According to the Chinese calendar, the year begins on the first new moon between 21 January and 20 February; and so this Monday ushered in the lunar Year of the Monkey.
Celebrations run for 16 days, from NY Eve (7 Feb this year) until the next full moon (22 Feb). And what celebrations they are! In order to start the year as you hope to continue it, New Year is a time to gather with loved ones, especially around a table laden with the very best ingredients.
Certain foods are particularly auspicious: long noodles represent longevity; fish (the Chinese name sounds like “surplus”) and dumplings (which look like money bags) signify prosperity; and lucky red drives away evil. So gather your nearest and dearest and celebrate the Year of the Monkey at one of my five favourite Chinese restaurants.
Gong Hey Fat Choy!
Spice Temple, Sydney
This dimly-lit, subterranean space celebrates the food of ChinaĂ•s lesser known regions, including Yunnan, bordering northern Myanmar and Laos; chilli-loving Jiangxi, Hunan and Sichuan; and largely Moslem Xingjiang. Sichuan-style leatherjacket is a must. The $75 banquet is exceptional value (special $95 NY banquet until 13 Feb).
Mr Wong, Sydney
This huge warehouse space spread over two-levels is all wood, exposed brick, splashes of jade colour and other colonial Chinois charm. The food is serious Cantonese, with a separate roast meat counter, live seafood tanks and a dedicated dim sum chef as well as exec chef Dan Hong’s main menu – and that signature Merivale wine list.
Master, Surry Hills
This small, minimal, noisy space offers a truly delicious modern spin on Chinese flavours, prepared and presented by some young guns with serious pedigree. Scallop silk with XO; strange-flavoured pork neck; and the potato dessert aren’t to be missed. The short, naturally-leaning wine list is serious too.
Blue Eye Dragon, Pyrmont
For something slightly different I head to this Taiwanese restaurant in the old church hall opposite The Star. Large juicy prawns in Jade’s ‘bloody plum sauce’, calamari roll with salted duck egg, and Chinese turnip omelette are my go-to dishes. And a bag of frozen house-made prawn or pork dumplings to take home.
Stepping out of the lifts into this cavernous dining room transports me to Hong Kong. I love the bustle of the yum cha trolleys and the immersion in a completely different culture, even if only for an hour or so. The steamed dumplings are the best I’ve ever had – and the underground parking is an absolute bargain.
* Roberta Muir runs the Sydney Seafood School at the Sydney Fish Market and publishes the website Food Wine Travel, where she shares her favourite food, wine and travel discoveries. You can sign up here to receive her regular email of her top 5 favourite things.