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Review - Medan Ciak

Bucking the trend towards fancy designer fit-outs and prices to match in Surry Hills, you’ll find the surprisingly honest and well-priced Medan Ciak in the entranceway to a dated, blonde brick apartment block.

It’s set back from the road, but easy enough to spot because of their trademark bright orange signage, which continues into the cafeteria-style dining room. The cuisine is Indonesian, but being from Medan, the capital of North Sumatra on the northeastern coast of the island of Sumatra, there’s a sizeable Chinese population. It’s also very ethnically diverse – while Muslim people make up the bulk of the population, Christianity doesn’t lag too far behind.

On the plate that means you can eat pig – and you should – as Sui Bak Pui/Nasi Babi Panggang ($14), the most expensive dish on the illustrated picture menu. Arranged around a generous mound of rice you’ll find sweet pieces of caramelised pork and beautifully rendered cubes of compressed roast pork belly drizzled with sweet sauce.

There is also water spinach, a soy sauce-soaked boiled egg, and a little dish of sambal with raw chilli, garlic and red onion. The sambal is quite spicy, though I find forays into the little bowl of clear chicken soup that arrives with it enough to sooth my lips.

While everything at Medan Ciak is a whole, balanced meal, there are some cool add-ons like blackened pieces of Tempeh Goreng ($2.50). The compressed soybean cake is firm and tasty, and eats particularly well with a good splatter of sambal.

If you haven't had enough protein, or crave more of the hot stuff than a little dish of sambal can provide, the Telor Balado ($2) or chilli egg is another good add-on.

Mie Pangsit Medan ($12) is another Hokkien Chinese influenced dish, where seasoned yellow wheat noodles are turned into meat noodles using caramelised pork and fried pork fat (crackling). It’s rounded out with soy sauce eggs, fried shallots, water spinach and sambal, with a bowl of wonton chicken soup passed separately.


On weekends Medan Ciak assemble a full range of takeaway Indonesian desserts and pastries in plastic containers on the counter, which increases their popularity. On the quieter weekdays (they're closed on Mondays) for a sweet fix, you can make do with poppers of jasmine tea. The oldest brand is Tehbotol Sosro ($1.50) who first began brewing jasmine tea in 1940. Their tea blends green tea, jasmine flowers and jasmine gambier (an astringent extract from the leaves) that gives it a floral, sweet, tannic flavour. Teh Kotak ($1.50) is pretty much the same deal, just enriched with vitamin C.

Sampling their rendang is next on my list…

Medan Ciak
Shop 3, 460 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (0403) 363 326

Medan Ciak Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Vienna Works

Swimming against the tide of businesses exiting the areas impacted by the NSW Government’s light rail disaster, Vienna Works recently opened up a sandwich shop in Devonshire Street. For nearly two years now, this formerly vibrant lunch zone has been an eyesore dominated by barriers and hoarding. Potential customers are plagued by dust, loud noise and uneven footpaths; so don’t even think of bringing someone who is vision or mobility impaired.

The narrow galley store is a clean oasis of pale blue vertical tiles and glass; with a long counter backed by menu boards taking up most of the floor space. The other side is decorated with black and white murals – Charlie Chaplin for laughs, and a row of men eating their sandwiches high in the sky along a steel girder. A row of tiny tables underneath affords a similar number of people the chance to eat underneath them in their own compact line.

The menu feels one part sandwich shop, one part suburban milk bar. Out the back, one half of the Cypriot ownership team grills an honest line in old-school hamburgers. The Beef Burger with Chips ($12) presents a hand-shaped, well-charred beef patty flecked with herbs and slightly pink in the middle, on a milk bun with iceberg lettuce, sliced tomato, fried onions, long sliced pickles and cheddar cheese. The only modern touches are tangy citrus mayo. and probiotic ‘slaw; though I wish it had been drained properly because my burger poured so much liquid it dissolved the bun before I could finish it. To my palate, the big beefy taste would also be improved by some old-fashioned mustard and tomato sauce.

