When Emily Yeoh (nee Loo) entered cooking show MasterChef in 2014 she dreamt of having her own open-air Asian-fusion restaurant on Queensland’s beautiful Moreton Island.
A marginally industrial, former Coffee Club site along Paddington’s busy Given Tce may not be quite the tropical paradise she envisaged, but six years on the one-time Brisbane biomedical engineer has – for the most part – made that dream a reality.
At the beginning of August, the ex-TV culinary contestant launched Emily Yeoh Restaurant, the eponymous venue designed to showcase the cuisine of her Malaysian and Cantonese heritage, alongside other popular Asian eats.
Using many recipes from her mother and grandmother, the menu runs from entrees like steamed dumplings and fried chicken wings to mains including char xiu barbecue pork and a signature duck and lychee red curry.
While it may be food she adores or grew up with, it’s also a dramatic change for Yeoh who, since leaving MasterChef, has worked in a feast of fine dining establishments including Brisbane’s GOMA Restaurant and Blackbird Bar & Grill, as well as Ben Shewry’s famed Victorian restaurant, Attica.
But there’s no sign of delicate tweezer work or elaborate plating here, just beyond generous portions at extremely keen prices designed to be shared among many. (However, the crockery and glassware is certainly superior to what you would see at most suburban Asian restaurants, and there’s a flourish of purple pansies across a significant number of dishes).
Duck spring rolls ($9) and the richly tanned baked buns filled with char xiu pork ($10) seem popular at other tables, while the prawn har gao ($10) pop with an abundance of juicy sweetness, only let down by the accompanying mala sauce that, rather than add spice, creates an unpleasant burning sensation in the throat.
Also on the saccharine side is an Indonesian-style beef rendang ($22), with brisket pieces braised until meltingly tender and sticky with the mildest of curry pastes. A final swirl of sweet, cooling coconut cream on top makes this a dish to suit even the palates of small children. The char xiu fried rice ($20) is described on the menu as “Emily’s childhood favourite” and it’s understandable with the wok-tossed grains interspersed with rings of spring onion, golden fried egg and plenty of cubes of porky goodness.
The “Mum’s secret recipe Hainanese chicken” ($20) is a solid yet unremarkable version of the classic poached chicken dish, with the fried egg noodles with shredded duck ($19) arguably the plate of the night. Starring dried noodles soaked until supple in a special soy dressing tangled around bean sprouts for freshness and bites of shredded duck meat, it’s the dish hardest to put down.
If you make it to dessert, there are just two on the menu. Unsurprisingly, neither involve banana after Yeoh’s disastrous crumbed banana dish on MasterChef which resulted in her becoming the fifth person to leave the sixth season of the show.
Obsequious staff tell us the drinks list is still a work in progress, with more beers and cocktails to soon feature. But for now there’s a handful of Stone & Wood brews alongside a diverse mix of wines from well-respected labels. However, it would be nice to see more wine available by the glass.
With its shimmering navy tile wall, designer furniture and dramatic lighting, Emily Yeoh is bringing a level of glam to the typical suburban Asian eatery, making this a spot for more than just takeaway.
Originally published as The verdict: How MasterChef star’s new restaurant fares in taste test