*I was invited to dine as a guest, however all opinions are my own.
As mentioned in last year’s post on what’s opening at the Kingston Foreshore, Cinnabar is a new Asian Fusion restaurant. I got a sneak peek at Cinnabar last night and learnt that it focuses on bringing a new modern spin to Chinese cuisine. Owner Sonny Zhang is committed to bringing the latest dishes and flavours straight from China while keeping to Western tastes. The chefs at Cinnabar have worked in 5 star hotels all around China before moving to Australia to learn more about Asian-Western flavours. So what does Cinnabar mean? It’s actually a scarlet sulfide mineral used to make the bright scarlet Chinese seal imprints back in the day, and Cinnabar’s logo is of similar style and colour.
I was invited to a taste and test night to sample some dishes on the menu which is still in the process of being finalised. Items on the menu include live lobster and mud crab served several ways, pan-fried king prawns with butter and cheese (hmm cheese?), pan fried lamb cutlets with special Cinnabar sauce, Kung Pao chicken, steamed whole fish with ginger and shallots, ma po tofu and more, with noodles and fried rice of course.
I couldn’t help but be impressed with the amazing fit out inside. Sonny sourced most items straight from China – the gorgeous back wall of bronze plates, the handles on the Chinese style sliding doors, the artefacts encased in individual glass cabinets and the Chinese warrior statues that greet you when entering (and are less scary-like as they’re wearing cute aprons).
Look over to the right, and you will find three circular booths cocooned by staggered layers of tassel that surround the lamp above the table. I think it creates a lovely soft display of privacy and couldn’t help but feel a little in awe. Swanky! To the left, there are a few sofa chairs for those that want a glass of wine and to chill after work.
There are two function rooms at the back which can be closed off for private parties. The mobile lights provide lots of warmth in the room and are pretty funky looking. The owners have also bought the space directly behind Cinnabar (looking out onto Eastlake Parade) so who knows, they could expand!
I love the personalised touches on everything such as the chopsticks and cutlery.
We started off with the Cinnabar special duck floss rolls (usually $28.80 for 4 pieces) which were presented in a see-through plastic ice cream stand. There was an even portion of diced duck meat, capsicum, onion, peas and pine nuts which were mixed in a delicious (oyster?) sauce. It actually reminded me of san choy bao. The ‘rolls’ were thick pastry like cones which had a slight sweetness to them that worked well to offset the savoury mix. Our feedback was that the pastry cone was a tad too thick so that when you got to the tip of the cone, there was a lot more cone than filling. It was only a minor constructive criticism. I could easily eat another one of these as is!
The Cinnabar black sesame prawn toast (usually $12.80 for 4 pieces) tasted like your regular prawn toast, though I did like the slightly larger portion of prawn in the toast compared to other places.
I was not expecting the next dish of deep fried oysters with garlic, salt and pepper (not on the menu). Served hot with plenty of seasoning, I really enjoyed this dish as did everyone else. It didn’t take long to empty the plate. For those that don’t like oysters, having them deep fried takes the pungent oyster taste out of the equation.
The Spicy chicken with house special sauce (usually $26.80) was a favourite for J as he loves chilli dishes. There were plenty of dried chillies in the dish that provided a strong spiciness but luckily it wasn’t overwhelmingly ‘I need milk’ spicy. Hotter than I usually like it but I could handle a few bites. The chicken is succulent, coated in spiciness and there was a generous portion of meat.
The best vegetarian entree I’ve had in years was the honey fried eggplant (usually $18.80). I absolutely loved this and went back for seconds. The batter is crispy and smothered in the honey sauce. The eggplant is cooked perfectly – melt in your mouth soft and has a very subtle eggplant taste. Sonny told us that the chef added citrus to the honey sauce to make it stand out. I also loved the platter this was served on with something similar to a wax seal as decoration.
When the fresh pineapple fried rice (usually $22.80) came out served in a hollowed out pineapple half, there was a lot of oohing and aahing. Cinnabar certainly doesn’t skimp out on presentation. This was quite unique and I don’t think I’ve seen pineapple fried rice anywhere else in Canberra. It certainly was tasty and juicy, however J thought there was too much pineapple which overpowered the rice with pineapply juices. I’d be keen to try the Cinnabar special fried rice with king prawns and scallops next.
Sonny was very excited to bring us out the chrysanthemum tofu soup (forgot the price) which he said we probably had not seen before. And he was right! The top half of a piece of tofu had been sliced in a way so that it wriggled and danced in the soup. When I asked how they did it, Sonny was quick to say it’s their secret. Fair enough! The soup itself was light and made from chicken stock, with dried shredded shrimp at the bottom.
When asked if there was anything else we wanted to try on the menu, I couldn’t resist asking for the pan-fried wagyu beef with asparagus, pine nuts and deep fried silverfish (usually $32.80). The wagyu had been chopped into small slivers and was wonderfully flavoured. I loved that the asparagus was still crunchy and fresh. The restaurant did not have any silverfish in stock but substituted it with deep fried youtiao (Chinese dough sticks). Again, this kind of reminded me of a san choy bao mix as everything was diced into small pieces, the vegetables were still crunchy and the sauce was amazing.
Sonny was very interested in our feedback on the menu, dishes and presentation. One suggestion was to remove the word ‘floss’ in the duck floss rolls that we tried, mainly because the dish didn’t really have ‘floss’ in it and might confuse others. Other than the pastry cone, we really didn’t have any criticisms! He is still working through ideas for the presentation of dishes and is still playing around with the menu. There are no problems turning dishes into vegetarian versions with prior notice. There are plans to introduce dumplings, yes DUMPLINGS, to the menu in the next few weeks. Sonny mentioned these would be different to what is out in the Canberra market at the moment and they will focus on bringing diners unique fillings as well as good old xiao long bao. Can’t wait! Yum cha may be in the works in the near future, but don’t expect a trolley.
Cinnabar officially opens today! It’s open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. It’s located underneath the Element apartments at the Kingston Foreshore. No website or social media yet, but they will work on setting it up later this week. Thank you Sonny and Vivian for your hospitality and good luck with the opening. You’ll be seeing me again 🙂
No scores as this was a test night.
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