Chef Zacharay Tan has long impressed with hints of Malay down at Devon café. After a month-long tour of his home state, Penang, he’s energised to take on the street food he grew up with, and present it in a form guaranteed to please jaded ol’ Sydney town. And if I'm honest, this is the stuff I’ve been waiting to see him cook.
Walking into the stylishly minimal Stanley Street space, Devon regulars will undoubtedly recognise the Matt Woods Designs fit out. Whether they’ll twig that the slightly buzzy dangling gold hoop lights are meant to be a nod to that eponymous rotating dining table device - the Lazy Susan - is anyone’s guess. Esoteric matters aside, the space looks stripped back and edgy.
What sets Lazy Suzie apart from Sydney’s other Malaysian offerings is the drinks. I skipped an interesting list of cocktails utilising Malay ingredients to explore the cleverly curated, Malay-friendly wine list; eventually settling upon the Fritz Haag Brauneberger Kabinett Trocken Riesling ($80). I supplemented my bottle with an interesting Sydney-based P.S. Soda concoction: while their Smoked Lemonade ($6) with vodka was a bit too sweet, Grapefruit and Gentian ($6) went especially nicely with gin.
Despite the designer trappings, don’t arrive expecting a Malay fine diner. Tan has deliberately left the food recognisably hawker; so you might bite into an ordinary-looking Spring Roll ($6/each) to find it contains a fairly cheesy lobster Thermidor mix. Or you might order South Australian squid only to realise Keropok ($5) are actually Malay fish crackers, updated to be far less fishy here, and served with an interesting prawn sambal mayo.
More impressive are pillowy Prosperity Bao ($7/each) stuffed with generous hunks of slow-cooked wagyu brisket in a Sarawak pepper sauce.
I’m also enamoured with the calamansi (a sweet and sour lime) dressing accompanying tiny Fried Chicken Wings ($12).
Raw Hiramasa Kingfish ($19) combines plump pink curls of raw fish with torch ginger flowers, yam beans (for crispness) and coconut cream into a standout dish.
Cute little top hats, Pie Tee ($16), filled with sautéed carrot, shitake and yam beans then topped with freshly picked crab, provide momentary one-bite distraction before moving on to tasty Malay charcoal grill dishes.
Super-smoky Ayam Percik ($13) and Hainan-style Pork Belly Satay ($14/4) arrive with a selection of dipping sauces and greens, including wedges of crisp, exciting, pickled green mango. There’s also no peanut butter in sight, with Tan choosing to team his satays with a clever sweet potato sauce instead.
You can try all the dishes I mention here by ordering the Tasting Menu ($55/head), which ends with an updated Mango Lassi ($14). This dessert deconstructs the hard-to-love yoghurt drink into a something sweet, aerated and delicious.
78 Stanley Street, Darlinghurst
Ph: (02) 7901 0396
Joining the likes of Thirsty Bird, Butter and Belles Hot Chicken, Juicy Lucy enters Sydney’s fried chicken fray with a point of difference.
Taking the traditional Aussie chook shop model, it revamps it with an eye to our modern day multi-cult, using a series of South East Asian twists.
So expect to find Aunty Lucy’s Stuffed Seasoned Chicken ($18/whole) stuffed with fragrant garlic rice. The plump free-range bird is roasted overnight with Sichuan pepper, cloves, coriander seeds and cassia, and can be served up as a generously proportioned Quarter Chook Combo ($12) with crinkle-cut fries and your preferred selection from a fairly standard range of soft drinks. They’ll also tart it up with gentle, glistening gravy (but only if you give the word).
After creating a pile of easy-to-reach serviettes, bite into a Lil’ Kim Burger ($12). Taking Korean inspiration, this crispy fried chicken burger, is going to rain thick Korean barbeque sauce and crunchy kimchi down your arms, but trust me when I say: it’s worth it.
It eclipses the Bruce Lee ($12), rolling their more sensible seasoned chook with Sichuan salt and pepper dusted crinkle-cut fries, and gravy into an easier to handle wrap. You can Double Up ($3) on the chook in either option, but keep in mind they’re pretty generous to begin with.
Owners Milan Strbac and Griff Pamment (the same crew from neighbouring Thai-inspired Sugarcane) have even taken on the fast food giants’ preferred (primary) colour scheme; and plonked their hard-to-miss chook shop right in the guts of Elizabeth Street. Chequered floors and Mike Watt counter art keep the small store firmly on the side of cool rather than garish, so consider slotting it in as a post-drinking burger fix on the way back to Central Station.
