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Review - Ryu Japanese Kitchen

Take a trip to Japan without leaving Sydney at Ryu Japanese Kitchen. Occupy one of just six counter stools for an intimate audience with Makoto Imahashi, a former Consultant Chef at Matsuya Japanese Restaurant.

Once the home of Planet Pizza, his new digs are so tiny, the kitchen takes up most of the available floor space.

All this adds up to me feeling pretty chuffed we were able to snaffle one of two wooden tables for a meal on a recent cold and rainy night.

The weather calls for warm sake, and the chalkboard specials oblige with Hot Sake ($16/300ml) by Ippin, presented in a quirky earthenware tokkuri that boasts a face, whiskers and tail. A small dish of marinated burdock root takes the edge off our hunger as we peruse the menu.

Belying the size of the restaurant, the menu offers a good selection of dishes, including handmade tofu. We’re sad to hear it isn't available, because the tofu pots are yet to arrive from Japan. We console ourselves with Kingfish Sashimi ($9/5 pieces), presented simply to highlight the beauty of the fish. It’s served at the perfect temperature in wonderfully thick slices that allow you to revel in the texture of the fish against fluffy, delicate wasabi.

The cold weather sees me move onto hot dishes quicker than I would normally. It’s actually the first time I’ve tried Jibu-ni Duck ($27), made in the style of the Kanazawa region that sits on the edge of the Sea of Japan. Chef Imahashi explains he’s the only place in Sydney where you can try this speciality hot pot. It's based upon duck that is dusted in corn flour before being simmered in soy and dashi stock, but for me, tofu turns out to be the highlight of this enjoyable, easy to like winter dish.

Our cook at the table fun continued with kaminabe, or paper hot pots.

After opting to up the warming ante with the Spicy Miso Base ($24), we kick back with an on-tap Suntory Premium Malt Creamy Foam ($9) and watch our hot pot cook. It’s hard to keep your fingers off the generous slices of house-made cha-shu pork.

They are fully cooked in a multi-stage process that includes steaming then cooking in soy and ginger, and so are ready to place on top of the pleasantly spicy miso broth. It’s an all thriller, no filler dish, with big flavours and a filling mix of chicken, prawns, mussels in the half shell and vegetables.

Toban-yaki is Japan’s version of sizzling beef. It's presented here as Wagyu Beef Tenderloin ($36) - lightly marbled beef (marbling score about 5) that is supremely tender.

The pink-centred fingers of wagyu are best enjoyed dipped into the accompanying yakiniku (Japanese barbeque) sauce.

While the beef comes with tofu and vegetables, we also get a Tempura Vegetable ($13.50) side. Shungiku are like chrysanthemum greens, but not so bitter. They’re easy to devour, especially doused in rock salt and lemon.

We return to face the driving rain feeling like we've traveled somewhere heartfelt and authentically Japanese. Go before the popularity outpaces the number of seats.

Ryu Japanese Kitchen
51 Bayswater Road, Rushcutters Bay
Ph: (0423) 733 674

Ryu Japanese Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Riverside Thai

You’d be forgiven for thinking Thai food in Sydney had past its heyday. Despite pockets of authenticity and resistance, including the arrival of regional Thai cooking from the Isaan region in northeastern Thailand, it seems to have mostly been relegated to the domain of the $9.90 pick-your-protein green curry lunch. All this is a far cry from the heady days of Kings Cross and the temple of Thai gastronomy, Darley Street Thai, which fed into a cluster of Thai restaurants that drew upon its work.

The choo chee Moreton Bay bugs at Tuk Tuk Thai (who took over Darley Street Thai’s former digs) and the rose petal and banana flower duck salad at Lime and Lemongrass both live on in my memory because they’re Thai dishes that have rarely been surpassed. I’m pleased to say that Riverside Thai in Pyrmont represents a return to the texture, class and sophistication of Thai food that I remember. And funnily enough, the sadly defunct Lime and Lemongrass was the first Aussie Thai restaurant that owner/chef Paul Kanongdachachat ever worked in.

Kanongdachachat, who has also worked as an architect, has brought both of his skill sets to bear in this nicely appointed restaurant in Pyrmont. Organic materials and soft moody lighting provide a fitting backdrop to let his beautifully presented Thai dishes be the stars of the show.

Kick off with Mieng Kham ($12.90) - lightly grilled Japanese Hokkaido scallops on betel leaves. They’re made texturally interesting with a mound of shredded coconut, ginger, peanut, Spanish onion and lime, that gives you an all-of-mouth workout with clean, bright, fresh flavours that don’t subsume the hero protein.

Kanongdachachat, who hails from the mountainous Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, draws upon his home region in the Roti Gallery ($12.90). The little pot of pork mince and cherry tomatoes is like a tasty, Thai-style bolognaise that you smear and consume on the accompanying roti.

Celebrating premium ingredients but keeping an authentic Thai flavour palate, the Pad Thai Lobster ($35.90) is based upon a Royal Thai cuisine recipe from Kanongdachachat’s own grandmother. The presentation is on point, with a half lobster presented in the shell on one side of the dish.

Crisp greens and sour radish keep the medium sized noodles from being too claggy. Egg and tofu are particularly well handled, though I would have liked the crustacean to have had fractionally less cooking time. All in all, a tasty dish that we found it hard to stop eating, despite the generous portion!

Equally good looking, the Massaman Osso Bucco ($29.90) is rich and fragrant with cinnamon and star anise. The flavours are bright, achieved by the kitchen creating a fresh curry paste every time. The dish has sweetness, but it is well balanced with heat. They’ve also avoided the sloppy sous vide protein trap, by simply slow cooking the veal shinbones to retain texture in the meat. Scoop out the marrow and you’ll definitely die happy.


Being a weeknight, I accompanied my meal with cold Thai Lemon Tea ($5.50) and Thai Milk Tea ($5.50). The latter was my favourite, with lovely tannic notes tangling with super sweet condensed milk, making it a great chilli neutraliser. My dining companion availed himself of their bottled Singha Beer ($7).

Riverside Thai really made me want to welcome back Thai food into my regular dining repertoire. I’ve got half a mind to make the trek to San Souci to road test Kanongdachachat’s street food restaurant, Khluk Street Food; so watch this space…

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

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


Review - Hills Organics

Dural blocks are big. While still located inside the Sydney metropolitan area, the suburb has managed to keep a semi-rural feel, and with it, an increased sense of space. Picturing this in my head, I’m surprised to find Google Maps directing us into a soulless mixed industrial park for our breakfast. Rolling down the windows drowns the vehicle in saturated fats emanating from the centre’s KFC. Hills Organics sits on the sunnier side of the complex, with its windows drinking in the morning sun.

We’re all about the good fats here,” our waitress laughs when I express my surprise, before going on to explain what MCT oil is. It means medium-chain triglycerides and it is a saturated fatty acid that apparently helps your brain, which is why they stick it in their Bullett Coffee ($5) alongside grass-fed butter. It sounds a bit hardcore for my first drink of the day.

My question should clue you in that I am a little out of place here. There’s also the fact that nearly everyone else is wearing active wear - boot camp training hoodies and Adidas shoes abound.

And don't even get me started about the overhead collection of wellness books written by mostly by blonde, long-haired women, topped off with two tomes from the scientifically disparaged, medically unqualified, paleo-proponent, Pete Evans.

The only news here is Limited – Hills Organics only provide the Daily Telegraph & the Weekend Australian as free reading matter for their weekend diners. There’s also an AstroTurf kids play area in the sunny front window, and a health food store in the rear.

After placing my order, I take a wander though the well-stocked aisles, and am impressed with the range. For the omnivores there’s organic bone broth in either chicken or beef sourced from Byron Bay, and for the vegans there are three different types of almond milk to choose from.

Drinks lure me back to the table. Iced Coffee ($8) makes use of their Cocowhip machine. It pumps out a frothy cloud of coconut water, organic bio-fermented coconut powder and vegetable sourced stabilisers that make it vegan, gluten and dairy free with some bonus probiotics chucked in. In the drink it sits on top of a robust coffee blend from White Horse Coffee, coconut ice cream, whatever milk your heart desires (we chose cow) and ice, under a dusting of cocoa nibs. It isn’t bad, though I prefer my barely sweet, on-tap Oh Mojito Kombucha ($7) in lime and mint. Check out the on-counter pumps for their current flavours.

