Let's face it, foodie friends are tight knit. We mightn't even eat together, but when a back street, office block or ritzy brasserie turns out something special, WE TELL OUR FRIENDS!
Because foodies KNOW the importance of getting the word out there, so that this new found jewel stays popular and doesn't close. So thanks boys, (experts in eating Chinese cuisine) for sending out the urgent/excited message recently about TBC Grape Garden opening in the 'hood.
Smack bang in the rougher end of Bayswater Road, just steps away from the King's Cross train station, Jie, Gao and Ecca have opened their latest venture. 'Why this spot?' we ask, mystified. 'The kitchen!', Says Jie without hesitation. Sure enough, the kitchen is in fact a larger space than the dining area which is a tiny but scrupulously clean and ordered postage stamp. Still, tables spill out onto the sidewalk, and Jie and son Ecca tell us that their main trade is in take-away: it all makes sense. During Covid, the family hunted around and were impressed by the commercial kitchen they found here.
Peking duck and hand pulled noodles are a speciality. Everything we order is fresh and delicious. You just don't want to miss the Peking duck, though. Send Ecca a message before you go, so there's prep time for this magnificent dish. There's no ordering a peking duck on the spot; this is something that takes careful preparation and time.
The half duck was a generous serve for three, and everything from the soft-as-pillows pancakes to the special thick balsamic like sauce is so satisfying. When I referred to the sauce as 'plum', Jie was emphatic that it was no such thing, but a specially blended house made concoction. And yes, it is that special!
The duck comes to the table glistening and deeply lacquered, and biting into a slice provides various sensations in each mouthful: layers of crisp and crackly outer skin, jelly like fat layer right underneath, and then the tender roasted duck meat itself .
Wrapped in the soft and doughy pancake with slivers of cucumber and shallots, the dark sauce binds together sweet, sour, crunchy and succulent. A masterpiece!
You are also just as likely to be very satisfied by the more humble offerings available here. Hand pulled noodles are chewy and starchy as they should be. al dente and slathered in great flavours. Dumplings (we ordered them pan fried) came fused a ring and upended on a plate at our table. Dipping them in dumpling sauce, they were bites of deliciousness in our mouths, not unlike many dumplings on offer anywhere in Australia these days, THANK GOODNESS.
A crunchy smashed cucumber salad is garlicky and cold, a nice touch with the fried food.
The shallot pancake cooked in duck fat it flaky and delicious.
Gao and Jie are busy in their impressive commercial kitchen, while charming Ecca takes bookings, meets and greets, advices and serves. They're a good team. In the time we were there, Ecca steered a homeless man gently on his way, explained the menu to two groups of hungry coppers, and laughed at a man asking for directions to the nearest brothel. To say it is an interesting floorshow while you eat is an understatement. But this is Kings Cross!
I asked the family if they'd answer some questions, and I'm amazed they had the time to oblige. Thank you mother and son Jie and Ecca Zhang, and dad Gao Lun.
Me: When did you open and what's behind the usual name of your restaurant?
GrapeGarden: We've been doing takeaway in this location since September 2022.
About the name; we started off in Marrickvilled, then Willoughby and Chatswood. To set us apart here Ecca added at the TBC. We'd like our customers to make of the initials what they like. ( I remember the initials by calling it 'To Be Continued'- this experience is definitely that!)
Me:A Beijing restaurant here at the Cross- why?
GrapeGarden: Beijing cuisine isn't prevalent in Sydney but the flavours are often replicated, or attempts are made.
We wanted to serve our customers the authentic version. We are from Beijing and this is our food.
Me: It seems unusual to have peking duck on the menu alongside more casual offerings?
GrapeGarden:Since we opened in Marrickville in 1989, we've offered peking duck. We make it the classic way, and want to ensure the tradition is upheld, with the home made pancakes and special sauce.
Me: Where do you like to eat on your night off?
GrapeGarden: We've learnt the hard way that Monday which is when we are closed, os also when many other restaurants are shut.
Me: What's always in your fridge?
GrapeGarden: Ginger and shallots
Me: Where do you shop for ingredients?
GrapeGarden: Paddy's Markets in the city and Food by Fiat.
Me: And what do you think of your new neighbourhood?
GrapeGarden: Haha! They've shown us that they really know how to eat, and everyone's really friendly.
TBC by Grape Garden Restaurant
14 Bayswater Road, Potts Point, NSW 2011
Order/Book viaDMs on instagram @grapegardenbeijingcuisine
The big sign above the eatery says DUMPLINGS, rather than Grape Garden .....