Australia, Sydney, Sydney - North

Tim Ho Wan

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Tim Ho Wan was established by former dim sum chef of Four Seasons, Mak Kwai Pui, who opened a hole-in-the-wall dim sum restaurant in Mong Kok, Hong Kong in 2009. Tim Ho Wan has since been known as the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world.

Tim Ho Wan has now opened in Sydney. Located in Chatswood, in the new precinct known as The District, the restaurant is serving up 25 made-to-order dim sums on a first come first serve basis. The executive chef of the Sydney restaurant is Eric Koh, who is the former chef of Mr Wong’s in Sydney.

With great anticipation, I arrived here at around 4.30pm on the soft opening day of 28 March 2015, with former foodblogger, Ando from The Lambstock. We waited in line for around half an hour before being allowed to go inside. Apparently some people had to wait for over 2 hours earlier in the day to get in.

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The restaurant is in an open space which is brightly lit with an open kitchen. With its simple tables and chairs, it reminded me of a food court. They played mainly Canto-pop music from the 1980s, and some of those songs brought back memories of my childhood in Hong Kong.

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We had to order the food by specifying the quantity on a pre-printed list and handing the completed list to one of the wait staff. The wait staff then printed out a list of our order, and when the food came, the staff would cross out the corresponding item from that list.

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Observing the wait staff as they worked, they seem very chaotic, and looked like headless chooks running around. Maybe it was because most of the staff were young and lacked experience. The first few dim sums arrived at our table relatively quickly, although we had to ask the wait staff two times before they brought out the tea that we ordered.

After the arrival of the first few dim sums, the rest of our orders did not arrive. We waited for 15 minutes before asking a wait staff to check for us. She took our order list away to check but never came back with the list or an explanation. It took another two wait staffs to find our order list and they assured us that the food was coming. It wasn’t until we chased up again, that the remaining food on our list was brought out. This was 40 minutes after the first lots of food came out.

40 minutes would not seem like a long time if we were in a fine dining restaurant, but in a food court type place where food was being brought out quickly, and when other people were able to order, eat and leave within 30 minutes, it seem like an eternity to us. It surprised us that no wait staff knew what was happening when something went wrong, and they were all too busy bringing out food to notice anything wrong with their customers.

Anyway, enough about the service. Now onto the food.

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The first three dim sums came out virtually at the same time.

Spring Roll with Egg White $6.00

The spring roll was very crispy, and the filling of egg white, prawns and spring onions was light and tasty.   One of the finer spring rolls I have tried.

Pan-Fried Carrot Cake $6.00

This dim sum dish was made from “white carrot”, more commonly known to us as turnip. Unlike most Chinese restaurants which use a lot of flour and not much turnip when making this dish, the carrot cake here was filled with visible chunks of turnip, and this was evident in the taste of the dish. The other fillings did not overpower the taste of the turnip, and complimented well with the star of the dish being the turnip. Tasting this dish brought me back to my childhood, where my late grandmother used to make this at home every Lunar New Year. I still remembered the large chunks of turnips in her carrot cake, and this dish brought back those memories. A must try dish for all.

Braised Chicken Feet with Abalone Sauce $6.20

The chicken feet had a slimy texture, which was not very inviting, but the rich abalone flavour was fully infused into the chicken feet. This is not a dish for the faint-hearted.

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Within a few minutes, three more dim sum dishes arrived.

Prawn Dumpling $7.80

These small dumplings were steamed perfectly, with a lot of prawns densely packed inside, bringing out a nice sweet flavour. One of the dumplings unfortunately still had bits of prawn shells inside.

Spinach Dumpling with Shrimp $6.80

The dumplings were full of flavour, with fresh spinach inside. However, I found the dumplings a bit too oily for my liking.

Beancurd Skin with Pork and Shrimp $6.20

This dish was a pleasure to try – it was full of flavour and the beancurd skin was soft and smooth. This was a delight to my tastebuds.

 

After these dishes, we had to wait 40 minutes for the next dishes to come as noted previously. They all came out one by one individually over a course of about 10 minutes.

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Steamed Egg Cake $5.50

This was like the Chinese version of a sponge cake. The cake was full of egg and buttery flavours, and it was really soft. However, the texture was a bit dry at times.

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Fish Maw with Prawn Paste $8.80

A very traditional Chinese yum cha dish that is hard to find nowadays. The fish maw was full of delicate flavours, with soft silky texture, while the prawn paste provided a good contrast as it packed a punch of flavours.

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Wasabi Salad Prawn Dumpling $7.80

Interesting twist to a traditional dim sum dish, the dumpling was overly crunchy, but the wasabi mayo and fish roe provided some kick to this dish.

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Baked Bun with BBQ Pork $6.80

This was the dish of the day. The golden pastry on the crust of the bun was crunchy yet soft, and the sweetness of the bun blended well with the velvety texture of the luscious pork inside the bun. This is the dish that everyone must order if they come here. This has to be the best pork bun I have tasted here in Sydney. A winner in every way!

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Tonic Medlar & Osmanthus Cake $5.80

A refreshing dessert which was light and sweet, with the subtle sweetness from the osmanthus flowers and goji berries shining through. This is a much better way to end a yum cha experience than having a heavy cream laden mango pancake.

 

Overall, the dim sum dishes here were simply divine. The prices, though, were not that much cheaper to what you find at most Chinese restaurants in Sydney, unlike its counterpart in Hong Kong. Shame about the service though but I guess this is a learning experience for the staff as well, and the service should improve over time.

Tim Ho Wan on Urbanspoon

Tim Ho Wan

Website: http://www.timhowan.com.au

Address: The District, corner of Victoria and Railway Streets, Chatswood

Phone: (02) 9898 9888

Opening hours: 10am to 9pm, Monday to Sunday

Accepts MasterCard, Visa and American Express

By Greg

Australia, Sydney, Sydney - North

The Tall Lemongrass

We were invited by Missy Mischief to try out The Tall Lemongrass. The Tall Lemongrass is one of the Sydney’s favourite and most iconic Thai restaurants, and as part of its five year anniversary, we were invited to a special dinner hosted by chef and owner of The Tall Lemongrass – Wendy Khouphongsy.

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The restaurant is located on the main street of Crows Nest, in the lower north shore of Sydney. As soon as we walked into the restaurant, we noticed how elegant and modern the set up was. The restaurant has a big open area for dining, with an open kitchen. The vibe of the place was very cozy and laid-back. The background music was very chilled, and along with the openness of the space, we felt at ease in the surrounding immediately.

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Wendy was very attentive, giving us their normal menu to look at. The first thing that struck us when looking at the menu was that there were three categories of food on offer in the menu – the classic Thai dishes, the Thai dishes with a modern twist, and their trademark or signature dishes. This was very impressive, as it catered for all types of customers. The wine menu had a limited selection, but they were all handpicked by Wendy to compliment her dishes.

Wendy has prepared a special menu for us to try, with three starters and four mains. We were happy to go with the special menu that she has designed for us.

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Complimentary Table Snack – Prawn Crackers

On the table was a bowl of prawn crackers. Wendy explained that these were specially imported from Thailand and her customers loved them so much that they frequently asked for a bag of prawn crackers to take home after their meal.

Greg: The prawn crackers were full of prawn and pepper flavour, and was a good palate cleanser to accustom our palate for the spicy food that was to come. If I did not ask Wendy about the origin of the crackers, I would have thought they were home-made, as they reminded me of the home-made prawn crackers that my friend’s late mother used to make in Malaysia.

Jono: The prawn crackers were very tasty and crispy, unlike the ones you normally would see in some Chinese or Thai restaurants.

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Starter – Mien Khumm – Sweet radish, ground peanut, cooked prawn, chopped fresh galangal, lime, ginger, red onion wrapped in egg net and betel leaf

This dish was presented in a very modern manner in two champagne-like glasses, with the sauce on the side in a small glass jug.   It is a modern twist to a classic traditional Thai dish. The sauce is poured into the egg net and eaten like a sushi hand roll.

Greg: The dish was very nicely presented, and it was fun eating it like a hand roll. The egg net was strong, and pouring the sauce into it did not break it. Even though the egg net was filled with ginger and galangal, the dish was not spicy at all. These ingredients provided a nice kick to the sweetness from the sauce. A nice way to start the meal.

Jono: I liked this dish as a starter. It was fresh, with no meaty taste. The presence of lime, ginger and galangal did not overpower the grassy flavour from the other ingredients. The grassy flavour was a perfect match to the glass of sauvignon blanc that I was drinking from.

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Starter – Larb Ped on witlof – Roasted duck crushed toasted rice, mint, coriander, with a hint of chilli on a leaf of chicory witlof

This dish was presented very elegantly on small plates holding the witlof. Again, the presentation was very modern, and is an updated presentation of another traditional Thai classic dish.

Greg: The dish was warm and tasty. It was a perfect fusion of all my taste senses – spiciness (from the chilli and coriander), saltiness (from the duck), sourness (from the lime) and sweetness (from the witlof), smokiness (from the toasted rice) and bitterness (from the witlof). Lovely!

Jono: This dish seem like a Thai-Vietnamese fusion dish, with the Thai flavour coming from the toasted rice, but the use of fish sauce in the dish gave it a Vietnamese flavour. A very interesting dish.

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Starter – Fresh rolls Duck – Rice paper roll, roasted duck, vegetable, carrot, tofu, served with sauce

This dish was presented in a very traditional manner – just two large rolls with a dipping sauce on the side.

Greg: Even though this looked like a simple dish, it was very complex from a texture perspective. There was a contrast in textures from the various ingredients – the soft paper wrap, the crunchy carrot, the soft tender duck, and the kick from the spices and the sauce. Very nice!

Jono: This was definitely a Vietnamese inspired dish. Although the rolls looked like Vietnamese rice paper rolls, the taste was different as they used different herbs. There was a good balance between meat and vegetables, and the presence of tofu was an interesting addition. A very nice and unique dish.

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Main – Yum Aubergin Stack – Chicken minced, prawn, onion, mints, coriander, fresh chilli, lime juice, fish sauce

The dish was presented in a modern way, stacked up high like a sandwich with the chicken mince inside two pieces of eggplant, topped with prawns.

Greg: This dish had very nice fresh, clean flavours. The chicken and prawns provided texture to the soft eggplant, with a kick of spiciness coming from the herbs, chilli and onion.

Jono: The size and thickness of the eggplant slices reminded me of buns in hamburgers or pancakes. The three prawns on top provided colour to the dish. The chicken mince, with little bits of onions, were so delicious that it made me want to eat it all up straight away. There was a good balance between the amount of chicken mince and the eggplant. There was also a good balance of flavours, as the taste was not too spicy or fishy. The prawns were fresh and cooked well, and they were the best prawns I have tried in a long time.

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Main – Penang Osso Boco – Penang curry paste, coconut cream, fish sauce

The dish was very nicely presented, with the osso boco stacked up high and the curry covered the osso buco lavishly.

Greg: I enjoyed this Malaysian inspired dish very much. This took me back to my holidays in Penang, Malaysia, where I was eating curry on stools in small cramped stores. The meat was well cooked, and it was tender and soft. The curry had a hint of lemongrass flavour making it special and refreshing. The bone marrow from the osso buco gave a rich depth to the flavour of the curry. A must to try.

Jono: I enjoyed this dish as well. The flavour was awesome with the combination of curry paste, coconut cream and fish sauce. The presence of a piece of pineapple in the bottom of the bowl was a great surprise, and a good sweet ending to this dish.

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Main – Crispy 3 layers pork with caramel – Slow cooked then deep fried until crispy top with caramel

The dish came out with four big slices of pork bellies, with three red chillies on top, served on a colourful Chinese plate.

Greg: This dish was Chinese inspired, as evident by the flavour of the sauce and the plate that it was served in. It reminded me of the food I used to have when I was young in Hong Kong. The sauce was exceptional, but the pork was very hard to chew at times.

Jono: I really liked the caramelised sauce, but I found the meat hard to chew as well. However, the skin of the pork was very crispy and well caramelised.

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Main – Pad Thai prawns – sampling plate size

The last dish was a sampling size of the restaurant’s most popular dish, Pad Thai. It was nicely presented as two small parcels, each wrapped in egg net, providing a very creative way to present this traditional all time favourite Thai dish.

Greg: This dish was very tasty. The extra egg from the egg net added depth to the dish, with the presence of tofu pieces complimenting the flavour of the dish well.

Jono: This was a new way of eating Pad Thai, with the use of creativity seen through the presentation of the dish in egg net. The presentation did not cover up the delicious taste of the dish. The dish was served at the right temperature. The flavour was just right – the distinctiveness of the noodles shone through this dish.

Overall, this was a very impressive display of the dishes on offer at The Tall Lemongrass. Even though this was a Thai restaurant, the dishes took us to different parts of Asia, and reminded us of our childhood memories, which made the experience more incredible. Wendy was also very impressive – she was kind and down to earth, and she demonstrated good knowledge of the food and an understanding of the needs of customers. We saw her multi-tasking the whole night, cooking and serving customers, as well as doing the accounts towards the end of the night. We really enjoyed our time here and we will definitely come back to The Tall Lemongrass in the near future.

The Tall Lemongrass on Urbanspoon

The Tall Lemongrass

Website: https://thetalllemongrass.squarespace.com

Address: Shop 4, 136 Willoughby Road, Crows Nest, Sydney

Phone: (02) 9966 0300

Opening hours: 11am to 3pm, 5pm to 10pm, Mon to Sun

Accepts MasterCard, Visa and American Express

Note: There is a second store in Haymarket, Sydney, located at Shop 7-10, 827-837 George Street. The phone number for the Haymarket store is (02) 9212 1935.

Australia, Sydney, Sydney - CBD

Brewristas Cafe, Glebe

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Located in the trendy suburb of Glebe in Sydney is this cool café. It has a sleek, modern interior and is also quite big, with tables by the windows or the side wall. There is also a small courtyard at the back with more tables.

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The first thing I saw walking into the café was the counter with a big coffee machine. Surrounding it were other coffee related equipment such as filters, which showed how committed to coffee this place was. The barista uses a horn system to notify the serving staff when the coffee was ready, so customers can enjoy their coffee at the right temperature.

The staff was very open, friendly and attentive. Their enthusiasm showed their commitment to the customers and their products. They were always smiling

I ordered a macchiato. The coffee had nice intense flavours, which were nicely balanced, with a smoky yet fragrant flavours.

Jono ordered an avocado shake. He liked this drink, as it was not overly sweet, with a milky flavour from the use of condensed milk in the drink.

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Porky Pigs Hotteok – Traditional Korean honey jam pancake with bacon, poached egg, spicy guacamole, rocket & mango habanero mayo $15

Jono found the whole dish too sweet – the pancakes were already sweet themselves, the jam filling made them sweeter, and even the mayo was leaning to the sweet side. He thought that maybe he should have used the lime to make it less sweet. The bacon did help in reducing the sweetness somewhat. The poached eggs, though, were perfect.

I thought this dish had too much going on. I would have loved to have eaten the pancakes with the jam filling by itself as a sweet snack. It reminded me of Korean red bean pancakes. The addition of bacon added some saltiness to the dish, while the mayo added some spiciness and the lime added a touch of sourness. They actually detracted me from the real star of the dish which should have been the pancakes.

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Kevin’s Balls – filled with roasted pork belly, tofu, kim chi, sweet potato, encrusted with shin ramyun $10

This dish is named after the owner, and four small balls were served in a small cup.

One bite of this dish took me back to high school days, where I would make shin ramen in the middle of the night to keep me sustained as I studied for the HSC. The spiciness of the shin ramen that I remembered were all captured by this dish, and the kim chi added a depth of flavour to this dish. The portion of pork belly in the balls was also very generous. The crunchiness of the outside contrasted well with the soft texture of the pork belly and tofu.

Jono thought the dish was well presented, but a little hard to eat. He thought that putting the balls on the plate would have made it easier for people to eat, as the balls tended to fall apart when you put a fork into them.

Overall, Brewristas is a neat little café with very innovative food that you would not find in normal cafes. The coffee here is their specialty.

Brewristas on Urbanspoon

Brewristas Cafe

Website: http://www.brewristas.com.au

Address: 73 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, Sydney

Phone: Not available

Opening hours: 8am to 2pm, 6pm to 10pm, Mon to Thurs; 8am to 2pm, 6pm to 11pm, Fri; 9am to 11:30p, Sat; 9am to 9pm, Sun

Accepts MasterCard and Visa only, not American Express

By Greg

Australia, Sydney, Sydney - CBD

Field House Restaurant & Bar, Novotel Central

As part of the NSW Food and Wine Festival which ran from February 7 to March 1 this year, Field House Restaurant & Bar offered a three course dinner with matching wines for $69. Jono and I decided to try this out.

