Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - General Chao

Last week I slid in for a quiet midweek dinner at General Chao in the Chatswood Interchange.

It opened last year amidst considerable fanfare, attracting much cooing from the usual canapes-for-comment, rent-a-crowd, most impressed by the eye-catching décor featuring Shanghai girls in cool blues and greens.

Sitting somewhere in-between the hawker-inspired outlets that make up the bulk of District Dining, and a standalone restaurant, it achieves its sense of separation by tucking the dining space and private dining areas around the corner from the main thoroughfare.

Peering through shibari-style window bondage, diners can either take in the underlying railway tracks, or look inwards toward a more coquettish mural hovering over a kitchen that is open on both sides.

We sit right on the quiet cusp of restaurant and (empty) bar, where leafy green palms, bamboo bucket chairs and low-slung lounges give it a last outpost of empire look. The colonial motif should clue you in that General Chao is all about contemporary reinterpretations of Asian cuisines, with prices, portions and heat levels designed for the Australian palate.

We partake in Pickles ($8.50), whetting our appetites with sour soy celery, while the bar gets busy with our cocktails. This tangy favourite is presented with fermented kimchi-style nashi pear batons balanced Jenga-style; cauliflower in a curry-like piccalilli; star anise-heavy radish and juicy fermented cucumber that strikes me as a bit bland.

The Whisky Smash ($22), which uses Sichuan and pink peppercorn syrup and Vietnamese mint to take Monkey Shoulder to South East Asia, turns out to be a gentle aperitif. For a more serious whisky cocktail, try the Craigellachie 13-year-old Single Malt Old Fashioned ($29) that teams the fruity yet smoky Speyside tipple with torched and dehydrated pineapple, cooled with a hand-chipped sphere of ice.

Cleverly steered into Sheriff Woody ($20) by the floor team, who inject personality and opinion appropriately and with comfort, I experience my cocktail of the night. Teaming milk clarified Del Maguay Mezcal with Wyborowa Vodka, mango, green pomelo, coconut, lime and spices, it takes your palate on a journey through smokiness and toasty coconut brightened up with acidity. It's a lovely drink.

In terms of bar bites, the Beef Rendang Pie ($8.50) should be a given. The dry coconut curry beef really lends itself towards being a pie filling against pleasurable pastry, and green chilli and coriander chutney that gives your tongue a tiny tickle.

Coated in “too many” herbs and spices, the General’s Fried Chicken ($8.50) is another winner, particularly against the house-fermented sriracha it comes with.

Saucing is General Chao’s strong suit, so dabble in one of the house-made XO sauces, particularly if you’re planning on playing with the Giant Pork Bun ($14.50). Spicy XO ($8) made on dried shrimp, Jinhua ham, garlic and three kinds of chilli, will save the bun from being too ‘bready’, even though it comes with its own heavily smoked black vinegar that tastes like it's been in a fire pit. (Defend it vehemently against staff clearing intrusions - you’ll want it for your meat.)

The bun’s interior, made from tender braised free-range pork belly, crunchy chestnuts, shallots and mustard greens, is a bit of a show-stopper.

Chargrilled Wagyu Beef ($34) takes boneless rib meat somewhere smoky and tender with a 24-hour braise. It’s served with yuzu jam (remember to look for it under the meat) and artful puddles of mild sesame gochujang, though it eats better in the smoky vinegar you've been hoarding.

The 2017 Forest Hill Gewürztraminer ($16/glass) from the Great Southern has enough acidity and minerality to combat the richness of the meat, with lychee notes making it a good cuisine match overall.

Chao’s Special Fried Rice ($30) is interesting enough to be a dish in its own right. With big chunks of smoked bacon, rings of Chinese sausage, juicy green peas, and prawn chunks that aren’t tasteless, it’s tied together with classic XO and dotted with garlic chips under a mayonnaise net.

That said, the Stir-Fried Razor Clams ($36) – which our waiter says come all the way from Scotland – really do beg to be scraped out onto the rice to really make the most of their saucy Conpoy XO goodness, levelled up with premium dried scallop.

Basically, the only thing I missed at General Chao was chilli heat, and that’s even with ordering the spicy XO. I was however impressed with how they create umami and flavour in their sauces, so picked up the Sambal ($10) and house-fermented Sriracha ($10) to take home.

