If you pine for Asia, as we often do, then pop on down to Ally Chow, where you can savour a range of Pan Asian flavours under one roof.
Inspired by the depth and breadth of Asian cuisine, owner-chef Trent Scarr (ex-Songbirds and more recently Honeyeater Kitchen, Robina) and partner Leisha Novy have opened a purpose-built ‘Asian-eclectic’ restaurant with its own alleyway adjoining a darkly atmospheric dining room and moody bar.
Even before the food arrives we love it already for its ‘dare to be different’ demeanour. “We’re here with attitude”, the décor says, its dramatic wrought iron and dark colours reflecting medieval and post-modern eras, its ‘burnt’ wood panelling of the outer wall referencing both Japanese izakaya bars and the former occupant of the site, the much-loved Hugo’s which burned to the ground in 2016.
Colour pops against such a dramatically moody set: air plants hang like creepers from the ceiling; the restaurant’s red chinois logo and the alley’s mural depicting life in a Japanese village painted by Stan’s son, artist Jordan Zaz, spring to life.
It’s a fitting setting, too, for food brimming with the colours of the Asian archipelago. It pops up, bright and fresh, a palate of new flavour combinations on colourful purpose-chosen tableware.
“There are a number of modern Asian restaurants on the coast,” Stan tells us, “but most are influenced by one specific Asian cuisine, whereas Ally Chow is Pan-Asian, influenced by many.”
Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Thai all make an appearance, as does Trent Scarr’s classical training, together with modern Asian influences, such as the 63 degree-cooked egg, its silky orb of creamy egg white and rich, softly liquid egg yolk made famous by David Chang of Momofuku.
Deciding to ignore the banquet options (from $45 – $65 per person, vegan and vegetarian menus on their way), we launch into the task of choosing on our own feast.
We start with a couple of ‘Pieces’, a tender bao filled with karaage-dusted chicken and herbs with spicy gochujang sauce ($7 each), and heart-shaped betel leaf holding sweet kingfish in coconut cream, its richness offset by the zing of salmon pearls and shredded kaffir lime leaves ($11).
Next come a dish each from the sea and land – Wok-tossed prawns in their shells soaking up a hot bean sauce laced with garlic and ginger, so rich that we’re licking our fingers($19). Simply put, it’s addictive!
Beside the prawns, the pulled duck with shallots, cucumber and egg noodles topped with 63-degree egg ($27) has a completely different flavour profile – almost bland in comparison to the tongue-tingling flavours of the prawns’ hot bean sauce. Of course it’s not, but the addition of a hot and sour green mango salad with coconut rice ($13) provides some acidic balance as we eat the dish.
After all, they’re dishes made to share, taking a portion of each onto our plates and savouring the flavours of each, as well as (sometimes) tasting dishes in combination. (We also use noodles and rice to slop up the sauce, too delicious to leave languishing on the plate uneaten.)
There are no elements of these dishes we have not encountered before, however the magic comes in putting them together in a different way. That’s the excitement of Ally Chow, that it dares to venture onto new ground, applying the ‘known’ to the unknown.
We finish with charred mango and tapioca in a caramelised rock sugar syrup, accompanied by coconut sorbet ($13), an unexpectedly delicious sweet end note.
Finish? Even as the last spoonful of dessert enters our mouths, we’re looking back across the menu with desire.
Which dishes will we try next time? Beef short rib with coconut and banana flower salad and nam prik ($29), perhaps? Vanilla bean panna cotta with dragon fruit, plum wine broth and fairy floss ($13)? Banh mi for lunch with a Viet coffee?
When can we fit in an evening visit to sample a few Asian-inspired cocktails, an Asian beer, or one of Stan’s cold drip gin-infused tea creations?
Our Asian nostalgia appeased for now, we realise that we’ve just created a different hunger: the need to return to Ally Chow. Like each trip we make to Asia, there are new discoveries to be made, new surprises to be enjoyed as we sample from the kaleidoscope of flavour.
2215 Gold Coast Hwy, Nobby Beach Ph: 07 5572 4068
Open: Tues – Sun 11:30 am – late; Closed Monday
NOTE: A version of this review has been posted on Blank GC here.