Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Sydney – An Asian Food City

Who'd thought that something as seemingly innocuous as badly julienned ginger would send me over the edge? But it did, helped along the way by servers more interested in gossiping than working and Avicii being played at full blast in the 'background'. And then the food arrived. Now if I had been eating at hole-in-the-wall I probably wouldn't have had a cob on with the xiao long bao and other dumplings, as they weren't terrible. But this was Din Tai Fung, and I expected better. I'm still not too sure what went wrong, but I'm hoping it was a one-off, as I really don't want to fall out of love with these guys.

xiao long bao, Din Tai Fung

Having got my rant out of the way, I'm pleased to report that Sydney didn't disappoint. When it comes to Cantonese food, London doesn't have anywhere in the same ball park as Golden Century Seafood Restaurant. Live seafood is its calling card, and the stir-fried pipis on a bed of crispy rice vermicelli is the must-order dish. For meat-lovers the reborn BBQ King serves superior roast duck and crispy roast pork (siu yuk). Pa Noodles reckons their offerings are better than the Cantonese BBQ in either Hong Kong or Guangzhou due to higher quality Australian produce.

Pipis, Golden Century

siu mai, East Ocean

However, if I were to eat at only one Cantonese restaurant in Sydney, it would be East Ocean. While Golden Century might edge it on the food front for a slap-up seafood dinner, the service and ambience was the best of all the restaurants I visited in Sydney. While dinner was good, the lunchtime dim sum was even better. Top class offerings like siu mai generously topped with crab roe; freshly grilled water chestnut cake; non-greasy, crispy taro croquettes (wu gok); and the star of the show, sheng jian bao, soup-filled, crispy-bottomed buns that could have come straight from the streets of Shanghai.

sheng jian bao, East Ocean

sheng jian bao, New Shanghai

We also went to two other 'big-name' Cantonese restaurants in Sydney, but I can't recommend either of them. The excellent roast pipa duck at The Eight was overshadowed by the poor service while the dim sum at Marigold was so poor Pa Noodles spent the entire journey to Bondi Beach slagging it off. Every cloud does have a silver lining, though, as we went for an impromptu late lunch at New Shanghai to purge the badness of Marigold. Who'd thought that a restaurant in the basement of the Westfield shopping mall would be so good?! While the xiao long bao weren't the best, the sheng jian bao, which I am fast becoming obsessed with, were the real deal. There's also an outpost of Tim Ho Wan, the acclaimed Hong Kong dim sum joint, in the food court in the same shopping mall. And yes, they do serve THOSE baked cha siu bao.

Baked cha siu bao, Tim Ho Wan

Indeed, food courts are a major part of the Sydney food scene, with many individual stalls having a devoted following. One such stall is Ramen Ikkyu located in the food court in the Sussex Centre in Chinatown. The black garlic tonkotsu was very good; it could've come from Japan, and it was cheap when compared to London (around equivalent of £7.50). The Sussex Centre is also home to a very good Cantonese BBQ joint from which Ma Noodles adorned my ramen with their siu yuk (crispy belly pork).

Ramen Ikkyu

As you can gather I spent a lot of time in Chinatown, as my parents are famously averse to any food that isn't Chinese, specifically Cantonese. Chinatown is a lot more varied than I remember it being when I first visited Sydney nearly twenty years ago with numerous regional Chinese cuisines as well as other Asian food. Indeed, it was a Malaysian joint, Mamak, which seemed to have the longest queues, and I'm not at all surprised having sampled their roti and nasi lemak.

Roti canai, Mamak

kai gatah (Thai baked eggs), Boon Cafe  

Congee may seem innocuous, but it was the Trojan horse by which I persuaded my folks to enter Sydney's Thai Town. Indeed the congee at Boon Café was so good that my folks paid it their highest compliment: it's better than many Chinese congee shops! As well as superior congee, I loved the kai gatah (Thai baked egg), pandan custard toast and house-smoked chilli relish & pork floss toast. If I could bring back one foodie experience from Sydney it would be breakfast from Boon Café!


Before I sign off, I have one last tip: Carriageworks Farmers Market, which has loads of stalls serving fresh produce and ready-to-eat food. The best known being Kylie Kwong's stall serving up dumplings and buns that are also available at her restaurant Billy Kwong. It's not the prettiest part of town, but it's a great place to while away a Saturday morning.