Lucky Prawn review Marrickville Review 2022

8-12 Sydney Street

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Opening hours Lunch and dinner Wed-Sun
Functions Bar, Licensed, Groups, Outdoor Seating
payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard

For years I’ve dreamed of touring the country documenting the stories, decor and storefronts of Australian Chinese restaurants. The tasseled lanterns and the moon gates; the regal ceilings and the shrimp toast. The history of Chinese migration told through sang choy bao.

Like countless Australians who have a penchant for jade dragons and pink napkins, my love for suburban Chinese restaurants stems from a childhood spent eating spring rolls dipped in neon red sauce. Australian-Chinese hit the same nostalgic receptors as Ken Done, Viennetta ice cream, and Matilda the kangaroo — not to mention Labor leaders brewing beer by the cricket.

No wonder, then, that Lucky Prawn’s traditional Chinese eatery is Marrickville’s, and possibly Sydney’s, most popular new restaurant. On a recent weekend, the line to enter the building pushed 20 meters. Given that Lucky Prawn is part of the new Bob Hawke Beer & Leisure Center – also home to a billiards room dedicated to Australia’s dinky-di, people-pleasant Prime Minister – I’m half surprised that the Newtown queue isn’t reached.

A schooner of session lager fits retro Australian-Chinese cuisine.

A schooner of session lager fits retro Australian-Chinese cuisine. Photo: Nikki Toc

Inside, it’s as if the early eighties never left. Bearded men in Akubra hats and old footy sweaters—some worn ironically, some not—sip lager and stand shoulder to shoulder around high bar tables. Carpet recycled from Petersham Town Hall is sympathetic to local dogs (who are allowed in) and Midnight Oil is in high rotation. Richie Benaud plays cricket commentary in the bathrooms, which also offer free scents: Brut for him, Elizabeth Arden Red Door for her.

Two former creative advertising executives launched Hawke’s Brewing Co. in 2017 after getting the blessing of the larrikin king. Hawke gave his forever approval to the company before his death on the condition that 100 percent of his royalty be donated to Landcare Australia. Nearly $400,000 has been raised so far.

Opened in April, the Leisure Center is essentially a large tap room for the brewery’s new $5 million production facility, which makes beers beyond a gimmick. They’re served in the kind of wood-paneled bar native to regional bowling clubs, and my pick is the crisp and crisp lager ($8.50 per schooner), which suits any style of Chinese cuisine.

Waiting for a table?  Go straight to the billiard room.

Waiting for a table? Go straight to the billiard room. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Groups of four or more can reserve a restaurant table in advance, but smaller groups must be placed on a waiting list upon arrival. Luckily, there’s also a snack menu of Lucky Prawn highlights that you can enjoy in the billiards room, public bar, or street-side picnic table.

There’s shrimp toast ($14) on the bar carte, and it’s everything you’d want shrimp toast to be: golden-baked and ever so slightly greasy, made with no-frills white bread from a bakery across the street.

Sichuan-spiced chicken wings are fragrant and crunchy and top out at six for $10. They’re even better with a cooling cucumber salad ($9) on the side and eaten surrounded by photos of Hawke in his Speedos.

Go-to dish: XO pipis.

Go-to dish: XO pipis. Photo: Dexter Kim

Back in the main event dining room, in the center of the space separated from the bar, a “Chinese meals” sign is hand-painted in a manner that reads, “We have air conditioning and sweet and sour pork.” In the kitchen, talented chef Nic Wong works at an electric pace to broadcast lofty riffs on Australian-Chinese classics that are never too fancy for their own good.

That sweet and sour pork ($25) is less sticky than traditional, and well-balanced with pineapple juice and soy. Crab omelet ($29) is yolky and sides in all the right places, and steamed har gau dumplings with shrimp (four for $14) have the required amount of bounce.

Sizzling beef ($30) comes to the table sizzling and smoking (“Kids, get away from the plate, it’s hot!”) and you can really taste the meat through black bean sauce. It’s also tender, thanks in large part to the shin being simmered in a soy masterstock for over five hours.

Honey shrimp at Lucky Prawn bistro.

Honey shrimp at Lucky Prawn bistro. Photo: Nikki Toc

Pipis ($49 for half a pound) are a must, soaked in a dark and mysterious XO sauce of savory depth and served with donut-y baked bread to handle the leftovers.

Honey Prawns ($35) are the only disappointment: They could use more sweetness and spice.

Let’s hope the reservation rules change so that smaller groups can book dinner without having to queue. Otherwise, couples queuing should consider waiting a few weeks for their Prawn Toast party.

The "Chinese meals" sign is hand painted in a way that says: "We have air conditioning and sweet and sour pork."

The “Chinese Meals” sign is hand-painted in a manner that reads, “We have air conditioning and sweet and sour pork.” Photo: Delivered

The crowd will dwindle when the next hot bar comes along; I hear Keating’s Center for Merlot and Mahler is opening just around the corner.

Appearance: A lazy-susan twist of cold beer and kitsch

Appetizer dish: Pipis in XO with fried bread ($49)

Drinks: Eight different Hawke’s Brewing beers on tap, plus cocktails and a handful of natural wines

Cost: About $130 for two, not including drinks

This review was originally published in Good weekend magazine

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