General Chao
Chatswood Interchange,
436 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood
Ph: (02) 9411 7977

General Chao Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Food News - Fancy A Quickie?

This week Porkstar launched another of their slightly risqué campaigns designed to get you thinking about a mid-week pork (meal) at a time when Aussie farmers could really use your spend.

Fancy a Quickie tonight? Maybe with the neighbours? isn’t asking you to explore the after dark world of suburban swinging (not that you shouldn't if it interests you both) it's about getting a midweek dinner onto the table quickly.

To induct me into their easy-to-remember 6-2-2 method that ends up with perfect pork steaks in just ten minutes, they sent me a meal kit and a recipe card.

With my usual restaurant dining companion properly dressed up for the occasion in a branded apron, I turned the supplied pink timer over and set him to work on our Smokey Pork Burritos.

Using pork loin medallions (150g) from Vic’s Meats, he got to work creating a marinade, zesting and juicing limes, and mixing them with olive oil, smoked paprika, oregano and cumin for a twenty-minute fast marination.

While the pork steaks were gathering flavour, he got busy chopping and preparing our burrito garnishes.

These included chargrilled corn (sliced from the cob after grilling) and slices of red capsicum, plus little bowls of fresh avocado, slivers of crisp red onion, coriander leaves and greens (we used rocket).

By this time, we realised the expired timer was just supposed to be for the pork cooking process (which was actually really easy to follow). You cook the marinated pork steaks on a medium heat for 6 minutes, you turn them and cook them for 2 minutes on the other side, and then you remove the pork from the pan and rest it in a warm place for 2 minutes.

While the pork rests, warm up your tortillas – I recommend La Banderita Tortillas that you can purchase at Sunshine Meats in Milperra or Campbell’s Superior Meats in West Pymble.

Thinly slice your juicy pork steaks, and after the quick assembly of a sriracha sour cream dressing (ignore this recipe's conservative teaspoon of sriracha measurement), and you’re good to wrap and stuff them in your face. While our midweek quickie took 45 minutes from start to finish, we were very satisfied by the experience.
Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - Bibimbar

With the addition of a few bright menu boards depicting colourful Korean soul food, like the wartime hangover favourite, Korean army stew, Nighthawk Diner has morphed rather seamlessly into Bibimbar.

Staffed by a friendly young floor team in orange-and-white striped tees and sneakers, this Chippendale restaurant has kept most of the same décor, but swapped out Bloody Marys and Tabasco, for soju cocktails and gochujang.

Fancying a bit of a pick-me-up, I hit up the Pink Floss Frozen Sogarita ($17) expecting something over-sweet.

Despite arriving under a sunset cloud of fairy floss, once I poured in the soda water to lengthen it, the spun sugar dissolved into a pithy, tart grapefruit, lime and soju-based drink that made for a perfect hot day aperitif.

For an accompanying drinking snack, we wanted K.F.C. but were talked down from a Whole Chook ($35) or Half Bird ($19) into a steamer basket of Wing Wing ($16/12 pieces) as we were just dining as a party of two.

Presented in two flavours, the sticky ginger soy wings edged out the plain Korean fried chook, which ate a bit dry though improved when dragged through Creamy Onion ($2) dipping sauce.

Moving onto Makgeolli ($12) (soothing Korean rice wine) to accompany our shared main, we watched eagerly as it was assembled over a burner at our table. The metal-handled pot of Tteokbokki with Toppings ($32) buries lightly spicy Korean rice cakes (tteokbokki) under five toppings, which make the dish textural and fun to explore.

While the toppings – boiled eggs, mandu (pork and kimchi dumplings), popcorn K.F.C. (boneless Korean fried chicken), fish cakes, shredded shallots and fried seaweed rolls – are all ready to eat, give the dish about ten minutes to get the cheese nice and melty, and the underlying, chewy rice cakes, time to get hot.

With more prompt table-clearing we might have tried Bibimbar’s only dessert – Honey Hotteok ($12) – popular Korean street-food pancakes; however after being left too long staring at empty plates, we escaped them by leaving our seats to pay and leave.

69 Abercrombie Street, Chippendale
Ph: (02) 8964 0900

Bibim Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - My Lua

My Lua occupies an interstitial space between towering office blocks. The all-day café is owned by Candice Anh Nguyet who immigrated from Vietnam sixteen years ago.

In 2013 she took over this formerly Greek-owned takeaway business that plied a trade in burgers and pasta dishes.

Commencing a long process of change that finally finished early this month, Nguyet has converted it to bring the authentic flavour of Vietnamese food from Saigon to Sydney.

Her concession to this location is keeping an Aussie-style coffee’n’toast brekky over the more usual Vietnamese soup and noodle breakfasts.

Arranged under a shelter, the outdoor tables are tucked into a nook that sees them largely protected from any wind tunnels howling down either Market Street or Kent Street.

From the array of overhead menu boards, or the colourful paper menus by the door, make your lunchtime selection from the list of bánh mì, phở, bún (noodle bowls), gỏi (salads), cơm (rice dishes) or gỏi cuốn (rice paper rolls). Keep your eyes peeled for combo. deals that allow you to mix and match, or simply make your own – everything here is fresh and affordable.

My BBQ Honey Soy Chicken Gỏi Cuốn ($5) was a better-than-average rice paper roll with crisp cucumber, fragrant mint, springy vermicelli, crunchy fried shallots and honey-soy chook.

Dragged through their tasty roasted peanut sauce, it was a lovely way to start my meal.

My Lua's thinly sliced, marinated and grilled pork is well-showcased in a Bao ($5.90); a soft white steamed bun that arrived in Vietnam with Cantonese immigrants.

With the weather being warm, Vietnamese Iced Coffee ($6.50) is the order of the day. After it drips through into the milky sweet layer below, stir well then pour it into the accompanying glass of ice for a cooling beverage that is robust without being inaccessible.

I finish with a steaming bowl of Phở ($13.90/regular). For an extra buck you can have your beef noodle soup with all types of beef.

It’s the best way to eat it, with toothsome beef balls, thinly sliced rare beef (I do prefer mine pinker), beef brisket slices, shin, and textural ribbons of tripe. My Lua make a very enjoyable broth with round spices that tickle your palate before the richness of bone broth comes in. It holds its own against the accompanying sauces – sriracha for heat and hoisin for sweetness and middle (throw in the lemon if you add too much).

Pulling out slippery flat rice noodles and slurping away happily, I resolve to visit My Lua again for another healthy, inexpensive, workday lunch.

My Lua
1/1 Market Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9264 8535

MyLua's Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Event - Double Delicious, Sydney Festival

In a darkened cabaret set-up where a hundred guests are arranged in parties of ten around black table-cloth draped tables, you could hear a pin drop as Korean chef Heather Jeong, tears Chinese cabbage leaves by hand to make kimchi. While she prepares this Korean staple, Jeong takes us through the story of her appa (father). It’s a story of immigration through the Korean war and subsequent American occupation, a time period which brought along with it American delicacies like Baked Beans, canned frankfurters, and Spam.

Tinged with han, an emotion coloured by grief said to be characteristic of post-war Korean culture, Jeong’s tale covers her family’s nearly decade-long separation that came to a conclusion when her appa immigrated to Australia as one of 2000 Koreans granted amnesty after South Vietnam fell in 1975. Finally meeting her father at the age of nine, Jeong explained that she has long “struggled with daughterly love”. As Jeong’s story unfolds, her now-deceased appa’s photo appears on the wall behind her earthenware pot of fermenting kimchi.

Jeong teaches us that it's often through food that we show love, even difficult love. Her segment ends with guests being served her father's favourite dish - Korean army stew (Budae-jjigae) - where tteokbokki (Korean rice cakes) and kimchi mingle with those canned American favourites that arrived in wartime.

It’s a poignant beginning to Director Darren Yap’s Double Delicious, a Sydney Festival show that builds upon Contemporary Asian Australian Performance’s 2014 performance, The Serpent’s Table. In this version of the show, five Asian-Australian storytellers explore the nuances of Australian immigration through dance, music, storytelling and food.

Arriving at Melbourne airport with her three siblings, all wearing climate-inappropriate matching tan suits, actress Valerie Berry gives us a taste of what it was like to be one of four brown kids growing up with a white Australian stepfather in Ceduna. In case you're scratching your head, that's the last big town before you hit the long empty stretch of the Nullarbor Plain.

With a first stop at K-Mart for thongs and shorts - “matchy-matchy is the theme of our childhood” – Berry touches upon the selective racism that permeated both her family, and my own, and likely the rest of Australia's, in the Eighties.

With only a slight dig at Australia's overuse of the crockpot and pressure cooker as the driving force behind her Filipino-Australian mother’s decision to return to cooking the food she grew up with, Berry introduces us to nicely char-grilled beef adobo served on rice.

Choreographer and dancer, Raghav Handa, lays out the spices for a ceremonial Northern Indian dish called chola with great reverence and care. In liquid motion, Handa reminds us that cooking has much in common with the art of seduction. Breaking into chaotic dance, Handa explores his (dis)connection with mother India, explaining it “doesn’t seem to have much to do with my life in Australia”.

As we tuck into a bowl of chickpeas with vibrant round spices, prepared by the talented chef Christine Ware off in a hidden kitchen, we ponder the liminal spaces between cultures that migrant Australians are left to inhabit.

Flipping the set on its side while we’re all occupied with eating, the kitchen becomes a giant gong as the audience is seemingly transported straight to China.

Putting a stop to this idea rather quickly, writer Benjamin Law enters the fray with a broad Australian accent.

Starting out his life as a “weedy little runty Asian kid” in Caloundra, Queensland, Law discusses the way we romanticise the idea of authenticity. As his hands expertly pleat pork and prawn wontons in one of nine possible ways, Law asks the audience to consider where our obsession with authenticity leaves anyone we deem to be inauthentic?

Wherever we were in the world, we were always going to be at the margins of things, never the centre,” Law explains of himself and his siblings, who traveled to Hong Kong as adults, and found themselves to be outsiders there too.

In our bowls Law offers up silky wontons created from an old Chinese recipe made using fresh Australian ingredients, that eats like a metaphor for his life.

We end the show by drinking in the intoxicating flavour of Chinese rice wine, cinnamon, star anise and sesame oil with Elizabeth Chong’s moist and juicy, black satin chicken.

Plucked from her award-winning cookbook, it’s the highlight of a career that has spanned 57 years of cooking classes and 12 years of television appearances on Good Morning Australia with Bert Newton, all woven into an upbeat story of how 88-year-old Chong lost a husband and a hobby, and gained a very successful business.

An Aussie battler made good - what could be more Australian than that?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Double Delicious was presented at Carriageworks as part of Sydney Festival.
The festival runs from 8-26 January, 2020. 
Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - Sakuratei

Sakuratei is one of a pair of Japanese restaurants sitting at the rear of St. Martins Tower, in a tiny arcade that runs between Clarence and York Streets. While sister restaurant, Kabuki Shoroku, is a more expensive affair that offers up multi-course kaiseki (the Japanese equivalent to what we’d call fine dining), Sakuratei is aimed at salarymen (Japanese white-collar workers on salaries). It does a roaring trade in fast lunches for tower dwelling folk who, in less than an hour, need to race back to their desks.

Speed comes at a cost – the simplified menu is a series of well-worn plastic cards grouping lunches into a series of fast-to-produce items with no variations or separate bills possible.

What sets Sakuratei apart however is its outlook. The dark wood panelled dining room with cherry blossom panels faces onto a secret garden centred around a pond filled with giant koi.

This surprising urban oasis of trees, greenery and writhing mass of golden, orange and white fishes is perched a level above Clarence Street on the roof of a Wilson parking station.

There’s something quite tranquil and restorative about breaking your workday with a cup of Hot Japanese Tea ($2.50) and a leafy green outlook. If the weather is nice, you can dine on bar stools at two dedicated al fresco long tables, otherwise, the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling are good at bringing the outside in.

While lots of Sakuratei's fast lunch dishes are single bowl affairs – donburi (rice bowls), chirashi, curry rice, and ramen – there are also meal sets if you’re craving some variety.

While Bento Boxes ($28/each) are comparatively pricy, Combo Meals ($17) meals give you two dishes of your choosing from a menu of six, served with steamed rice (white or brown) and a bowl of miso.

Sticky barbeque eel and panko-crumbed chicken katsu were both generously proportioned and served with mixed greens slathered in a creamy roast sesame dressing.

With the menu promising “a LOT of cha-shu”, the Cha-Shu Ramen ($12.90) with a Spicy Miso (+$0.50) soup base would likely make the ramen master from the 1985 Japanese film, Tampopo weep. It’s a crudely presented bowl of soup that’s splashed up the sides on its way to the table. You can just make out a boiled (rather than marinated ajitsuke tamago) egg, and some bamboo shoots.

The promised cha-shu (barbequed pork) is nowhere to be seen, however after fishing around a bit, I find three unevenly cut, thickish slices that might have benefited from some blow-torch action to caramelise their gelatinous fat.

The broth is simple, if slightly on the salty side, with very little richness or bone flavour. It’s not spicy so much as it is faintly lively in the mouth rather than just being flat, making my mouth-soothing Cold Japanese Tea ($3.90) rather redundant. The noodles are soft egg-based affairs, tangled up with seaweed and sweetcorn kernels.

While perhaps dinner might show more elegance, for weekday lunches, Sakuratei is clearly designed to rip through as many hungry salarymen as it can.

Ground Floor, 31 Market Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9267 4668

Sakuratei Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - Chuuka

When cuisines cross borders, they are changed by the environment and culture they find themselves situated within. Aussie-Cantonese is a different beast to the Cantonese (Yue) food you find in Guangdong Province in South Eastern China. Similarly, Chūka cuisine reflects Chinese food as it is eaten in Japan, adjusted to suit the Japanese palate. Hamish Ingham and Rebecca Lines were the first to bring this interesting, Japanese-Chinese hybrid to Sydney at Bar H six years ago. Now Chase Kojima of Sokyo and Victor Liong of Lee Ho Fook (Melbourne) are giving it some next generation appeal at Chuuka.

Rather than an exercise in faithfulness to the original – or to either Chinese or Japanese cuisine – they’ve played with the notion and the Sydney location to come up with something befitting the high-end seafood focus of Flying Fish's former digs.

Set against the Sydney Harbour backdrop, currently disappearing in a smoky bushfire haze, the raw bar plays if-you-can’t-beat-‘em, join-’em game with a smoke billowing Sashimi Platter ($80).

Able to be split four ways, this platter makes dabbling in the menu’s Raw section redundant (which might be useful if you’re having problems narrowing things down).

Alternatively, you can take advice from the floor team, led by Lindsay Carr. They deliver a nicely cheeky blend of sass and knowledge that suits the hip, contemporary space, decked out with irezumi (tattoo) flash walls by Deepak Munsami. Carr, who can talk booze like nobody’s business, recommends us a list of dishes so appropriate, I don’t even read the rest of the one-page menu.

Instead I concern myself with little folds of freshly sliced salmon, their richness cut with spicy chilli bean paste; and a Pacific oyster that might not be freshly shucked but punches umami so hard with bonito, soy, yuzu and vividly green spring onion oil, you’re unlikely to care.

Cocktails favour originality over accessibility, but fortune favours the brave. Wood ($20) takes takes barrel-aged, hickory smoked, shiso-infused umeshu (plum liqueur) and teams it with Bulleit rye whiskey and Campari into something that riffs upon an Italian apertivo. Metal ($20) makes vodka into a chilli-balm with a creamy coconut wash, a smidgen of honeydew melon and the tangy appeal of calamansi lime against a matcha rim. Fire ($22) makes Hong Kong baijiu into an appealing cocktail (not an easy feat) with mango, chilli oil and Dom Benedictine. They’re all kind of hectic, so neck them before you get stuck into your eats.

I’d look to our Kiwi cousins and their 2018 Amisfield Chenin Blanc ($84) for a smooth, slightly chalky companion to your personal pot of Chawanmushi ($13/each). You’ll find the silky, foie gras-enriched Japanese savoury custard buried under a muddle of blue swimmer crab, carrot, ginger and shellfish-oil. It’s scrape-the-bowl deliciousness that you’ll be glad not to share.

Working with a similar syrupy texture, the top layer of fresh scallops, egg and blue swimmer crab masks a drier, more pungent layer of XO-flavoured fried rice in Tenshindon Fried Rice ($35). With some gentle agitation, it’s a standout dish.

You also need to get your stir on with the Sichuan Eggplant ($28).

It's presented Asian cobb salad-style under pungent puffed chickpeas with crispy garlic, coriander, fried wonton skins and white miso and sesame dressing rounding out the textures and flavours that only work when they're mixed.

For me, it’s slightly out of whack with the restaurant brief, so I’d pass it over in favour of a modest tangle of Wok Fried King Brown Mushrooms ($26). The golden king browns are carb’d up with rolls of chewy rice noodle, disguised under enough greens (garlic chives and asparagus) to make it seem like a healthy vegetable side.

For those not taking the high moral ground of being vegetarian, there are proteins aplenty to select. From Carr’s clever collection of white Rhone varietals, the 2016 Gilles-Robin ‘Les Marelles’ Crozes-Hermitage, Roussanne, Marsanne ($115/bottle) has sufficient weight and field-blend interest to stand up to Charred Wagyu Intercostal ($39) slices, made slightly less wicked by being sandwiched with salad in lettuce wraps.

Alternatively, you could explore the Coravin collection. The 2017 Domaine du Ladoucette Sancerre ‘Comte Lafond’ ($30/glass) from France’s Loire Valley will make you take back every hateful thing you’ve ever said about sauvignon blanc, against Peking Duck ($48/$90). Chuuka use a meaty Muscovy-Pekin cross, which means you can get by ordering a half, with refillable pancakes and a whole platter of condiments to combine, compare and share.

Ain’t nobody need to be so proud they don't pick up those drumsticks and gnaw. Besides, when your ‘Ebi Chilli’ ($42) lands with a half dozen Japanese milk buns, you’re going to be scraping up the chilli miso butter dregs with great relish, right after you devour meaty prawns along their heads prepared teppanyaki style.

Made using Australia’s best prawns (Skull Island) these massive crustaceans are too good to see any of their parts to waste.

While Carr smashed us with the volume of food, I regret nothing. Next time I promise to read the whole menu...

Suite 62-64, Jones Bay Wharf
26-32 Pirrama Rd, Pyrmont
Ph: (02) 9657 9882

Chuuka Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - Sarah's Lebanese Cuisine

Sarah’s Lebanese Cuisine slid into Leichhardt’s landscape so seamlessly, it took me a year to notice it had arrived. The faded brown retro fonts and cedar tree logo melds in beautifully with Norton Street’s existing signage, on a strip still dominated by Italian entries, from La Gardenia's children’s wares to Bar Italia’s pasta.

While many locals, like myself, relish the widening of cuisines in our local ‘hood, the personable Zahraa explained that she has recently been told to go back to Bankstown by an angry local of Italian descent. The Lebanese migrants who call Australia home have been settling here since the mid-19th century (around 1850). The biggest Italian wave of immigration happened between 1947 and 1950, about a hundred years later. As none of us, bar for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, can claim this land as our own, there's certainly room for cultural diversity on this faded dining strip.


With white metal chairs and wooden tables that stretch out onto the pavement, Sarah’s is largely a featureless, white space, widened with mirrors and decorated with a few dangling charms to ward off the evil eye (which clearly don’t work on racists). It’s a family business, staffed by a friendly mother and daughter team. Keen to avoid making decisions, we opt to eat banquet style. We're firmly steered away from the pricier Grand Banquet ($55/head) to the cheaper Deluxe Banquet ($45/head) to avoid getting too much food.

Leichhardt’s (uptight) dining proclivities have seen Zahraa and her mother Sarah morph the usually shared hommos and baba ghanouj into individually plated affairs.

Once we get our bread replaced – the first basket was stale – I find myself drawn to the smoky eggplant dip over the slightly grainy hommos.

By the time our shanklish arrives, table Tetris has begun in earnest to find spots for all the individual plates, so I’m grateful that we're encouraged to share our tabouli.

It’s a light and lemony mountain of parsley, mint and shallots with no burghul to be seen. No humans were harmed by sharing it from one plate.

After showing an interest in the haloumi cheese on the more expensive banquet, we’re served a heaving plate of soft, fluffy cheese. Flavoured with plenty of garlic, the wedges of herb-flecked cheese have been very gently fried with big, juicy acidic tomato slices and topped with darkly toasted almonds.

Well-drained fried cauliflower – arnabit – comes with tahini.

They’re also great with a delicate splodge of Sarah’s darkly brooding chilli sauce.

On rapidly disintegrating charred wooden skewers that scream home-style cooking, we get a hefty plate of six mixed kebab apiece. Lahme – chicken skewers - eat best dragged through toum (garlic dip) balanced out with chilli sauce. While the skewered lumps of barbequed lamb are tasty, the real winner is the kafta made with hand-cut mince and fresh herbs.

While even the lower tiered banquet was too much food, compounded by bigger portions because the food was not shared, I enjoyed this good value meal. Sarah’s has a homey vibe that makes you feel like you’re sitting down at the table with an adopted Lebanese Mum, all the way to the freshly baked jawz al hind (coconut macaroons) she pushes onto you to finish.

Sarah's Lebanese Cuisine
165 Norton Street, Leichhardt
Ph: (0449) 545 594

Sarah's Lebanese Cuisine  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

2019 - The Best of Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Across 2019, Does My Bomb Look Big In This? has delivered 225 pieces (that's more than four reviews a week). In a concerted effort to support restaurants and producers in rural and regional areas, who are doing it tough with endless drought and now raging bushfires, nearly a quarter of those reviews took place out-of-town.

Metropolitan reviews were undertaken in 73 different Sydney suburbs, with care taken not to neglect Sydney’s edges. Gledswood Hills, Terrey Hills, Dural, Penrith, Cronulla and Cromer all found their way into the mix, along with newer suburbs like Wentworth Point (which was visited 7 times). This year's reviews covered 37 different cuisines. Beyond the pastiche we refer to as Australian cuisine, Japanese (including various fusions) topped the list with 22 different spots reviewed. Italian and Chinese each attracted a respectable 19 reviews,while Afghan, Polish and Burmese and Ethiopian are all cuisines I ate in just a single venue across the year (though I did go back to the Polish restaurant a second time).

Distilling all that down to the 10 most memorable meals of 2019 they are:

10. Azuki Bakery
Meals don't have to be expensive to be memorable. Azuki Bakery in Enmore sell a curry pan (bun) that will set you back less than five bucks and will be great every time you eat it. Their mentaiko roll sees me open my wallet every time I walk past, though it's more of an acquired taste.

9. Alchemy
Memorable meals do more than just sustain you, they communicate culture. Alchemy in Surry Hills is an utterly transportive space with Polish art, alcohol, cakes, food and humour imparted with every meal. I've never eaten better pierogi and their Napoleonka (vanilla slice) is to die for.

8. Locale Pizzeria & Capriccio
Everyone needs a neighbourhood Italian, and if you happen to live in either Deakin (ACT) or Leichhardt, you have struck gold. Capriccio bring a regional flavour to Italian cooking, with hand-stamped pasta they make in house. Locale Pizzeria get the simple things right, like a brilliant prawn pizza and the best calamari fritti I ate all year. I couldn't split them.

7. Coya
Great meals can be found in unassuming places. While I've been impressed enough with Urban Tadka in Terrey Hills to drive there for three meals, there's something about Coya that gets me every time. Perhaps it's that it's so incongurous to find a chef of Ashraf Saleh's talent cooking well-priced degustations in a suburban strip mall in Cromer.

6. Cucina Espresso & Born in Brunswick
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day I'm told, and I have had two breakfasts in 2019 that I find hard to forget. Hobart's Born in Brunswick produced the best crumpet breakfast I’ve ever eaten, but I was equally charmed by Cucina Espresso in Concord. They innovated without losing sight of their Italianate focus, producing a clever breakfast arancini with a runny yolk centre.

5. Sashimi Shinsengumi
Seafood is excellent in Australia, and this year I ate more than my fair share with memorable meals at Manta (who kicked butt with bouillabaisse), Moxhe (who won my heart with hay-smoked mussels) and Love Fish (who showed seafood doesn’t have to be over-priced, even with sustainable choices and a water view). What made Sashimi Shinsengumi the most memorable was in part the difficulty of scoring a booking, then the experience of sharing a seafood-focused meal with five friends plus six strangers, all serviced by the one, talented chef.

4. Jang Ta Bal
Three restaurants slayed on meat this year, and I find it very hard to split them. I’m giving it to Jang Ta Bal by a whisker for their in-house butcher slicing up wagyu in the middle of the dining room, and for their super spicy cheesy pork ribs. I loved those ribs so much I went back for more the very next week. Graze in Willow Tree know how to handle meat, and Yellow Billy in Pokolbin makes smoked meats into an art form. It was really hard to choose between them!

3. Restaurant Moon & Punjabi Fusion
There was a lot more successful fusion this year, from Peruvian-Japanese to French-Japanese, to various multicultural cuisines engaging with contemporary Australian ways of eating. The two I can’t forget are Restaurant Moon, which I credit with re-enlivening my appreciation of Thai cooking with some very modern presentation but still keeping the balance of Thai cuisine, and Punjabi Fusion who also do amazing things with presentation while retaining authentic Indian flavours.

2. Noi
While I loved Nikkei for finally bringing Peruvian Japanese to Sydney, I reckon my favourite deguastation this year was at Noi in Petersham. As I mentioned earlier, I ate a lot of Italian cuisine this year, and Noi turned it all on its head with one coconut foam-topped pig’s head terrine, eaten in an environment that was sophisticated without being stuffy.

1. Pearls on the Beach
With Graze, Born in Brunswick, Locale Pizzeria and Yellow Billy already mentioned in the previous categories, and 54 restaurants to choose from, it should be obvious that it was really hard to choose an out-of-town restaurant this year. The out-of-town restaurant I’m most keen to return to is Pearls on the Beach in the Central Coast. It has that perfect combination of setting, service, wine and food, that has already turned my meal into a sepia toned memory that will stay with me for a long time.

Speaking of which, I'm off to make some new summer memories. Catch you all on the flipside in 2020!
Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Review - Noi

Tucked under a little white cloud of coconut foam, chef Alessandro Intini’s gelatin-free pig’s head terrine is soft and flavoursome. Cooked with master stock, this dish draws upon his training as a butcher to create a combination that feels unique albeit with a sly nod to our Pasifikan neighbours who’ve been cooking the whole pig with coconuts for ages. It’s a ten buck up-sell on Noi’s Tasting Menu ($72/head) and worth every penny.

With a name that translates to “us”, it’s clear from the outset that this understated Petersham newcomer is a collaborative affair. Intini has partnered up with Anastasia Drakopoulos, the daughter of Sydney Restaurant Group baron, Bill Drakopoulos, after the pair met at Aqua Dining.

Intini has co-opted his life and cooking partner, Federica Costa, into the long, open kitchen as well. Fronted by a long, marble-topped bar, it takes up a good portion of the floor space in the narrow Petersham newcomer.

They’ve come up with some innovative solutions to the lack of space though, like an under-stair wine cellar visible through a cute triangular window. After a peek in the gold-plated brown leather guidebook (the finishes at Noi, from curvy cutlery to leather-strapped aprons, are on point) we settle on The Confluence ($89).

It's a 2018 grenache from McLaren Vale that tastes of blackcurrant and plum skin, stem and pepper until you dip into the LuMi-style flurry of snacks when it takes on a jammy edge.

A steamer basket of snacks sees mini cheese souffles teamed with carrot and pickled enoki contrasted with one-bite smoked trout numbers.

Hot on their heels, a treasure box of breads is stuffed with grissini, springy focaccia and piping hot milk bun pillows plucked straight from the oven, matched to anchovy butter and injectable pipettes of fruity olive oil.

Puffed buckwheat, raspberry and green peppercorn mayo. adds a little snap, crackle and creamy pop to a clever beef tartare that’s as tasty as it is eye-catching.

Under a dusting of egg yolk, ham and nutmeg take asparagus spears somewhere Christmassy.

Cannelloni harks back to the Italian tricolour tradition using sheep curd, basil and tomato. Burst of brightly acidic semi-dried tomatoes, crisp pepitas and tomato that’s more syrup than sauce, help to refine this into a pasta dish befitting of contemporary fine dining predilections.

Spanish mackerel is presented with an exploration of fennel – pureed, pickled and roasted with great charry bits – against the golden-topped fillet of well-cooked fish. Teamed with the lean, 2017 Warramate Chardonnay ($17/glass) from the Yarra Valley, it’s another winner.

Thanks to the confident floor team, who happily exchange good-humoured banter, we opt into Apricot Prosecco ($8/each). It's an enjoyable palate cleanser that teams a fairly flavourless prosecco gel with a lovely apricot sorbet, dried apricot and crumbled pistachios.

Dessert proper is yoghurt panna cotta with almond crumble and rockmelon foam. Rockmelon isn’t quite my caper, so I happily refresh my palate with a lemony Moscato Sardegna ($15) before gobbling the shortbread cookies filled with minty chocolate ganache that accompany the bill.

While Noi is pricy - I think the wine markups in particular are high - as the kitchen delivered in spades, my only real complaint is with the uninspiring (and undersized) art.

Best to make sure the paintings aren’t outclassed by the distressed brick wall behind them.

108 Audley Street, Petersham
Ph: (02) 9337 7377

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