Level 5, 188 Pitt Street
Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 8078 7020
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.
Ippudo shrimp bun ($5)
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
shrimp prawn drizzled with what tasted a bit like a Thousand Island dressing. Quick and delicious.
Ippudo vegetarian noodles ($13)
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…
Miso tonkotsu ($18)
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!
Kurogoma panna cotta ($7)
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.
J. Lamington ($8)
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).
Ippudo gyoza (5 pieces for $6)
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.
Age gyoza (5 pieces for $6)
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.
Karaka men chashu ($21): Ippudo original tonkotsu broth with special spicy miso, ground pork and simmered pork belly
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.
Shiromaru tamago ($17): Ippudo original tonkotsu broth with flavoured egg
Noodles, pork loin, cabbage, black mushroom and shallots
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.
Orecchiette with beef ragu ($15)Orecchiette with beef ragu ($15)
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.
5-9 Roslyn Street
Kings Cross NSW 2010
+61 2 8068 1017
We hadn’t planned on eating at any hatted restaurant during our Sydney trip. Firstly, fine dining in Sydney can be expensive. Secondly, Marty reckons he doesn’t want to see any more foams, wooden planks and truffles. Fair enough. But when I found out that two-hatted Gastropark was holding a special Game of Thrones dinner during winter, we knew we HAD to make a booking.
I don’t think Gastropark do these dinners anymore, especially since season three of GOT finished ages ago. I can’t even remember what days they did these dinners – we came on a Wednesday night and I’m guessing that they also did them on Tuesday nights. I do remember, though, that it was $100 p/h for five courses so let’s get to it, shall we.
Gastropark, the baby of former Pier chef Grant King, is in Sydney’s infamous Kings Cross district (well Potts Point, if you want to get rid of Kings Cross’ sleazy connotation – or Darlinghurst, if you decide to trust our taxi driver’s GPS). Given that Kings Cross isn’t all that far from the CBD, we could have probably walked it or trained it into the ‘Cross but we took forever to get ready (and by we, I mean MARTY) so taxi-ing was the only option.
It was dead quiet like the Winterfell winter when we walked in – and it stayed like that for most of our meal. I found it quite surprising given that we were, after all, at a two-hatted restaurant. Then again, it was a Wednesday night – and a cold one, too. Plus, I loved that the dining room’s stillness combined with the moss and lichen draping from the branches in the middle of the room created an eerie forest-like atmosphere that made us feel like we were actually in Winterfell.
Grape Me (vodka, Pedro Ximenez, muddled grapes, vanilla); Daisy de Santiago (Appleton VX dark rum, lime, mandarin, granita), $20 each
To heat things up, we decided to grab a cocktail each. I had the decidedly summer-y Daisy de Santiago, while Marty stayed true to the whole winter theme by going for the dark yet warming cocktail.
Forrest Bark: potato, mustard and goats cheese
Our first course was served on a little tree – okay fine, branches shoved in a vase. Nevertheless, the end result looked impressive (though I had to roll my eyes when Marty asked the waiter if the branches were also edible). Each long ‘bark’, which was made with crispy dehydrated potato, contained blobs of creamy goats cheese. Although it was delicious, it felt more like a starter (or amuse bouche, even) than an actual first course so I felt almost jibbed.
Dragon bones: roast veal bone marrow
Next, we paid homage to the awesome that is Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons. Calling this dish, where the bone marrow is the star, ‘dragon bones’ seems kind of mean, especially since the dragons in this show are pretty cool. That said, calling this dish Joffrey’s bones (oh, I wish!) would probably have been in bad taste.
Air baguette with capers, parsley, shallow and chickweed salad
The bone marrow was one helluva decadent dish – it was creamy and rich, just as I expected. I just wish they roasted it a bit longer so I can taste more of the smokiness. I was also grateful for the air (read: hollowed) baguette that was filled with a refreshingly tangy blend of chopped capers, parsley, shallow and chickweed (what?) – the tight little package balanced out the marrow’s richness beautifully.
Geezy Geisha (Bombay Sapphire, Japanese morning dew tea, curry leaves)
Marty was down for another cocktail, this time the Geezey Geisha that was perfumed with chopped curry leaves in a little cube that melted as the night went by.
Beach Fire: Crispy scaled jewfish in a beach fire, wild weeds, fresh goats milk curd
And then there was fire! Lots of it! King tried to recreate season two’s Battle of the Blackwater using wood, fire, smoke… and jewfish (because the battle happened on water, geddit? geddit?). And I think he did a damn good job.
Wild weeds, fresh goats milk curd
Our main dish was accompanied by a goats milk curd sprinkled with roasted almonds and puffed barley, and wild weeds, which were pretty much green vegies and roasted hazelnuts, all tied together in a burnt butter sauce. Both were decent sides.
The jewfish fillets were beautifully tender, and the roasted scales provided a lovely textural crunch. Although the fish were well-cooked, I did find it verging towards the ‘safe’ category in terms of taste.
The Royal Fondue: cheese fondue, roast grapes and lavosh
Our course-before-the-dessert was a fondue of Vacherin cheese that was grilled until melted. I love cheese so I thoroughly enjoyed this course, though I did end up struggling just a little bit as it was so rich! Thankfully the lavosh and grapes provided a bit of relief from the richness of the cheese.
Candlelight: edible candle with mulled cherries and hibiscus ice cream
Our final course, the dessert, was just as epic in presentation as the fish course. We had an edible candle made with white chocolate and some mulled cherries served with hibiscus ice cream.
The mulled cherries were supposed to represent blood and guts, something that I normally get queasy over (you don’t see me watching a lot of violent stuff) but this dish tasted so good that all feelings of nauseousness disappeared straightaway. I loved how the bold, rich flavours of the cherries paired well with the perfume-y hibiscus ice cream.
I might dislike chocolate desserts most of the time, but I couldn’t help but fawn over this white chocolate candle that looked right at home in Littlefinger’s office. I could feel the creaminess of the chocolate when it melted in my mouth, and I also liked that it wasn’t terribly sweet too.
The white chocolate skin gave way to a beautiful berry-flavoured mousse and a creamy white chocolate liquid centre. Rounding the dessert out was a crunchy biscuit base to even out all the sweetness. If it wasn’t for the cheese in the previous course, I probably have devoured all of this myself.
Our bill came in a scroll, delivered by a metaphorical raven. I thought it was a lovely touch to what was a pretty creative meal.
Having said that though, I did find the $100 p/h price tag for five courses a little expensive. Sure, the food was lovely and everything, but the portions were perhaps a little bit tiny and for all the bells and whistles that came with each dish, some of them were tasted just nice rather than mind-blowing. While ‘nice’ is normally good enough for me, keep in mind that Gastropark has got two hats so I was expecting a little bit more bang for buck. If they gave us six courses for the same price, or five courses for $90, then that would be justified. But $100? Hmm. I guess that’s what you can get away with when you slap the Games of Thrones name on the event – people like food and people like GOT so of course, there will be a lot of interested diners making bookings.
Regardless, I wouldn’t rule out another visit to Gastropark the next time I’m in Sydney. Perhaps they will make a Breaking Bad-theme dinner (or rather, breakfast)?
Shop 11, 537-551 George Street
Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 9283 5525
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.
Regular-sized beef udon ($6.60)
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.
Udon with prawn tempura and half-boiled egg
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.
Level 3 Westfield Sydney
Cnr Pitt & Market Streets
Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 9231 0491
Marty and I spent a solid weekend afternoon at the Westfield shopping centre in the CBD, home to some pretty nice stores and of course, great eateries. When I heard that famous French macaron connoisseur Ladurée were sitting shop in Sydney, I knew I had to go.
Ladurée Sydney itself is a small kiosk in the middle of the third level of the shopping centre. In addition to macarons, they also do teas thus making it an ideal spot to have a breather for half an hour in between bouts of shopping. Unfortunately, there were only a handful of tables – and they were all occupied – so I opted to buy some macarons to take home with me. Just as well for they are $3.20 each if you take away, but $4 each (!!) if you decide to dine in. I guess that’s fair enough though – rent in the CBD is pretty expensive after all.
Nevertheless, $3.20 for one macaron is still pretty dear. Then again, if you’re getting them shipped frozen from Switzerland and having to carefully defrost them before selling them to macaron-loving Australians, I’d imagine there would be some costs involved. But was the price tag worth it?