The Breakfast Wrap ($8) takes eggs, bacon and English spinach leaves, and dresses them with runny house-made tomato chutney. Be careful it doesn’t drip through the brown paper wrapping as you rush to work. At lunch-time the Grilled Lamb Wrap ($11) with hummus, salad, and tabouli is a near-constant special. Sadly on the day I dined, the sold-out lamb was replaced with bland chicken that didn’t really suit the combination quite so well. In the drinks department, robust coffee works out well in an Affogato ($4.50) against a scoop of commercial vanilla ice cream and a dusting of Kali premium drinking chocolate. The Iced Mocha ($5) has a good balance between coffee and chocolate, though it arrived in disposable plastic, even when I opted to dine in.

To my eye Vienna Works’ early success in this difficult zone is more about how desperately this area needed a decent sandwich shop then it is about exceptionalism.

Vienna Works
Shop 2/441-449 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9280 1817

Vienna Works Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - I Maccheroni

Number three Jersey Road has been restored to its Italian roots, and it seems the good burghers of Paddington and Woollahra couldn’t be more pleased about it.

The compact Victorian-era corner building was packed to the rafters on the Tuesday evening I dined. The awkwardly-shaped space is now in the hands of Rose Bay Italian darling, I Maccheroni.

This established Italian restaurant team moved over from Rose Bay because their former building was slated to be demolished, making way for – you guessed it – more apartments. Their arrival restores this space’s Italian tradition set down by Buzo, after a series of short-lived deviations as Pinbone and Jersey Road Bistro.

What has locals flocking in on a Tuesday night is a regionally focused Fixed Price Menu ($39/3 courses). The chalkboard proclaims tonight is Puglia, the heel of Italy’s famous “boot”, and sets out the three course menu in Italian. Friendly floor staff take the initiative to explain the dishes without being asked. Despite this obvious lure, we opt to eat from Chef Marcello Farioli’s tightly focused menu. As we select our meal from a short list of starters and antipasti, three pastas, two mains, two sides and two desserts, we remarking positively on the brevity to our waiter.

After a big day of work, you go out and see three pages - you still have to use your brain,” the waiter explains. Against his suggested 2017 Colli Di Luni Il Bianco Vermentino ($68), I take some time to ponder this idea as we wait for our food - it is relaxing to have no doubts about what to order.

The wine itself is pretty but unremarkable, with a big acidic spine and a short palate length. The acidic simplicity works with the Smoked Cured Trout Carpaccio ($22) where long slices of gleaming orange fish are dressed with salsa verde and a fruity, preserved lemon peel condiment against bitter green leaves.

Smoked Burrata Panzerotti ($13) arrive as a threesome, which is awkward to share. Their filling is sparse with a delicate hint of smokiness, but on a bed of balancing misticanza (here it's good quality rocket) these deep fried snacks aren’t oily or hard to digest.

With Maccheroni ($30) in their name, there’s no doubt in my mind that we need to eat some. The long, soft house-made pasta tubes tangle with shredded osso buco, freshed up with spring onions and sun-dried tomato in a soupy mix of butter and wine, with thinly shaved cheese balancing the acidity. It’s a sweet and homely dish that I wouldn’t have minded a few more spoonfuls of.

I felt similarly about the Lasagnetta ($31) especially because it had a wonderful pastry-like texture with potato, mushroom and truffle béchamel that literally begged to be mopped up with crusty bread. It’s the first time I’ve had this creamy pasta dish, originating in the Northeastern Italy, and I loved it more than its tomato-based, Southern Italian cousin.

With an hour between courses, we were ravenous by the time our mains landed accompanied by a small bowl of rocket rather than our ordered Radicchio ($13) side. Luckily, with super crisp bitter leaves, sweet currants, crunchy walnuts and creamy cubes of pungent Gorgonzola cheese, the side proved worth the wait when it finally arrived at the end of our rapidly devoured pastas.

Two hours and fifteen minutes perched on a bar stool is about my limit in such a tiny space, so I treat the closing salad with cheese and dried fruit as a cheese course, and sally forth into the night. If I were dining at I Maccheroni again, I'd probably avoid their super-popular Tuesday night.

Thanks to AGFG for arranging this visit.

I Maccheroni
3 Jersey Road, Woollahra
Ph: (02) 9327 1416

I Maccheroni Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Bar Tapa

There’s something very satisfying about finishing work, heading into a bar, and them being thoughtful enough to deliver you a little snack with your first, take-the-edge-off drink. Perhaps to curb the effects of an increasingly drunken workforce, delivering something tasty with your drink became a practice that still exists in places like Granada, Spain today.

I suspect I wanted to like Bar Tapa because of my enthusiasm for this Spanish style of eating and drinking, more than I actually liked their food. The venue has taken over the Stanley Street space briefly occupied by Lazy Suzie (which then became Lucky Suzie after a tussle over a trademark).

The exposed brick walls are now home to wall-to-wall Spanish memorabilia, which we take in over Sangria ($40/jug) that’s light and accessible. Our accompanying pincho (Spanish for thorn or spike) is a toothpick-speared slice of Spanish omelette on bread - bland but it does the job to ease those hunger pangs.

With good bitterness from Pampelle L'apero Aperitif (ruby red grapefruit liqueur), blended with gin and sweet red vermouth (verut tinto), the Terroni ($14) would also make a good pre-dinner tipple. You'll like it if you are partial to a Negroni. Me, I’m mostly a martini drinker, and as such I enjoyed the Martini De La Casa ($14). It packed a surprising blast of heat from the brine being used for more than just olives, as the banderilla (named for a bullfighter's decorated dart) of pickles should have given away.

While the drinks were good, our tapas were a bit less exciting. Buñuelos de Bacalao ($9) or salt cod fritters, didn’t contain enough of the pungent, salted and dried fish to be anything other than mildly flavoured crisp, potato balls.

Morcilla Encebollada ($9) was a bit better in the flavour department, with mild rounds of blood sausage served under a spoonful of slow-cooked onions and a dusting of parsley. A dish this simple lives or dies on the quality of your morcilla.

I wished the Champiñones a la Plancha ($9) came as button mushrooms, with their caps containing a big burst of garlicky oil. Instead they were served as parsely-dominated slices that cooled too quickly on the plate, leaving me with precious little to mop up. This may have been fortuitous, because crusty bread was in short supply - the dish only came with two morsels of tomato bread.

We ordered more Pan Con Tomate ($4) to eat with our embutidos (meats) and quesos (cheeses) but only because it was the only menu option that fitted the bill. I frankly would have preferred crusty bread, because the tomato and olive oil rubbed sourdough only worked against Anchoas ($6) – a little plate of four anchovies and pitted green olives.

Twelve-month old Manchego ($12) and Jamon Serrano ($12) would both have been better against plainer bread. Service was pleasant, though I probably would have drunk another round of cocktails if it had been more attentive. I found it slow to catch their attention, particularly as the loud, echoing space began to fill with noisy groups.

Bar Tapa
78 Stanley Street, Darlinghurst
Ph: (02) 9358 3814

Bar Tapa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Milky Lane

With Sydney socialite owner Christian Avant known for making extravagant decisions all in aid of keeping the good times rollin’, it should come as no surprise that his chain of burger joints operates with a similar ethos.

Stepping into his seven-month-old Parramatta outlet from staid boring Macquarie Street, is like walking onto the set of a modern day Happy Days.

It’s hard not to stop and gawp at the colourful candy shop environment, where murals and paste-ups compete with Mortal Kombat arcade games for your attention.

The tunes are energetic; the staff are engaged and smiling; and the cocktails are hectic. Even the tap water bottles are given a classic Coke bottle twist, with glasses coming with ice and (almost extinct) plastic straws.


Marshmallow-infused white rum forms the basis of the pretty'n'pink Bubblegum Sour ($16). Despite a sweet topper of Persian fairy floss and torched marshmallows, it's actually quite sour and reasonably easy to drink. I can't quite say the same about the Mint Aero Cocktail ($18) from the October specials menu. However it really does taste like an Aero Bar was flung into a blender with a decent slurp of 42 Below Vodka; and it’s certainly hard to withhold a smile when it lands, lashed with chocolate syrup, rimmed with chocolate flakes and buried under hazelnut foam.

Deep Fried Mash Potato Balls ($11) are another October extra that'll get you creating Snapchat videos involving injectable cheese gravy in no time. The fluffy golden balls are already topped with Mexican cheese, Parmesan and truffle aioli, though we threw in some chilli sauce for the complete Ken Done effect (and to help cut through all that rich, cheesy grease).

What you’re really here for is, of course, the burgers; and, if you follow Milky Lane’s social feed, the fact that they’re well presented smile-makers should come as no surprise. Looks aside, I really enjoyed eating Chic-Kanye ($19). It's Milky Lane’s take on a crisp Southern fried chicken burger, with maple-smoked bacon, the requisite oozing golden American cheese, butter leaf lettuce, and a trio of sauces (take that Bobby Flay). The jalapeno pineapple relish and the smoky barbeque worked wonderfully together, and I enjoyed licking drips off my fingers as they rained down in an avalanche of Carolina ‘slaw.

If you can believe it, Limp Brisket ($19) is even messier affair, but it's slightly less cohesive in the flavour department. Between two rapidly dissolving buns you’ll find a hefty mound of 12-hour Texan rubbed smoked beef brisket braised in barbeque sauce that competes with their special sauce, American mustard and ketchup to see which can ruin your clothing fastest. With onion rings and more ‘slaw to contend with as well, this burger is definitely not first date material, even if seems like a great idea at the time.

Just like blowing $1000 getting your cars towed home from a festival then missing your $1000 hummer home and having to take a $260 cab, visiting Milky Lane will likely be one of the best bad decisions you make (for a lot less coin).

Milky Lane
20-22 Macquarie Street, Parramatta
Ph: (02) 9689 3893

Milky Lane  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Yang Guo Fu Ma La Tang

Yang Guo Fu Ma La Tang Kingsford is probably the cleanest exemplar of this chain I’ve visited, perhaps because, being in Kingsford, it’s in slightly lower demand than either of their bustling Haymarket or Burwood stores.

Despite this, I still found this decor-free white space doing a roaring trade at 9.25pm on a Monday night, with every table occupied. The process at each store is exactly the same: you grab your bowl and some tongs, load it up with your own selection of ingredients, get it weighed, cooked, and then dressed with sauces before settling in for a spicy soup that leaves laksa for dead.

Being a malatang veteran, I’ve got a lot better at making my ingredient selections. I don’t add more than one of each thing, and I add twice the amount of greens I think I need, because they shrink considerably. I don’t sweat not knowing what things are. Everything that lines the two bain Maries tastes great when eaten in the spicy malatang, from explosive quail eggs to brown dried scallops.

Our resulting soups both come in around the twelve-buck mark for a complete meal in a bowl.

Being unlicensed, I take two punts at Asian drink lotto without worrying about what they are either. Today it produces a Japanese drink called Calpis ($3.50) made with milk, yeast and lactic acid bacterium that’s cooling and soothing after forays into the spicy soup, and a Coconut Palm ($3.50) brand coconut juice that has a lightly creamy, tannic, almost tea-like flavour. On their own they both are slightly sweet, but this works out to be a relief after you dig into your malatang.

Your biggest problem here will be parking, thanks to the NSW Government’s ongoing destruction of a major arterial: ANZAC Parade. Their seemingly endless, over-budget light rail construction is now slated to ruin trade for these local small businesses until March 2020.

