Review: Java Restaurant (Sydney, NSW)

151 Avoca Street
Randwick NSW 2031
+61 2 9398 6990

In the late 1990s, my parents would pack us all in the car (kids, clothes, esky and bottles of sambal) and do the annual 10-hour drive from Melbourne to Sydney. Sometimes it’d be just the five of us, my parents, my two siblings and myself; sometimes, another Indonesian family would tag along (these trips were usually much more fun). As you can guess, these were the good ol’ days before domestic budget airlines so this annual pilgrimage usually took a lot of planning. So why did we drive to Sydney every summer?

For Indonesian food.

Yes, folks. Indonesian food. Back in those days, Melbourne didn’t have many Indonesian restaurants let alone good ones. Now, there are heaps of Indonesian restaurants in Melbourne and some of them are even quite decent (though if you ask my mother, she may not agree with you). But back then, the only way my deprived parents could get their Indonesian food fix was to go to Sydney. As a teenager, I disliked these trips as much as I disliked Indonesian food. Since then, I’ve matured (or I’d like to think!) and I often get cravings for home cooked Indonesian food especially since I no longer live with my parents. And now that I’m based in Sydney, I’ve made it my aim to revisit those Indonesian restaurants I used to visit back when the Backstreet Boys, Ricky Martin and Sugar Ray were killing it on the charts and when J.Lo was still known as Jennifer Lopez.

A few weeks ago, I was given a list of Indonesian restaurants to try by some fellow Indonesian friends. About 90% of them were new restaurants, ones that my parents had never been to (we stopped doing these trips in the early 2000s). There were restaurants that specialised in gado-gado and restaurants that focused on noodles. I was excited to try them all. Unfortunately, most of them were closed for several weeks during the most recent Christmas break except for Java Restaurant. And that’s where I was almost two weeks ago, eighteen years after my first visit.

After a splash at Tamarama Beach, Bean and I drove to the 30-year-old restaurant in Randwick for an early lunch. Because this visit was during the holidays, they had skeleton staff there so the food took a while. That said, the service was friendly, the bill was cheap and we weren’t in any real rush to leave (and me to get back to work) so no complaints there.

I’m not normally one to order satays at Indonesian restaurants, especially when they go for $12.90 for four pieces like they did here. But Bean loves his skewered meats and admittedly, I was curious to see how Java’s pork satays tasted. Marinated in sweet spices and lots of kecap manis, they were tasty though I found their homemade peanut sauce perhaps a bit too sweet and one dimensional for my liking.

Satay babi manis (four pieces, $12.90)

I was going to order Java’s signature rice dish of nasi rames (steamed white rice served with gado-gado, beef rendang, chilli egg, fried chicken and prawn cracker) but I ended up going for the nasi kuning instead – it’s so hard to say no to yellow rice flavoured with coconut, lemongrass and coconut cream. My nasi kuning came with a piece of Indonesian fried chicken, empal goreng (kind of like a beef jerky), beef floss, teri kacang (fried anchovies with peanuts), cucumber and sambal terasi (shrimp paste chilli). For the same price as four pieces of satays, I thought it was a great value meal and I loved that I got to sample a bit of everything. Is it the best nasi kuning I’ve had? No way, the chicken was little bit too stringy and dry and the empal could have done with a bit more flavour. That said, it did the job just fine.

Nasi kuning ($12.90)

Not pictured was Bean’s beef rendang ($15.90). To be honest, I wasn’t expecting too much from this dish as I haven’t really had a good beef rendang at a restaurant but I was surprised at how tasty Java’s version was. Rich and full of flavour, this dish had the perfect ratio of spicy, sweet, salty and sour (thanks to the liberal use of lemongrass). When poured over some steamed rice, it went down a treat.

