Seven years ago, on my first visit to Shanghai, I dined in a restaurant called Lynn Modern Shanghai Cuisine, who put out contemporary Shanghainese and Cantonese food in a grand, stylish room with high ceilings. It was a memorable introduction to Shanghainese cuisine, so when I returned to Sydney and spied a restaurant using almost the same name – Lynn Shanghai Cuisine – I’d always intended to pay it a visit, to see if there was any connection.
The opportunity finally arose last week; though when made my way up the curved staircase to the discretely tucked away restaurant, upstairs in The Castlereagh Club, I was informed the restaurants were actually unrelated.
While recently refurbished, Lynn Shanghai Cuisine has the over-lit, over-surveilled, barn-like atmosphere common to so many large-scale club dining operations. They’ve certainly tried to create a gentleman’s club type look with hunter green and tan décor, but the large room definitely needed a few more curves and dividers to deliver on the intimacy the curved booths try to create.
Instead it’s all orderly rows of tables and tan banquettes that are too straight-up-and-down to be particularly comfortable, plus a few large round tables for groups, complete with traditional glass lazy Susan toppers.
While I was pleased not to have to complete the usual tedious club sign in, they haven't moved on from drinks being a collect at the bar affair, despite offering table service for food.
From a pretty average selection of eight white wines, the Tim Gramp Riesling ($9/glass) scrubs up best. While I didn’t think much of the melon notes in the Katnook Founders Block Chardonnay ($9/glass), it’s hard to complain too much when you’re eating in a city-based restaurant with wines as cheap as six bucks a glass and twenty bucks a bottle.
If, like me, you’re somewhat snobbier about drinking good wine, there’s always spirits and a cuisine appropriate TsingTao Beer ($8) chaser.
To the tinny beat of terrible mainstream pop pumped from set speakers in the darkened fittings overhead, we get stuck into our opening Spinach Salad ($10.80). Lightly blanched leafy greens are with a well-balanced ginger and vinegar sauce making them great to prepare your palate for the richer dishes that follow.
Despite asking our waitress for extra chilli heat, the Kung Po Chicken ($19.80) we received was too sweet. Getting a bit of side-eye from my dining companion, clearly thinking we’d made a terrible mistake, was compounded by realising the more attractively plated chilli-heavy dish I’d eyed off on our neighbour’s table was actually the Sichuan-Style Fried Chilli Chicken ($24.80). Putting my F.O.M.O. to one side, the kung po chook was actually well-handled, with crisp hunks of green capsicum, juicy curls of sweet white onion, and peanuts, even if it did lack in the chilli department.
Special Fried Rice ($15.80) is freshly prepared – the omelette it contains is particularly good - and sufficiently neutral so as not to overpower your other dishes. Spying my dining companion drowning it in the on-table chilli sauce, our waitress makes a clever correction to the path of our meal.
Starting with a compelling pot of Mapo Tofu with Minced Chicken ($16.80), the remaining dishes come out with the heat level we initially requested, along with a lovely, “now I understand” apology. Made in-house, the tofu in this dish has a lovely texture - firm enough to pick up with chopsticks, but soft enough to create a lovely contrast to the hand chopped chicken mince it’s served with. It’s spicy and as it cooks down in the piping hot, cast-iron pot, it creates a tasty socarrat-style crust of chicken mince and tofu that’s well-worth scraping off.
We end on Xinjiang-style Wagyu Beef with Cumin and Pepper ($29.80). Kicked up with great chilli heat, this dry, Northern Chinese dish is the perfect counterpoint to our juicy mapo tofu; teaming tender cubes of wagyu beef with slivers of cumin-dusted onion and green shallots.
Coming in at under a hundred bucks for food, this was a surprisingly good club meal, rescued by attentive service from a manager who was not afraid to admit to having made a mistake.
Lynn Shanghai Cuisine
Level 1, The Castlereagh Club
199 Castlereagh Street Sydney
Ph: (02) 9267 7780