This private (and free) gallery, tucked in a quiet corner of Chippendale, harbours a collection of contemporary Chinese art in a renovated four-storey warehouse that the Nielsons have collected over the years.
The gallery features rotating exhibitions of post-2000 Chinese art from the Nielson collection – drawings, photographs, sculptures, paintings, video and multimedia works. It is one of the world’s largest and most significant collections of contemporary Chinese art, and exhibitions run for five months before the gallery closes for a couple of weeks to bring in replacement works.
The gallery has staff on every floor to inform visitors of the indicifual pieces and also has screenings of Chinese comedies, dramas, romances and kung-fu movies on the first Sunday of every month at 2pm; a book club on the second Sunday of every month; and informal talks on Chinese culture and history on the third Sunday of every month.
The teahouse is to the left of the entrance and is popular not only with gallery visitors but with those who have a taste for Chinese and Taiwanese fine teas.
Dozens of old Chinese bird cages hang from the ceiling, the stark white-washed walls decorated with a few old Chinese posters and 1940s Shanghai songs play in the background. Solid timber tables are neatly lined in rows, some decorated with long and narrow red silk runners. To one side is the long bar for tea and food prep.
There is a limited food menu – it’s two choices of dumplings (chicken, corn and mushroom or egg and chive for $9.95), and a sweet or savoury snack plate (a selection of home made biscuits, dried fruit, nuts and the like for $4). But it isn’t the food that is the attraction here (apart from the art) – it’s the tea menu.
There is a selection of 13 teas. Some noteworthy mentions: Jin Xuan (Taiwan oolong); Yin Zhen (Chinese silver needle); Zhu Ye Qing (bamboo leaf green tea); and the Tie Guan Yin (the Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong). Teas are either $4, $4.50 or $5 per pot and as with all high-quality teas these can be steeped up to four to five times. Staff bring out a tray of all 13 teas in jars so you can see and sniff them and staff will also make recommendations.
I am very partial to oolong – especially those grown in Taiwan – but as I was with the young Miss Gob and Miss Pla I chose the jasmine green tea – rolled dried green tea leaves scented with white jasmine flowers ($4.50), and a serve of the chicken, corn and mushroom steamed dumplings ($9.95).
White Rabbit Gallery Teahouse isn’t like a Taiwanese teahouse that practices the Gongfu cha method (with the elaborate array of cups, sniffers and other utensils as well as the ritual that goes with it – see here on such a teahouse). Out comes the blue and white decorated porcelain-style teapot with matching tea cups. In it sits a wire infuser with the tea steeping in the water.
The tea had a light golden straw colour. It wafted of sweet white jasmine and had a slightly sweet flavour with light tannins and a floral after-taste. It reminded me of a Taiwanese jasmine I had a few years back from Maokong tea growing area just outside of Taipei. It was able to be steeped three times and would have been ok for a fourth (though would be nearing the end of its characteristics). It also got the thumbs up from Miss Pla (an emerging tea connoisseur), who repeatedly demanded refills.
The eight plump dumpling pillows were hand made with a filling of minced chicken, chopped mushroom and pieces of whole corn kernels. The wrapper was thin and silky, the filling mildly influences with garlic and soy. They were adequate as an accompaniment to the jasmine green tea and did their job to keep younger tummies from rumbling.
The teahouse is only one small highlight of the jewels that can be found by further exploring the White Rabbit Gallery. Further exploration of the teas and a new upcoming exhibition will be on the menu at my next visit.
To see what I enjoyed at my next visits to White Rabbit Gallery Teahouse click here.
The verdict: Art meets tea culture. An excellent variety of teas to savour among modern and contemporary surroundings in one of Sydney’s hidden gems.
What: White Rabbit Gallery Teahouse, 30 Balfour Street, Chippendale NSW 2008 Australia. Phone (02) 8399-2867. Open Thursday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm. www.whiterabbitcollection.org/
Ate (and drank) there: 29 January 2011.