Thanks to the fine folks at FOOD CRITICS AND BLOGGERS AUSTRALIA community I managed to swindle an invite to be hosted by the fabulous people at BISTRO HULU in Crows Nest. BISTRO HULU is what I would call upper level Chinese cuisine that has refined and redefined the great Chinese dishes and made them gourmet fare as opposed to the family boganesque Saturday night Chinese I was used to getting drunk over during the 80s and 90s (Man Wah Newport – oh the memories :)). BISTRO HULU specialises in their home-made noodles, dumplings and their #drool hot pots.
BISTRO HULU made the move (if I remember correctly) a bit less than a year ago from China Town out into the burbs where they have made a grand entry onto the main drag at Crows Nest. It is a well fitted-out venue and having a glass section at the front where passers-by can view the kitchen wizards spinning noodles or making dumplings is a winner, something that always keeps me mesmerised at Din Tai Fung. They have a very auspicious and welcoming design throughout with simple base colours of white, beige and deep brown to black heavily splashed with red and titling mostly in gold, my feng shui was abuzz and I would happily walk into this place even if I wasn’t invited. The place is heavily lit so do not expect this to be a romantic “on the knee” proposal venue but expect it to be a venue that after eating your partner will definitely want to jump you.
The staff have a family element to them and it is run like some of the best militarised (but still friendly) establishments in the city, something no doubt picked up after years in China Town. We were never left wanting for everything and neither was anyone else in the venue. The venue was packed with a mixture of patrons, one table at the back was all elder Asian lawyers who eat there weekly (I did snoop), there was some young-guy locals next to us that must eat here once a week and know good food and then the place was spotted with families, couples and locals but I would say an over 50% Asian patronage on the night we attended, and for me, the Aussie dude, I know this means the food is good. If out and about and picking an Asian venue to go to without Zomato or online study you just look through the window or door, if majority Asian patrons then you can trust it is good food, well this has worked for me for ages :).
We were given a mammoth menu filled with so many things to choose from but I also asked the friendly, relaxed, passionate and seasoned owner of BISTRO HULU what we MUST eat. It was explained that the main sign out the front has the slogan “DUMPLINGS NOODLES HOTPOTS” so we really should try one each of those and then whatever we wanted to add, I also asked what his favourite dishes were and from this our menu was selected. We started with the top photograph, PRAWN TOAST, something I was surprised one of the Chinese girls I was dining with had never heard of. My research (thanks Wiki) indicates it is a common appetizer in Australian and American Chinese cuisine that fits into the dim sum genre of Chinese food, regardless of the history it was the single best prawn toast I have ever eaten, even after the 15mins we left it to cool on the table while shooting photos.
The second dish we inhaled was not something I would have ordered, it was our “dumplings” selection and the owner told us his favourite dumpling was the Mushroom Dumplings, made with mixed mushrooms, they were light and fresh and packed with nuanced and intricate flavours, I loved them and we pretty much fought over getting the last dumpling on the plate.
After this was an odd dish, a dish I would NEVER EVER order but was close to the favourite dish of the night, it was basics at its best and again its intricacies in flavour were exceptional. It was a tower of perfectly cooked spinach in a creamy sesame sauce, it reminded me of the Kewpie Sesame sauce but bolder and the combo of a forkful of spinach in that sauce was an easy first foodgasm for the meal, my eyes rolled into my head for this one and the toes curled.
Following my spinachgasm we moved on to the next pectacular dish, the Poached Spicy Beef Dumplings and water chestnuts (it is two pics up following the spinach). It reminded me of my favourite dish at Din Tai Fung, a similar dish of spicy dumplings in a red chilli sauce, it was sublime and packed a sublime chilli kick that I truly love. Multiple foodgasms happened and we haven’t even got to my favourite dish yet!
That was next, the pic above, the Three Cups Seafood stir fry with their in-house and totally divine hand-pulled noodles. Sanbeiji translates to Three Cups Chicken and this is a truly famous dish in Chinese cuisine, a dish traditionally cooked with chicken that for some splendid reason the venue has improved on from years of cultural cooking. But the three cups boils down (pun intended) to one cup of soy sauce, one cup of rice wine and one cup of sesame oil to which one chicken is cooked in. It has been influenced over the years by the French and other cultures and each culture has its own version, for example Lin Shangquan, a famous chef in Taiwan, believes that the traditional recipe called for a cup each of soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar, with added ginger, garlic, and basil. All I can think of is that that one cup of sugar would taste nice but also eventually kill me.
Over the years the meat has been altered in some cultures and both pork and even frogs (Frenchies for sure) has been substituted so I bow to BISTRO HULU for their exceptional version that has my mouth watering just thinking about it all over again.
After the sublime Three Cups Aqua (trademarked JK 2016) we received the dish I ordered for the table, the Pork Belly with house made XO sauce and veg. It was nice and a dish I would order as takeaway on the way home from work, if I lived in the area, but after the sublime and somewhat “exotics” we had indulged in so far it slightly paled in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious but could not match the proceeding greatness.
But the above dish came close to the previous greatness, the Wagyu hotpot. This one packed divine flavours and made for some fun and fantastic photos but we were all a little messed up by the meat all being giant tender string-like clumps of meat, it really needed a knife and fork but we didn’t have them so divided up on our plates and went in with chopsticks, the meat tasted amazing but I really had to get fingers in to help me break the meat into more manageable mouthfuls, not sexy when eating with people you have just met – lovely people I must add – the three of us had lots of fun!
As you can see from the above pic we received a feast fit for royalty from a mild mannered venue that cooked some sublime and nuanced food made with love and awesome skill. When most Australians think of “Chinese food” they think of sweet and sour pork, beef and black bean, lemon chicken, fried rice and spring rolls, BISTRO HULU might have these on the menu but OMG why would you ever order such (now) passé Chinese dishes when there are the epic delights we feasted on.
A truly sublime meal and some of the best Chinese food I have ever eaten. I will return for more of this and will be dragging the parents along! Huge thank you to the kindness of the staff at the venue and thanks to FCBA for organising a superb evening.
Bistro Hulu Deets:
90 Willoughby Road, Crows Nest, NSW
Phone: (02) 9966 8899
*** JK (and any guests of Spooning Australia) ate as an invited guest of the venue but to be frank, if it was shite I would happily tell you as such.