I’m usually one to pass on dessert but when I saw they had es bumi hangus on the menu, I couldn’t resist. Es bumi hangus is an epic Indonesian shaved ice dessert consisting of avocado pieces, grass jelly, young coconut, palm seed, lychee, fermented black sticky rice, palm sugar, coconut cream and condensed milk. According to my mother, this popular dessert comes from her hometown (after I did a quick Google search, I found that its real birthplace is a town a few hundred kilometres away from her hometown). Given that it was a hot day, this dessert went down a treat. Bean, however, refused to give it a go (Europeans, seriously).

Es Bumi Hangus ($6)

To be honest, Java wasn’t on the top of my list of Indonesian restaurants in Sydney to try. If it weren’t for the fact that other restaurants were closed during Christmas, I wouldn’t have ended up here. Java’s food is generally decent but the problem I found with it was that the menu was so long that it was hard for the kitchen to focus on just one (or several dishes) and do them well – think back to those suburban Chinese restaurants with 300-item-long menus. In saying that, Java deserves kudos for sticking around for so long (more than 30 years apparently!) in a competitive market where nowadays restaurants would be lucky to survive more than five years.

Review: The Dolphin Hotel: Wine Room (Sydney, NSW)

412 Crown Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
+61 2 9331 4800
http://dolphinhotel.com.au/

My friendship network seems to be divided into three groups: those who love natural wine, those who refuse to drink natural wine and those who think anyone who drinks wines are wankers (‘gimme a beer’). I, for one, am loving natural wines and Sydney’s gorgeous summer days are conducive to those lovely opaque bottles of goodness.

When we heard that Icebergs’ Maurice Terzini took over The Dolphin Hotel last year and ramping up the food and wine offerings, we were interested. And when we heard that the hotel’s Wine Room had a wine list curated by James Hird (From Icebergs not Essendon, obviously), we knew we had to visit.

The venue is divided into three sections: the Dining Room, Public Bar and Wine Room. When Bean and I arrived, we were kind of overwhelmed. We liked the Dining Room menu with the now famous Dolphin Hotel pizzas, but we also wanted to explore the more extensive wine list in the Wine Room. Oh, and the pub grub they were serving in the Public Bar sounded delicious too. The guy behind the bar saw us looking confused and he helpfully suggested that we dine at the Wine Room and he will bring over the Dining Room menu. Awesome, sorted.

We started off with a glass of wine each (French rosé for me and a red for Bean) and shared an entrée of squid ink battered calamari, one of the specials for the day. Although you couldn’t really taste the squid ink, the batter was lightly and crispy.

Squid ink battered calamari

We then shared two mains: a Salumi Anton pizza and the orecchiette with spring lamb (even though it was well into summer and Christmas party season). I’ve heard so many good things about the pizzas at The Dolphin so I was really excited to try them. The dough, in particular, was meant to be spectacular and given that the dough’s ingredients list read like a Bondi Hipsters song, I expected to be wowed: organic flour, 48-hour fermentation, Olssons sea salt and ALTO extra virgin olive oil and filtered water, topped with sustainably grown tomatoes from New South Wales.

Salumi Anton pizza ($26); Orecchiette with spring lamb, smoked garlic and peas ($30)

Unfortunately, they weren’t to my liking. Yes, I know that the pizza dough is meant to be Northern-style i.e. crispy rather than fluffy but the pizza was rock hard, flat and devoid of any texture. I immediately thought back to those $5 frozen pizzas you get at Woolworths. As for the topping, perhaps we made a bad choice by going for the one with pineapple. Yes, PINEAPPLE. The Salumi Anton came with Berkshire leg ham, pancetta, smoked pineapple and mozzarella – essentially a fancy Hawaiian pizza. What I liked about the pizza was that they used pineapple jam rather than pineapple pieces; as a result, the pineapple taste was subtle. Everything else, however… meh.

Salumi Anton pizza

It’s a shame our Dolphin Hotel experience was nowhere near as amazing as everyone’s else’s. Maybe we came on a bad day – it was, after all, Christmas party season. Maybe we ordered from the wrong menu. Maybe the Italian pizza gods were punishing us for ordering a pizza with pineapple on it. It’s a real shame because we enjoyed exploring the wine list (we ended up having another glass each), but the food was enough for us not go back for a meal.

Review: Long Chim (Sydney, NSW)

Corner Pitt Street and Angel Place
Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 9223 7999
https://www.longchimsydney.com/

Happy New Year, folks!

I’m not one to make new years resolutions (yes, I say this every December 31st) but I’ll go ahead and make several today:

1) I’ll blog more regularly – yes, I keep saying that but this time I want to make sure of it
2) I’ll exercise more (a strange thing to say for a food blogger but after living in Germany for almost a year, I’ve developed some unhealthy eating habits and a tyre around my stomach to prove it)
3) I’ll try my best to avoid crappy restaurants

Crappy restaurants such as Long Chim in Sydney.

A few years ago, I travelled to Singapore quite a bit. And quite often, I would eat at David Thompson’s Long Chim at Marina Bay Sands. Like most restaurants at MBS, Long Chim was never a cheap affair but the meals were usually pretty satisfying – and reasonably good value compared to most fine dining restaurants in Singapore.

When Long Chim opened up Sydney to much fanfare, I waited a bit until the hype died down before I decided to try it for myself. Although I knew the concept and menu was similar to that of Singapore’s, I did my best to avoid the inevitable comparison between Sydney and Singapore. And as much as I dislike MBS, I have to say that my experiences at Long Chim Singapore were much better than the one lunch I had at Long Chim Sydney.

Bean and I rocked up at midday for a quick and easy lunch. Our waitress was, at first, friendly and chatty and we did the requisite small talk about the weather as we ordered our food. Friendly and chatty did turn to borderline inappropriate, at least in my opinion. Every time she’d come back to bring our dishes or refill our water, she’d begin flirting with Bean and have her hands draped across his shoulders, lingering a tad too long (‘Is it just me or she is being a bit too flirty?’ asked Bean, amused); she’d also ignore me. I’m all for friendly banter and a casual touch on the shoulder or whatever, but I thought it was a bit too much – and, quite frankly, unprofessional. Um hello, do you not realise that Bean has a female companion sitting directly across him? So I’ll preface this blog by saying that this may have clouded my judgement of the food.

We shared some wagyu beef skewers to start with. Being Indonesian, the thought of paying $10 for two measly skewers is offensive even in Australia. That said, we enjoyed these beef skewers many times in Singapore so we wanted to see how they fared in Sydney. We were greeted by the now-familiar smell of cumin, turmeric and coriander combined with the intoxicating aroma of charcoal – yes, okay fine, they were divine.

Beef satays (two for $10)

We then ordered two mains to share between us. Again as an Indonesian, the concept of paying more than $30 for a laksa and plate of fried rice would cause my ancestors to stir in their graves but then again, this is Long Chim and this is Sydney CBD. So let’s roll with that. The fried rice was nice enough though maybe a bit small for its price point. I also expecting wok hei and perhaps a bit more crab, too. We were also given some chillies drowned in soy sauce in case we wanted a bit of heat.

Fried rice with spanner crab meat ($32)

While the fried rice was okay, I was a bit disappointed with the beef laksa. Topped with crushed peanuts, dried prawns, spring onions, basil, bean shoots and half an egg, the laksa looked great but it was too heavy and too one-dimensional for my liking. Where was the heat? Where was the exciting medley of flavours that often make a fantastic bowl of laksa? Why on earth was it so sweet? Why is that waitress hitting on Bean again, FFS?

Beef laksa ($32)

In the end, it wasn’t an inexpensive meal. $85 got us two mains and one satay skewer each as well as sparkling water for two. As if I wasn’t annoyed enough by the waitress, she thanked Bean yet I was the one who pulled out my card and paid for the lunch. Yeah, makes sense. Since our visit, we’ve had friends check it out – some liked it, while some vowed never to go again. I’m definitely in the latter category; for that price point, I expected a lot better but I won’t return. There are better Thai restaurants in Sydney.

