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Macau: The Venetian

9 Feb

Because I never got over going to Vegas and not staying at one of the extravagant hotels on the Strip, when Macau was added to our itinerary, I insisted we stay at the Venetian, despite the fact it was hardly the most economic option.

On the day of arrival, we endured a long and nauseating ferry ride from HK, only to find the queue for the free shuttle bus to the Venetian exceeded that for any other hotel. Then when we arrived at the hotel, it took annother hour to check. The Venetian had lost some of its luster.

But one of its redeeming features was that it allowed me to eat two Macau favourites without leaving its grounds.

大利来记猪排包

Pork chop buns can be had anywhere in Macau, but the ones at Tai Lei Loi Kei are possibly the most famous. During my research, I’d read the original shop required one to line up from 2:30 for it when begins operating at 3. Luckily there was no queue at the Venetian branch and God knows I’ve had my fair share of queues in HK.

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Get in my belly!!!! First meal in Macau and I made a bee-line for the TLLK kiosk in the Venetian food court. My friends did the rounds and ended up getting the same as I. The bread was the highlight – obviously freshly baked, very soft and fluffy on the inside and just a tad crunchy on the outside. The pork chop was lean and well marinated, but I found it too salty. I got this with a milk tea which was also quite nice.

Lord Stowe’s Bakery & Cafe

Mention Macau and the word “Portuguese egg tart” is probably not far behind. Like the pork chop buns, egg tarts are omnipresent in Macau. Whilst I was initially set on only trying the tarts from Lord Stowe, my friend said they were all fairly comparable, so we should try them from a few different places. Thing was I listened to her and bought one from 咀香园 when I was looking for the Ruins of St Paul. It was mediocre enough to put me off trying a Lord Stowe egg tart (since they were “all comparable”).

But Lord Stowe is on a completely different plane to other street vendors. The cafe in the Venetian was very hard to find. I went twice and got lost twice. But the reward was sooo worth it.

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Egg tarts could not be more perfect. The pastry was flakey and the custard was silky. It was not too sweet so it did not feel too heavy. They’re similar to the ones at Lillian Bakery in Shanghai, but Lillian’s are a bit sweeter.

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Perfection is also cheap at MOP8 / AU$1

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Queues are inevitable, although it depends on timing. The second time I came, there was no queue.

For the record, although the egg tarts at 咀香园 were rather revolting, its pork or beef jerkies are delicious and I highly recommend the salted almond cookies.

Hong Kong: Australia Dairy Company

8 Feb
Australia Dairy Company

Australia Dairy Company

Another restaurant, another queue. I’m beginning to see a pattern here.

Despite what the name suggests, Australian Dairy Company is not an Australian company nor do they have any affiliation with an Australian dairy industry. It’s a tea restaurant that’s famous for their double skinned milk custard and scrambled eggs.

Compared to TWH, we arrived relatively early at ADC in time for brunch. Yet we were still greeted with the sorry sight of a long queue which stretched until the end of the block. Luckily, unlike THW, the line moved fast and we were seated within 30 minutes.

Once inside we understood why turnover is so fast. The food comes out at lightening speed, we were served within 1 minute of ordering. Tables are also shared so that every available seat is filled, which meant we had to awkwardly share our table with a random  middle aged man.

Scrambled eggs with toast

Scrambled eggs with toast
The HK local friend who took us to TWH described eggs here to be more tasty than normal scrambled eggs… That’s because it has a spoonful of MSG! Apart from that, they were moist and fluffy and I quite enjoyed it.

French toast

French toast
I didn’t try this, but my friends said it was too sweet and buttery.

Double skin almond milk custard

Double skin almond milk custard
I think of this as a milk jelly. We had this warm, but I tried a cold version at Yee Shun (in Macau) and found it more refreshing and enjoyable.
In Shanghai, I walked passed a cafe advertising rose flavoured milk custard which inspired me to replicate it when I got home. Unfortunately, I added too much sugar and the milk was also going off so my grandpa declared it a major failure.

Double skin egg custard

Double skin egg custard
The same as above, but with the egg yolk. The egg taste was too strong.

Sweetened milk

Sweetened milk
I meant to order a milk tea, but mistakenly ordered this extremely sweet milk.

They also had scrambled egg sandwiches with various other accompaniments, and a curious dish of macaroni in a broth with ham.

Maybe because I did not share in the French toast, I found my meal at ADC very pleasing. Unfortunately, my travel companions found the culmination of all the dairy, in their words, quite sickening.

