Sunday, April 27, 2014

Three Williams, Redfern

I promised myself that I will try to keep up with the latest, hippest, talk-of-the-town cafes and restaurants on the block this year. Boy was I so wrong. At this point I am probably one of the last bloggers to talk about this ridiculously popular cafe. Better late than never right? If you still haven't heard of Three Williams, you are probably on a strict diet, not into cafes or you have been living under a rock. Even if cafes aren't your thing, there are countless pictures of those delicious narnies, brioche French toasts, croquettes and chips flooding instagram and Facebook. And if you ask me, I'd say that it really is worth the hype!

While it looked minimalist with only a W as the signage to identify the cafe, you could still spot it easily from the queues of people waiting outside. Before I arrived there, I spotted a photo on instagram in which a person who was at Three Williams a bit earlier was unhappy about having to wait at least 40 minutes for a table. It got me a bit nervous considering my lack of patience especially when I'm hungry. It didn't help when we saw loads of people queueing outside the cafe. Thankfully (or not if you are in a large group), we actually only needed to wait for about 5-10 minutes for a table for two but it does vary on the day and time of course. 

Inside, we were stunned at how massive Three Williams really was compared to most places we've been to. Very noisy and busy atmosphere but the staff was friendly, quick, efficient and attentive to our needs. It's also a child friendly cafe with a play space "Willy's Corner" at the back for the kids to doodle on the blackboard. With the spacious venue, this will be great for families with babies or toddlers since there's enough room for a pram.

White Coffee - Mocha ($3.50)

We started off with a couple of drinks. Since I was really tired and I have a coffee addiction no matter where I go, I needed my usual mocha to kick-start the day. Three Williams uses Single Origin Coffee beans which is always lovely to drink. While it has a smooth texture, the taste was more bitter and stronger which is good for me to get myself energised. Cute coffee art too.

Seasonal House-made Soda - Pineapple and Mint (Glass: $5.00, Jug: $12.00)

Since it was a warm day, we also opted for a chilled drink of Three Williams house-made soda. On the day, we decided on getting the pineapple and mint soda based on staff recommendations. FYI: the flavours do change regularly on a seasonal basis. While it wasn't too sweet, it was refreshing to have given the amount of fried, oily, sweet and carb-inducing dishes coming up. 

Fish Croquettes with Lemon and Aioli ($3.00 each)

Since Three Williams first came into my radar, I've been looking forward to trying out the fish croquettes. And man these were sooo good! Nice golden crumbled coating with a hot, soft, creamy, buttery, fishy and even slightly cheesy filling. Digged the shredded fish inside the filling. Found these little morsels to be so addictive that I wouldn't mind ordering a few more if I didn't order more dishes. Perfect with the lemon wedge and the aioli sauce for a flavour boost. Croquettes for brunch? Yes please!

Beer Battered Chips with House Aioli ($7.00)

Before heading here, heaps of people have told me that I MUST get the beer battered chips. Some even claimed that the chips at Three Williams were the best that they've ever had in Sydney. Luckily, CC and I are both crazy about chips no matter where we go. And omg they really were damn good! The battered chips were incredibly crunchy with the soft and fluffy potato inside. I can imagine these chips were cooked at least twice (maybe triple cooked?) to get that crunchy texture. Very addictive and perfect to share with friends...even though we gobbled the whole bowl very quickly.

Glazed Beef Brisket Narnie with Slaw, Gherkins, Chipotle Mayo ($15.00)

Of course when you're at Three Williams, you have got to try at least one of their signature house-made narnies. A narnie is a naan-style flat bread with a thicker, dough-like texture that can hold a substantial amount of fillings. Similar to a sandwich actually. My pick was the beef brisket which was suggested by the staff. So deliciously tender, fatty and juicy with the thick slabs of beef brisket combined with the crisp slaw and the tangy gherkins and the chipotle mayo. This is serious melt in your mouth, droolworthy goodness! It is very messy to handle and even messier when you try to use cutlery. You must eat this by hand. It's definitely not something you would usually see at other cafes in Sydney and it's certainly one of the reasons why there was so much sudden hype for this cafe. Was so bummed when I polished this off because I wanted more...if only I have a bigger stomach.

Crunchy Brioche French Toast, Blueberries, Yoghurt, Roasted Pecans and Maple Syrup ($15.00)

Three Williams does not have a dessert menu but they do have a tray of daily baked treats at the front counter including donuts, brownies and pistachio cakes. However I've been hearing lots of recommendations for the crunchy brioche French toast from many fellow foodies. In terms of presentation, it looks beautiful and colourful with blueberries, strawberries and pecans scattered across the plate. The toast was much thicker and bigger than I expected. Also, the sweet flavours were overwhelming for CC (who was digging into the chips while eating this toast) to handle. Despite that, the toast was delectable with its crisp texture, fluffy innards, fruity berries and the dollop of creamy yoghurt to balance the crunchiness. This unique brioche French toast is one you wouldn't usually see at many cafes with all these ingredients, taste and presentation. Will definitely order this again with something small and savoury on the side too like chips and croquettes.

Bibimbap Pulled Pork Narnie with Chilli Kimchi, Bean Sprouts, Julienne Carrots ($15.00)

Because the narnies were out of this world, I made a few more visits to see how the other flavours tasted. The bibimbap pulled pork narnie was the other flavour that caught my attention on my initial visit so I was especially looking forward to biting into this messy dish this time. Everything was mouthwatering from the tangy (chipotle or lime?) mayo, the spicy kimchi (which wasn't very spicy at first though it does give a kick to the tastebuds eventually) and the shredded pulled pork which was juicy and full of irresistible flavours. 

Fried Tempeh Narnie with Asian-style Pickled Vegetables, Sirarcha and Lime Mayo ($15.00, $13.00 for take-away)

They also do takeaway for most of their dishes if you are in a hurry. This was what happened a week ago when I was about to go to a friend's house party later that day. Bought the chips which was a crowd pleaser for my mates as well as the unique fried tempeh narnie. While it's a vegetarian dish, the slab of tempeh has a meaty texture when I bite into this. Also digged the massive crunch from the cracker. With so much veggie fillings, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a bit healthier than most of the other dishes (hehe I don't blame you :p). Because of the sirarcha, it was also much spicier than the Bibimbap narnie. Great flavour boost even though it got me grabbing the water bottle at the end. 

With lovely service, reasonable prices, spacious room and yummy food with generous servings; it is no wonder that I keep going back to Three Williams to try all the dishes especially the addictive narnies. This is a great place to go for a family outing or a catch up with friends but be prepared for queues at peak hours brunches and lunches on weekends if you are in a large group. Already looking forward to heading back here soon to try a few other dishes including the Merchant roll, spicy smashed beans with avo on toast, the baked treats, the caramelised cauliflower tabouli salad (seriously!) and even more narnies! 

Three Williams
613a Elizabeth Street, Redfern NSW 
(02) 9698 1111
Mon-Sun: 7:00am - 4:00pm (Kitchen closes at 3:00pm)
Three Williams on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hot Star Large Fried Chicken, Sydney CBD

I like fried chicken. Nah scratch that. I LOOOOOVE fried chickkkeeeennnnnn! If you had been dining with me at places like Hartsyard, Mary's or NaruOne, you would see me slowly eating that damn crunchy skin just to savour the moment. So it's no surprise that I jumped at the opportunity to try out Hot Star Fried Chicken and get a look at how it was made behind the scenes. Should be fascinating since there are already queues of customers lining up outside their small shop even though it has only opened around early March this year.

Apart from the super cheap prices, one of the main reasons for the long queues was that the shop actually began at the Shilin night market in Taipei in 1992 and has since expanded to more than 40 franchises across Taiwan. It's no surprise that they decided to make the trip down under and open a shop in Sydney and Melbourne for the Australian market to discover their popular street food.

Got the chance to meet Hot Star Sydney's store manager, Cassey, who showed what happens in the kitchen. Each serving size is about 250 grams and around 30 centimetres of breast fillet chicken goodness. It is also freshly prepared on site and only coated with batter, deep fried and seasoned when ordered by the customer. While most of the ingredients were delivered from Taiwan including the secret seasoning and flour, the chicken breast is sourced locally in Australia.

The chicken breast is cut and marinated for at least 12 hours

Coating the chicken using tapioca flour powder 

Prepping the chicken before the deep fry

Deep-frying the freaking large chicken in Canola oil

Seasoning the chicken with salt, pepper and various spices (ranging from Little Spicy to Extra Spicy)

We also got to see the sides getting prepared including the sweet potato fries, curly fries and the chicken bites. Like the large fried chicken, all sides are also cooked to order.

Dipping the sweet potato fries in batter

Preparing the fresh basil to accompany the chicken bites

And now the finished product!!! Now I was prepared to expect some really large fried chicken from what I've heard from fellow bloggers but I was still stunned about the size especially when I got to hold it for the first time. You get a choice of how spicy you want your chicken: little spicy, medium spicy, spicy or extra spicy. If you cannot handle chilli at all then you should know that even medium spicy was getting to my taste buds while the spicy chicken was so hot that I needed a bottle of water to cool myself down.

Spicy Large Fried Chicken ($7.90)

Original Large Fried Chicken - Little Spicy ($7.90)

While it may not be NaruOne or Hartsyard's fried chicken, it has that delicious crispy coating that you will definitely need especially after a crazy night out drinking. The chicken was very juicy and full of flavour and spices especially with the first bundle of bites. There were some bones and cartilage remaining in the chicken once you reach half-way but that didn't bother me too much. By the end it was too much for me to attempt to eat the whole thing especially since once it got very greasy. It was insanely large so I reckon it would be ideal to share with a friend or two. Also, it's very hot to handle even after we didn't touch the chicken for about 10 minutes.

If you still want to try the chicken but cannot handle the largeness, then you can get a bag of chicken bites for your fill. These morsels are made using the same batter, coating and seasoning as the large fried chicken. For me, the chicken bites were so yummy, addictive and flavoursome thanks to the basil that was deep fried with the bites when it was cooking. Will definitely be ordering these again.

Chicken Bites ($5.90)

Absolutely loved the mushrooms too! So juicy to eat especially with the crisp batter. Watch out for the incredibly hot juices flowing out when you bite into them so be patient.

Mushrooms ($4.90)

Hot Star's sweet potato fries were one of the better versions that I've tasted. It's not too thick and well-seasoned. Very delicious and addictive to eat with the crunchy batter matched with the soft, sweet and very hot potato as you bite into each chip.

Sweet Potato Fries ($3.90)

I do have a soft spot for curly fries though these ones are gob-smacking crunchy. They were also easy to stick together the point where I was grabbing a bundle of these fries out of the bag. 

Curly Fries ($3.90)

While I wouldn't rush to buy the large fried chicken for myself next time I have a deep fried craving (unless I have a really empty stomach or a few friends to share it), I would definitely be coming back to try more of the succulent sides especially the chicken bites and the mushrooms. Since it opens till 2am on Friday and Saturday nights, it is a great place to go when you have the post-drinking cravings.

Disclaimer: The Random Foodie sampled the food as a guest of Harvey Publicity and Hot Star Large Fried Chicken. Opinions remain personal.

Hot Star Large Fried Chicken
96 Liverpool Street Sydney NSW 2000
Sun-Thurs: 11:00am - midnight
Fri-Sat: 11:00am - 2:00am 
Hot Star Large Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tapavino, Sydney CBD

Ever been to a restaurant where you had to pay a service fee because you made a large group booking? I know surcharges still exist in some restaurants, bars and cafes for group bookings and Sunday trading. But is it really worth it?

CC and I were looking forward to trying out Tapavino simply because we loved tapas and sangria and the prices didn't look too bad. It was also CC's birthday so tapas, sangria and it's close to the Ivy = winning combination! 

Since it was a Friday night, it was no surprise that the bar was incredibly packed and noisy. Because we already did a booking, we didn't have to wait long to be seated upstairs. The top floor is reserved for those who made a booking while the walk ins are seated at the ground floor. There was a cool and noisy vibe with dark lighting (sorry for the terrible photos), which is great for after work drinks and dinner for those working around the CBD. Initially it was very quiet upstairs but as the night goes on, the floor was busy, packed and cramped for us when we need to go to the restroom. Because there was about 14 of us, we had to go with the set menu of $58 per person (excluding drinks) for groups of 9 people or more. This is a good deal considering the generous selection of 10 Spanish dishes to share on the set menu. 

There was a very extensive selection of wines to choose from. When we looked at the wine menu, there was literally pages and pages (about 30 pages?) of various wines listed including the delightful sherry. As usual, we all decided on a glass of sangria. Unfortunately we could only buy sangria per glass instead of a jug but that didn't bother us at the time. Was fruity but not as strong compared to other sangria drinks in the past.

Sangria ($11 per glass)

We started off with a bowl of warm mixed Spanish olives dosed with olive oil matched with a pickled chilli. While we thought that the olives were a bit salty, they were still addictive for us (me especially) to gobble them up before they disappear. Very pleased with the olives here actually.

Warm Spanish Olives and Padron Pepper ($6.00)

The follow up dish had a rustic texture with the pile of chopped eggplants with a dollop of goat's curd on top. The goat's curd had a strong milky and creamy taste that matched well with the saucy and tangy eggplant and the crispy tostada (which was actually a slice of crusty toasted bread).

