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Event - Silver Pearl Launch




For the amount we spend feeding people at weddings, it’s hard to understand why function food is generally so bland and disappointing. Surely, in multicultural Sydney, we can do better than alternate plates of tepid chicken and beef? The re-imagined Silver Pearl in Cabramatta set a new wedding benchmark for me last week, when, along with four hundred guests including Fairfield City Council Mayor, Frank Carbone, I got treated to a peek at what this renovated function space can do.



With a daggy glass door entrance on Cabramatta’s main drag, Silver Pearl has been part of the local landscape for twenty-five years. The recent spruce-up makes for a wonderful reveal when, after climbing the stairs, you enter into an opulent  crystal chandelier-heavy predominately white space, painted using lights with washes of colour.



Styled by Anna Wang, the room gave us a taste of just what is possible for your special night!



Under autumnal trees adorned with fairy lights and candles, Creamed Cakery and Sweet Obsessions’ moist cupcakes and dessert canapes were expertly arranged by Juls & Co Events into a whimsical dessert bar, with trays of cupcakes dangling from the branches.

 

From the Silver Pearl kitchen that specialises in Asian seafood banquets, friendly floor staff with small squares of expertly-handled suckling pig. Tiny cups of fish maw and crab soup were a viscous, creamy delight after coming in from the cold, wintery night.



A raw seafood bar held trays of freshly shucked Pambula oysters alternately adorned with wasabi dressing, bright blue scampi caviar and juicy arms of beach bananas. My favourite spoonful took scorched green lip abalone and delicate coral trout sashimi and teamed it with a ginger and shallot relish, white soy and bursting pearls of salmon roe. I went back three times to check it really was my favourite canape, too.



Vegetarian guests were not forgotten with little bamboo boats of silken tofu adored with house-made vegetarian XO sauce, soy bean floss and crisp wonton skin.



In between popping pliable Peking duck pancakes with pickled yuzu cucumber and crisp chicken skin into my mouth from clever cones (so they didn't drip) I kept returning to the raw seafood bar. Silver Pearl's local suppliers saw me enjoy kingfish and salmon sashimi with ponzu dressing, and even better briny spoonfuls of freshly shucked sea urchin roe.



In a hyper-modern, multicultural mash-up, the entertainment came courtesy of the Qing Fong Lion Dance Team, Cdarz Entertainment and the Dani B Band.


Arabic drumming met with Chinese lion dancers on the glistening white dancefloor surrounded by a ring of smokeless fountains. Big smiles abounded on guests and performers alike.



Once the dance floor cleared, the super-competent Vietnamese wedding band, the Dani B Band, even got a jaded crowd of suppliers and hospitality professionals dancing like they were at the best Chinese-Arabic-Viet wedding ever.

A new wedding benchmark has definitely been set by Silver Pearl.


Silver Pearl Venues
Level 1, 111 John Street, Cabramatta
Ph: (1800) 898 887

Silver Pearl Seafood Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review - New Star Kebab Family Restaurant




It’s Friday night and Auburn is teeming with people. This Western Sydney suburb has a lot more high-rise than I remember from nigh on thirty years ago, and the cultural diversity is wider with Chinese, Turkish, Lebanese, Nepalese and Indian ancestry making up the suburb's top five.



Weathering both the upwards growth and the cultural shift, New Star Kebab Family Restaurant has been serving the good people of Auburn for forty years. “In the past forty years, we have become part of Australian cuisine,” owner Atilla Tok explains. The multicultural crowd dining at his busy restaurant are testament to the fact that eating kebab is now as Australian as the ANZAC biscuit.



Tok immigrated to Australia 27 years ago, taking over the helm of this popular Turkish kebab shop in 2000, nearly twenty years ago.



The menu has stayed the same throughout his tenure, with ninety percent of the food made right in front of your eyes  (basically everything bar for the salads). His all-male service team are plentiful in number and friendly in attitude, ready to get this Friday night rolling.



Demanding your attention even more loudly than the store’s primary coloured neon, is the mouthwatering aroma of charcoal cooking. It’s emanating from a glass booth where a smiling young lad expertly maneuvers kebabs over smoking hot coals using bread rather than tongs. Watching the bread picking up all the meaty juices, I’m pleased to see it make its way onto the Mixed Shish Plate ($27) along with your choice of three different kebab – chicken, lamb and adana.



Dining with a group in the outdoor plastic tent that expands the kebab shop’s seating to about a hundred, we’re treated to some fancier plating that sees three mixed plates worth of kebabs arranged in the round with salads, rice and well-charred tomatoes.



The produce is top notch, from the premium quality meats, all the way to the non-floury tomatoes, helped no doubt by the fact that Tok is his own providore via second business, Fresh Cut Australia. He runs this in his down time from New Star Kebab, a business that’s open seven days a week from 7am until 1am.



Picked up in still-warm Turkish bread, the hunks of lamb back strap and leg meat are tender and delicious.



The chicken kebab is moist and well-charred, perfect against Turkish yoghurt garlic dip, a gentler sauce than the Lebanese toum you might be used to.

 

Roasted chilli sauce and the orange chilli dip in the platter of Mixed Dips ($10) keeps things lively as we mow our way through the meats, cooling our mouths on mugs of house-made Lemonade ($3). Made with lemons, sugar and water, it's lovely and sour, but not as sour as the purple cabbage salad. Tok points out this is an anomoly - someone in his forty-strong staff added too much lemon juice today. Personally I find it great as a palate reset as I move between the sumac, cumin and pepper-seasoned adana kofte and the shish plate's other items.



Fine curls of doner kebab meat join a mix of bread, tomato-based sauce and yoghurt, for New Star’s Iskender Kebab ($18), which is then baked in the oven. Here this dish is slightly modified from the Turkish original, which would normally see cold yoghurt added to the hot plate after cooking. Tok explains that his Australian audience wasn’t that keen on the hot-meets-cold sensation.



While New Star Kebab do make traditional pizzas, they’re listed way down the back end of the menu board for a reason – you should be eating Turkish pide instead!



Opt-in for egg on the Ispanakli Pide ($21/large) with mozzarella, fresh spinach and fetta, it elevates this crisp, fresh pide into a satisfying, thing of beauty against a moderate squeeze of lemon.



Kiymali Pide ($21) is given a fresh-parsley hit against ground lamb, onion, tomato and vegetables, and eats much lighter than other versions of this dish I’ve tried. I quite liked it against the babaganush dip, made here using baked rather than char-grilled eggplants, giving it a stronger eggplant flavour.



Setting New Star’s gozleme apart from the ubiquitous market stall ones you’ll find just about everywhere, is a team of older Turkish ladies who roll the dough out bigger and thinner than is possible to achieve in a market setting. The resulting Ispanakli Gozleme ($10) is wonderful, with crisp English spinach wrapped inside thin flaky pastry that's turned golden on the grill.



Tok’s philosophy of using good quality produce and not cutting corners sets New Star Kebab apart from other Turkish kebab restaurants I have visited. With a constant flow of people that continues throughout my meal, it’s pretty clear New Star doesn’t need reviews like this one to popularise their business, but I felt compelled to tell you about it regardless.

New Star Kebab Family Restaurant
15 Auburn Road, Auburn
Ph: (02) 9643 8433

New Star Kebabs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Travel - The Lucky Bee




With piercing blue eyes and a golden tan, Aussie restaurateur Rupert Noffs is a poster boy for the Central Coast’s laid-back lifestyle, just with funkier threads. The clothes come courtesy of the New York lifestyle Noffs and his partner in business and life, chef Matty Bennett, gave up in Manhattan in exchange for a home and restaurant in Hardys Bay.



Moving to be closer to family, Noffs enthuses: “I swim in the ocean every morning,” before adding that he pops down to Sydney or Melbourne whenever he needs a cultural fix.



After a brief stint at Frankie’s Rooftop in Woy Woy, the pair have brought their former Manhattan restaurant back to life on the Bouddhi Peninsula.



With a relaxing, west-facing view of boats bobbing on Brisbane Waters, this pale pink and bottle green, palm-tree painted cottage is set up for sundowners. And, word is, if you happen to visit on Sundays, your cocktails and modern Asian share plates will come with live jazz from singers like the super-talented Shauna Jensen, who has also recently relocated to the Central Coast.



Both the dish list and the drink list are tight and bright affairs. The 2016 Clarence House Chardonnay ($11/glass) offers up grapefruit and buttery caramel before a fresh, dry finish – it’s easily my favourite from the nine-bottle list.