From the all-day breakfast menu, we opt for The Big Healthy Brekky ($22). It’s a fully loaded and well-presented plate that carries everything from scrambled eggs to fresh baby spinach and cherry tomatoes. While I’m reasonably sure cavemen didn’t make sausages, I did enjoy the super-lean ‘grass-fed paleo sausage’. The plate’s other highlight for me was the organic marinated black beans – they were one of the best black bean renditions I’ve tried. The mushrooms were very well handled, and I didn’t even mind the healthier touches like sprouts, shoots, smashed avocado and 'cashew cheese’.

Which is kind of lucky, because you’ll also find more of the sprouts, shoots, smashed avocado and the 'cashew cheese’ on the Smashed Avo Sensation ($17). Produce quality is high across both plates; especially the chalky goats cheese feta, and they've gone the extra mile with presentation. With less ingredients, this dish gives up more flavour from the vivid yellow turmeric sauce that encircled both plates.

Lunch menu items, like the Soul Love Burger ($20), also riff off the same ingredients. While I liked the thick organic lentil, sweet potato and quinoa patty, and thought it worked well against avocado, turmeric sauce and ‘smoky cashew cheese’, the in-house gluten-free buns were for me a fail. The bottom went soggy immediately, making it a knife and fork burger. I lifted off the top bun too, and it didn't compel me to return to it. The side salad however was terrific, particularly the crunchy Indian-inspired toppings.

While I wouldn’t say I’m now a health and wellbeing convert, I can certainly see the appeal of Hills Organics. If I was local, I’d shop here, and I’d definitely rather anyone ate here over eating the rubbish put out by the neighbouring McDonalds and KFC.

Hills Organics
Shop 12, 286-288 New Line Road, Dural
Ph: (02) 9651 1078

Hills Organics Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Gaku Robata Grill

There is a distinct sense of intimacy to dining at Darlinghurst’s new Gaku Robata Grill. Just twenty-odd seats and curve-backed counter stools fit inside the postage stamp sized space.

However in choosing his wooden furnishings, Chef Harunobu Inukai, has not skimped on size or quality; leading to some entertaining moments of restaurant Tetris.

It’s the first time I’ve seen this chef since Blancharu, nearly a decade earlier, and I’m excited about eating Haru-san’s particular blend of French and Japanese cooking again. When his face peeks over the glass cabinet showing off their cha-shu, tuna and fish collars, I find it hard not to grin.

Despite the restaurant’s diminutive capacity, service here is slow and deliberate. The slow wheels of bureaucracy mean they’re still awaiting council approval for their robata grill, but the kitchen isn’t short on ideas to lure in diners in the mean time.

By day, that is forty bowls of ramen - be warned, they sell out quickly. The standard Chicken Tonkotsu ($15) is made using free-range chicken bones. The soup has a lovely, syrupy, collagen-rich texture that coats your mouth without outstaying its welcome. The full flavoured broth isn’t overly salty either. It’s served with ramen (wheat noodles), greens and a generous amount of tasty cha-shu pork rounds, before being garnished with shallots (negi), radish slices, half an ‘umami’ egg, and a handful of crisp burdock sticks.

By night Gaku is more of an izakaya, with cocktails, sake and small plates. Gari Gari Ginger ($14) helps us combat flu season with Scotch and four types of ginger swirling around in a highball.

We move onto warmed Masuizumi ($17/$34/$133), junmai ginjo sake brewed in the Toyama prefecture on the west coast of Japan with our first dishIt's Wagyu Bresaola ($9) air-dried beef slices with Brussels sprouts, buttermilk and a dusting of shichimi (Japanese seven-spice) that quickly gets our palate invested in what is about to follow.

The specials menu, populated with locally blue fin tuna from the Ulladulla region, proves too hard to resist. 3-Kinds Sashimi ($36) presents toothsome pale pink otoro, marbled chutoro and akami tuna, all cut from different parts of the same fish.

If happiness has a flavour, I suspect the Negi Toro Hand Roll ($7) with the Sea Urchin ($3) addition would be it. Here the blue fin tuna is presented as tartare with shallots on a papery sheet of crisp nori. An orange lobe of uni is balanced on top with baby shiso leaves. You pick it up, wrap it gently together, shove it in your mouth and then die a little bit inside because food is rarely this perfect, and it's already over.

Wagyu and Sea Urchin ($8) nigiri sushi made me feel super white and awkward. A blanket of thinly seared wagyu beef obscures the rice entirely. It’s glistening with sweet soy, and topped with tiny sea urchin lobes and a ball of wasabi. I have no idea how to even approach eating it, but Haru-san and his team provide some over the counter encouragement with a minimum of mirth.

