It’s pretty exciting when a cool new restaurant opens in Sydney and actually takes bookings. With a new crop of restaurants that not only are creating amazing food but take reservations for (gasp) less than six people, we’re no longer subject to waiting out on the street like suckers or, worse, ordering a drink at a nearby pub, only to have the restaurant call you as you’re taking your first sip.
MASTER is a new Sydney restaurant that yes, takes bookings, and yes, makes damn delicious food. We paid a visit to this new-style Chinese eatery to see what was up.
With hip hop music playing throughout the restaurant, sleek interiors and local art on the walls, this ain’t your usual Chinese joint. It’s casual, cool, and full—even on a weeknight.
Owners Jarred Roker and John Javier have always wanted to open their own restaurant. “It was more of dream until I met John. We were both working on a project that ended up falling through,” says Jarred.
“It naturally became a conversation over many beers and Chinese food around Sydney, until one day we drove past a vacant space on Crown Street and decided there and then it was going to happen. We had no finance and no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but hey, here we are.”
And here they are indeed.
In true Chinese style, the food is designed to be shared and ranges from small and mid to larger options including a variety of vegetarian-friendly dishes. The focus here is on good ingredients cooked simply and respectfully.
The menu is small, but that didn’t make it any less easy to choose—it all sounded delicious and I’m indecisive at the best of times. One thing we knew we were ordering before we even sat down was the burnt cabbage, which seems an odd choice because… cabbage. However we’d heard rave reviews about this unglamorous leafy green and it also happens to be owner John’s favourite.
When asked how they cook up this bad boy he says, “the cabbage is burnt over open flame until a black crust forms around the exterior, then it’s slow roasted in the oven. The crust protects it from drying out and gives the cabbage this smoked flavour. It’s carved and napped with butter and fish sauce.”
It’s one of the best things I’ve eaten all year (I know—cabbage?!), but it’s got such an unusual flavour and texture that I’m now one of those crazy people that will tell anyone who’ll listen to “GET THE CABBAGE.” And that’s saying something.
Another of John’s favourites is the scallop silk which is “basically a scallop that has been cleaned and rolled out into a thin film. We cook it just enough so that its proteins set into a noodle-like texture and it’s served cold with XO sauce.”
At first glance, I thought it was a dumpling wrapper and was poking around the dish wondering where the scallop was, until I realised that the dumpling wrapper WAS the scallop. Whaaaaat?! It’s a shame there were only a few on the plate because I could have eaten at least ten of these silky, dumpling-like suckers right there. With my hands. Without caring about anyone’s judge-y eyes.
“Both these dishes pretty much sum up what we are trying to do at MASTER. Take two or three ingredients, apply a bit of thought to what we do with them, and try to create something that is interesting but more importantly, delicious,” John says of his two favourite dishes, and we have to agree. Every dish we ordered was, in fact, delicious.
Other standouts included the cold cut chicken that was ridiculously tender and the cumin lamb that was delivered like a karate kick of flavour into my mouth (in a good way). Fortunately, MASTER is one of those places where you can order anything and it will be good, and while we see some favourites staying on the menu (cabbage, you’d better not be going anywhere), the menu will change and evolve over time which will keep things deliciously interesting.
If you haven’t paid this new Sydney restaurant a visit yet, do it (and yes, order the cabbage) and if you’ve already been, book yourself in for another Chinese-ish feast. I think John Javier sums up the food at MASTER nicely. “Sometimes it’s Chinese, other times it’s not, but if it tastes good, why should it matter?”
Image credit: Daryl Kong