All the wines, including the 2018 Ministry of Clouds Riesling ($13/glass), have clearly been chosen with both the cuisine and price in mind, with only one bottle straying over fifty-five bucks.



I enjoy the limey Riesling against a juicy, wet Smashed Cucumber Salad ($17) where green apple matchsticks and a frothy wave of coconut milk mingle with roasted peanuts, lime, coriander and mint.



Peking Duck Spring Rolls ($22/3) are crisp and tasty against sticky-sweet hoisin.



Along with a bamboo steamer basket of Five Spice Duck Wontons ($22/5), notable for their neatly pleated, thin golden skins, they’re crowd pleasers, designed to appeal widely with the all-ages Central Coast crowd.



Fried Soft Shell Crab ($34) is likely more polarising, with hot red chilli, kaffir lime and flavoursome soft shell crab gentled slightly by fresh green apple and three-flavour caramel. While the fresh produce on this dish is a highlight, many will call it pricy for the serving size.



Dining with a non-chilli eater, we passed over curries in favour of Sichuan Pepper and Salt Silken Tofu ($18) while noting that the kitchen’s mortar and pestle indicates the pastes are house-made. Luckily the tofu is slippery and unctuous, with wonderful mochi-like stretchy skin. It eats very well on the accompanying boiled rice with lime to balance the sweetness of the chilli sauce.



We finish on ‘Barbra’s Bao Buns’ ($25/2). The pillowy soft, floppy steamed buns filled with well-rendered pork hock, hoisin, chilli and fresh coriander are named for songstress, Barbra Streisand, who, I'm told, frequented the New York Lucky Bee.



Streisand said they were "scrumptious"; I tend to agree.

The Lucky Bee
60 Araluen Drive, Hardys Bay
Ph: (02) 4360 1281

The Lucky Bee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - The Smelly Cheesecake




The Smelly Cheesecake’s Honey Gorgonzola Cheesecake ($7/slice) has been on my must-try list for years. Kicking off with a store in Lidcombe in 2014, it was the small chain’s expansion into Marina Square Wentworth Point that finally afforded me the opportunity to do so.



Fittingly, this cheesecake, made using pungent blue cheese gentled down to something quite approachable, is my favourite across a wide sample of their menu.



While Korean-run, this business seems draw influence from Japanese cheesecake, which is lighter and fluffier than the American cream cheese-based cheesecakes that up until now, have tended to dominate this field.



Faced with a pastel rainbow of cheesecake options, running from matcha to mango to mixed berry, my favourites proved to be the simpler flavours, like the Original Cheesecake ($7/slice) where it was more possible to taste the mascarpone and Parmesan cheese.



The integration of chiffon cake keeps everything fluffy and ephemeral.



While the baked Camembert Cheesecake ($7/slice) is exactly what it purports to be – a baked cheesecake made using very mild Camembert cheese from Lobethal in the Adelaide Hills, the Berry Jerry Cake ($7/slice) was a bit of a surprise.



Made to look like a wedge of Swiss cheese it’s actually 98% mascarpone cheese with a frozen layer of strawberry jam that my palate really wasn’t expecting. Can’t say I loved this one…



However, there was plenty I did love, including the contrasting cream cheese layers in the Red Velvet Cheesecake ($7/slice) and the Japanese-style Cheese Souffle Cake ($7/slice) that's baked in a steam bath to create the perfect - almost chalky - texture under an attractive golden brown skin.



After the Gorgonzola cheesecake of course, those two were my real standouts, though there's a tonne to explore here.



I've earmarked the well presented individual slices for next time. Arriving on slate boards, they run from caramel cheesecake to chocolate cheesecake presented as a mega block, with mini macaron garnishes.



While the whole store has a bit of a Swiss cheese theme, with a bright golden cheese counter and circular windows cut into plywood walls, they are actually much more than just a cheesecake shop.



From the shipping container kitchen, they produce a credible café menu that’ll take you from breakfast all the way to a garlic prawn oil pasta dinner.



I stuck to the start-of-day stuff with a bountiful Breakfast Platter made unique by throwing a bowl of porridge in with all the more usual breakfast fixings – eggs three different ways, hash browns, bacon, baked beans, chorizo, prosciutto, mushrooms, fried tomatoes and spinach. The generous serve of quite tasty bacon was this platter’s standout.



While I’m not so into the oozing avocado mousse replacing Hollandaise, I did like the pressure-cooked pork shoulder marinated in house-made barbeque sauce and presented on a charcoal bun in the Pulled Pork Benedict.



A lake of beetroot hummus makes the Sweet Corn Fritters ($16) very pretty to look at, and the dish certainly has good height, but if you ask me, this spot is really about the cheesecake.



The only exception to this rule is the French Toast ($17) with caramelised condensed milk, fresh berries, maple syrup and vanilla gelato is ridiculously good. It transported me straight back to childhood and memories of my grandma’s bread and butter pudding, when I closed my eyes and simply let it dissolve in my mouth.

 

Proving my stick-to-the-cheese rule rather nicely, the Cheese Gelato Shake ($7) is the better of the two drinks I tried, though it definitely could do with more cheese. Presented like a frothy glass of bedtime milk, it’s appropriately garnished with a super-cute nub of cheese. I was less enamoured with the Mango Coconut ($7) because I was expected an icy fruit drink and it came with a big hat of whipped cream dusted with desiccated coconut, so wasn’t as refreshing as I’d hoped for.

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The Smelly Cheesecake are on an expansion juggernaut, so if you’re keen to give the gorgonzola cheesecake a go and Wentworth Point is difficult to get to, keep your eyes peeled for upcoming stores in Charlestown, Rouse Hill, North Rocks and on Bathurst Street in the CBD.


The Smelly Cheesecake
Marina Square, 5 Footbridge Boulevarde, Wentworth Point
Ph: (0452) 273 559

The Smelly Cheesecake Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review - Ho Jiak




It doesn’t take much to get me back to Ho Jiak. I’ve got a lot of time for this Haymarket restaurant and the way owner Junda Khoo is working to raise the profile of Malaysian food to the heights of popularity enjoyed by other Asian cuisines here in Sydney.



Banana Leaf Rice ($25/person) is Junda's latest initiative. It’s a neat way to transport your workday lunch somewhere exotic in the space of an hour. Banana leaf rice is actually a traditional South Indian way to serve a meal, but with the migration of South Indian people, it’s also popular in the places they immigrated to, which includes Malaysia.



Built at the table right in front of you, the meal, which is served on a banana leaf, is based around a mound of white rice.



Filling up the rest of your environmentally-friendly, disposable plate, telur masin (salted duck egg) comes next with a bright orange-red yolk in a half-shell that you peel away by hand. From the series of white lidded pots set in front of the busy kitchen, the friendly floor team scoop out sayur kuning, a yellow turmeric-based mostly cabbage dish and add it to our growing collection.



Dotted with shiny ikan bilis (dried anchovies) kentang goreng, or fried potatoes, are next. Acar, lightly pickled vegetables, adds some freshness to the dish; while a handful of kulit ikan - fried fish skin – gives your lunch some crunch.



A glistening chicken drumstick, ayam belachan, is the final adornment.



With just a scoop of spicy curry gravy, your lunch is ready to eat.



Banana leaf rice is traditionally eaten with your hands. Ho Jiak will let you eat it bare fisted, with gloves, or with cutlery if you insist - though cutlery is generally not advised, as it can damage your fragile plate and make a mess of your meal. My dining companion and I get stuck in with clear plastic gloves and enjoy the experience. If you’re starving, top-ups are possible on the basic elements, with extras like the crunchy fish skin, chicken drumsticks and eggs attracting a small premium.



We punctuate the spiciness with big icy drinks from their colourful collection. Rose syrup turns Ice Sirap Limau ($5) bright red against balancing lime. The more popular Gula Melak ($5) might be brown, but with soy milk and palm sugar, it sure is soothing on tingling lips.

At the end of the meal, your plate is folded up and taken away. It’s considered polite to fold it towards you, but here at Ho Jiak, you can let your server take care of the mess.


NOTE: You can read previous reviews of this restaurant HERE, HERE or HERE.

Ho Jiak
92 Hay Street, Haymarket
Ph: (02) 8040 0252

Ho Jiak 好吃 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review - We Thai Cuisine




Out in the ‘burbs, most little shopping strips once boasted a chook shop and an Aussie-Cantonese for lazy midweek dinners. These days they’re just as likely to have a Thai restaurant. For Putney, a quiet suburb that sits between Gladesville and Ryde, the local fallback is We Thai Cuisine.



Seating just 30-35 people (there are some outside tables on the edge of a car park that would probably be nice in summer) this little family-run business has looked after the needs of local families for a number of years.



It’s BYO, though the small shopping strip’s bottle shop has since bitten the dust, so you’d be best to plan ahead. We’re not so forward-thinking, so end up drinking mugs of Ginger Beer ($4.50) on the cold and rainy evening we visited.



With only two tables occupied, the chocolate wood and glass edged dining room is quiet, bar for chopping and frying from the small open kitchen. There’s a regular procession of delivery serfs braving the weather to collect brown paper bags containing someone else’s home delivery for a meagre fee. The We Thai Cuisine menu contains all your usual Thai favourites, from pad Thai to beef massaman, but extends beyond the ordinary with a page of more interesting chef’s suggestions.



Colourful photos make choosing easier, though the picture of crisp Soft Shell Crab ($28.90) with yellow curry powder lures me into thinking it’s more entrée-style than the heavily sauced curry that arrives. We ask for it hot, and the thick, egg-based yellow sauce is dotted with ballistic red bird’s-eye chillies that lift the dish considerably.



Crowd pleasing Coconut Prawns ($12.90/4) are nicely presented, with the tail shell protruding from their large, coconut-covered exteriors.



I am a sucker for Pineapple Fried Rice ($23.90) and the version served here is particularly good. Arriving in a split fresh pineapple, it’s full of big, meaty prawns, sweet pineapple hunks, juicy sultanas and roasted cashews, with the well-separated rice grains showing amped flavour from turmeric and curry powder.



Grilled Marinated Lamb Cutlets ($23.90) are so good, I enjoy eating the well-charred lamb cutlets without the surrounding lake of Panang red curry. Luckily the mild coconut-based red curry sauce eats well on the pineapple fried rice or scooped up onto Roti ($5.90/2) that arrive with their own pot of peanut sauce.



Vegetables across our whole meal are crisp and well-handled, including in Scallops Choo Chee ($23.30). In this dish peas, carrots, baby corn and Thai basil join roe-on whole scallops in Thailand’s traditional seafood curry paste, where aromatics like lemongrass, kaffir lime and coriander should shine a bit more brightly than the usually more pungent Panang red curry.

While they’re not even attempting to take on the Thai masters at Chat Thai, you wouldn’t be disappointed to have We Thai Cuisine as your fallback local.

We Thai Cuisine
Shop 5, 90 Charles Street, Putney
Ph: (02) 9809 5995

We Thai Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review - Door Knock




After descending deep into subterranean Sydney and walking down a long dark corridor that gives you a physical transition from the hectic pace of Pitt Street, you reach a juncture where instructions are printed on a wall. Three knocks will see you gain you entrance to Door Knock, a subterranean bar with a log cabin feel.



It’s a warm wooden womb without a view, though there are windows, and shelves of ye olde knickknacks.



Overhead, hanging grape vines, wooden rafters and fairy lights conceal the basement fixtures, along with sheets of rusty corrugated iron over the bar.



Wooden wedge shelves turn a space-sensitive long banquette into a series of intimate booths.



Along with the dangling rope room dividers, this carpentry gives the space a faintly nautical feel, like you’re sitting in steerage down in the lower hold of a wooden sailing ship.



Appropriately then, my first cocktail is a Mez-sage In A Bottle ($22), poured at the table after bobbing over from the bar. It’s a beautifully integrated blend of smoky sage mezcal, Dom Benedictine, and acidulated apricot nectar (to stop it being sweet and cloying) with a sea salt rim and an edible garnish of apricot and sesame seed paper. Smoky and salty, it’s hard to untangle but oh-so-easy to drink. A study in contrasts, Nut Milk City Limits ($21) takes the sailor’s favourite poison – Coco Lopez Washed Plantation Rum – and teams it with Yellow Chartreuse, salted macadamia and sesame orgeat with a dusting of nutmeg. It’s a beautifully soft rum cocktail, and the best nut milk drink I’ve ever had, with the macadamia and sea salt coming through particularly well at the bottom of the drink.



With our whistles well whetted, we relax enough to look around, and notice nobody in the popular, 90-seater bar is on their mobile phone. This enforced interaction comes from being so deep underground there’s absolutely no mobile reception. I have to say I like it.



The food menu is a short, please-all collection of drinking snacks plus a couple of dishes that could serve as solo mains if you feel inclined to stay through dinner. We kick off with Mini Corn Dogs ($12) slathered in chunky tomato relish with a tangy side of American mustard. Since we’ve gone all Americana, I switch to a more appropriate Woodford Rye-based cocktail called The Carrot Whispers ($23). While it isn’t quite as bright a star as our first two drinks, it’s notable for the seamless way that Campari and Averna (Italian bitters) merge with the Kentucky rye whiskey, carrot and cardamom honey, so no one flavour jumps out and shouts: “Look at meeee.” And how cute do those rounded little carrot nubs look?!



Three cubic Mac’n’Cheese Croquettes ($16) certainly demonstrate that Door Knock have got their food costs nailed, but they’re so likeable, you’re probably not going to care.



Being old enough to care about vegetable balance even in our bar eats, we team them with a Radicchio and Buffalo Mozzarella Salad ($12) dotted with candied walnuts, crisp green pear slices and rocket. Bound by a honey and apple vinaigrette, it’s nothing to write a postcard home about, but a good companion dish to a simple, citrussy Coffele Soave Classico ($15/glass) from co-owner Natalie Ng’s interesting wine list.

Service is good, and reasonably attentive given the size of the bar, expertly steering my dining companion away from a natural wine, while still bringing a taster over to assure him he made the right choice. With a strong showing in sherry, Door Knock had left me with enough drinking options for a return visit next time I want respite from the hustle and bustle of Pitt Street.

Door Knock
B2, 70 Pitt Street, Sydney
Ph: none provided

Door Knock Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Bornga




Bornga is a popular Korean barbeque chain fronted by celebrity chef Jong Won Paik. While it kicked off inside Korea, it has subsequently expanded to ten different countries, including Australia.



Taking up a first-floor space on Harbour Street, the substantially-sized Bornga is a bit of a Korean theme park. It's decorated with the wooden doors and tiled roofs that are common features of traditional Korean architecture, which tended toward simplicity and economy of shape by using horizontal and vertical lines.



Traditional Korean attire gets pride of place over the entrance door, while on another wall there are black and white photos of the celebrity founder and the original Korean store.



Bornga aims to give Korean expatriates a taste of home, while at the same time inducting new audiences into the Korean way of eating.



As such, one of the things Bornga does very well is communicate how to consume your meal.



The famous Woo Samgyeop ($23/150g) explained both in the well-illustrated menu and on the paper place mats sitting under your bowl.



This signature recipe sees paper-thin slices of beef brisket marinated in the chef’s secret marinade for a very short period, meaning, unlike traditional beef bulgogi, this well-marbled beef retains its pink and white colour.



Your server will place it on the grill plate sitting over your hot coals, and then it's up to you to keep an eye on it - it cooks very quickly.



It's accompanied by banchan (side dishes) and a row of raw vegetables that look so delightful when they land, you instantly feel like you’re doing something good for your body just by eating here.



The leaves are for wrapping up your barbequed meats. My big Bornga learning was finding out layering different leaves together in the one ssam (lettuce wrap) is a thing - and they taste so much better this way too!



Don’t be afraid to ask your server for more kimchi!



The side dishes, which include spicy radish salad, seasoned spincah and a sweet ball of mashed potato adorned with a lotus root chip, are all refillable for no extra charge.



My highlight here was the spicy fermented crab (gejang). While originally designed as a way of preserving crab, today this popular Korean side dish is just lightly fermented. It's worth getting your hands dirty to try.



Also new to me was Haemul Ssamjang ($10) a fermented soy bean paste based pork and squid side that’s served alongside your ssam. While it looks like a thick stew, it is designed as a seasoned dipping sauce for your barbeque.



I found it easier to roll some up inside the lettuce wrap itself but wasn’t all that swayed by the muddy flavour it imparted to my wrap. I think I'll stick to kimchi and spicy radish in the future.



While Yesan Tteokgalbi ($23) struck me as fusion - a Korean take on the rissole, substituting in tteok (Korean rice cakes) for the stale bread ends your Mum might have thrown in - it’s actually a royal court dish. Originally called hyo-galbi it was considered an elder-friendly dish that made rib meat easier to bite off. The rice cake-shaped patties (they don’t all contain actual rice cakes like this version) were often attached back onto the short rib bone before cooking to impart some cook-on-the-bone flavour, and to make the presentation fit for a king. They’re grilled and kind of compelling as a side hustle to your main job: barbeque.



Wagyu Yangnyeom Kkotsal ($34/160g) helped redirect our attention to the smoking grill plate with beef short rib taken off the bone and marinated in another Bornga secret.



Extraction fans are quite effective here, and floor staff are quick to jump to fix anyone creating too much smoky atmosphere in the place.



While everyone’s friendly, and the food here is good, I can’t help but compare this night full of endless shrieking toasts as youthful Korean groups around us got messy on soju, with my recent Jang Ta Bal experiences. It’s my view that Jang Ta Bal give better service and more high-end beef for your buck, rather than paying for Bornga's fancier fit out, more extensive menu and er... livelier atmosphere.

Bornga
Level 1, 78 Harbour Street, Haymarket
Ph: (0417) 054 555

Bornga Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review - Local Mbassy




When Local Mbassy first opened in Ultimo, it was one of the first cafes in the Wentworth Park area. It quickly developed a cult following centred around their red velvet pancakes, which remain on the menu today, four years on.

 

In the ensuing period, more cafes have sprung up in the local area, mostly at the bases of the new residential towers that make up Sydney's second most densely settled suburb (after Potts Point).



Working in with the concrete jungle, the Local Mbassy team have made the most of being at the base of a tall building by creating a boiler room fit-out. It sits under a tangle of exposed pipes, with each branch ending in an Edison bulb.

 

The steampunk vibe continues into repurposed bicycle pedal stools and recycled wood shelves mounted on pipe fittings. They're filled with a quirky collection of 1920s Australiana. The knickknacks, which run from trumpets to old cameras and telephones, took the brothers, Marcus and Samuel Gorge, a year to assemble, and countless trips to antique stores.

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You have to admire their commitment to detail, which extends to the water bottles, vases and sugar jars, and a Sid Tapia mural of a 1920s larrikin on one wall. By using frosted glass on the curved corner windows, Local Mbassy insulate you from Harris Street’s heavy traffic and make your only view the sunny green grass of Wentworth Park. It’s a good way to make up for the café’s own lack of morning sun - a hazard of the high rise, difficult architecture and descending high pavement down William Henry Street.



Turning your attention to the rough concrete front counter, where more pipe joints secure a recycled wood bench-top, you’ll find a collection of bought-in pastries.



Next to them there's an appropriately copper-detailed La Marzocco coffee machine turning out credible Campos coffees.



They're supplemented by a range of colourful warm milky drinks running from red velvet to matcha to taro. Hot Coconut ($4.50) is unusual enough for me to give it a whirl, particularly as it is kind of chilly for metal chairs and sub-basement dining. It tastes like coconut ice, so I’m guessing sweetened condensed milk is involved in the blend of milk and desiccated coconut, which drinks a bit sweet for me.



The Open Melt ($17) here is fancier than most, featuring 10-hour braised pork belly that tastes of brown sugar, cinnamon and star anise.



The thinly sliced pig is very well rendered, eating well against spinach, bland mozzarella cheese, house onion pickles and a runny-yolked fried egg.



What I liked most about Local Mbassy is they’re clearly not afraid of being different. The idiosyncratic décor is matched by a menu that makes Vegetarian Moussaka ($19) into a breakfast dish. Served in a cast iron pan, the layer of eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms in a light tomato sauce is topped with a creamy inch of béchamel. While it comes out ten minutes after my dining companion’s melt, all is forgiven when I see the super fluffy béchamel has been freshly made. It sounded like an odd proposition, but moussaka worked surprisingly well as a wintery vegetarian warmer against toast served on a brand-embossed wooden paddle. See what I mean about their commitment to detail?

Local Mbassy
310 Wattle Street, Ultimo
Ph: (02) 9660 3716

Local Mbassy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review - Lan Dining




Lan Dining is the latest venue by the China Chilli Holding Group, who might already be familiar with if you like to eat spicy food. They have eleven Australian restaurants, seven of which are in Sydney, most flying under the Spicy Sichuan banner.



You’ll find Lan Dining in a quietish part of Haymarket, sitting above China Chilli (one of their more traditional hot pot restaurants). It’s the group’s first incursion into Chinese fine dining, though there’s an even fancier restaurant in the pipeline, at the base of the five-star Westin Hotel in Brisbane. Now this isn’t Sydney’s first trip around the Chinese fine dining block – Waitan and China Republic both tried this route in late 2013 with limited success (both restaurants have since closed).



Early signs at Lan Dining are good, with a mostly Chinese audience already filling up the tables on the rainy weeknight I visited. The early success is perhaps helped by the fact that the China Chilli Holding Group have owned this site for a while, albeit operating as a different sort of restaurant.



With pastel hues and comfortable fabric bucket chairs, the fit-out feels more contemporary China than any of Sydney’s Chinese fine dining predecessors. While the lazy Susan thankfully remains for ease-of-sharing with bigger groups like the one I’m with, the daggy white tablecloths have vanished in favour of pale-hued laminated wood overhung by flower-shaped rattan pendant lights that play into the restaurant’s Chinese orchid name.

   

We kick off with Steamed Chicken in Chilli Oil ($22) that arrives in a round metal cage. The chilli oil is in a blown sugar ball that you gently crack to explode over the mix of chicken, cashew nuts and Chinese celery in a subtle peanut butter sauce. It’s flavoursome rather than spicy, but the presentation is on-point, and echoed in each dish we try from the extensive menu.



Even the humble shredded Zucchini Salad ($18) has been given a presentation update, with elegantly arranged striped ribbons of zucchini coated in grilled chilli dressing that’s poured over them at the table.



Sailing onto the table in a cascading waterfall of dry ice, the Grilled Kangaroo Kebab ($48) boat is fronted by Zhuge Liang. Wearing a Taoist robe with a crane-feather fan, this military strategist and hero of the Three Kingdoms period in China. More than just fanfare, these spicy lean kangaroo kebabs with mushrooms, capsicum and chilli make great eating, and they’re served sticking out of the Sichuan peppercorns that make this regional Chinese cuisine so distinctive. Cumin is the dominant note, and it’s massaged into the meat to ensure tenderness and good flavour penetration.



All the meat and seafood, by the way, are drawn from Australia and New Zealand, while the spices and chillies are imported from China to give an authentic flavour to the dishes. One of China Chilli Holding Group's most popular dishes, Spicy Lamb Ribs ($36), also make an appearance on the Lan Dining menu. They’ve been selling them for the past twelve years, and probably turn over a million lamb ribs a year across all of their restaurants. With capsicum, coriander, onion, peanuts, cumin and very well-rendered fat, it's easy to see why they're so popular.



Good quality fowl shines in Tea Smoked Duck ($42), one of the best renditions of this dish I’ve had. The recipe, which takes two days, was inherited by one of the chefs, with the tea smoking getting great penetration into the bird. It comes on an elegant tray with pliable pancakes and a non-traditional plum sauce that I found just distracted from the excellent duck.



While dining with a group of the Instagram faithful does have disadvantages, like with countless photos letting dishes get cold, the Crispy Eggplant ($23) held up quite nicely. Each round lightly battered disc contained a soft slice of eggplant stuffed with pork mince, which stayed quite savoury under the sweet and sour sauce.



The big advantage of eating with a group this size was being able to try dishes like Live Parrot Fish ($188/1kg) that is too big and pricy for a pair.



The mostly boneless fish slices are placed with fresh green herbs onto hot rocks with a chicken-based broth poured over them at the table. The stones cook the fish with the lid on, so nothing escapes, resulting in a fragrant, golden soup that I really enjoyed!



If you’re dining as a pair hit up the Matsutake Mushrooms & Chicken Soup ($16/person) instead. Served like a tea, it’s a complex and beautiful soup that’s earthy and delightful.



While Kung Bao Prawns ($49) served under a sugar net had the influencers at my table in a cracking frenzy, the muted dried chilli bite in the blend of crustaceans, cashew nuts and capsicum meant the dish was a bit disappointing to me.



I was more taken with the botanically named Steamed Prunus Persica ($16/each) - that’s peach to you and me. It’s a heated papaya half filled with a fairly flavourless peach gum that’s apparently good for your lady parts. You add flavour with a rock sugar syrup that’s passed separately, though the star of this dish is really the warm papaya that doesn't really need sweetening. I might try it at home with yogurt…

Lan Dining
Level 1, 2 Cunningham Street, Haymarket
Ph: (02) 8317 4939

Lan Dining Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thanks to Food Critics & Bloggers Australia for inviting me to participate in this modern Sichuan adventure.

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