Burying my nose in a lidded earthenware pot of Chawan Mushi ($15) gives me time to ease my burning cheeks. In this tasty version, the savoury egg custard offers up spanner crabmeat, seasonal fresh truffle and truffle sauce. I want to eat it more slowly and savour every bite, but with two experienced chefs in the kitchen - Haru-san is joined in the tiny kitchen by Shimon Hanakura (ex-Aria) – and so few seats, everything comes out rather quickly.

Chinese-influenced Nasu Nibitashi ($12) gives you tender, marinated baby eggplant with Sichuan pepper oil and ginger sauce, and is a perfect drinking dish.

There’s something about Haru-san’s return to simplicity, captured in Saikyo Yaki ($24), a crisp toothfish collar with Brussels sprouts and lime that really appeals. At Gaku they are cooking exactly the type of food I want to be eating: here, today, now, in this present time.

Gaku Robata Grill
132 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst
Ph: (02) 9380 2145

Gaku Robata Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Loaded by BL

Blame Canada is arguably Sydney’s best known burger. You’d practically have to have been living under a rock have not have heard of it. I’ve always meant to try it, and a recent visit to Loaded by BL in Newtown was the closest to doing so that I’ve managed to get…

We stepped into the over-lit, smoke-filled store for a fast dinner before attending The Welcome Choir across the road.

Like rabbits in headlights, we stared transfixed by the menu board that runs the length of the counter. My dining companion, who struggles with fear of missing out (FOMO) at the best of times, was almost in meltdown at the bewildering array of choices.

Obediently, I started at Step 1, by choosing a base, not realising that on the right hand side of the menu The Blame ($16) could have been mine for much less effort. I start with a Cheeseburger ($8) that offers me up my choice of cheese (American) and sauce Tomato Ketchup. I add on American Mustard ($1) and Sliced Pickles ($1), and spend an additional four bucks to add on shoestring fries and a bottle of mineral water.

I’m wary of adding too much, and making a twenty-buck burger, though the end result is a bit dry and boring.

My dining companion opts for the same Cheeseburger ($8) base, tarting it up with Maple Bacon Jam ($3), Caramelised Onion ($2) and Pickles ($2) with Swiss cheese and sriracha making up his free items.

With Tatertots ($5) that come with chipotle aioli, and a drink, his whole meal comes to twenty-three dollars.

His burger eats better because the wetness of the bacon maple jam works better against the dry toasted bun and thin beef patty that isn’t quite as juicy as some others around town.

There’s something less satisfying for me about eating a burger I’ve designed myself than leaving it in the hands of a chef who has come up with tried and tested combination. Pricing each item individually is off-putting for me because I enter into an internal debate about how much I want those onions when really, every burger should come standard with them. While I might head back to another BL outlet to remedy my mistake and finally eat Blame Canada, I doubt I’ll return to Loaded by BL.

Loaded by BL
170-172 Missenden Road, Newtown
Ph: (02) 9357 4527

Loaded by BL Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Mezzapica Cafe

The Mezzapica family name has been a fixture in Leichhardt for as long as I can remember. In fact, Mezzapica Cakes was founded more than two decades before I was born, back in 1952, and has been passed down through the Mezzapica family ever since.

The neighbouring Mezzapica Café, opened by another relative in the same family, has itself been in operation for more than a decade.

That all changed last December, when Mezzapica Cafe was sold to the expanding café group behind Petersham’s popular The Tiny Giant and Rozelle Espresso.

In the ensuing six months the new ownership team have put a soft stamp on their newly acquired venue, adding a short, collaborative Wellness and Fitness menu of healthy dishes, but keeping the Italianate feel that the café was famous for.

Keen to see what other changes had occurred, last week I popped in for lunch with a friend, her dog and a toddler all in tow. We were quickly set up with high chair and dog water bowl on one of the sunny pavement tables by super accommodating staff. Freshly Squeezed Juice ($7.50) in pineapple, orange and ginger, was quick to arrive.

Miss Two-and-a-Half’s single scoop Chocolate Gelato ($3) cone, wrapped in a helpful serviette, followed very soon thereafter.

After sternly eyeballing it, she gave it her seal of approval. Miss Two-and-a-Half’s face-licking enthusiasm inspired a little gelato-envy, so I’ve earmarked their gelato counter as something to return to at a later date.

Cooked until they’re flat and crisp, piadina, or Italian-style toasties, are popular with Mezzapica’s lunchtime crowd. We opted for the Proscuitto Piadina ($14), which had a modest filling of prosciutto, rocket, semi-dried tomato and bocconcini, set off by a simple side salad.

Black Ink Spaghetti with Spanner Crab ($16.90) arrived looking much paler than I’d imagined, with a simple treatment that left the delicate crab as the dish’s main flavour.

Interestingly, my favourite lunchtime eat turned out to be a spot of all-day breakfast – Norton’s Italian Hot Pot ($19.50). This skillet of two baked eggs hiding under a golden crust of Parmesan cheese takes care of all your breakfast needs with chorizo, and toothsome mushroom slices in a classic napoletana sauce. It’s homey, gentle, and very Italian, making a nice change from shakshuka. It’s presented with two slices of sourdough toast, with a pat of Lurpak butter on the side (I did mention they’ve gone a bit healthy). Not once was I made to feel that our table’s excitable dog or sugar-amped toddler were a spot of bother for this relaxed, family-friendly Leichhardt café.

Mezzapica Cafe
128 Norton Street, Leichhardt
Ph: (02) 8957 5672

Mezzapica Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Review - Lot. One Potts Point

While I never got to dine at Lot. One’s CBD restaurant and basement bar, the modern Italian dishes of chef Adam Swanson had caught my eye. So when I got wind that the Lot. One team had transplanted their operations to Potts Point, I was definitely keen to dine.

They've moved into the site briefly occupied by Missy French. The new Lot. One is decorated in a mishmash of styles, with a wash of purple lighting providing a through-line to the former venue. A gaggle of Edison bulbs hang bare over the well-stocked marble bar, and inside modern matte black cages over the intimate dining room.

Elaborate geometric patterned floor tiles contrast with roughly exposed bricks and black-painted ceiling fixtures. The chairs say schoolroom; the tables say bistro; and the menu says: darling, we're not modern Italian anymore.


We used to be more Italian, but here we have a more modern Australian feel,” the waitress explains as I sip my Millionaire ($18), an easy-drinking blend of dark rum, apricot, sloe gin and grenadine. Co-owner Michael Bradley clues me in further that the cuisine change came about because of a chef change.

The Lot. One kitchen is now in the hands of Xenia Jade. Jade has bounced around many of Sydney’s big hitters, doing short spells in the kitchens of Jonah’s, Ananas Bar & Brasserie, Monopole, Quay and Sake, before finally coming to rest at Lot. One.

Jade, whose longevity at Lot. One has been assured by making her a part owner, is fond of the negative space plating style that peaked a couple of years back. Presented on one side of the white plate, her Nettle Spaghettini ($24) is pretty and flavoursome, with premium quality fungus, a pool of pesto sauce and a tightly entangled whirl of green spaghettini that makes the dish surprisingly hard to eat. The portion size is generous, despite being listed under 'small'.

Taglierini Ragu ($28) is a better sized 'small'. It teams a gentle, homey lamb neck ragu with a dusting of ricotta salata and baby mint, though it is let down by overcooked pasta.

From an obscure wine list, littered with names I did not know, Bradley expertly guides us into a 2017 Oakridge Pinot Meunier ($84) when our first selection had sold out. While it feels slightly pricy for an out-of-favour varietal, it is quite a delicious wine with strawberry and cranberry notes, fine tannins, and a hint of peppery intrigue. It worked well against a D.I.Y. board of ‘Peaking’ Pork ($30) with charcoal buns and an array of condiments.

The condiments run from purple cabbage to peanuts, to uniform pieces of manufactured crackling and a variety of green herbs; that you pile onto your bun under a sticky drizzle of hoisin-style glaze. They’re tasty and easy to share, though the Asian-inspired dish does seem slightly at odds with the rest of the menu.

Looking organic, the vegetarian 'large', Confit Aubergine ($25), once again made use of the plate's negative space. Sadly I found the combination of black garlic, cauliflower, curry leaves and (raw) spice jarring on the palate.

Free Range Hen ($34) presented as a finger of breast and drumstick under a sweet maple glaze eats more like a dish for one. Sitting on a bed of cabbage, daikon and bean sprout salad, this dish also warrants a side.

Despite some Manchego cheese, the Green Salad ($9) felt a bit boring. Brussels Sprouts ($12) lacked seasoning, despite being teamed with guanciale (cured pork jowl) and cured egg yolk, and wanted for slightly more time in the pan. So with the benefit of hindsight, I'd probably say calories be damned, and opt for the Duck Fat Fries ($10).

Struggling under widely varying portion sizes, our party of three opted to share a single dessert. Under a glistening quenelle of Sugar Plum Sorbet ($14) this was the most striking looking dish of the night. Taste-wise it’s a weird one, with salty umeboshi gel, bland microwave beetroot sponge, flavourless sugar plum (they’re summer fruit) and scattered toffee buckwheat. Even between three people, we left plenty on the plate.

A name only has cache if it is associated with its brand promise. The move from being an Italianate restaurant and bar at the big end of town to a please-all modern Australian in the back streets of Potts Point, is a certainly bold one for Michael Bradley and the Lot. One team. Only time will determine if they have pegged the needs of Potts Point correctly.

Lot. One Potts Point
22 Rockwall Crescent, Potts Point
Ph: (02) 9539 6830

Lot. One Potts Point Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Travel - Mangrove Mountain Markets

Arguably the saddest market I’ve ever visited, Mangrove Mountain Markets doesn’t leave me a lot to recommend. You’ll find it held on the second and last Sunday of each month, in the Mangrove Mountain Public Hall. The hall sits in the tiny town of Mangrove Mountain, about an hour and twenty minutes north of Sydney.

Lured in by the hand-lettered signage offering live country music, whip cracking and pony rides, we rounded the corner to find a rusted horse trailer thickly crusted with stamped down manure.

Behind some nationalistic bunting, two saddled white ponies looked glad to be free from the trailer’s filthy confines.

The centrepiece of the simple 1927 timber and fibro hall, is a small stage where the community once showed motion pictures. Draped in another Australian flag, a country singer sits in front of the stage, and provides a whining torch and twang soundtrack for our short market adventure.

At the other end of the mostly empty hall there are six to eight little stalls. Everybody manning them looks up to mark our arrival. We appear to be the only non-stall holders in the house. You can smell desperation and microwaved, hand-made pastries, which are available for sale in the small side kitchen. We dutifully go and examine the town's condiment and jam wares, arranged haphazardly in boxes they haven't bothered to unpack. From the inexpensive collection of random recycled jars with handwritten labels in various spidery scripts, we select a couple of condiments that might work with curry or cheese.

Fruit and vegetables are also cheap, and we buy some out of sympathy more than anything else. The whole place feels a bit depressing - a town of just over seven hundred people that time seems to have forgot.

Ten minutes up the road in Kulnura however, we found the cure for everything that ailed us. It’s another outlet of my favourite green grocer, Sciberras Fresh. I usually visit the son’s outlet of this family-run business out in Freemans Reach.

Mum owns this one, and it’s equally as exciting. Snapping fresh, seasonally appropriate greens abound.

What's even better is if you take greens home from here and store them properly, you'll get three weeks out of them, which is two more weeks than I get from greens bought from Sydney green grocers.

Pricing is their other key advantage. Here a bucket bearing two hands of bananas will set you back four bucks; and a bunch of basil is yours for just a single buck.

We picked up a whole box of potatoes – big enough to make us enough two-person serves of mash to stock us up for winter – for just six dollars. I’ve never spent more than fifty dollars in either of the Sciberras Fresh stores in order to come home with enough fresh fruit and vegetables to push our fridge to full capacity. They're well worth the trip.

Sciberras Fresh Fruit & Vegetables
1213 George Downes Drive, Kulnura
Ph: (0419) 994 817

Travel - Myalla Magic Cafe

In a historic cottage with a classic bullnose verandah, you’ll find Myalla Magic Café. It’s located on the sleepy main street of Bulahdelah, a town whose name stems from a Worimi word, meaning meeting of the waters. Bulahdelah is the gateway to the Myall Lakes, and used to be a popular stop-off for Sydneysiders heading north. These days with a highway bypass in place, visitors seem less frequent.

I'm dubious because the spattering of online reviews talk more about the clean bathroom than anything anyone has eaten, but my mother-in-law is enthusiastic about their advertised bacon and vegetable soup. The emphasis on clean loos makes more sense when we venture under the wooden fretwork, and paintwork that has seen better days, to find no diners inside under the age of fifty. With staff looking disinterested, we seat ourselves in a garish room where silver-painted pressed tin walls and ceilings compete with terribly amateur art. They’ve gotten creative on one wall, where magenta paint is half scrubbed back to white, leaving the pattern of the pressed tin – it’s actually an interesting effect.

Turns out the staff were disinterested because it’s counter service only. From the dated menu of melts, burgers, wraps and sangers, we opt for the safety and familiarity of a Steak Burger ($15.50). Presented in an old-fashioned flat roll, it's a thin, chewy piece of untrimmed, cheap steak with the expected condiments – caramelised onion, lettuce, tomato, beetroot and barbecue sauce. It’s served with a handful of pale, undercooked chips.

By the time we place our order, the soup of the day has been switched out for something different. Luckily my mother-in-law is reasonably happy with her tureen of Pea and Ham Soup ($10.50). She devours it completely, despite remarking that it's overly salty.

While I’m generally a fan of avoiding big chains and other fast food highway rubbish, I can’t say I found the magic in the Myalla Magic Café. With the Bulahdelah bypass reducing the number of incidental visitors to this riverside town, they might have to lift their game to survive as anything more than a well-reviewed loo.

Myalla Magic Cafe
84 Stroud Street, Bulahdelah
Ph: (02) 4997 4900

Myalla Magic Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review - Cheezy Burgers

We’re seated in the lubricants aisle of BP Narellan.

It’s my first review in Narellan, and my first meal inside a service station - well, at least as far back as I can remember.

We’re here to dine at Cheezy Burgers, a tiny burger joint that occupies the rear of the station. The business began as a way for the owner, Danny, to demonstrate his business acumen to his father, who owns the gas station. Now Danny’s little burger joint is so popular, he has to move out! It's so popular nobody can actually park to use the rest of the BP's facilities, which include a self-service dog wash bay, just in case you wanted to bring your canine out to lunch.

You'll also find a make-shift outdoor seating area tucked between the gas bottles and bins. "Even McDonalds had to start somewhere," Danny says with a cheeky grin.

On a digital menu board over the grill you’ll find a succinct menu of three burgers, chicken tenders, shakes and fries. Stylistically, the burgers here remind me most of the ones I loved at Originals Burger Co. in Brookvale. I mentioned this to Danny, who is a local lad, but he shrugged and said: “I don’t go overseas.

Both Danny and his burger-flipper, Vito, are clad in black t-shirts bearing the super-cool, bright neon Cheezy Burgers logo.

Vito is also modeling their Trump-esque 'Make Burgers Great Again' cap. This burger joint has merchandise nailed.

The American theming continues into the ‘Murica Burger ($13), made tangy with lashings of Trump Secret Sauce. It’s made using an Aussie wagyu patty that arrives nicely charred; neatly avoiding gristle and an excess of tongue-coating fat. It’s joined inside two soft (and slightly squashed) milk buns by tomato, cheese and the freshest coral lettuce I’ve ever had in a burger. It's easily the best thing I put in my mouth all day.

The namesake Cheezy Burger ($12) works off the same kind of patty, throwing in pickles, onion, mustard and tomato sauce under a double layer of melted, golden cheese. It’s a decent cheeseburger, but doesn’t quite live up to the Originals Burger Co. rendition, or to the ‘Murica burger I tried first.

Vito sticks a truckload of Southern-style fried chicken on the Deep South Chicken Burger ($13), teaming it with crisp purple cabbage ‘slaw, double cheese, and smoky ‘el Chapo’ sauce. The tasty bird is so big and crunchy, structural integrity is a bit lacking when it's sandwiched inside the super-soft milk buns. Of course I ate mine sitting in the servo, so it was served in a basket, rather than wrapped up for takeaway like most people would receive. I hazard it might fair better with a firm paper wrap.

Shoe String Fries ($3) give you a chance to try out each of their sauces individually on crisp but otherwise unremarkable skinny chips. Trump Secret Sauce ($2) has got a tangy ranch edge, and El Chapo ($2) is where you’ll find a lip-tingling amount of heat.

While Cheezy Burgers do offer Shakes ($8) to wash down lunch, the slightly-too-warm salted caramel shake did push me over the edge into grease, fat and dairy overload. I would have done well to remember I had the full servo range at my disposal (and to put oil in the car while I was waiting).

Cheezy Burgers
BP Narellan, 273 Camden Valley Way, Narellan
Ph: n/a

Cheezy Burger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato