rice.
‘You are about to embark on a most delightful journey’, my fortune cookie proclaims.
Maybe it's for you, if you follow in my footsteps and dine at the historic Liu Rose...
243-247 Concord Road, North Strathfield
Ph: (02) 9743 2209