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Review - VN City

With the opening flower gifts still on display in their front window, Strathfield newcomer, VN City is already proving popular with the crowds.

We make fast food, but not in the sense that it’s junk food,” owner Matthew Gale explains, steering me towards their signature Crispy Chicken ($12).

With glistening golden skin that crackles and spurts hot liquid fat into your mouth when you bite into it, this moist sliced, bone-in chicken gives Sydney’s Chinese masters of crispy skin a run for their money at a fraction of the price. “Asian food should be cheap,” Gale declares.

As a Strathfield native with Korean ancestry, Gale opened up VN City to give locals like himself a break from the suburb’s Korean food domination. To bring his vision to life, he’s partnered up with Cindy Mai, whose family are behind the Tan Viet Noodle House restaurants (you could say crispy chicken runs in her veins). To match the light, fresh food, the interior space has been kept clean, white and functional, with wooden tables, and Scando-inspired chairs.

Food photos form the bulk of the décor, with a lime green splash-back in the rear where the busy hum of blenders should clue you in that freshly made juices are the order of the day. Watermelon ($7) juice is blended with lychee and mint to make a frothy but not too thick juice that’s wonderfully refreshing. For something simpler, the Fresh Lemon Soda ($6) is sharp and enjoyable; or there’s the on-table pandan leaf (lá dứa) tea that’s brewed freshly in the restaurant every morning (and it’s free).

No sooner have we tried the juices, and our first dish is on the table (Gale did say it was fast food) kicking off with a nicely arranged Banh Hoi Combination ($28).

Accompanied by rice paper sheets with clever built-in warm water to soften them in, the platter allows you to build your own rice paper rolls using sugar can prawns, grilled pork, pork spring rolls, tasty, lean grilled Vietnamese meatballs, and nut-topped vermicelli bundles.

Team your protein of choice with pickled batons of carrot, lettuce, and Vietnamese herbs into a neatly wrapped bundle, dip it into nuoc cham, and you’re away!

While we’re wrapping our rice paper rolls, our table fills up with food - there's no distinction between entrees and mains here.

With rare beef, brisket, tendon, tripe and meatballs, the Pho Beef Combination ($15.50) is the dish that has half the room with their heads down slurping. Me? I’m reaching for tissues and trying to keep from looking like I can’t handle my chilli. The on-table sauces are great, just approach with some sensible caution.

The French-inspired Vietnamese dish, bò lúc lắc is served here as Beef Cubed with Tomato Rice ($16) topped off with a fried egg. The tender diced beef and onions is flavoured with pepper and soy sauce, and goes down all-too-easily with the accompanying rice, lettuce and freshly cut tomato.

With my local Vietnamese favourite, Marrickville’s Bau Truong, biting the dust, I reckon I’ve found a replacement for a fast, fresh and inexpensive Vietnamese meal.

VN City
27 The Boulevarde, Strathfield
Ph: (0457) 007 071

VN City Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Travel - Le Pruneau

Tamworth’s most surprising foodie gem was actually arrived at through an off-hand tip from a mate who lives in Quirindi. Upon hearing I was looking for a farmers’ market for produce to take back to Sydney, she suggested that the local French joint, Le Pruneau, also sells a range of conventional and certified organic vegetables. Cue me heading there for breakfast...

In an asymmetrical late Victorian corner block, Le Pruneau insulates you from the pace of the Oxley Highway with a garden setting that provides both intimacy and shade if you decide to break your fast in the great outdoors.

The large wraparound porch houses an outdoor counter, where friendly staff chirp greetings to their regulars as they get their coffees underway.

Made on beans roasted by The Branches in the Northern Rivers, our Latte ($4.50) and Extra Shot ($0.60) Flat White ($4.50) are the best coffees I drank in Tamworth. With liquorice notes, they have a bit more going on than the other local coffees I sampled, making this the only venue where I felt inclined to order a second cup.

With the French country style theming, breakfasts at Le Pruneau are hearty and honest. The kitchen team, led by Phillippe Kanyaro, are making almost everything in-house, from butter to cheese to bread and bacon. God’s own meat can be enjoyed as House-made Bacon ($4.50) with Eggs on Toast ($12.50) in a build-your-own-breakfast affair, or as sticky sweet Maple Bacon ($4.50).

I choose the latter as an opt-in for the House-made Crumpets ($19) that come with smashed pumpkin and poached eggs. Crumpets in Tamworth continue to be of a standard we don’t seem to be able to reach in Sydney. At Le Pruneau they’re airy, tasty and cooked through without a doughy centre or burnt bottom. While the maple bacon proves slightly too sweet for a breakfast that already contains roast pumpkin, the syrup sits over what is easily one of the best bacons I’ve eaten in NSW.

Mowing our way through their menu on a second visit, we sampled a house-made Beef Sausage ($4.50) that was all thriller, no filler, before moving onto the big garlicky taste of their Toulouse Sausages ($18). Served as a twosome on a bed of compelling white bean mash with two sunny side up fried eggs, this makes for a breakfast that will take you through morning tea all the way to a late lunch without the need for snacking.

Le Pruneau sourdough has some tangy sourness to it; their Potato Roesti ($3.50) are generous golden patties of long, thin shreds of potato; only the Avocado Hollandaise ($3.50) is a let-down (and that’s more because avocado doesn’t belong in Hollandaise if you ask me). Even the kitchen’s tomato sauce is better than any commercial one I’ve tried. If I’d known the Haloumi ($3.50) was their own house-made Jersey milk haloumi when I was designing my own breakfast, I would have definitely thrown some in.

We used two breakfasts to create a shopping list of ingredients to buy in their store, from the aforementioned cheese, to two kilos of their nitrite-free bacon that still manages to look gloriously pink and white in their packaging (so many look grey and unappealing).

Outside in wooden crates and market baskets, you’ll find an array of well-labelled fruit and vegetables.

Don’t neglect the fridges: in there you will find the best oyster mushrooms I’ve ever eaten, grown by a Tamworth local – their texture is truly amazing!

Le Pruneau certainly makes the bounty of the New England region come alive in both their cooking and the goods that they provide.

Le Pruneau
83 Bridge Street, Tamworth
Ph: (02) 6765 3666

Le Pruneau Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Mas.Que

With monochromatic stripes, and white accents set over aquamarine, there’s a theatrical feel to Mas.que that really sets the stage for their Instagram-focused dishes.

A masque, by the way, refers to a 16th and 17th Century theatrical entertainment that was often performed in an English royal court. The motif continues into empty gold-frames and well-decorated masquerade masks mounted on the walls as part of the room’s striking décor.

Despite the all-day menu, we’re almost put off by the floor staff when we arrive for brunch. Finding a completely empty café, I checked they’re still serving breakfast, only to be told the menu doesn’t have many breakfast items. Perhaps this is a warning to those unaware that Mas.que puts out a Taiwanese and Japanese-inspired fusion menu where congee and don (rice bowls) are the focus. That, said you will find Luxe bakery croissants, including one filled with prawn tartare, and bacon and eggs are also available.

The drinks list is similarly non-conventional. Garnished with sliced grapes, our Dragon Smoothie ($10) arrived with its vividly magenta banana-heavy blend of dragon fruit, apple, lime, honey and coconut water arranged with contrasting green wheels of kiwifruit.

The Emoji Bag Series ($7.50) might not win over folk keen on reducing plastic, because they are – as the name suggests – served in kawaii printed plastic bags. Naughty passionfruit proves to be a pretty purple soda that works well garnished with lychee pearls, particularly after you give it some careful agitation (the sweetness sits at the bottom). Coffee ($3.50) here is nice, but nothing special.

With the Ora King Salmon Don ($27) proving unavailable, my pescatarian companion switched to the Smoked Salmon and Black Bean Salad ($18.50). Presented on a colourful bed of black beans, edamame, sweet corn, radish pickles, carrot, lettuce and soya beans dressed in yuzu (Japanese citrus), the bowl stacks a whirl of smoked salmon on unbuttered sourdough toast. Butter was presented upon request, but the addition didn't really elevate the dish into something that eats as well as it looks.

The Soft-Shell Golden Sand Congee ($24) was generously proportioned and served piping hot, crowned with a whole soft shell crab. To my taste buds at least, for all the menu fanfare - dried seafood, cordyceps flower, split mung bean congee served with shallot, salty yolk and seaweed - the resulting dish didn’t punch flavour in the way I expected. Drowning in a too-thick batter, the soft-shell crab flavour was completely lost, and seaweed proved to be the rice porridge’s dominant note.

