Over the last 7 or so years, Marrickville had been lauded by real estate agents as the New Paddington, a previously less attractive area that, due to its proximity to the city, relatively convenient transport and multicultural community, was set to boom. Sellers (and buyers) were quick to price in this potential. Luxurious warehouse conversions started popping up.
Then young hip city dwellers from Newtown and Enmore spilled over past Enmore Park and started opening warehouse music venues in Marrickville. The Vietnamese restaurants gave way to the pioneering cafes and bakeries.
While far from having the pomp of Paddington, Marrickville is on the up and up – at least as far as cafes were concerned.
For breakfast yesterday, we caught up with J at Cornersmith in Marrickville, a new cafe on Illawarra Road. The cafe has been heavily blogged about of late and we wanted to check it out.
The space itself it small but very well furnished and utilised. After placing our name on the chalkboard outside and a short wait, we were seated in a cosy table.
In the time we were there, the place burgeoned with patrons. To serve everyone, staff waited on you with a rushed efficiency. Inoffensively and with a polite smile but rushed.
Of course, everyone was here for the lovely locally-sourced food. V had the Vanilla Bean Labneh with Pear & Chamomile Conserve & Seeds on Rye. V liked it but I thought that while it was richly flavoured, it was a little on the sparse side.
I had the Sardines, Carraway Labneh, Fennel, Greens & Wild Greens Peston Rye, which I thought was better value than V’s. The sardines and labneh was a very interesting combination over the thin crunchy rye.
J had the Poached Egg Roll with Pasture-Raised Ham, Garlic Aioli, Smokey Onion Relish and Fennel Salad, apparently the best of the lot.
As a side, we had the sweet Honey Cured Carrots with Fennel and Sesame Seeds. This was great. I could have easily had a salad of this.
The word? Cornersmith sets a high bar for other cafes to follow in the area. Food-wise, the dishes are thoughtfully and lovingly devised and is mostly reasonably priced. Would I come back? Certainly. If it’s too busy at Cornersmith, there are always the hearty pho places nearby.
NOTE: Prior posts on The Carrington located here and here.
Lunch with B today, just wanted something comfortable and proven. I heard the Carrington Hotel has a Sunday roast these days – how could we pass that up?
With very little arm-twisting (none), we both had the Sunday Roast Pork with Crackling, Potato Tortilla, cabbage & chorizo, apple sauce. The crackling was a little stale but the rest of the dish was appropriate to the cover price.
No visit to the Carrington is the same without the delicious Morcilla Stuffed Squid, which is still my favourite dish here.
The word? Not much else to add to what I’ve said before. Great food and service. Prices in line with the area and cuisine. No crowds and no dramas for Sunday lunch. See prior posts here and here.
B and I had a small celebration to commemorate a proportionately small milestone a couple of weeks ago.
The venue: Kobe Jones. The prize: the All You Can Eat Sushi lunch special. The outcome: much over-eating? You bet.
For $29.50 per person (with a minimum of two people), they serve 4 kinds of sushi on large platters: Spicy Kingfish sushi, Avocado and Asparagus sushi, Crab Salad and Ebi sushi, and the main event, the Volcano Roll.
The Volcano Roll, oven baked scallops layered on a crab salad avocado roll, with special cream sauce and sesame seed and shallot sprinkle, was definitely the highlight. It was thanks to this that we continued to stuff our faces, devouring two large platters of sushi.
It’s been a long time since I’ve last been here but it appeared dead at lunch time. For such a large venue, there was probably only a dozen or so people the while we were there. I suspect the cold overcast day was too much of a deterrent.
The word? Service was a tad slow so make sure not to have meetings booked after lunch. There didn’t appear to be heaters near the seating along the railing so be prepared to be cold. With these in mind, the lunch specials were still a great fancy treat. I’d go again to try the other specials. This All You Can Eat had made me eat all I can.
May 5 does not just mark celebration by Mexicans. For me and Ramen Raff, it was altogether something different: Free Comic Book Day. Going eleven years strong, Free Comic Book Day seeks to introduce more readers to comics by giving them a sample of the different kind of stories available. Large and independent publishers alike participate, in cooperation with book stores and local comic shops, in welcoming the throngs of comic books readers, occassionally in cosplay, and hopefully, some of their non-reader friends. To entice readers further, comic book shops mark down their trade paperbacks and other collections (though not the floppies or single issues).
