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Review - Chefs Gallery

In Kaisern Ching’s most avant-garde menu update yet, Chefs Gallery continues re-imagining what modern Chinese looks like where it intersects with Australian produce.

Seafood Caramel Glazed Fried Baby Calamari and Chinese Fried Fritter ($15.90) topped with fresh strawberries, apple slices and crushed peanuts, is certainly one of the oddest dishes I’ve tried, fusing together the Chinese love for dried seafood with a palm sugar sweet sauce (gula melaka) that makes it more approachable to the Western palate. With a TsingTao ($6.90) in your hand, you’ll find it a surprisingly compelling drinking snack, traversing the palate with saltiness, sweetness and umami.

You’ll find the four and fifth tastes – sourness and bitterness – in the new Roast Duck and Citrus Salad ($15.90) where juicy pink grapefruit joins cold roast duck, fresh salad greens, cherry tomatoes, enoki mushrooms, and almonds. The salad is bound together with roast duck sauce, and the perfect dish for the long, hot Australian summer.

Traversing similar territory, Chefs Gallery’s Surf and Turf ($30.90) makes a salad out of lightly fried, salted fish pieces and pork belly cooked in sticky-sweet, Indonesian soy sauce, mandarin peel and cinnamon. It’s dressed in the same roast duck sauce, and while left-of-centre in conception, it's another intriguing eat.

With all of the Chefs Gallery restaurants operating under the same beautifully photographed menu, it doesn’t really matter where you dine. I took my meal in Bankstown and when I ordered a menu stalwart - Wok-Fried Green Beans with Minced Pork ($18.90) – the flavours were identical to my usual CBD store, though the beans were less blistered.

The Bankstown setting in the new Little Saigon Plaza is spacious, with long banquettes and murals lining either side of the space.

With windows into the kitchen, you can still get an eyeful of their talent chefs hand-making dumplings like my favourite Prawn and Pork Wontons ($11.90/5) doused in spicy Shanghainese sauce.

You'll also find them hand-stretching their signature fresh noodles, which you can now enjoy as Wok Fried with Slightly Salted Pork Belly and Crispy Pork Crackling ($19.90) in another new-to-menu dish. They’re dotted with fried egg, thin strips of wood ear mushroom, julienned carrots and garlic chives, making for a well-balanced meal in a single dish.

Serves here are reasonably substantial - especially if you're dining in a pair - so consider smaller add-ons like their cheese and mushroom-stuffed Chinese Roti ($13.90) over multiple mains.

While it might be a cliché, it’s also worth leaving some room for dessert, as Chefs Gallery are notorious for coming up with cute ones. Their new menu is no exception, offering up a mushroom-like jar of Sesame Panna Cotta ($13.90) dotted with kaffir-lime dusted meringue and a heaping of azuki beans, capped with a sesame tuile. It was better than our plate of Nutella-filled Chinese Doughnuts ($13.90) with caramelised banana, peanuts, and lashings of chocolate sauce and sweetened condensed milk, because the fried dough sticks were a little too crisp to make eating them enjoyable.

Chefs Gallery
Little Saigon Plaza
Ground Floor, Shop 203, 462 Chapel Road, Bankstown
Ph: (02) 8764 3084

Chefs Gallery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Travel - Toowoomba Street Art

Looking every bit the beautifully preserved historic country town, Toowoomba is hiding a secret. If you travel down the back streets and laneways, you’ll discover a surprising amount of street art.

It all began back in 2014 when the three-day First Coat Festival delivered 19 large-scale murals.

In each subsequent year, the First Coat Festival has added to the town's public art works, amassing quite the collection by local, Australian and international artists - though few are more inspiring than the Amazon-inspired piece is by Brisbane artist, Drapl working with twenty-year art veteran, Treas.

Some of the murals - like Fintan Magee's 2014 elephant – are quite easy to find on Toowoomba’s main drag, Ruthven Street.

Others will require you to download the First Coat app. to your phone so that you can locate them.

The app. will help you find local artist Alysa Mae’s melancholy portrait in green on Olcott Lane.

