It is with a heavy heart that I write these words. My favourite restaurant of all time has shut its doors for good. For over 10 years I enjoyed many memorable meals at Lynn Shanghai, but the experience was so much more than the food – as good as the food was.
I think I stumbled across Lynn in 2012 or so. In those days, Lynn was in a massive concrete room under the Catholic Club in Castlereagh Street. Back then it was run by a boisterous and canny owner whom I reckon might have been the eponymous Lynn. She loved cash payment and how much Tsingtao we enjoyed with our food and after two visits we were “favourite customers”.
Lynn Shanghai’s kitchen had a fire on an Australian Day in the mid teens and shut down. Every couple of weeks we’d walk past seeing if it was going to re-open. Weeks turned into months and turned into over a year of deprivation. Finally, it reopened in maybe 2016.
Lynn had gone, but Carmen took over the front house. It was like we’d never left. The welcome was warm and the six pack of Tsingtao hit the lazy Susan before anything else. The menu had consolidated and we generally knew what we want. I’d take people who’d then take their friends – but they couldn’t remember what they’d eaten previously. So we came up with the “Patrick”. If you asked Carmen for the “Patrick” – that’s all you needed to say. That was the golden era of Lynn.
The star of the show was inevitably the Horn of Plenty – deep fried chunks of chicken surrounded by slivers of onion, Sichuan pepper and Chilli. A feast for the eyes and the mouth. Took me five years to work out that there was a squid version of the Horn of Plenty – it quickly also became a staple.
My other favourite dish, which could polarise the punters was the fish fillet in spicy soup. Sure – it looked intimidating, and made you sweat – but I’ve never had a dish like it. Firm white fish pieces swam in the warm spicy broth amongst maitake(?) mushrooms and cellophane noodles and other greenery. I called it the magic pudding because we were never able to finish it. No matter how hard you tried there was always a piece left.
Lynn shut down again to move upstairs into the renamed Castlereagh Club. The new venue was fine and the private balcony was good for big crowds, but I missed the concrete cave of the old days. We had another good run of farewells, reunions and old school long lunches and then Lynn closed again for another renovation (at the behest of the Castlereagh Club). After many delays, the big reopening came – on the 25th of June 2021. Most city workers stayed home expecting the inevitable announcement of lockdown. But two of the most loyal patrons of Lynn came in to join me.
Little did we know it would be our last Lynn. The omens weren’t good. The Club controlled the beer list and there was no Tsingtao. The name of the restaurant had changed and the menu was different. The smiling and welcoming Carmen was still running the show but the vibe was a little different. With only three of us, we didn’t have the Magic Pudding. We maintained a couple of traditions – clapping in the sizzling Wagyu Beef and ceremonial plating. And of course the oohs and aahs as the Horn of Plenty made its customary appearance. We left Lynn looking forward to our next booking when lock down would soon end (as we expected).
100 days after that last meal – I now know Lynn is no more. Carmen let me know that that’s it. The constant closing and reopening has just been too hard and they’ll concentrate on their other interests.
Vale Lynn – you were magnificent.