For all the Instagram hype, I frankly expected more.

Shop 2, 38-46 Albany Street, St Leonards
Ph: (02) 9460 7603

Mas.Que Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Travel - Hopscotch Restaurant & Bar

Buddy! Here you go! Slip that into you,” our jovial waiter exclaims as he hands over our cocktails.

Drawn from a six-strong list of New York-style margaritas - not quite what I expected to be drinking in Tamworth - The Harlem ($15) and The Soho ($15) are straight-to-the-point cocktails. With no salt rims, ice or garnishes to navigate, they’re big glasses of crudely combined liquor – tequila and triple sec – turned with watermelon juice to represent the northern Manhattan neighbourhood of Harlem; and with ruby red grapefruit juice to reflect the bitter proclivities of trendy Soho fashionistas.

While normally I prefer a bit more elegance, there’s something about a spiked fruit juice that works on a hot day, particularly when you’re sitting in a light-filled glass house set inside the town’s Bicentennial Park.

You’ll find Hopscotch Restaurant & Bar overlooking the whizz-bang $2.2 million Tamworth Regional Playground. While you can order from their outdoor kiosk and hang outside with your kids, I reckon the cutting-edge playground is close enough that you could legitimately parent from an indoor table with a quaffable cocktail in hand.

Owned by business and life partners, Dwone Jones and Jay Lynch, Hopscotch is a daytime affair with a menu more geared towards café-style dishes.

They do make a point of buying local, sourcing the Piallamore beef for their Steak Sandwich ($20) from about fifteen kilometres away on the road to Nundle, and the tomatoes it’s served with, from Guyra, north of Armidale. The Angus eye fillet is teamed with pickled onion, creamy farmhouse Cheddar, mixed leaves and mustard on fairly standard toasted Turkish bread, accompanied by a big helping of skinny fries.

Made with locally cured lightly peppered beef, smoked ham and (sadly unmelted) provolone, rounded out with pickles and remoulade, the lightly toasted Cuban ($16) is a bit more Miami nice than it is Havana spice. I suspect though I might be missing the point. Maybe if I had kids, this family-friendly spot would win me over on proximity to playground and alcohol?

Hopscotch Restaurant & Bar
Tamworth Regional Playground Bicentennial Park
Corner Kable Avenue & Hill Street, Tamworth
Ph: (02) 6766 8422

Hopscotch Restaurant and Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Riverside Thai

A year had passed since my first visit to Riverside Thai, so I headed back to Pyrmont to see what owner/chef Paul Kanongdachachat has been up to.

His nearly two-year-old restaurant has retained many of the more unique Northern Thai influenced dishes I enjoyed, as well as throwing in some new things, like Fried Taro ($12/4).

Taro, which has come across from China, is generally enjoyed as a Thai street food. Here the four crisp fritters would make a clever drinking snack, as their starchiness literally soaks up your Singha Beer ($8). We eat them after they’re dipped into a sauce where diced roasted peanuts float on top of a traditional nam jim.

Presented in an eye-catching shade of lime green, Thai Crispy Egg Pancake ($17) or khanom buang, has a history that goes back about six hundred years. Traditionally made with rice flour and duck egg, the Riverside Thai version arrives stuffed with prawns, lightly salted radish, young coconut and bean sprouts. Dished up with salad and a bright and spicy cucumber relish, it is perfect hot weather eating that you’ll like if you enjoy Vietnamese banh xeo.

Kanongdachachat also puts his own twist onto some dishes, creating some modern Thai fusion plates like his clever Riverside Scallops ($19/4). Mounds of juicy wet salsa are piled on top of scallops that have been cooked on the half shell. The salsa is given a Thai twist with a chilli, garlic, lime and fish sauce dressing that’s got lively kick. My only complaint is that the baked on scallops were hard to dislodge from their shells without making salsa fly everywhere.

Sticking with warm weather dishes, we hit up the Barramundi Fillet with Green Mango Salad ($24). Rather than a whole fish which can be tricky to dismember, bite-sized, fried fish fillet pieces rest underneath spicy, green mango salad. It’s a simple dish that lacks much middle, but I enjoy it anyway because we’re dining on a warm evening.

Continuing the Chinese connection that I mentioned earlier, another menu newcomer - Roast Duck Curry with Plum Sauce ($29) - uses a big, beautifully meaty duck made by the talented Wok Master chef in Randwick. Kanongdachachat teams it with Chinese broccoli, scattered sesame seeds, and a spiced plum sauce. It’s fractionally sweet for my palate, but I find it hard to complain when it arrives with a balancing soy chilli sauce.

Riverside Thai is a small but pleasing Thai restaurant that stands out from the crowd with innovation and by presenting Thai dishes that you might not already be bored with. However, if you are craving a more standard, pick-your-protein pad Thai, you’ll find it at the back of the menu in the street food section.

NOTE: See my initial review of this restaurant back HERE.

Riverside Thai
Shop 2, 42 Harris Street, Pyrmont
Ph: (02) 9571 9566

Riverside Thai Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Travel - Yellow Billy Restaurant

Sunday lunch has a new destination. Flying under the radar, Yellow Billy Restaurant opened up quietly in Piggs Peak winery about a year ago. Named for local bush ranger William White, who took on Yellow Billy as a pseudonym, the restaurant’s food offering centres upon the fire pit.

This mode of cooking reflects the foraged meals the outlaw would have had while he evaded capture in the nearby Brokenback Range.

While White would have no doubt liberated his lamb, the Yellow Billy team have ethically sourced their tasty Pukara Estate Lamb ($32/180 grams) from an hour up the highway in Denham. After spending eight hours over the pit that you can see from your table, your weighed portion of moist lamb is served with jus. The intensity is cut by a sharp mint and verjuice jelly that keeps things ultra-local by being made using unfermented grapes from the winery you’re sitting in.

With recycled timber archways dripping in grape vines, the dining room is accessed via an attractive courtyard, where an array of drought-resistant plants, from cacti to spiky grasses, help to create an attractive outdoor dining space.

In winter it’s warmed by a large sandstone fireplace, though on the blistering hot day I attended, we quickly retreated into the air-conditioned dining room for lunch.

Inside repurposed timber beams and window frames are the highlights of a neutrally toned space lined with wine racks. We are in wine country, so as you’d expect, the booze list here is substantial – twenty pages in fact. The estate’s own wines – Chardonnay, Tempranillo, Shiraz, fortified Verdello – are all available by the glass. There’s also a Coravin system that gives you the opportunity to try wines usually too expensive to be available by the glass, like the 2016 Bret Brothers La Soufrandiere Climat Les Quarts Chardonnay ($36/glass), which offers up layers of unfolding flavour.

These systems also affords you the opportunity to try less popular varietals, like the 2018 Murdoch Hill Pinot Meunier ($16/glass), which impresses with strawberries before getting some of the lip-smacking acidity and leathery qualities I love about these light reds. To get the road dust from your palate, perhaps kick off with a craft beer. While the locavore ethos sees brews from the Hunter and nearby NSW well represented on the list, we can’t go past Gippsland’s finest brewery, Sailors Grave. We hit up their Lemon Meringue Cream Sour ($14.50) and their Down She Gose Ale ($13) that are both quite pricy here, but as they're such high-quality craft beers, you’re unlikely to mind. The lemon meringue sour kicks off with tart lemon curd, then after a hint of cream, ends on biscuity pie crust. It’s a definite converter beer for anyone who thinks they don't like beer.

We take our meal as a one-course shared family meal, combining the aforementioned lamb with Merrifield Suckling Pig ($32/180 grams). The Berkshire pork is moist and flavoursome against a homely apple jam; and the crackled wood-fired and oven roasted skin that crowns it, deliver just the crunch you want to get from well-executed crackling.

Bathed in smoke on the top shelf of their fire pit, the 16-hour Black Angus Onyx Brisket ($34/180 grams) is the pit’s crowning glory. Smoky, juicy and topped with the best chimmichurri I’ve had (plenty of olive oil and dried mint), this fatty cut of New England Tablelands beef is perfectly handled - actually the most tender brisket I’ve eaten in a long while.

We break up our meaty feast with Spring Peas ($21) and snow peas arranged around creamy burrata cheese with eschallots and fresh spearmint leaves.

Grilled Asparagus ($15) is another winner, adorned with pasture raised duck egg gribiche, shaved Parmesan, croutons and frisee, on an old-fashioned patterned plate that appeals to home for a Sunday roast vibe.

With a whole section of snacks left to explore, I’m predicting another Sunday drive to wine country sometime in the very near future.

Yellow Billy Restaurant
Piggs Peake Winery, 697 Hermitage Road, Pokolbin
Ph: (02) 6574 7204

Yellow Billy Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Saga

With pastry chef Andy Bowdy rising to fame through his cakes and desserts at the American-inspired Hartsyard, I might have approached his solo venture, Saga, the wrong way. You'll find in located in a narrow Enmore shopfront, simply furnished with a blonde wood framework that allows a barely obstructed view of the building's fittings.

A single row of closely set wooden picnic tables and benches take you deeper into the cave-like room, the darkness brightened with spotlights and fluorescent strip lights.

Living plants provide the room’s only organic respite from hard surfaces; some trailing, some arranged in tall glasses vases that allow you to view their mossy innards. Despite the counter at the end of the room, there’s table service for those who choose to eat in. You probably want to walk to the end to look at the miniature layer cakes and daily baking anyway.

We arrived for lunch rather than sweets, kicking off our meal with a Salted Caramel and Bourbon Thickshake ($9.50) that neatly avoided being too sweet, and a pretty and refreshing Strawberry & Lemon Thyme House-Made Soda ($6).

From the brunch menu that runs from eight until three, I hit up the Corn Pudding ($19) with the optional side of (sadly over-cooked) Bacon ($5). Made with roasted corn, farro, cornbread crumbs, celery leaves and Parmesan, topped with a poached egg, the corn pudding proved too sweet for me. Luckily staff are able to produce a house-made chilli vinegar they use for their falafel sanga, which improves the dish so much I’d argue it should come as standard.

Starving to death, my dining companion hits up the meatiest sandwich from their list, the Llewellyn ($16.50) that layers sopressa salami, mortadella, coppa and smoked ham onto a ciabatta roll with iceberg lettuce, tangy pickled peppers and provolone. It’s good, that is if you don’t mind making that sort of outlay for a sandwich.

Trying to get with the swing of what this space does best, we end on a Palmier ($5) that’s big on fennel seeds, balanced by candy-sweet passionfruit icing. The pastry is so crisp I find it a bit dry and hard.

Brioche rolled with cinnamon butter and cheesecake, cooked in lashings of salted caramel, and topped with a sticky cheesecake glaze, make the Sticky Buns ($5/each) seem too dense and heavy going for me.

Maybe I’m just not the target market for this one?

178 Enmore Road, Enmore
Ph: (02) 9550 6386

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


When I ask our server where Colly Creek Angus beef comes from, directions to the farm roll from her lips: “Drive up Werris Creek Road, then turn right onto Colly Creek Road.” It’s the best indication of local provenance I’ve ever had in a restaurant; and demonstrates the strong connection between this regional restaurant and the meat they choose to serve. It obviously helps that Graze Restaurant (along with the boutique pub and accommodation venue that it’s located within, Willow Tree Inn), is owned by the same people – Charles and Cheryl Hanna – as the 6,000-acre Black Angus cattle property that supplies them.

For a tiny town, with a population of just 308 people, Graze Restaurant punches way above its weight. The dining room is formal without being intimidating.

Rusted metal chandeliers give both the curtained private dining room, and a long communal table by the kitchen a rather stately yet rural appearance.

A long brown leather padded banquette separates the dining room from the entrance walkway, where you’ll see historic photography of the area and property, and a viewing window into their hectically stocked dry ageing room.

NSW wine is well-represented on the wine list, which – at least, to a city slicker – seems very reasonably priced. Entry level wines can be yours for fewer than fifty bucks a bottle, with the bulk of the list sitting below the sixty-dollar mark. Even the cellar selection stays mostly under a hundred bucks. We’re quite pleased with our 2017 John Duval Plexus Marsanne Roussanne Viognier ($55/bottle) from the Barossa Valley. It’s textural and smoky, with enough oomph to carry it through a meal where we (if we didn’t have a seventy-kilometre drive back to our Tamworth hotel) should probably have been drinking red.

After being surprised with a capsicum, tomato and eggplant soup amuse bouche and bread, we get stuck into the house-made Charcuterie ($32.90). It showcases cold ways to enjoy Colly Creek beef - roasted, corned and air-dried – all made in-house, but beaten by the thick slices of super-smoky, finely grained beef sausage. Actually, we were sold on this platter via our server’s enthusiasm for its promised chicken terrine, only to find it was switched out with wonderfully tangy house-made labne. We were given such a sweet, heartfelt apology for recommending an item that proved unavailable, it was impossible to feel disappointed.

For the main event, we opt to share the Rib Eye on the Bone ($66.90/800 grams). Head Chef Sonia Marshman does a lovely job with our rib-eye. My first bite takes me through the crunchy well-seasoned charry exterior before sinking into the meltingly soft red interior.

It’s well rested because the medium-rare interior doesn’t bleed into my ridiculously good Creamy Mushroom Sauce ($2.50) or turn my baked spud pink. We each get our own spud, a nice touch for two people who have opted to share one main.

Marshman’s Café de Paris Butter ($2.50) is balanced and complex, though served in such a generous amount, it’d be plenty big enough for a table of four.

Ditto the enamel tin of Creamed Spinach ($9.90) that's simple and rustic with farmhouse appeal.

I’m less enamoured with the Iceberg Wedge Salad ($12.90) because it’s dominated by the intensity of Graze’s house-made bacon batons, and by this point in our meat-heavy meal, I was craving some juicy wet radish, crisp lettuce and tangy blue cheese relief. Thankfully the lightly blanched cherry tomatoes throw some acid at my stomach full of meat.

Full to bursting, it's very easy to see why our waitress tells me people come from everywhere - Sydney, Armidale and Gunnedah - just to eat here. She goes on to explain that Sydney's Merivale restaurants also use Colly Creek beef. As a parting gift she tells me I can pick up my own beef at The Plains Pantry directly across the road, which is on the road back to Sydney. Next time I will stay here overnight...

Graze Restaurant
Willow Tree Inn, New England Highway, Willow Tree
Ph: (02) 6747 7711

Graze Restaurant & Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Follow the colourful koi up the stairs into this Haymarket stalwart, East Ocean 禧市, and you’re in for a big surprise.

This Sussex Street restaurant has had a recent change in ownership, management and a fancy décor update, starting with a beautiful tank aquarium where you can get acquainted with their live seafood selection.

For anyone who doesn’t want to meet their meal before they devour it, there’s another entrance to this restaurant on Dixon Street that takes you straight into the well-appointed dining room.

It’s probably worth making the point though, that live seafood is the main attraction here.

In the tanks you’ll see morwong, parrot fish, coral trout and silver perch, live prawns and a host of other crustaceans including lobsters and multiple types of crab (snow crab, king crab and mud crab).

After taking them in, we wave down a host in the mostly empty space and get settled in a quirky private dining room for two, with fishnet curtains to separate us from the restaurant’s main floor.

The strong visual impact of the room comes from the extensive use of International Klein Blue (IKB) – a deep blue hue that was first created by French artist, Yves Klein.

It pops as under-bar lighting and continues onto the dining chairs, accentuated with the same dancing koi motif as the entrance stairwell.

Sumptuous gold highlights are put to good effect along the bar, walls, menu accents, and in golden fish chopstick rests that cleverly cater for your soup spoon, too.

It feels expensive.

Inspired by our tour of the tanks, we kick off with my favourite crustacean, scampi, presented in the part shell as Scampi Shrimp Sashimi ($22/2). It’s actually the perfect way to consume this delicate shellfish, which has a surprisingly creamy character to its flesh when devoured raw, so go easy on the soy sauce if you happen to apply it.

As we’d actually asked for a Sashimi Platter ($38) that proved unavailable, the chef was kind enough to throw in some raw fish slices, but they’re delivered without sufficient explanation for me to know exactly what I was eating.

Staying with hot weather eats, we back it up with a Sichuan-style cold appetiser of Mouth-watering Chicken ($15). This chilled, poached, skin-on chicken dish is big on nutty, fermented soybeans with peanuts and crisp cucumber batons for juicy, wet, textural contrast. It's easy to enjoy if you're down with cold chicken.

Our waiter stops by to show us our live seafood selections – 400 grams of Live Prawns ($MP) and 450 grams of Pipis ($MP) before taking them back to the kitchen for preparation.

The pipis are served with a gentle XO sauce, and a real pleasure to eat, with plump, briny bivalve really cutting through in the flavour department.

We take the prawns as poached in the shell, with home-made soy sauce, which our waiter explains is the best way to experience their freshness. They are delicate and impressive, though probably best for those who don’t baulk at eating the whole, head-to-tail crustacean. For anyone who insists upon peeling, a finger-washing bowl is quick to arrive.

East Ocean 禧市 is a full-service restaurant, which can be a bit of a surprise if you happen to reach for your East Ocean Signature Fried Rice ($26.80) and have someone rush in to serve it for you. Their impatience is likely with themselves for not anticipating your need, rather than with you doing the wrong thing, but it’s easy to feel judged. Sit back, relax, and let it all happen for you; focus on the tiny orange jewels of salmon roe and tiny scallops that are scattered through your well-separated rice.

Eat some greens – the Stir-Fried Water Spinach ($18) presented with big red loops of mild red chilli is nice – but avoid listening to the music. For my visit it was the same three songs played in a loop. Now, I like Doris Day as much as the next person, but Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps an expanded play list is required?

I contemplate this over fresh fruit and creamy mango pudding, smiling as I bite into an orange segment that reminds me of visiting Australian Chinese restaurants as a kid.

East Ocean Seafood Restaurant 禧市
Level 1, 421-429 Sussex Street, Haymarket
Ph: (02) 9212 1989

禧市 East Ocean Seafood Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Travel - The Pig & Tinder Box

There often seems to be an inverse relationship between how beautiful the architecture is, and how good the food is, at restaurants housed in fancy digs; but that’s not the case at The Pig and Tinder Box. Despite being located in Tamworth’s rather grand old bank building, erected in 1892 as the Bank of NSW but more recently occupied by the ANZ Bank, The Pig and Tinder Box don’t rest upon their fine architectural bones.

Sitting somewhere between a pub, a boutique bar and an all-day eatery, The Pig is a Harvest Hotels property. Headed up by Chris Cornforth and Fraser Haughton, this hotelier group focuses upon regional pubs, currently controlling a range of properties across Tamworth and Yass.

We’re lured in for brunch on the wide, airy front balcony with a short list of breakfast cocktails. Garnished with a pickled onion, pickled chilli and rosemary, their well-priced Bloody Mary ($13) is the perfect way to kickstart your Sunday. It’s well-balanced and easy to enjoy. I’m not quite as enamoured with the Breakfast Martini ($16). It’s a particularly sharp start to your day with Gordons Dry Gin, Lillet Rosé, house-made sour mix and not quite enough marmalade to gentle it down to suit the morning vibe.

Perhaps as a nod to their time in Orange NSW with Percy’s Bar & Kitchen, Cornforth and Haughton have chosen to serve Academy Coffee. I find it a bit one-dimensional across a latte and a strong flat white, both served in large orange cups.

With the short menu containing many nods to local producers, like sourdough from Sonny’s Bakery next door and smoked trout from Arc-en-Ciel, it’s surprisingly hard to choose what to eat. The idea of eating roast duck for breakfast pushes us into an English Muffin ($10) that leaves Maccas for dead with a fresh fried egg and house chutney joining the tasty bird.

Unlike most of the Tamworth venues I explored during my recent trip, portions at The Pig are on the small side. It’s hard to complain though when they’re priced to match, with add-on options like House-made Crumpets ($3/each) allowing you to create your own multi-course breakfast. Crumpets, by the way, seem to be done better in Tamworth than they are in Sydney. This pair were airy and golden, without any hint of a stodgy centre; topped off with a smear of creamy passionfruit curd that walks the line between sour and sweet perfectly.

Bacon ($4) comes as two thick, country-style rolled up rashers, and is a good add-on whatever you happen to be eating.

Where the menu strays into genius however is with the Chicken & Ginger Congee ($16). This Chinese dish has been Westernised with extra texture with big hunks of breast meat scattered throughout, eating somewhere between a savoury porridge and a comforting chicken soup. Mini toasts add even more texture against bursts of XO sauce, and bright ginger threads. It’s this clever bowl of tasty, health-giving happiness that sends me off into my day with a grin.

The Pig & Tinder Box
429 Peel Street, Tamworth
Ph: (02) 6766 1541

Pig & Tinder Box Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato