One of the most stylish addresses in town, Chinese House combines old world Eastern romanticism with a thoroughly contemporary approach to art, music, cocktails and food. In the quiet north of the city, a beautifully preserved Chinese merchant’s house yields two distinct settings: downstairs, the tapas and cocktail bar is an exercise in cool sophistication, while the upstairs restaurant presents a more classic space ensconced within whitewashed walls and aged wooden beams.
Starting downstairs, a wide, open space is anchored by a square central bar flanked on one side by bench seating and tables, and on the other with more intimate corner retreats and an antique four-poster bed for those who want to get even closer — we imagine that some level of restraint would be encouraged. The combination of quite strong elements — expansive paintings, graphic Chinese decorative wall frame, gold-trimmed bar, and more — cooperate to create a space that is smartly elegant, with a hint of decadence. There is so much to savour it seems appropriate that, given its slightly out-of-the-way location, coming here is a deliberate act and not something to be indulged in by chance.
Towards that end, downstairs you can choose between a selection of bites from the Asian tapas menu, which changes monthly. We had a couple of the sharing ($14.95) and cheese ($16.95) platters, which nearly started a war as the cheeses were so good while the chutneys were spectacular. Together with some cauliflower croquettes with beetroot dip and pickled cucumber ($4.50), and Yakitori skewers ($6.50), this was ample for a table of six out for a night on the wine. We could equally have picked out the quinoa fritters with pickled red cabbage, pomegranate and mint yoghurt dip ($8.75), tuna loin lollipops made with sashimi-style tuna, yellow beet, pineapple salsa and passion fruit coulis ($9.50), coconut and Thai basil cured sword fish carpaccio with kaffir lime leaf, citrus gel, pancetta crumb and coriander ($5.75), and so much more. And the 24-year-old chef Amy Baard — winner of Ironchef Thailand 2014 — is only just getting started.
Upstairs, the mood turns infinitely more romantic and slightly more exclusive. Softer lighting, beautifully adorned walls and elegantly set tables create an opportunity for some refined indulgence. Original features, such as the pillars and doorways lend a certain rustic tone.
If you’re up for something more substantial, the big plates menu served up- and downstairs appeals across a range of palates and prices. There’s the coconut pumpkin soup ($3.75) — which we can’t recommend enough — a selection of salads from $5.75 to $8.95, starters such as bun cha or grilled tofu ($7.50), fish cakes or pan seared scallops ($7.50), or a beef carpaccio ($17.50) with pistachio, ginger balsamic reduction, sesame seeds, pomegranate, shaved radish and parmesan cheese.
Mains range from $8.95 for spiced pumpkin ravioli all the way up to grilled lobster with Korean chilli butter, burst cherry tomatoes, pickled ginger aioli and roasted garlic for $38.50. We didn’t get to try the lamb shank rendang ($24.75), but it’s good to keep powerful ambitions in life, and a friend had the tenderest beef tenderloin ($29.75) one night with vanilla mashed potatoes, garlic roasted parsnips and a pomegranate and pink peppercorn reduction. The mashed potatoes were the smoothest we’ve ever tasted, and the beef’s rich flavours were perfectly offset by the reduction.
If the prices above make you blanche, then you could try the Mystery Lunch Box, a three-course meal, a mystery one, which can be adapted to suit almost any diet, and costs in the region of just $12.50 (depending on the menu). They also host a Tapas Madness night on the last Thursday of each month, with a widely selected tapas buffet for just $10.
Chinese House has of 2015 come under new ownership, but they’re fast building a reputation as a sophisticated party venue, with top notch DJs and regular events with live music and offers on sparkling wine. Friday nights are big, with live DJs and plenty more to inspire you.
If you need help on that front, their cocktail list is bound to assist. They feature the classics, as well as some interesting signature cocktails, such as the Red Sun ($4.75) with Skyy vodka, fresh ginger, basil, watermelon, ginger ale and lime juice, or an exotic Explorer’s Punch ($5.75), with Phnom Penh-distilled Samai Rum, jackfruit puree, pineapple, lime, Angostura bitters and palm vinegar. Their resident mixologist is on a mission to explore every flavour he can get his hands on, and the results are yours to savour.
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 7th November, 2015.