Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Vinh Phat, Cabramatta

As a kid, I used to go to Vinh Phat at its old location with the red curtains very often due to Mum's yum cha (also known as dim sum) cravings. There were times when my family and I went there every month or sometimes every two months but especially every single Mother's Day and Father's Day lunch. To be honest, I wasn't much of a yum cha fan when I was a kid, but then I was a fussy eater back then too - I didn't even like pho until I was around 12 years old! (true story). Plus I didn't like getting squashed between the crowds of hungry diners waiting to get a table inside the infamous red-draped, cramped restaurant. Late last year, Vinh Phat moved to a much bigger location across the street where Retravision used to be at (anyone remember that shop? lol). As I got older, my visits to Vinh Phat decreased due to my weekdays and weekends spent in the city but my own cravings for yum cha have certainly gone up. 

Since I have only been to the old, much smaller Vinh Phat, it was time to check out the revamped version. While the location has changed, my memories were still there with the trolleys, quick and fairly cheap service and the fish tanks at the back. While there were still moments of trolleys bumping into each other, the location itself was much bigger and spacious in comparison. When I got in, it was getting close to the end of lunch at 2pm but there were still lots of people inside the restaurant and trolleys roaming around asking keen diners if they want to try certain dishes.

Free tea!

One of my fave yum cha dishes are the dumplings especially Siu Mai dumplings wrapped in won ton and packed with pork mince. Vinh Phat's version definitely does not disappoint my taste buds. It was well-steamed to my liking and is often a hit at the table. Wouldn't mind getting another serving for myself hehe. 

Siu Mai dumplings

This is another favourite dish for me at Yum Cha. The prawns were succulent and the thin wrapping has a nice bite. Wouldn't mind ordering this again. 

Har Gow prawn dumplings

My parents loved eating chicken feet. I wasn't too keen on the other hand back then but this time I gave this a try. It was actually quite tasty. This version was braised and dipped in marinated spicy sauce. Very flavoursome and juicy. 

Fung Jow - chicken feet

This was the main reason why my parents often come back to this restaurant again and again back in my youth. They always rave on how Vinh Phat does an amazing job with this particular dish and it has never ceased to amaze us. The steamed rice noodles were cooked at the right texture (not too hard and not too soft) and the plump prawns were equally satisfying. The hero was of course the soy sauce which added loads of depth in flavour to the dish. 
Har Cheong Fun - steamed prawn rice noodle rolls

These were another childhood favourite of mine everytime I'm at Vinh Phat. I just adore biting into the spring roll and pouring the plum sauce over it. Piping hot but so tasty and quite crunchy. 

Seafood spring roll with plum sauce

After all those dishes, I was craving for something nourishing to take away from the heat and the oil. This salad contains shredded chicken, grated carrot and cucumber, coriander and jellyfish dosed in fish sauce. It has the crunch and the zesty tastes that was muchly needed after all those greasy dishes. Definitely recommended if you want something different.

Chicken and jellyfish salad

Soy sauce and chilli sauce for dips

Was getting full from those dishes but there is still room for dessert! Sure enough a trolley full of custard egg tarts arrived to our table. Needless to say, we cannot say no to this. The pastry was flakey and crispy while the custard filling has that soft and wobbly texture. I almost forgot that I was so full after getting my hands onto these treats.

Egg tarts

The atmosphere was still noisy when we left the restaurant. Bonus points for quick and efficient service and the prices aren't too bad especially if you are splitting with other people. We thought that it would be fairly pricey with the amount of dishes we ordered but it actually came down to about $35 altogether (sorry I didn't pay too much attention to the price but it was around that amount...definitely less than $40!). It's no wonder that my folks keep going back here after all these years especially with all the other yum cha options in Cabramatta. Great place to go with your family on special occasions or just for a catch up with your friends in the area. Just remember to head there during lunch if you want the yum cha menu. The dinner menu is much different but from what I can recall, they have a decent selection of Chinese and Asian specialties. Will definitely head back to Vinh Phat very soon to try more dishes as well as checking out the dinner menu.

