THE SMOKING PANDA was an incredible surprise – one of the best finds from the end of 2017 that really deserved a spot in my Top 20 Restaurants of last year. It is disguised on the street by what appears a dinghy street bar not far from Town Hall. It’s unappealing and really a venue I quicken my pace when walking past. The pub has been there for years and when I approached I thought it was a joke we were eating there. My good friend Laarni (@threespoonsfull) invited me along as her plus one and I was starting to wonder if she was taking me to dodgeville to sell me onto the sex market – I am very pretty :).
THE SMOKING PANDA VENUE:
Once you go through the dodgy bar and take the stairs up a level you are transferred into a different world. A world of slightly clashing decor, drinks and food on offer. The venue is like a trendy, but old fashioned, Chinese restaurant that has some fishtanks with jellyfish and clownfish in them. The tanks were still being prepped so plants and the like were on the way. But the drinks were something I would imagine from an upper New York stylish establishment. It is warm, it is quite dark and it’s comfortable. From memory there were some booth type seating, smaller, more cocktails tables (like where we sat) and then some proper dining tables.
The restaurant isn’t trying to be one thing, it is being successful for both food and drinks – but they are quite separate from each other yet work together. They are known for their Old Fashioned drinks – from what we ate I took it more as a bar that served wonderful Asian inspired bar foods. But the venue looks more Chinese restaurant, I actually thought they moved in to the venue already decked out, but from their website they renovated to this style. The oddity in the older styled venue works however, there is so much character in the place I nearly gave it a name.
On top of the decor, the staff were incredible and the place is worth visiting for the bar staff alone, besides their cocktail wizardry, hello – hot diggity, all of them are gorgeous :).
THE WORLD NEEDS MORE OLD FASHIONEDS:
I did not know much about the cocktails known as an OLD FASHIONED before I visited THE SMOKING PANDA. I had heard of the cocktail but that was about it.
In 1862 a book entitled Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide: How To Mix Drinks is published, giving instructions and recipes from the early days of bartending. This book contains a recipe for an Old Fashioned Holland Gin Cocktail: “Crush a small lump of sugar in a whiskey glass containing a little water, add a lump of ice, two dashes of Angostura bitters, a small piece of lemon peel, one jigger Holland gin. Mix with small bar spoon. Serve.” This eventually developed through the ages to be made with different whiskeys – I am wondering if the “whiskey glass” got lost in translation and cocktail evolution.
Well THE SMOKING PANDA has taken the single and humble Old Fashioned and turned it into a phenomenon giving you over 18 billion cocktail possibilities. That figure is correct.
With the largest collection of bitters of any bar in Australia THE SMOKING PANDA have relaunched themselves as the number one spot in Sydney to get an Old Fashioned. 261 different spirits. 232 different bitters (I REPEAT 232 DIFFERENT TYPES OF BITTERS!!). Over 18 billion possibilities. There are 228 drinks to choose from on the Old Fashioned menu and you can select from an abundance of spirits to have as your base or you can just be a gin whore like me and try all the gin combinations you can get away with.
What I tried:
Firstly I tried the Jinzu Gin Old Fashioned with Miracle Mile Yuzu Bitters – AMAZING!! Then I tried the Beefeater Gin Old Fashioned with Napa Valley Bitters and Strawberry Rhubarb Bitters – HEAVEN!! Laarni actually let the barman make one for her and when he delivered it he said he probably could never recreate it as he mixed different fruity bitters and gin – so impressed but I guess you can’t keep track of 18 billion combinations.
It’s snacks, sliders and dim sum. Not your traditional Chinese but the food compliments the Old Fashioneds and visa versa
The Smoking Panda’s menu draws inspiration from suburban Chinese restaurants. With contemporary takes on favourite Chinese eats and finger food, the menu is available all night long to coincide with the bar’s opening hours, making The Smoking Panda the perfect spot for a post work session or midnight bite. Winning!
WHAT WE ATE:
- Salt & Pepper Squid with chilli, shallots and aioli
- Devil Wings with Homemade Shredded Beetroot Pickle – Marinated fried chicken bites with shredded beetroot pickle
- Sticky USA Pork Loin Ribs – Tender baby ribs in a sticky BBQ sauce
- Panda Kuro Prawns – Wild caught Argentine Red Prawns coated in a bamboo charcoal infused panko crumb served with seaweed and sesame soy sauce
- Panda Smoked Duck Cakes – Lightly pan-fried duck breast in homemade smoky sauce stuffed in Chinese steam bun with shallots, snow pea sprouts and fresh chilli
WHAT WE THOUGHT
I honestly cannot fault one single dish. Some I preferred over others but we literally devoured EVERYTHING! It definitely does have a Chinese influence to it but nothing is traditional – it all looks like insta foodporn! The Salt and Pepper Squid had a beautiful spice to it. The Devil Wings were my favourite – their spice was quite hot but OMG I loved them. I could have eaten that entire tray to myself. Ribs were my least favourite but the BBQ marinade was impressive and not overbearing, the dish was simply outclassed by the others.
The Kuro Prawns was something new and I truly loved that crispy outer shell of bamboo charcoal infused panko crumb – added something completely new to prawns. And finally the Smoked Duck Cakes – nothing overly special – we ordered them because we both worship duck and this was a divine comfort dish to end on – and the nice spicy addition put a smile on my face.
If you haven’t ventured to THE SMOKING PANDA yet you need to amend this culinary discrepancy ASAP. You need to go there with some cash, drink an ample amount of wonderful Old Fashioneds and compliment these amazing drinks with some Chinese inspired snack food that will blow your mind! I cannot wait to return!
SCORE BREAKDOWN: 3/3 food,2/2 service, 1/1 drinks, 0/1 venue & ambience, 1/1 cost, 1/1 toilets and 1/1 bonus
The Smoking Panda Deets:
PH: 02 9264 4618
5-7 Park St, Sydney NSW 2000
BOOKINGS: Yes – check with venue
TUESDAY – FRIDAY: 12PM – LATE
SATURDAY: 4PM – LATE
TAKEAWAY: I don’t believe so
LOCAL DELIVERY: No
VEGETARIAN OPTIONS: Yes – limited
GLUTEN FREE OPTIONS: Yes – limited
KID FRIENDLY: Definitely not
*** JK (and any guests of Spooning Australia) were invited guests of the establishment and/or any PR agencies representing them. However, as always, if it was shite I would happily tell you as such ***
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