Monday, March 23, 2015

Hong Ha, Mascot

A famous pork roll joint in Mascot. Who would have thought? I didn't even know it existed until 2011 when my date at the time mentioned that this joint was much better than all the pork roll shops in Cabramatta. Say it isn't so! Not long after, I found a few articles about the same pork roll shop in various food and lifestyle mags, websites and food blog reviews. Since then, it has been on my wishlist for a freaking long time. There has to be something special about those pork rolls that gets every pork roll lover lining up even before opening time at 6am! (Many thanks to my colleague for sharing that story btw :)).

After countless times getting asked to check Hong Ha from V, I finally found the time to visit this part of Sydney after getting the massive cravings. Not surprisingly there was that inevitable queue when I arrived in front of this tiny but incredibly busy shop. If you are impatient like myself, never fear! The queues actually went by pretty fast that I was still somewhat indecisive when it was my turn to order.

While the sign itself has been updated compared to how it appeared in past reviews, the fitout has that old school appeal that was most likely the same when it opened more than 20 years ago. Pretty much your typical pork roll shop with all the condiments laid out at the frot (the cheese was interesting though). While the service can be abrupt and blunt, they were all super quick so you can get your pork roll fast after waiting in that infamous queue. 

Pork Roll ($5.00)

Ordered a pork roll and a chicken roll because I had no idea when I will be there next. The bread roll was crispier and crustier compared to the ones I've had another pork roll joints but it was also quite soft on the inside. This worked out well since it was still not soggy after leaving it for a while when I finished it up later that day. Some of the rolls I've had at Cabra had way too much bread and not enough fillings so it was good to see that Hong Ha ensures that the fillings were balanced out. Along with the thin slices of pork meat and the generous amount of fillings (including pickled carrot, onion, coriander, cucumber and soy sauce), there was a decent serving of mayo an pâté which was definitely the highlight for me. Plus the soy sauce did not overpower the flavour which can be the case for many pork rolls I've tried in the past. I also asked for the optional chilli but it ended up being too spicy for me after multiple bites.

Chicken Roll ($5.00)

Sorry about the photo. Was so hungry when I got my hands on this roll that I forgot to take a proper pic. The chicken roll that I tried later was also good as well especially after hearing the hype from other foodies (apart from V who wasn't a fan). The combined use of shredded boiled and cooked chicken packed into the bread roll stood out from the other chicken rolls that I've tried elsewhere. While I personally prefer the pork roll in terms of taste and flavour, the chicken roll at Hong Ha is certainly a winner so far. 

Is Hong Ha the best Vietnamese pork/chicken roll shop in Sydney? Well it really depends on what you prefer. Personally I think Hong Ha is as good as Marrickville Pork Roll but (gasp) I also found it to be better than most of the ones I've had in Cabramatta - mainly for the generous fillings and that freshly baked and crusty bread (though Vinata and KK Bakery remain as my local faves). On the other hand, it was also slightly pricier than the local Cabra pork roll shop (some of my friends are still reminiscing the days when those rolls only cost $2). If I live closer to Mascot, I can definitely see myself as a regular here whenever I get my pork roll cravings. And Hong Ha sells spring rolls too if they floats your boat.

Hong Ha
1151 Botany Road, Mascot NSW 2020
(02) 9667 2069
Mon-Sun: 6:00am - 4:30pm
Hong Ha on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 16, 2015

Ramen O-San, Haymarket

It was bound to happen eventually. A ramen joint at Dixon House Food Court! With Ramen O-San opening in early February, there is now a ramen joint at every food court in the Haymarket area (Gumshara at Eating World, Ramen Ikkyu at Sussex Centre and Hakata Maru at Market City). Plenty of choices for your Japanese noodle needs especially when winter is coming...soon. While the location did bring a slight uncertainty about its future given this food court's history with closing many of their shops pre-maturely (For Lease signs can still be spotted at many of their stalls), the international award-winning Ramen O-San might be a different story altogether.

O-San Ramen is owned by Chef Kazuteru, who also opened five ramen shops in Japan and one in Cambodia. Ramen O-San specialises in Kyushu-style Tonkotsu ramen, which has won the 'Top 3 Ramen' award in Kyushu, Japan. The Sydney shop is actually the first that you would most likely to spot when you walk down the stairs from the main entrance into Dixon House Food Court. Since it's located inside a food court, don't expect any fancy setting especially when you find yourself accidentally sitting on a tray left on the chair. In terms of service, the staff seemed quite friendly and it didn't take long for the food to get ready after we made our order. 

Similar to Gumshara, the pork bone broth in the tonkotsu ramen is MSG-free. Although our ramen came with pork cha-siu, spring onions and mushroom (depending what ramen you order), we had to order egg and nori separately at $1.50 extra. We both learnt it the hard way when I forgot my nori while KT forgot the egg. Oops...

Tonkotsu Ramen ($9.80) with Nori Seaweed ($1.50)

The original Tonkotsu (pork base) soup had a slightly similar texture to Gumshara's ramen broth. The pork bones were simmered for more than 10 hours so it was no surprise that there was that thick, creamy, collagen-like richness as you dig into the broth. However, it didn't have the same intense richness as Gumshara's so it was easier to finish in comparison. Plus the noodles were relatively thinner. While I didn't try much of it, KT commented that it was one of the more delicious ramens he has tried in Sydney so far. 

Black Garlic Tonkotsu Ramen ($10.80) with Marinated Boiled Egg ($1.50)

The above could also be said for my black garlic Tonkotsu ramen. Was a bit bummed at my lack of nori so I got a piece from KT's bowl (seriously it's just not the same without the nori!). The broth was flavoursome though the garlic was not very strong compared to the Sumo Ramen that is also on the menu (yet to try at time of writing this review). Loved the thin and springy noodles and the thick slices of pork cha-siu in my bowl which worked well with the ramen broth. Gotta love that gooeyness from the egg yolk too.

There were many other dishes that we haven't tried at this joint including the intensely garlicky Sumo Ramen, Spicy Ramen, Chicken Soy Ramen and Seafood Tsuke-men so will certainly be making more visits in the near future. Compared to a few of the other ramen shops in the city, the prices were actually on the cheaper end even when you order the extra egg and nori. However if you can only handle light-broth ramen similar to Ippudo, this might not be the ideal place for you. Hopefully this joint will stay as long as possible to bring that much needed spark and even a bit of cheeky ramen competition back into Dixon House Food Court along with its old school charm.

DISCLAIMER: The Random Foodie dined as a guest of Ramen O-San, courtesy of SD Marketing and Washoku Lovers. Opinions are however, my own.

Ramen O-San
Shop B01, Dixon House Food Court
Cnr Dixon Street and Little Hay Street, Haymarket NSW 2000
Wed-Mon: 11:00am - 8:30pm
O-San Ramen on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 9, 2015

Hawker, Sydney CBD

We can't get enough of Malaysian cuisine these days. With the success of PappaRich, Petaling Street, Malay Chinese and, of course, Mamak with its non-stop queues; you can be forgiven for noticing more Malaysian restaurants popping up more often these days. Mamak has clearly noticed this success so they have recently opened another restaurant. This time focusing on the more obscure Malaysian hawker street food that you are less likely to find at other similar restaurants. No rotis on the menu though.

Cham Ping, Teh Ping, Milo Ping ($4.00 each) 

We started off with a few drinks to freshen up after an epic gym session. My fave so far was the  cham ping (half tea and half coffee on ice) which was light and not too bitter. Found that the iced milo was not too sweet but a bit too milky for my preference. On the other hand, the girls really enjoyed the Teh Ping (iced milk tea) for that reason...hah.

Penang Rojak (Top left, $14.00) and Ikan Bakar (Grilled Stingray)

We ordered the Penang Rojak (top left in the above pic) to share as a starter. This was described as a salad of fresh yambean, fried tofu, cucumber, pineapple, guava, dough crisps, coated in a dark sticky sauce and chilli paste. It's one of the more unusual and interesting dishes I've tried here with all those ingredients meshed together. With all the hot dishes they have, it was a cool, refreshing plate that's great to share in a group. Personally I found it to be quite addictive when popping each ingredient in my mouth.

