At first glance, Ginkgo Bar and Dining looks like it’s a fusion restaurant, but it’s not. In fact, rather than combining elements of different culinary traditions, it’s a true representation of the food of Harbin, a capital city in China’s north-east with strong cultural influences from Russia and Japan.
“I grew up eating sourdough bread, butter, cheese, sausage. All these Western foods, they were not alien in my world,” says Carly Jin, who is co-owner of Ginkgo with her husband Tim Zhao. (The couple also owns Chulin, a more casual Harbin eatery in Ultimo.)
The yum cha menu showcases the diversity of Jin’s hometown. There’s a flaky, buttery Ginkgo sausage puff filled with house-made air-dried wine sausage and shallots. And a teriyaki grilled unagi (eel) sandwich with subtle layers of pickled ginger all wrapped in shredded pastry that resembles fine, crunchy noodles.
The vegetable dumplings have translucent skin and although they look like something you’d see on a yum cha cart, the execution here is much more artful. The wrapper is steamed to perfect springiness, and the vegetables have a flavourful snap.
“There’s no special secret behind a delicious dumpling,” Jin says. “We don’t cheat; everything is handmade every day. If we don’t have the traffic, we’ll just eat the dumplings ourselves.”
Jin acknowledges that the spiciness of some Harbin dishes makes you thirsty, so the eatery has created a drinks list to counter that. The Tiki Tiki Weiwei is a stand out. Named after artist Ai Weiwei, and made with bourbon infused with banana skins, the drink is balanced and a good foil to dishes such as the hot and spicy chicken popcorn. Several of the cocktails incorporate ingredients considered essential for good health in China – such as chrysanthemum and osmanthus flowers – and the latter here lingers on the palate and neutralises the heat.
Ginkgo occupies the space of the former Bar Brosé site, and the venue has the benefit of a late liquor licence. That means on Friday and Saturday you can eat dumplings and drink cocktails until 3am.
The bones of Bar Brosé remain: the long marble bar, the mirrors in the archways, the elements of cement and natural wood. But Jin has made the space Ginkgo’s own with understated Chinese and Japanese artwork, and custom-made lighting and furniture.
Although Ginkgo is technically a pop-up – Jin has signed a one-year lease to start – the fact she ordered custom-made furniture might indicate she plans to stay around.
“Ginkgo is a new challenge for me, but I think there’s huge potential in this venue,” she says. “It has good feng shui. It’s unspoken, but you can feel it.”
Ginkgo Bar and Dining
231A Victoria Street, Darlinghurst
(02) 9380 5556
Mon to Thu 5pm–12am
Sat 12pm–4pm, 5pm–3am
Sun 12pm–4pm, 5pm–1am