Pappa's Stew Chilli Cuisine is as much a cultural exchange as it is a Chinese restaurant. The exterior is not showy and it doesn't vie for the business of passers-by. It’s because chef and owner Vincent Wei wants his customers to be proactively interested in learning about the cuisine that he’s dishing up here.
The Newtown restaurant specialises in Hunan food. Originating in the central, mountainous and humid region of Hunan, it’s one of China’s spiciest cuisines. But it's not the lip-tingling, tongue-numbing hotness experienced in a Sichuan meal — Hunan food relies less on oil and dried chilli and more on garlic, ginger, shallots and fresh chilli. Wei explains that the restaurant’s Chinese name translates to ‘25 Spices’ to articulate just how much is used, but a glance at the menu will tell you that there's a lot of stewing, smoking and braising going on here, too.
Most of the animal is used: gizzard, offal, tongue, ears and wings. Duck, beef and pork are well-known Chinese staples but they’re slow-stewed here. Wei has also worked his magic into distinctly Hunan proteins like crayfish, abalone with broccoli, lamb cutlets and squid. There are vegetarian options too like spiced fungus, cabbage, asparagus and lettuce dishes.
"Chilli stir-fried pork is prepared in every Hunan household," says Wei. Because it's slow-stewed, the meat is aromatic and easily eaten in large amounts. Alternatively, the stewed duck's head is for those looking for an adventure — those who are up for the removal of the skin, brain and tongue will be rewarded with the duck's incredible taste and delicate texture, the reason it's an expensive delicacy in China.
The smoked pork and tofu is a treat — it smells like bacon but flavour-wise, there's a lot more going on. And like everything else on the menu, it's prepared from scratch in-house.
Chinese wine pairs well with the Hunan meal. Wei's wife, Sophie, imports the strong Joy Bai wine to be had straight in a tiny, porcelain cup.
Pappa's Stew is abundant with traditional Chinese iconography; everything from the heavy wooden furniture, trinkets, incense and paintings are imported from Hunan — the calligraphy was written by Wei himself.
“I believe that cuisine is the best way to experience culture and tradition,” he says. Once a journalist in China, he studied in Australia and ran a food delivery service for Sydney’s Chinese residents, gaining popularity for his nostalgia-inducing meals. After this, he was able to open Pappa's Stew.
"People ask me why I didn't open in Haymarket. I chose Newtown because it's a multicultural part of Sydney. I'm hoping to educate Australians rather than present a 'Chinatown' image.”
And with locals, students and Chinese pop stars all steadily streaming in thanks to word-of-mouth appraisals, it looks like Wei’s educational efforts are paying off.
Pappa’s Stew Chilli Cuisine 11:30am–2pm and 5:30–10pm everyday, except Monday.
6 King Street, Newtown
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