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Jimmy Shu, the best chef in North Australia

Covered with conical ceramic lids, the hot Hanuman oysters arrive on the table / © Photo: Georg Berg

Covered with conical ceramic lids, the hot Hanuman oysters arrive on the table / © Photo: Georg Berg

I met Jimmy Shu in 2018 at Darwin’s legendary Deckchair Cinema. There, after dark, you take a seat outside in deckchairs in front of the screen while consuming drinks and light snacks. Announced is the culinary film Ramen Teh, which is about the Japanese noodle dishes of the same name.

Jimmy Shu zieht überall in Darwin die Aufmerksamkeit auf sich / © Foto: Georg Berg
Jimmy Shu attracts attention everywhere in Darwin / © Photo: Georg Berg

The cinema is almost full when the show has to be cancelled due to a defective projector. Fortunately, the chef, who is well known in Darwin, steps in and spontaneously supplements the dishes prepared by a Japanese colleague with a culinary seminar in front of a large audience.

Culinary impresario Jimmy Shu presents what his Japanese colleagues are offering at Deckcheir Cinema / © Photo: Georg Berg

Jimmy Shu as a television reporter

In 2020, the eight-part series Taste of the Territory aired on the Australian public television station SBS. In it, Jimmy Shu explores the diverse culinary scene of tropical Darwin through the sights, smells and stories of the sometimes secretive milieus of the multicultural melting pot.

The Hanuman in Darwin is worth a visit

A visit to his restaurant the next evening is quickly arranged. The Hanuman can be found in the Hilton Esplanade building complex, but is still a restaurant in its own right.

The dress code is casual almost everywhere in tropical Darwin. That’s also the case at Hanuman / © Photo: Georg Berg

The 70-year-old tells how he came to Australia from Sri Lanka in 1974 and then actually made it from dishwasher to chef. Raised in Sri Lanka as the son of a Chinese father and a Singaporean mother, he fuses the various Asian influences into a versatile Nyonya cuisine that remains authentic in Australia in part because he employs chefs from Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, India and Indonesia.

Asian chefs, woks and hot ingredients later create flavor explosions at guests’ tables / © Photo: Georg Berg

An exciting menu

Because of the extensive menu, I have Jimmy Shu put together a personalized menu with clearly delineated dishes. After various greetings from the kitchen, the excitement is built for the appetizer.

Covered with conical ceramic lids, the hot Hanuman oysters arrive at the table / © Photo: Georg Berg

Under the conical lids, the Hanuman oysters wait in a hot broth seasoned quite mildly with ginger, lemongrass and cilantro, then sprinkled with fresh basil. Diners may add a spicier accent to this signature dish themselves by using a sour chili sauce.

Vegetables and herbs, which are not allowed to be imported from Asia, are supplied by Shu’s suppliers from Darwin’s surroundings in the same quality and freshly processed in the kitchen / © Photo: Georg Berg

Jimmy Shu’s radical decision

In Sri Lanka, Jimmy Shu grows up as a typical chop suey kid. In the morning he goes to school and in the afternoon he has kitchen duty in his father’s restaurant. His mother is responsible for his favorite dish. She has cooked fresh pieces of fish in coconut milk. He happily pronounces it as if the taste of his childhood is melting in his mouth: Meen Moolie.

A sprig of fresh curry leaves on the Meen Moolie – just like back in Sri Lanka / © Photo: Georg Berg

For his first restaurant, the Isthmus of Kra in Melbourne, Jimmy Shu has been searching for the best fish for a long time. When he finds prime silver barramundi 3,500 km from Melbourne in Darwin, he makes a radical decision. Jimmy sells the Isthmus of Kra and starts from scratch in Darwin. And at Hanuman, fillets of wild barramundi are served in a coconut-turmeric broth with fresh curry leaves for the Meen Moolie.

Spices are even roasted in the tandoori oven / © Photo: Georg Berg.

The second main course is announced spicier compared to the barramundi served in advance. You wouldn’t necessarily expect that from a buttered chicken. But the tomato curry in cashew milk tastes so powerful, thanks to the 14 spices roasted in the Tondoori oven before grinding, that it makes the Butter Chicken stand out brilliantly.

Butter Chicken in Silky Cashew and Tomato Curry with cumin, cardamom and rose petals, among others / © Photo: Georg Berg

When someone from Sri Lanka calls something spicy, it’s guaranteed to be very spicy. And so I brace myself for quite a bit with the Beef Masaman. And yes, it is spicy. But in such a way that the nutmeg, tamarind and ginger can still stand out well in the aromatic curry.

You can already see the spiciness in the Beef Masaman. Therefore, it should be enjoyed as the last main course / © Photo: Georg Berg
Jimmy Shu relies on his colleagues in the kitchen and lends a hand when needed / © Photo: Georg Berg

Travel advice: Australia for European tourists

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