You may have heard of Mr Meng. Maybe because it’s the flashy first opening of Market City’s ambitious new food court, 1909 Dining, but probably because it’s owned by Meng Fei, the host of Chinese dating show If You Are the One.
For those who haven’t watched much afternoon SBS, Meng and his show are colossally famous. If You Are the One has been running for almost a decade and averages about 37 million viewers per episode in China alone. The show revolves around one hopeful male suitor, who presents himself before 24 single women in the hope of scoring a date – while host Meng mercilessly roasts him. Of course, none of that makes a single iota of difference to the food at his restaurant.
Meng grew up in Chongqing, a Sichuan city famous for its spicy noodle soup. Like his other restaurants (he’s got nine in China and one in Melbourne), the Sydney Mr Meng aims to serve the traditional Sichuan-style street food Meng grew up with, in a stylish setting. Although the restaurant is in a shopping centre, it doesn’t feel like it, even if you have to order your meal from the counter. In fact, the space has a similar feel to a trendy hotel lobby. There’s moody lighting, lots of timber, and along one wall an illuminated screen of Meng and his trademark smile.
Here are the four dishes you should order for an enhanced Mr Meng Chongqing Gourmet experience.
Chongqing spicy noodle
Meng’s hometown has a rich and distinct food culture, and this spicy, numbing noodle soup is its most famous culinary export. The soup base is simple; mostly just pork and chicken bones cooked over many hours, and it has semi-firm, ramen-like wheat noodles. Preserved vegetables and meat is added in (here there’s a choice of pork ribs, chicken giblets, stewed beef, intestine and mince pork). The power of the dish comes from a hot-wok-fried mixture of chilli oil, Sichuan pepper, garlic and ginger that’s added to the soup just before it’s served. In Chongqing the spicy mixture can be fiery and overwhelmingly numbing, but this one isn’t. A softer version (both in spice and general oomph) is served here to better suit Western palates. But if you want the more authentic version, ask.
Chongqing spicy noodle with peas and pork mince
Traditionally this dish is the above noodle soup but with Chinese white peas – a Sichuan-grown soft pea cooked down into an almost dhal-like paste. That’s not the case here, though. The manager, Fangyi Zheng, says he wanted it to be more like a pasta. To do this he adds less soup, more noodles, a bit of sesame paste and a generous helping of spicy minced pork and mushy peas. When you stir it together you get a hearty savoury mixture not dissimilar in texture to a ragu.
Zhong shui jiao (Sichuan-style dumplings)
There are many kinds of dumplings in Sichuan, but this one is the most famous internationally. Many non-Mandarin speakers would probably recognise them as wontons in chilli oil. These boiled dumplings are filled with minced pork and topped with a sour, spicy sauce made with soy, chilli and a bit of sugar. Mr Meng’s sauce is slightly sweeter than the average, but the dumplings are otherwise pretty classic.
Rice ball with sweet rice-wine soup
Of all the dishes Mr Meng serves, this fermented rice soup is likely to be the most perplexing to those unfamiliar with Sichuan cuisine. Texturally it’s like a rice pudding, viscous enough to drip from a knife but fluid enough to drink. The glutinous rice balls inside the pudding are chewy, like mochi or balls of unbaked dough. Flavour wise it’s tangy and wine-like despite most of the alcohol having been cooked off. It’s also one of the few dishes on the menu – along with brown-sugar rice cakes and white-fungus soup – that’s only available at the Sydney Mr Meng, but not in China.
Mr Meng Chongqing Gourmet
Level 3, 9/13 Hay Street, Haymarket