Get in line to try Australian Dairy Company’s ‘tasty’ scrambled eggs and chilled almond milk custard at 47 Parkes St, Kowloon.

Hong Kong: Tim Wan Ho

8 Feb

On our first day in Hong Kong, we ate at the Michelin-star dumpling restaurant – 添好运 Tim Wan Ho (‘TWH’). Many of my friends had recounted how the dumplings / pork buns were the best they have ever had, which is why aside from uninhibited shopping, eating at TWH was what I looked forward to the most in Hong Kong.

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Collage of articles outside the restaurant

We were led by a HK local, to the TWH branch at the International Financial Centre (‘IFC’) . The restaurant is located at the end of a rather remote corner of the complex, in the basement level near the subway. Because we arrived at around 1pm, there was already a sizeable queue waiting outside. None of the other eateries around it boasted such an impressive patronage.

Since the wait was long and painful, the mall at IFC was a pretty good way to use up this time. But just remember to come back early, because if not everyone is present by the time your number is called, they might not let you to be seated. Alternatively, if you simply cannot wait, TWH also has a take away booth, and you can join the impatient people eating outside on the ground…

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Watching other people eat while we wait. It was very quiet inside, probably everyone is concentrating on eating after their long wait?

After over an hour of waiting, we were finally squeezed onto a table with another family of four. Because TWH had a system where you ordered before you were seated, food came expediently.

酥皮焗叉烧包 - Pork Buns

酥皮焗叉烧包 - BBQ Pork Buns
Unlikely a conventional BBQ pork bun, the ‘bun’ here was crisp, chewy and buttery, and thus akin to a crust than a conventional fluffy steamed bun. It’s also possibly the most contentious dish among us – half of us love it, and the half find it a bit strange because it was sweet and savoury at the same time. Personally, I thought it was too sweet, even sweeter than the desserts we ordered.

古法糯米鸡 - chicken rice

古法糯米鸡 - Chicken and shiitaki mushrooms with glutinous rice steamed in a banana leaf.
This was one of my favourites, despite the glutinous rice being quite heavy, I kept coming back to pick on the large pieces of meat and mushrooms. The flavouring is just right and it was also not as fatty as some chicken rice dishes can be.

美味鲍汁凤爪 - Chicken Feet

美味鲍汁凤爪 - Chicken Feet
Heavier on the soy sauce and not as sweet as the chicken feet at Sydney’s yumcha. I approve. But the feet were not as fatty as I liked.

煎腊味萝卜糕 - Turnip cake

煎腊味萝卜糕 - Turnip cake

美味叉烧肠

美味叉烧肠

韭黄鲜虾肠

韭黄鲜虾肠

鲜虾烧卖皇

鲜虾烧卖皇 – pork and prawn siumai

杞子桂花糕 - osmanthus and goji berry jelly

杞子桂花糕 – osmanthus and goji berry jelly
This was really impressive – very fragrant with osmanthus and not too sweet, perfect way to end a yumcha gorging session. It was a bit fibrous with the osmanthus bits, but that’s just a minor observation…

椰汁紫米露 - black rice in coconut milk

椰汁紫米露 - black rice in coconut milk

Although we all enjoyed the food at TWH, none of us thought it was so spectacular that it deserves a Michelin star. I thought the pork buns and osmanthus jelly were special, and I can tell quality ingredients were used in all dishes. But overall, the food was just on par with the many good yumcha restaurants in HK or China or the world. So why the Michelin star? Was it because we didn’t go to the original restaurant but the branch?

Made with ‘Amore’

17 Nov

“I just had the best coffee today.” ‘Martha Stewart’ announced excitedly to me one day. “You know that cafe near King St with the black umbrellas, next to the sushi place?”

“Oh yes,” I replied, “I walk pass it everyday on the way to work.”

“Do you know why it’s the best?” she asked with a mischievous spark in her eyes. Without waiting for my answer, she explained, “So I ordered my coffee, and then the guy who took my order punched the barista and went [puts on Italian accent], ‘Hey! Make it with [adds hand gesture] amore!’ Hahaha!” She finished with a laugh as, undoubtedly, the image of 4 tall and dark Italian men in a kitchen flashed through her mind.

And from then on, Caffe Amici gained a loyal fan. They had her at “Hey!”.

Fast forward 6 months and we finally made it down the block to have lunch at Caffe Amici. We would have come earlier to experience its loving hospitality had dieting, gymming and life in general, not gotten in the way. But better late than never.

Baskets containing an assortment of breads and a trio of condiments – a highly popular cheesy and peppery pesto, marinara sauce, and olive oil with drops of balsamic – were brought to us as we sat down. It staved our hungry as we poured over its menu.

Linguine Amatriciana w guanciale, bacon, onion, chilli and tomato salsa

Of our party of 8, 4 of us ordered the Linguine Amatriciana, a blackboard special
with guanciale, bacon, onion, chilli and tomato salsa. Despite looking like a small portion, it was very filling and I struggled to finish it (induced a food coma in the afternoon). Very strongly flavoured, the tomatoes and chilli offered a nice balance to the fatty bacon and parmesan.

Orecchiette Salsiccia e Funghi w sausage, onion, mushroom zola and cream

Another blackboard special was the Orecchiette Salsiccia e Funghi. Originally ‘Martha Stewart’ and I were going to share our mains. But after taking a bite of my linguine, this creamy pasta became too bland for my palate. Luckily, ‘Martha Stewart’ preferred this plate of orecchiette with sausage, onion, mushroom zola and cream, which left her extremely satisfied without the bloated feeling creamy pastas can produce.

Lasagne

A man of few words, Prince George described his Lasagne as lasagne-ie. I guess the fact this is the 3rd time he has ordered this dish speaks louder than words.

Penne boscaiola

The Penne boscaiola with chicken, peas, bacon, onion and cream had a mild flavour and, once again, did not leave a heavy, bloated feeling.

After we had wiped our plates clean, we tucked into some complimentary muffins that were still hot from the oven. Both variety of muffins were slightly crunchy on the outside, yet soft and moist inside. But my favourite was the banana and dark chocolate, which was not too sweet and had gooey melted choc chips.

Service was attentive and quite friendly – the latter no doubt helped by our association with ‘Martha Stewart’. After our meal, one of the tall and dark Italian waiters (probably the owner or manager) asked whether we enjoyed our lunch and then warned, “No compliments for the chef, eh? The one in the kitchen, his head is too big.”

Caffe Amici stands on its own in providing authentic, delicious Italian food and warm hospitality, but ultimately it’s the amore that will keep bringing us back.

Caffe Amici on Urbanspoon

Guest Post: Bertoni Casalinga

16 Nov

This is a guest post from my good friend and newly appointed editor of Bad Table Manners, who has volunteered to provide this unbiased opinion of my favourite cafe, Bertoni Casalinga.

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Situated just 50m from the hustle and bustle of Erskine St, along the often-forgotten Kent St, and sandwiched between two strikingly contrasting office buildings is Bertoni Casalinga. Most may have heard or read about Bertoni’s in Balmain (281 Darling St, Balmain), which makes its Sydney CBD branch its less famous sibling. Although it can get quite busy during the lunch time rush, most patrons are take aways; so for the eat ins, it is a fairly quiet spot, perfect for those times when you want to escape the lunch-time rat race and enjoy a sit-down meal that comes served to you in just minutes.

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Upon entering the establishment, you are immediately hit with a sense of the place being quite ‘bold’. Funky-style handwriting chalked on backboards displaying the menu. To your right, a marble-finished counter with a metallic silver table-top. Bright lamps hang from a milk-white ceiling, in contrast to the burgundy wall on the left, where the coffee-brown sofa and plastic white seating is. There is a very sharp, ultra-modern and neo-Romanesque atmosphere to the place.

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Aside from the snazzy interiors, my eyes were then drawn to the dazzling array of fresh, daily-made pastas and salads on display behind the glass cabinet. My eyes darted from dish to dish – it was hard to decide as they all looked very appetising. The man behind the counter, donned with a smart, black apron and with pen in hand (he means business!), sensing our hesitation to choose, greeted us politely, and offered a few welcome suggestions.

Bertoni 4
With an urge to being healthy that week, I ordered two different salads.

Bertoni 1

One was a simple, pseudo-Greek style salad with Boccioni cheese and salad leaves and the other was a wintery, hearty combination of pumpkin, onions, capsicum and sweet potato. It came with a side of Bertoni’s own salad dressing, an emulsion of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and mustard. The salad combo itself tasted very fresh with a kaleidoscope of flavours and textures, but the dressing (including the tangy mustard) really brought the two otherwise contrasting salads together. It was a treat to eat.

Bertoni 2

Bad Table Manners ordered a toasted chilli & herb chicken panini with tomato and cheese, served with a small side of salad with the same, tangy salad dressing. Even though the ingredients were simple, it was fresh and the flavours worked well together.

Whilst the salad dish I had was pleasing, the latte I ordered didn’t really hit the mark. On this point, I had high expectations of Bertoni’s as a place known for its coffee. But after tasting my first sip, the coffee taste sort of went…flat. It didn’t give me the ‘kick’ that a decent coffee is meant to give you. So although the latte was nice to have, it did not meet my expectations.

I would definitely give Bertoni’s another try for their coffee though, as it has all the other factors that makes a good café. In my opinion, it ticks all my boxes when it comes to tasty food, friendly service and great atmosphere. But the coffee – to be decided.

Bertoni Casalinga on Urbanspoon

Food Street @ Regent Place 2 (Chanoma)

7 Nov

Across the ‘street’ from Sedap, where Japan is experiencing its midsummer bloom, is Chanoma. A place where matcha is not just a drink to have on the side with your meal, it is the main feature. Ranging from traditional hot green tea to matcha parfaits and croissants, Chanoma specializes in making matcha in every permutation of beverage and dessert you can imagine.

Aside from the novelty of a matcha cafe, I had a minor celeb run-in at Chanoma. My friends and I were about to leave after our hotdogs (below) when a girl with hot pink hair walked in, and I instantly recognised her as Chocolate Suze. We decided I should go up and say hi, but I was really shy and embarrassed, and aborted mission at the last critical moment. Outside we debated some more – should I, or shouldn’t I? Ultimately ‘Martha Stewart’ literally dragged me over to Suze and spoke to her for me. At some point in their conversation, another friend Uee interjected and said to me, “OK! Now take your photo with her!” Jawdrop horror.

Anyways, to some icy drinks to cool me down. Since discovering this place, I tried most of the beverage ‘groups’ (eg. hot / cold, water / milk / yuzu, ice cream). My go to order is generally the iced green tea without syrup, but only because it’s the healthiest option and gives me a serious matcha kick. If calories/sugar are not on the top of your priorities list, then there are also a myriad of better tasting and less healthy options to whet your appetite. You should probably not go hardcore like me unless you are accustomed to drinking bitter green tea (not the tea bag variety).

Matcha float

Matcha float
Iced milk matcha served with a ‘crown’ of matcha soft serve must be what they drink up in matcha heaven. When it comes down to taste, the matcha float wins hands down. Also comes highly recommended by ‘Martha Stewart’.

Matcha with yuzu juice

Matcha with yuzu juice
If you are after something unique, this is your drink. Yuzu (柚子) is a Japanese citrus similar to lime but has the sweetness of mandarin. Although it’s not the first thing that pops into mind when I think about matcha accompaniments, but this combo works really well. I had it without any extra syrup and I found the sweetness of the juice is just enough to cut through the bitterness of the matcha and the tartness of yuzu. The extra tang also makes for one very refreshing drink that’s perfect for summer.

Matcha Oreo Frappe Overall this was an unimpressive drink. Chocolate doesn't necessarily go well with green tea and we'd much rather just have an Oreo cookie rather than suck its crumbs through a straw

Matcha Oreo Frappe
Another good-in-theory-but-not-in-reality drink. Despite views to the contrary, chocolate doesn’t necessarily go well with green tea and we’d much rather just have an Oreo cookie rather than suck up its crumbs through a straw. Try the banana frappe instead.

Matcha ice cream

Matcha ice cream
Cheap yet perfect. It’s best enjoyed on its own (the matcha float doesn’t let it shine because the milk matcha at the bottom overpowers the ice cream) and I see a lot of people just buying the cone.

Matcha latte / cappucino

Matcha latte / cappucino
The hot creamy milk balances out the intense, bitter and alkaline matcha flavour, making it more gentle on the palate and your stomach.

Apart from its matcha offerings, Chanoma also sells hot dogs and chips should you require a meal or just something savoury and solid. Although the combination of green tea and hot dog is random, its hotdogs all have some element of modern Japan cuisine.

Apparently, there’s a choice of sausage, being kransky, chorizo and bratwurst. But unless you ask specifically for your desired sausage, the default is a kransky.

Chanoma cheese dog

Chanoma cheese dog
Curry sauerkraut, kransky and melted cheese. I would have really liked to try this with chorizo instead.

Terriyaki dog

Teriyaki dog
Teriyaki chicken with mayo and coleslaw. To be honest, this was a bit of a disappointment. I expected it to come with a pile of avocado on top, but it didn’t, which is a shame because it would have been helpful to offset the bitterness of the coleslaw and the dryness of the bread.

Spicy meat lovers dog

Spicy meat lovers dog
Kransky with chilli beef mince

Unlike its matcha counterpart, the hot dogs were good in theory, but something has gone wrong in its execution. Although they’ve got the flavour down pat, general consensus was that the bread was too dry and the sausage too small. ‘Martha Stewart’ and I both still felt hungry after we chowed through our dogs, and had to turn to finishing our drinks to feel more satiated. Having said that, at $6 a piece, it’s still pretty good value. It’s perfect for an afternoon snack or if you are feeling particularly peckish.

Chanoma Cafe on Urbanspoon

Food Street @ Regent Place 1 (Sedap)

7 Nov

Although hardly a secret anymore, Regent Place, one of Sydney’s more vibrant culinary alleyways, is hidden between the Town Hall KFC and the George Street Cinemas. I really love how they have transformed this place over the years – each eatery looks so visually appealing, each bringing a little slice of Asia and a bit of the outdoor night markets feel to this residential high-rise complex.

SEDAP

This place looks amazing. Every tiny detail in its design has been carefully thought out and meticulously planned to replicate the look and feel of an outdoor hawker stall in Malaysia. Roles of light bulbs hang across the room, as rustic as the signs dangling above their dessert and drinks display counter. Edgey Banksy-esque graffiti art on the wall adds to the outsdoor atmosphere, while the clever use of mirrors that create the illusion of extra space. The choice of stools instead of chairs and the awesome nostalgic mugs that holds their beverages… it truly feels like being transported to somewhere in Malaysia.

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Evidently I’m not the only one attracted by this place.  Outside, expect there to be a queue, unless you arrive early. Inside, expect to sit shoulder to shoulder with your fellow diners (don’t forget to suck in when you move in between tables).

The menu boasts some typical Malaysia fare, like nasi goreng, char kuey teow, curry this, sambal that. It also has some curiously named dishes like, coffee ribs and gwei ribs (translated from Chinese, it means strange ribs). I have yet to have the opportunity of being able to order these dishes on the two occasions I’ve eaten here. Next time!

Steamed burramundi with garlic and dried radish

Steamed burramundi with garlic and dried radish
This was recommended by the waitress as one of their most popular dishes. Essentially, it was a plain steamed fish in a sweet soy sauce dressing (like the steamed fish typically found in Chinese restaurants) and topped with radish and garlic. The sweet and tangy radish reminds me of the kind that comes in jars at an Asian grocer. I’m not entirely sure about this combination of radish and fish – its strong flavour covers the natural taste of steamed fish, nor am I sure about the crunchy/rubbery texture with the soft fish meat. So although the fish itself was well cooked; the topping was a perplexing affair.

Chicken curry

Chicken curry
The curry sauce was quite tasty, but lacked the kick of spices and was lukewarm when it was brought out. However the chicken wings were so tender and fell apart at the bones.

Hakka style pork belly

Hakka style pork belly
This was a mistake order, and I doubt it was a mistake we rejoiced over. We were suppose to order a crispy pork belly, but instead this concoction of stewed pork with wood ears and tofu skin was served. Although the flavour was interesting (red braise with hints of cinnamon and cloves), its downfall was the tough meat smothered in too much oily sauce.

Water Spinach with Sambal sauce

Water Spinach with Sambal sauce
Apparently, I’m getting this dish for my birthday. I LOVE water spinach when it is stir fried fast to preserve the vibrant green, producing crunchy stems and leaves with have an almost creamy mouth feel. And I’m not alone in loving this dish, looking around I noticed most tables had ordered this simple yet tasty dish in some variant, whether it be with sambal sauce like me or with fat bulbs of caramelised garlic.

Nasi goreng

Nasi goreng

Soy milk with grass jelly

Soy milk with grass jelly
The idea here is good, but overall the flavour of the drink was too muted for my liking. Both the soy milk and grass jelly were too diluted (something not helped by those giant ice cubes), which needed to be substituted with some sugar (can’t believe I’m saying this!) to keep it from tasting like mere water.

Sedap also makes a tempting range of rice cakes (kwei). The coconut flavoured one was not too sweet and refreshing. Contrastingly, the mung bean one looks sexy and seductive with its coral coloured casing, but was quite heavy once you ate all the mung bean paste filling.

In all honesty Sedap looks more promising than what it actually delivers, but it produces quite a decent food and what I like to call a sanitised hawker experience. I will definitely be back for those coffee ribs and strange ribs.

Sedap on Urbanspoon

Polish Food Adventure

26 Oct

Following the success of our Vietnamese food adventure at Tuong Lai, we explored ‘Martha Stewart’s’ favourite cuisine – Polish food.

When I think of Polish food, it always brings me back to the first time I tried the cuisine many years ago with a uni friend. Jeff ordered cured herring and because he assured me it was a Polish specialty, curiosity got the better of me. From memory, it was a piece of cured herring rolled together with some apple and held together with toothpicks. I don’t remember it tasting particularly revolting, but the leathery texture and silvery grey colour of the herring was a combination that required an acquired taste to appreciate it.

After dinner that night, we got back to the car and there was a pizza delivery motorbike parked in front of us. At first, Jeff was just kidding around, nudging the car forward, closer and closer to the bike. Then one thing led to the next and before we knew it, the bike toppled over with a crunching sound. Jaw dropped, I looked over and saw Jeff’s eyes were wide with shock. He then immediately fastened his seat belt, reversed the car and sped off before people came out to exact revenge.

After that meal, Polish food always conjured up negative emotions. Although in the intermittent years, I have had brief liaisons with the cuisine (including making pierogi), nothing was not good enough to salvage Polish food from the depths of leathery, raw fish and possible illegal behaviour.

But when ‘Martha Stewart’ talks about the food of her homeland, it’s hard not to be infected by her enthusiam, passion and excitement for what she describes as “the best food in the world”. Add to that, in the days ahead of our lunch, I tried some of her Polish style chicken schnitzels, mash potatoes (made with her mum’s secret recipe) and mushroom sauce. It was a delicious meal that instilled me with confidence and anticipation for our Polish expedition.

We ultimately decided on Alchemy Polish Cafe in Surry Hills to be the lucky candidate to showcase Polish food. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, on one sunny Saturday afternoon, we were finally sitting at one of Alchemy’s tables, decorated with a white lace tablecloth and centred with a vase filled with a bunch of fresh pink roses.

The menu consists of half traditional Polish foods, and half typical Australian cafe foods. ‘Martha Stewart’ guided us to order some representative Polish dishes, including:
Pierogi / Dumplings available in beef, mushroom and sauerkraut, or potato and cheese fillings. Overall, the beef and mushroom/sauerkraut fillings were well received.

Pierogi / Dumplings
Much like a Chinese pot sticker. They are available in 3 flavours: beef, mushroom and sauerkraut, or potato and cheese. It’s served with sour cream, an accompaniment that is ubiquitous in Polish cooking, but is I find quite delicious without it. Amongst our lunch crew, the former two fillings were most well received.

Cabbage parcels with pork and rice filling, served with a tomato sauce The sauce was delicious and gave the dish its flavour. It was quite similar to the goulash sauce, perhaps with a stronger tomato . The filling itself was not flavoured, probably so as to not conflict with the sauce.

Cabbage parcels with pork and rice filling, served with a tomato sauce
The sauce was delicious and defined the dish. It tasted quite similar to the goulash sauce, but with a stronger tomato note. The filling itself was not flavoured, probably so as to not conflict with the strong sauce. Potatoes, which are another Polish staple, would ordinarily be served with this dish. With the rice, I thought this would have been carb overload, and requested potatoes to be omitted.

Pork goulash with potato pancake The fried potato pancake came highly recommended by 'Martha Stewart'

Pork goulash with potato pancake
‘Martha Stewart’ ordered this dish because she loves the potato pancakes Alchemy makes. It was a giant, extremely crispy potato pancake (with a slight green tinge) with pieces of stewed pork inside the fold. Although the goulash sauce looks thin, it was full of spices and flavour, and just like my cabbage parcel, you can soak the pancake and the pork in this sauce.

Fried potato pancake with smoked salmon and sour cream (and caviar!)

Fried potato pancake with smoked salmon and sour cream (and caviar!)
Although the fried potato pancake was yummy, the combination with salmon and sour cream made the overall dish a bit heavy

RADZIWIŁŁ – pork tenderloin stuffed with spinach and cheese in pink pepper sauce

RadwiŁŁ – pork tenderloin stuffed with spinach and cheese in pink pepper sauce
The meat was a bit dry and bland, and the sauce didn’t do much for it either. Probably the least well received dish.

Overall, Polish food is delicious but it’s also very filling! So although the cakes and desserts on display were tempting, we were all too full to fit in dessert.

After the table was cleared, we sat and chatted for a long time. To be honest I felt a bit guilty for just sitting there for 2 hours and not ordering anything, but the staff at Alchemy was so friendly, they never made us feel like we had overstayed our welcome. The owner joked with us a bit and even gave us free lollies (Polish chocolates with prune and praline inside).

Polish food redeemed.

Alchemy on Urbanspoon

Vietnamese Food Train Trip

15 Oct

A few weeks ago, on our first culinary adventure, ‘Martha Stewart’ and I took a ‘train trip’ to Cabramatta to sample some authentic Vietnamese food. Initially we had marketed it to our other colleagues as a ‘road trip’, but as one of them pointed out, neither of us were driving so how can it be a road trip? Fine, a ‘train trip’ it is then.

Although I had done some extensive ‘research’ prior to the trip (consisting of asking the Vietnamese PA at work), the premature and unexpected hot weather rendered pho unappealing and unsuitable for lunch that day. Further, we were both starving by the time we arrived in Cabramatta, and the restaurants that were recommended to me had long queues.

Time for Plan B.

After some impromptu Urbanspooning, we decided on Tuong Lai, a little restaurant tucked in an alleyway just off John Street. Although the the queue outside its doors initially put us off, turnover was quick so we were seated at a table about 5 minutes later.

It was a tight squeeze manouvering to our table at the end of the restaurant, as the tables were packed closely together and every seat was occupied. Just like the others around us, ‘Martha Stewart’ and I shared a table with two other patrons.  The furnishings were bare and minimal with its menu hung up on the walls in Vietnamese, Chinese and English. Its simplicity only served to remind me of the local restaurants in China where the food served was unpretentious and delicious.

Sitting down and reading their menu, it dawned on me how limited my exposure to Vietnamese cuisine thus far has been, as the offerings at Tuong Lai were mostly unfamiliar to me and ‘Martha Stewart’ was just as clueless. I spent a while flipping through its menu completely at a loss at what to try. I looked around and saw a lot of people had ordered a spicy looking noodle soup, or glass noodle stir fries, neither of which I was particularly in the mood for that day. Further adding to my indecisiveness, once I had decided, it turned out to be the same dish ‘Martha Stewart’ wanted too.

Thankfully, the waitress realised we were in a bit of a pickle and helped us order….

Spring Rolls Although not particularly aesthetic, wrapped in a leaf of crisp lettuce, it was a match in heaven!

Spring Rolls
Although not particularly aesthetic, when wrapped in a leaf of lettuce, it was a match in heaven! I love the juxtaposition of the hot and cold, the oily crunch against the fresh crispness…

Lemongrass chicken vermicelli salad This was one of the better vermicelli salads I've had. I love it when the chicken is flavoursome, the salad is fresh and there are plenty of peanuts.

Lemongrass chicken vermicelli salad
Vermicelli salad is what I tend to order at Vietnamese restaurants; it’s a safe and familiar choice. To my great pleasure, this was one of the better vermicelli salads I have eaten. I love it when the chicken is tasty, the salad is fresh, and the dish is topped with plenty of peanuts and herbs.

Marinated beef with tomato rice. This was the dish I initially wanted to order. I thought the tomato rice wasn't flavoursome enough. My colleague added some dried chilli sauce  to it and enjoyed it that way.

Marinated beef with tomato rice
This was the dish I initially wanted to order. I thought the tomato rice wasn’t flavoursome enough. ‘Martha Stewart’ added some dried chilli sauce to it and enjoyed it that way.

Even though the restaurant was full and there was a continuous stream of customers entering and leaving, they seem to have a well organised system in place as our food was brought to us promptly.

During my ‘research’, it had been strongly pitched to me that I should try a cane, or avocado, or kumquat juice from one of the many vendors in Cabra. Whilst I was that close to buying an avocado and durian juice, I ended getting kumquat and it was the right decision since our lunch was so filling!

Next time, I DEFINITELY will be getting the avocado and durian!

We took an Arabic detour at Merrylands on the way home; explored some Lebanese stores for spices, picked up some non-alcoholic beers, and ‘Martha Stewart’ also bought the Arabic coffee and coffee set which she served me when we made our Cauliflower Pizza.

Despite being a long journey, our ‘train trip’ was all worth it in the end. Perhaps I can persuade more people to get on to join the ‘train movement’ – that should get people on the right track!

Tuong Lai Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Yen’s Vietnamese Restaurant

10 Oct

This is the culmination of two dinners with the girls from work. The venue was a small, local restaurant at Redfern a short stroll from the train station. Its street frontage was a bit run down and uninviting, and almost blink and you miss it because it’s not an entrance which would make you stop and pay attention. But looks are so deceptive! Although the interior was also slightly down-trodden, this unassuming gateway is the open sesame to clean, wholesome food with a home-cooked feel at a very reasonable price.

We were led here by one of my colleagues, who is a regular and says sometimes they have to line up to get a seat. On both occasions, although we did not have to queue, I noticed there was a continuous stream of people coming and going, whether they were eating in or taking away.

We missed this the first time we came, and almost forgot to order this the second time round too. So I think I’d better put this at the fore of my post: they sell fresh coconut water (in the actual coconut) here! I don’t recall seeing it on the menu, but it’s in the fridge at the back of the restaurant, near the counter. I love the drinking the water straight out of the kernel and scrapping the sides for the meat – it’s like nature’s bubble tea and it’s super healthy too!

The offering here is actually quite typical for a Vietnamese restaurant. They do a bit of everything, from pho, vermicelli salad, stir noodles, stir fries, rice etc. Coming from our personal experiences, they are happy to accommodate for your personal likes and dislikes. Being a bunch of weight-conscious girls, this meant a lot of orders caveated with “less noodles, more vegetables”.

We ordered entrees to share and mains to ourselves.

Goi cuon - chicken and prawn rice paper rolls

Goi cuon – chicken and prawn rice paper rolls – were very fresh and minty

Banh khot - mini chicken and prawn cakes

Banh khot – mini chicken and prawn cakes
These were good. These were a revelation! The ‘cake’ part at the bottom has a creamy, almost custard-like texture. Freshly out of the frying pan, they taste extra good wrapped up in lettuce and mint leaves and dipped in nouc cham (the omnipresent Viet dipping sauce). The contrast of the temperatures and textures and flavours create an ultimate combination.

Banh Xeo  Pork mince, prawns and bean sprouts wrapped inside a thin pancake that is crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Served with the classic Vietnamese dipping sauce, it's an explosion of flavours and textures. Note: Although listed under entree, it's half the size of my face and could serve as a main.

Banh Xeo
Pork mince, prawns and bean sprouts wrapped inside a thin pancake that is crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Served with nouc cham, it’s an explosion of flavours and textures.
Note: Although listed under entree, it’s half the size of my face and could serve as a main.

Thit Heo Kho (Traditional Pork Claypot) Thit heo kho is pork stewed in soy sauce, fish sauce, coconut water and sugar. Based on my understanding, I expected it to be quite similar to a Chinese red braise and I was quite excited to taste the Viet version.  Although the flavour was quite good and I enjoyed my dish, I also feel that it could be made better and more sophisticated. Firstly it was sizzling when it was brought out, Akin to those sizzling plates at Chinese takeaways. Secondly, they used sliced pork belly, rather than cubes/chunks of pork belly. This changed the texture of the dish, and I'm not sure if it's the right decision,. because coupled with the presentation, it's difficult to differentiate and elevate itself from the sizzling sweet and sour pork available at any food court.

Thit Heo Kho (Traditional Pork Claypot)
Thit heo kho is pork stewed in soy sauce, fish sauce, coconut water and sugar. Based on my understanding, I expected it to be quite similar to a Chinese red braise and I was quite excited to taste the Viet version.
Let me say first that I enjoyed this dish immensely. But I do feel that it could be made better and more sophisticated.
Firstly it was sizzling when it was brought out, Akin to those sizzling plates at Chinese takeaways. Secondly, they used sliced pork belly, rather than cubes/chunks of pork belly. This changed the texture of the dish, and I’m not sure if it’s the right decision,. because coupled with the presentation, it’s difficult to differentiate and elevate itself from the sizzling sweet and sour pork available at any food court.

Pho Rau Tofu - vegetable and tofu soup (it should come with rice noodles)

Pho Rau Tofu – vegetable and tofu soup (it should come with rice noodles)

Pho

Pho
I had a taste of the soup – although it was tasty, I felt it was a bit too unami for a real beef broth.

Bun Ga Nuong - lemongrass chicken with vermicelli This was my dish. I loved it! One of the better vermicelli salads I've had. I liked that it came with LOTS of peanuts, that meat was in plentiful supply and came with clean, fresh looking salad.

Bun Ga Nuong – lemongrass chicken with vermicelli
This was my dish. I loved it! One of the better vermicelli salads I’ve had. I liked that it came with LOTS of peanuts, that meat was in plentiful supply and came with clean, fresh looking salad.

Hu Tieu / Mi Xao Ga - chicken and vegetables with crispy egg noodles

Hu Tieu / Mi Xao Ga – chicken and vegetables with crispy egg noodles
Martha Stewart loved her dish, loved the sauce (oyster sauce) and wants to replicate it at home.

Yens Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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