Work In Progress has lasted a lot longer than I had expected to. Thing is, Patrick Friesen’s just a damn good cook. However, WIP was never meant to end with him. That is after all, why it’s a Work In Progress. I should have seen it coming back then, but only now has it dawned – Work In Progress is the perfect venue to showcase Merivale’s best, in a more casual, more accessible fashion.
It just makes sense. You know what else makes sense? Dumplings. Everyone loves dumplings (the ones that don’t have long had their licences to eat revoked), and so it was most fitting that Merivale’s top dog – dumpling master Eric Koh of Mr Wong – is to pop down to Work In Progress, and continue this delicious project.
Welcome to Work In Progress @ Eric Koh. Come for the dumplings, and heck – stay for them too!
Date Last Visited: 15/9/15
Address: 50 King St Sydney, NSW 2000
Recommended Dish(es): dumpling platter of the day, duck spring rolls
Work In Progress @ Eric Koh
Eric Koh is a man with some credentials. Having worked at Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant Hakkasan (UK, Istanbul & Miami), The Mandarin Oriental (Singapore + Japan), Yauatcha (London) and now 2-hatted Mr Wong, this is a man who knows how to turn a lump of flour and some shrimp into parcels of heaven that are so delicious, they should be classified as illicit due to their addictive effects.
But Mr Wong is kind of expensive, when you think about it. It’s also hard to book (requiring 6+ppl), and really screams for that “special occasion” treatment. But for those who just want some dumplings, enter Work In Progress.
The menu is kept short and sweet – taking up just one page. This is fantastic – any menu that’s too long will sound an alarm. I’m looking at you, generic Chinese restaurant with twenty variations of fried rice items on the menu.
The end result of playing it lean with the menu? Come with a big enough group and you could realistically sample over half of the menu in one go. Quality has never trumped quantity in a bigger way than here. Say hi to the spread:
I never really cared for presentation when it came to Chinese food, as I was raised on deliciousness, not looks. Nevertheless, it pleases me that Work In Progress’ (I mean, Mr Wong’s) dumplings are presented almost impeccably. Alas, it isn’t perfect placement, with some dumplings touching, but I’m going to forgive this because I could barely care less.
One thing’s important – they look tasty, and importantly, fresh. Despite this, we didn’t wait too long for food – ten minutes elapse, and we’re in business!
By far the recommended order is the delicacy steamed dim sum platter. Featuring three types of dumplings from the menu, this is the best way to get a representative sample of Eric Koh’s prawny parcels in the one dish. I’m not sure how often the platter changes, but on our visit we received the scallop & prawn dumplings, prawn har gau, and the steamed English spinach & prawn dumplings.
You’re going to see prawn pop up a lot here, so hopefully you don’t have a crustacean allergy. I really mean that – over half the menu include prawn in some way or another. I would recommend against WIP if you can’t tolerate it!
In any case, these dumplings are – yes – the sh*t. Gelatinous, chewy & starchy skin, wholesome, juicy filling bursting at the seams with flavour. The English spinach dumpling had the most interesting texture – the mushiness of the spinach itself being juxtaposed with the bounciness of the luscious prawn within. Not sure if I was a fan of that, but I didn’t mind it. The prawn har gau? An excellent ratio of skin to filling, which is to say – lots of the juicy stuff!
The best of the lot? That accolade belongs to the scallop & prawn dumpling (the yellow one with roe on top). The sheer size and portioning of the scallop and prawn in this dumpling caused a rare eye-widening reaction when I consumed the first one. It was love at first bite. A good dumpling is one that you don’t need to eat with sauce – these certainly fit the bill. Of course, soy sauce, vinegar and chilli are all provided, should you opt for it.
On the one hand, there’s something to be said about charging $3.7 per dumpling, which would make the squatting uncles spit out their tea. For those that get the reference – this is for you. Yes, Eric Koh’s vision for Work In Progress is not cheap, and people who are used to traditional yum cha and their associated prices will have a big problem with this. Now of course, the dim sum here is excellent, but I would agree that it’s quite the price to pay. Would I spend a 100% markup for a 20% improvement in quality? That’s the question.
I guess I would, eh? It just wouldn’t be my regular dumpling fix – but let me get back to you on that once I jump up a few salary brackets.
At the prices they come in at, I expected the dumplings to be good, and they are. However, imagine my surprise when I discovered how moreish the aromatic duck spring rolls were. They’re cut in half, but let me just tell you to take at least one wholly for yourself. Thank me later.
Crispy, uber-crunchy skin that doesn’t taste oily or heavy, a generous portion of shredded, herby-sweet duck meat, and a cutting of cucumber to add a bit of watery crunch in the end. Deeeeeelicious with an extra five e’s. Once again, I didn’t even feel the need to dip it into the provided hoisin sauce, but doing so brings an extra spark of sweet elation to my eyes.
Well duck it, time to get two more plates. We seriously did that.
Any dumpling joint worth its pork had better be able to pull off a good Xiao Long Bao. Woe be me, for this is one instance where the XLB is only a work in progress.
First problem: see how they’re lumped together? This caused the skins to stick to each other, and as such were impossible to separate without breaking their skins. For those that understand the impact of this – cry with me: a lake of tears as large as the pool of deliciously umami pork juices that flowed out, destined to never be lapped up.
Indeed, all of our XLB broke like this – there was simply too much stickiness going on. Upon tasting what was left of it, I could tell it’s actually a delicious bao, with a tasty, porky filling. A shame that it’s only half of the experience – the hot, savoury soup is what defines a delicious XLB.
If anyone else gets these breakage issues, I’d love to hear about it!
As for the pan fried chicken & chive dumplings, a rather muted reaction was the best me and my dining companions could give. There’s a nice, crusty skin which signifies a well-executed, pot sticker-style dumpling, but the filling was what many would merely describe as “good”. It’s a nice dumpling, but that $9.8 could have gone towards a $13.8 4pc serve of the scallop & prawn dumplings instead. Full disclaimer though – I prefer steamed dumplings over fried more often than not!
The last little morsel we ordered were the poached prawn wontons w/Szechuan sauce. Think of prawn har gau, but with a greater quantity of flappy dumpling skin, doused in a generous amount of sweet/spicy Sichuan sauce. The prawn dumplings themselves are already worth ordering, but the sauce is what makes the dish different. This is still worth ordering even if you have prawn har gau on your mind.
My biggest gripe is that the sauce is diluted, in that the “true” intensity of Sichuan chilli is watered down to an almost inane degree. Real Sichuan heat will give at least some twinge of numbing, peppery aftertaste, which the sauce didn’t quite deliver for me. That said, I have a true blue palate for this stuff, having grown up eating Sichuan food. I can appreciate that many Sydneysiders may still not be used to this.
Long story short? Decide on this dish based on your palate and spice tolerance.
Still a darn good dumpling though.
In the end, what do we have? Pricey dumplings, and questionable Xiao Long Bao. Those two niggles might be enough to dissuade some readers. Thing is, every other dumpling is difficult to fault – at worst, they’re acceptably good. At best, they’re gorgeous, and I would splash out for those scallop & prawn dumplings over and over again.
The quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten, they say. I haven’t forgotten the price, but neither will I the quality. If you’re on the fence about Work In Progress’ newest incarnation…
- Dumplings that at their best, equal Sydney’s best
- Mr Wong’s food in a more accessible and casual environment
- There’s still the Merivale tax to pay
- Xiao Long Bao whose skin breaks due to stickiness. Enough said
- Like Aqua S, all good things must come to an end…
F7 | S4 | A2
Work In Progress @ Patrick Friesen
Date Last Visited: 13/3/15
Address: 50 King St Sydney, NSW 2000
Recommended Dish(es): supreme wonton mein, agedashi-ish tofu, ginger nut fried chicken, curry beef brisket noodles (if on the menu)
Merivale stalwart Patrick Friesen knows a thing or two about delicious meat platters. But, you would forgive me for expressing a smidgen of surprise a few weeks ago when, on his Instagram, he announced a March-only popup restaurant called Work In Progress. I’ll let his direct caption, quoted verbatim, do the talking:
Well it’s nearly upon us. A work in progress @patrickfriesen edition is almost ready for all you fried chicken and egg noodle aficionados. I’m doing a pop up for the duration of March into Merivale at 50 king st. Lunch and dinner mon to fri. Ballz deep all the time. Fried chicken, noodles, and that’s about it. No gluten free dishes. No vego dishes. No desserts. #soznotsoz Anyways come check us out from thursday and eat my food. Or don’t. Whatevs.
Now this is a work in progress I want to be wholeheartedly part of. Fried chicken? Noodles? If there was any intended target for the saying “two birds with one stone”, this would be it.
As of this post going up, there’s only 13 days left in the popup. If you can’t be bothered reading this post to decide whether or not to go, just skip to the conclusion and make a choice. Spoilers: go, and go nuts over my recommended dishes as a menu suggestion.
You know head honcho Pat is a cool dude when he puts “foreigner fried chicken” on every menu and has it emblazoned on the wall. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and neither should you – comparing this to the noodle houses of Hong Kong, Canton or Northern China is aiming for the wrong target here. But then again, it’s a work in progress, right? Your argument is invalid 😉
That said, I’ll just put it here that this is one of the better-executed eateries around, as there are some stunner dishes.
There are lot of pictures below, so before you think I’m a gluttonous pig (I completely am – and that is not a work in progress, thank you), let it be known that I’ve already visited this noodle + chicken house three times. My vote is in my wallet (and caesars, I guess).
A must-order entree is the agedashi-ish tofu. Yawn, agedashi? Is this a Chinese joint or a Japanese one? Hint: don’t even try to answer that question.
Before you dismiss these nine cubes of heaven, consider that there’s delicious sweet mayo, JBBQ sauce, bonito flakes, but most importantly, the tofu’s exterior is coated with a crunchy batter that’s more akin to the external texture of takoyaki. Welcome to the ‘ish’ in agedashi-ish. It’s really addictive to indulge in this texture, and a delight to eat. I ordered this one to share, but in the end I just split it with myself for the most part.
Guess my generosity is also a work in progress, eh?
Ok I’ll stop making WIP jokes now.
Pat’s Work In Progress menu serves up three kinds of noodles, and one of them is the Sichuan duck & tofu lo mein. As you can see, there is no holding back with the chilli oil. I felt that overall the dish could be served hotter than when I had it (a high-temperature tepid?), and more chunkier duck pieces could have been used instead of the mince-like texture that I experienced. Actually less oil would also be a good idea – the oil looks striking, but it’s slick all the way down into your stomach.
That aside though, the flavours are very good – it’s not true Sichuan as it’s not particularly numbing or spicy, but the taste is there. I can somewhat understand this, as a true Sichuan palate is not one that many Western people would be able to take (you will only truly be baptised by fire if you visit one of Sydney’s rare Sichuan hot pot joints or Sichuan province itself). With that taken into account, I can see the rationale behind this dish. Still, it could use a few improvements.
Well how about that. Christening the joint Work In Progress is quite apt isn’t it? On my third visit, this dish was ordered again, and it is markedly improved on the first time I had it. There’s a lot less oil, while keeping the tofu pieces nice and chunky. The duck pieces are a little bit bigger as well. I expect this to be a whopper dish as we approach the end of WIP’s days.
But Pat, be a man – turn this into a true Sichuan dish. I dare you 😉
Now this, my dear readers, is the go-to dish at Work In Progress. I made the mistake of not ordering this for myself the first time, and made the bigger mistake of trying out a portion of my friends on the same visit. Luckily, I’ve since rectified that, and have ordered it twice more. It is likely the noodle dish I will keep coming back to.
I find it difficult to fault this bowl. It’s almost perfect for me. I love the springy egg noodles which are al dente (none of that mushy stuff), I love even more those wontons, with delicious pork and fragrant shiitake. Most of all, I love that clear broth to dangerous levels. It is addictive as hell and I would drink it in place of water if I wouldn’t dehydrate to death as a result.
Yeah, sure, it might be high in MSG & sodium, and it could use a larger portion size. But when you’re faulting aspects of the dish other than flavour/texture, you know you’re just finding excuses for a dish you would re-order over and over.
I should also mention that this dish has been very consistent each of the three times I’ve tried it. Top stuff!
Now we come to the other side of the delicious coin – the fried chicken. For some, this is what you’re really waiting for. Remember how I was saying it’s a good idea not to ask just what country WIP represents? Now chuck Vietnamese (nuoc cham dipping sauce) and Korean (this style of fried chicken) into the mix.
Please, Asia’s awesome in general.
Of the three types of fried chicken Work In Progress offers, this would sit in as #2 on my list. The batter is crunchy and the flavours sink through to the chicken meat, but it is does have a ‘generic fried chicken’ taste to it. There’s a bit of gingeriness which differentiates it somewhat, though ultimately I could be eating KFC (the Kentucky type) or KFC (the Korean type) as well.
Still good, but not different.
The second choice of fried chicken is my personal favourite, chilli nuts. This is where it’s at – super saucy, delicious chicken and just a flavour explosion in general. The batter is naturally not as crispy as it’s a saucy kind of fried, but you can still get the occasional crunch from a crispier area, and from the peanuts. It’s hella fun and hella delicious to eat. Speaking of which, that sauce has become a bit spicier on my latest visit, something I totally approve of. If it doesn’t make you sweat it’s not worth your cheque.
It’s seriously on point, a dish I’ve re-ordered on each of my visits. Who’s to say there won’t be a fourth time?
Of course, for those more ambivalent, you can order the half ‘n’ half option for the same price. Now that is a complete work I tell you.The third type of fried chicken (welcome, representative from Cambodia!) are the Pnomh [sic] Penh Wings (correctly spelt Phnom).
These appeal to those who just can’t get past a good wing, who like a more citric/tamarind-style spicy flavour to their chicks.
I like all three types, but I’m biased against wings naturally as I struggle to get enough meat off of them. Call me lazy but I like my birds easy.
Did anyone spot something odd in one of the earlier pictures? Here, let me take you in for a closer look.
BAM! Sure, I may have never had the crab tobiko lo mein that’s on the menu, but I’m more than willing to bet that these curry noodles w/beef brisket take home the flavour trophy.
At the get-go, the brisket made the hardest impression on me. Or should I say – the softest. This is some seriously soft beef, slow-cooked to tender perfection. It’s not melt-in-your-mouth, but rather breaks apart very easily as you chew. This is perfect, as it soaks up the curry very well and really takes the flavour home run.
I’m also a fan in that much of the beef is lean instead of fatty, and I’m also supportive of the lack of tendon. I know, I’m one Chinaman black sheep amongst many in this regard, the texture of tendon is just not something I’ve ever grown accustomed to.
I was a bit surprised because our initial bowl didn’t come with spring onions, which the Instagram promised. A small but important omission as it increases visual appeal, as well as providing a supporting texture. That said, a small issue in an otherwise delectable dish.
Besides, even that problem got sorted out when it was ordered again! Improvements are everywhere, and not just the spring onions – as can be seen in the picture, the noodles for the curry beef dish have been changed to a flatter egg noodle. To me, this carries across more of the curry sauce, which is better for flavour. Little details matter to me, and clearly they do to Pat as well. Kudos.
Note: be sure to ask if there’s any specials for the day. The curry beef noodles are not on the menu!
This dish is now permanently on the menu!
I don’t usually drink, but when I heard a yuzu margarita was on the menu, I decided to plop the cash for the admittedly expensive drink.
It’s basically a souped-up slushie but with the adults-only bent. Really citrusy with a tinge of sweetness throughout. Highly refreshing, a good pairing with some of the heavier dishes. I wouldn’t get it again due to the price, but I’m glad I tried it.
A work in progress, eh? You could certainly call it that. Some dishes have definitely made strides each time I’ve visited, while some became instant classics from the get-go.
Really Pat, if this is your work in progress, my tastebuds are completely ready for whenever you consider your work complete.
This post is based on three independent visits to Work In Progress by Patrick Friesen.
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three 😀
- The standout dishes are works of art, not works in progress
- Overall menu is pricey – you’re spending $30+ to eat to satisfaction (my first visit cost me $46)
- Many little menu stuff-ups (which were eventually rectified)
- Portions are quite small
- It’s only a temporary work in progress. Please make this permanent!
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.
F6.5 | S4 | A2