L-R: Liquorice, pistachio, strawberry marshmallow, salted caramel, vanilla, raspberry, coffee … and another salted caramel.
I bought a box of eight macarons; I can’t remember how much they were – $23? $28? $32? I can’t remember. But they weren’t very cheap. I do remember that when I asked the lady for a box of eight, she suddenly burst out laughing. Perplexed, I asked her if everything was alright and her response was, “Oh no, I wasn’t laughing at you – I was laughing at something my colleague said.” I didn’t see her colleague say anything to her before she had laughed so the whole exchange really was puzzling. Regardless, I shrugged it off, paid for my macarons and walked away.
As you might have noticed above, I did double up on the salted caramel flavour. Not because I ADORE salted caramel anything (although yes, I do) but because there wasn’t an inspiring range of flavours to choose from so I had no choice but to double up.
Overall, the macarons were nice enough. Okay, so I would have liked a bit more ‘crunch’ when biting into the shell but I guess that’s what defrosting does to texture. I also would have liked the liquorice and strawberry marshmallow ones to taste less one-dimensional and while the pistachio one was great, it definitely wasn’t the best I’ve had. My favourite one was the vanilla, which was dotted with lovely black flecks of vanilla bean pods while the raspberry one had a lovely tang to it.
So would I go back again? Probably not as there are better macaron stores (Zumbo, La Belle Miette and Luxbite) that produce better-tasting macarons at more reasonable prices. The only reason I’d go back to Ladurée Sydney is if someone from Melbourne requests a box or if they introduce a new macaron flavour that I can’t resist trying. Having said that, I’d definitely be down to try the Paris store if I ever end up in Europe anytime soon.
60 Riley Street
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
+61 2 9698 4355
Marty and I love our Vietnamese food with a passion that’s unrivalled by even the most ardent of Collingwood supporters. I’d even go so far to say that I like my Vietnamese food authentic to the max – no vegan organic mushroom pho for me, thankyouvery much. That said, Marty and I love TV chef Luke Nguyen and his show Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam so a visit to his restaurant Red Lantern was definitely on the cards.
There are two Red Lanterns; the flagship restaurant is in Surry Hills while its younger sister is in Darlinghurst. We decided to go to the Darlinghurst restaurant as it was closer to where we were staying and slightly easier to nab a table.
Red Lantern on Riley represented the Toorak end of the Vietnamese food spectrum. Instead of $10 bowls of comforting noodle soups and pork rolls, we now have flashy French colonial décor and Vietnamese-inspired cocktails with pun-ny names in a Sydney suburb where you can buy a studio apartment for the same price as a three-bedroom house in Melbourne’s east. In all honesty though, I was really impressed by the restaurant – it almost felt like I was on the set of The Quiet American.
Ignoring the fact that we were the only Asians in the whole restaurant, we admired everything else around us from the lovely wooden panels to the LN-engraved chopsticks. We were even taken in by our cool waiter who actually knew what nuoc cham was.
On the Hue ($18): Purity vodka, Massenez apple liqueur and Thai basil with lemon juice shaken and served straight up
We loved the names given to the cocktails here at Red Lantern so we decided to order a few. First up, we have Marty’s One the Hue which was fruity and fun, with a hint of herby-ness.
Pham Fatale ($18): Kaffir lime leaf vodka shaken with lychee liqueur, ginger liqueur, fresh lemon juice and coconut water
To make up for my lack of femme fatale, I decided to go for the Pham Fatale which had bolder flavours than Marty’s cocktail. At the moment, I’m a huge fan of coconut water so I was happy when I found out that my drink contained it (it also made me wonder more bars aren’t using it for their drinks).
Rice paper rolls ($18)
There were three rice paper roll dishes on the starters section: masterstock Burrawong chicken, prawn terrine and vegetarian. We weren’t sure whether to go with the chicken or the prawn, but the waiter kindly offered to do a half-half thing so that we can sample both.
Although I thought the chicken one tasted better, I did find the prawn terrine one a lot more innovative and therefore, more interesting to eat. What I did like about them both was that super fresh organic vegetables and herbs were used and that made a massive difference to the quality of the rolls.