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Arriving at Novotel Hotel at around 8:30pm, I was surprised by the appearance of the restaurant. It was in an open space, with white plastic tables and black chairs, and it looked more like a canteen than a restaurant inside a hotel. There was only one other diner at that time, and the staff were shocked that we were intending to dine there. When I told them that we had a booking, which I made a few days beforehand, they were not able to locate it.

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We sat down at our tables and were given the menus. I noticed that not all tables had both salt and pepper bottles on them – some tables had a bottle of each, while other tables only had one bottle of either.

The special menu the NSW Food and Wine Festival allowed us to choose a dish from a choice of three in each course. Each dish came with a specific matching wine.

When the meals were served, no one explained the food nor the wine to us. The food and the glasses of wine were just popped onto the table, with little to no explanation. The service from the staff was simply non-existent.

Now onto the food.

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Confit Bryon Bay pork belly, apple & ginger salad, chilli caramel
(2006 Blickling Estate Cabernet Sauvignon)

Jono ordered this choice for his entrée. He was disappointed with the skin of the pork belly, as it was neither crispy nor soft, but it was rather chewy. He described the meat as tough and chewy as well.   However, Jono mentioned the saving grace of this dish was the caramelised sauce which provided a good balance to the salad.

I had a taste of the pork belly and it was definitely undercooked.

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Nelson Bay king fish ceviche, jalapeno chilli, avocado and heirloom tomato
(2013 Audrey Wilkinson Semillon)

I ordered this dish, and noticed that the fish slices were too thick. I had a bite of the fish and it was not seasoned. Eating the fish with the jalapeno was a big mistake – the jalapeno was too hot and spicy, and it completely overpowered the delicate flavour of the king fish. Maybe the chef should have removed all the white parts from the jalapeno so the chilli taste would have been milder and then the flavour of the fish would have come through in this dish.

The wine matched was too light for the spicy flavour of the jalapeno.

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Pan roasted Coffs Harbour jewfish, smoked baby beets, pancetta & saffron butter
(2009 Poole’s Rock Chardonnay)

Jono ordered the fish. To him, this dish was very enjoyable, with the fish being well seasoned and all the other ingredients in this dish working well with each other.

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New England lamb rump, primavera potatoes, garden peas & mint puree
(2011 Audrey Wilkinson The Lake Shiraz)

I ordered the lamb for my main. The smokiness of the crust on the lamb, when removed, revealed succulent and juicy meat, and this was well matched with the sides and the heavy, fruity and tarry wine. This was a very nice dish.

Jono also tried part of my dish, and noticed that the sauce for the dish had a very heavy garlic flavour, which ironically, was more prominent than the chopped garlic on top of the potatoes. He also enjoyed how the strong, garlicky and spicy sauce matched the smoky flavour of the meat, yet providing a contrast to the soft texture of the meat.

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NSW cheese collection, sourdough bread and dried fruits
(2003 De Bortoli Botrytis Semillon)

Jono ordered the cheese plate for dessert. This was quite big serving for one, with a good variety of bread and a standard selection of cheese. The dessert wine was a bit too sweet for the cheese.

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Flourless baked Batlow apple tart, cinnamon ice cream and biscotti
(2010 Krinklewood Lucia Botrytis Semillon)

As the waitress was preparing the wine, I noticed that she poured the same wine as Jono into my glass as well. So I asked her whether both the wine for this dish was the same and she answered in the affirmative.

I did not want to make a scene, but the menu clearly stated that the matching wine for my dish was the Krinklewood Lucia, not the De Bortoli. It was very disappointing that the staff did not even know the menu.

The dish itself was also disappointing, the apple tart was too sour, while the biscotti was a bit stale. The honey flavour from the De Bortoli dessert flavour actually made the apple tart more sour.

Overall, given the level of service from the staff, and the inconsistencies in the food being presented, I would not come back to this restaurant any time soon. I expected more from a Novotel branded establishment.
Field House Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Field House Restaurant and Bar

Website: http://www.novotelsydneycentral.com.au/restaurant

Address: Novotel Sydney Central, 169-179 Thomas Street, Sydney

Phone: (02) 9281 6888

Opening hours: 6:30am to 10:00pm, Mon to Sun

Accepts MasterCard, Visa and American Express cards

By Greg