Vinh Phat
Shop 8/7 Park Road, Cabramatta NSW 2166
(02) 9726 2720
Vinh Phat on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 22, 2013

Rainford Street Social, Surry Hills [CLOSED]

Thanks to Jessie from Cav Con, I was invited to the Rainford Street Social's Winter Menu Tasting event launch. It was a very interesting night since it was also the second State of Origin as well as the night of the Labor leadership spill when Kevin Rudd replaces Julia Gillard to become PM...again. But that's for another day! 

I've first heard about Rainford Street Social from reading about it in sites like Time Out and Concrete Playground and similar sites like that. It is known for its bistro vibe with a Modern-Australian menu and a focus on sharing and local grown produce. Personally, I remember it used to be the well-known and much loved Bird Cow Fish (RIP) where I often visited when I volunteered in the area (their burnt butter gnocchi was the bomb!). What I didn't know is that this restaurant is owned by the same team as Toko Restaurant, which is located just a few blocks away. When entering inside the restaurant, we were greeted with friendly and helpful service and a heart-warming vibe from the spacious, wooden decor.

While we were given a tasting menu, there were different dishes that popped up to our surprise. I found out later that the dishes that were listed on the tasting menu were the ones that will be available on Rainford Street Social's Winter menu. I'm guessing that the non-listed dishes were favourites from previous seasonal menus.

We were treated with meatball sliders to start the night. I intially thought that they were the 'Rainford Meatballs' from the menu that we were given but then that entree showed up as well later on. It looked just like how a slider should be: tiny, single serving with swiss cheese and a meatball packed between the buns. I enjoyed trying out these tasty morsels though it was quite dry and tough.

Meatball slider

We thought that this entree looked like an unusual combination. I personally didn't mind it as I do like anything with jamon ham and a sweet palate-cleansing broth. Though the slow cooked egg was the one that intrigued me the most. It was runny and oozy but I really wanted a slice of bread to dip into the egg even if it's already soaked by the broth.

Sweet pea and jamon broth, slow cooked egg ($14.00)

More meatballs you ask? That's pretty much what happened along with slices of bread. From this point, the dishes that they delivered were all shared between everyone on the table. This is a plus because I really doubt that I would be able to finish every single full plate on my own. The swiss cheese gave the meatballs a moreish and meatier taste. While the meatballs tasted good with the tomato fondue, I was curious to know what the white puree was on the side (white bean puree?). 

Rainford meatballs, tomato fondue, swiss cheese and pine nuts ($16.00)

You can tell just by looking at this dish alone that this would have been perfect, heart-warming comfort food for a cold winter night. So much melted cheesy goodness!

Cauliflower cheese ($10.00)

Another heart-warming, comfort dish that is great for vegetarians. It has a slightly sweet and soft texture from the grill and the garlic yoghurt was a tasty, creamy addition to this delicious side.

Grilled pumpkin, garlic yoghurt, brown butter ($9.00) 

Still hungry for more vegetarian food? You can be relieved that Rainford Street Social has the Grilled Vegetable Lasagne to fill you up. This hearty dish is certainly keeping up with the home-cooked, comfort food theme for the Winter menu. If you don't believe me that this is a vegetarian dish, let me tell you that the filling for the lasagne consisted of veggies like eggplant, zucchini and capsicum - absolutely no trace of meat! Lots of cheese of course but it actually wasn't too strong. Despite the immense carb contents of this dish; I thought it was a bit lighter than other lasagnes that I've had in the past.

Grilled Vegetable Lasagne ($22.00)

We weren't sure how to divide it up between us but from the parts we've tried, it tasted brilliant. The skin was crispy to perfection and the duck meat was juicy and fall-off-the-bone tender. It tasted even better when mixing with the creamy, white puree. One of my favourite dishes from tonight!

Confit duck leg, white bean puree, spiced cherries ($26.00)

While it was rich and dense, I didn't really mind it at all. Partly because of my chocolate addiction and my interest in trying something that is classified as 'gluten free'. I guess the whipped cream might help in balancing the heaviness from the dark chocolate for those who aren't too keen for it. Either way, I was eating through a good portion of the plate and wouldn't mind ordering this again.

Chocolate Torte, whipped cream - gluten free ($12.00)

On the other hand, the "Upside-down" cheesecake was the lightest from the desserts. The cheese wasn't as strong (which is just how I like it) and the brown butter breadcrumbs matched well with the rest of the dish. It was quite fruity as well thanks to the strawberries - again it's just how I like it.

"Upside-down" cheesecake, brown butter breadcrumbs ($16.00)

Everyone was raving about this dish because I only had a couple of bites before it was polished off the plate. I thought this was certainly the highlight of my dining experience because of its balanced flavours - it wasn't too rich and sweet and you can still taste the banana. The crumble on top of the banana cream pie gave it a crunchier texture in what was otherwise a fairly creamy dish. I was sad that this wasn't available on the current Winter menu (though this was available back in its early days judging from the older reviews) but hopefully it shows up again on one of the upcoming seasonal menus soon.

Banana Cream Pie

The wait for the food was fairly long that in between meals (to the point where CC and I were craving for everything from El Jannahs to Yum Cha to Gelato Messina), the service was wonderful and attentive to our needs throughout the night. The prices aren't cheap but for a restaurant on Crown Street, Surry Hills; it's pretty much the standard. The rustic, heartwarming look of some of the dishes gave the restaurant a homely and warmful vibe that will attract families and friends for a casual social outing this season. With this tasting event, I humbly look forward to what will be offered on Rainford Street Social's menu in the upcoming seasons.

Disclaimer: The Random Foodie and co dined as guests of Rainford Street Social and Cav Con. Opinions are still personal.

Rainford Street Social
500 Crown Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9357 2573
Rainford Street Social on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 15, 2013

Freckle Shapes - The Sweet Swap

Originally, I didn't plan on getting involved in The Sweet Swap. Mainly because my cooking skills aren't too great and I don't have much time for cooking these days. After hearing everyone raving about this event and checking up a few recipes, I eventually gave in just for the curiosity. And I definitely do not regret this at all! Seeing the talents of everybody getting their hands dirty into making beautiful desserts was a sight to see. 

What is The Sweet Swap? It is an Australian food blogger initiative organised by the talented Amanda from Chewtown and Sara from Bellyrumbles where you register and receive your 3 matches. With that, you make and mail three equal batches of handmade sweets to those three bloggers while you wait to receive three more batches for three other food bloggers. You do not find out who you receive the sweets from until it gets delivered to you. And it's all done for charity with proceeds going towards Childfund Australia.

I wasn't sure what to make at all before signing up. Cannot think of my own recipe so read through as many recipe websites and cookbooks as possible before deciding on the sweet to make. I initially planned to make apricot balls but the final taste was a downer (I kept coughing every time I tried a piece) so it was back to the drawing board. Mum really praised it though. Maybe I'm just too harsh on myself...

Original plan: Apricot balls

Thanks to one of my fave mags, Frankie Magazine, I found a recipe for Freckle Hearts in their Sweet Treats recipe book. I will definitely recommend this book as it has lots of decent sweet options based on your cooking skill. The one that stood out for me was the Freckles because of the limited number of ingredients and its seemingly easy (yet incredibly messy!) process. While the original Frankie recipe was called 'Freckle Hearts', I decided to give it more variety by making the chocolate freckles into various shapes - mainly to save time and also for the sake of curiosity. The following recipe was also inspired by a similar recipe that I found on Best Recipes except with double the portion of the ingredients. It was tiring when balancing the sweets together especially when some of the shapes didn't turn out right. Despite that, it was all made with love...and on a Saturday night! Thanks Rage TV for keeping me sane...

Chocolate porn ;)

What did I end up getting?

Sweet Swap 1: Chocolate honeycomb snaps by Muppys

I freaking love these treats! Soo addictive! I'm also a massive fan of honeycomb so I gladly ate as much as I could before mum came back from North America finds this lot in the fridge...and ate the rest! Looking forward to reading the recipe for this ;).

Sweet Swap 2: Copycat Green Tea Kit Kats by Julie from I Dream in Chocolate

A cute, quirky and slightly healthier choice compared to lots of sweets. Great to share with mates (my mate loves anything with green tea!). The melty kiss is so adorable and I really enjoyed eating the green tea kit kats - both the rich and scrumptious handmade "copycat" ones and the real one.

Sweet Swap 3: ???

Sadly at the time of writing this post, I still have not received my third Sweet Swap package :(. I have a feeling that maybe there was a post slip to collect the parcel but it got lost somewhere. Hopefully it shows up eventually. If not, hopefully you see this post and let me know one way or another. I am very curious to see what it was especially since I really enjoyed what I've got so far.

My lucky (or unlucky) recipients of my handmade sweets were Chanel from Cats Love Cooking, Eileen from Soft and Stiff Peaks and Julie from I Dream in Chocolate (LOL we got matched up both times! :P). Hope you all enjoy these treats as much as I had fun making them.

After a few minor alterations to original recipes, I present to you The Random Foodie's first recipe post everrrrr! From what I've heard, these are amazing treats for kids, parties, picnics and even for brekkie! (thanks Julie! :P)

Freckle shapes 

Great for vegetarians! Not so great for those on a diet :-p.

Total prep time: 30 minutes (including 10 mins cooking time)

Makes: 25-30 freckles (NB: this depends on the size of your cookie cutter, I used small cookie cutters)


250g good quality chocolate - I used 70% cocoa dark chocolate
20g Copha, chopped
1/2 cup of 100s and 1000s


1. Line trays with baking paper
2. Lightly grease your cutters with butter or oil and place it on the baking paper
3. Melt the chocolate and copha into a small pan/saucepan
4. Remove the small pan once you start to see tiny bubbles otherwise the chocolate will burn
5. Place about a tablespoon of chocolate mix into each cutter (this may need more or less depending on the cutter size. I learnt it the hard way when making the first batch)
6. Cover with hundreds and thousands and refrigerate for about 30 minutes or until set.
7. Remove the chocolate freckles from the cookie cutters and store them in an airtight container in the fridge.

Storage: This can be kept refrigerated in an airtight container for up to six weeks.

Variations: You can also use milk chocolate or white chocolate as the chocolate mixture.

Melting the chocolate

Pouring the chocolate into the cutters

The finished product

What I love about The Sweet Swap was finding out what sweets I've gotten as well as seeing what everyone has received. If there is anything that I would change for the next Sweet Swap it would definitely be my packaging. Mine was quite rushed with plain takeaway boxes and cards so it didn't look as pretty compared to everyone else's. Seeing the package delivered to my house and opening them up was the best moment ever. It feels like opening your Xmas pressie! Will put more thought into how it should look next time. Will also spend more time making a variety of sweets. It's actually loads of fun.
A final thanks to Amanda and Sara for doing an amazing job in organising The Sweet Swap and bearing with my impatience as I continue to wait for my final package. 

For more info and checking out what everyone else made on The Sweet Swap:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

La Lupita at The Basement, Sydney CBD

With the ever-growing number of Mexican restaurants and bars/cafes/pubs serving Mexican food (mainly tacos) in Sydney these days, it would be hard to figure out on which place is considered as authentic when there are so many options with different interpretations. While I haven't been to Mexico, I have read a couple of good Mexican food blogs on food trucks and taquerias. Judging from the tacos I've had at La Lupita, I would say that these are the closest interpretation to the tacos I've tried at the Mexican taquerias in Southern California (or SoCal as they like to call it) and I mean it. It has everything you want from condiments like coriander and radishes, no cheese served in tacos, spicy sauces and the charred yet juicy and meaty fillings like Al-Pastor and Carne Asada. And I just keep coming back for more!

When I first heard about La Lupita at its old Canterbury pop up restaurant, it was also operating as a food truck, Al Carbon Tacos (this food truck is now selling Sonora hot dogs upstairs from The Basement). It is the brainchild of former-policeman Attila Yilmaz, who I sometimes spot working in the kitchen or taking orders for customers back in its earlier days at the Canterbury pop-up. Many locals were devastated when the restaurant moved to Circular Quay since it had a local, family vibe; while the Circular Quay venue has a corporate, professional atmosphere yet it still does have a buzzing and social feel about it. Personally, I thought it was alright because I work in the city and Canterbury is half-way for me. Despite the change of venue, the cheerful and welcoming vibe was there and more importantly, the food was still incredibly delicious. You may not breathe in the smell like the open spit-roast kitchen at Canterbury but the same quality and taste is still there and that's what really matters. It was quite dark inside so I had trouble taking some photos due to the dim lighting (sorry guys!).

La Lupita's residential musician, Victor Valdes, performing on stage

When you head inside the restaurant, you are given an order form which gets stamped as you decide what you want to order. The tortillas get pressed at the front and the meat was cooked in the kitchen at the back. After you receive your food, you head to the salsa and salad bars to dress your tacos. At the end you pay for your meal at the bar at the back of the restaurant. Would have liked to know which desserts are available rather than being kept in suspense :p.

Order form
What La Lupita is well-known for was their hot salsas. There are restaurants that claim their food to be hot but then they are actually quite mild. At La Lupita, when they say it's hot it's BLOODY HOT! The salsas range from the extra mild Guacamole to the super hot Habanero. Pick your poison ;-).

Salsa bar

After picking your salsa/s, you choose your own salads whether it's fresh coriander, sliced radishes or even red and white onions. The fillings at the salad stand reminded me of the Mexican taquerias in my trip to California especially the radishes and the coriander. I always over stuff my tacos with these extras.
Salad bar - Dress your own tacos :)

As you can see, I went overboard with loading up the tacos with the salsas and salads so unfortunately these photos did not do justice. But let me tell you, they taste absolutely delicious! The tacos were bursting with charred and meaty flavour and the tortillas had enough texture to hold a decent amount of fillings without falling apart. While it would be good to see a corn tortilla for a truly authentic taco experience, the flour tortilla was freshly made and tasty enough to satisfy my taste buds. Even before you pack the tacos with the salsas and salads, the serving is reasonable enough to make you fairly full.

Tacos ($6.00 each)

Pollo Asado (chicken) taco - charcoal spit roasted so it retains a tasty crunch on the outside while still tender and juicy inside

Carne Asada (beef) taco - smoked, tender and soft beef that melts in your mouth

My personal favourite is the taco al-pastor for its grilled and flavoursome spit-roasted pork and juicy, sweet, roasted pineapple. Those who know and love true Mexican cuisine will love this version.

Al Pastor (pork with roasted pineapple) taco

For those who are either vegetarian or keep for nachos, there are a couple of options for you to enjoy as well. One that I've tried was the Frijoles Charros that consists of spiced pinto beans made cowboy style, tortilla chips, salsa roja, crema mexicana, chiltepil (a type of salsa consisting of pepita seeds, sesame and chilli) and queso de Oaxaca cheese. While I do prefer that they used totopos like the ones at GYG, the tortilla chips are still crunchy even when soaked with the immense toppings. What makes this dish for me was the stringy and bitey Oaxaco cheese...dammit I just love stringy cheese! With the interesting selection of toppings, these are definitely not your average cliched nachos! For other vegetarian, nacho-related options; you can check out the Troelotes ($10.00) which consists of tortilla chips with roasted spiced corn, fresh salsa, crema mexicana, lime salt and grated cotija cheese. I haven't got the chance to try this yet but will check this out on one of my many future visits here.

The serving size was substantial so I would recommend ordering this if you are sharing it with your friends especially if you want to try more food from the menu.

Frijoles Charros ($10.00)

These were messy to eat but still delicious if you are keen for something meatier or just low-carb/high-protein (lol). It tasted even better with the spicy and tangy chipotle salsa which elevated this dish to be more than just blackened chicken wings.

Spit roast hot wings ($10.00)

This is a great place for a quick feed for lunch or dinner. The prices are cheap (very cheap for a restaurant at The Rocks/Circular Quay area) and you get good value for money as the food will surely fill you up no matter what you order. Another positive about this restaurant was the friendly and helpful service from all of my visits. Will return to try their one-off special tacos that you can only access if you post a photo of yourself at the restaurant then show it to one of the people working there. The menu is limited here so it's easier to try everything out but hopefully as time passes, there will be more delicious food (especially the special tacos) added to the regular menu. If you are looking for a delicious, affordable and authentic Mexican tacos, look no further than La Lupita. It will blow your mind...and your taste buds!

La Lupita at The Basement
7 Macquarie Place, Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9251 2797

La Lupita at the Basement on Urbanspoon