Licensed/BYO $
1/80 Elizabeth Street, Hobart CBD
03) 6234 6131
Open: Open for yumcha, lunch and dinner from 11am, Mon to Sat.

In China, they say a restaurant doesn’t become known for its food, but for the one or two particular dishes the chef does better than anyone else.

If so, then I suggest the two dishes that will earn Hejo’s a place in the Hobart food scene will be its Sichuan-influenced chicken in chilli pot and the Sichuan classic, spicy beef soup.

Jo and Fei He (Tony) come from separate restaurant families in China’s Fujian province, on the coast opposite Taiwan. Tony came to Tasmania in 2006 to study computer science, Jo two years later to study fashion design. After Tony worked in Launceston as a kitchen hand in MacDonalds, O’Keefe’s Hotel and the excellent Me Wah, they opened Hejo’s last June as their first restaurant venture. It’s where Dukkah used to be, up a few steps from the Elizabeth St Mid-City bus stop. Simply decorated with a few Chinese wall scrolls, the only other occupied tables on a Tuesday night were a local couple dining there for the second time and a small group of elderly Chinese.

The 27-dish yumcha menu is a fairly standard selection of steamed and fried dumplings, spring rolls, dim sims, congee, red bean pancakes and so on. While we gave the amusingly titled “chickenfeed with black bean sauce” a miss, the steamed BBQ pork buns were well flavoured but unusually heavy, the vegetable spring rolls were very good and the crystal chive dumplings delicious.

The main menu selection is also fairly standard supplemented by what Tony calls a “special weekly dish of private home cuisine”. In other words, the sort of dish you’d usually find in China, not in a restaurant, but at home. If a particular home-cuisine dish proves popular, then it’s added to the normal menu as a “chef special”.

At dinner, one such chef special was the “deep fried chicken in chilli pot” which both my wife and I thought was outstanding. The marinated chicken pieces were crunchy yet juicy and tender, accompanied by fresh bean sprouts, hints of garlic and ginger and medium-hot chillies. Another stand out, for me at least, was the more traditional spicy beef soup, a generous serving of tender marinated slices of beef and Chinese leeks in a fiery broth flavoured with house-made chilli paste, coriander and Chinese five spice, properly and traditionally finished with a float of oil. For both, you need to like chillies, but Jo will ask how hot you’d like them.

Both also had that wonderfully elusive and intriguing signature of Sichuan food, what the Chinese call ma la, the fruity, numbing tingle of toasted Sichuan peppercorns subtly melding into the heat of the chillies and leaving a lingering flavour that, beyond the hit of heat, just teases the palate. Tony says for both dishes he uses dried roasted chillies for their fruitiness and fresh for their heat.

While a plate of stir-fried udon noodles with beef was also very good, it’s these two Sichuan-influenced dishes, as well as Jo’s smiling service, that sets the restaurant apart and, I feel, deserve to win Hejo’s wider exposure.

They offer an excellent selection of organic and green teas from Yunan, Tie Guan Yin and Wu Yi Mountain and the beer list is OK but, if you enjoy wine with your Chinese, I’d suggest you take the BYO option.

Yumcha $6 to $8; rice dishes $2.50 to $12.80; noodles straddle $12.80; beef, pork, chicken and seafood mains around $18; roast duck $17.80 and $25 a quarter and a half respectively.

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