My palate has never been one that is inclined to enjoy Asian fusion, but I believe that when you eat good food, it is undeniable, despite having a predisposition to like or dislike certain tastes. When a friend from out of town suggested that we have dinner at Master one Friday evening, I was in no position to suggest otherwise. And so we made a reservation for 8pm on a Friday evening.
We arrived there on time and were given seats at the bar. Master features an open kitchen and graffiti murals on the walls. People who sit at the bar are given face to face access with the chefs, which enables these diners the ability to closely inspect whatever the chef is preparing. 90’s grunge is played, giving them instant credit points. Overall, the atmosphere at Master has a super cool vibe, without any of that hipster cooler than thou pretentiousness.
A staff member promptly came over and gave us copies of the menu. A, being a man who knows what he wants, and a cosmopolitan foodie, had decided what to order in seconds. Within minutes, we had ordered cocktails and several dishes.
The first dish of the evening was Scallop Silk with XO Sauce ($6 per person). True to its name, the delicate mouthfuls had a texture akin to silk, with a dab of XO sauce and chili oil. A stated that it wasn’t bad, but not very delicious either. It wasn’t something that we’d try again.
A pot of just-steamed rice ($3 per person) was served at the same time as the scallop silk.
The Salt and Pepper Veal Sweetbreads ($24) was second up, and this was one of my favourites. Whole pieces of chili had been included, as well pieces of leek (although this did little more than add to the aesthetics of the dish). The salt and pepper batter had been prepared well, leaving the meat with a crisp, peppery exterior and a succulent interior. A small bottle of hot sauce had been given to us with the sweetbreads, which I consumed in excess.
The Burnt Cabbage with Fish Sauce Butter ($18) was one of A’s choices. The eclectic name was enough to pique my curiosity, but didn’t sound appealing at all. In the end though, I was surprised when it was one of the best dishes of the night. The top layers of the cabbage were burnt to a crisp, and flaked apart gently as we picked at the thick, sinewy insides. The interior of the cabbage tasted anything but what you would expect cabbage to taste like. A and I both agreed that the texture tasted much more like fish. The sauce also accentuated this. The sauce and moist interior were the perfect combination- contrary to my prior notions, I know now that burnt cabbage with fish sauce butter is truly the stuff that dreams are made of.
The next up was clams with cherry tomatoes, basil and vermicelli noodles. This may have been a special, as I can’t find any similar item on the menu. The clams were slippery and had a slight firmness to them. The thin vermicelli noodles were also covered in sauce, but not overpoweringly so. This was a less progressive dish that truly reminded me of Master’s Chinese influence, more than any other dishes that night. That being said, I also felt that it was something I could have eaten in any other restaurant.
The Black Pepper Sand Crabs ($60) came out as the last savory dish of the evening. We had been given utensils to crack open the crab, but admittedly, my inner barbarian comes out when eating things like crab and lobster (this is why I must refrain from eating these things). A taught me how to use the utensil, like a civilized human being, but after a few minutes of impatient cracking, I tossed aside the silver utensil with reckless abandon and dug in with my hands and fingers like the savage that I am. Master’s crab is cooked in a moreish peppery batter. The mark of good crab is when the meat isn’t ruined from deep frying the crab, and this was the case at Master.
For dessert, we had the Roast Potato ($10). Again, this was something that didn’t even sound mildly appealing. I didn’t have high hopes; ‘how could a roast potato possibly be dessert?’ I thought. And yet again I was surprised. In terms of aesthetics, it didn’t offer much. My friends who choose desserts in terms of their Instagram worthiness would be disappointed. When I tried it though, I was surprised to find a mix of texture and temperature. The exterior was warm, while the interior was cold and contained just about to melt ice cream. As we took our first bites, we both pulled back with smiles of delight, proclaiming how good it was.
And so ended our dinner at Master. As dinner concluded A asked me if I had doubted his taste in restaurants, and to be honest, I had at the outset, but it’s safe to say I no longer do.
Address: 368 Crown Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Phone number: 02 8065 0838