Yang Guo Fu Ma La Tang
520-522 Anzac Parade, Kingsford
Ph: n/a

Yang Guo Fu Ma La Tang Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Lane 198

Bucking the trend towards more sharply focused, regionally specific restaurants from across the Asian continent, Lane 198 is decidedly pan-Asian. “Originally we were going to be a Thai restaurant,” manager Lilian Saekow explained, before adding that they revised the idea because of the prevalence of Thai restaurants in Gladesville.

What they’ve come up with instead, is an intriguing blend of Asian fusion tempered with Aussie nostalgia.

Take ‘Sweet and Sour’ Chicken ($24.95) as a case in point. It’s actually the kind of Aussie-Chinese dish that would normally fill me with dread. Just reading the dish name had me whistling the Mumma’s making Kan Tong jingle, and experiencing flashbacks of artificially red, sweet and sour chook lumps with soggy batter swimming with canned pineapple and overcooked green capsicum, in an all-you-can-eat Chinese bain Marie buffet.

Luckily, the resulting dish is nothing like those memories! To start off with, it’s tangy, with a big balsamic kick that aids digestion of the fried. The battered chicken is crisp rather than soggy; the colour is a natural brown; and the vegetables - red capsicum, onion, carrots and cherry tomatoes, retain their crispness. Colour me impressed.

Speaking of colours, the restaurant itself is a long progression of natural tones, starting street-side at the Victoria Road with a cocoon of dark wood. It moves through taupe and olive green as it passes the open kitchen, and ends in a darkened amenities corridor. The effect enhances the length of the long narrow space, and makes the Lane 198 moniker make sense.

Visual interest is created by bamboo steamer basket wall decorations, cushioned wicker stools, bright red bottles of sriracha on the tables, and wall-posters advertising their more unusual dishes. The drinks list is unusual too – for one thing it’s beer and cocktails only, because, with a giant BWS across the road, they’ve decided to allow the good burghers of Gladesville to bring their own wine.

From the five cocktail list we opt for the Yuzu Fine ($19.95), a frothy egg-white foam topped gin and yuzushu (yuzu fruit steeped in sake or shochu) concoction with a dash of elderflower syrup. I’d like it better if they pulled back a little on the elderflower to allow the fragrant yuzu to come to the forefront – all I could smell was raw egg. The Kyoto Mojito ($17.95) drank better with sake and kaffir lime joining the usual mix of rum, mint, lime and soda, though it arrived without having been properly stirred. Once mixed it went well with the Miang of Betel Leaf ($9.95/3) – three poached prawn-topped betel leaves that packed a surprising brown, garlic punch against lime, ginger and coconut.

Two months into their tenure here, the Cheeseburger Spring Roll ($9.95/2) is already one of their most popular dishes. It’s actually much less evil than it sounds: light beef and cheese in a smaller than usual dose means that tangy dill pickle comes up as the spring roll's biggest flavour. With super crisp pastry, it retains its integrity and eats well dragged through smears of ketchup and American mustard.

Cinnamon Glazed Roasted Duck ($24.95) presents meaty slices of well-rendered duck on a fan of baby bok choy, dotted with flavoursome shitake mushrooms. It has a light, sweet dressing that wasn’t quite what I was expecting – but I do like being surprised.

While it’s fractionally sweet for me, against the toasty savoury notes of their lovely Coconut Rice ($6.95) I quite like the combination.

Lane 198 have put a lot of thought into creating modern and interesting desserts, like their advertised Gaytime Bao ($12.95/2). However knowing that they’re Thai, I found it hard to skip over the Coconut Sticky Rice ($12.95) with egg custard and a dusting of toasted coconut shreds. Unfortunately this easily sharable dessert slab arrived super-heated from over-zealous use of a microwave, which didn’t do the egg custard any favours.

With a little more attention to detail, there’s an interesting concept here that could well lure me back.

Thanks to AGFG for arranging this visit.

Lane 198
198 Victoria Road, Gladesville
Ph: (02) 9817 7188

Lane 198 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Pasta Emilia

We should go together one night to Pasta Emilia. I think her pasta is the best in town, organic Italian flour and the best eggs available,” said my mate Jason Moss, a popular Darlinghurst jeweller. I didn’t need much cajoling. My last experience with purchasing Pasta Emilia linguini from Iggy’s Bread in Bronte had resulted in a bowl of pasta so good, I went back to buy more pasta the very next week only to be thwarted by an empty fridge shelf. What I didn’t find out until later, was that Jason had a connection to owner Anna Maria Eoclidi that would afford me the opportunity to hear the story behind her successful pasta operation…

Swathed in yellow light, the Riley Street warehouse is home to a pasta kitchen, cooking school, shop and restaurant.

With exposed rafters and communal wooden tables decorated with fresh flowers, the long convivial space has the orderly clutter of a lived-in rural kitchen. Neat rows of pickle jars line the white shelves down one side. On the other there’s a well stocked bar sitting behind a counter that ends with a shiny meat slicer.

The slicer is put to good effect on the Salume Misto e Torta Fritta ($28) – a rustic board of thinly sliced cold cuts, including Italian mortadella that I particularly enjoyed laid over the airy, crimped pockets of fried bread.

Against a biodynamic 2016 Chardonnay Per Antoine ($68) from Verona, Italy, the cold cuts create a bridge from my hard work day and unwinding into dinner with friends. With minerality and gentle oak, the chardonnay was an elegant entry point into what proved to be an unusual wine list - one where I was grateful to have a guide.

With my Sydney share house years spent with Adelaide-born chefs, I developed a bit of an aversion to their beloved sparkling Shiraz. So I’m surprised when Eoclidi gets me to enjoy an effervescent red. “In Italy we call it vivacious,” she explains, alluding to the fact that the 2016 La Barabina Bonarda Frizzante ($45) is less fizzy than a sparkling wine. Drunk from little ceramic cups, in Italy it would have been taken straight from the cellar, though the Australian climate may warrant a touch of refrigeration. It’s deep red and has some red berry sweetness, but also plenty of tang.

It's the preferred post-work drop of older Italian men who work all day in the fields, and then come home to drink it with Pane Salame Burro alle acciughe e Gutturnio in scodella ($23). Presented on house-made, thickly buttered bread, this combination of salty anchovies and salami is a bit of a revelation! And how much better is food when you get to hear the story behind the way that it is traditionally enjoyed?

As Anna outlines her eclectic career that has spanned a number of creative pursuits from dancing to jewellery making, which she studied with my mate, Jason Moss, we graze across the table. Proscuitto e Stracchino ($22) takes gentle sweet-cured ham and teams it with soft, white Emelian cheese on rustic, house-made bread or crusty Iggy’s sourdough that harks back to a connection that Anna built when she first started making pasta in Bronte.

With the weather warming, cooked vegetables have given way to seasonal salads, allowing you to team your pasta with fresh mixed leaves in Insalata Stagionata con olio e balsamico ($14).

Alternatively you can take things antipasto-style with little roll-ups of grilled eggplant and asparagus spears, or Insalata Caprese ($14) that pays homage to the colours of the Italian flag. Everything is fresh, well dressed and seasoned.

The main event is, of course, the pasta and, after getting her fill of fine dining extravagance by running a 200-seat restaurant in a huge antiques store in Italy, Anna has kept things nice and simple.

My favourite is Pisarei e Faso ($25) –  true ‘cucina povera’ (poor people’s food) where gnocchetti are created from baked seasoned breadcrumbs (yesterday's bread) and cooked in a sauce with lard and borlotti beans. It had me longing for a childhood I never had, far away from dishes like apricot chicken. Tortelli di Granchio e gamberetti all’arrabiata ($36) feels more upmarket, but cleverly keeps your focus on the eye-catching half-black, half-white pasta pockets filled with crab, prawn and a hint of lemon rind, using a judicious application of chilli tomato sauce.

Tortelli di Raparossa e caprino con Cavolo Nero e salsa verde ($32) see the toothsome tortelli take on a pale pink hue courtesy of their beetroot and chèvre interiors, under a scattering of crisp kale. By this stage I resolve quietly to try to cook these pastas better at home, following the timing instructions more precisely to end up with the same bite. I wonder aloud about whether Sydneysiders cope with toothsome pasta, and ask if there have been any Pasta Emilia inventions that we haven't liked?

I’ve had a lot of trouble selling my rabbit, but I still try,” muses Anna, going on to explain her new vegan range. While I’d go the bunny, I suspect vegan pasta might be a bridge too far for me. Anna is, however, quite persuasive about its success. I find my curiosity grows as I nibble on dessert – fig pannacotta, tiramisu and cheese - more as a foil to my house-made digestivo: Emilian Nocino - Walnut Liquor ($10), than a course onto themselves. Maybe I'll need to come back and give this vegan pasta a whirl.

Pasta Emilia
259 Riley Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9212 1069

Pasta Emilia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Travel - The William Inglis Hotel

Launching earlier this year, the William Inglis Hotel is set track-side at Warwick Farm Racecourse. Named for Australia’s leading thoroughbred auctioneer, William Inglis & Son Ltd, the hotel pays homage to all things equine. While it is obviously geared at those frequenting horse races, and the horse sales that surround them, the has also become a bit of a hub for the wider area.


When South West Sydney’s premier black-tie event, the Liverpool City Council Charity Ball, jumped over from the Liverpool Catholic Club to host their 2018 event in The Sales Arena (part of Riverside Stables) at the base of the hotel, I took the opportunity to pay the hotel an overnight visit. With an overnight stay including breakfast for two guests coming in under the two hundred dollar mark for a Saturday night stay, and a fairly bland exterior, I wasn’t expecting a soaring lobby with tasteful furnishings.

Perhaps I should have had more confidence in the parent MGallery by Sofitel brand, but I was still surprised to open the door to Flying Spur (all rooms are named for a horse) and see such a tastefully appointed room even in their lowest price bracket (Superior King).

The taupe and blue colour scheme is still subtle but a definite advancement on the bland beige and brown five-star hotels so often employ. It extends all the way down to horse racing tartan carpet.

While some rooms face the racecourse, our corner room gave us front row seats on two sides for a rather epic Warwick Farm sunset, plus a peek at why the air conditioner of choice is a Daikin (their factory is across the road). Sadly keeping the room’s temperature to our liking proved to be a bit of a struggle, as every time we left the room, our Daikin reset itself to something much too warm.

The bathroom was small but nicely appointed, with brushed gold fittings, and frosted glass screens separating out shower and toilet. The only niggle is that both of these spaces are left open to the wider room in terms of both sound and aroma. Yes, it turns out in a small room, bathroom doors are important. So here you’ll have to go hard on the Appelles Apothecary products and turn up the volume on the flatscreen television if your partner of choice is lying in the way-too-hard (why must we use awkwardly joined singles) king-sized bed. While fluffy, the almost too-high synthetic pillows were very hot to sleep on.

Care has gone into the minibar selection, with products I really like, like Kakawa Chocolate and StrangeLove Ginger Beer. I wouldn’t have even said they were price gouging, until I saw the price of the Eveleigh Bottling Co. Negroni ($30/85ml) – yep, thirty bucks for 1.6 standard drinks.

However with the Chiltern Pool Deck & Bar only being only open seasonally, unless you're visiting in summer you might have to wear the hefty price tag and smuggle up the well balanced premixed cocktail in the pocket of your bathrobe.

Up on level ten, you’ll find a small number of cabanas and sun loungers that overlook the pool and the excitement down below. With no races running on the weekend I visited, that meant acres of greenery on one side, and empty stables on the other, all separated from you by almost invisible glass fencing.

The pool itself is small and not particularly deep, but with two high-powered swim jets at one end, there’s still fun to be had.

Breakfast, which can be included in your room rate, is taken in the Newmarket Room. We were seated in a comfortable booth under large murals of bathing horses.

The same attention to equine detail extended to a row of buckles along the top edge of our padded olive green banquette. They would have perhaps been more fun as bedroom details if baby likes to pony... BYO riding crop and shiny boots.

Breakfast is served buffet style from a range of heated silver chafing dishes. It’s a small selection of the usual suspects – scrambled eggs, baked beans, bacon, sausages, tiny button mushrooms swimming in liquid... I’m a bit bored to be honest, as I peruse the selection while I wait for my toasts to make their way through the communal toasting machine that (inevitably) needs two goes to actually turn the bread brown. If you don't like warm, rubbery scrambled eggs, you can also get poached or fried eggs made to order from the kitchen, though timing them to the toast proves difficult.

From the cold selections that include cereal, fruit, some cold cuts and pastries, the mini croissants are less bread-like than they are on most hotel buffets. Surprisingly though, it’s the coffee that’s the real win. Beans, roasted by Sydney outfit, Will & Co., are put to good effect in made-to-order coffees pulled from a very stylish transparent Sanremo machine. My latte makes me want another one, and for me, that’s pretty rare.

Stick The William Inglis Hotel in your head for the next time you're looking at upping the ante on date night. The hotel is also doing Short Escape packages that include a bottle of Veuve Champagne on arrival, dinner for two in the Newmarket Room and a late 3pm checkout for around $270.

Newmarket Room
The William Inglis Hotel
155 Governor Macquarie Drive, Warwick Farm
Ph: (02) 8324 3460

Newmarket Room Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Abhi's Indian

It’s hard to believe that three years have passed since I was at Abhi’s Indian celebrating their first quarter century.

The restaurant is still as popular as ever, both with North Strathfield locals and blow-ins like me, who consider Kumar Mahadevan’s inspired Indian dishes worth the trip.

The highlight of this visit was a Seafood Moily ($27.80) from the Kerala region of Southern India. Beautifully cooked scallops join ling fillets and prawns in a soupy golden coconut curry flavoured with turmeric, fresh curry leaves and whole mustard seeds that pop on your tongue.

It’s savoury and compelling, particularly over Kashmiri Pilau ($3.80) dotted with dried fruit and nuts. Rice at Abhi’s is served individually, and the serves really are predicated upon you actually needing a bowl each, so we added on a Plain Rice ($3.50) to eat with our second curry.

Ennai Kathrikai ($19.80) is done Hyderabadi-style, with smoky baby eggplants and banana chillies sitting in a thick ground paste of cashews, peanuts and coconut. It's clearly a popular dish, as it has been on the menu since I first visited Abhi's back in 2010, though it seems to have shrunk a bit in size.

While I found the eggplants themselves tasty, the sauce lacked the beautiful clarity of the seafood moily; which I kept returning to over and over again with my Garlic Naan ($4.20). Breads at Abhi's are fluffy and well handled, with sweet coconut interior of the Peshwari Naan ($4.80) proving another winner.

One fast way to jazz up any curry is to add on Lacha Pyaz ($5.80). This brimming bowl of washed, masala-spiced red onions adds a textural element and bright flavour highlight to the eggplant's thick and creamy sauce.

The onions ate better than the more expensive Side Dish Platter ($8.80) combining cucumber and yoghurt raita, tomato and onion kachumber (salad) and sweet mango chutney.

Not wanting to commit to a whole bottle of wine for a lazy Sunday night, one-course dinner, we opted to enjoy our curries with a Kingfisher ($9) apiece. We left smiling and well sated, with the bill for two people scraping in just under the hundred-dollar mark for what is still a better than average Indian feed, twenty-eight years on.

NOTE: You can see a previous review for this venue back HERE.

163 Concord Road, North Strathfield
Ph: (02) 9743 3061

Abhi's Indian Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato