The Dainty Dowager is on the main Beaufort Street strip just past Clarence Street, and the first thing that you notice is the warm welcome. There are obviously many regulars here judging by the number of hugs and warm greetings that the head waitress dishes out. We were seated at a regular table (there are also high bar tables that you can perch at), and considering that it was only 6:30pm the place was buzzing, noisy and vibrant.
The wait staff are incredibly good here, not overly attentive so that you feel stifled, but they notice straight away when you need a water top up or a fresh napkin.
The menu is made up of small, medium and large dishes, and it is very much designed for sharing. The vibe is Asian fusion, and I found that most items on the menu were tempting – it was difficult to make a shortlist. We started off with a glass of Castelli Riesling first, a lovely drop – floral and citrus – a real champion of Great Southern Rieslings.
We chose three small dishes. The first to arrive was a sashimi grade fish with ginger plum dressing and burnt chilli aioli. The fish of the day was kingfish, and this dish brought to mind more of a South American style ceviche than a Japanese dish. The aioli was punchy but went really well with the fish and we found it a great and enjoyable plate of food.
The next dish was a pair of napa cabbage spring rolls with celery leaf, carrot and peach and ginger sauce. This was nice but the spring roll lacked seasoning and really needed the sauce to bring out the flavours. It was beautifully crunchy though.
Third to arrive were the coal charred pork spare ribs with a sweet sticky marinade and pickled daikon and carrot. Everything about this plate was tremendous, the pickles beautifully done, the ribs melt in the mouth succulent and falling off the bone. If you order just one thing, order these ribs.
We ordered a medium plate of soft shell crab. This arrived with a som tum salad, and again was a triumphant dish. The crab wonderfully crispy and well seasoned, and the green papaya salad a combination of spicy and citrus, all served with a sweet chilli sauce. Yum.
The last dish to arrive was a large one – chicken mussaman curry. This was different from a regular mussaman curry, there were no potatoes and the sauce was thinner than usual, but the chicken was beautifully flavoured – it had been cooked sous-vide and then flash fried to make the skin crispy. It had a wonderful gingery depth and was served with tomatoes and snake beans. We had to order the rice separately and were presented with a bowl that was plenty for two.
At the end of the meal we were pleasantly full and very happy with our choices, keen to return and try the rest of the menu. The only downside was the ambient noise which made it difficult to converse without shouting at each other, but through sign language we enjoyed a wonderful meal.