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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After spending a morning at the French Consulate, I found myself roaming Sydney’s city streets looking for a good feed. It was a glorious winter day in my favourite Aussie city – sure, it was cold but the sun was out and the winds were (thankfully) nowhere to be found. There was no better way to spend the afternoon than by enjoying lunch outside, in Hyde Park.
Luckily, my favourite Sydney burger joint, Mary’s, has a branch in the city. The city joint is just a block away from Hyde Park so I decided that lunch that day was going to be burger, fries, gravy and a lot of bloating (totally worth it though… or so I thought).
Predictably, the Thursday afternoon queue was massive. The diminutive city store only does take away and most of the people patiently lining up were hungry office workers. Fortunately, the line does move fast. (that said, I then waited an extra 15 minutes to the side for my food to be ready.)
Taking cues from its Newtown big sister, the city store also has a wall where punters can scribble dick pics and lewd messages to their heart’s content.
Walking over to Hyde Park, I eagerly unpacked the contents of my white paper bag. Although the city store has all the Newtown menu favourites, its price point is a bit different. If you order a cheeseburger in Newtown, $15 will get you a generously sized burger with chips. Here, $10 gets you a much smaller burger and no chips. In fact, I was surprised at how small, deflated and sorry-looking my city burger was. I was even more surprised to find that it tasted like a Maccas cheeseburger minus the onions and pickle. It was hard to believe that this burger was actually a Mary’s burger. What. The Hell.
You can’t leave Mary’s without ordering gravy to go with your fries. Seeing as the burger came without fries, I ordered a serving of them ($4) and a tub of gravy ($4). Thankfully, they tasted just as I remembered; the chips were crispy and well-seasoned and while the gravy wasn’t as lusciously velvety as the ones I’ve enjoyed in Newtown, it was still delicious. God bless rendered chicken fat and a splash of warm stock, oh yeah.
Look. Despite the #burgerfail, it was actually not a bad lunch.
When Dom told me there was a place that served a decent Thai food in the same building as the Civic Hotel in the city, I wrinkled my nose. To me, the ‘Civ was in the same league as Melbourne’s Club Retro, a place that I’d only set foot in after 1:30am on Saturday morning after more than a few wines and after frequenting the city’s better night haunts. In other words, it’s not a place that I’d start a night off at.
Yet, Dom also happens to be my intel when it comes to good cheap Sydney fare so I did I protest when he lead me up to stairs to the Civic? Nope, not at all. The place we’re talking about is Green Peppercorn, said to be one of Sydney’s better Thai restaurants. Being from Melbourne and having lived on Gold Coast for more than a year now, I’ve had my fair share of mediocre Thai food so anything from a Sydney Thai restaurant was always going to be a marked improvement.
Green Peppercorn has two branches, this city one and one in Fairfield. Both promise casual contemporary fit-outs and a menu combining Lao and Thai cuisine, featuring traditional favourites and a few regional specialities from northern Thailand.
I ordered a glass of white, Dom ordered a beer and we decided on several dishes to share.
We both enjoyed the Issan-style sausages. Made from a traditional Northern Thai recipe, these house-made pork sausages were slightly seasoned and grilled over charcoal for a smoky and slightly tangy flavour.
Much to Dom’s amusement, I decided to go all Aussie, mate, by ordering the prawn pad thai. Hey, don’t diss me – I’m allowed to crave pad thai just as you guys are allowed to crave Nutella donuts, okay? Green Peppercorn did a lovely version – the noodles were perfectly firm, the proteins all well-cooked and the sweet-sour ratio on point. Topped with bean sprouts and crushed peanuts, this pad thai was a study of what Thai restaurants in Gold Coast SHOULD be doing, rather than dousing the noodles with too much sweetness.
Our final dish was an excellent roast duck red curry. It was a beautifully hearty dish that soothed my cold bones, minus the heaviness. A handful of cherry tomatoes, pineapple and lychees worked well to counteract the creaminess while an appropriate amount of chilli provided a much-welcomed spicy kick.
If I had more room in my stomach, I would have loved to try some of the traditional Laotian dishes but hey, next time. My go-to place for Thai in Sydney city is still Chat Thai (sorry, you’ll always remember your first…) but Green Peppercorn is a great alternative if you can’t be bothered queuing up for a peak hour dinner table.
There are several things you can’t really avoid when in Sydney city: riff raff on George Street at night, bad drivers and great ramen eateries. I happened to be in Sydney for a very quick afternoon stopover; it was cold and windy, and my stomach was yearning for a bowl of unctuous, porky goodness with lots and lots of noodles. My friend Dom, who is my go-to person for cheap eats in Sydney, mentioned Yasaka Ramen during a conversation we had one night so I knew that’s where I wanted to go for lunch before I even stepped off the plane.