Review: Khao Pla (Sydney, NSW)

7/370-374 Victoria Avenue
Chatswood NSW 2067
+61 2 9412 4978
http://www.khaopla.com.au/

When it comes to Thai food, Sydney has no shortage of excellent restaurants. Sure, you’ll still get below average Thai eateries offering menus filled with coconut milk-heavy dishes that are often way too sweet but for the most part, the options are better than in Melbourne. And with the exception of Long Chim et al, most of them are inexpensive too.

One of my favourite Thai restaurants on the North Shore is Khao Pla in Chatswood; there is a second branch at Macquarie Centre too. Headed by Chef Pla Rojratanavichai (ex-Spice I Am, Mr Wong and Ms.G’s), Khao Pla is a popular choice for several reasons: it’s reasonably priced and there is a variety of dishes from the usual suspects such as pad thai as well as more unusual dishes like the wok fried razor clams with chilli jam and basil. Best of all, the service is efficient so you can pop in right after work and make it out in time for the next screening of the new Star Wars movie.

I’m no Star Wars fan but I do appreciate a quick and easy dinner away from the kitchen, especially when good Thai food is involved. I came here with my friend L-Fly who is no longer a Chatswood local but is frequently in the area if he wants his Asian food fix. We sat outside so we could enjoy the balmy evening air and share some dishes. First up, the isaan steak tartare. I’m a sucker for Northeast Thai (‘isaan’) flavours and this starter packed a punch. Served with prawn crackers on the side, the tartare had lots of lime juice and a generous amount of fiery scud chillies for maximum impact. Delicious, yet lethal.

Isaan steak tartare ($13)

Our next starter was the hor mok yang, or the grilled fish curry wrapped in banana leaf. Being Indonesian, I was instinctively expecting a wet curry with a rendang-like texture; instead, this curry had more of a custardy texture. While it was tasty, I was expecting it to be hot rather than mild.

Hor mok yang ($8)

Call me a farang all you like but I do like a good pad thai and Khao Pla delivered. Many Thai restaurants give you the option to spice up your pad thai with your choice of protein but here, you get what they give you: chicken, egg and a bit of dried shrimp with some bean sprouts and peanuts for good measure. It was a decent pad thai and you won’t go wrong if you order it but in all honesty, you’re better off sampling Khao Pla’s signature dishes as they are harder to find in Sydney. (I’m definitely going for the razor clams next time.)

Pad thai ($12)

The final dish we had was the kana moo krob, a lovely dish of fried crispy pork belly cooked with lots of scud chillies and Chinese broccoli. I’m not a huge fan of pork belly but L-Fly is so this made the cut – this was also some sort of payback for me ordering the pad thai, I guess. Despite not being a huge fan of pork belly, I did find the pork to Chinese broccoli ratio a bit off but it was nevertheless a tasty dish with a little hint of heat to make things interesting.

Kana moo krob ($16)

I would definitely like to come back for round two eventually. The problem with Sydney is that there are just so many Thai restaurants and I haven’t ticked off many from my ‘to go to’ list. That said, many of them are nowhere near as reasonably priced as Khao Pla (none of the dishes we ordered were more than $20) so maybe I will find myself going back before they announce the next Star Wars movie.

Khao Pla Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Grumpy Donuts (Sydney, NSW)

72 Pyrmont Bridge Road
Camperdown NSW 2050
+61 403 837 898
http://www.grumpydonuts.com/

Okay, wow, the last time I blogged was an embarrassing three months ago. That’s almost as shameful as getting blind drunk at a work Christmas party and throwing up on the floor of the Hilton Hotel in Melbourne. Not that that’s ever happened to me, of course. No way.

Despite my best intentions to blog more regularly, I must admit that finding time to blog has been a struggle lately. Long work days, life admin, adopting two cats (yes, who would have thought) and having Netflix at home are to blame for not hopping on the laptop in the evening to get them blogging fingers typing for more than three months. In the end, it took a few mates in Melbourne to ask me why I stopped blogging (again) to make me think, ‘Right, I’m going to do this whole blogging thing again.’

So here it is: take fifty-five. Give or take a few digits.