Galician-style Eggplant, Goats Curd, Tostado ($14)

I really enjoyed the cow's milk cheese and toasted walnuts in vine leaves with toasted sourdough dish as it was a bundle of surprises. When it came to our table, I thought it was going to be stuffed with rice or assorted veggies. After cutting through, a smother of melted stringy cheese poured out from the vine leaves. I wish I could upload my before shot but it was too blurry. Lovely to have to warm yourself on a cool and windy day.

Goat's cheese and toasted walnuts in vine leaves a la plancha with toasted sourdough ($14)

And if you cannot get enough goat cheese, there is yet another dish coming up. But oh my god that jamon serrano! I could eat jamon all day and still won't get sick of it. The beetroot complemented well with the cheesy and creamy goats curd with the extra laer of flavour and texture. I could see this dish being perfect with a few slices of Will certainly come back to try the many other jamon dishes on Bar Jamon section of the A La Carte menu especially the one with the mushroom and black truffled tart with shaved manchego and the 'Pata Negra' jamon iberico.

Jamon Serrano, baby Beetroot and Goat's Curd ($18)

We were getting a meaty and goat cheese overload so we were relieved to see fresh seafood dish like the one below. It was actually the highlight dish for most of us thanks to the light, soft and refreshing tuna seasoned with the zesty, crushed almond and the sherry dressing. I think a few of us felt a tad tipsy because of the sherry dressing at this point (or the sangria was catching up to us). Definitely a dish I would recommend at this wine bar. 

Yellow Fin Tuna 'Cruda', crushed spiced almonds and sherry dressing ($22.00)

By this point we were already getting full and we are still only halfway through the menu! Thank goodness for shared plates! The first look of this dish took me back to my trip to Barcelona where I saw so many similar looking dishes with familiar flavours and ingredients. The braised chicken was so soft that in falls apart as you bite into the meat. Due to the tomato salsa and the pimenton mayo, the flavour for the dish was tangy but not too overwhelming for the taste buds. Can definitely imagine having this dish somewhere in Spain right now.

I love anything with salsa verde so having this and a squeeze of lemon with a rather substantial-sized beef short-rib made it easier for us to chow down our servings. Very tender and flavoursome. 

Braised Beef Ribs with Salsa Verde ($28.00)

I do love a good fennel salad especially after all the meat and cheese. There were bits of manchego scattered on this plate but the fennel was that light touch that we really needed. 

Shaved Fennel, Mint and Manchego Ensalada (about $10.00)

I was initially excited about this rich and dense dessert because I love chocolate but the salty and olive oil taste were too weird and strange for us to enjoy. And I liked savoury chocolate such as mole poblano. Probably good to try if you want to have something more unusual for your dessert.

Chocolate Terrine, Olive Oil and Salt Flakes ($12.00)

Thankfully, our other dessert was a crowd pleaser. Loved the light and sweet taste delivered from the strawberries. It also had a creamy texture which was matched with the crunchy macademia nut. Some of us were not too keen to share this dessert at all. 

Macademia Nut, Crema de Flan, Strawberries ($10.00)

Now everything went reasonably smoothly until it came to the bill. For group bookings at Tapavino, you need to pay an 8% service charge on top of the total bill which is mentioned on the Bookings page on the website. Personally, I don't mind paying the service fee however the issues that got up our sleeve was that apart from the friendly front of house wait staff looking after the bookings and tables, the rest of the service experience was average and not too friendly to us on the night. Plus we weren't even allowed to have the birthday cake inside the restaurant due to restaurant policy. So to pay $58 per person for the set menu because of our large group plus an 8% service fee is a lot of money to spend especially since drinks are not included. 

Despite the service and the shock from the service fee, we all still enjoyed the food here. Tapavino was actually mentioned as one of the more affordable places to eat around the CBD (with a mention in the 2014 Good Food Under $30 guide) but I would say that it actually is cheaper if it was a small group sharing a good number of plates since there would be no surcharge. We all had a really good time because of the incredibly tasty Spanish food. In fact, I thought it was one of the better Spanish restaurants that I have experienced. I wouldn't make a group booking here but I will still come back to try the food on the main menu and a few glasses of wine with a smaller group for a catch up or after work drinks.

So tell me readers: have you ever paid a service fee/surcharge when you dined at a restaurant, cafe or bar? How was the overall experience if you had to pay for that?


6-8 Bulletin Place, Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9247 3221
Mon-Fri: 12:00pm - 11:30pm
Tapavino on Urbanspoon