At 11:30 on a weekday, Yasaka was dead quiet so I had my pick of bar seating. There, for the next thirty minutes, I was able to slurp, savour and worship each spoonful of ramen in silence before Sydney’s office workers and tradies started arriving for their fix.
This. Perfection right here. (yes, I’m aware that the word ‘perfection’ is used way too much in food blogging but screw it, it really was perfection.)
I can’t say no to good dose of takoyaki and Yasaka does a fantastic version. Yasaka’s takoyaki comes in multiples of four or eight and you can choose from a range of toppings such as spicy mayo, wasabi soy sauce or even grilled cheese. I decided to be sensible and boring, though, by opting for four pieces drizzled with the original takoyaki sauce and shaved bonito flakes.
Slightly firm to the bite and full of flavour, they were pretty on par to the ones that I enjoyed on the streets of Osaka last year. No sign of soggy ball syndrome here, my friends.
I could also wax lyrical about my bowl of tonkotsu shoyu ramen, which was reasonably priced given the amount and quality I received. The milky, flavoursome tonkotsu broth was infused with a soy sauce paste to give it that extra bit of umami oomph (not that it really needed much anyway). To top things off, there was a buttery piece of chashu, bamboo shoots, chopped spring onion and nori. Oh, and a soft-boiled soy egg – you can’t forget that.
It wasn’t a terribly big bowl but I really did struggle to finish it (I’m blaming the takoyaki). Still, the ramen didn’t leave me with that nasty bloated feeling I get when I eat at some of the city’s other ramen restaurants whose offerings tend to be on the super-ridic-heavy side so that’s a good thing.
In terms of taste, price point and service, I’d say Yasaka is up there with one of my favourites in Sydney now. Cheers, Dom.
On the last day of my Sydney Writers’ Festival weekend, I wanted to keep things simple. My plan was to bump up my protein intake and reduce my carb intake so I wanted something light and balanced. Plus, I wasn’t feeling all that hungry even though I did a fairly solid pilates session in Darlinghurst that morning.
I ended up at Makoto, a sushi train restaurant in the city. I wasn’t planning to have sushi train, tbh, but I happened to come across this place when I was wandering around aimlessly along Liverpool Street. Having heard a few Melbourne friends talk about how good Makoto was, I figured that having lunch here couldn’t hurt.
Here, plates range from $3 to $6.60, pretty standard for a sushi train restaurant. They also have the odd specials in the mix too, which are slightly more expensive. It was 11:30AM when I arrived; the place was packed but because I was rocking up as a solo diner, I was able to squeeze in.
I love a good savoury egg custard and this one delivered superbly. The custard itself was as delicate as fine silk, while the dashi broth was full of umami goodness.
Here, fresh salmon slices were beautifully seared, leaving the inner flesh verging on still raw. The garnishes were also well-balanced and brought out the flavour of the fish.
The lobster sushi was another standout performance. Here, lobster meat was mixed with a cream-based sauce and topped with tobiko. Probably the heavier dish of the afternoon but dammit, I needed something (slightly) rich and creamy, okay.
Prior to this meal, I had never tasted raw prawn. And while I appreciated the prawn’s texture and freshness, I think I much prefer these suckers cooked – much tastier.
You really can’t go wrong with super fresh salmon sashimi. God, I love the Sydney Fish Market so much.
The scampi sashimi was one of the specials offered that day. It was beautifully presented as far as crustaceans go. Like the prawn, however, it was something that I would have preferred to eat cooked – the flavours didn’t shine through as much.
The damage came to $36.80, far from a cheap lunch for just one. On paper, it looked like I ordered quite a lot of dishes but while I was satisfied, I wasn’t disgustingly full (a good thing, I guess). As far as sushi trains go, this is one of the good ones – everything was fresh and the service was attentive and polite. I’d be happy to return with a dining companion so I can try more things (and not pay as much per person).
After attempting to be cultured wankers by spending the day at the museum, Sam and I worked up an appetite. Being Melburnians, we are deprived of good ramen (though the Melbourne scene has since started to get a little better) so we decided to tuck into some ramen for a late lunch.
We ended up at Ichi-ban Boshi because it was conveniently on the way back to our hotel. At 2:30PM, it was still pretty busy – so much so that we had to collect a numbered ticket from the lady at the front and wait about 15-20 minutes to be seated. We didn’t mind though – Kinokuniya was just around the corner from the restaurant. (yay books)
Ichi-ban Boshi’s menu is enormous, bigger than the list of places I’m planning to visit while I’m in Japan. In addition to the usual tonkotsu, miso and shio ramen varieties, they also had random toppings such as karaage, wonton and even kim chi. And if you don’t feel like ramen, there’s plenty of udon and rice action to keep you satisfied.
Sam and I were boring so we ordered ramen.
Sam decided to go for spicy ramen topped with minced pork, boil egg and choy sum. While it was definitely not authentic, it was certainly very tasty. Sam hungrily wolfed the whole thing down but to be honest, I would have probably struggled with it – it was a bit too rich and full-on for me.
When I’m at a ramen restaurant, I normally go for a tonkotsu broth. However, I knew we were going to have a big dinner so I picked the much lighter soy-based Tokyo ramen. The broth might have been more delicate but that it didn’t mean it didn’t fill me up (it did – too well). It wasn’t the best ramen I’ve ever had – it was salty and full of MSG. It also lacked depth.
Out of all the Sydney ramen restaurants I’ve been to, I’d have to say that Ichi-ban Boshi has been the most disappointing. I’d say it’s better than Ajisen Ramen and your non-descript food court ramen stalls but you’re definitely better off going to Ippudo, Hakata-Maru or even Gumshara. Personally, I think that if Ichi-ban reduced their offerings by at least a half and focused on a few dishes as opposed to trying to be good at everything, their ramen might actually be one that I would happily return to the next time I’m in Sydney.
I’m wrapping up this Sydney series with a write-up of one of the highlights of our Sydney trip: our two visits to Ippudo, arguably Sydney’s most famous ramen restaurant.
In 1985, Shigemi Kawahara launched his first Ippudo restaurant in Japan to showcase what he can do with ramen, a Japanese staple – and from what I’ve tasted, those results are phenomenal. His first overseas franchise opened in New York in 2008, with the first Australian restaurant opening up late last year.
Although Kawahara tries to be all traditional when it comes to cooking ramen – using tried and true techniques to sculpt that perfect bowl of ramen, that is – I like how he also tries to cater to local tastes. For example, the Sydney restaurant serves green tea lamingtons and camembert tempura. While I love camembert, the thought of eating it in tempura form just makes me ill. Props for the idea, though… I guess.
My first visit began with a steamed bun filled with deep-fried shrimp. The bun went down a treat, with the white fluffy bao-like vessel holding a shrimpprawn drizzled with what tasted a bit like a Thousand Island dressing. Quick and delicious.
For some reason, Marty went for the weener-y vegetarian noodles that could equally pass as a salad dish in most cafés in the inner suburbs. Marty normally goes for the heartier dishes but he decided that he wanted something light for dinner. He enjoyed the medley of cold sesame-coated noodles, avocadoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, mandarin, nuts and greens with a blob of yoghurt on the side.
Tied together with a ribbon of balsamic vinegar, the salad was refreshing and made for a nice change from the normally heavier meat dishes he ordered. That said, he got a major case of food envy when he saw my ramen…
The miso tontotsu was advertised as a ‘seasonal special’ so I was lucky I rocked up when it was being offered. The menu promised all sorts of lovely things in my bowl: pork belly chashu, menma (bamboo shoots), shallots, corn kernels, bean sprouts, half nitamago (soy egg) and naruto (fish cake). Oh, and a giant’s handful of chewy ramen noodles, of course.
This was hands-down one of the best ramen dishes I’ve ever had. I still think Taro’s in Brisbane makes the best ramen I’ve ever tasted in Australia but Ippudo’s miso tonkotsu is definitely a strong contender. At present, I don’t think there is any combination in the world that can beat nutty and salty miso and creamy and sweet tonkotsu… except for Gong Cha green tea and milk foam.
And if that bowl of ramen wasn’t awesome enough on its own, there is a small rice ball and a dab of ginger that you can dunk into your soup once all the noodles have gone. Man, these people think of everything!
I’m not normally one to order dessert at Japanese restaurants but we were so impressed with our meals that we couldn’t bypass the dessert selection. Marty had the black sesame panna cotta which was amazing. I especially loved the beautiful contrast between the dessert’s silky texture and the nutty, bold taste of the black sesame.
I’d have to say, though, my green tea lamington was far better. A steady layer of green tea icing covered two sponge cake pieces sandwiching a red bean filling. This was a lot nicer than your ordinary Woolworths lamingtons. I had no idea what the ‘J’ in front of lamington meant though…
So impressed was Marty that we decided to return for lunch the following day (I sensed that he was upset about not ordering a bowl of ramen the first time, thus he wanted to rectify this situation).
We began by ordering the two types of gyoza dumplings available at Ippudo. First up, we have the Ippudo gyoza, which is pan-fried in the Hakata way – in other words, the style most commonly found in Japanese restaurants around Australia. Although I loved the very delicate skins, I thought that a bit more crispness would not have gone astray.
In contrast, the second lot of gyoza dumplings were deep-fried all over. While I love anything that’s deep-fried (except for camembert, I guess), I much preferred the Hakata-style gyozas.
Marty loves anything that’s spicy and contains pork so his choice of the karaka men chashu ramen was a no-brainer.
