Name: The Chairman & Yip
Address: 108 Bunda Street, Civic, Canberra ACT 2601
Ph: (02) 6248 7109
Hours: Lunch Tuesday – Friday 12.00pm – 2.30pm. Dinner: Monday – Saturday 6.00pm – 10.30pm. Sunday: open for bookings for 30 people or more
December is crazy. So many of us spend the month lurching from Christmas party to Christmas party, passing cheap, tacky presents to people we don’t know all that well, eating and drinking too much, while trying not to embarrass ourselves in front of the boss.
As a public servant, my experiences of Christmas party food has been very basic, and often quite average, roast dinners in a club or a function room with copious amounts of basic alcohols. Others have more luck, as demonstrated by the vast array of paper crowns adorning the heads of customers at Chairman and Yip.
These loud partiers, with their crackers, hats and gifts mixed with the Christmas decorations to further confuse the already muddled décor of the place. A beaten metal wall and canvass tents hanging inverted from the roof don’t scream coherence even before you add in stars and Christmas trees. It adds character to the place, but exactly what character is more of a question.
Yet, thankfully, the food and service is a lot more together than the design. There is a reason that the Chairman and Yip holds such a place of respect in the Canberra restaurant scene.
After a lone spare table was found in the fully booked room, I received service tailored to a solo diner. Usually restaurants don’t know how to deal with someone sitting alone. Many seem to speak to the customer a little more, but a lot of waiters don’t know how to do this more than ask how the dish was.
Here, thought went in to how to treat a singleton. The tasting menu, normally limited to a minimum of two people, was altered to be suitable for one, which was well appreciated. Also, at one point, they offered a magazine, just to give me something to do.
Modern Chinese cuisine is a concept that so often falls over. Yet at the Chairmen they have the touch required to balance the disparate flavours in the food, vital for any cuisine, particularly one prefixed by the word “modern”.
A moist, meaty pork cake served with fresh, crisp cabbage leaves and sharp red wine vinaigrette had a touch of each of the five tastes, melding together in a way that lifted it above just a pork meatball. A dish that combines sesame, cinnamon and soy with ocean trout is simple but so well pitched. Crisp pieces of lamb in a Shan-Tung style is spicy and rich, and a pleasure to eat.
These dishes were so accomplished. Simple, yet exciting, and as good as anything you can get in Canberra.
Not every dish was quite so well delivered, however. The seafood let the team down, in particular. A lackluster steamed scallop was saved from absolute boredom by some gorgeous ginger, and dish of spicy salt and chili calamari was wonderfully spicy, but spoiled by tough, flavourless squid. I understand that it is difficult to get good seafood in Canberra, but sometimes you have to persevere.
A roasted duck and shitake pancake, a take on that most classic of Chinese dishes, was just off target. The pancake was a touch too thick, the duck a smidgen too bland. Not bad, but just not up to expectations.
Rare for Chinese, modern or otherwise, was an interesting dessert menu, without a hint of cliché. A surprisingly smooth carrot and saffron halva, topped with vanilla ice cream and roast almonds. It was nice, and different. Not the greatest dessert ever, but a step above deep fried ice cream.
A series of wines were matched beautifully, a tour around the country, and all excellent wines. And all good value, with the food and drink coming to a respectable $110.
The Chairman and Yip is an institution for a reason, and as long as it continues to serve food as good as the trout or the lamb, it will continue to be, whatever the time of year.
Even sitting alone, it filled me with some Christmas cheer.