Food Docket

Food Docket is a journey into my gastronomy life in and around Sydney. I am not a food critique; I just enjoy good food. Armed with just a simple camera phone, eating out is my way of appreciating the unique cultural culinary flavors and incorporating them into my passion for Malaysian-style cooking.
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Dragonfly Cafe on Urbanspoon
Dragonfly Café
307 Lane Cove Rd., North Ryde NSW 2113 

Quickie Lunch Weekday

One of our friends in the office was going away to get married, and we would like to take her out for a nice lunch (keeping in mind we could not keep it too long because it was mid-week). We headed down the road to the Dragonfly Café on Eden Gardens.

Being a fan of mushrooms, I ordered the Sautéd Flat, Button, Swiss Brown and Enoki Mushrooms.

The one poached egg, was a little overcooked to my liking. While the middle of the egg yolk was still runny, the outer layer was well overcooked - a result of rapid boiling water. Poached eggs, in my opinion, is best cooked in simmering water, which helps create a more evenly cooked yolk.

I believe the mushrooms were prematurely removed from the fire after it has been cooked with the rosemary as it was a little dry. When stir-frying mushrooms, their juices are released onto the pan. While the mushrooms may seem to be cooked, they should be left alone to allow it to soak up their juices. The flavors were almost non-existent as there was insufficient seasoning.

I will return to the Dragonfly Café because of its quiet surrounding greenery; away from all the concrete jungle of North Ryde that locals here are used to. But I will be giving this dish a miss.

Shanghai Stories 1938 on Urbanspoon
Shanghai Stories 1938
Shop 4 and 6, 405-419 Victoria Ave., Chatswood NSW 2067

First impressions

When The Concourse opened up recently, new restaurants sprung out like wild mushrooms and created a much livelier atmosphere on the main strip of Chatswood. One of these new breed of restaurants was the Shanghai Stories 1938.

Tables and chairs lined neatly alongside the restaurant for guests who prefer to sit outside. Just as I walked into the vicinity of the outdoor dining area, I saw a unattended podium with menus. Like any other unplanned dining, I waited for an usher to guide me into the restaurant, but there was no one to be seen. Some of the outdoor dining guests were just chilling out on a nice evening with a glass of wine in their hands as they savor the small servings of dimsims.

From a distance, a few ushers, standing on the back of another podium, caught my eye as they gestured me to walk towards them. I found it confusing that I had to walk past the outdoor dining guests to arrive at this other podium, placed right at the main entrance to the restaurant building. One would expect a standard courtesy of an usher to greet their guests at the door and show them to their seats.

What did I have and enjoyed

Shanghai Stories 1938 offers a selection of dimsims and also an ala carte style menu, featuring a dish range from elaborate seafood and meat to simple stir-fry noodles. Lily and I opted for the dimsim menu as I was keen to try their Xiao Long Bao (a very typical Shanghainese dish) - minced pork mixed and broth, wrapped like a bun for steaming.

We ordered the following dishes:

  • Xiao Long Bao
  • Pan-fried Pork Bun, which is a pan-fried version of the steamed Xiao Long Baos
  • Braised Bean Curd with Mushrooms (ordered from their ala carte menu); and
  • a serving of the Shanghai Style Stir Fried Noodles.

The Xiao Long Bao, served in a bamboo steaming basket, tasted satisfactory. Unfortunately, the amount of broth in each baos were not consistent - the ones with the little broth rendered the dough texture hard. A Chinese friend once taught me to always start at the “tip” of the bao to save my tongue from the scorching hot broth. The ”tip” leaves a lasting first impressions for me. It should not be hard and dry. The Xiao Long Bao served here was a hit-and-miss for me.

The Pan Fried Pork Bun, was also a hit-and-miss for me. The base of the buns are pan-fried at high heat, creating the Maillard reaction for added complexity of smokiness. Some of the buns’ base had some extensive charring, which tasted bitter.

On the other hand, I loved the Braised Bean Curd with Mushrooms. After the mushrooms and carrots were stir fried, they were wrapped with a thin layer of bean curd sheets and then deep-fried to perfection. The flavors of the mushrooms stood out, alongside with the crunch from the julienned carrots and deep fried bean curd sheets.

The Shanghai Style Stir Fried Noodles was generally palatable and had a good balance of umami flavors in the whole dish but I wish it was a little less oily.

We stayed on for the evening to sample their desserts after we finished our last dinner dish. We ordered the following dishes:

  • Sweet-scented Osmanthus Cake
  • China Panda Bun

The jelly-like dough texture was smooth, and had a touch of floral sweetness on each bite. It had to be from the essence of the Osmanthus flower. I do enjoy the floral flavors, but I was not sure if this was the best combination.

The China Panda Bun was cute and was filled with red bean paste. While I had better red-bean paste filled bun elsewhere, I appreciated the novelty.

-18° Meno Diciotto Gelataria
Shop 2, 1 Harbour St., Darling Harbour NSW 2000

The Secret Is In The Name

With gelato perfectly chilled at -18°C and made only from real fruits, nuts or chocolates, I knew Meno Diciotto was the real McCoy of ice-creams in Sydney. My first taste of real gelato was at Casa Del Gelato on Lygon St. in Melbourne, and ever since then I prayed for one to open up in Sydney. And came Meno Dicioitto.

The texture of Meno Diciotto’s ice-cream is lighter than most good ice-creams I know (think Ben and Jerry’s). I had the orange and mandarin sorbet. They left a sweet with a hint of tanginess on the middle of my tongue - a blissful sensation I was still getting used to. I could actually tasted the essence of real orange and mandarin flavors like I was eating the actual fruits.

Sweet Belem on Urbanspoon
Sweet Belem Cake Boutique
35 New Canterbury Rd., Petersham NSW 2049

Sweet Treats

For years I thought Portuguese Tarts were a new-age Asian delicacy made by quirky Taiwanese young-trepreneurs in pop-up outlets found in the streets of Chinatown and the basement of the World Square Shopping Centre in the CBD. While I went through a phase of gobbling one down every weekend, I no longer do so after a series of intervention from friends (more like constant abuse) about my flabby build. It was out of love, they claim.

My taste buds evolved as the years go by, and I find myself appreciating a wider range of aspects to dessert, such as the amount of effort and time pouring into a simple tart that looks, well, just like a tart. And the art. No longer am I amazed about desserts produced in masses sold to a long line of crowd outside a bakery. Like the Portuguese tarts made in most Asian bakery outlets, I found them overly sweet and tasted merely like a crème brulee with a cover pastry.

On the lively grub street of Petersham stood an ordinary looking shop that resembled an old traditional baking house with aluminium Venetian blinds on their glass window. A glass cabinet filled with rows of cakes and pretty looking desserts filled up about half the shop, with only a couple of table-tops (looked like Greek-inspired art to me) and chairs around. It was a very quiet afternoon, thanks to the rain that dampen the mood of summer.

The Sweet Balem Tart, from what I have heard, was the main attraction. My first bite onto the light and flaky pastry changed my mind completely about what good Portuguese tarts taste like. The custard tart was rich but not overly sweet to the extent where one would have their eyes wide shut. The cinnamon powder sprinkled on top left a sweet flavor on the tongue and a wonderful aroma to the pastry.

It is not often I would pay for $3 for a pop in this side of town, but for this fresh-out-of-the-oven pastry and its light and flaky texture, I would go for seconds.

Petersham Charcoal Chicken on Urbanspoon
Frango Petersham Charcoal Chicken
98 New Canterbury Rd., Petersham NSW 2193

First impressions

  • Busy busy busy! Even at 2pm on a Sunday afternoon.
  • From the outside, you could easily mistaken Frango’s for a typical takeaway-only cafe, with long queues in front of glass food cabinets, where diners (mainly from the local community) point to the food they are interested in having.
  • There were many little chickens (hence the name Frango’s for baby chickens in Portuguese) rotating over charcoal fire on a rotisserie behind the counter. The fragrant spices with the smell of charcoal lights up the restaurant atmosphere with life, even in this very wet summer afternoon. 
  • Petersham has a big Portuguese community here. The diner crowd here are very casual; you feel like you are part of a family filled with life and no worries.

What did I have and enjoyed

  • After about 30 minutes of waiting, we finally got ourselves a table. The waiters assumed we were locals, and casually asked what we would like to have as he sat us on our table. A crowded restaurant like this thrives on return customers. The food ought to be good if not awesome.
  • We ordered a whole Portuguese Charcoal Chicken, a small serving of tomato rice, two Bacalhau a Moda do Porto (also known as Belinho de Bacalhau, as advised by my Brazilian friend) balls and a serve of the homemade peri-peri sauce.
  • The Sumol can drink caught my eye. I had never seen it before in the supermarkets. And it has got passionfruit written all over it!
  • A bread roll is then placed onto our serving plate while we wait for the food to arrive.
  • When the charcoal chicken arrived, in the middle of our excitement and hunger, we were like piglets rushing for our food. While the charcoal chicken was a delight on the more tender areas like the wings, drumsticks and thighs, I wish the breast was a little bit more tender. However, this slight problem was quite easily solved with a generous dipped of the homemade peri-peri sauce. The multitude of flavors with the tinge of sourness brought the whole thing together.
  • The tomato rice was good for me. The hint of tomato was present, but I believe the rice was boiled with some stock, resulting the dish in a very rounded flavor as I had more of it.
  • The Bacalhau is sort of a fish cake, but deep fried. The fish used was cod, with a mix of onions and potatoes. I love the texture of the Bacalhau. When I bit on it, I could taste the fish, but the texture of the diced potatoes made it all so nice.
  • I wish I had more access to Sumol. I was half expecting it to taste like Mountain Dew; but I was so wrong. The refreshing passionfruit flavor is rejuvenating and seemed to go so well with the variety of flavors I was having that afternoon.

Ginger & Spice Singapore on Urbanspoon
Ginger & Spice Singapore
240 Military Rd., Neutral Bay NSW 2089

First impressions

  • Being originally from Malaysia, I am happy to say that if there two things that Singaporeans got it right, it would have to be their Hainanese Chicken Rice and Singapore Chilli Crabs. I visited Ginger & Spice to check out their infamous Hainanese Chicken Rice, which had garnered multiple success stories from word of mouth of my fellow countrymen.
  • Dishes were served very quickly - within 15 minutes of order. However, the waitress was inclined to charged us for the Assam Fish which we did not order. Rushing your customers while not writing down the orders may seem intimidating and impressive at the same time, but at the end of the night, the customers will only pay what they have ordered and eaten.

What did I have and enjoyed

  • Beef rendang, is a dish with beef simmered in thickened curry (with spices) for hours, rendering the diced beef pieces tender and soft. The combination of spices is key to bringing the flavors together, and Ginger & Spice got it pretty spot-on to the dish I remember fondly back in the days.
  • Deep-fried salt and pepper squid may be commonly served as finger food here in Australia; but here, we took a stab at their Squid Kechap Manis. It is simply deep-fried squid tossed in a combination of sweet soy and chilli sauce with a tiny hint of refreshing sourness at the back of the palate.
  • Stir fry Kangkung Belachan is a classic favorite dish in Malaysia. Water convulvulus, better known to the locals as kangkung is a type of vegetable with a distinct flavor that is best stir-fried with lots of chilli and prawn shrimp paste (belachan). I was rather disappointed that they were skimping on the chillies on this dish served here.
  • I saved the pièce de résistance for last - their infamous Hainanese Chicken Rice. And believe when I tell you, Ginger & Spice lived up to their expectations. The chicken was smooth and well oiled, and cooked to perfection. It was tender and juicy at the same time. It was so good on its own, that I skipped the dark soy sauce and ginger paste altogether.

Spice I Am @ Balmain on Urbanspoon
Spice I Am
237 Darling St., Balmain NSW 2041

First impressions

  • Restaurant was relatively empty on a Sunday afternoon. Because I already had my first experience of Spice I Am in their Surry Hills branch, I knew they had a reputation of serving great Thai food.

What did I have and enjoyed

  • Steamed fish ball, served with a shot of interestingly refreshing sauce.
  • Bour Tod, a Phuket style fritter of green school prawns on crispy betel leaf, crushed cashew nut and coriander. The sweet and sour spicy flavors, combined with the crunch of the cashew nuts and prawns, was synonymous to Thai cuisine. The crispy betel leaves opened up a new world of texture. It is simply something I have never had before in my entire life.
  • Chu Chee curry’s main ingredients were quite simply red curry paste with coconut and kaffir lime leaves. While simple to make, when poured over deep fried seafood, it is the best comfort dish one could have. It was appetizing and yet refreshing at the same time.
  • The Green Chicken Curry was a dish everyone of us can take comfort in. It was nothing special about how it is served here at Spice I Am and yet we still founds ourselves wanting to have it over and over again even though we were spoiled with other great Thai flavors on the table.
  • A special mention dish that, in my opinion, is the most flavorsome of all dishes on the table, is their Pad Prik Khing Crispy Pork Belly. The spiciness, sweet and sour spices combined together with thinly sliced but crispy pork belly just brought the flavors to a level of awesomeness that is hard to beat. This is certainly a must-try dish over here at Spice I Am!
  • If there is one dish to fault at Spice I Am, it would be their Tom Yam Goong soup. I was used to sour and spicy Tom Yam flavors of this soup, but it felt like it was just good old chicken broth with a few seafood pieces. It was dull, very much to my disappointment.

Hong Ha on Urbanspoon
Hong Ha Hot Bread
1151 Botany Rd., Mascot NSW 2020

First impressions

  • A long queue made up of various ethnic groups, outside an Asian bakery was a good sign of my first experience at Hong Ha. I was thinking, what could be so special about Hong Ha’s spring rolls that no other Chinese takeaway can do.
  • Silly me. Their specialty is the Vietnamese Chicken Roll; not spring rolls.

What did I have and enjoyed

  • Vietnamese Chicken Roll, of course!
  • There is a mixture of lettuce and onions, with a generous portion of shredded roast chicken pieces. This could be just another Vietnamese roll that deserved no special mention. However, in my takeaway plastic bag, I saw a small plastic container filled with a black liquid that resembled plain soy sauce.
  • The magic began when I poured a little of the sauce onto the roasted chicken sitting between the warm bread roll. As I bit into the fresh crisp of the bread roll, only then I realized that this was not just a plain chicken sandwich. The umami flavor of the soy sauce and chicken reminded me of Hainanese chicken rice, but served in a bread roll. It was something I least expected and enjoyed very much. Maybe food taste better when it is eaten at the back of your car in a parking lot.
  • In my experience, a container of sauce is only sufficient for 2 rolls. Ensure to ask them to top it up, even if they are not happy to give it to you. You will not regret it.

Made in Italy Trattori on Urbanspoon
Made In Italy Trattoria
55 Miller St., Pyrmont NSW 2009

First impressions

  • My expectations swung high when I noticed Italian waiters and waitresses on the floor.

What did I have and enjoyed

  • Carpacchio di Salmone
  • Deep fried zucchini flowers with ricotta
  • Spaghetti Carbonara
  • Penne Mamma Mia
  • Gamberi Pizza
  • Capricciosa Pizza
  • While I admittedly finished the last pieces of the remaining Gamberi and Capricciosa pizzas, I was not terribly impressed with the ingredients used and the flavors they represent. They may be generous with their prawn servings, but I would have preferred if they used fewer but fresher prawns; after all, the Sydney Fish Market is just 5 minutes walk away from where they were. The pizza bases, while thin and somewhat crispy, the consistency of the dough was a hit and miss.
  • The carpacchio was a little blend on my palate. The citric flavors introduced by the lemon would have stood out to the olive oil used if the oil was fruitier.
  • The company I had with me tonight helped with the food; but if I was to dine here on my own, I would regret my decision and head straight to the nearby bar for some hot chips and beer.

While coffee preparation (from extraction to pour) and roasting are my obsessions, I still have a long way to go.

The making of coffee reminds me that passion and attention to detail goes a long way. I have never made coffee before 5 years ago. I thought coffee extracted from my first $200 Breville themoblock machine was the best I had ever tasted.

When I upgraded to a Rancilio Silvia, the need for temperature surfing and other annoyances, much to my surprise, became my guiding star. I kept wanting to improve myself. I wanted the “godshot” extraction everytime. At times I would continuously waste rounds and rounds of coffee due to imperfect extraction.

While I have already moved on to my new Breville Dual Boiler and other coffee bean torturing devices like the cold drip tower or siphon, I still believe in the principles that the cup would taste better if a little more attention is given. Very much like the good old life.

And I have not given up on learning more.