Lynn Shanghai Cuisine, Sydney, Australia

Having been exposed to Shanghai cuisine from restaurants along Dominion Road in Auckland, I was expecting the food at Lynn to be the standard fare – large serving of nondescript tasting food that seem somewhat uninteresting compared to the more commonly available Cantonese cuisine. Well, I was in for a surprise, and a treat.

Prior to heading over to Sydney, I was under orders to head out to Din Tai Fung to try out their famous xiao long bao. Din Tai Fung has been reviewed previously so there is very little for me to add other than that their xiao long bao makes the ones in Auckland (found in most Chinese yum cha restaurants) look like cheap imitation and do not reflect what a real proper xiao long bao should be. After my dining experience at Din Tai Fung (World Square branch – this place fills up by 6pm; it’s that popular), a Sydneysider friend told me about another Shanghai restaurant that makes comparable but cheaper xiao long bao. That restaurant is LYNN Shanghai Cuisine. So a date was set for a group dinner there.

Finding the place wasn’t too difficult – once you look past the cafe that is under construction at the front end of the building. Yes, you have to walk through that cafe to reach Lynn, which is tucked in the deep recess of the building (okay, maybe not that deep) and there is no signage at the internal entrance to tell that was Lynn other than the sight of Chinese waitresses.

The decor was staid and non-pretentious. You know you’re in a Chinese restaurant. Upon arrival, you’re greeted by the “manufacturing” wing of the restaurant – it’s a glassed window room where you see the workers busy making the steam dumplings. Seems liked they are trying to replicate the look and feel of Din Tai Fung.

We were a table of about 16 but were placed at a long table – instead of the usual round table with a lazy Susan. This made passing the food around a bit interesting. Food orders are taken from a checklist sheet – write down the number of items you want (just like in Din Tai Fung). Food delivery was quick however all dishes were not served at the same time, which is somewhat unusual for Chinese dining. Chinese tea is ordered per head and refills were slow.

The preface to this post was that I was expected the type of Shanghainese food I have been exposed to in Auckland. Well, I’m glad this is not Auckland. The food at Lynn is very different – robust flavours, well seasoned, right balance of spice and not greasy (or at least not to the same level as the typical Chinese restaurants in Auckland). My primary objective to dine here was to sample the xiao long bao. So, how does it compare to Din Tai Fung? It was good but I think Din Tai Fung has that extra 5% that makes it better. It was the flavour that won at the end of the day.

The dinner was, of course, not only the xiao long bao.

For starters, we had a cold dish of braised chicken served in a spicy chili sauce and a plate of shrimp and pork wontons in a spicy sauce.  The chicken was nicely braised – tender and well seasoned, and the chilli sauce was peanut based. The heat from the chilli sauce has enough kick but does not overwhelm the dish. Likewise with the wonton dish. The wonton filing is your standard fare – tender and juicy.

For mains, we had sweet and sour pork, sizzling beef in Lynn’s special sauce, pork belly, bamboo chicken (though the menu calls it “famous Szechuan style fried chilli chicken”), sizzling beef, Beijing style shredded pork with pancakes, pan fried pork buns, barramundi with fresh chillies, green sprout with mushroom and hokkien fried rice.

The sweet and sour pork is unlike anything I have had. This is not your typical Cantonese style sweet and sour pork – this is not tomato based. It was more sweet than sour with a very thick sticky sauce. The cut of the meat had soft bone, which was cooked well enough to be edible. The sizzling beef was nice – again, well seasoned and not greasy unlike the sizzling dishes served in most Chinese restaurants in Auckland.

Hidden inside the pork belly dish were quails eggs. The dish is soy sauce based and well cooked – tender enough that the meat easily peel away from the fat. “Bamboo chicken” is just my shortened name for the “famous Szechuan style fried chilli chicken”. There is no bamboo (as far as I can tell) other than the decorative bamboo cone. This is essentially a battered deep fried chicken and beats the Colonel’s recipe any day.

One notable dish was the barramundi with fresh chillies. I have not eaten barramundi before. The meat is delicate and soft, and Lynn did an admirable job to cook this fish such that it held its shape well and was moist (not soggy). The fish was deep fried in a light batter, which sealed the fish from soaking up the broth from the chilli-based soup. Also in this dish nestled under all that chilli and fish was glass noodle. Despite the copious amounts of chillies used, the heat from the chillies was surprisingly well balance. Yes, you do get a kick from the chilli but it does not overpower the delicate fish. In fact, I went back for more chilli broth.

The pan fried pork buns is basically a version of xiao long bao with a different wrapper. Watch out – there’s a fair bit of soup inside, and it’s hot! Lynn has excelled here – they have managed to keep the soup inside the bao and yet the inside of the wrapper was not soggy. The flavour of the filling and the soup is similar to the xiao long bao.

The remaining three dishes – Beijing style shredded pork with pancakes, green sprout with mushroom and Hokkien fried rice – whilst nice probably isn’t worth going into much detail. They were all well cooked but certainly not something I would go out of my way to order.

Lynn, to me, is not a true Shanghai restaurant, as much of their specialty dishes are Szechuan influenced. That is not a criticism of this restaurant; just don’t come here thinking that all you’ll receive is Shanghai cuisine. The dishes were all seasoned well. Dishes involving chillies had enough kick but not to the extent of being inedible. I certainly wouldn’t come here just for their xiao long bao. There are many other fantastic dishes on offer, why stop just at one?

Lynn Shanghai Cuisine 
199 Castlereagh Street
Ph:  +61 2 9267 7780
Open: 7 Days
Lunch: 11am to 3pm
Dinner: 5pm to 10:00 pm

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