Vegetarian rice paper rolls ($15)
After that, we decided that we wanted to try the vegetarian rice paper rolls. They contained a tofu, cabbage, wood ear mushroom and mung bean filling and a bowl of pineapple tamari dipping sauce was provided for a bit of zing.
So the rice paper rolls may have been fresh and the ingredients used may have been top quality but were they better than the ones you can get at Footscray? Nah. Compare $18 at Red Lantern to $5 at Footscray and you have a bit of a no-brainer situation, no matter how good the Red Lantern ones may be.
Banh Tom Chien ($19): Aunty 5’s rice cakes with tiger prawns, caramelised pork, pork floss and shallot oil
Our next dish was the Banh Tom Chien. I have no idea who this Aunty 5 person is but anyone who can make a rice cake dish as tasty as this deserves at least a proper name. I loved that exciting flavours of this dish paired well against a blanket of slightly crispy rice cakes and well, who doesn’t like pork floss?
Bun Bo La Lot ($27): Char grilled garlic and lemongrass beef wrapped in betel leaves
I’m a sucker for Bo La Lot so I was keen to see how Red Lantern’s version would fare – and whether its price tag was justified.
This dish was lovely, though I would have liked to taste a bit more smokiness in the beef. I also found the dish to be a bit exxy, especially given that you can get the same quality in Box Hill at $15, max.
Indochine ($18): Donfrontias Calvados, Kings ginger liqueur and Massenez apple liqueur, lemon juice and maple syrup
We were still swooning over the cocktail menu so we ordered another one each. Marty’s Indochine was unfortunately a tad too sweet for me so I’m glad I didn’t order it myself.
The Ha Long Shake ($18): Jose Cuevo Tradicional Tequila, Bols Pomegranate liqueur, fresh lemon juice, muddled ginger and apple juice with habanero shrub bitters
I did like my Ha Long Shake though, which was a fun and flirtatious mix of apples and pomegranate minus a god-awful internet viral sensation.
Ga Chien Don ($35): Crispy skin master stock Burrawong chicken with ginger, shallot and oyster sauce
Our final savoury for the night was a chicken dish. The meat was beautifully tender and I especially liked soaking my rice with the lovely sauce that came with it – I just wished that there was more of it for me to enjoy.
Dessert platter for two ($22)
All desserts at Red Lantern are $15 each and although I don’t scream for desserts, I must admit that I couldn’t decide which one I wanted. To make things easier, we opted for the dessert platter, which showcased three of the finest desserts on the menu. First up, we have Red Lantern’s blatant attempt to toff up the quintessential Aussie-Asian dessert, the banana fritter. Here, our organic banana fritters were crumbed in coconut rice and served with palm sugar caramel, tapioca and house-made vanilla bean ice cream. I had to admit, it was a pretty creative – and well-executed – spin on the suburban Chinese favourite. Even if the ice cream was already on its way to being half-melted by the time the platter reached our table.
I thought the Xoi Chuoi Nguong (char grilled red rice and coconut cream wrapped in banana leaf) was nice too, though I admit that it probably wouldn’t have been a dessert I’d order on its own. I appreciated the subtle bouts of saltiness that crept up in each spoonful and the coconut ice cream that provided a refreshingly sweet balance to an otherwise rich dessert.
Finally, we had a crème caramel infused with kaffir lime. I was expecting the crust to be hard like a crème brûlée so I was kind of disappointed to find that it wasn’t. That said, the texture was beautifully smooth minus the silkiness and being a pineapple lover, I loved the pineapple salad that was provided on the side.
Finally, I don’t drink coffee after dark but because I was being forced to watch Fast & Furious 6 after dinner, I needed all the caffeine I could get. Gotta love a nice cup of Vietnamese coffee!
We both went to Red Lantern, knowing full well that it was going to serve the sort of overpriced Vietnamese food that catered to gweilos. And although our food tasted fantastic, I think that deep down we both yearned for Vietnamese food in the traditional sense. You know, the kind of food that a Vietnamese mother would make.
Some people might even say that Red Lantern goes against the essential nature of Vietnamese cuisine i.e. one that is cheap and delicious. I do agree with that and plus, you’d be hard-pressed to find food like this in Vietnamese unless you’re going to a fancy hotel that caters to Western tourists (and why would you, when you are surrounded by amazing street food?). Despite all that though, we did enjoy our meal – it’s just the fact that we’ve both been spoilt for cheap and delicious Vietnamese food while growing up would have most likely clouded our opinion of what is otherwise a well-run business.
