By Rita Bratovich
The Evening Star Hotel is a small corner pub, built around 1903, best remembered as a watering hole for journalists from the Kippax Street presses back in the day. When digital killed the newspaper stars, The Evening Star almost met the same fate, sitting near empty, forlorn and mostly forgotten. Then one day, Marvan Hotel Group waved its magic wand and transformed the tired, outdated interior bar into a groovy, modern casual dining space and called it Gweilo.
A Cantonese word for “ghost man” (used cheekily to describe Caucasians) Gweilo, together with the anime-boy styled logo, aptly describes the aesthetic here: kind of spooky and dark but with pop culture chutzpah. The soft colour scheme, clean curves and dimmed lighting give it a relaxed feel, but the brightly lit bar and neon sign save it from being too mellow.
Our gracious waiter/host, puts a shot glass filled with greenish liquid in front of each of us and explains that it’s a palate cleanser. It’s sharp, lemony-herbal-astringent and indeed, quite refreshing.
We each then order a cocktail – a highly recommended way to begin your meal here. The cocktails are inventive and extraordinary. We select three from the list: Ikebana – Ink Gin, Violet Liqueur, Lime, Rose and Dandelion Bitters. It’s lavender, served in a martini glass with a floating edible flower and it has a perfumed flavour without being sickly or sweet. Pepper Kaiju – Sake, Vermouth, Bitter Orange, Peach, Toasted Poppy Seed and Pepperberry Salt. This is their variation on a Negroni, served with ice in a tumbler that is salted around the rim, giving a beachside feel. And their showpiece, Dragon’s Breath – Coriander Tequila, Mezcal, Amaretto, Palm Sugar and Applewood Smoke. That last ingredient is captured inside a bell jar which is placed over the cocktail and then removed at the table, freeing curls of misty smoke as if from a magic brew. If you drink the cocktail quickly you expel smoke!
With the cocktails came a serving of salt and vinegar edamame: tangy skin with plump peas inside; and Haloumi – hot & sour peppers, black olives & betel leaves: an intricate mix of sweet, savoury, crispy and firm. Delightful. Next, came the King Fish Sashimi w roast coconut, chilli & lime: an absolute symphony of flavours which somehow take it in turns to identify themselves in your mouth.
Next came out the Smoked pumpkin & corn dumpling, XO, sorrel & almond: the subtle, mild taste of the pumpkin and dumpling are offset by the very spicy XO sauce – might be too hot for some but if you can take it, get it. We were then served two plates of baos. Well, bao wow! KFC bao – Konbu fried chicken, bulldog sauce, pickled cucumber and Eggplant parmi bao – eggplant & parmesan katsu, Napoli sauce. This is your late night – bit tipsy – need munchies remedy.
Our final main was the Drunken pork belly – chilli caramel, apple & mint. This pork dissolves elegantly on your tongue and releases flavours that go beyond the ingredients listed. It’s very rich; our waiter recommended having it with jasmine rice and it was good advice.
After a very brief pause, we were treated to dessert. Here the selection is very limited but it doesn’t matter because once you try the Coconut-kaffir lime sago, strawberry & liquorice you’ll never want any other dessert ever. Except perhaps their Deep-fried Ice-cream Baos. Flavours change daily. We had salted caramel and Milo, respectively. The baos may be a bit heavy if you have indulged in too many dishes prior, but again, really good for a late night fix.
This is somewhere to go with a group. The menu has been designed to be shared and the ambience will make sharing fun. Great value, handy location. Go in and say Gweilo!
At The Evening Star Hotel, 360 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills. Info: www.gweilosurryhills.com.au