the eight, haymarket
It’s been a while between Chinese weddings.
(Not weddings, you see, as I have plenty of friends, family and acquaintances all tying the knot here there and asunder.)
But Chinese weddings. The kind that are held in a Chinese restaurant. The kind that involves cold cuts of meat followed by crispy skinned poultry and ginger braised lobster. The kind that provides a hot bowl of red bean soup and some cookies at some point between the end of the meal and the close of the dance floor.
And I missed them.
Or, rather, I missed the food.
Good, somewhat expensive, Chinese food. Seafood-centric and served to you on a round table with a white tablecloth by slightly surly waitstaff.
Nothing demure. No dimmed lights and hand formed porcelain. Food you can get stuck into with gusto.
I guess it came as no surprise to my family, then, when I asked if I could have crab at The Eight in Haymarket for my birthday dinner.
(We’d played with Pilu and other less Chinese places, but my heart followed my stomach and my stomach missed its XO sauce.)
Located on the top floor of Market City, the Eight is a sprawling nest dark brown wood and red furnishings, dotted with innumerable round tables cloaked in white tablecloths.
Conveniently, parking is discounted to a mere $3.00 for the evening if you dine in on a weeknight (including Fridays), which is a drawcard in itself when considering how difficult it can be to find a spot around Chinatown. ($1 of the parking fee is added to your dining bill and the remaining $2 is paid at the ticket machines in the car park. You will need to park on Levels B2 or B3 in order to secure this deal).
As we are early, we take advantage of some late night shopping and try our very best not to buy bits and bobs from the discount store nearby before heading in.
Like the amuse bouche that never ends (well, it does end, but not before you’re well and truly ok to let it go) a complimentary urn of soup is served to our table after we have ordered – milky from the pork bones and wintermelon contained within. We are glad that we didn’t elect to order a separate soup, despite having been tempted by the long list in the menu.
But the focus of this particular meal is (of course) seafood. Shellfish and crustaceans in particular, and having sneakily let my dear mother-who-always-over-orders take the lead, we have plenty of it.
First up, a kilo of pipis fried in XO sauce with an ingenious bed of crisped up rice vermicelli sitting below. We scoop up some pipis and sauce with a spoon before hacking away at the noodle cake, cutting it into wedges like a pizza before extracting the juicy morsels with chopsticks and slurping sauce from the shells.
But we are quickly distracted by the main event. A clay pot is set down on the table. The lid is removed and plumes of fragrant steam pour out from within.
When it clears, we are faced with gold. Golden vermicelli. Russet crab shell. Plump bits of meat falling out from within.
There is a hushed silence as servings are doled out by our increasingly chatty waitress. And then we get into it.
Cracking and pulling and picking and sucking. Slurping and smashing and sighing and reaching for more.
It is savory and salty and sweet in one, the gentle silkiness of the crab against the punchy, chewy noodles.
As if sensing our slow descent into overbearing fullness, the rest of the meal arrives.
Pale wedges of tofu, depp fried and coated in a salt and pepper batter, topped with fried shallots and chilli provide welcome meatless relief.
A single, golden roasted pigeon is split five ways and we chew on its tiny bones and relish its gamey flesh.
Koji is most impressed with the vegetables, though (oh he of simple tastes) and raves about the thick slices of King mushroom, the slippery shitakkes and the crisp bok choy for days afterwards.
I nibble at everything. Eat until I’m well and truly undone with the richness of flavour and the variety of textures. Fail to move when summoned to leave. Slurp at the last bits of red bean soup that our waitress has smuggled out of the closed kitchen. Fling bits of mandarin peel about nonchalantly. Swear off eating for the next three days. Realise I’ll likely go back on that promise come morning.
We pay the bill and go our separate ways. I find crab shell in my hair later that evening and dream of swimming with pipis.
the eight, haymarket
Level 3/9-13 Hay St
Market City Foodcourt
Haymarket NSW 2000
ph: (02) 9282 9988
Open for lunch: weekdays from 10:00am – 3:30pm // weekends from 9:00am – 4:00pm
Open for dinner: daily from 5:30pm – 11:00pm