G2/730-742 George Street
Haymarket NSW 2000
+61 2 9281 8897
I haven’t had much luck in finding decent banh mi thit (Vietnamese pork rolls) in Sydney – and our Cabramatta banh mi experience proved to be disappointing (no post, sorry). Our luck changed, however, when we came across Banh Mi K in the CBD by pure chance.
Marty and I were wandering around the city one evening, killing time before we were meant to be at Darlinghurst later that night. We were bitching about the city’s one way streets and the number of lads we spotted when lo and behold! We spotted a stall that did Vietnamese pork rolls! In the city! That opened at night!
They were doing a $3.90 classic pork roll special which I thought was pretty good, given that they normally go for $5.95. Given that their ingredients looked fresh and given that they bake their bread in-house daily, popping the bread in the oven to ensure that customers get a warm and crispy roll, I knew that these rolls wouldn’t suck.
And sure enough, they didn’t. Although Footscray’s Nhu Lan reigns supreme, I reckon these babies are great – and the best ones I’ve had in Sydney so far. We loved the taste of the pickled carrots and fresh cucumber, coriander and spring onion against the crusty warm bread, and the pate was just sublime. I guess the only negative thing I have to say was that it wasn’t a very quick wait for a roll to be prepared, at least in comparison to the super-quick service at Nhu Lan.
Regardless, we loved our pork rolls at Banh Mi K that we visited the little stall several times during our stay – we probably bought 10 rolls between us, with the bulk of it going to Marty. I would not hesitate to return to Banh Mi K the next time I’m in Sydney – unless someone can recommend another place that can make a mean pork roll.
389 Crown Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
+61 2 8354 1223
It’s Saturday afternoon in Melbourne and it’s a balmy 21 degrees (!) as we speak. We haven’t quite hit spring just yet but hey, I’ll happily take this weather! Warmer weather also means an excuse to eat more ice cream – and lots of it.
We Aussies might be a long way from Rome but we’re nonetheless blessed to have such wonderful ice creameries and gelati stalls to satisfy our demanding foodie tastebuds. Places like Spring Street Grocer in Melbourne have boldly pushed flavour boundaries with flavours such as fior de latte gelati while Gelato Messina have been doing the same in Sydney.
My first encounter with the famous gelati franchise was at The Star in Pyrmont one year. I saw people lining up for gelati, but for some reason assumed it was one of those dime-a-dozen Trampoline joints and thought nothing of it. It was only when Marty and I happened to be in Surry Hills one morning for a spot of shopping and market browsing one afternoon. We then happened to see a Gelato Messina store across the road so we decided to give it a go –okay not really, I deftly guided us to that general direction and did the whole ‘Oh look! What do we have here! Why don’t we try it out since it’s just across the road!’
There was a sizeable crowd when I entered the store. Despite the crazy amount of customers in the store, the service was pretty quick. Pushing aside my claustrophobia, I finally made my way through the front and ordered two cups of gelati.
Cup 1: Holy Goat; and Cup 2: Mr Potato Head and blood orange sorbet
I can’t remember how much I paid for each cup, but I don’t remember them being overly expensive. They were well-sized though, thus representing excellent value for money. Marty went for one of the special flavours on offer that day, the Holy Goat. It was a creamy goats cheese gelato punctuated by sticky fig and walnut brownie pieces and we loved it.
I ordered two flavours because I’m greedy like that. I went for one of their staple flavours, a very refreshing blood orange sorbet, and one of their special ones called Mr Potato Head.
I dare say that the Potato Head was one of the most innovative – and one of the best – gelato flavours I’ve ever had. It was essentially a peanut butter gelato with white chocolate-coated crinkle cut potato chip pieces in it. Because a huge fan of peanut butter and being crazy in love with potato chips, this flavour screamed out my name in big, bold letters. What I really loved about the Potato Head was that it was an ice cream designed for savoury fans, but the white chocolate still made it sweet enough to call it a dessert.