Inadvertently, the day also meant something else for me: Ramen Day.
For lunch, Ramen Raff and I dropped in Ramen Kan for some Ramen goodness. My brother had spoken fondly of this place in the past and I was keen to try it out.
Raff has the Tonkatsu Ramen ($10.90), which while he says is good, it’s not the thick soup he’s used to (more on this later).
I have the Hot and Spicy Ramen ($11.50), which was entirely disappointing. Think Michael Douglas in Falling Down, getting a meal much unlike the picture in the menu. Instead of the abundance of chicken I was expecting, I got two tiny specks. The soup lived up to its name though: it was deadly hot.
We shared a couple of entrees, the Chicken Karaage ($3.00) and the Pork Gyoza ($3.00). Both were unremarkable and unworthy of further comment.
Chicken Karaage $3.00
Pork Gyoza $3.00
The word? Great company did not save the disappointing food at Ramen Kan, which is more like Ramen Can’t. I won’t be back.
Undeterred, I was keen for Ramen Redemption. I was keen to try the reknowned Gumshara at Eating World food court but Ramen Raff had had it a couple of nights prior, and wanted to branch out. You don’t earn a nickname like that by being a slouch.
Gumshara, he reckons, serves one of the best, if not the best, ramen he’s had. Sounds like Ramen Day was to be redeemed yet.
I met up with B after parting ways with Raff. Come dinner time, I floated the idea of Gumshara. He was keen.
How could a mere food court stall be so highly regarded? It isn’t even in a “clean” food court.
Tangent: There are at least three kinds of food courts. The first, more known kind is your conventional shopping centre food court; with their generic burger franchise, sandwich franchise and fried chicken franchise. A more varied version of this will include a kebab franchise and a North Indian franchise and a few non-descript Asian stalls. The second kind is a schmancier version of this; think the upstairs food court at Westfields Bondi Junction or, better yet, Westfields Pitt Street. The third kind is the exact opposite; the dingy food courts predominated by Asian stalls. These are perpetually dirty, character-less and have not been updated since the 80s. Dixon Street Food Court has double the dirt thanks to the tacky mirrored ceilings. Other potential indicators of this kind of food court are the existence of at least one sizzling plate place and only one drinks place. Eating World jostled for the role of Dirtiest Food Court in Chinatown until it underwent renovations in the mid-noughties. Now, though relatively cleaner then before, it’s still cramped and noisy and you constantly want to wash your hands after making contact with the sticky tables.
Let’s be clear: I love the “dirty” food courts. The competition here is so stiff that stalls can’t compete by price alone; the size, flavour and freshness of your dishes will make or break your business. Besides, Asian food is my default go-to cuisine whenever I visit a food court anyway so expanding my options to 100% of the choices is brilliant.
B has the Tonkatsu Ramen in Thick Soup. The generous size takes you back a bit but even once you realise the bowl is actually quite cone-shaped, it’s still a lot of food.
I have the Pork Spare Ribs in Thick Soup ($15.50), which come with a humongculous cut of fried spare rib. I have it with a side of BBQ Pork Skewers ($2.50).
The thick soup itself has a strong porky flavour. They proudly announce its curative properties: “Our soup is made by traditional Japanese way to cook which only uses fresh pork bone and water. NO MSG is used. The richness of the soup comes from the marrow of the bone and the soft bone. It contains a lot of collagen, which is essential to maintain a and smooth skin.”
The star condiment they had was the garlic sauce, large chunks of sliced garlic which appear to have been preseved in a soy-based sauce.
One thing they have on the menu that I will be back for one day is the Mega Ramen for $25. It’s thick tonkatsu soup topped with the spare ribs, roast pork slices, skewer and an egg for good measure.
The word? A little dearer than ramens from other, cleaner establishments, the price is justified by the fantastic soup and generous toppings. Definitely a winner.
Cuisine fixations can start from the most negligible things; say, a fragrance that relives a memory, a TV commercial that incites curiosity, or weather that complements a dish. In my case, it was a facebook post that incites food envy. An Indonesian friend had posted photos of an Indonesian dish she had cooked.