Ikan Bakar ($16.00)

The grilled stingray got CC and N curious enough to order. For a dish listed under snacks on the menu, it was presented as a full sized stingray which amazed us once it landed on our table. While it was well cooked and zesty, it was scattered with so many tiny bones. This made it tougher for us to eat peacefully without worrying about getting stabbed in your mouth but otherwise it was a very tasty dish for us.

Picking the bones out!

KL Hokkien Mee ($14.00)

I was personally excited to try this stir fried Hokkien dish but it ended up being let down in the end. It was way too fatty and oily for my liking and it wasn't as flavoursome as I would have hoped for - even with the black sauce.

 Wan Tan Mee with pork dumplings and soup ($13.00)

Despite an average first visit, there was still other dishes that I was keen enough to sample so I made another visit at Hawker recently. After all, I believe in second chances. Thankfully, that second visit was a more positive experience for me. The saucy noodles were tasty and well complemented with the crisped duck meat scattered within the noodles. I wasn't too sure about the dumplings at first but it ended up being a good palate cleanser after all the sauce and oil from the noodles. 

Goreng Durian ($8.00)

Didn't try much of the durian fritter but damn look at that batter! So crispy. Didn't seem to be strong from where I was sitting. Maybe I've gotten used to it. Both CC and N seemed to really enjoy this dish. The ice cream was probably too much for us to handle since we were so full by this point but I can imagine its creamy texture and flavour matching well with the durian fritter. 

Apam Balik ($6.00)

This dish was certainly one that I haven't served before at other Malaysian restaurants. It definitely looked like a popular street food dish if I was in Malaysia. I'm a huge fan of peanut butter so this sweet and crunchy turnover pancake was another highlight for me but not too keen on the creamed corn. Overall this was certainly an enjoyable dish to end the dinner on a high note. 

There was plenty of dishes to choose from the menu whether it's a main or entree. The pricing was also in the cheap side which is good if you are on a budget and the serving size was on the generous side. While the dishes were delivered quickly, it was hard to get the attention of the staff every now and then. While it has been a mixed experience so far, I would still return eventually (especially once the weather gets colder) to sample some of their other dishes including the laksa, har mee popiah, fried bread snacks, and char koay teow . 

345 Sussex Street, Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9264 9315
Mon-Sun: 11:30am - 2:30pm, 5:30pm - 10:00pm
Hawker on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Daisy's Milkbar, Petersham

What do you do when you are suffering from a pretty horrible hangover? Go for brunch. Well not really but that ended up happening on Australia Day when I was still slowly recovering from  going a bit too crazy at a friend's house party the night before. Daisy's Milk Bar at Petersham has been on our wishlist for a while because of its uber cute, retro 50's decor. There's a candy machine near the register, loads of jars of lollies and pastel colours everywhere. And of course the food. Even the new generation of kids will be in awe when they are at Daisy's.

Mocha ($3.50)

The coffee art looked so pretty. Taste was quite sweet too. Not as milky or creamy and it wasn't too bitter either. Wish I had gotten a larger cup since I drank this down too fast.

Banana Milkshake ($5.00)

I didn't try much of the milkshake but it was overwhelmingly sweet, thick and rich. Probably too sweet for CC and FiFi to handle since they struggled to finish it. Looked so good to have on a hot day though. Gotta love it being served in those retro milkshake glasses. 

Ice Chai ($5.00)

The girls really enjoyed this drink. Looks similar to a normal chai actually heh. Was light, sweet and not too creamy. You can sense the aromas emanating from the pot.  

Uccella's Jaffle ($6.00) 

We found these jaffles to be one of the highlights of this dining experience. The jaffle was well toasted and stuffed with tender pulled pork and tangy BBQ sauce mixed with the good ol' mac n' cheese. Plus the BBQ sauce added a slight sweetness to this savoury dish. Wasn't as cheesy as I expected though but I didn't mind this at all.

