Put yourself in Neil Perry’s shoes. You’re a giant in food & hospitality, you preside over a restaurant empire spanning burger shacks to a 3-hat level fine diner; aspiring chefs and foodies hang off your every word. Scenario: with the rent for Eleven Bridge – your flagship restaurant – costing you more than $800k a year, what do you do? Jack up prices? Slash wages? Turn it into a Burger Project?
All valid options. But if you said ‘close it down and open up a Cantonese restaurant’, I would have slapped you, Neil Perry or not.
And that’s exactly what happened. Not the slapping – say hello to 11 Bridge Street’s newest Cantonese incarnation: Jade Temple.
Date Last Visited: 11/7/2017 (2 visits)
Address: 11 Bridge Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Highlight Dishes: Pippies in XO, Steamed scallop, Spanner crab w/tofu, dong po pork, pi pa tofu, any dessert
Price Guide (approx): $100pp plus drinks
Cue eyebrows raising so hard, it might just have been audible.
In the beginning there was Rockpool, a Sydney institution with one of the longest operational lifespans in Sydney – an achievement not to be sniffed at. Then came the Eleven Bridge rebrand; different name, same focus on quality of what’s on the plate and the people bringing you said plates.
And now, in what must seem like another twist of the knife in the Sydney fine dining coffin, comes the upmarket Jade Temple.
The new Cantonese digs becomes sister restaurant to Neil Perry’s long-standing Spice Temple chain. Cantonese cuisine is defined by its focus on lightness & subtlety of flavours, and its use of fresh & natural ingredients (particularly seafood) in as natural a form as possible.
I’ve never actually been to Spice Temple, but its focus on intense flavours of Northern Chinese cuisine means Jade Temple – with its subtler focus – is suitably minted as the Southern Chinese side of the coin.
The fitout is deliberately styled to radiate unmistakable Colonial vibes, with plenty of exposed wood & wicker, fifty different shades of red, wall-sized prints of Chinese art, finished off by waitstaff dressed in cheongsams. It is a smidge overdone, but does successfully set the scene.
Side Note: to be authentic or inventive?
Sourcing excellent produce is the easy part. A much harder battle to win is the touchy topic of authenticity.
The most common criticism levied at Chinese restaurants in Western countries is that the food isn’t ‘legit’; isn’t ‘Chinese’. Here’s the thing: while I care about this, it’s only up to a certain extent. Taste & flavour trump authenticity, simple as that. Westernised Chinese food doesn’t inherently taste bad – food is food. In some ways, the food served by ‘Westernised Chinese restaurants’ has morphed into a type of cuisine unto itself.
Sure, there is a valid argument to educate oneself on the real deal, and at the same time it is important for restaurants not to pass off an inauthentic dish as authentic.
Neil Perry’s already laid bare the cards for Jade Temple: dishes such as the obviously Western lemon chicken and sweet & sour pork proudly feature on the menu alongside true Chinese classics such as dong po pork and pi pa tofu. It is what it is.
Win your customers over with well-cooked, delicious food and superlative service – that’s the name of the game.
The menu spans several sections, with all the usual classics – roast meats, market-price seafood, fixed-price seafood & meats, and then veg/side dishes. A short and sweet desserts menu wraps things up.
Jade Temple also offers two banquet menus, but unlike my usual perchance for such set menus (being expressions of the chef’s top picks), I know what I like when it comes to Chinese: a la carte is the only way to go.
So how’s the food?
From my two experiences so far summed up in one word: delicious (for the most part). Produce quality is a known quantity, the ingredients are by and large treated with respect, and most importantly, a majority of dishes delivered on the basal Cantonese requirement: balance of flavour.
Sliced longer and a bit thicker than what I’m used to, chunky cuts of honey char siu delivered, with honey-sweet & spiced pork flavours.
The pork itself was cut a bit thick, and retained a strip of vertical tendon down the side, resulting in a dual texture of juicy, as well as crunchy flesh. I personally prefer my char siu fully soft & juicy, so this didn’t completely hit the spot. However, those looking for a more firmer bite to their pork will find lots to like.
A must-order at Jade Temple and any Cantonese restaurant worth their salt, pippies in XO sauce were a smash hit. They come in 250g or 500g portions, with XO being the true blue condiment pairing, notwithstanding the five other options (garlic butter, black bean etc.)
The pippies were seriously quality – a truly massive amount of meat filled out each shell, juicy and chewy. The XO sauce was well-balanced without overdoing the salinity. In fact, we cleaned up the bowl with our spoons – and didn’t even order rice!
Much regret not ordering a 500g portion.
Another adroitly executed starter was the steamed scallop w/vermicelli & ginger shallot dressing. The simplicity of this dish belied the skill that went into ensuring a clean, light and harmoniously sweet and salty broth. The scallops themselves were perfectly cooked to a pillowy-tenderness; I really couldn’t fault it.
That’s why it’s a classic.
Is it really a Cantonese restaurant without a steamed fish dish? Jade Temple’s offering changes depending on the catch, with steamed blue eye was the answer on the night of my second visit.
I could probably be accused of using overusing the term ‘classic’ for this post, but that’s exactly what this dish is – a classic steamed fish. Except, that is, for the fact that it was presented non-classically as just a fillet, instead whole. I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed by the portion size, but not the flavour – ’twas just the right amount of sweetness and ginger fragrance. Texturally, the fish was just a taaaaaaaaaad overcooked, so the buttery texture I was expecting didn’t quite come through.
Still, it’s not an order I would regret making – as it passes the ‘can I lap up the sauce with rice’ test. Yeah, I’m that guy. That said, there are better seafood options e.g. the scallops, or this next number:
An otherwise benign Tofu is luxed up with the addition of spanner crab & shrimp roe. I loved this one due to the textural interplay of juicy spanner crab, silky (and consistently-cubed) tofu, and little umami pops of shrimp roe. They don’t skimp on the roe or crab either – justifying its price. One of my favourites!
Call me biased, but with some rare exceptions, abalone can really only be cooked one way: thinly-sliced; steamed or braised. By this definition, Jade Temple’s relatively thick cuts was ostensibly a flop. It’s true – the abalone w/oyster sauce definitely could have been more thinly-sliced. However, the abalone was still very tender, minimally chewy and retaining enough rubbery-ness that is abalone’s textural hallmark. The oyster sauce was also ‘pretty decent’ – its sweet & salty tang hovered in the background, accentuating rather than detracting from the abalone’s natural flavours.
I’ve already mentioned that I have no qualms about eating Westernised Chinese food, as long as it’s delicious. Unfortunately, Jade Temple’s lemon chicken is not one of them. The chicken was cooked to middle-of-the-pack standards – not too dry but not too juicy either – though the crispiness and lightness of the deep-fry batter was quite nice.
It would have been an ordinary, unoffensive chicken dish. However, what really brought it down for me was the overly intense, zesty, and overly stodgy lemon sauce poured over the dish. I doubt this was a case of the line cooks misreading the recipe and doubling the lemons used – this is perhaps just how zesty the dish is meant to be, and it’s not to my palate.
It’s not you, lemon chicken, but it isn’t me either – it’s us. 🙁
The Prince’s chicken is a fusion-esque twist on a traditional Eastern Chinese dish known as ginger marinated steamed chicken w/Jinhua ham. Because Jade Temple needs to live up to its luxe vibe and price tag, Iberico ham is used, and the presentation of the dish is somewhat more refined.
However, the key ingredient – the chicken – is where it’s at. Perfectly-cooked, there was soft, ‘poach-level’ tender goodness present in every piece I ate. The Chinese broccoli was also treated with respect in being kept fresh and crunchy. The Iberico ham was, strictly speaking, not a necessary component of the dish, and did make it somewhat saltier than it should be – rice is suggested for this one.
In its traditional form, eight treasure rice is a sweet dish made with glutinous rice and eight toppings which possess healthful attributes – things like dates, prunes, lotus seeds, plums, assorted nuts and so on. More modern variations take quite a few liberties with the ‘healthy’ aspect of the dish – and in some cases it’s just glutinous rice with rainbow-coloured candy.
But then we have Jade Temple serving up a savoury fried chicken stuffed w/eight treasure rice, making it a dish I couldn’t resist ordering, if just to see how they would incorporate this Chinese classic.
Turns out the reality was rather mundane: it’s more or less medallions of crispy skin chicken, stuffed with glutinous rice and served with greens and a sweet oyster-like sauce. There much complexity to the glutinous rice stuffing, with no sign of the ‘eight treasures’ as far as I could tell. The chicken however, was cooked well – certainly better than the lemon chicken; and about on par with the Prince’s chicken.
There’s no fault ordering this one – unless you were expecting more out of the rice stuffing. However, if you could only pick one chook to rule them all, the Prince’s chicken would be it.
When it comes to duck preparation, I’m on the side of crisp skin, which means Northern-style peking duck. Cantonese-style roast duck is more about the marriage of signature sweet mandarin marinade with plump, tender duck meat. However, this is delivered at the expense of underwhelming skin, with Jade Temple’s being no different: the meat indeed bursted with juiciness, with a light enough flavour that balanced out the duck and sugar content in the sauce, capable of pairing with rice, or had by itself.
But yes, the skin was also expectedly underwhelming. Yeah, I knew what I was getting into – I picked my
Jade Temple’s Dong Po Pork is one of the best meat dishes on the menu: it was authentically and skillfully cooked, with deeeelicious results. It’s all about that pork belly, rendered to such a level of tendernes that the fat melted in the mouth, with succulent lean flesh to finish. The tea egg on the side was also a hit, its semi-gooey yolk done just right, delivering a powerful tea flavour that wasn’t overwhelmed by its saltiness.
That’s the only downside of this dish, actually: its salinity. Dong Po Pork isn’t meant to be enjoyed solo – you’ll be reaching for water pretty quickly without rice, so pro tip: get on the rice.
(oh, and abalone is totally unnecessary for this dish – we just decided to luxe it up a bit – aheh).
Drop everything: say hello to my favourite savoury on Jade Temple’s menu. Yeah, it’s vegetarian: the pi pa tofu is one of those rare exceptions that made me think ‘whoa, I can’t believe I’m not eating meat!’ Each kofta-like cigar of pi pa tofu was distinctively reminiscent of chicken & prawn meatiness, reinforced by how each piece texturally resembled real meat.
Consider me schooled – this is how you get meat eaters to go vegetarian.
‘Just for laughs’ is how the special fried rice got onto our docket – it’s usually a dish to be avoided for obvious reasons. Jade Temple’s special fried rice wasn’t bad by any stretch – it was actually pretty decent. Seasoned with restraint, with a good amount of pork and other little tidbits, and the rice itself cooked to an al dente with toasty bits at the bottom.
Like most fried rice however, it’s not exciting or memorable, and rice ultimately serves as a filler. At least, that’s my view – if you love fried rice, you certainly won’t go wrong here.
Desserts are a historically weak point in Chinese cooking in general (if I see another fruit platter…). Here is where Western technique is a more than welcome addition, with Jade Temple producing some of the best desserts of any restaurant, let alone a Cantonese one.
For the minimalists that prefer to keep it simple, the jasmine granita is the choice pick. It’s no masterchef finale challenge: this is simply really nice granita, sporting a perfect balance between sweetness, Jasmine tea and fresh fruit. I especially loved that the Jasmine flavour was strong enough not to be outdone by sugar, and just how criminally refreshing the dish was overall.
It really is one of the best ways to wrap up a salt-laden Cantonese feast.
It’s a similar story with Phil’s Vacherin. This delivered a similar hit of chilly pick-me-up; however, with roots from Eleven Bridge, it did so with more technique and complexity. Perfect discs of crunchy and then immediately melt-in-your-mouth meringue is mixed in with coconut & pandan flavours in the form of granita and ice cream. We shared this between five people: a terrible, terrible idea.
I’ll be castigated for saying this, but Jade Temple’s reinvention of the classic sago & mango pudding is better than the original. Sago was plentiful and plump; the mango pudding reborn as a light and airy mousse.
Refreshing, coconut-y, and luscious without being decadent, this was precision-engineered for maximum refreshment with just a little bit of an indulgent character.
If you’ve still got some ways to go before filling up (in which case you clearly under-ordered), the fried vanilla & date ice cream w/maple sauce is your siren call. I don’t think there’s actually any traditional basis to this, but it’s a GIANT BALL OF FRIED ICE CREAM: who gives?
Jade Temple – Concluding Remarks
Okay, so there are some oriental similarities: the usage of date flavours and actual date pieces in the ice cream is a win, and the fried ice cream batter is reminiscent of a Northern Chinese sweet known as you gao, with a bit of a sesame hit.
I’m pretty lenient towards Westernised Cantonese restaurants compared to my actual Cantonese friends, but even I was surprised at how much I enjoyed my first two experiences at Jade Temple. The service is what one comes to expect from Rockpool: professional and accommodating, forgiving some teething issues with dish timing.
But to think that the food would strike so close to home with carefully tuned equilibria of flavours and textures was surprising. Outside of a few misses and the traditional sodium overdose, the ultimate aim was deliciousness, which was delivered in spades.
This post is based on two independently-paid visits to Jade Temple Sydney
What are your thoughts on Jade Temple or Cantonese restaurants in Sydney in general?
- When the food is delicious, it’s delicious, with produce put front and centre
- There are dishes to love whether you’re a authenticity nazi or open to adventure
- The desserts seriously can’t be missed
- The fit-out is a little overstated and garish
- Some teething issues with service revolving around dish pacing
- A few dishes could use some flavour balancing (pork, lemon chicken)
- Jade Temple has the unenviable and impossible task of catering to a dual demographic and might not be able to fully please either. However, fingers crossed!
Would I return: yes (already two visits!)
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F7 | S3 | A2