For anyone with a keen interest in the pursuit of good food, Eric’s BBQ is a place you need know about. It’s not the best food you’ll ever have. The dishes aren’t skillfully prepared and artfully plated by a highly trained team lead by a Michelin-star chef. It’s not even situated in a trendy location with a multi-million dollar fit out.
In fact, upon arriving at the establishment, every instinct and preconception I had screamed at me to turn around, quietly exit the premises and call up my lunch date with some excuse that required me to be anywhere but not there. At best the food would be utterly disappointing. At worst… say hello to views of pristine waters and the rush of roaring cascades as you kneel and pay homage to the porcelain god.
However, I wasn’t just pleasantly surprised. I was absolutely flabbergasted how wrong my initial perceptions were.
On the surface, there’s very little to indicate that you’re in for a good meal.
Eric’s BBQ is situated within a quaint, remotely-located suburban tennis and bowl club in Punchbowl that has seen better days. The decor has a very pre-millennium vibe while the ambiance ranges from the quiet calm of one’s twilight years to the cacophony and chaos of pokies that fills the air with its siren’s call of false fortunes, depending on which area of the club you are situated. There’s no external signage indicating the presence of any restaurant let alone a Chinese one. Oddly, they make up for signage shortfall with a gaudy magenta neon open sign at the restaurant’s service counter.
A mosaic of laminated photos tiles across every inch of available space around the counter serves as a visual menu of their Chinese dishes, with a few Malaysian standards like rendang, satay and laksa thrown into the mix. There’s also a heavily water-damaged but otherwise functional photo menu book with additional dishes as well as a specials menu chalkboard. To one side, a “Club Bistro” menu board lists a number of “Aussie” dishes like burgers, steaks and schnitzels along with an assortment of “safe” Asian snacks (for lack of a better term), like dim sims, spring rolls and satay. No doubt a token effort to appeal to and accommodate the predominantly middle-aged and elderly Caucasian patrons of the club.
While the multi-cuisine menu (generally not a good sign in my experience), the water-damaged menu book, dated decor, and the remote and obfuscated locale may not offer one much confidence in a good dining experience, thankfully there’s a very capable Chinese chef runs the kitchen. Chef Eric Wong, the Eric in Eric’s BBQ, was a former executive chef of Chinatown’s renowned BBQ King restaurant back in its heyday.
Steamed Dim Sim ($4.50 for 4) – We start off with a set of steamed siu mai dumplings. These were better than expected, given my initial misgivings. The wanton pasty was cooked just right so that they still had a little bite to them and the pork filling was springy with a distinct flavour of sesame oil to it.
San Choy Bow ($12 for 4) – Foods served and eaten from lettuce cups are very much in my comfort zone give my Korean background and so too were the san choy bow – stir-fried pork mince with carrots, onions, shallots and sesame seeds on a bed of crispy noodles served in a large crispy lettuce cup.
While these were nice enough, one thing I found promising was the discernible notes of smokiness from the wok; a characteristic that’s much sort after and yet often found lacking from the dishes of many an Asian establishment.
Salt & Pepper Fish – While most batter-coated deep fried foods start off crispy or even crunchy, few can claim to remain that way for hours after. Such is the beauty of these battered and deep fried school of silver fish/whitebait.
Tossed in salt and pepper with an accompanying kick of flavour and spice from spring onions and chili, while they are flavourful and very crunchy, they also come off somewhat greasier than some might find pleasant. It wasn’t an issue for me but it may not be for everyone.
Shandong Chicken ($12.50) – The Shandong chicken is an impressive dish. Dressed with a light sweetened soy, garlic and chili sauce, it’s a massive serve of plump, juicy chicken that is skillfully roasted in-house. The sauce is aromatic and flavourful with a proper hit of heat. However, I found the dish to be a tad sweeter than what I would have preferred.
Honey BBQ Pork ($12.50) – The char-siu roast barbecue pork, served on a bed of steamed choi sum greens and a sweet soy sauce, shares the same highlights and suffers the same issues as the previous dish. The roasted pork is tender and succulent, and I probably would have enjoyed this dish quite a lot if the pork was served on its own.
Buddha Vegetable Dish ($9.80) – The token vegetarian dish of the day. The beauty of this dish is the variety of colours and textures of the various vegetables and fungi elements. From crunchy carrots and gai lan (Chinese broccoli), to the soft fried tofu, slippery shiitake mushrooms, the bite of the wood ear fungus and the chewiness of the reconstituted dried beancurd skins. A mild sauce seasons the dish without overpowering natural flavours of each component.
Every instinct I had told me that I was in for a bad meal and that couldn’t be further from the truth. The food was good, hearty and inexpensive, albeit somewhat on the sweet side. Towards the end of the meal, even the dated ambiance started to grow on me. Cheap drinks from the bar at club prices didn’t hurt either.
Eric’s BBQ is the sort of restaurant that you need to know about and experience. It’s not because it’s the best meal you’ll ever have nor is it a cool place to hang out at. It’s because it challenges your instincts and perceptions. You can have a good meal from a place that is run down and dated despite what your instincts may tell you, that you can’t always judge a book by its cover and that first impressions aren’t always right. It makes me wonder how many other good food experiences I’ve passed on due to appearances.
Canterbury & Bankstown Tennis and Bowls Club
61 Moxon Rd, Punchbowl
(02) 9708 1340