zha jiang mian | asian bolognese | chinese new year

zhajiangbannerxo restaurant | AK and kent
16 iluka street narrabundah

Gong xi fa cai dudes! Here’s something you probably already know. This week marks the beginning of chinese new year celebrations. There’s going to be a lot of unrestrained fireworks in the next two weeks. And eating. A lot of eating.

Enter the cny degustation at xo restaurant. That’s where we were last night. Chefs and owners AK and kent have put together an 8-course menu in true xo style, balancing the traditional with their own creative instincts. Each dish is full of symbolic good fortune for the year ahead: think reinterpreted classics – green tea longevity soba with jelly fish, shredded chicken and wood ear mushrooms, or an ultra modern yee sang prosperity toss salad made with super fresh hiramasa kingfish, caramelised cashews and crunchy shredded vegetables. Oh, and a sandy-crispy lai yau soft shell crab with kelp butter and egg floss that we pretty much inhaled. Seriously, they should sell this stuff by the gram.

yee sang with hiramasa kingfish | sichuan silken tofu with century egg | soft shell crab | image courtesy of xo restaurant
yee sang with hiramasa kingfish | sichuan silken tofu with century egg and fukujinzuke | soft shell crab | image credit: xo restaurant

Kent has put together a kick arse wine list too, which, like the crazy kid himself, is a quirky mix of old world and new. It’s ahead of the curve, with some refreshingly local (and affordable) choices. There’s serious canberra represents and a pretty respectable range of whiskies. Like the food, it’s constantly evolving and he really knows his shit. If you’re at a loss, throw some random words at him – crisp, soft, dry, gumboot – and let him choose the wine for you.

What really sets the list apart, though, is the inclusion of natural and orange wines – preservative-free, lots of skin contact, barnyardy – which are going to be huge in canberra in the next couple of years. So go in, have a chat to kent, and become an expert before all your friends so you can be super smug when this thing takes off. xo is also one of the first places to offer them by the glass which is a bit risky for restauranteurs but AWESOME for customers, which is us. And you.

The cny menu runs until 20 february 2016. Like any chinese food, it’s best shared, so get 3-5 of your friends together and get. on. board.
green tea soba longevity noodles | image courtesy xo restaurant
green tea soba longevity noodles | image credit xo restaurant

If, after a meal like that you’re lying around like a boa constrictor that’s swallowed a deer, it’s time to get sensible again. If you’re a selfie-taking evangelical paleotard, that might mean a handful of nuts and a celery juice. If you’re an overworked public servant, maybe it’s vegemite toast and the latest season of my kitchen rules. If you’re half taiwanese, like the spoon in boyandspoon, it means getting your mum to make you zha jiang mian, aka fried sauce noodles, or asian bolognese. As you would expect, this basically means swapping the pasta out for noodles and the ragu for a savoury, spicy, pork mince sauce. And like bolognese, this has thousands of variations depending on where you are, who you are and what your mum tells you to do when you ring her for the recipe (thanks mum). Case in point, xo has its own version with stir fried udon, chicken ragu, xo sauce and a 60/60 sous vide egg. Ours is more provincial but you don’t need a professional kitchen to put it together. So if you don’t have a mum who treats you like a ten year old but still want to get bolognasian in 2016, try this take.

250g hand-pulled noodles (刀削面 / dao xiao or plain wheat flour noodles are good)
200g minced pork
100g five spice tofu (五香豆干 / doù gan)
100g edamame, shelled
½ carrot
3-4 shallots
1 tbs chilli bean paste (豆瓣酱 / doù bàn jiàng)
1 tsp whole sichuan peppercorns
2 tbs sweet fermented sauce (甜面酱 / tián miàn jiàng)
3 tbs light soy

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To get everything ready, parboil the carrot, cool, and dice into 5mm cubes. Cut the tofu to a similar size and finely chop the shallots. Set a pot of water to boil for the noodles while you make the sauce. Keep an eye on the water. When it comes to the boil, cook the noodles until al dente.
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Heat some oil in a wok on a medium heat. When it is hot, gently fry the sichuan pepper until the oil is fragrant. Remove from oil and dispose. Add the shallots and pork mince and fry until golden, taking care not to over brown the shallots. Remove and set aside.

In the same wok, add some oil and fry the sweet fermented sauce and chilli bean paste for one minute. Add the carrots, edamame and tofu. Pour over the soy sauce and toss through. If the sauce is too dry, add a few tablespoons of water. Return the mince to the wok and stir to combine.

To serve, add the cooked noodles to the sauce and toss to coat. Pile in a bowl and serve.

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