Today I’d like to steer your attention away from the cricket (or shopping, whatever floats your boat on Boxing Day) to donuts. Sydney’s best donuts, to be exact… though I guess it depends who you speak to. Lately I’ve been craving a good ol’ fashioned jam doughnut. One that’s piping hot and fluffy, not like those horrible cake-y ones that are apparently in fashion right now. And one that was nothing like those rock-textured ones that are covered in Smarties or jabbed with a chocolate-filled syringe. Just a normal non-millennial-flavoured donut, the sort I used to enjoy as a kid.

A few good friends suggested trying Grumpy Donuts in Sydney’s inner-west so after a Saturday morning at Campos Newtown, Bean and I decided to walk west to Grumpy.

Inside Grumpy Donuts, Camperdown

It’s a simple concept: there are a handful of flavours on rotation, with a few seasonal variants thrown in to keep things interesting. Most people come in to buy boxes of donuts to take away, but there are a few seats for dine-in patrons. If you want coffee, they can make you one using Single O beans.

Each donut costs $3.50 to $5.50 each, depending on how fancy you want them. We bought two donuts: a maple glazed donut and vanilla glazed donut, $9 all up. The vanilla glazed donut was taken home to enjoy for supper – a big mistake as the icing pretty much melted by the time we got to it ten hours later – but we decided to enjoy the maple one on the spot.

Grumpy’s maple glazed donut

As far as donuts go, they were pretty good. Both were melt-in-your-mouth soft without being too dense – think Krispy Kreme but nicer and minus the bogans. The maple donut was coated in a delicious maple syrup and brown sugar icing and I’m sure if we got to the vanilla one before the icing melted, it would have been tasty too. Would we go back? Given the time it took us to get there from the other side of the harbour, probably not. They were nice but not the mind-blowing donuts we were expecting. If we lived in the inner west and Grumpy was within walking distance, then sure, absolutely. I guess our hunt for Sydney’s best donuts continues…

Review: Pendolino Caffe (Sydney, NSW)

The Strand Arcade
100/412-444 George Street
https://www.pendolino.com.au/

Every so often, I get restaurant suggestions from readers. Of course, it’s impossible for me to visit every single restaurant I get recommended but I do try and check out as many as possible. A few years, Melbourne reader Julie gave me a comprehensive list of her favourite places to eat in Sydney. This was before I became a regular visit to Sydney so her tips were much appreciated. It did, however, take me quite some time to visit Pendolino, one of her suggestions. In this case though, it was better late than never.

Pendolino is located in Sydney’s Strand Arcade so if you’re doing a bit of shopping in town, this is an ideal spot for lunch. The food is regional-inspired Italian cuisine and the restaurant’s selling point is artisanal pastas made freshly daily in the kitchen under the watchful eyes of Executive Chef Nino Zoccali. The venue itself is divided into the stylish restaurant area inside or the more casual ‘caffe’ area, overlooking the arcade. If all you want is a ‘get in, get out’ lunch, then you’re better off sitting at the caffe section. The caffe only does walk-ins though, so your best bet to get a seat is to come in as close to 11:30am as you can – easy for me these days do as I’m self-employed.

Bean is not self-employed but he happened to be on holidays that day so he was my Pendolino dining buddy. He ordered the gramigna (curly pasta) with pork, veal and tomato ragu. The pasta spirals themselves were made out of traditional wild weeds, giving them their avocado green colour. I couldn’t take the weeds themselves but the pasta was beautifully cooked with the right amount of resistance while the ragu was rich, flavoursome and comforting.

Gramigna con il ragu ($21.40)

The menu advertised the brodo (aka Auntie Lidia’s chicken meatball soup) as ‘the best soup in the world’ so it MUST be good, right? Well, it was. The giant chicken meatballs swam in a delicious broth that held plenty of depth. I would have preferred more quadretti pasta in there but if you’re someone who prefers a higher meat-to-pasta ratio (and loves soup), this would be your dish.

