There are few bars that open in Sydney that bring something new to the dining scene. Cocktails and décor form the focal point, with a complementary menu thrown in for good measure that generally follows the latest fads; like Mexican or Thai.
The Smoking Panda is a refreshing change. Not only are the drinks to die for, but the pan-Asian menu features a range of classic items with newer, quirky interpretations. The result; a bar that is a destination not just for drinking but dining too. The Beef San Choy Bau ($5 each) were a particular stand out for full-on flavour ($5 each, you'd be quite sated after two), the Steamed XO Soft Shell Crab Sliders ($7 each) were also popular, and the Sweet & Sour Pork Ribs (5 for $16) were lip-smackingly sensational.
With a trading license allowing The Smoking Panda to stay open until 5am (and without being caught up in the lock-out laws), this hideaway above Hotel Coronation is soon to become a main-stayer on the hit-list of those finishing at 5pm, and those on late-shift.
The décor of this venue mimics that of the Chinese bar/restaurants from California in years gone by, with high-backed gold and red chairs filling the frontal room, where the back room is lit by dusty pink. Whilst there is an impressive feature light; a custom-made Malboro sign, this is overshadowed by the amazing tank on one dividing wall. It avoids the feel of 'dentist office' or 'yum cha' through not only the quirky circular shape, but also the contents. Gone are the fish, lobsters and crabs of norm, Smoking Panda has the jellyfish in! Delicate specimens of translucent matter, they float about as if suspended in time. intriguing to watch, they featured in many conversations of those around us. Perfect distraction for an awkward first date perhaps!
Indicative of the cocktail range is the bar's back wall which holds every liquor known to mankind! It is inspirational to say the least, even the cocktail haters amongst us would find their resolve tested after seeing the artful display, and the theatrics that accompany the creation. I've heard of meat being smoked, never before have I heard of cocktail smoking. The Smoking Panda provided a fine introduction with their 'Smoked Whiskey Sour' ($18). A bell dome is placed over a glassful of the core ingredients; cherry soaked bourbon, sweet & sour and fresh citrus, and then cherry smoked to enhance the flavours. It was a spectacle to watch and very popular with the crowds (a perfect Instagram and Facebook update opportunity) and a unique selling point for the bar.
The cocktail menu is extensive yet not overwhelming There are plenty of bars in Sydney that have so many cocktails listed you feel exhausted before you reach the end of the list…. and get a wine instead. That being said; wine, bottled beers, craft beers and basic spirits are all also available and at very reasonable prices (pints closing around the $11-$12 mark).
Try The Smoking Panda if you're looking for an unpretentious bar in Sydney that channels cool without being 'too cool for school'. The winning combination of cocktail theatrics, delicious bar bites and friendly service will ensure your visit is only one of more sure to follow.