Saturday, 30 November 2013

Peng You Chinese Kitchen and Bar - Gasworks gets another diner

I can't really remember the last time a new precinct in Brisbane generated so much buzz and excitement than the one being created by the Gasworks over at Newstead.  It seems like every week there is a new opening of a hip new dining spot under the purple haze of the brightly lit Gasometer Frame.  What's amazing about the Gasworks is the short timeframe that it's become a 'go to' destination for Brisbanites and the fact that there is still plenty of development to be completed yet.

During the week I was invited along to check out one of the latest dining spots, a place doing a modern take on a very old and traditional cuisine.  Peng You China Kitchen and Bar has one of the best locations at the Gasworks precent and is right next to the iconic Gasometer, which acts as a beacon for those in the general vicinity.  I would be dining with a number of other foodies on the night, which would be ideal when eating Asian cuisine, which is all about sharing and experiencing the food as much as just consuming.

Thinking that it would take ages to get from the CBD to Newstead in peak hour traffic, I arranged to be dropped off at the Gasworks but as luck would have it, it was pretty quiet on the backstreets and I arrived a little early.  I took the opportunity to get into the restaurant early and have a good look around to see what they had done to the space.  As I walked into Peng You, I was greeted by our host for the night, David Hung, who is also the Manager and son of owner Joyce Chiu who owns Obsession over at South Bank.

Chatting to David was like talking to an excited kid about to unwrap his present under a Christmas tree, suspecting it will be a new Playstation 4.  David was clearly proud of his achievements in putting the restaurant together and was so excited about getting a group of us in to 'road test' the menu.  As a few of the other guests arrived, I snuck off camera in hand to get some photos of the interior of Peng You.  I was joined by David's mother Joyce who completed the tour by filling me in on the amazing artwork on the walls.  One piece in particular seemed amazing to me and Joyce explained that it was hand painted on, which was even more amazing.

The menu at Peng You Chinese Kitchen and Bar is filled with recipes handed down through generations of the family and friends, which works well with the name as Peng You means friends.  The style of the menu takes the traditional elements of Asian cuisine from Malaysia, Japan and China and gives a slightly more modern tapas approach and incorporates fresh garnish as part of the approach.  The menu itself looks like an old style broadsheet newspaper but with stories about the cuisine and pictograms of food and dining scenes, its really quite cool.

Peng You is more than just a dining spot, there is Bar in the title for good reason.  There is a wide range of craft beers and ciders as well as a wide range of pinos gris available.  The restaurant also has some wines on tap, one of the few restaurants to do so.  Not being a wine connoisseur (I hate wine) I was not sure if that was a good idea, but I was assured from some dining companions that the wine was definitely up to scratch.

In the spirit of share dining, we would be eating banquet style, with a range of the menu items coming to the table for us to get a good cross selection, including some of the signature dishes of the restaurant.  Of course it wouldn't be complete for me if there weren't gyoza on offer and I was pleased to see that we had three different type of gyoza to try.  The house made dumplings are a specialty for Peng You and come in a very traditional pork and chives, spicy sichuan and vegetarian.  It was not surprise that my favourite was the pork and chives, the pan fried pork gyoza were packed with lots of porky goodness and the dumpling dough was just the right texture.  I was less enamoured with the vegetarian gyoza, but thats a personal taste.  The sichuan dumplings were lovely but a bit spicy, made even spicier when I was tricked into adding some hot chili sauce by some of my dining companions, who could take spicy flavours a little better than me (thanks Mel and Jennie).
The house wrapped pork and vegetable spring rolls made their way to the table but with a little bit of a twist. They were accompanied by lettuce cups with the idea that you wrap the very fresh vegetable around the outside of the spring roll for some added freshness, which is the approach that Peng You takes to many of their dishes.  I've never been a fan of spring rolls but these were the best I've had, with really thin pastry and not overly heavy from the deep frying.  I think it was the addition of the lettuce wrap around the outside along with the delicious sweet chilli dipping sauce that made the difference.  It's the only way I'm going to eat spring rolls in future.

The same idea followed on with the next dish of Taiwanese street-style fried chicken, which was pieces of fried chicken served with lettuce cups along with fried and fresh basil.  These were pretty much like healthier versions of chicken strips you would find at KFC but the addition of the basil and wrapping them in lettuce transformed a simple dish into something more.  The herbs and spices around the chicken were tasty and crispy but the basil gave some extra depth of flavour.  Wrapping the chicken in lettuce was a good way of avoiding scalding fingers, so double purpose.

Last of the tapas style starters was the crispy marinated chicken wings with cucumber, which were pretty nice with a crispy texture.  I found the chicken wings to be a little boring after all of the very tasty and interesting dishes that went before, on their own they would be OK, but following some of the really strong flavours they just lacked a little something.

It was time to move onto the more substantial main style dishes and first out was the Peng You special fried rice with Chinese sausage and prawns.  Of course no visit to a Chinese influenced restaurant is complete until you have the 'special fried rice'.  The Peng You version was pretty much special fried rice but there were two elements that made it just a little nicer than your average Chinese restaurant.  Firstly, there were heaps of really large and fresh prawns and lastly there was the really intensely flavoured Chinese sausage pieces, which were also large.  I always find it hard to eat rice on a plate with chopsticks, so I ended up following some of the others around the table and using my spoon!

The special fried rice was perfect from mopping up the spicy sauce from the next dish of Malay-style curry roast duck with eggplant.  The curry was sweet and spicy at the same time and reminded me of a Thai yellow curry, it was that sweet.  The duck pieces were lovely but I found that there were too many duck bones in the dish to safely just munch away.  I assume the duck was just cut up, bones and all, to be cooked in the dish to get as much flavour as possible, but my western sensibilities got in the way of just crunching the bones.  A great dish but I would have loved it better if there were big chunks of duck breast in there.

I always love a little bit of theatre when eating and loved it when the steamed baby barramundi with black bean, chilli and Shaixing turned up wrapped in banana leaf.  The before and after photos show some of the drama, but doesn't capture the steam rising from the perfectly cooked baby barramundi.  The flesh of the sweet fish was delicious and very moreish but at one point I took a huge bite of fish that had a even huger piece of chilli hidden underneath.  Whoa, it was hot and killed my tastebuds for a little while.  That was the end of me eating the barramundi too, I didn't want to take the risk of burning my tastebuds off!

The last of the mains that I tried was the incredible and exclusive Peng You slow-cooked pork trotter.  I'm not sure why they call it exclusive, but I can only assume its because the trotter was from the worlds largest pig, it was massive!  There was some more theatre with this dish, the wait staff paraded the trotter from table to table before going away and carving it up and then dishing out the pieces of delectable and wonderfully cooked pork flesh.  I really liked the pork flesh but I have discovered I don't like slow cooked pork skin, it's just too slimy in my mouth, almost like jelly.  My loss was the gain of the rest of the table who all loved the texture and consistency of the slimy pig skin.  I would prefer pork crackling any day of the week.

Phew, I was feeling quite stuffed after the procession of wonderful Peng You food delivered to our table, but we weren't done yet, there was still dessert.  What trip to a Chinese style restaurant would be complete without some deep fried ice cream?  None, and thats what we had next.  I've always been intrigued by the concept of taking really cold ice cream, rolling it in crumbs and then deep frying it, what crazy mind came up with that?  With that question in mind I've just done some research on Wikipedia and it's not surprising that it's an American invention....  Back to the Peng You version, which was lovely but melted way too quickly, it became soup very quickly.  We also had a trio of sorbet delivered, which was a refreshing way to finish off the night, with the lychee sorbet being my favourite, followed by the rose water sorbet.
Completing a Chinese banquet can sometimes be like finishing a marathon, you get halfway through and wonder if it was such a good idea to start, but you push on anyway then feel a sense of achievement by finishing.  It was like this at Peng You, with a heap of lovely food that came out like a never ending swarm of (well, something that swarms).  I pretty much enjoyed most of the food that was presented on the night, with a couple of small exceptions that run to personal taste.  All of the food was really well cooked and didn't leave that heavy yet hollow feeling that you can get with some Asian cuisine.

We were well looked after on the night by hosts David and Joyce, so I can't really comment on how the service will run on a normal night.  I did find that there were plenty of waiters and staff around the restaurant and they all had big smiles, as if they were all proud of their new baby and wanted to show it off, which in a way it was.

Gasworks is going to be one of those spots that has a highly competitive dining scene with many options, so it will be important that any restaurant in the precent doesn't take its customers for granted.  I saw enough from my trip to think Peng You will not take visitors for granted and will ensure that you have a memorable visit.

** I was a guest of Peng You Chinese Kitchen for this event

David and Joyce proudly telling us about their new venture
The well stocked bar with wines on tap
Its quite a large space in Peng You, there is a huge dining area up the stairs too
You don't see this every day.  An open kitchen in a Chinese restaurant
What Chinese restaurant would be complete without the Chinese lanterns?

Peng You China Kitchen & Bar on UrbanspoonPeng You China Kitchen & Bar

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