Modern Asian restaurant China Doll is a Sydney institution, and head chef Frank Shek shares his recipes in an impressive new cookbook.
28 Nov 2016 - 3:14 PM  UPDATED 28 Nov 2016 - 3:35 PM

What’s different about this cookbook?

It is always great to see a modern interpretation of Southeast Asian food. In this new release, head chef of Sydney restaurant China Doll, Frank Shek, brings his approach to modern Asian food with simple flavours and fresh produce. These are recipes that have a need-to-cook-right-now urgency about them.

Are they tricky recipes for inexperienced cooks, given that a chef is behind them?

Let’s just say that most of them would suit an enthusiastic home cook, and none of them are super-easy. However, all the ingredients – such as Chinese rice wine (shaoxing), hoisin sauce, ginger and chilli – are fairly easy to source, and can be found in supermarkets or Asian grocery stores. The flavours in the dishes featured are subtle, but the ingredient list is long. Some recipes, such as the Tea-smoked duck with tamarind and plum sauce is certainly a labour of love, but oh-so worth it.

Tell us about Frank Shek

Shek was born in Scotland to Hong Kong migrants. Despite graduating with an economics degree, he started working in kitchens in Edinburgh, eventually migrating to Australia. He began as sous chef at China Doll before progressing to head chef. He calls his food “modern Asian”, which, for him means “keeping an open mind and open palate, experimenting with new interpretations whilst keeping a healthy dose of respect for tradition”.

The team at China Doll

The diversity of the recipes in this book is impressive – and reflects the backgrounds of all the staff at the restaurant. Shek has a great team behind him in the kitchen. The staff at the restaurant come from countries all over Asia, including Korea, Indonesia, Nepal, China, Bangladesh, Macau, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam, all of whom have added their own mark on the menu. As Shek says, “We all cook for each other and share dishes from our cultures, our childhoods and families.” The mix of cuisines could end up as a mish-mash, but the overreaching modern take on the offerings means that fresh flavours shine through.

Highlights in the pages

It’s great to see a simple Vietnamese-style chicken salad in the book, along with a modern take on pork san choy bau. There are some great vegetarian offerings and tofu gets a good coverage, with dishes such as the incredibly delicious-looking Eggplant and tofu with Sichuan chilli bean paste (easier than it sounds!).

And the surprise?

Great desserts! Asian cookbooks aren’t generally known for their range of desserts, but clearly the diners at China Doll like the sweet stuff. As well as a twist on a traditional sago pudding, there’s a great selection of chocolate concoctions in a clever fusion of cuisines. Lemongrass panna cotta with poached cumquats and ginger crumble anyone?


Cook the book



1. Grilled lemongrass chicken salad with nuoc cham

This is based on a popular Vietnamese dish that uses pork chops instead of chicken. We wanted to make a lighter version and came up with this.

Grilled lemongrass chicken salad with nuoc cham

2. Sichuan salt and pepper king prawns with wok-toasted chilli and garlic

An extremely popular dish with universal appeal. It serves four as an entree or two as a main course.

3. Tea-smoked duck with tamarind and plum sauce

Smoking food at home can be done. I made this in a shoe-box Hong Kong apartment without the fire department investigating so give it a go. Just open windows and turn on the extractor fan!

4. Coconut sago pudding with passionfruit

This Chinese dessert is fresh, light and a perennial favourite.

Coconut sago pudding with passionfruit


Recipes and images from China Doll by Frank Shek (New Holland, $49.99, hbk).