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Vinh Phat Yum Cha, Cabramatta
Sunday, 10 May 2015 19:34
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There's no place like home: This phrase is truer than true growing up in Cabramatta. The main streets to the narrowest of alleyways are full of life with hustle and bustle at each turn. A predominately Vietnamese and Chinese community, this small South-Western suburb put itself on the map for its diverse Asian culture, bargain fabrics and affordable eats. Where else are you going to find some of Sydney's best pork rolls, supermarkets selling exotic fruit like cumquat/durian/dragonfruit/longan, sugar cane drinks and Thai grocery stores - and all within a couple of metres from one another?

A growing little Asia metropolis that was once overshadowed by its dark past, these days you'll count yourself lucky to get a parking spot within 30 minutes and don't have to wait more than that for a seat at the restaurant. We were not so lucky for this Sunday morning unfortunately taking more than 40+mins to find parking... 

After vigorously fighting old ladies for parking spots, we finally made it to queue for Vinh Phat Yum Cha. Vinh Phat has been around for as long as I can remember, a small institution that planted their roots at the space across the road (now the Vietnamese street food place). The previous space housed no more than twenty tables I think, with apprehensive red curtains and worn down fittings. Still, they did well. Really well and enough for them to move to into a much bigger space opposite.

After a short 30-40minute wait, we got to the top of the stairs to see the whole space filled with happy diners. Hot tea, chilli sauce and menus were given to us as soon as we sat down - not as if we needed them though, we're regular yum cha eaters ;-) 

Selection of dumplings and other items

Since there were only two of us today, we didn't get to eat as many things - tip: always go in groups of three minimum (dumplings come in 3-4 per serving). We ordered a few things we wanted and also had a peak into the carts of the dumpling ladies going by. I always get this sense of excitement when they approach, wondering what surprises they have installed, if it'd be something new to taste or an old favourite.

Fried Prawn Spring Rolls 

Savoury Football (Ham Sui Gok)

Pork and Prawn Dumpling (Sui Mai)

Chives and Prawn Dumpling (Gow Choy Gao)

Chicken Feet

Eagerness: when you have no self-control and eat your dumpling as soon as it's off the steamer, thereby burning your tongue. 

As there's such a high turnover rate, all the food is so so fresh. Most people shy away from the different dishes such as chicken feet, but it's a dish I've grown up eating. The black bean sauce is the perfect combination of slightly sweet, sticky and chilli, and is incredibly flavoursome (though they do have their off days). The table standard sui mai had a generous filling of prawns and I love the sort of gelatinous pastry of the chives dumpling. Footballs, otherwise known as ham sui gok, has a chewy pastry similar to mochi but the outside is super crispy giving it that contrast of textures. I was a bit disappointed with the lack of filling in these, though they were still very tasty.

Sweet Tofu with Ginger Syrup (Duofu Hua)

Mango Pancake

Finally desserts to top off your meal. I almost always get doufu hua, because there's not many places outside of yum cha where you can find it. Silky tofu layered with sweet ginger syrup in between, it is heavenly. Mum always said to eat more tofu because you would get silky skin like it ;-). Most times we always get mango pancake, which they always seem to run out off. Look for thin crepe like pastry, fresh cream and lots of mango pieces (usually frozen) and together it's a winning combo. 

Yum Cha dining has such a beautiful way of bringing families and friends together and the great thing is that there's a little something for everyone. There's a good handful of yum cha places in Cabramatta, and others selling just dumplings as well! What's different about the yum cha here is that there's a fusion of Chinese and Vietnamese influences, with some dishes you probably won't find in a yum cha joints in the city/Chatswood/Hurstville. And nothing compares to its price - the meal costed us less than $20 each! 

In a city where expenses are high, travel is long and is full of mediocrity, there's really no place like home.

Vinh Phat on Urbanspoon


Marukame Udon, Chatswood
Sunday, 26 April 2015 10:44
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Ramen or Udon? The age old question and definitely a relationship deal breaker. Udon, while still hugely enjoyed, is less popular to its noodle brother ramen and for questionable reasons. Perhaps Sydney just hasn't been exposed to the great offerings that udon can bring; probable considering the number of top ramen restaurants compared to udon joints around town.  I will forever be a ramen person - 2 bowls a day in Japan still didn't make me sick. But sometimes, I gotta give its less appreciated sibling some love as well. We got your back, udon. 

Marukame Udon specialises in sanuki udon, characterised by its square shape and flat edges, in a self-service style restaurant. Order your udon, watch the chefs boil noodles fresh for you and into a bowl, pick your sides and extras and pay at the end like a cafeteria; talk about efficiency! I love watching chefs pull and tug at noodles, working their magic to create something so delicious - it's an amazing sight.

There's a huge variety of toppings and sides, everything you could possible want to go with your big bowl of noodles. Fried chicken, prawn/fish/chicken/vegetable tempura, croquettes and even inari! The portions are quite generous as well making it all the more easier to share a few different sides with your partner.

Sesame Chicken Tempura $2.90 and Curry Croquet $1.90

Teriyaki Chicken $3

The sesame chicken and croquette were a bit of a let down, mainly because they were quite cold and dry. The sesame chicken didn't have much seasoning and the croquette had no taste of curry, a real shame :-( The teriyaki chicken was tasty though, grilled in a lovely sauce that made it sticky with a subtle sweetness.

Kake Udon with beef $7.90

In the simplest forms of udon, you have kake udon - a mildly flavoured broth usually made of daishi, shoyu and mirin. Additionally toppings can be added to enhance the flavours, but usually just topped off with scallions. Marinated beef was added to this version that Rvr had, which he quickly devoured as soon as I took the photo... 

Kimchi Pork Udon $7.90?

Ok, kimchi isn't 'traditionally' Japanese (ok, it's not Japanese at all) but the tang and spice from the kimchi lifts the taste and makes it that much better. The noodles were springy and had that lovely bounce texture that makes slurping udon so enjoyable, and since slurping noodles in Japan shows the enjoyment of food then I must be one happy customer. I also topped it with a heaping of tempura flakes for that extra crunch!  

I've heard it gets quite busy during lunch hours, so if there are lot of bottoms seated downstairs then there's also an upstairs dining area. While I don't think we'll be seeing a 'traditional' udon restaurant in Sydney any time soon, Marukame Udon comes close second for our quick and simple udon needs. And if nothing else, the prices are incomparable; it's ridiculously cheap (and gets you full!) in an growingly expensive city. The service is quick and efficient with their self-service style set up (similar to Menya Mappen) which makes this place flavourable to students and family alike.   

Marukame Udon on Urbanspoon


Gastro Park, Potts Point
Sunday, 5 April 2015 20:21
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I've always been interested in chemistry but was never any good at it in school. I remember in class once, my science teacher had two beakers with clear liquid in them - one was water, the other was lead. It was impossible to tell the two apart until he mixed them together and it turned into a bright yellow paint-like consistency. How and what?! 

Eight years later and I'm still as fascinated and as confused as ever when it comes to science. Then we have gastronomy; the fusion of science with food and art. The whole concept is completely beyond me, who even thinks of these things? My gastronomy 101 lessons came from watching countless eps of Heston's Feasts, but while I'm miles away from experiencing anything Bluementhal (obviously I didn't get picked for The Fat Duck in Melbourne), I can at least get a taste of it at chef Grant King's restaurant, Gastro Park.

Having been opened since 2011 and consistently maintaining its Two Hats status, Gastro Park has always been on my "go-to" list (along with 500 other places though, of course). After seeing their Game of Thrones inspired menu last year, I finally made it my mission to tick it off the list.

No surprises that Iwe was running late for our reservation, but we called in advance to let them know. The staff were very accommodating, taking our coats and umbrella when we arrived and made sure we settled properly before ordering drinks. I do apologise that I've forgotten to take the drink names, but they don't do many reds by glass from memory. I'm not usually a red wine drinker, but thought this went well with the courses dinner - not too sweet, nor bitter - sort of 'cleansing' between each dish.

When our complimentary amuse bouche arrived, Rvr and I just stared at it wondering what it was. To this day we don't know and I can't seem to find it anywhere online... Hiding among the stones (yes, they were real stones not imitation ones like Sepia's dessert) were two black wafer thin cracker-shells. The black soil-like filling eaten together with the micro-herbs was an interesting combinations of flavours... 

Our second snack was the was wagyu on grissini. The rare paper thin slices of smokey wagyu just melted in your mouth, with a nice crunch from the grissni and saltiness from the cheese. So simple but so good.  

Foie Gras, cherry, rhubarb and toasted grain

I haven't had foie gras in the longest time, it's too much of a luxury and I don't know many places in Syd that serve it. Nothing can compare to that smooth, rich and buttery goodness of foie gras. The toasted grain added a crunch, like if you were to eat it with bread/crackers, and the cherry and rhubarb gave a light sweetness to it. Perfect way to begin a meal. 

California recently lifted their foie gras ban, and every time I see chefs post pictures of it on IG there's thousands of negative comments about it. There's a lot of stigma against foie gras because people often see it as animal cruelty. I've watched a couple of documentaries recently (like this one) and it's a real eye opener. I enjoy eating it and foie gras can be ethical and natural fed. As well, force feeding does not make it unethical if you put in perspective the environment of the ducks and geese. It's an interesting topic of discussion - feel free to comment on your thoughts!

Roast scallop, cauliflower tofu, leaves, branches and lobster sauce

Ermaghhaaad, scallop! Juicy, plump and sweet jewel of the sea! The lobster sauce added sweetness to an otherwise bland dish. I thought the cauliflower tofu sounded real good on paper but the flavours and texture got a bit lost since it was crumbed so finely.

Liquid butternut gnocchi with mushroom consomme

Now we get to the good stuff. This is what I've been waiting for, what food gastronomy is about to me. The little ball of gnocchi just POPS in your mouth, melts and transforms into a sweet liquid. It actually reminded me of those bobba pearls things you can get with your froyo! The consomme was rich and full of flavour, they must of used tonnes of mushroom to create such depth. Completely new levels of excitement and Rvr and I both agree this was the best dish of the night. 

Excuse the lack of dish name, I'm sure it was lamb with caramelised figs... But I could be wrong as this is a super laterpost and my memory doesn't serve me as well as it should. The meat was cooked well but it wasn't anything spectacular in terms of flavours, nothing memorable to say the least. 

Again, another apology for missing dish name. I'm fairly certain this was the kangaroo dish, an additional $15(?) on top of the tasting menu courses. We figured we were already there so why not? The roo was incredibly tender that went well with the jus, but like the lamb this wasn't anything I'd be writing to home about.

Crispy scaled snapper, smoked potato puree and ink sauce

The signature dish at a famous restaurant is always a must! It's like not trying the snow egg your first time at Quay, unheard of! A standard item as part of their a la carte and tasting menu and it's easy to see why by looking at it. The dish is beautiful and the saying "you eat with your eyes" has never been more appropriate. The crispy scales add a unique technique to an otherwise plain fish. The snapper was moist and juicy, but lacked a little seasoning. I loved the puffed grain cracker that was a bit salty and reminded me of eating chips with my fish. The puree was super silky with a nice hint of smokiness, which went well eaten together with the fish. I've never been a fan of ink and have always thought of it as a decorative purpose, but it def does pull together the whole presentation. 

I am actually missing a photo of the quail dish we had! It tasted sort of like pork so we thought we were missing a dish until we realised... oops! The quail was juicy and I preferred it over the red meats, but like most of the mains it didn't seem too technical or gastronomically challenging.

By now we were quite full from the main courses, but it only means the best course is next... DESSERT! There's always (ALWAYS) room for dessert ^_^. And... 1-2-3-Boom. 

Chocolate, honeycomb & vanilla sphere, cardamon, saffron and ginger

How sexy is this dessert? An unassuming spherical chocolate shell, crack it open and out oozes the vanilla and honeycomb lava. The honeycomb chunks are sweet, sticky and adds texture to the flowing mess. Eat all the elements in a spoonful and you can see why this dessert will never be like any other. 

Gastro Park is understated fine dining and it's no wonder why it retains its two hat status year on year. It's refreshing to see Sydney offer experimental restaurants like GP who just do things a bit differently and with flair. While there were some stand out dishes (dat gnocchi tho), some also fell short of expectation and amazement - the bill was also not too amazing :'(. We were quite exhausted after the entire tasting menu, which took 2-3 hours. Rvr and I are just not very fine dining people and we're ok with that. I've also read that a lot of people were put off by the location in the heart of Kings Cross, and to that I call them cry babies. While the Cross is not like what it use to be, with the restriction of lock out laws, stepping into the restaurant you feel at least half a suburb away. The interior is rustic and darling, so don't be fooled by the location. 

Food gastronomy amazes me, so hats off to King and his team for their incredible work. Now... to wait for the day I can get a seat at one of Martín Berasategui's restaurants... 

Gastro Park on Urbanspoon


Mary's, Newtown
Monday, 16 March 2015 21:34
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Excuse the mini-hiatus boys and girls, this has been a helluva month. I just can't even at the fact that it's March already :O!!!! This past month has been exhausting and exciting, to say the least, as I celebrate my first career woman job! I am incredibly grateful for the love and support of my nearest and nothing fills me with more joy than celebrating their wins as well. On top of all the birthdays and events, this past month I celebrated the engagement of two friends, watched 3 start jobs in their respective careers, attended a house warming and toasted to my partner's super cool new internship! 

So many exciting times ahead and the only way to celebrate, naturally, is by going to eat burgers. Not just any burgers of course, but Mary's (awwww yeahhhh).

I have only ever been to Mary's CBD because the numerous occasions I've tried to come to their Newtown joint had been a fail (too big of a group, closed due to plumbing issues...). The place is loud and blasting with old school rock, suited to the whole Day of the Dead type aesthetic I guess. The bar was busy, the tables were filled and the line for dining upstairs was a short 20 min wait (quite decent considering it was dinner hour). 

We ordered almost immediately after being seated, I mean, the quicker you order the faster you get your food right? Probably wrong. Soon after we ordered we saw the main waiter guy (wearing a shazzy silver tank) come up carrying a large serving tray with about 50 burgers and 30 buckets of chicken - none of them which were for us unfortunately :-(. As they cook in batches, after another 30 mins or so of waiting and growing weary, we saw the sparkle of the waiter's tank slowly crawl up the staircase. Sweet, sweet food. 

Mash and Gravy $5

A classic pub/bistro type food that's hard to say no to. The mash is silky smooth, but the star is most definitely the gravy. A rich, intense beefy stock flavour that is well seasoned and just the right thick consistency (who likes runny gravy, bleh). We took it a step further by dipping the fried chicken into the gravy and mash and it was next level good - crunchy, salty, fiery, smooth - the combinations of flavours and textures was match made. 

Fried Chicken (Whole Bird) $30

Fried chiggen is a must order at any restaurant, but Mary's is extra special. The crunchy batter was not too thick and full of bold flavours that made this finger licking good. A bit salty, but I didn't mind it, and it had a great spice kick. The chicken itself was juicy and moist with lots of meat and hardly any bones (win). However it was quite oily - you can really taste the oil and feel it running down your lips and fingers. But, despite that, I def know what the hype is about now. 

