Drive through the elaborate paifang (traditional Chinese gateway) and you’ll find yourself in Chan’s Canton Village.
Edged in red neon, the tiled red and green archway gives way to flat-roofed red brick architecture with a row of windows that each boasts an external air conditioner, reminding me of a 1980s motel.
Pushing through the front doorway takes you into a vestibule lined with photographs of owner James Chan OAM with a not-insubstantial collection of Australia’s most famous politicians and public figures.
Gathered across forty years of running what was once Western Sydney’s largest Chinese restaurant, the photographic collection spans both sides of the political divide. Spying my interest in the photos of Julia Gillard, Bill Shorten, Kevin Rudd, Gladys Berejiklian, Tony Abbott, and Scott Morrison all on display, Chan asks me, rather astutely, if Julia Gillard is my favourite?
When prompted for his favourite in return, Chan volunteers that he liked Kim Beazley the best, because he is “a genuinely nice man”. He adds that all the men who visit his restaurant like Kristina Keneally best, because every morning he has to wipe her photo clean of dirty fingerprints.
Framed by an elaborate wooden archway, the 280-person capacity dining room is a visual delight. While a couple of letters might have gone out in their outdoor sign, there’s nothing faded about the elaborately designed ceilings and painted poles in the gold-heavy interior.
Set with white tablecloths, most of the room’s round tables have wooden lazy Susan toppers that so delighted me as a kid. The only thing that’s missing is the chopsticks - Chan’s Canton Village seems to be a fully fork and spoon affair. The transportive effect of the room is heightened with a soundtrack of traditional Chinese music that eventually gives way to classical tracks and a cacophony of bird calls coming from outside.
Taking the cuisine of Hong Kong as its foundation, the Cantonese menu boast a few dishes you don’t find at every Chinese restaurant in Sydney. Four Treasure Soup ($8) should appeal to anyone who grew up eating cream of chicken soup when they were sick or in need of comfort.
Rooting around the bottom of the opaque and creamy soup will produce a generous collection of prawns, crab meat and chicken, the variety edging out the silky pork wontons in my dining companion’s simple but enjoyable Short Soup ($7.80).
After a bit of banter with our waiter, who seemed unconvinced that we actually enjoy chilli, we get a generously proportioned Chicken Fritters ($10.80) adaptation (they’re usually presented with sweet and sour sauce). Served for us with fresh chilli, salt and pepper, these fritters win with a potato scallop-like crisp batter exterior, and to be fair to our experienced waiter, a bowl of Chan’s house-made chilli sauce that is actually ballistic.
Luckily Josef Chromy Pepik Chardonnay ($35/bottle) is reasonably priced, and the right kind of lean and racy Chardonnay to help diminish my chilli-induced duck pout.
Dished up silver service style by our waiter, now sporting an I-told-you-so smile, Chan's Special Fried Rice ($16.80) contains the same well-sized prawns and chicken as the Four Treasure soup, rounded out with green peas and tasty roast pork.
We enjoy it with some bigger crustaceans – Chilli King Prawns ($26.80) – that have great, firm bite against your choice of chilli sauce (sweet chilli, or one that actually packs some punch) and slivers of perfectly cooked onion.
Mandarin-style Special Fried Pork Ribs ($20.80) are elaborately flamed at the table inside a silver foil package using a fragrant lemon liqueur.
Juggled with two spoons, the piping hot package is then cut open to reveal battered bone-in pork ribs with a sticky citrus-inspired sweet and sour sauce that has hints of burnt marshmallow from its charring.
This was a fun introduction to a suburban Chinese restaurant that makes a casual weeknight dinner feel special.
Chan's Canton Village
2405 Camden Valley Way, Casula
Ph: (02) 9602 0910