Popettini in Brodo della Zia ($14.90)

When I want simple and delicious Italian food in Sydney, I usually gravitate towards Fratelli Paradiso in Potts Points but Pendolino offers a good alternative – especially if you’re stuck in the city and don’t have time to make a short dash east. I’d probably go for the ragu over the brodo next time, though.

The Restaurant Pendolino Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: ACME (Sydney, NSW)

60 Bayswater Road
Rushcutters Bay NSW 2011
+61 435 940 884
www.weareacme.com.au

It goes without saying that my list of places to visit in Sydney grows constantly thanks to recommendations from friends and restaurants opening up all the time. One place in particular has been on my radar for quite some time, ACME in Rushcutters Bay. So the last time I was in Sydney, I made it my sole aim to ensure that I dined that – other things look a backseat on the priority list (pfft friends? I don’t need to see them just yet!)

It seems like most hospo groupies know the whole story: the name ACME comes from the first letters of each of the owner’s first names (Andy Emerson, Cam Fairbairn, Ed Loveday and chef Mitch Orr). The food is post-modern (i.e. hipster) Italian but with Asian influences. On paper, the menu suited my palette to a tee. In reality, however, I was underwhelmed. I’m not sure if it was because we came on a bad night or whether my expectations were set too high – after all, my friends couldn’t stop raving about this place. Or maybe we ordered the wrong things. My dining partner Bean agreed with me though to be fair, fusion cuisine is not really his thing.

Foodies will tell you to start your meal with a serving of Jatz crackers – yes, the ones you can grab from the Coles biscuit aisle. For $6, you will get four pieces of crackers topped with whatever the kitchen feels like on the night. Sometimes it could be liverwurst and pickles and sometimes it could be mustard butter and salami. Our topping was a creamy curried egg topping which, to be fair, was nice but I still think the whole Jatz thing is an overpriced gimmick.

Jatz a la Café Paci ($6)

Better was the baby calamari dish, grilled in a lovely lime and five-spice marinate. I’d say this was probably the less ‘fusion-y’ dish on the menu that evening – and ironically, it was probably the highlight.

Baby calamari with lime and five spice ($24)

When dining at ACME, you’d better order their signature pigs head macaroni or you’ll incur the shock of ACME fangirls and fanboys asking if you’re insane for skipping THE MOST AMAZING DISH EVER. After having this dish, I have to ask these fangirls and fanboys what they saw in this dish because honestly, I didn’t think it was that great. Don’t get me wrong – the maraconi shells were divine and possibly one of the best pastas I’ve had in Australia (Orr has amazing technique when it comes to handmade pasta thanks to having worked at Pilu et al). The sauce, however, didn’t impress me. It was more sweet than salty and I felt that the chilli didn’t really belong in there. I wanted to like this dish though and like I said earlier, perhaps I really did come on a bad night.

Pigs head macaroni with egg yolk ($22)

As far as the mains went, I liked the maltagliati a lot more. The combination of shiitake mushrooms, spring onions (why say scallion? We’re in Australia!) worked beautifully with the rich butter sauce. As for the pasta, oh my goodness, the texture! It was amazing! This dish definitely smashed it – in fact, I was expecting the other dishes to be more like this one.

Maltagliati with shiitake and burnt scallion ($22)

Bean isn’t keen to do a return visit and I’m not sure if I’ll be rushing back. That said, I’m still willing to give it another chance as I’m curious to try the other pasta dishes on the menu (though let’s face it – like I’d turn down a chance to eat more pasta). I’ll let you guys know how my second visit is – if it’s as underwhelming as my first visit, I’ll know that ACME was sadly not for me. If it’s a lot better, then I’ll know that even the most popular restaurants in Sydney occasionally have bad nights.

Review: Spice I Am (Sydney, NSW)

90 Wentworth Avenue
Surry Hills NSW 2010
+61 2 9280 0928
http://www.spiceiam.com/spice-i-am-surry-hills

When it comes to the battle of which city serves up the best Thai food in Australia, I’m sorry but I have to say that Sydney definitely beats Melbourne. That’s not to say that Melbourne doesn’t have great Thai restaurants. Nope, in fact, Melbourne’s Thai restaurant scene has caught up in the last five years or so. But when it comes to variety, accessibility and heat factor, Sydney definitely wins. And Spice I Am is one of Sydney’s darlings of the Thai restaurant scene.

