I don't believe in fine dining Asian. There, I said it. Before you shun me, I think there's a lot to pay respect to in Asian fine dining, looking at Momofuku, Spice Temple, and even Mr Wong's, but there's something nostalgic about a home cooked meal that I would pick a thousand times over 'fine dining'. Let me take you back to the old granny selling her homemade herbal jelly with condensed milk on the streets of Guangzhou or Banh Canh made by the pot in a little side stall cart in Saigon - this is not something a top chef can easily replicate, this is tradition.
Tradition sings no louder to me than here at Laos Village, located next to Fairfield station. There are three generations of the family working the restaurant, mums, cousins and aunts alike. Laos is often overshadowed by its highly Westernised neighbour, Thailand, whose basic people food like pad thai (ok, I love pad thai as well) gives it a bad rep. Much like Thai food, Laos food is fragrant, punchy and textural, but with influences from neighbours like China, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Laos Village, located within the same building as a few other shops, is easily recognisable for its fly screen door and dinner queue. The interior looks much like a home in the village (hence the name?) with no frills fixtures and fluorescent lighting. Larger groups beware as the wait for a table could be a bit longer, but luckily our small party of two were seated within 15 minutes. After quick glance at the menu and the waiter pops by to take our orders.
BBQ Pork $11
Considering the full house our food arrived very quickly, which was awesome cause we were super hunger by then. BBQ Pork has become our staple order for every visit, and for solid reason. Lightly charred, tender and juicy. Such a simple dish but so, so flavoursome. Dip it a piece into the tangy chilli sauce and eat with some sticky rice that you have rolled into a little ball with your fingers - can't get more traditional than that. Though I have yet traveled to Laos, this brings back fond memories of the lined street food carts serving grilled meat and other dishes in Phuket Town.
BBQ Ox Tongue $11
I absolutely love the texture of ox tongue, which is usually chewy but still really tender melt-in-your-mouth. The ox tongue today unfortunately missed the mark, being overworked and tough to swallow.
Paw Paw Salad (Laos Style) $10
Given the option of Thai or Laos style paw paw salad, I always opt for Laos style. Unlike it's Thai counterpart, whose salad is usually very light and fresh looking, the Laos style is dark and murky. The main difference is the Laos style uses shrimp/crab/anchovy paste to give it that deep umami flavour, whereas Thai style uses tamarind and fish sauce. I've seen other places actually use little baby crabs as well for their Laos style! We got the mild because unfortuantely Rvr can't handle spice well, but even then it was quite hot! It was topped off with a big spoonful of dried shrimp to give it colour and texture, as well as saltiness.
"Fried Noodle Dry" Chicken $11
There is nothing outstanding about this dish, but I love ordering it and I love eating it. It is simple rice noodles, stir fried with egg, veg and choice of meat. There's just something that makes it incredibly moreish to me, but also because I luff noodles ^_^.
Crunch Fried Rice with Laos Style Ham $10
This is another must order dish for for us, and it is ultimate. It's like when you leave the rice on pan that cooks for too long and the bottom slightly burnt but still edible. A mountain of rice fried with green onions, peanuts and Laos style ham, which has this almost gelatinous texture, with all these fun crunchy semi-burnt rice bits. Rvr was in awe that such a dish actually existed and that something so simple can taste so good.
Our bellies were so stuffed and we actually had to get takeaway, another moment of defeat in Em & Rvr vs. Food. Here at Laos Village you'll find that service is fairly quick, the prices are cheap and the food is tasty - there is little to complain about.
A giant banner outside that tells us its been established and serving up delicious Laos food since 1983. These are recipes past down from generation to generation, which probably has no exact measurements and you will never find them in a recipe book. This is tradition.
Vinh Phat Yum Cha, Cabramatta
Sunday, 10 May 2015 19:34Leave A Comment / (0 Comments)
There's no place like home; there is no phrase more true if you grew up in Cabramatta. The main streets and the narrowest 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 would you find some of Sydney's best pork rolls, supermarkets selling exotic fruits like cumquat/durian/dragonfruit, and BBQ roast shops within a few steps 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 a restaurant. We were not so lucky for this Sunday morning unfortunately taking more than 40+ minutes 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 a Vietnamese street food restaurant). The previous space housed no more than twenty tables from memory, with apprehensive red curtains and worn down fittings. Still, they did well. Really well and enough for them to move to into the much bigger space they are located at now.
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 pushing by. I always get this sense of excitement when they approach, wondering what surprises they have in their little carts, hoping it'd be something new 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)
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 unconventional dishes such as chicken feet, but it's something I've grown up eating and love! The black bean sauce is the perfect combination of slightly sweet, sticky and chilli, and is full of flavour (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 quite tasty.
Sweet Tofu with Ginger Syrup (Duofu Hua)
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 has always said eating more tofu would give you silkier skin, so get on it ;-). We almost always get mango pancake, which sells out surprisingly quick all the time, so have learnt now to just order it earlier on and save it for later. The hin crepe like pastry, fresh cream and lots of mango pieces (usually frozen) together is just a solid combo for me.
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. We are quite spoiled here with the numerous of decent quality and moderately priced yum places and even dumpling joints for a take-home fix! What's different about the yum cha in Cabramatta 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 CBD/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 full of mediocrity, there's really no place like home.
Marukame Udon, Chatswood
Sunday, 26 April 2015 10:44Leave A Comment / (0 Comments)
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.
Gastro Park, Potts Point
Sunday, 5 April 2015 20:21Leave A Comment / (0 Comments)
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 I
we 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...
Monday, 16 March 2015 21:34Leave A Comment / (1 Comments)
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!