Breakfast Burrito ($12.00)

I love my Mexican food so it was no surprise that I had my eyes on this dish while scanning through the menu. And this certainly wasn't a disappointment. This burrito was packed with scrambled eggs, bacon, chorizo, potato, chilli, coriander, jalapeno, chipotle sauce and cheese (I'm guessing Cheddar). While it did have a cheesy taste, there was a decent amount of spiciness that kickstarts your taste buds. This dish also came with a little wedge of lime for the extra flavour boost.

Beef and Guinness Pie with Garden Salad ($18.00)

Since our visit happened on Australia Day, Daisy's Milkbar also had a special Oz Day menu happening that day. One of the dishes on that special menu was the Beef and Guinness Pie filled with sweet potato an garlic mash. It was an epic serving but it was also incredibly delicious. CC said that the creamy mash and the crispy pastry worked so well together. She also went a bit crazy over the garden salad on the side. Shame that it was available for a limited time.

 Hot Chips ($5.00)

While the chips (well fries) were crunchy and great to share, it didn't blew me away compared to the other dishes. Still, they were addictive when you're on a hangover. 

Going to Daisy's Milkbar feels like stepping back in time to your childhood. Or even stepping back to the 50's or 60's. Everything about the place was so adorable in the nostalgic way that you feel like a little kid stepping into a candy shop. We were sadly so full by the end so those decadent desserts didn't happen this time. It's good to see Petersham getting lots of awesome cafe options with The Grumpy Barista, Brighton the Corner and The Pig and Pastry also in the vicinity. Looking forward to coming back here soon for that sugar hit with those desserts and a few more of the savoury dishes such as the meatball sub and the toasted Reuben. Great place to go for a date with your partner, catch-up with friends or even an outing with the whole family. 

Daisy's Milkbar on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ristretto and Co, Liverpool

A slice of Surry Hills in Liverpool all the way in South West Sydney? Say it isn't so! I can remember being disappointed by the lack of quality restaurants and cafes in the area. When Ristretto and Co opened its doors in 2012, it has built a solid following in the local community. This is perfect if you are like me, you have so much trouble getting up early on a weekend for a breakfast or brunch cafe outing and you have to travel 30mins-1 hour for all those renowned cafes in Surry Hills, Newtown, Alexandria...and even Parramatta!

Located next door to a hairdresser and a few blocks from Liverpool Plaza, you may think that it's one of those very small hole-in-the-wall cafes. When you step inside, you can see lots of tables located at the back of the cafe. From the fit-out in the outdoor seating area, it felt like you stepped into one of those old-fashioned garden courtyard complete with lots of wooden tables, barrels and even a bird cage. 

Skim Mocha ($4.00)

Ristretto and Co uses Campos coffee beans for their brew. Was quite creamy and milky compared to some of the other mochas I've had. Not too bitter either. Cute coffee art.

Iced Mocha ($4.00)

There were a few days where the weather was too hot to enjoy a hot coffee. So it's good to see that a few cold drink options are available. So far, I've tried the iced mocha. While it was the same price as a regular sized coffee, the serving was much bigger. It was pretty creamy as well with a good hint of cocoa. Great to have on a hot 35-degree Summer day. 

Cold drip coffee ($4.00)

I'mnot an expert when it comes to cold drip coffee but I've been curious to try for a while. Ended up ordering this on another hot day in Livo. Made some use of the syrup on the side for the sweetness but the drip coffee was a different experience. Not as strong as I expected.  

Uovo in Pomodoro - free ranged egg poached with chorizo, spinach and pomodoro sauce in a claypot served with toasted sourdough ($15.00) 

I LOVE my baked eggs. So when I first realised this signature baked eggs dish was available so close to home, I was already keen to pop by Ristretto and Co ASAP. The only problem is that the breakfast menu is available till 11:30am. Good since it's close to home but not so good because I still love sleeping till late on weekends. Compared to the baked eggs I've tried so far, the sauce was quite watery and the egg was slightly overcooked however it was still delicious and flavoursome. Great to dip with lots of bread. The pomodoro reminded me of a Bolognese/ragu type of sauce which certainly showcased the Italian inspiration in the cafe menu selection. At $15, it's one of the more expensive items on the menu but the serving size should keep you full and satisfied.