I’m not saying that it’s the best Thai restaurant in Sydney. I’m not even saying that it’s the cheapest or most authentic but it’s a solid all-rounder that rarely puts a foot wrong. Spice I Am has several outlets in Sydney but I tend to stick to the original one on Wentworth Street, which is on the city-Surry Hill border. They do a lunch special from Tuesdays to Fridays where they offer a limited menu at slightly cheaper prices so if curries, soup and stir-fry dishes are your thing, then I highly recommend going for lunch. FYI, it’s cash only so leave your cards neatly tucked in your wallet.

In the past, I never ordered spring rolls at restaurants – they’re easy to make at home and being a typical Asian tight ass, all I think about when I see spring rolls on the menu is ‘EEEEK THE MARK UP!’ For some reason, I’ve ordered the mini spring rolls at Spice I Am several times and they’re always delicious. The filling is delicious and filled with a reasonable amount of pork mince and best of all, they’re actually bigger than ‘mini-sized.’

Deep fried mini spring rolls (six for $9.50)

The last time I visited Spice I Am, I ordered the po taek soup; it is a mixed seafood soup gently flavoured with fresh Thai herbs, lemon juice and a burst of chilli. Add some mushrooms for a bit of earthiness and a bit of rice for carb-loading purposes and you have yourself a meal. I love this soup because it’s so comforting, delicious and very light – a great alternative to the omnipresent tom yum (though that’s also available here). Meanwhile, my dining partner Bean loves to go for the curries – this time he had the kang ka ree (yellow curry) with chicken. It’s a delicious curry that’s packed with potatoes and red onion, perfect to mop up with spoonfuls of rice.

Po taek ($14.50); chicken yellow curry ($12.50)

You won’t find boat noodles or papaya salads during lunch service at Spice I Am but you’ll still find something that you’ll like – and you’ll definitely come back wanting more.

Spice I Am Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Ipoh on York (Sydney, NSW)

2/89 York Street
Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 9299 0001
http://ipohcentral.com/

There seems to be a reasonable amount of Malaysian restaurants in Sydney’s CBD. In the past, I’ve dismissed them thinking that they were overpriced eateries serving mediocre and not-terribly-authentic food to time-poor suits. My recent lunch at Ipoh on York, however, proved me wrong.

The plan was for me to catch up for lunch with my friend Lawrence who worked in George Street. His favourite place to grab a cheap laksa in the city was Malay Chinese Takeaway, also known as ‘that Malaysian place on Hunter Street.’ I’ve walked past it many times without venturing in, assuming it was one of those Anglo-Asian joints that catered to white people. ‘No way!’ said Lawrence. ‘I’ve been going there with my mum since I was a child! This place is legit!’ As soon as he said that, I got excited – perhaps I was wrong all this time.

Sadly, we never made it to Malay Chinese Takeaway. By the time Lawrence was able to leave the office, it was well into peak lunch service. Apparently there was no way we’d get a seat then, he told me. Sydney’s weather gods also decided to release some torrential rain so walking up to Hunter Street was definitely out of the question now. Lawrence suddenly remembered the name of another Malaysian eatery that was closer to the office: Ipoh on York. He had never been himself but he’s had many colleagues recommend it. ‘Did you want to give it a go?’ he asked me tentatively. At this stage, I was happy to eat anything including McDonalds so I was like, sure, and off we went.

As predicted, Ipoh on York was already packed by the time we arrived but thankfully there were a few stray tables so we were quick to grab one. Upon arrival, you order at the counter, pay for your meal and grab a ticket. When your order is ready, you grab your tray and off you go. The set-up does remind me of a food court but when you’re getting flavours this good at a reasonable price (as reasonable as Sydney CBD can get anyway), who cares?

