Bao and partner Dingjun Li’s now-closed Kensington eatery, Chairman Mao served some of Sydney’s finest examples of Hunan cuisine from China’s south. A regular haunt for chefs such as Matt Moran and Neil Perry, the restaurant earned the Li’s plenty of hardcore fans. Those fans have since followed the pair to Botany at Mrs Ding, and to this refined eatery in Darlinghurst opposite Hyde Park.

Hunan cuisine’s smoky, spicy, tart and sweet flavours are unique to the southern Chinese region, and created with ingredients and techniques not found in other Chinese provinces. A rugged topography, marked with mountains, river systems and lakes, means the area was historically difficult to access, and as a result, Hunan’s traditional dishes developed in isolation.

The house-smoked pork is a good example. Smoked with burning rice, the dish is served alongside smoked bamboo or smoked tofu and chilli. The celebratory dish is classic Hunan cuisine. So is the succulent, caramelised braised pork that’s been on the menu since Chairman Mao opened in 2008. Then there are crisp slices of okra seasoned with sea salt. They’re stir-fried with shiso, a brightly fragrant herb that’s common in Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese cooking, but unique in China to mountainous regions like Hunan.

Before owning restaurants, Bao ran a wine export business, and The Chairman’s wine list is his pet project. He says riesling or Chatelet blanc will refresh your palate after each fiery bite. But you go with a red, it’s best to choose something that can stand up to the heat, like a shiraz.

The Chairman took over Lotus Dining Group’s Madame Shanghai spot, and at the request of the landlord they’ve retained the former restaurant’s opulent fit-out. Bao has tweaked the modern decor to his taste, adding hardwood tables and chairs, creating a balance between traditional and contemporary.

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Updated: January 27th, 2024

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