Lotus Group has taken an ambitious step. Its new venue, Madame Shanghai, is its most progressive and chaotic yet (although it has kept its yum cha formula for lunch). The idea, by the creative Chris Yan, takes inspiration from pre-war Shanghai multiculturalism and northern-Chinese street food, and works it into an Australian context. “I guess I’d call it modern-Australian Chinese,” Yan says.
That’s a lot of themes, but it’s easier to understand when you’re reading the menu. Cumin-dusted chicken hearts are inspired by food found on Shanghainese streets. The Shanghainese multiculturalism is represented by the South East Asian flavours in the sticky pork hock and chargrilled prawns, and Japanese touches on the grilled corn. “One thing that might be weird is the Sicilian green olives,” says Yan. I love them, I put them with warm eggplant, deep-fried eggs and sesame dressing.”
Australian natives are also scattered across the menu. Succulents give texture to a mung bean noodle dish; muntries are fruity and tart in a chicken and peanut salad; and classic salt-and-pepper calamari uses pepper-berry. Yan avoids describing Madame Shanghai as a restaurant because the drinks offering is so strong. Annette Lacey has prepared a surprisingly expansive wine list, and Lotus mixologist Kate McGraw is behind the Chinese-mythology-inspired cocktails. The aged Negroni she told Broadsheet about last month is $130.
The dining room has plush carpet and velvet and there’s an outdoor area. Yan says it’s inspired by the 1960s set of the Hong Kong movie In the Mood for Love. “The dress she wears and the language that she speaks, the restaurant, the old apartment.” Azure and emerald curtains in material similar to that of the protagonist’s dress hang in the restaurant. Shades of jade are used in most of the venue. Although its artful, some may find it a bit overdone – particularly when they see some wait staff in qipaos (a traditional Chinese dress) and the lavishly printed menus backed by a portrait of a generic sexy Asian woman.
18 College Street, Darlinghurst
(02) 8318 8618
Tue & Wed 5.30pm–10pm
Thu to Sat 12pm–10pm