Prawns to die for

IT IS a sad reflection that some of the finest seafood in the world, caught off the fabulous Western Australian coast, is consistently overcooked in restaurants. Our lovely prawns are a prime example, and seem to suffer this fate more often than any of the ocean’s harvest.

This is culinary disrespect of a precious resource. I believe our prawns should only be briefly cooked, and the moment they change from transparency to opacity, the crustacean is well and truly cooked.

So where do I go to specifically enjoy prawns? It may surprise you to know that I don’t rush off to the corner seafood restaurant as you might expect, rather, I head into East Perth to The Han Palace Restaurant.

Here the prawns are so fresh and gently prepared they almost squeak as you eat them.

Cuisine at The Han Palace consistently rates this beautifully presented place as one of the finest Chinese dining rooms in town.

I see its sizzling prawns as a signature dish but other exotica is readily available.

Anything from the waters of the world is treated with superb care. Live mud crabs and lobster are always available fresh from the fish tanks and on occasions, the odd eel slithers in the holding aquariums which is a special dining occurrence. I assure you, they taste better than they look.

Unlike many of our Asian restaurants, Susan Lee and her staff (mainly family) have mastered wine knowledge and service and this adds to the gastronomic experience.

The list is professionally compiled and with the prawn dishes I would recommend a straight Margaret River Semillon from Moss Brothers. A dry white with zest and a straw-like fruit that doesn’t interfere with the prawn flavours which makes it a wonderful food wine.

There are a couple of versions of my favourite prawn dishes. Both come from the kitchen searing on a hot iron platter, set into insulating timber surrounds.

This serving method adds another dimension to the meal because of the sizzling sounds of the dish cooking in the hot iron plate as it is delivered.

A brief wok experience and the distance from the kitchen to the table is the cooking time for the prawn flesh.

When I need a chili lift, the prawns are simply served with onion rings in a light stock. The odd vegetable julienne, perhaps a cooking cashew or more for flavour and texture, a hint of garlic and a boost of chili.

They make a magnificent beginning to your banquet and suit chopsticks perfectly ($20.80).

Equally as exotic is the version served with the tantalizing Chinese, small plum-size fruit, the Lychee.

The same iron sizzling pan process is followed which also heats the white, firm, but jelly-like pulp of this fruit. The acid-sweet flavours are sensational with the prawn flesh, which is sans chili ($20.80).

Again, the Semillon dry white wine matches the dish perfectly. A marvellous creation for chili wimps with a sweetish tooth.

Move away from steamed rice and the normal savoury fried rice at The Han Palace and try the seafood fried rice ($12.80), particularly if you are dining on the crustaceans.

I’m certain the earliest Sang Chow Bow (pronounced Sang Choy Bow) was presented to Perth diners by the Lee family when they owned Lee Gardens Restaurant in Plain Street, East Perth.

Though still available, the dish has found popularity today and is widespread throughout restaurants serving this cuisine.

Once pork and chicken mince, seasoned and spiced, then served piping hot into a contrasting fresh, cold Ice-Berg lettuce leaf littered with crisply wok-fried rice noodles, the Sang Chow Bow is now singularly Chicken mince.

“We bow to the weight conscious patrons,” smiled Mrs Lee.

“In Hong Kong, they serve Sang Chow Bow with Pigeon mince.”

Still, this remains one of the cleverest Sang Chow Bow about town ($13.80).

As Chinese restaurants go, The Han Palace is up-market, it feels palatial both in the restaurant proper and the smart cocktail bar.

Not a place to BYO because the selection of wines, beers and spirits is ample and international. For what it’s worth, one or two Gold Plates hang on the walls.

Don’t go expecting suburban restaurant prices - if you feast properly here, expect to spend. If you’re unsure of what to banquet on, the staff love to advise.

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