Dan Hong is executive chef at Mr Wong, Sydney’s most talked-about Chinese restaurant, and also oversees the menus at several other venues operated by the Merivale hospitality group. Here, he nominates his favourite dining rooms in the city and shares some foodie secrets.
Tell us a bit about Mr Wong. What sets it apart from other Chinese restaurants?
Before Mr Wong opened, in most cases people would go to Chinese restaurants just for the food. They didn’t really think about the service, or the wine list, or anything like that. But Mr Wong has the whole package: not just amazing food, but also an amazing atmosphere. It’s in a beautiful heritage-listed building, hidden down an alleyway – it really is a destination.
If Mr Wong is booked out, where else can visitors find great Chinese in Sydney?
I would recommend Spice World. In the past few years, hot-pot has blown up around Sydney, and Spice World is probably the best example. You can get beautiful, thinly sliced cuts of Wagyu beef there; if you’re an offal fan, you can get lamb’s brains and pig’s stomach; or you can order live seafood. Plus, they have private dining rooms, which I often book with large groups of friends. We bring our own wine and stay for like, five or six hours. It’s a cool vibe.
Where’s the best place to see some of the city’s best produce?
The Sydney Fish Market is amazing. Australia has some of the cleanest waters in the whole world, and therefore some of the world’s best seafood. And it all comes through the Sydney Fish Market: whether it be reef fish and spanner crab from the tropical climes of Far North Queensland, southern rock lobster from the cold waters of Tasmania, or kingfish and blue sea tuna from the deep seas of South Australia. At the market, you can choose your own seafood and get it cooked on the spot. If you don’t have a big budget, there’s great fish and chips, or you can splash out on a live lobster.
How about a sit-down venue for the family?
I often take my wife and three kids to Coogee Pavilion, which overlooks the ocean. It’s great because you can go there for a nice glass of wine or a cocktail, but there’s also pizza and ice cream for the kids. It’s a real all-rounder.
Tell us about a locals-only foodie spot.
Well, I’m Vietnamese, and back in the early 90s when I was growing up, my mum operated two Vietnamese restaurants in Cabramatta in Western Sydney. Cabramatta is still the hub for our local Vietnamese community, and it’s where you’ll find some of the best food in the entire city. The trick is to act like you’re in an Asian city: you don’t go to one restaurant for multiple dishes, you go to several restaurants and get the signature dish at each place. I recommend Huong XuA for northern chicken pho, Phu Quoc for sugar cane prawn rolls, and Tan Viet for crispy skin chicken noodles.
You work in the middle of the city. If you have a break, where do you go?
I like The Galeries, a small shopping centre. It has a branch of Kinokuniya, which is probably my favourite bookstore in the whole of Sydney. The range is unbeatable, especially for magazines and Manga. There are some great clothing stores – particularly Incu, which is a Sydney institution – and good food options. It’s a nice mix.
What do you do to burn calories after a feast?
I’ll go for a jog around the Royal Botanic Garden. Every time I’m there, I’m struck by how beautiful our city is: you can look out over the water to the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, and all around you are these stunning gardens. It makes you proud to be from Sydney – and it’s a great place to take visitors.