My initial plan was to get a laksa like Lawrence but I ended up opting for the eatery’s signature Ipoh hor fun ($12) – and I enjoyed every single spoonful of it. They gave me a generous amount of silky smooth rice noodles in a chicken and prawn broth, which was light yet extremely flavoursome at the same time. If you’re craving soup for a winter lunch without the heaviness of a laksa or a ramen, this ought to be your go-to dish.

Meanwhile, Lawrence chose the laksa. Here, you can get your laksa in different flavours ranging from the basic chicken to the more popular seafood. You can even order a vegetarian version though I’m not exactly sure how that works given that the basic laksa broth is flavoured with prawn shells in addition to other delicious ingredients not limited to chilli, lemongrass, galangal and candlenuts. Anyway, Lawrence chose the combination laksa ($15) so he can have a bit of everything, though the tofu to meat ratio was a bit skewed. I had a few spoonfuls of the broth and I can definitely verify its deliciousness.

Ipoh hor fun ($12), Combination laksa ($15)

Even though we didn’t get to try Malay Chinese Takeaway, Ipoh on York was definitely an excellent alternative and I’ll be back to enjoy a bowl of their laksa. I’m also keen to try their nasi lemak and their kway teow siram (wok-fried rice noodles in a silky egg gravy). A laksa at Malay Chinese Takeaway is still on my list, though.

Ipoh on York Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Ramen O-San (Sydney, NSW)

Shop F1A, Sussex Centre Food Court
401 Sussex Street
Haymarket NSW 2000
+61 439 945 245

For the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about Sydney restaurants – after all, I’ll be moving there soon so I may as well make myself more comfortable, right? And one of my favourite things about being in Sydney is being spoilt for choice when it comes to ramen restaurants. They can be found pretty much everywhere from Chinatown to Chatswood and there will normally be a restaurant that will make the type of ramen you prefer, whether it’s a bowl of nutty miso ramen or a thick collagen-laden tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen.

I have a long list of ramen places I work through whenever I’m in Sydney and in 2015, Ramen O-San appeared on the bottom of the list. Ramen O-San is owned by restaurateur Kazuteru Oh (hence, the name O-San); the Kyushu-born O-San is also responsible for Busshari and Kujin so I knew Ramen O-San was going to be good. My Sydney friend Lawrence was also keen on checking Ramen O-San out so when I was up in Sydney for a weekend, we decided to visit. Better late than never, right?

Ramen O-San can be found at Sussex Centre Food Court in Haymarket. Here, you can often find owner Kazuteru Oh manning huge stockpots of tonkotsu broth that’s been simmering for 12 hours so that the collagen from kilos of pork bone, skin, belly and trotters can create a rich, thick broth that’s full of flavour. The broth is also MSG-free – not that you really need flavour enhancers for a broth that’s being cooked for that long anyway! O-San’s ramen noodles are also handmade, which is always a plus in my books.

Lawrence ordered the signature tonkotsu ramen while I decided go to light with the chicken soy ramen. We both added a soy-marinated egg in our ramen ($1.50 each). O-san’s tonkotsu ramen is thick, luscious and decadent. There is also the option to opt for an even thicker broth upon request, something that Gumshara fans would no doubt be up for. Nevertheless, the default tonkotsu option here does the job – and Lawrence slurped every last drop.

Tonkotsu ramen ($9.80), chicken soy ramen ($9.80)

If you feel that the tonkotsu broth might be too heavy for you, O-San’s chicken soy ramen is a lighter option but one that still delivers on the taste front – at least that’s my opinion of it. I was expecting it to taste like a Tokyo-style shoyu ramen (i.e. heavy on the soy) but instead the broth was much lighter. Think light chicken broth with a just the lightest dash of soy.

Chicken soy ramen with chashu pork

Sydney’s ramen scene might have plenty of healthy competition but I’d definitely list O-San as one of my top places along with Manpuku and Gumshara (yes, sometimes I do crave a super thick tonkotsu broth). There’s a ramen for everyone and best of all, everything is authentic right down to the noodles and well priced.

Ramen O-San Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato