Chairman Mao is bomb. I’m just gonna rip this one right out. It’s bomb. You can stop reading and just go fucking eat it because you’re missing out if you don’t. I’ve eaten here a grand total of once and I’m convinced this is one of my favourite restaurants in Sydney. It’s bomb.

Perhaps it’s the newness to me. I haven’t actually had any Hunanese food before, which I’m ashamed to say. Yet, the novelty factor only has a marginal effect on me raving about this place. I ate with two friends and if 3 chefs all agree that everything is superb, from cold starter to wok fried wonders and a hearty bowl of soup, it has to merit some degree of praise regardless of the hyperbole I seem to be spitting. The cooking is rock solid and the seasoning is superb and importantly, the flavours are well balanced. Yes some of the dishes are spicy and some are even intentionally mad spicy but they’re balanced and they work. Hunanese food is famous for it’s spiciness and in this sense has some similarity to Szechuan food. However, it’s got much more varied flavour profiles and features smoking, curing and pickling quite extensively. I dunno if Chairman Mao is truly authentic or if it’s even any good to a true blood Hunanese but I can tell you that 3 food obsessed chefs were pretty happy folk after eating here. I don’t even give a damn if it’s not considered good because it is to me.

We start off with a coupla cold starters. Actually no, we start off with a complimentary side of pickles, which look almost the same as the pickles I’ve had before in a Szechuan restaurant. I’m hoping it’s different and it is. The vinegar kick is sharp but personally I actually preferred the Szechuan style one. I felt the same way with the Pig’s Ears, which come braised and then cooled before getting sliced and tossed with sesame, garlic, and chilli. I also prefer the Szechuan version which is a sliced terrine of ears served with a dipping sauce of garlic, chilli and black vinegar. That’s the only two things where I thought “good but not great”. Everything else just changed the game.

Black fungus is dressed simply with ginger, garlic, sesame and chilli oil and it’s spectacular in it’s clarity and balance. It’s kinda similar to Szechuan style cold dishes but it’s evident it is a beast entirely unto itself. Whilst we chow down on the starters, we gape at other tables and the stuff just looked awesome. The braised pork was something we considered but because we could envision what it’d be like, we didn’t get it.

Anyway, the second round arrives and I start scooping the rice. My companions start picking at the first dish and after one bite, they each utter a moan of bewilderment. I have to say that the two picky ass bastards I eat with don’t normally ooh and ahh over just anything. I hurry and grab my chopsticks to grab a piece of Pig Intestine stir fried with chilli. It’s sublime. The intestines are first braised probably in 5 spice soy before getting cut up and stir fried until some of the outer layers get crisped up, which is insane against the tender, near creamy texture of the interior. The heat from the chilli amps it up and you get the freshness of some shallots plus ginger and garlic and a shitload of oil. It’s an incredible flavour/texture blast that few dishes in this world have. Pity that intestines are an acquired taste and not to mention the oil spill that’s left behind. Mere mortals would tremble at this but the brave would be rewarded well.

Next, I try the Smoked Pork stir fried with Smoked Bamboo Shoots, which is another exercise in balance. The salty, Chinese style bacon pork belly slices are strong on their own but when paired with the bland but crunchy bamboo shoots, it’s like twice as good. The contrasting textures and balance of flavour and heat from dried chillies seem to create an endless dramatic shift in flavour. I just don’t wanna stop. But oh, here comes the Cucumber stir fried with Perilla, our requisite vegetable dish. I never knew we used perilla in Chinese cuisine much but here it takes the humble cucumber to the next level. Dressed with a spicy, salty, sour sauce, the coolness of the cucumber still comes through and it’s the perilla that takes it further. It’s a touch oily but that’s the cuisine and I for one, enjoy it immensely.

We finish off with a bowl of soup. It was something I had little expectation for because in Sydney, soups in Chinese restaurants tend to be water thickened with cornstarch. Instead of that piss, we get a bowl of handmade pork mince balls floating in a massive bowl of stock that is flecked with shredded pickled mustard greens and hidden beneath, a generous serve of broad beans. Again, the combination is superb. Sweet, fresh broad beans always match well with pork but the mustard greens twist you in a way you didn’t think would be good but it is. Mad respect for the meatballs alone, which would make any grandmother, Italian, Chinese or otherwise, immensely happy.

Chairman Mao is comforting, interesting, exciting food and it’s generous to boot. We end up spending $40 a head but I think $20-30 would get most well satisfied. I’d go back just for the pork intestines alone and already am planning another trip. If this place wasn’t Chinese, it’d have a hat. It deserves one in my opinion. I get that people maybe scared of the spice and maybe baulk at the oil but they clearly have no problems eating salads tossed in vinaigrette etc. The food here is the same. The oily, spicy, salty richness of the flavour is always cut with vinegars and lightened with vegetables. It’s a true balancing act that’s daring enough to push you in multiple directions and still have you together. The food critics all say this place is sick. Why they don’t think it deserves more than the 13.5/20 it got in 2012 I have no clue. This is real food for real food lovers, not a smoosh of jizz puree on a piece of slate with a boil in a bag piece of protein and flowers on top with a waiter that points to the $234 bottle of vin de pays. I know people have known about this place since 2009 but it deserves so much more attention than it got.

Totally going back for the Chairman Mao’s Red Braised Pork Belly, the Stir Fried Green Chillies with Pork Crackling and Beer Duck. Call in to book a table. Do it now.

Chairman Mao
189 Anzac Parade, Kensington NSW 2033
Tel: 9697 9189

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How sick is that Lucky Beer bottle by the way? Went back a few days later and had:

Pickled Gailan – as a free appetizer. oh man. my fave chinese greens made even better. would pay for this.
Beer Braised Duck – well seasoned but dry as all hell. they’re human after all.
Smoked Pork + 5 Spice Tofu – just as good with 5 spice tofu, the “bacon” is lovely and smoky.
Stir Fried Eggplant + Green Chilli – quite spicy but not headblowing as I had imagined. so good that I refer to this when I stir fry anything. superbly seasoned and so simple. My housemate tried some I brought home cold from the fridge and she couldn’t stop swearing about how good it was.

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