If I had my way, I would have happily sampled 10 more of their flavours but unfortunately, common sense prevailed and we left the store as soon as we were finished. Messina definitely deserves its spot as one of Sydney’s best gelati spots, if not THE best. We were simply impressed by its wide range of unusual flavours – and their perfect execution of them. And here’s the best bit about this post: Messina will be opening a store in Melbourne later this year.
12/117 John Street
Cabramatta NSW 2166
+61 2 9726 4583
Not wanting to limit our Sydney foodie adventures to the city and inner suburbs, Marty and I decided to take the train out to Cabramatta one morning. We wanted Vietnamese food – and lots of it.
The Bankstown line trip west can be long and on this occasion, it had its fair share of crazies so naturally, our appetites were massive by the time we hopped off the train at Cabra’. I was armed with a couple of restaurant recommendations from Julie and the first place I had my eye on was Pho Tau Bay, arguably the best phở restaurant in Cabramatta. Because I felt like phở that morning, I had my mind set on going there.
Unfortunately for me, Marty 1) felt like bún bò Huế and 2) didn’t feel like walking to the other end of John Street ‘just for phở’ when any of the 10 billion Vietnamese restaurants on the same street would have sufficed. In the end, we did settle on PTB only because they also served BBH as well as phở – but not before I copped a bit of flack from Marty for being ‘such a bloody foodie.’
Vietnamese iced coffee
Our beverage of choice that day was a Vietnamese iced white coffee – and naturally it came with a truckload of ice.
At PTB, phở is the obvious specialty and you can get them in three sizes: small ($9), medium ($10) and large ($12.50). The same deal goes with the other soup noodles on the menu such as BBH. You can probably also get rice or vermicelli dishes here too but noodle soups are pretty much the way to go.
Bún bò Huế (medium, $10)
Marty’s BBH didn’t look terribly fiery. In fact, it looked timid and well, bland. Luckily, this was simply a case of looks being deceiving for it was actually a very decent BBH. The broth was sweet as a result of simmering bones for a long period of time and the generous amount of lemongrass used, though a bit more heat would have raised the bar a significant notch. The broth also didn’t have the same depth as the ones served in places such as Dong Ba. Still, I’d tap it.
Rare beef, brisket and tendon phở (medium, $10)
I’m not normally one for tendon but Marty is so I ordered this particular phở so I can palm my unwanted tendon pieces to Marty. Aren’t I lovely? As for the phở itself, I can see why PTB is often voted the best phở restaurant in Cabramatta, if not Sydney. The phở may have looked a lot darker than what I’m used to but in its murky waters hid such goodness and such tastiness (okay fine, probably MSG).
While Marty’s BBH lacked depth, my phở had plenty of it in addition to equal doses of sweetness and flavour. Wow.
Ja gwai (Chinese dough stick, $1.30)
I’ve never seen a phở restaurant offer Chinese dough sticks (‘because pho here is filling enough as it is,’ according to Marty) so I was surprised to see them on the menu here. Marty also said that eating dough sticks with phở is a common practice in Vietnam so again, I was surprised why more restaurants don’t offer them. While I would have been full on a medium-sized bowl of phở alone, I did like the novelty of eating the phở with torn-up bits of dough sticks.
We left PTB with satisfied tummies – yes, even Marty was happy (though that didn’t stop him from buying a pork roll on the way back to the train station later on). Cabramatta is a long way to travel for phở but I dare say that the trip is worth it if not for the delicious bowls of pho, then at least the colourful people you’ll meet along the way.
61 Albion Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
+61 2 9211 5556
I’m finally wrapping up my American-slash-Mexican series with a review of Sydney’s Reuben Hills, the first place I ate at when I was in Sydney earlier this winter. Like Melbourne, Sydney is also big on the American food craze at the moment but if Marty’s and my meal at Reuben Hills was anything to go by, I think Sydney does it slightly better than us. Slightly.
Reuben Hills serve a quasi-Reuben sandwich, they also happen to be located in Surry Hills. That probably explains the name. Upon landing at SYD (but not without delays due to tarmac chaos at MEL earlier that morning – that’ll teach me to book a flight on the fifth busiest route in the world during the morning peak!), we were craving a solid meal – but nothing that would spoil dinner for us. So sandwiches, it was!