232A Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 8540 8726
The winding drive down to Clareville Kiosk will make you grateful you have GPS.
I did it with the car windows open; drinking in the smells and sounds of this unfamiliar, leafy green suburb. At the end of a series of counter-intuitive lefts and rights, you’ll find yourself looking at a picturesque cottage, sitting opposite a sleepy Pittwater beach.
Inside the charming weatherboard dining room is decked out in neutral coastal colours, with old-fashioned curtains, and gently weathered floorboards. Three paintings by the same artist add splashes of colour, and give the small space a unified feel.
It’s a restaurant with a definite sense of place - too close to the city to be considered regional, but carrying many of the hallmarks. You select your Three Course ($55) fixed price meal from a tight menu, offering up four entrees, four mains, and three desserts. What the menu lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in approachability, with intrigue being generated by relatively familiar ingredients, from guava and prawn butter tarting up a well-cooked filet of Blue-Eye Cod, to a smidgen of Vegemite whipped into the butter served with free bread.
Good portion control means you can safely scarf Oysters ($3.75/each) - Coffin Bay Pacific oysters and Port Stephens rock oysters on the day I dined – while you peruse the wine. It’s short but wide-ranging list, with a bottle or two from most Australian wine regions, lots of French and a spattering of wider European wines.
The bulk of the list sits between $60 and $75, although it does climb from there. The 2014 Kate Hill Old Vine Riesling ($75) from the Derwent Valley is round with subtle oak and balanced acidity.
It’s a perfect daytime choice against a crisp quail lollipop and tender breast, which eats like an Aussie picnic with potato salad and burnt sweet corn.
Hunks of Fremantle octopus with slivers of fennel and grapefruit segments are slightly dominated by paprika cream.
There's no such imbalance in the Wimmera duck main, that offers up seared, tender breast and deboned braised leg against pickled red cabbage and pear.
With very little carbohydrate loading, I approached dessert with unusual vigour. A small supplement ($5) gets you a well-loaded loaded cheese board set with three generous wedges, crackers, and pear and saffron relis; while staying inside the set price can see you tuck into olive oil cake, presented in an expertly-crafted slice, with popcorn and sourdough ice cream.
The personable and friendly floor team round out what I'd categorise as a lovely lunch spot, well worth the hour-long drive from Sydney's CBD.
27 Delecta Avenue, Avalon
Ph: (02) 9918 2727
At the end of a narrow arcade running off Chapel Street in the vicinity of Saigon Place, you’ll find Bánh Cuốn Kim Thành. This tiny eatery makes the best slippery rice noodles I’ve ever eaten. Bánh cuốn, are a North Vietnamese dish made by steaming a lightly fermented rice batter on cloth stretched over boiling water. This process results in see-through, crepe-like sheets of rice noodle, which are eaten in a variety of ways, including at breakfast.
As first time visitors we show a bit of indecision even with the pleasantly small menu. Warm, friendly staff notice immediately, and steer us towards the pork mince and wood ear mushroom stuffed rolls called Bánh Cuốn Nhân Chay ($11.50).
In Central Vietnam, Bánh Cuốn Tôm Chấy ($12) are the go-to version; with bright orange ground dried shrimp sprinkled over the flexible noodle sheets before they’re shaped into rolls. They’re earthy and light, and a good choice from this small menu.
In other parts of Vietnam, Bánh Uớt ($11) is the preferred arrangement. In this version, the rice noodle sheets are served plain (rather than as rolls), but eaten with fried shallots, Vietnamese pork sausage (chả lụa) and nuoc mam cham sauce. This ubiquitous Vietnamese condiment blending fish sauce with garlic, chilli, sugar and lemon juice shows a nice balance of sweet, hot, salty and sour here.
Now, if you can’t decide, Bánh Cuốn Đặc Biệt ($12) is a great sample platter (and a bargain at the price). There are also some excellent fried dishes, from shrimp and mung bean cakes, to shrimp and sweet potato fritters, that will draw me back to try out soon.
While you’re in the neighbourhood block out some time to have a stroll around Saigon Place, it’s a colourful and interesting area. However if you’re keen for a more guided adventure, Taste Tours will take you through Bankstown on a World Explorer eating tour that covers a range of cuisines from Vietnamese to Greek and Lebanese.
NOTE: You can check out my experience of being on a Taste Tour back HERE or see more Bankstown area reviews HERE.
Bánh Cuốn Kim Thành
Shop 7, 313 Chapel Road, Bankstown
Ph: (02) 9708 6661
Malaysian cuisine is a multicultural melange of influences from Thailand, China, Indonesia and India. If you’re not already acquainted with Malay food, the PappaRich chain are a great place to start your journey. Their latest (and Australia's twentieth) venture is located in Bankstown’s newest shopping and food precinct, Little Saigon Plaza.
Also housing an office of Settlement Services International who support asylum seekers and refugees, this modern plaza boasts its own melting pot of cuisines, including another Sydney CBD favourite, Chefs Gallery.
Listing over 160 items, the menu at PappaRich can be overwhelming unless you’re dining with a group where you can really go to town. If you’re eating solo, the Pappa Special: Nasi Lemak with Curry Chicken and Sambal Prawns ($16.50) gives you a nicely balanced meal, with lots of diversity. The two dishes are presented with an array of sliced cucumber, fried anchovies and peanuts, and a hard-boiled egg around a mound of fragrant coconut rice, accentuated by a dab of sambal (a rounded chilli sauce).
Pappa Chicken Rice with Steamed Chicken ($13.90) also works as an inexpensive meal-for-one, with tasty chicken rice, chicken soup, bean sprouts, and boiled chicken slices with chilli/ginger and dark sticky soy sauces for dipping.
Travellers on the shared route inevitably begin with platters of Mixed Satay ($25.90/12) offering up both chicken and beef.
As a Halal restaurant, you won’t find pork or booze on their menu, but there’s still fun to be had in the brightly coloured drinks section of the nicely photographed tome. Fruit-packed glasses of freshly squeezed Watermelon Juice ($5.90) and icy, lychee-topped Mango Mania ($6.90) are sweet enough to hover between drink and dessert.
No Malay meal would be complete without roti canai; flaky, multi-layered Indian-influenced flatbreads. They’re served here in 16 different ways, running the gamut from mini-meals of Roti Canai with Tandoori Chicken ($14.90) or Roti Telur with Curry Chicken ($13.90) (roti telur has the addition of fried egg); all the way to dessert roti decked out with banana and ice cream.
Sitting somewhere in the middle, Roti Planta ($8.90) conceals a dash of sugar (Malay diners have a definite sweet tooth), which makes for interesting combinations with the accompanying lentil curry, curry sauce and sambal.
Deep Fried Chicken Skin ($7.50) is another crowd-pleaser, as are the generous plates of noodles and steaming bowls of laksa that keep trotting out from this fast-paced kitchen.
Sitting at the casual end of the market, PappaRich is unlikely to win awards, but it does represent good value for a fast, flavoursome, family-friendly feed.
Shop G13-G14, Little Saigon Plaza, 462 Chapel Road, Bankstown
Ph: (02) 9709 4147
Inside Yellow House, the building that once housed Sydney’s most avant-garde artists' collective, Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt have recently relaunched their one-hatted bistro as an entirely vegetarian affair. Drawing upon his personal experiences of dining with a vegetarian wife, Savage has created an imaginative menu that should have your vegetarian friends cooing with delight. What’s perhaps even more surprising, is that confirmed carnivores in your party will be hard pressed not to love these dishes too.
A pretty water garden of Pea Mousse and Pickled Daikon ($24), dotted with fresh peas and nasturtium leaves, is given umami using burnt buttermilk crumbs. This savoury (dare I say: meaty) middle is so often lacking in vegetarian dishes, but present in spades here.
Malt is used to similar effect, rounding out plum vinegar against ribbons of Golden Beetroot ($17) dusted with radicchio powder.
On a third dish, the savoury centre is created with koji – steamed rice innoculated with a particular mold that's used in the production of sake. The resulting chlorophyll-rich bowl of crunchy Snake Beans and Black Rice ($26) is flavoursome and filling, just in case you’re wondering whether a totally vegetarian meal will leave you feeling satisfied.
With the illusion of residual sweetness coming from a juicy, fruit-driven start, the 2014 Dr. Burklin-Wolf Dry Riesling ($68) is a dryly, pleasing companion to your meal’s rather startling flavours. It'll stretch all the way from snack-sized rounds of Kabu Turnip ($3/each) decorated with hazelnuts and smoked celery (yep, more umami) to more substantial serves of pressed curd, tenderly draped in paper-thin slices of Charred Leek ($28).
It's hard not to see these occasional glimpses of cheese and dairy under glorious pasta-like ribbons of vegetables as Savage's pointed reminder that vegetarian restaurant dishes can (and should) go beyond ubiquitous pasta with creamy sauce. Yellow has effectively raised the benchmark for Sydney's vegetarian food.
57 Macleay Street, Potts Point
Ph: (02) 9332 2344
The Fatties Burger Appreciation Society on Facebook has more than fifty thousand members, all eagerly awarding pickles to burgers they’ve consumed about town. Only last week Burger Wars saw a Barangaroo-based face-off between six of Sydney’s best burger makers, including Jake Smyth from Mary’s and Neil Perry cooking under the Burger Project brand.
Next month, Burgerpalooza enters the fray with original burgers from big hitters like Bar Luca, Pub Life Kitchen and Barrio Cellar. This event was slated to happen this month at the Vic on the Park, but when 10,000 people said they were coming in the space of 24-hours, Hashtag Burgers smartly rescheduled, moving it to a ticketed, two-day takeover of Manning House in Sydney University.
This entire preamble sets the stage for Sydney’s latest burger outfit, Smashed Burger. Knowing they were entering a burger-saturated market, they’ve opened up with a distinct point of difference, opposite Harry’s Café de Wheels in Woolloomooloo.
They’ve swapped out the patties that make burgers well… burgers, and exchanged them for meat. We’re talking slow-roasted meat they’ve tenderised and roasted for twelve hours, then pulled (in the case of chicken or pork) or thinly sliced (in the case of lamb or beef). The resulting mound of meat is then ‘smashed’ onto a flat top griddle.
With the Beef Smash ($12), the seared thinly sliced brisket has a flavour reminiscent of a late-night kebab. It’s teamed on a pretty standard burger bun with all the Aussie essentials: beetroot, lettuce, tomato, bacon, Swiss cheese, mustard and mayo.
The pulled Pork Smash ($14) wins over my dining companion by including crackling in amongst a fairly sloppy mix of Asian ‘slaw, pineapple, garlic mayo. and apple relish. Yep, without the sealed patty, these babies probably aren’t first date material; unless your idea of dating is having a Jenga match as you both try to extract Special Fries ($9.50) from under a mountain of meat, grated cheese and smash sauce (piri piri mayonnaise). To my eye, the Sweet Potato Fries ($5.50) are more civilised, and definitely more addictive.
They’ve also got slightly less obscene versions of those ubiquitous freak shakes – the Toffee Choc Smash ($7) throws a handful of caramel popcorn and smashed choc. honeycomb over a salted caramel thick shake.
Smashed Burger has a unique idea, and they're located in an area where more inexpensive food options are a good thing, but truth be told, I reckon I’m still partial to the patty.
Shop 2, 57 Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo
Ph: (02) 8957 0930
James Duffell’s father is a plum farmer from Coleambally, just south of Griffith. A few years back when the prune industry hit upon hard times, his father Roy Duffell was convinced to bottle and sell the Worcestershire sauce he’d been making for years for friends and family.
“It’s made like non-vintage Champagne,” James explains, meaning there’s basically a vat to which new dried plums are added, and the mix is left to ferment. When they take some out, they always leaves a portion behind to standardise their future batches of Worcestershire sauce.
The resulting Prickle Hill Worcestershire Sauce ($9/250ml) feels a bit Colonial, like a spicy plum sauce, with ginger and a touch of spice. It has a bit more sediment than the generic store-bought English versions, which largely taste of malt vinegar and molasses; so give it a shake before applying to everything from fresh oysters to scrambled eggs. You'll find the light vinegary note disappears against a creamy base like eggs. I picked up mine from the monthly Northside Produce Markets, on every third Saturday of the month.
Prickle Hill Produce
Northside Produce Markets
8am-12pm every Third Saturday of the Month
A cloud of smoke is swirled through a carafe of Maker's Mark bourbon, peach liquor and Amaro Montenegro.
Watching the tea smoke infuse into the liquid is rather hypnotic, and the process mirrors the weather patterns currently swirling around Level 36 of the Shangri-La Hotel.
The resulting cocktail, Smoking Mistress ($23), is added to an ice-filled tumbler with a few drops of black walnut bitters. It’s a well-balanced drink, displaying fruit and subtle tea smoke, along with underlying sense of mystery stemming from the clever use of the digestive. It’s also a good advertisement for the new Liquid Physics cocktails at Blu Bar. Service Leader Nabin Koirala takes us through the range, which is inspired by 1920s craft cocktails, and utilises energy and motion in their creation.
Freshly brewed green tea is cooled using liquid nitrogen in the production of our next cocktail, Nectar From The Orient ($36/2 people). Plumes of smoke descend over the bar, and as gimmicky as it is, I can’t help but smile.
The resulting cocktail for two is served in a teapot with a pair of ice-filled glasses on a little wooden tray.
It’s basically a spiked juice, with the blend of Bombay Sapphire gin, Cointreau and St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur somewhat dominated by mango puree.
As it’s too late to have it with breakfast, I suffice with a simple, gooey ball of Burrata Cheese ($15) and some imagination.
The Clockwork Old Fashioned ($23), served in a snifter, uses the cold-drip hardware perched on the bar to infuse Bacardi rum, Luxardo (an unusual maraschino cherry liqueur) and Grand Marnier with citrus peel, tonka beans and cinnamon.
This mix is then barrel-aged, resulting in an approachable, fruity cocktail with very soft spicing and oak.
Being a bit of a whisky afficionado, I’m not immediately enamoured with Forgotten Innocence ($21); which teams 12-year old Balvenie with grape Pisco in a martini glass.
It does however grow on me as I take in the epic vista. Did you know that from a window seat in this bar, you can see all the way from the Anzac Bridge to North Head?
Though with the line-up of people already here at 5pm on a Monday, you may have to arrive early to score a prime spot.
I’m lucky enough to be enjoying a Ploughman’s Board ($22) watching peak hour traffic stream out of the city via the Harbour Bridge.
To my right, a tiny tugboat hauls a massive white floating hotel out of Circular Quay, while further up the harbour, the next cruise ship hovers to take its place.
My accompanying beverage is one of Nabin's own creations - Yamazakura ($23) - which takes West Winds gin and teams it with Aperol, grapefruit and egg white and an interesting twist of yuzu. It's a perfect quaffer, and so good it won a cocktail competition that means it's available in all Shangri-La Hotels across the globe.
It makes for a very light and airy way to see us off into the rapidly descending night.
Blu Bar on 36
Level 36, Shangri-La Sydney, 176 Cumberland Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9250 6000
When I was a youngster growing up in suburban Sydney, most local suburbs boasted a BBQ chook shop and a Cantonese restaurant, trotting out nearly ubiquitous Australian-Chinese. I also remember the Thai rollout – not least of which for the punny names, from Thai Riffic to Tongue Thaied – and now finally it appears the suburbs are getting Vietnamese.
Lilyfield is the next lucky recipient, with Cuong Nguyen and his wife Loan Dao extending upon the green expanses of Callan Park by setting up a bright green restaurant (with a wall-sized rice paddy) right across the road.
Emigrating from Vietnam to Sydney in the eighties, Cuong and Loan have always had a passion for cooking, working in restaurants in Hong Kong before arriving here. They love picking fresh produce from the markets, and it shows in the impeccable salad presented for you to wrap in rice paper with Sugar Cane Prawns ($18/2).
Keep the green theme going with a Green Cleanse ($6.00) juice from their take-away juice bar. With apple, mint, cucumber and lime, it’s healthy and refreshing, and a good match for the cuisine. As they’re not currently licensed, your only other option is bringing your own wine.
A well-dressed and crisp Lotus Salad ($17) makes a small amount of pork and prawns go a long way. As you tuck in, you’re filled with the impression that this is really the sort of food we’re all supposed to be eating.
If you’re hungry, Black Peppercorn Beef ($17.50) served over simple white rice, provides a simple yet satisfying serve of beef slices dotted with peppercorns broken up by sweet caramelised onions.
For a solo dinner, the Vermicelli Grilled Pork Combination ($15) gives you everything you want in one bowl, especially with the addition of crisp Spring Rolls ($3). Sharp pickled carrots cut against grilled pork set off by crushed peanuts, bean sprouts and yet more greens on a bed of cold vermicelli noodles.
This whole-meal-in-a-bowl is well priced for the area, and would be equally good at lunchtime; however I predict they’re most likely to win my daytime business with fresh green juices and a Hanoi Pork Roll ($5).
Little Hanoi City
491 Balmain Road, Lilyfield
Ph: (02) 8668 4756