Portraiture is particularly well handled across a number of these artworks. Influenced by renaissance painters like Caravaggio, Melbourne artist Adnate delivers a beauty on Neil Street, though there are plenty of others for you to seek out and discover for yourself...

And nestled amongst all the animal pieces – like David Houghton’s photo-realistic feathered friend on Jessie Street – you’ll find some politics too.

Next to Damien Kamholtz’s 2014 three wise monkey mural, there’s a statement about absolute power corrupting. It's part of a John Emerich Acton quote: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

With the mural's timing, perhaps it is a nod to the findings of the 2014 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse.

The hearing uncovered that Toowoomba's Catholic Church was complicit in allowing 44 counts of child sexual abuse to occur at a local primary school, waiting 14 months to even tell the police.

Female artists, including the talented Elana Mullaly, are well represented across this influx of public art.

You’ll find her hyper-realistic girls dancing away on Club Lane, along with some trendy new eats including a dessert bar called The 3rd Monkey, and the town’s best (and only) rendang at Skewers.

By getting the town interested in revitalising its back streets and laneways, it seems Toowoomba has also created demand for the Melbourne-style laneway drinking and dining culture that goes with them hand-in-hand.

All this walking is hot and thirsty work; so if you’re taking in Cinzah 'Seekayem' Merkens’ beautiful 2015 snake mural on Lamb Lane, consider a pit stop at The Office in nearby Duggan Street. Two young Toowoomba businessmen - Kenneth Wagner and Michael Hay - opened this two-storey warehouse bar around this time last year.

It’s a great place to reenergise with an Espresso Martini ($15) – this year’s ubiquitous find-it-everywhere cocktail – made here with Kahlua, vodka, espresso and sugar.

You can either pull up a stool next to a beer keg table on the Astroturf, or if the sun is kicking, head indoors where you’ll find another cool mural by Fuzeillear.

Yes, Toowoomba is full of surprises!

The Office
14 Duggan Street, Toowoomba
Ph: (07) 4600 8593

The Office Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Saffron Restaurant

With the logo and menu design both based upon the lilac saffron crocus, it should be immediately apparent that Saffron Restaurant is a Persian restaurant.

Saffron is made from the dried stigmas of these pretty saffron crocuses, and employed in a variety of ways in Persian cuisine.

The most obvious use of saffron is in the golden Persian saffron rice, which you’ll find served with a chicken kebab - Joje Kebab ($12) - that has the same telltale hue. Koobideh Kebab ($11) gives you the same long grained, aromatic rice with two lamb mince skewers. This restaurant is owned and run by Miriam, and her three sisters. Miriam was a tour guide back in Iran, where her father ran a restaurant in Shiraz for twenty-six years. Miriam understands the benefit of tour groups, so she happily welcomes Taste Food Tours groups with individual tasting platters containing a number of key Persian dishes. Along with various kebabs, the platter also includes a taste of broad bean rice, turned green with dill.

Taste Food Tours are currently offering a 17% discount for any tour bookings between now and 2 January, valid for any January or February tour. Just use the discount code TASTE2017 to receive this price saving. Saffron Restaurant is part of their From Arghanistan to Persia tour, which ordinarily costs $95 per person.

NOTE: Read more of my Merrylands eating adventure HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE & HERE.

Saffron Restaurant
227 Merrylands Road, Merrylands
Ph: (02) 9897 3748

Saffron restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

You might have noticed that Does My Bomb Look Big In This? looked a bit different in 2016. After being freed from the geographic confines of working for local newspapers for nearly a decade, I started 2016 afresh, itching to move around a bit more. This year I presented you with over 200 pieces covering restaurants, bars, casual eateries, pubs, events and food businesses in more than 65 different Sydney suburbs (a feat made possible by a little help from Alex Harmon & Amie Barbeler). There were also more than 20 pieces on regional restaurants and eateries, covering places like Ulladulla, Toowoomba, Newcastle, Milton, Mollymook, Taree, Forster, Killcare Heights and, most recently, Thirroul. By hitting the 'burbs, Does My Bomb Look Big In This? branched more widely in terms of cuisine, taking in Iraqi, Iranian, Afghani, Pakistani and Cypriot food alongside firm favourites including Lebanese, Turkish, Chinese and Japanese. These are our ten best experiences...

From Sichuan yabbies at Spicy China in the CBD to vegetarian, Indian street food at Chatkazz in Harris Park, I took in a lot of meals that were enriched by culture. While it’s hard to choose between culturally diverse meals like Aghani kebabs at Kebab Al-Hojat in Fairfield, Japanese barbeque at Rengaya in North Sydney, and Iranian eggplant at Shandeez in Fairfield, there can only be one winner...

The best cultural meal I had in 2016 included railway goat curry and Indian pav (sliders) at Bombay Street Kitchen in Glebe.

Widening cuisines meant I tried many new dishes, from Afghani mantu (dumplings) at Kabul House in Merrylands, to Iraqi parda plaw (a pastry-wrapped baked rice dish) at Kebab Abu Ali in Fairfield. Many of these places I visited with a helpful guide from Taste Food Tours, who have a knack for getting you into restaurants that might not even have an English menu.

They also introduced me an amazing spicy Sichuan soup called ma la tang at a restaurant called Yang Guo Fu Ma La Tang in Haymarket, and it's easily the best cultural dish I tried in 2016.

Generally I'm not a big fan of fast food, but my willpower did crumble and I did get into Sydney's chicken phase trying out Belles Hot Chicken and Juicy Lucy though I'd argue El Jannah in Punchbowl still handles chicken better (and they nail garlic sauce). Towering burgers were also pretty hard to avoid, but in amongst them, there were some really tasty offerings - Originals Burger Co. in Brookvale and Inferno Grill in Maroubra both spring to mind.

However the best fast food I put in my mouth happened at Bare Grill in La Perouse who even made me love loaded fries.

This year definitely saw some improvements in the 'fast casual' category, with many casual eateries delivering restaurant quality food without the fuss in around the same time it takes to get fast food - Hunter & Barrel and Salmon & Bear are two sterling exemplars. Cafes also lifted their game - they had to in order compete with slick new entries like Barista & Cook in Alexandria and new openings by some old hands in the cafe game, like Cornersmith Annandale.

The casual eatery that stood out most though was Henrys Cronulla, the perfect spot for a summery tapas and cocktail sesh.

With places like COOH Alexandria nailing the breakfast cocktail with their Avo-COOH-Do, and new entries like Kittyhawk elevating how we drink rum, I'm probably going to shock you by saying my best bar winner isn't a cocktail bar. They do however make one of the best craft beers I've tried, the Sourpuss Raspberry Berliner Weisse...

Yes, the bar that won my heart in 2016 is Wayward Brewing Company in Annandale, ably aided by eats from Texan barbeque pit-master Julia Stephenson and her company Jackalope Food Co.

With newcomers like Missy French coming and going in the space of a year, it seems important to acknowledge the stayers. Quite a few restaurants revitalised behind the same moniker this year, revising their offerings for modern dining predilections. With a notable mention to Bennelong, and a nod to BBQ King, whom I was very happy to see return in a new location, there was one familiar name that stood out...

The winner of the best revitalisation of an existing brand name is Yellow, who went completely vegetarian and still managed to produce one of my top ten most memorable meals of 2016.

In Sydney the 2016 trend is definitely to move away from a degustation style of dining, and replace it with share plates and a return to three-course a la carte eating.

However if there was to be one degustation that might change your mind, you'll find it in Thirroul at The Postmans. I totally rate the degustation here that centres around locally caught seafood, and at $79 for seven courses – it’s a steal.

Sydney has seriously rekindled its love for Mediterranean food in 2016. With a spate of new launches including Aristotle's, Barzaari, Anason, and Stanbuli, plus meals at existing standouts like Kerasma, I ate a lot of high quality Greek, Turkish, Cypriot and Lebanese food.

The restaurant that nailed this trend best is Nour in Surry Hills and I'm not the only one to think so - the large restaurant was buzzing on both nights I visited.

You know a new restaurant is good when it instantly becomes part of your dining repertoire. There were certainly lots of new restaurants to choose from in 2016, with Hubert, Kensington Street Social and Mekong all producing notable meals.

However the 2016 newcomer I can't live without is Bouche on Bridge - I've already made my third reservation.

If I had to narrow 2016 down to one meal, the meal I will remember longest was cooked by Josh Niland.

My best meal in a restaurant in 2016 was at Saint Peter. I'm haunted by how well Josh cooked broadbill swordfish, and itching to eat more fish liver (who'd have thought?). If your 2017 resolution is to eat more fish, Saint Peter is where you should do it. Matter of fact, I'm heading back there tonight...

Thanks for reading Does My Bomb Look Big In This? in 2016. Catch you on the flipside with something tasty!

Review - Kerasma Souvlaki Merchant

If the word 'souvlaki' just conjures up visions of late night lumps of meat wrapped with chips in pita bread from a Kings Cross takeaway before Mike Baird ruined Sydney, Kerasma Souvlaki Merchant is going to come as a bit of a surprise. This Cypriot restaurant turns charcoal grilled meats into something quite fancy.

More than half of this modestly sized space is taken up with a kitchen, the front part of which houses a charcoal grill. Diners are protected from the heat of the flames by a glass screen, though some tantalising aromas do curl ‘round it.

Before you become mesmerised by the glowing embers, take a moment to notice the hanging sausages. They’re called Loukaniko ($13.50) and they are cured in house. These pork sausages are soaked in red wine and contain spices like coriander seeds and shino. The latter is only grown in Cyprus, and looks a bit like a peppercorn. Shino has an aromatic and spicy flavour, as do the resulting sausages.

We eat our well-flavoured sausages as Cypriot mezedes or little delicacies, small plate style, accompanied by an array of dips, salads and bread. We choose Artos ($3/each) though you can have a pita pocket if you’re wedded to those late night souvlaki experiences. The bright orange Sweet Potato Skordalia ($8.50) is smooth and semi-sweet, contrasting nicely against grilled meats. Made from roasted sesame seeds, Tahini ($8.50) is even better, especially against a bright and delicious Tomato Salad ($11.50).

The Sheftalies ($14.50) we watched cooking earlier are even better than I expected. The skinless pork sausages are wrapped in caul fat that helps ensure they get a good sears from the charcoal grill, while their insides stay moist and juicy. Produce – like crisp green parsley, and the vibrant, flavoursome tomatoes – is excellent across the board. “We make all the bread, all our cheeses, all the sausages and smallgoods, all the dips – everything in made in-house,” owner/chef Peter Michael explains.

His captivating stories add a richness to the cuisine, connecting the dishes you’re eating to their origins in Cyprus. They’re well worth listening to with a Keo Lager ($8.50) in your hand. This Cypriot beer is made from maize (corn) and is a delicate, refreshing quaffer. Wine – in case you hadn’t guessed from the sausages – is both enjoyed with food and put to good use as a marinade in Cyprus. The well-priced list here contains a number of Greek wines, with the 2015 Roditis/Malagouzia, Kir Yianni Paranga ($12.50/glass) proving my favourite.

Now if you go hard with mezedes you should probably consider scaling down to a single shared main. We tackled two, starting with Ofto Kleftiko ($35). This is a summer-style lamb shoulder dish known as the ‘thief’s meal’; so named because it was cooked in underground in a pit by Cypriot guerrillas who were keen to avoid smoke alerting the Ottomans to their hideouts. The slow-cooked lamb is dusted with salt and cooked with water, making a gentle broth that suits the accompanying waxy potatoes. It’s one of the most well rendered, moist joints of lamb I’ve tried, and it positively sings against tzatziki.

So by the time we hit Tavas Lefkaritikos ($35) – basically Cyprus’ answer to the Spanish paella – we’re pretty much stuffed. This is criminal because this aromatic rice dish packed with spiced lamb, juicy tomatoes and okra, and served with hung yoghurt and pickled wild dandelion leaves (mangalous) really deserved our full eating attention. Luckily they were happy to package it up for lunch the next day, and we left, promising to return again soon.

Don’t make the mistake of walking past this restaurant – located just few doors up from Newtown Station – without stopping in.

Kerasma Souvlaki Merchant
Retail 2, 324a King Street, Newtown
Ph: (02) 9517 2403

Kerasma Souvlaki Merchant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Kabul House

After conquering the Afghani kebab at Kebab Al-Hojat I moved on to mantu at Kabul House. With five years in the suburb, this was the first Afghani restaurant in Merrylands, and where most Afghani people recommend you come to eat. I'm told the décor has changed over time, becoming more elaborate as the restaurant’s popularity grew.

What you should come here to try are Mantu ($16/10 pieces) which are lamb mince and onion dumplings, with lovely thin skins just like Chinese dumplings, topped with yellow split pea dal. Afghan dal is a little thicker than the Indian dhal you might be used to. The whole dish is drizzled with yoghurt and sprinkled with dried herbs. You probably want a minimum of two or three dumplings per person.

Take them with some traditional Afghan Tea with Cardamom ($3) and perhaps try out the Persian tea drinking method where you hold a sugar lolly in your mouth and drink unsweetened tea through it. This restaurant also makes Afghan bread, and huge family platters of charcoal grilled meats that I’ve earmarked for a return visit when I’m not dining with a Taste Food Tours group.

NOTE: Read more of my Merrylands eating adventure HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE & HERE or book your own Taste Food Tours experience HERE.

Kabul House
186A Merrylands Road, Merrylands
Ph: (02) 9673 6665

Kabul House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - The Postmans

Building upon his local experience cooking at Flanagans Dining Room, Chef Arman Uz has reached new heights at The Postmans. While I find it hard to resist a jaunt out of the city at the best of times, my standout Seven-Course Degustation ($79/head) meal has firmly planted Thirroul in my head for another South Coast adventure before the summer is out.

With the restaurant sitting a block off Thirroul’s wonderfully uncrowded beach, it’s delightful to see the menu is centred upon fresh-caught, local seafood. Macedonian co-owner, Alex Stojanovski, is a dream on the floor of this 80-seater restaurant - and that’s not just because he arrived at our table bearing a basket of Coal Coast Sourdough breads. The breads are bested by the soy and linseed, and served with house-made butter topped with black salt.

Stojanovski’s informed dish descriptions will help you connect what is on your plate to the bounty of the Ulladulla, Shoalhaven and Wollongong basins, starting with Narooma oysters. Scoop them onto the squid ink cracker sails with a generous dab of black caviar tarama, a coil of cucumber and a tangle of seagrass (Neptune’s beard), then wait for your mouth to explode. This boldly flavoured dish is a perfect match to the Bibliotheque Chardonnay Pinot Noir ($40/bottle) – oysters, caviar and bubbles – what’s not to adore?

Caviar also makes a rather dramatic appearance in a cloud of cinnamon smoke, when Stojanovski removes the glass dome covering some Ulladulla tuna.

The smoking mound of glistening, ruby-red tuna is another fighting dish with lots of intensity from caviar, baby capers and a slightly heavy hand with the wasabi-citrus dressing. While my dining companion enjoys the accompanying match - a Sydney Brewery Agave Ginger cider - I tame the wasabi with the gently oaked, organic 2014 Frisky Farmer Chardonnay ($9/glass).

Textures of corn – before you groan – is a frightfully delicious cliché. It works as a clever pullback from the intensity of the first two dishes, and includes a few incarnations of corn you might not have seen before: corn shoots and corn salt. Somehow in this location where every second dish incorporates something grown in the kitchen garden at the rear of the restaurant, I find myself not adverse to the odd tasty cliché.

There's a bit of a gap between the corn and our next dish, with a long table for twenty all ordering the degustation. The dining room – a former post office - grows louder with an influx of people taking it almost to capacity. The sound reverberates against walls covered with framed postal memorabilia. As evening falls, the room is lit by seemingly endless rows of droplights, each dressed in a crystal decanter with the bottom sawn off. Even the powder rooms are well appointed.

Suckling pig, croquette, fennel, cucumber, is another beauty. The cucumber and its flowers come straight from the restaurant garden; the golden baton of suckling pig is beautifully rendered; and the house-made Chinese barbeque sauce is an excellent counterpoint. Stojanovski has teamed it with a 2015 Pachamama Riesling ($9/glass) from the Strathbogie Ranges, and it’s another excellent match, offering up great, palate-cleansing minerality. The strength of his pairing skills makes the Matched Wines ($55/head) package worth the spend.

There’s a generosity to the serving sizes here, and when the Kiama snapper lands, my stomach starts to catch up with my eyes. I muse that next time the Five-Course Degustation ($65/head, $45/matched wines) might suit me better; though it would be a shame to miss out on any of these dishes. This one has a gentle nod to Uz’s Turkish heritage, cemented in this country with time in Somer Sivrioglu’s Efendy kitchen, in the eggplant. The labne is house-made, the snapper well cooked, but my highlight is the moist and delicate squid, trawled somewhere between Kiama and Ulladulla.

Beaming with pride, Stojanovski introduces the dish, adding in a story of his own grandmother storing her labne under the sink when he was a kid. It sums up what I have come to admire about this restaurant - Uz’s modern dishes are all connected back to the restaurant philosophy. Everything is made in house, and staff can confidently discuss the people catching, growing or crafting everything that’s on your plate.

The Darling Downs wagyu is no exception – from the kitchen garden’s wood sorrel, to an exceptional king brown mushroom grown by microbiologist Dr Noel Arrold at the Li-Sun exotic mushroom tunnel, to organic carrots they contract a farmer in Dapto to grow for them directly – this is food with a rich tapestry of local stories.

We end with a nectarine panna cotta that would make Donna Hay proud. There are four treatments of nectarine on this tangy panna cotta, along with some gingerbread as a classy nod to the season. Like the other dishes I tried, there’s nothing on this ultra-pretty plate – all the way down to the Greek basil and edible flowers – that doesn’t serve a flavour purpose.

Yep, look out for this one when next they award regional hats.

The Postmans
258 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Thirroul
Ph: (02) 4268 5546

The Postmans Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Shiraz Ice Cream

Nothing is better on a hot day than an icy treat, so I’m always excited to discover a new one. The Taste Food Tours crew recently introduced me to a beauty in Merrylands.

On your next sunny day off, get yourself to Shiraz Ice Cream on the main drag of Merrylands, and settle in with a bowl of Faloodeh Ice Cream ($7).

It’s a typical Iranian dessert that has two key elements. The first is Persian ice cream, flavoured with saffron from Saffron Only (read about this company HERE), rose water and dotted with chunks of heavy cream. The second element to this dessert are frozen white noodles made from starch and rose water. This typical Iranian dessert is best eaten in, so you can partake of the two sauce bottles attached to the tables. The red one is sour cherry, and the yellow one is lemon, and they’re delicious over the noodles in particular.

By dining in, you’ll also get an eyeful of some photos of Shiraz; the sixth largest city in Iran. And if the name sounds familiar because of the wine, Shiraz is actually the place where the world’s oldest sample of wine was discovered in clay jars dating back approximately seven thousand years.

Staff are super friendly, so don’t get intimidated by menu items you don’t understand – just ask what they are, and you’ll likely be offered a sample. Next time I visit, I’m going to take a risk and try their famous Carrot Ice Cream ($8), served as a shake - while I'm sure it'll be delicious, it sounds suspiciously healthy.

NOTE: Read more of my Merrylands eating adventure HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE & HERE or book your own eating adventure HERE.

Shiraz Ice Cream
195 Merrylands Road, Merrylands
Ph: (0481) 141 990

Shiraz Ice Cream And Juice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Suburban Gems: Freemans Reach

If you're sick of paying too much for vegetables, only to find they last all of three or four days in your refrigerator, consider taking a drive out to Sciberras Fresh Fruit & Vegetables in Freemans Reach. While it is a sixty-odd kilometre drive, I am convinced that the combination of price and freshness - even taking petrol into account - saves money and results in less food wastage because it stays fresh longer.

As you drive over the historic (and now contentious) Windsor Bridge across the Hawkesbury River, you’ll pass through fields with orderly rows of cauliflowers and broccoli on your way to this well-stocked store. These healthy fields hold a good indication of the quality and range you’ll find at Sciberras Fresh Fruit & Vegetables, because eighty percent of the fruit and vegetables are sourced from their own farms, and nearly everything else they sell is locally grown.

Dirty Désirée potatoes from here are a revelation – not surprising, because the journey from digging them up, to arriving at this store only takes a day.

Being a high turnover store, larger vegetables like pumpkins, are often priced per piece rather that by the kilo, which makes the checking out process quick (and means careful selection can pay off).

On one visit, we spent forty bucks and picked up two bunches of silverbeet, two kilos of dirty potatoes, one kilo of baby potatoes, a giant parsnip, a bunch of beetroot, green beans, eight Lebanese cucumbers, a dozen carrots, mint, basil, four corncobs, cos lettuce, Brussels sprouts, garlic, a kilo of onions, ginger, two heads of broccoli and a bag of snow peas.

On each visit the range has been slightly different, varying by what’s seasonally available. Keep your eyes peeled for jars of their homemade strawberry jam - it's so full of fruit it's easily one of the best strawberry jams I've tried.

Friendly staff load up your fruit and vegetable bonanza into cardboard boxed, meaning you’re not even taking home a bunch of excess packaging.

I'm so convinced by the savings, I make my own pilgrimage out to Sciberras Fresh Fruit & Vegetables once a month, teaming my visit with a trip to M & A Butchery, which you can read about HERE.

Sciberras Fresh Fruit & Vegetables
364 Kurmond Road, Freemans Reach
Ph: (0417) 442 741

Suburban Gems: Merrylands

The Asal Sweet store in Merrylands is a satellite store to the hard-to-find Granville parent. It's been open for about nine months, and is a family business, building upon twenty-five years of pastry experience in Tehran, Iran.

Their well-stocked counter is full of traditional Iranian shirini khoshk (dry sweets) and French-influenced shirini tar (moist sweets). This particular store specialises in cookies and the shirini nargili (coconut cookies) are amazing!

They look like they’re going to be quite hard, but you’ll find they have moist centres. You’ll also find almond, saffron and sultana versions, all priced at a buck apiece, but it’s the coconut macaroon-style cookies that won me. Though if you're allergic to wheat, ask for naan berenji - they're a rice-based cookie, that's turned yellow with saffron (a typical Persian ingredient).

As with most sweet shops from this part of the world, because cookies are common gifts and served to visitors to your home, they’re mostly bought by the kilo or half kilo ($24/kilo). You’ll save money by purchasing this way too. Jump into a booth and try a few different cookies over one of their robust coffees to help you decide.

My Asal Sweet trial comes courtesy of Taste Food Tours, as this is the meeting point for their new From Afghanistan to Persia tour. What these tours are good for is giving you some back story into how products are used – which can be invaluable when visiting  places like Pameer Supermarket.

I’m a mad home cook, but because I live in a small town in the Hunter Valley, I come to Sydney two or three times a year to buy ingredients,” said Nicole, a fellow tour attendee. She’s a repeat Taste Food Tours customer, who uses the tours as a way to introduce herself to suburbs she doesn’t know very well.

Nicole uses the opportunity of our Pameer Supermarket pit stop to load up her basket, and I do the same.

This Persian supermarket has a halal butcher and a great range of products. I pick up everything from carrot jam (a great cheese condiment) to garlic powder, tins of fried eggplant and a big tub of tahina and halawa.

The latter is a sweet treat that tastes like halva but is in long strands that look like dolly hair. I'm excited to buy torshi bandari - a sour and spicy Iranian mixed vegetable pickle that you can add to stews, hotpots and meat patties.

The rest of my haul includes mint water (I’ve been making summery drinks with it) and black cumin oil. The Prophet Muhammed is reported to have said: “In the black seed is healing for every disease except death.” All health claims aside, this oil is delicious on baked pumpkin and spuds. And while they're not particularly exotic, this supermarket has some great specials on vegetables! We picked up a $7 box of tomatoes and made litres of tomato water, tomato sauce and pasta sauce.

NOTE: Read more of my Merrylands eating adventure HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE & HERE or book your own eating adventure HERE.

Asal Sweet
4 Memorial Drive, Merrylands
Ph: (02) 8810 7162

Asal Sweet Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pameer Supermarket
223-225 Merrylands Road, Merrylands
Ph: (0406) 311 111