This ramen was essentially a bowl packed with plenty of bold flavours, the bulk of which came from that handful of spicy miso and ground pork-y goodness. While I personally don’t like mince in my ramen (too busy, imo), Marty thought it was fantastic.
After the flavour explosion that was the miso tonkotsu ramen the previous night, I toned it down this time by ordering the relatively tame shiromaru tamago, a classic Hakata-style ramen dish.
Although the broth was decent, there wasn’t as much going on for it as the miso tonkotsu. I also don’t like cabbage in my ramen and naturally didn’t read the menu description properly so I was surprised to see cabbage in my broth – and hated myself (and to an extent, the dish) for it. I also found the broth a tad too salty; I’m not sure if it was supposed to be like that or whether someone in the kitchen accidentally bumped a motherload of salt into the broth. Either way, I’m going to try the other ramen dishes on the menu the next time I’m here before going back to the shiromaru.
Overall, our Ippudo experience was a very positive one. I know that Sydney has a bit of a thriving ramen scene happening and subsequently, I would like to know if there are any restaurants that churn out ramen that’s on par, if not better than the ones we enjoyed at Ippudo. On both occasions, the service had been nothing short of fantastic even though we rocked up during peak periods. Highly recommended.
Level 5, 86-100 Market Street
Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 8072 8005
I had to admit that Westfield Sydney is a pretty cool shopping centre. Not only does it house some of the nicest designer stores in the country (Christian Louboutin flagship store, anyone?), it also boasts a decent array of eateries. From Ippudo (review soon to come) to Chat Thai, there is something for everyone. Take THAT, Doncaster Shoppingtown food court!
Marty and I had just finished dinner at Ippudo one Saturday evening and although I was quite full, Marty decided that he could squeeze in ‘something quick.’ For some strange reason, he ordered a salad-like dish instead of a ramen. Subsequently, he still had room in his stomach for something with a higher carb content.
We stumbled upon Ragu, a food court-style pasta bar. All pasta dishes here are cooked to order and with a variety of homemade pastas and sauces to choose from, there’s bound to be something that will tickle your fancy.
The orecchiette didn’t take too long to arrive, which was a good sign. The dish itself, however, was another story altogether. While I loved the little ear-shaped pasta shells that managed to be simultaneously chewy and pillowy, I thought the sauce was a bit inconsistent. It was chunky in some areas but too runny in others, plus it didn’t have a lot of flavour.
While Marty was happy with his meal, I thought $15 was a bit too much to pay for a dish that was ruined by a crappy sauce. If I ever end up at Ragu again, I’d be down to order a plate of orecchiette but perhaps with a different sauce.
One of my new favourite places to eat in Sydney is Menya Mappen, the Japanese noodle store that has taking the city by storm. Marty and I walked past it one Sunday on our way to Pitt Street Mall but didn’t step inside as we already had lunch plans. Being the determined foodie that I am, though, I decided that we had to stop by for some noodles before heading to the airport later that night.
Menya Mappen specialises in udon dishes, both and cold. If udon ain’t your thing, then there is soba. There is also a fully-stocked bain-marie filled with fried goodies, whether they be udon toppings such as tempura items or sundry snack items such as takoyaki (fried octopus balls). And the best thing about Menya Mappen? The food here is cheap. Really cheap. You can order a regular-sized udon in plain broth for a measly $3.90 if all you want is a nibble, or a large-sized bowl if you’re feeling particularly hungry. Prices, of course, will vary depending on how many add-ons you order (and trust me, there are a LOT you can choose from) but you can easily get a decent meal for less than a tenner.
Marty’s beef udon was a steal at $6.60 – and delicious too. The plain broth base was flavoursome enough on its own and the udon ribbons were amazingly chewy and dense. The beef which was stewed in a sweet soy marinade, however, gave the broth a bit more substance.
I started off with a regular-sized pain udon and added a half-boiled egg ($1.20) and prawn tempura from the bain-marie (can’t remember how much the prawn was but it wasn’t terribly expensive). I was blown away by how beautiful my dish was.
From the tasty broth to the slippery noodles that tasted especially delicious when coated with gooey egg yolk, my udon was DA BOMB. The broth was delicate yet tasty at the same time, and the generously-sized tempura prawn remained crispy even after I dunked it in soup. Is it the best place to find udon in Australia? I initially gave this honour to Heiroku Sushi on the Gold Coast but after eating here, I’d have to say that Menya Mappen is numero uno (but Heiroku wouldn’t be so far behind).
Even though we didn’t eat a lot between us, our dishes kept us full for the rest of the evening. Hell, I was still full even by the time I arrived at my house in Melbourne. As far as I know, there are no udon specialists in Melbourne so Menya Mappen would definitely be a place I’d be returning to time and time again when I’m in Sydney.