Mary's Burger with Trashcan Bacon $14 + $4

The star we've been waiting for to arrive, drum roll please. Though claimed by many as Sydney's best burger, I did not expect much after being sadly disappointed at its CBD store. I take my first bite through the soft, sweet bun into a BAM!-Holy-Sh*t moment. The smoked, crispy bacon and then the incredible juicy, fatty patty, which was perfectly medium rare; damn, it was goooooooooodd. Together with the cheese, secret sauce and refreshing salad - it was burgasmic. If I didn't already feel my arteries clogging up, I would eat this everyday (ok, maybe every second day).

Mary's Burger with Double Meat & Cheese $14 + $3

Definitely go double meat and cheese if you're a boy with an appetite. The burgers were a decent size, but don't think they're filling if you're extra hunger (luckily we had a whole chicken on the side as well). You really can't go wrong with double meat and cheese. I love shoe string fries with burgers, they're just so easy to munch on. I would have love if it had a sauce to accompany it besides tomato or if it was better seasoned (like the chips at Grill'd), but they're fairly standard so can't complain.

Feast for the Gods

I'm waiting for the day I can justify paying $24 for a burger + bacon + double meat & cheese to try that out for size :O The first time I tried at the CBD store, Rvr compared it to a Maccas burger in it's simplicity and similarity, but Mary's def lived up to its name this visit. Sydney's best burger title is questionable, but it's definitely a top contender. The wait was long, the music was loud, but the food was a great way to celebrate the small wins in life (though I don't think my doctor's should check my cholesterol levels anytime soon). 

To more celebratory breakfasts, brunches, lunches, afternoon teas, dinners and desserts! 

Mary's on Urbanspoon


The year that was 2014.
Thursday, 12 February 2015 22:40
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Each year I set out on doing bigger and better things for myself. But recently, upon drafting this post and reflecting on my goals for the year, I had an epiphany - how do you define bigger and better? Sure, I can have a checklist of things I'd like to accomplish for the year, but what makes them bigger and better than the year before? Maybe it's based on results and success, maybe it's based on failures and did-nots. At this point, I know one thing is for certain - this year (and the years after) I am set out on being happy. 

This sounds quite vague, I know, but it's sort of like that whole "What do you want to be when you grow up?" "I want to be happy" outlook on life. (Read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, she explains it much better than I can). We're already halfway through February and I'm so incredibly excited for the journey ahead. 

Though I certainly had my share of downs last year, it is not without all its joys as well. Thank you to everyone who made 2014 such an incredible memory. To sum up my year, I: 

- Left my FC fam to complete my studies and travel. Is it ironic that I left my job in travel to travel?

- Got rejected by a deer.

- Decided to do a short summer course abroad in Firenze. We planned an event to launch two Italian handbag companies. It was an amazing experience with so many new friends made along the way.

- Completed another internship. The best group of girls to work with and awesome rooftop BBQs. 

- Became crew with Snoopy and Woodstock. 

- But always with my main crew(s). Oops, excuse the offensiveness in last photo. 

- Decided to live on the edge a little.

(Sienna, Santorini, Cinque Terre)

- Ticked off places I've always wanted to go to. And ticked off others twice.
(Kyoto Fushimi Inari Shrine, Firenze Duomo, Tomorrowland Round 2, Berlin East Side Gallery, Berlin Fall of The Wall 25th Anniversary, Uluru)

- Saw my favourite artist in the world. Twice.

- Second year of Sydney Food Bloggers Christmas. Thanks for hosting again, Suze & Helen!

- Had two new rascals join the family. Welcome Coffee and Cinnamon. Dw Peach, you'll always be main. 

- Said hi and bye six times. 

This year I also:
- Finished the year on a Distinction average! 
- Got around to holding a Glebe Market stall. 
- Revamped my room; new paint, feature wall, furniture. 
- Survived my first camping experience.
- Ate too much but never regretted it (though my waistline did). 
- Made more memories with my fam and loved ones. 

2014 was a great year, perhaps bigger and better than 2013. I know for certain that 2015 will bring us just as much and even more happiness, because we'll make it so. 

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