Monday, January 27, 2014

China Republic, Sydney CBD

Lately there has been an increase in Modern Chinese restaurants with incredibly fancy interior decor and contemporary takes on the traditional cuisine opening around the Sydney CBD. There was Mr Wong, Old Town Hong Kong, China Lane, Waitan and so on. China Republic has been one of those long awaited restaurants with its opening date being well-delayed for many months until about early November when its doors finally opened to the hungry and curious public.

Located inside the former location of World Square Pub and Equilibrium Hotel (many drunken nights back in the day...), China Republic offers a modern approach to the traditional Chinese restaurant (mainly with the fit-out) without making drastic, unrecognisable changes to the food itself. With terracotta statues, dark interior decor, spacious venue and even a fish pond; you can imagine how much $$$ was put into the making of this restaurant. One evening, a much needed catch-up with fellow uni friends Ando and KD led us to this establishment after hearing a bit about it through word of mouth and press. We ordered a fair amount of dishes to try out. Most of the dishes are made to share so we were able to taste as much as possible without getting too bloated. 

The Chef's special Sweet and Sour Pork Ribs were so tender that it fell right off the bone so easily. Definitely one of those morsels that melts into your mouth as you take each bite. The texture was sweet and sticky so expect some messy moments with this plate. Recommended with a bowl of rice on the side.

Chef Special Sweet and Sour Pork Spareribs ($21.00) 

We wanted to try the signature Peking Duck but the $88 price tag was too much for us to handle considering what we already ordered. The China Republic Braised Lamb Brisket served with Pepper Salt, Mandarin Pancakes and dressing was a less pricier and equally delicious replacement (if you like lamb of course). The braised lamb was flavoursome, juicy, slightly crispy and deliciously matched well with the thin, floured pancake. These pancakes were addictive for us as we happily gobbled each bit of this dish without thinking about the other dishes following up at the same time. 

China Republic Braised Lamb Brisket served with Pepper Salt, Mandarin Pancakes and dressing ($36.00)

The handmade noodles was one of those dishes that were individual-based servings due to size of the plate. I didn't try as much but I did enjoy the silky and balanced texture of the noodles. The noodles were incredibly long and slippery when you try to grab a small portion of it. The fried and salty soy bean paste amped up the overall flavour and the thinly sliced cucumber was a healthier contrast to the meats and carbs we had so far.

Handmade Noodle with Beijing Style Fried Soybean Paste ($9.00 per person)

Lately whenever I am at a Chinese restaurant, I go crazy every time I see dumplings on the menu. China Republic's version had a thick and firm dumpling skin though still slippery when handling with chopsticks. The meat was quite juicy and well-minced though not too flavoursome so we made good use of the soy sauce. Still these were addictive that I was constantly popping them into my mouth very quickly.

China Republic Dumplings (10 for $19.00)

After trying the dumplings at Red Sichuan a few months ago, I was curious to see how China Republic's Sichuan dumplings compare. It was pretty much the same as the boiled dumplings but with only 3 pieces in a small pool of chilli oil as an individual serving size instead of 10 pieces to share. These dumplings had a nice chilli kick that was pleasing to the taste buds.

Sichuan-style Dumplings (3 for $9.00)

Apart from the loud jazzy music playing in the background, the actual vibe was relaxing, smooth and not as noisy compared to the much crazier Mr Wong. The service was polite and friendly though there were moments of miscommunication involving the ordering of a couple of dishes. The menu has a generous selection of dishes that I'm keen to try again on future outings especially the top 10 dishes listed on the China Republic website. Since it's close to shopping, George St Cinema and various bars and clubs; this is an ideal place for groups of friends to dine on a night out or a special occasion. That way, you can try a fair number of dishes without doing too much wallet damage since most of them are made to share. On the other hand, if your friends are on a budget then it's a different story because the prices for some dishes can be expensive considering the numerous cheaper restaurants with similarly authentic food located minutes away. Still if you are looking for a restaurant for special events especially with Chinese New Year coming up later this week, this is certainly one of the places to look out with its unique, modern yet authentic approach to Chinese cuisine.

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China Republic
Shop 1041, 680 George Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 8081 0888
Mon-Sun: 12:00pm - late
China Republic on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 20, 2014

Pho Viet, Cabramatta

One thing that I love about Cabramatta is the many gastronomical options whenever you are in need of a good and cheap feed that will surely fill you up. On the other hand, the one thing that I don't like about Cabramatta is how early they tend to close with most restaurants shutting its doors at 6pm or 7pm. Pho Viet is one of those few restaurants that actually close at 9pm in this part of town and very close to the station. It has been around for at least 30 years and the decor remains mostly the same as it was when it first opened. And that's the way the locals like it.

We all have our favourite pho restaurant whether it's Pho Tau Bay, Pho An, PHD or one of the Vietnamese restaurants in Flemington (been getting recommendations from mates to try the pho there). Pho Viet is actually Luke Nguyen's (Red Lantern, various SBS cooking and travel shows) favourite pho restaurant, which hasn't really been a secret. Surely if a well-known TV chef praised the pho at this restaurant higher than the usual faves then it must be really really good right?

Complimentary lemon, bean sprouts and Vietnamese basil

At $10 for a small bowl of hearty rare beef noodle soup, this will get you full as you dig into the meal. The thin slices of rare beef were plentiful while the silky noodles appeared to be thinner than many pho establishments I've experienced. Depending on your preference, a squeeze of lemon and a handful of leaves and bean sprouts adds a bit of flavour and texture. I've noticed that the broth had a stronger soy sauce flavour thus it tasted quite salty (and I usually do not add any soy sauce to my pho when dining out). Still I managed to polish up the bowl which is always a good sign.  

Pho Tai - small ($10.00)

Recently, I returned back after being intrigued about Pho Viet's signature dish according to Good Food Month's Cabramatta Signature Dish flyer and even on the signage at the front. Surprisingly enough, this isn't pho dac biet or any other pho dish. It's actually the Prawn, Crab Meat and Pork with Handmade Noodle Soup (Mi Quang). I fall weak over the sight of hand made noodles and crab meat on the menu so this is perfect for me. At $12.00, this was an amazing dish that I wouldn't mind coming back for. The handmade noodles were flat and thick with a bitey texture. The broth was spicy with a touch of peanut and a generous amount of pork and crab meat for a well-balanced and mouth-watering bowl to enjoy. 

Mi Quang ($12.00)

Like the pho, you also get a complimentary plate of various condiments including bean sprouts, lemon and lettuce. Ended up making good use of the crunchy lettuce for some much needed greens in my diet. There was even a complimentary prawn cracker to scoop from the bowl. It wasn't as crunchy but still satisfying.

Complimentary Prawn Cracker

Complimentary lettuce, bean sprouts and lemon

The service experience was fast and furious with no fuss or nonsense, which is what we expect for most restaurants in the area. There are plenty of other authentic Vietnamese dishes to enjoy including bun bo hue, hu tieu, various rice dishes and even bull's penis. Not joking there guys - it really does exist as a dish here. Wouldn't mind coming back here to make the most of their evening trading hours whenever I have a craving for the Mi Quang dish. With most (if not all) dishes priced at less than $15, your hunger will be satisfied with huge servings that will fill you up no matter what you order.

Pho Viet
11-15 John Street, Cabramatta NSW 2166
(02) 9728 6657
Mon-Sun: 8:00am - 9:00pm
Pho Viet Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ester, Chippendale

There is something unique about Chippendale's newish restaurant, Ester. Perhaps it was the minimal, simple decor or maybe it's the Modern Australian-inspired cuisine with a bit of Mediterranean flavours thrown in that has wowed us on the night. This is no surprise coming from the same team who owns Vini, Berta and 121 BC in Surry Hills along with Mat Lindsay (ex-Billy Kwong) and Nic Wong (ex-Bodega and Billy Kwong) taking over the kitchen. Yup you know you are onto a good thing here.

Located in one of the many quiet and hidden streets of Chippendale, it was a bit of a walk from Railway Square than we expected but still close to the main streets of Broadway. Inside, we notice a rather busy crowd with a relatively social atmosphere. The service was very friendly to us on the night. Even though we agreed to finish everything by a certain time so other customers can claim our table, the staff was happy to accommodate us to the bar so we can continue ordering desserts later on. Similar to their sister restaurants, Ester has an impressive range of wine for your beverage needs.

As with most restaurants and bars opening up these days, the dishes at Ester are designed to be shared which is perfect for CC and I to try as many as possible. And we still didn't get bloated by the end! Well only slightly. What's even more special about Ester is their wood-fired oven which became an essential feature for most items on the wood-fired focused menu.

We were treated with complimentary fried chickpeas which were surprisingly addictive. I'm usually not a huge fan of chickpeas but I couldn't stop gobbling these crunchy treats up! Seasoned with salt and rosemary, you just cannot get enough of this. Was pretty bummed when it was all gone.

Complimentary Fried Chickpeas

We were interested in trying out the squid balls (me thinking it was something similar to arancini balls) but were quite stunned by the presentation of the dish when it arrived to us. Both CC and I were staring at each other with the same thought in mind: "Dude, this looks like s***". Thankfully the taste was a million times better than we expected. While it did have a chewy texture, I enjoyed the squid ink flavour which reminded me of eating squid ink risotto and pasta at various Italian restaurants. We were quite puzzled by its name though since the shape clearly did not resemble a ball...

Squid Ink Balls ($12.00)

Our waiter recommended this dish to us as an individual-sized snack when we were deciding. It may appear to be simple especially with the crustless bread but the flavour does work wonders to our taste buds. The mayo sauce tasted lovely on that soft bread. Sure blood sausage does not sound appealing when you think about it but the taste wasn't strong so you will think that it's just a normal sausage eventually. Altogether, it was yummy and perfect for a quick bite.

Blood Sausage Sanga ($6.00 pp)

If there is a dish that I would consider as the winner of the night, it has gotta be the bone marrow with XO. Generally I love any dish involving bone marrow but Ester's version is a beast. What I loved about this bone marrow was how easy it was to scoop it out compared to similar versions at other restaurants. I didn't imagine how well it tasted with XO but it actually gave it an immense flavour boost that makes me want to eat CC's share. I'm actually surprised this was listed under Snacks because the portion size is a bit bigger in my opinion especially with the crusty toasted bread. Perhaps a small plate? Either way, each bite of this dish was like heaven for us.

Bone Marrow / XO ($16.00)

Bone Marrow Porn

I go crazy over any dish that has crab on the menu so I ordered it immediately without knowing how it would actually turn out. Initially we thought it would be presented in some form of ready-to-eat pickled crab meat or attached to the shell in a way that would be easy for us to take the meat out. Even with the metal tools, it was difficult for us to grab the crab meat out of the hard shell so this was time-consuming for us in the end. On the other hand, the crab meat that we managed to take out was well-cooked and delicious but would probably not order this again unless we figure out a faster way to take the meat apart with those tools or our hands or it was presented in a different and easier way. 

Blue Swimmer Crab / Salt and Pepper ($24.00)

Thankfully, the steak was much easier to handle and share with its neat and thick slices. The meat was cooked medium-rare so it was soft, tender and juicy. It also came with a slab of bagna cauda, which is a sauce consisting of anchovies, garlic, olive oil and butter. The sauce tasted creamy and too buttery for my liking but CC said this was one of her fave dishes of the day along with the bone marrow. The slices of radishes were a refreshing contrast to the otherwise meaty and buttery plate. 

Steak / Bagna Cauda / Radish ($30.00)

Despite all those dishes, we weren't too bloated as we thought we would be. Enough reason to grab dessert. We were curious about the Three Milks which consists of ricotta panna cotta, sheep's milk foam and a smear of dulce de leche cream. It even has a dab of olive oil, rosemary leaves and biscuit crumbs for a little more crunch to a very creamy dish. It's very unique and somewhat light in texture. If you love your creamy, milky and cheesy desserts with a nit of sticky sweetness then this is the dish for you. 

Three Milks ($11.00)

The salted caramel semi-freddo may looked simple as a nicely-formed round ball but the flavour and texture is on a different level. There was that grainy texture from the black sesame crumbs combined with the creamy taste and the caramel saltiness as well as sweetness.

Salted-caramel semi-freddo ($4.00)

The food that Ester serves was clearly not what we've seen before at most other restaurants in Sydney and that's what we really liked about it. Every dish was full of surprises whether it was really delicious, slightly frustrating or just plain odd. While the prices aren't the cheapest, the dishes were focused on sharing so this will do less damage to your wallet. The vibe was incredibly busy for a restaurant on a quiet location on a weekday. I could only imagine how packed this would get for dinner on a Friday or Saturday night. Can't wait to go back for that bone marrow omggg.

52 Meagher Street, Chippendale NSW 2008
(02) 8068 8279
Lunch: Thurs - Fri 12:00pm to 3:00pm
Dinner: Tues - Fri 6:00pm to late (5:30pm for drinks), Sat 6:00pm to late
Ester on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

NaruOne, Sydney CBD

After hearing praises from fellow food bloggers and an award for Best Fried Chicken in Sydney thanks to the Sydney Food Blogger Awards; Naruone has been on my food radar for many many months. While I have been mentioning this restaurant to my friends for our outings, it was also harder when you see the not-so-awesome Urbanspoon rating currently at 58%. How can you convince someone that the fried chicken is so freaking good according to so many food bloggers when its own rating is quite poor? 

Finally, V wanted to do a catch up dinner and I casually brought up Korean fried chicken to him. After mentioning how freaking awesome the fried chicken really is at Naruone (including send a few pictures hehe), it was enough to convince him to choose this as our catch up dinner. 

Originally it was hard for us to find the restaurant since it was actually located underground in the same space as the old Blockbuster video store (those were the daaaaayyssss!). Like all Korean restaurants, we were given complimentary pickled radishes for starters. Personally I found these treats to be quite addictive and necessary once the flavours overpower your taste buds especially with the spicy ones. 

Pickled radishes

Even though we were here for the fried chicken the decision was which fried chicken to stick with. It was good to see that they do the half and half option with two flavours of your choice so we stuck with the usual faves of original and sweet and spicy. Was it worth the hype? Oh yes it was. We all loved the original flavour which had that amazing crispy and crunchy coating. We were surprised that despite its crunchiness, it wasn't even greasy. Yet the chicken remained incredibly tender and juicy. While we gobbled up all the original flavour pieces, my friends and I struggled to finish the sweet and spicy chicken. It wasn't as crunchy but the batter was thick, sweet and sticky. It does have that spicy punch which wasn't too overwhelming at first until we had a few more of those pieces. Eventually the messy, sweet and sticky batter and the strong flavours were too much to handle so we didn't end up finishing it. 

Half and Half Fried Chicken: Original and Sweet and Spicy ($33.00)

Speaking of spiciness, we also ordered the rice cakes stir fried in chilli sauce. The serving size was good for one person to have but the spiciness was much stronger here. Ended up drinking so much water due to the amount of chilli. I really enjoyed the texture of the rice cakes which weren't too soft or too hard. The veggies were also useful when you need something to counterbalance the copious amounts of fried chicken.

Rice cakes stir fried in chilli sauce ($12.00)

As expected with Korean restaurants (and most Asian restaurants actually), the service was fast but not very friendly. In fact the waiter was quite impatient when we were deciding which two flavours of chicken to order. There was also a few language barrier moments such as V ordering a can of coke which led to us pointing to the menu, nodding and shaking our heads. 

We will still return to try the fried chicken with spring onion as well as the boneless fried chicken since V and AC really enjoyed the original flavour. I would recommend coming to Naruone with a group in order to try the dishes because the servings were more than generous. Thankfully they do takeaway so you can enjoy the massive amount of fried chicken at your own pace. Best fried chicken in Sydney? In my opinion I still love the fried chicken at Hartsyard and the fried chicken at Mary's but I would say that it does take the spot for the best Korean fried chicken in Sydney thanks to its delightfully crunchy batter that I have yet to experience at other Korean restaurants. Finger-licking, crunchy and crispy goodness!

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Naruone Korean Restaurant
Lower Ground, 375 Pitt Street Sydney
(02) 9261 2680
Tues-Sat: 11:00am - 3:00am
Sun-Mon: 11:00am - 10:00pm
NaruOne Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Argyle, The Rocks

I remember visiting The Argyle a few times over the last couple of years for birthdays, graduations and other gatherings. When it comes to food back then, there was the pub grub and then it went through a Spanish tapas phase. This has changed in November when The Argyle hired former Red Lantern's Michael Nguyen and Sake Restaurant's Shaun Presland to take over the reigns of the kitchen to create a Modern Asian-influenced menu full of hawker-style eats including dumplings, gyozas, salads and a few well-known classics including the salt and pepper squid and the peking duck pancake. They even got ex-Shady Pines Saloon's Daniel Mussen to look after the drinks menu. Sounds pretty awesome eh?

While most of the furniture inside the Argyle remained the same there was a spot close to the counter near the front that changed to an Asian-inspired decor with Chinese symbol signage, cutlery, lanterns and seating.

The reinvented Argyle menu actually creates a modern, contemporary twist on the dumplings and gyoza flavours. There are quite a few spicy steamed dumplings especially the firecracker prawn which packs a punch to your taste buds. You can be surprised and curious by some of the flavours in the Gyoza menu such as the cheeseburger gyoza and the Nutella rocky road gyoza for dessert. Perfect hangover food after a crazy night of drinking and dancing.  

The Argyle Menu

Complimentary Fortune Cookies

With its red, thin pastry, you would have expected a spicy hit in these seemingly innocent dumplings. At first taste, you don't feel the spiciness but it does hit your taste buds eventually and quite drastically too. 

Firecracker Prawn Dumplings ($8.00 for 4) - Hot stuff!

The cheeseburger gyoza screams dude food. Given the setting, I can imagine this to be a hit for those heading to the Argyle at night. With its fillings consisting of beef, onions, cheddar, ketchup and mustard; it does taste like an actual cheeseburger with an Asian-fusion touch. Quite sneaky actually since I had no idea about this dish when I grabbed a piece. 

Cheeseburger Gyoza ($9.00 for 5)

So sorry about the photo below. By the time I got a pic, everybody around me grabbed a piece. Could have been worse. When glancing at the menu you would think that a Peking Duck pancake or a BB Pork Belly pancake would actually be in a thin pancake. The Argyle's version decides to use a fluffy lotus bun instead of a pancake. While it can be confusing to call it a peking duck bun or a pork belly bun, it was addictive and delicious. Wouldn't mind getting a few more of them if I get the chance.

BBQ Pork Belly 'Pancake' ($15.00 for 3)

BBQ Pork Belly

If gyozas or dumplings do not tickle your fancy, The Argyle also offers a range of salads on the menu. The prices ranged between $10-$13 but the servings appeared to be a bit more decent. Great to have on a Summer day while chilling out at the Courtyard.

Crispy Pork and Papaya Salad ($12.00)

I loved eating vermicelli-wrapped spring rolls for yum cha. These versions are perfect for the strict non-seafood eating vegetarians and they are really tasty for the meat lover like myself. It was crunchy and messy to handle and loved the sweet chilli sauce on the side. 

Vegetable Spring Roll ($6.00 for 4)

For those who have a sweet tooth, the Nutella Rocky Road Gyoza sounds too good to resist. Very sweet and messy to eat but it was a treat in testing your tastebuds with something you don't usually see in other restaurants. 

Nutella Rocky Road Gyoza ($7.00)

There were plenty of drinks that kept everyone entertained throughout the night including more than a few glasses of champagne and a refreshingly sweet cocktail that seems to be a hit with all the patrons. While most cocktails were priced between $17-$18.50 max, it was interesting to note that the Bonsai juice was only $12.00! Plus it's really cool and sweet to drink.

Bonsai Juice - Belvedere Vodka, Apple, Mint, Coriander ($12.00)

Loved the Chinese Lion Dance entertaining us throughout the evening as part of the launch.

By this point of the night, I was still hungry yet the drinks keep showing up. Yes I was quite tipsy! Curious at how the xiao long bao dumplings compared, I knew I had to order these morsels. The dumpling pastry wasn't as thick as Din Tai Fung's though it still has that slippery texture. The pork inside was also pretty tender with a bit of soup inside. There was also (what I believed to be) vinegar and ginger on the side that you would expect with this dish. I gobbled these up instantly without much thought.

Xiao Long Bao ($8.00 for 4)

The prices aren't too bad considering it is a bar and restaurant in The Rocks area with the most expensive dish on the food menu listed at $15.00. If you want to try lots of dishes, I would recommend bringing a few friends to share the plates. Overall I was pretty satisfied with the menu changes, layout and the hawker-esque food that The Argyle now serves. Wouldn't mind coming back for a quick lunch, work drinks or a chill out session with the friends at this venue one day.

Disclaimer: The Random Foodie dined at The Argyle Launch Night as a guest of The Cru Media and The Argyle. The Random Foodie also ordered and paid for the XLB dumplings independently. Opinions remain personal. 

NB: Please also note that the prices listed on this blog were valid at the time of the launch. The prices have since changed as of mid-December according to the Argyle website.

The Argyle
18 Argyle Street, The Rocks NSW 2000
(02) 9247 5500
Mon-Sun: 11:00am - late
The Argyle on Urbanspoon