Reuben Hills takes its design cues from Melbourne – think converted warehouse with retro kitsch artefacts and furniture all over, and lots and lots of hipsters. Reuben Hills may have been packed with students and Surry Hill’s creative types, but we were fortunate enough to find two empty seats on a communal table by the back garage door.
Reuben Hills is all about comfort foods such as sandwiches, fried chicken and tacos. They all sounded pretty good, though I did think that they went OTT with the descriptions. For example, they wrote ‘that shit cray’ next to the affogato and described their cold pour-over coffee as ‘really fucking refreshing.’ They also claimed to serve ‘really fucking great fried chicken.’ ‘Pffft, what tryhards!’ I thought when I read the menu. However, their tactics must have worked for we ended up ordering two of the three aforementioned items.
I loved how the water comes in retro drink bottles and served in cute colourful cups.
Finca Alcatraz Wilfredo cold pour-over coffee ($5)
This is Marty’s cold pour-over coffee. Having enjoyed a similar style of coffee in Cairns last year, he decided to see if Reuben Hills’ version fared better – it did. It had a more intense flavour, with orange and cocoa notes complimenting each other.
I decided to be boring by ordering a latte. At $4, the coffee definitely isn’t cheap but it was delicious and, dare I say it, on par with Melbourne’s best.
The NOT Reuben sandwich ($16)
Marty had the NOT Reuben sandwich – and by that, we mean Reuben Hills’ rendition of America’s famous corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese sandwich. With the rye bread being the only constant, this beauty was filled with wagyu salt brisket, pickled slaw, manchego and horseradish cream.
It was a lovely sandwich (or in Marty’s words, ‘it was alright’); I especially loved how the piquant slaw and horseradish cream contrasted beautifully against the fatty slices of brisket. I guess the only thing I’d criticise would be its size – Marty wolfed it down in a matter of minutes.
Really fucking great fried chicken with chilli in a basket ($16)
I had the fried chicken because who can say ‘no’ to fried chicken?! I’d have to say that my dish stole the limelight from Marty’s fake Reuben sandwich. The boneless pieces of chicken were tender and we both fell in love with the seasoning – think KFC’s Original Recipe chicken with fresh herbs and a kick of spice. They especially went well with the two dipping sauces, both of which were excellent (chill mayonnaise and herb & chilli salsa).
I let Marty eat the two chillies, which he loved because it had been cured in vinegar. I also liked that a piece of fresh tortilla served as an edible paper towel to mop up what little grease dripped from the chicken. I don’t like to openly swear a lot but it really was fucking great fried chicken.
Our original plan was to just leave after finishing our food, but we couldn’t say no to some sugar. Reuben Hills has an impressive range of milkshakes including salted caramel and lychee, coconut & lime. On any other day, I would have happily ordered the second option but we had an ice cream sandwich to devour…
Root beer float with vanilla bean ice cream ($8.50)
Marty decided to get a root beer float. For some reason, he expected something ‘really fancy’ (or in RH terms, ‘fucking absolutely awesome’ I guess) so he was a bit disappointed to be given a shake cup with instructions to ‘pour the root beer in.’
The drink itself wasn’t terrible but after our amazing meal, I guess we were expecting a bit more. Still, we gave props to the lovely vanilla bean ice cream which looked lovely with its vanilla bean freckles all over.
Doggs breakfast aka ice cream sandwich with salted caramel ($9)
I have no idea why this is called the Doggs breakfast but if breakfast tasted this good, I’d actually eat ice cream sandwiches more often. The sandwich itself reminded of those Peter’s Ice Cream Monaco bars that used to be popular when I was young. I loved the chewy biscuit as much as I loved the sticky salted caramel sauce that accompanied the little package.
I haven’t been to many ‘fucking great’ cafés in Sydney, let alone one that made a beautiful latte (any recommendations would be appreciated though). However, Reuben Hills proved that you can get a more than half decent latte – as long as you’re prepared to pay $4 for it. We both loved Reuben Hills so much that we planned to come again before we flew home – except we never did for we got too carried away with ramen and banh mi.
For now, this caterpillar says goodbye to American food and a BIG hello to Sydney. Yep, that’s right, for the next few weeks or so, I’ll be covering a list of Sydney eateries. Stay tuned for a Game of Thrones-themed dinner, one of the best udon dishes I’ve ever had and lots and lots of ramen.