Sydney is alive with Lunar New Year celebrations, and there are plenty of places to celebrate. Darling Square will buzz late into the night with lion dances – and DJs – on February 10 and 17, Capella Sydney is hosting luxurious private dinners, and restaurants across town are going all out.
Merivale executive chef and Chinatown local Dan Hong is celebrating around town with his family, cooking at home and also taking on Crazy Rich Asians star Remy Hii at a game of mahjong. The event, hosted by Johnnie Walker Blue Label, takes over Est, in the Establishment precinct, on Saturday February 17 – with whisky cocktails on pour, and Hong on food.
Hong tells Broadsheet about the one-off menu (hello to the seriously luxe prawn toast!), where he’s celebrating with his family, and what he’s got planned for the year.
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Dan, how do you celebrate Lunar New Year?
I do a couple of main celebrations; I think most Asian families celebrate twice, in terms of when they eat. Once at a restaurant, where they go with their loved ones and order all the luxurious [dishes], like live lobster, whole fish and abalone. That’s what our family does – we choose a restaurant and just have a big feast.
The second one is at home. We usually go to my mother’s house and celebrate Vietnamese Lunar New Year. My kids dress up in ao dai, traditional Vietnamese outfits, so my mum can take photos. We eat traditional Vietnamese Lunar New Year dishes like banh tet, a glutinous rice parcel wrapped in banana leaf. Inside is pork fat and mung beans. I’m not a big fan of it, but it’s nice if you cut it up and pan-fry it, then eat it with different pickles. My mum only buys it cos it’s Tet – I’d rather just eat the seafood and suckling pig.
And because my mother’s partner is Malaysian, we have yu sheng, Malaysian sashimi salad. It’s tossed at the table, and the higher you toss it the more prosperity you get. We always have the red pockets that we give away to the young children, or anyone that’s not married yet.
What Sydney venues do you recommend going to?
I’d be going to places like Royal Pavilion in Chinatown. It’s my favourite Chinese restaurant in Sydney. Chef Ken – he’s one of the best Cantonese chefs in the country – is known for his live seafood. It’s the perfect place to go for China New Year – with a bunch of people, because they only have private dining rooms. Go minimum six to 10 [people], maybe more, so you can order lots of different live lobsters, whole fish. His pigeon is amazing.
What dishes will be on the line-up at the mahjong club next week?
The theme of the mahjong club is contemporary spins on traditional Lunar New Year ingredients. I’m making several different dishes to pair with several different cocktails using Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Every year, Johnnie Walker produces a new label for a special limited-edition Chinese New Year bottle. The Year of the Dragon is super important – arguably one of the best years to be born (that’s my daughter).
I’m using lobster and king crab scallop, but I’m also using other ingredients that you wouldn’t have for a traditional Lunar New Year banquet. For example, I’m doing chilled truffle noodles with caviar. I’m doing a prawn toast that’s topped with a very thin slice of the highest quality Japanese tuna belly. I’m doing a rock lobster bao with ginger and shallot, and then king crab and scallop potsticker moneybags – a lot of symbolism there. All while everyone plays mahjong.
You’re up against Remi, how’s that going to play out?
Am I? Oh!
That’s what I’ve heard!
We literally learnt how to play at the photo shoot, so we’re both novices. But it will be really fun to play.
So you’re confident?
It’s really anyone’s game – it depends how many cocktails we have!
And what does 2024 have in store?
There’s possibly a few new openings with Merivale, and my TV show’s [next season is] coming out in the middle of this year. It’s The Streets With Dan Hong – we filmed it late last year, and it’s all about Hong Kong street food – on SBS Food.