Feeling a little fragile the morning after helping a mate undertake some well-earned celebration, I waited anxiously (and hungrily) for Ayam Goreng 99 to open for lunch so I could pick up some comfort food. I wanted me some ayam bakar! The grilled chicken, for which I have always returned, is one of the three chicken types they’re known for (grilled, fried in Jakarta style, fried in Javanese style). Call placed, I picked up our order, quickly drove home and we devoured our feast. I posted a photo to aforementioned Indo friend to show the Indo feast she’d inspired.
This was the start of a fortnight-long Indonesian food fixation, solely fixated at Ayam Goreng 99, a Kensington institution. I had my camera in tow for one of our visits.
They have a serve of 5 smallish satay sticks for $8 but this occasion, we tried the Sate Kambing Lontong, lamb skewers served on rice balls. The lamb skewers were small but they were an effective carrier device for the deliciously sweet satay sauce. The rice balls was tasteless starchy filler but broke up the sweetness of the satay. We’ll stick to just the sticks next time.
For a change, we got the Ayam Goreng Mentega, Fried Chicken in Sweet Butter Sauce. This was sinful goodness; the buttery sweetness of that thick sauce can’t be healthy.
To offset the sweet dishes, we got the Cah Kangkung, a vegetable I grew up eating and is a delicious accompaniment to rice.
All of these dishes, of course, have to be served with generous amounts of their Sambal Chilli, which they also sell in jars.
Nasi Uduk (coconut rice) $3.50
Jelly drink $5 (forgot the name!)
While on this particular visit, we get the sweeter dishes, the grilled chicken is a healthier option. There are also a few other well known Indo dishes (eg nasi goreng) and lesser known dishes (eg bontot ayam, oxtail soup).
The word? Excellent Indonesian food. The queue will be long but it turns over quickly, write your order on the notepad on your table and prepare for a feast. It can be as affordable or as indulgent as you wish – there’s enough variety in the dishes to complement anything you order. It’s a bit dingy but, hey, most comfort food restaurants are.
Last Easter Weekend, V and I met up with T and J for dinner at Din Tai Fung in World Square.
Though I’ve spoken of the xiao long bao at numerous other Shanghainese places, the Taiwanese Din Tai Fung’s unique xiao long baos had long been the bar. Their web site boasts precise measurements: the pastry is 4.8 to 5.2 grams, diameter is an exact 6cm, and the stuffing is between 20.6 to 21.4 grams. Not sure if I should bring my camera or a measuring tape and a scale!
As is the usual case at DTF, the queue outside is massive. There’s always a huge queue but since I was last here at night, they now appear to have tables outside where one might sit and have a drink. You still need to go inside to get the drink though.
We luck out and we get a table in about 20 minutes.
The highlights are undoubtedly the dumplings. Though dearer than some of the dumpling upstarts, DTF’s Xiao Long Baos are consistently of high quality, even if they are on the small side. The Shrimp and Pork Wonton in Tangy Sauce are a new favourite that I haven’t seen elsewhere. They’re generously stuffed dumplings swimming in a chilli and light soy sauce. These morsels disappeared in an instant. The Crab and Pork Dumplings are a special on the menu; they are the Crab and Roe Dumpling’s poorer cousin. Tasty but the crab is indistinguishable.
Steamed Pork Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao) $12.80 for 8
Shrimp and Pork Wonton in Tangy Sauce $10.80
Crab and Pork Dumplings
Other hits include the Cucumber Salad with Vinaigrette Dressing (a great appetiser), the by-the-books Fried Rice with Shrimp, the Shanghai Style Drunken Chicken (a bit like Hainanese Chicken except braised in Chinese wine), and the yummy Cha Jiang Noodle with Minced Pork (which we liked so much we nearly ordered again.)
Cucumber Salad with Vinaigrette Dressing $5.80
Fried Rice with Shrimp $14.80
Shanghai Style Drunken Chicken $10.80
Cha Jiang Noodle with Minced Pork $13.80
As if he hadn’t gorged ourselves enough, we topped it off with one last order, the Silken Tofu with Pork Floss and Century Egg, which admittedly would likely have tasted better an entree. It was lacklustre. For dessert, we had an order of Gold Taro Bread and an order of Golden Red Bean Bread. I could take it or leave it.
Gold Taro Bread and Golden Red Bean Bread ($6.80 for two rolls)
Silken Tofu with Pork Floss and Century Egg $8.80
The word? The wait is horrendous and the service is coldly efficient but the dumplings are still some of the best, if not the dearest, in Sydney. I’d go to the other alternatives to save time and money.
As a pre-Easter Long Weekend treat, B and I trotted over to Luke Mangan’s Glass Brasserie & Wine Bar. Ramen Raff had alerted me to the $20 Corporate Lunch at the Wine Bar, particularly, the Wagyu Burger, served with BBQ sauce, Bacon and Cheese matched with a choice of beer or wine. This was the right way to ring in the weekend!
Past the sprawling high ceilings of the dining room proper, the wine bar is located west of the building, overlooking the Queen Victoria Building. The space itself is resplendent: the sun-drenched bar holds aisles of several hundred bottles of wine.
As for the burger itself, it was delicious and did not disappoint. Minor gripes I had were the plain BBQ sauce and the overly salty bacon but these are negligible issues.
Throw in a drink and the Corporate Lunch makes excellent value.
Come early if you can. The Wine Bar gets packed out a little past noon after which you’d need to sit at the bar; suitable unless you are dining with more than one person.
The word? Amazing value will have me definitely coming back for more.
The bovine call of the wagyu burger has beckoned me to many an establishment.
This time around, I caught up with Ramen Raff at Verandah Bar to try their Thursday Special: the $10 Wagyu Beef Burger. It incites disbelief… ten bucks for a wagyu burger?! It had to be seen to be believed.
Alas, the Burger Gods are playfully wicked. This particular wagyu burger did not live up to its name. Firstly, the bun was cold and dry. A few seconds over the grill to toast it would have improved this dish exponentially. Secondly, the patty itself was over-cooked; all its wagyu-goodness was indiscernible.
I’m reminded of another night at Verandah in 2006. Poet and musician, Saul Williams, walked in here looking for a feed before his gig that night at Becks Bar. Having this burger, I thought, “Yeah, I wish I were like Saul Williams.” Saul is a vegan and if I recall correctly, chose to dine elsewhere.
Bad cheap burger aside, it was excellent catching up with Raff at this great balcony on a sunny lunch hour. A couple of beers would not have gone awry. Perhaps next time.
Overlooking the Street
The word? They have $10 lunch deals everyday of the week and it gets really busy. Despite the great price, I won’t be having the burger again. Still, $10 is cheap enough to require a subsequent visit.
Superlatives, sparingly used, make for the most compelling recommendations. In Dee’s case, stunning pictures and double entendres were all that were necessary for me to visit La Macelleria.
Emerging from two consecutive boozy nights, V and I were very much looking forward to the lauded foot-long sausage rolls at this botique Bondi butcher/deli/rotisserie. A good greasy sausage roll comforts the sore head and hungry belly… but the supposed best sausage roll? Who knows. V was happy to help me sample this allegedly superlative delight.
Like a single-minded T1000 sent back to the past, we entered the shop and located our target. Before terminating, I scan the area for immediate threats. The rotisserie chicken, dry-aged T-bones and various cured meats appeared formidable but were targets for a subsequent visit. We were here for the sausage rolls.
The man getting served before us, however, ordered a Warm Pork Roast Panini with Mustard Fruits, Hot Mustard and Rocket Pesto, and the sight of the generous amount of pork within could not be turned down. Thankfully, it tastes as good as it looks: the tangy mustard and sweet jam complimented the meaty pork and crackly skin. The only minor downside is that it could have used a touch less pesto but it was otherwise excellent.
But back to the mission: the glistening foot-long Pork Sausage Rolls. Size-wise, they didn’t have the girth I had envisioned proportionate to a 12-incher. The pastry was also loose, like it was some kind of over-sized protective sheath for the meat within. Bad choice of words aside, it was delicious and worthy of the praise of best sausage roll. It wasn’t quite a sausage roll, the pork meat was firmer (look, there’s no I way I can describe this now without sounding gross) than most sausage rolls and the spicy filling (argh!) was very unique. It’s a different idea of a sausage roll, perhaps the original, but it’s far removed from the minced meat filling of conventional sausage rolls.
The word? Amazing sausage rolls that were nearly trumped by a delicious, value-for-money pork roast panini. Great place to grab cooked food to take to the beach or the grass. The gourmet meats and dry-aged steaks also make for a great treat.