Corn Fritters with tomato, chutney, oven dried tomatoes and rocket ($11.00)

I also enjoy corn fritters so I was equally curious to try this as well. With lots of fresh corn kernels, flour and egg, the fritters delivered a more rustic texture to the dish. It wasn't as flavoursome as I would have liked but the extra condiments like the chutney and the tomatoes helped in boosting the overall taste.

Bresaola Panini - Pomodorini secchi, fior di latte, provolone and rocket on ciabatta ($9.00)

If you end up at Ristretto and Co after 11:30am, you will need to order from the lunch menu. This mostly consists of a selection of panini sandwiches and salads, including their popular 'Orecchiette Pasta Salad'. This sandwich may look simple, but it is also very tasty. The slices of bresaola worked so well with the fior do latte and provolone cheeses as well as the pomodorini secchi sauce. Sandwiched between two toasted yet soft slices of panini bread and you got yourself a winning sandwich. Extra points whenever the cheese gets stringy mmmmm.

While there was a couple of items that were slightly more expensive for what you get in the South West Sydney area, the menu prices were actually on the cheaper end of the scale compared to most cafes in the Inner Sydney/Inner West area. It's very popular on weekends especially in the morning with diners queuing up for a table. The service can be a mixed experience. Most of the time I found them to be polite and attentive but they can get iffy if you take photos around the cafe besides the food (I learnt it the hard way). Besides that minor mishap, it's a breath of fresh air to see a cafe like this opening up so close to home especially when I have brunch cravings and going to the city is too much effort. 

It's very close to Westfield Liverpool and Liverpool Plaza if you happen to be in the area for your shopping needs. It is good to see how successful it has become with recognition in the SMH Cafe Guide in 2013 and 2014 as well as a mention in the Cafe section of SMH's Good Food Guide 2014. Hopefully one day, the Liverpool food scene will grow in a similar vein to Parramatta in recent years. With R&C's second branch 'The Shed' opening its doors at Bigge Park last month, this growth is looking promising.

Ristretto and Co
158 Northumberland Street, Liverpool NSW 2170
Mon-Fri: 6:00am - 4:00pm
Sat: 7:00am - 3:00pm
Sun: 8:00am - 1:00pm
Ristretto & Co Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Japanese BBQ Yakiniku GYUZOU, Sydney CBD

Recently, I've been getting into the Japanese culture a lot more than before. Mostly because nearly everyone are going or planning to go to Japan this year. No idea why there's that sudden hype but now I've got the travel bug for this country. While sushi and ramen are probably the first things that pop into your head about Japanese cuisine, what about Japanese BBQ/Yakiniku (aka grilled meat)? This specialty is what the newly opened Gyuzou is known for.

What differs Japanese BBQ from Korean BBQ is that the meat isn't marinated/ and you cook it over a griddle so it has more of a grilled texture once it's cooked. While we were at Gyuzou really early on a Tuesday evening, it remained quiet by the time we left around 8pm. In fact I think we made a bit too much noise at the restaurant.

Like Wagaya and Mizuya, Gyuzou lets you order by touch screen so you can see what you have ordered and how much you have spent.

Lemon Lime Bitter Sake ($6.90)

While this drink tasted more like lemon lime bitter than sake, it was refreshing for me especially after eating all the meats. Wasn't strong at all which should be good if you prefer something more sweeter.

Complimentary Sauces: Chilli Oil, Salt, Yakiniku

Found these dips to be essential for that added taste to the meats after they've been cooked on the grill.

Assorted Wagyu ($25.50)

The food that has gotten me excited about Gyuzou has been the extensive wagyu menu. I can remember how rare it was to find a decent wagyu burger anywhere except for Rockpool Bar and Grill and Plan B by Becasse (RIP) when I just finished my uni studies. Now you can spot it at countless restaurants and bars around Sydney whether they are part of Japanese or Korean BBQ or a juicy burger at a bar or a casual dining joint.

Oyster Blade ($12.50)

Tri-Tip ($12.00)

Inside Skirt ($10.50)

Rib Finger with soy sauce ($8.80)

While the assorted wagyu platter doesn't include the highly rated and more expensive Short-Rib and the Chuck Tail wagyu beefs, I was still keen to try the platter in order to sample a variety of wagyu goodness. While each meaty delicacy was succulent, my faves would have to be Oyster Blade and the Tri-Tip for that rich, tender, melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. The marbling also adds to that wow factor. This platter also came with a side of assorted veggies including mushrooms, carrots and cabbage. Will definitely return to try the Short Rib and Chuck Tail after hearing all the raves from other people who have tried it previously.

Pork Belly ($7.00)

While there was so many yummy options on the menu, I just simply cannot resist the pork belly. While on this rare occasion, it may not be the star of the show compared to the wagyu meats but I still thought it was done well with that nice fatty and grilled texture especially after it was cooked. You get a choice of coating your meat with salt or soy sauce. I decided on the soy sauce for that added flavour.

Ox Tongue ($7.80)

The ox tongue is actually another fave of mine whenever I go to a Japanese or Korean restaurant. When its cooked, you forget that you are actually eating tongue since it was thinly sliced. Slightly chewy but well cooked especially with the grilled edges. Out of the non-wagyu red meat options, I would definitely recommend this to try (unless you really don't like the idea of eating tongue...).

Seared Wagyu Nigiri ($3.30)

You can also opt for wagyu sushi nigiri if you prefer sushi or are in the mood for a smaller bite. There's heaps of sushi nigiri options on the menu including scallops, salmon, egg omelette and prawn. The rice was nicely cooked and the wagyu was just as tender. Great to have while you wait for the food that takes longer to cook. 

Assorted Seafood ($14.50)

V had his eyes on the assorted seafood when I was spending a lot of time browsing the menu. It was something slightly different for that extra variety from all the red meats. It was all delicious (especially the mussels and scallops) however it did take a lot longer to cook and it was harder to tell if it was cooked or not at one point. Despite that, we both really enjoyed this platter.

Crumbed Crab ($5.50)

This was a surprise fave of mine from the non-red meat dishes. Loved the crunchy and crumbed coating along with the thinly shredded crab meat filling. 

Okonomiyaki ($5.50)

In keeping up with discovering more Japanese favourites, I opted for the okonomiyaki. This was coated with okonomiyaki sauce, bonito flakes and swirls of mayonnaise. Obviously by this point with all the other dishes we ordered, we were getting quite full (but still managed to get through most of this!). I'm not too familiar with this dish but I thought it was softer than I expected. Then again I have only tried the one at Ichiban Boshi a few years ago. Did like the outer crispness and the overall soft texture. 

Steamed Rice ($2.50)

Usually at most Asian BBQ restaurants, we ordered rice on the side. Looking back this actually wasn't needed because the meat and seafood held well on its own. Plus the rice was too soft for my personal preference. 

Berry Yogurt Parfait ($7.90)

I was too full by the end so my second stomach didn't make it to dessert but V decided to go for the berry yoghurt parfait. This consisted of ice cream, berry syrup, fresh whipped cream, ad fruit and wafer garnishes. At first I thought it would be too creamy for my liking but from the sample I've tasted, it was actually quite sweet in a good way. It did melt really fast so V had to hurry with finishing it up before it ends up like a puddle. I also enjoyed the wafer stick for the extra crunch.

If you are curious about exploring more about Japanese cuisine besides the usual ramen and sushi joints, Gyuzou offers that option especially if you love wagyu meats. While the prices were a bit more expensive, it is great to share with a larger group so you can try more and split the bill down. Looking forward to making another visit for that juicy short rib wagyu beef!

Disclaimer: The Random Foodie dined as a guest of Japanese BBQ Yakiniku Gyuzou, courtesy of SD Marketing. Opinions are however, my own.

Japanese BBQ Yakiniku Gyuzou
Shop 5, 339 Sussex Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Shop Tel No: (02) 9268 0410
Booking No: 1800 924 292
Sun-Thurs: 5:30pm - 10:00pm
Fri-Sat: 5:30pm - midnight 
Japanese BBQ Yakiniku GYUZO on Urbanspoon