A beautiful flowering
After two decades in the business, the Chin sisters have succeeded in bringing together refined dining and a contemporary Asian aesthetic. David Burton reports.
Inever did get to Eatwell Takeaways in Silverstream, but a past menu doesn’t indicate the fare was any other than fish’n’chips and bog-standard Kiwi Cantonese.
Yet somehow, from the sludge of chop suey and combination chow mein, the talents of co-owners Lily and Laili Chin have blossomed into a beautiful lotus.
Pomelo, their debut restaurant in Oriental Bay, is a picture of refinement. As the former White House restaurant, its first floor elevation offers unparalleled harbour views, now further enhanced with enlarged picture windows. Tiled floors, ikebana flower arrangements, solid wooden tables and wonky glass lampshades all contribute to a slightly severe, very contemporary Asian aesthetic – much enhanced by Hans Wegner-style elbow chairs, which clearly reveal the debt this mid-century Danish designer owed to Ming period furniture.
All this chimes in perfectly with Pomelo’s pan-asian repertoire. As with all menus of this type, it’s hard to establish a benchmark or even to identify references to particular cuisines, although our entrée of ultrathin-skinned, meaty pork dumplings was clearly Chinese. An accompanying “chef’s special sauce” owed its tastiness largely to soy, ginger and Chinkiang black vinegar.
I don’t know where our deep-fried, crispy fingers of Caramelised Eggplant sprang from, but boy were they good, especially when dredged in their sticky, sweet-sour tamarind sauce. A sprinkling of sesame seeds improved both flavour and texture still further.
Red duck curry with lychees seems to derive from an early recipe by Teage Ezard, Melbourne’s master of pan-asian fusion. Just as our server warned, it was “very spicy” (read: hot), but this was ameliorated by the sweetness of whole lychees (tinned, but still good), some cherry tomatoes and the coconut cream-based gravy. Fresh basil, braised kaffir lime leaves and a stalk of cooked lemongrass attested to the background flavours. Deservedly, this Thaiinspired curry is Pomelo’s most popular dish.
Twenty years in the takeaway business has surely contributed to the Chin sisters’ mastery of deep frying, for – like the eggplant – their Crispy Chicken fully lived up to its name, with no residual greasiness and next to no taste from what had clearly been fresh oil. True, it doesn’t take a genius to make teriyaki sauce, but this was a textbook rendition, again enhanced by a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Its richness was offset with a coleslaw, dressed with creamy mayo and freshened with julienned Granny Smith (but with no trendy, leathery kale leaves, as the menu threatened).
Our server had the right attitude and kept our water glasses well replenished. But she might have cleared our dirty side plates after the first course and should have just gone ahead and wiped our filthy table top after the main course without asking permission. And she did need to know that “onsen” refers to a traditional Japanese low temperature egg.
Pomelo is not cheap. Indeed, a main here costs about double of that at a humbler CBD pan-asian such as Mr Go’s. But against this must be offset the portion sizes, which are more than ample. We unnecessarily padded out our mains with a side of Market Vegetables (asparagus, green beans and mushrooms, all faultlessly cooked) and a bowl of jasmine rice. I also broke my vow never to order roti outside of an Indian-owned Malaysian restaurant, and paid for it: this roti was by no means stale, but nor would I guess it had been made freshly on the premises by a dedicated roti-wallah.
As a result, we left no room for dessert, which was a pity, as Chocolate Cream Cheese Brownie (with Whittaker’s chocolate mousse and crumble topping) sounds deeply appealing.
POMELO KITCHEN & BAR
Upstairs at 232 Oriental Parade Ph: (04) 382 8088 Fully licensed Open Tues-sun 5.30pm-10pm Price range of mains: $24-$32 Cost: $95 for two (excluding wine) Food: Service: Ambience: Drinks list: