As you enter the alcove on Quay Street in Ultimo, you are met with an array of different vendors all trying to hustle you into their restaurant, the fact that you there are four Asian joints side by side, separated by an escalator and a fish monger only add to the ferocity which they try and usher you in. My favourite of the four is a seemingly innocuous (and aptly named) Chinese Noodle Restaurant.
With plastic grapes hanging from the ceiling and gaudy wall tapestries are straight out of Chairman Mao's personal collection. The place is packed, with every available square inch being optimised for seating. Regularly when I go there with my pseudo-Asian family (Ash, Dan, Chris, Luca, Nathan, Nicky aka Chin and Robbie), three of whom are actually Asian, we have to wait for seating, never more than 5 minutes and the hostess takes your order so when you are seated your food is almost ready.! #Asainefficency
When you go inside your senses are suddenly awakened with smells of sichuan pepper, chilli, garlic and sweet soupy Chinese goodness. The food is warming in winter and invigorating in summer, providing a glimpse into traditional Chinese cuisine without any western bastardisation. There is no ceremony in the service, in fact it almost verges on abrasive, but this seems to just be the way it is done in all the good Asian restaurants I have been little to no hospitality, but this never detracts from the experience, if anything, it adds to it!
Every table is set with tea, chilli, vinegar and soy sauce, all of which are essential to create the perfect combination of flavours with all the dishes. Think of the vinegar, chilli and soy as the Asian equivalent of salt and pepper on a western table, it enhances the flavour.
The actual food that is on the menu is a combination of South-Western Sichuan and Southern Cantonese. I usually go for the Sichuan side of things due to the bold flavours with heavy use of garlic, ginger, chilli and of course the distinctly numbing spicy sichuan peppers. Our usual order when we go is steamed pork and Chinese cabbage dumplings, braised eggplant, spicy chicken and shallot salad (cold) and rice. This is enough food for 4 people. If there are more of us we get either the shredded mini pork pancakes or Sichuan pork loin stew (extremely spicy!).
The whole meal totals usually around $10-15 per head and is part of the reason why go to this place between 3 - 4 times a week. They have won awards for their noodles in Timeout magazine, my favourite is the Beijing combination noodles which are meaty, sweet and soupy noodles, which are a difficult experience for anyone not extremely proficient in chopstick use. But they are worth the effort (and mess!).
This delightful little slice of Chinese cuisine is also BYO and there is a bottle-shop just around the corner for those of you who wish to have a couple of drinks with dinner. This place is cheap, has excellent food, quick and efficient service and is conveniently located in the heart of the South end of the city.