Bianca: Now I know I’ve never seen a smoking panda in my life, actually scratch that, I’ve never seen a panda in real life. So I was thoroughly entertained before I even stepped foot into ‘The Smoking Panda’. Imagery aside, I was intrigued by the fusion of retro LA style, that quintessential down and dirty west coast charm with a Chinese focused menu.
Walking up the stairs above The Hotel Coronation on Park Street in the City CBD (few doors down from Woolies) you’re instantly transported to another city. Sleek is the one word I would use to describe the space. With soft pink hues lighting the bar, it’s easy to see yourself settling in for a night of cocktails or knocking back one of the 65 Bourbons on offer.
To kick off our Saturday evening we started with the ‘Harvey’s Headbanger’ comprising of Gin, green chartreuse, maraschino, fresh lime – served straight up with candied lime. $17. This was described to me by the barman as more of a ‘fellas’ drink. Which I don’t quite know what he was implying…. Oh well, it was very tasty and I would happily swig back a few of these in the future.
Completely reversing all ‘normal’ gender roles, Alex went with the girly drink. The ‘Blue Lagoon’ – Gin, vodka, blue Curacao, lychee, dragon fruit, and lemonade foam – served long & blue with popping candy. $17. Clearly I’m also a fan of all things pink and frilly, this was my favourite cocktail of the two. Much more of a pleasurable drink to sip at, the sweetness from the fruits balanced the gin. They were fresh out of popping candy though which was a little disappointing, it would have been interesting to see just how much that added.
The menu, created by celebrity chef Danny Russo offers a varied roll call of popular Chinese snacks with a few modern twists. One of the most exciting points we found out during our little ‘visit’ (clearly that’s code for drinking!) was that The Smoking Panda is not affected by the state’s current lockout laws, in other words “Drinks…drinks for everybody”.
We made our way over to our table where we happily conversed with some fellow foodie friends. Then the onslaught began…and by onslaught I mean every person’s dream. Rounds and rounds of food. First up was the ‘San Choy Bau’ – w/ braised short rib. $5ea. Really refreshing to see something other than mince in a san choy bau, the short rib had that velvety texture after a slow cook. The added addition of the baby corn was also really interesting, adding a crunch to almost every bite.
One of my favourites was the ‘Prawn Toast’ $12 for 3. I literally felt each bite travel straight to my arse but I climbed those stairs to get into the bar so they were essentially burnt off (right?). This would be a really great one to soak up the booze.Every soft shell crab burger/slider from here on end has some pretty big boots to fill after Bowery Lane’s rendition (link here:https://forfoodssake.net/2014/10/01/bowery-lane-sydney-cbd/ ) so I was keen to check this one out. ‘Steamed XO Soft Shell Crab Slider’ – $7ea. I loved the ingenuity of the steamed bun but flavour wise it wasn’t quite there for me.
Some ‘Duck Spring Rolls’ w/plum sauce. $11 for 3 really went down a treat. I’ve never had duck in a spring roll before so I loved that little twist, I did find them a little oily.
And of course the penultimate carney fare ‘’Corn Dog & Onion Rings’ (2) $15. I’m not a big hotdog lover and before The Smoking Panda I have never had a corn dog, I can see its appeal, fried dough, sure. Slap some ketchup on it (hey, we are in LA right?) and you have yourself a party. Alex and I both really loved the onion rings, these were good’uns.
We couldn’t finish a meal without something sweet now could we? First up was the ‘Deep Fried Green Tea Ice Cream’ –w/ coconut and a rum affogato. $17. I would be suggesting people order this even if you are at the ‘button undone’ stage, I’ve had a few terrible fried ice-creams from dodgy restaurants but this was executed very well. We found the green tea flavour quite mild and pleasant, not at all overpowering. It was served alongside a Rum Affogato. Which worked exceptionally well.And lastly we tried the ‘Black Sesame Panna Cotta’ w/a sesame wafer. $9. Our least favourite dish of the night, texturally it was a great panna cotta, taste wise, it didn’t really have any discernible flavour.
Another great addition to the Sydney bar scene, I would kind of put it in the upmarket stream of bars, very chic, very sophisticated. It’s nice to see a large emphasis on the food served alongside the alcohol and it’s pretty clear a lot of work has gone into creating some harmony between the two.
Photos by Alex
*For Food’s Sake were invited to The Smoking Panda by Wasamedia, all opinions however are independent and our own.