Bang Bang China Cafe Level 2, 204 Quay St
WE THOUGHT: 13 - Good WE SPENT: $62 for two
I've heard that after 10pm this cafe turns into a karaoke bar. We went for lunch and were startled to find the dim sum had got its disco on early.
The siu mai looked like an extra from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Lurid orange topping, fluoro yellow wrapper. Turmeric? Vivid marker? Probably the former, but definitely unsettling.
My lunch date took a bite and said the chicken was too chunky. Closer inspection did reveal a great big piece of flesh but I think she got an outlier - my dumpling had that amazing sproingy texture that separates a proper Asian fish ball from supermarket surimi. The orange splodge was XO sauce reduced so hard that it was actually hard. Imagine a candied, crunchy anchovy. Surprisingly good.
Bang Bang China is built for late-night dumpling crowds who are not ubering to Balmoral until they have exhausted every Viaduct possibility. The seats are stools and banquettes, you tick the box on a paper menu and I imagine the ceiling lights look very cool, come night. The prices are pitched at waterfront wallets (four sui mai for $10) but it's high time we stopped equating labour-intensive Chinese food with "cheap". We could, however, have a chat about "authenticity".
There is a growing body of excellent writing about the way white people (literally) consume other cultures. One of my favourites pieces was published in 2017 by scientist and blogger Lorraine Chuen who claimed 90 per cent of the recipes under the "Chinese" and "Indian" filters of a major American newspaper's online collection were bylined by white authors.
She went on: "White folks have the power to torment, often without consequence; but the special thing about white people is that they also have the power to make a trip to your home country for a month or maybe 12, get inspired and dictate when your previously unpalatable dishes suddenly become socially acceptable, trendy and profitable in the Western world. And inevitably, with the popularisation of certain ethnic dishes, comes erasure. I can't help but wonder, what becomes of dishes when they are prepared for the white gaze - or in this case, white palate? What remains of food, after it's been decontextualised ... "
I know you're here for the food, not the food politics but I feel like if last week we got exercised about an Australian bar using tā moko to sell beer, then we might also think carefully about slapping a lucky cat on something and calling it Chinese. (Mostly because that cat is Japanese.) Food for thought, right? And so to the actual food.
Prawn and spinach crystal dumplings (four for $9) went heavier on the spinach than others I've had round town, but that was no bad thing - not every lunchtime green has to be a salad. The "bing" bread ($4) was a Chinese spring onion pancake, also laudably loaded with vege, but lacking the gorgeous flaky layers that usually characterise this dish.
I was excited to see Hainanese chicken ($20) on the menu. Traditionally served at room temperature with rice and a bowl of stock, this version was chicken only. And when I say chicken, I really mean chicken. The cleavered chunks of meat were dense and the skin, which is usually secured by a succulent layer of gelatin, flapped about like a day-old Band-Aid. Also, it was yellow. Not quite as bright as the sui mai, but still a little disconcerting. The ginger sauce was excellent, but the rice we ordered as an extra ($2) was dreadful. Dry and unappealing and I wondered just how long it had been sitting in the cooker.
I washed it down with a mango iced tea that was ice cold but a little sweetly medicinal for my taste buds. Did it contain alcohol? The waitperson roared with laughter. "If you can tell me where to get an alcoholic mango iced tea for $4, I'm so there." Point taken. And if the food was a mixed bag, the service was terrific. Bright, breezy and friendly. Perfectly pitched for a sparkling summer day. Outside was, frankly, stifling. We were seated by an open window, as cool as smashed cucumbers with peanuts, sesame and chilli ($9). I'd thoroughly recommend this dish, BTW. Crisp and refreshing with a tang of ferment in the chilli sauce, it was the most weather-appropriate thing I ate that week, and definitely the best thing I ate that day.