|The captivating dumpling choices. Photo credit - Ms. Zoe Yu|
Hidden below the street level, placed in a probable secret garden and not easily visible, though near Sydney's iconic St. Marys Cathedral. It was a rather warm day in the city centre, wedding parties were gush with striking patterned and designed wardrobes and the buzz was swirling around. The church bells pealed out in clarity and wonder every now and then. More than a hundred people patiently waited for their turn to get inside a pop up stand of Friends on Stan at a far corner of Hyde Park. No signs lead to Bodhi, like the proverbial search for something unique, you have to make your own effort, follow your heart and communicate with reliable friends.
Once my group was met by Raymond, we were led to a hidden stairway that then showed us a courtyard, a small garden and people relaxing along side canteen side wooden tables. We were thirsty for sure by then...
Yum cha can be oily, crowded and stereotyped. This restaurant used to be located in Sydney's Chinatown near the Customs House but the business has been changed to a more hipster, Aussie ambient surrounding. There is no written menu, only a guide to cocktails and other drinks - and there is more than piping hot tea available. The mainly young staff hold trays of petite and unusual concoctions , all with a vegetarian and vegan theme. There are steamed, deep fried and freshly wrapped recipes. I recommend sharing, samplings and tasting. Most plates have offerings that can be cut with a food scissors, but then they only have dining bread knives. Your eyes keep alert to the variety, some of which cannot be found elsewhere. Most are served open on small plates but as not unexpected, some come warm in bamboo baskets. It can be finger picking food, but at times they can be too hot to handle, like steamed dumplings. Lots of paper napkins are necessary, especially when the sauce drizzles and runs all over.
I just adore the sweet Japanese pumpkin dumplings, what an excellent idea! The glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves and then steamed is not one my favourites but it came relatively nice on the palate, though packed tightly with carbohydrates. Even if no meats are served, the offerings include flavours that invoke thoughts of carnivores - chicken flavoured and so forth. Asparagus and shitake mushrooms can be difficult delicate things but the marinade utilised was just right for the related dumplings. I also suggest trying the so called "Char Siew Bao", with a slit on each top showing what seems to be typical barbecued pork inside the freshly steamed dough buns - the taste can match the best in non-vegetarian restaurants but one is actually not partaking in any meat.
The skill and art of vegetarian cuisine is how one manages to uplift flavours, use the best of textures and somehow emulate some main stream dishes. Presentation is the companion to taste and I must note that each dish served at Bodhi has had much thought on how they would come out right in front of the eyes of customers. A hotch potch of the crowd reflected the diversity of Sydney society these days - hipsters, young families, city dwellers, tourists and office workers. My group of six persons eased into comfort, though somehow the strong sunlight kept focusing on one side of our table. Hey, no one at my table had tea at all. The quick working staff cleared our cleaned out plates efficiently and there was not much wait to continue choosing and tasting several different offerings.
|Sesame paste filled steamed buns. Photo credit - Ms. Zoe Yu|
We did not choose much of fresh vegetables or salads, though there was one dish with fresh greens wrapped in translucent skin. The menu reflected the variety of East and south-east Asian influences - Vietnamese, Hong Kong, southern Chinese, Singaporean, Japanese and Shanghainese. Bodhi had been an institution in this cuisine niche for 27 years but in the past few years had shown a transformation as the business changed hands form mother to daughters. Are there too many staff employed? Has the food gone more fusion? How will it compete with its rather niche space? Is it more of a bar than a restaurant? Its location at the business end of town also underlies perhaps a desire to attract corporate custom. The warm months in Sydney, from October to March, do serve the restaurant and its licensed bar well.
|Inspired from the Wu Kok or yam snack, this totally vegetarian idea shows a make believe prawn tail sticking out.|
Photo credit - Ms. Zoe Yu
With a smile, with attentive listening and multi-tasking, the staff do keep to their best on the day we visited. The washrooms for customers are unisex. You can choose to sit under the trees or near shrubs. One is not eating indoors but al fresco outdoors if you avoid the under cover seating. I find this place to be relaxing with people you know, not eating too much and offering lots of walking especially in the nearby Hyde Park. Cut straight across this city's central park and you reach the QVB and shopping precinct. There is sufficient space between diners, the breeze can be felt and kids will love the ability to move around. The venue can cater for up to 300 people and booked functions are open till 1am.
What is my top preference on this particular recent visit? It is those white porcupine looking sesame paste filled steamed buns. They look elegant, they are a pleasure on the palate and they are truly non-meat. The freshness and quality of the sesame stood out. Sweet corn filled dumplings are okay but not to me the Bak Choi and green tea plus Choy Sum filled versions, I would rather have those fresh Asian vegetables served lightly with oyster sauce. Next visit for lunch, I want to try the chili smoked soy and beetroot dumplings; Roma tomato cups with wasabi apple and mushroom salsa; the Konyaku noodles; and crispy wanton wings made from carrot, corn and mushrooms. There are many Asian styled tapas choices for dinner time as well.
|Photo credit - Mr. Raymond Ho|
Bodhi in the Park is located at No 2-4 College Street, across the road from the north eastern corner of Hyde Park in Sydney CBD. It is best to also remember that it is at the lower mezzanine level of the urbanite Cook and Philip Park.
Telephone: 612 9360 2523
Open from 11am to 4pm for yum cha seven days a week.
Dinners only from Tuesday to Sundays from 5pm till 10pm.