I’m a highly price-conscious consumer of food and other small luxuries, and while I will happily shell out for something truly special, sometimes I do need to be convinced that a meal is “worth it”.
I didn’t have any of this soy cappuccino ($4.50) as I was pre-nights but I really enjoyed the look and feel of this cup. They sell their mugs for around $50 on their Etsy store, and it looks like woman has bought 13 of their 16 items ever sold. I’m not currently in a suitable financial position to spend $50 on a small mug that I will never use (my mugs are in the litre-range, excellent for loading up on the disgusting but healthful material that is psyllium husk), but many of their creations are quite beautiful.
My partner isn’t usually an oyster eater, but these Magaki Pacific Oysters ($5 each) had enough random toppings on top to make her venture out of her comfort zone. These particular oysters were topped with salmon roe and flowers, which did add a nice fruitiness to the oceanic flavour mix. Again, love the bowl.
These Gobo Chips ($13.50) with wasabi mayo were a bit too fibrous and slimy for me. Any supposed health benefits, for example from burdock root’s relatively high fibre content were probably well balanced by the battering and deep frying.
We quite enjoyed the Snapper Ramen ($24), with its nice in house tonkotsu base, baby bok choy, and lightly seared fish. The yuzu kosho was described by our waitress as something we could use to add flavour, as was the vegan capsicum butter, which I felt was a bit redundant as that is the general purpose of any flavouring or topping. The flavours of the soup were nice overall, and perhaps the two above mentioned additions hindered rather than helped it. I enjoyed the fish but would’ve liked more.
The Area 51 ($36), a seared toothfish ochazuke was unfortunately quite similar in taste to the snapper ramen. It was probably our own fault for choosing both of these dishes rather than something different. My main complaint carries over from the snapper ramen, there being only a small amount of toothfish at this relatively large price, though my secondary complaint is the less than ideal broth to rice ratio. It tasted nice, but it just tasted like more of the same.
We spent $88 between the two of us, with one drink. While we did eat quite a bit of food, I still have difficulty reconciling the substantial price point for what was ultimately good but not super-special.
Social Hideout is one of my least favourite cafes in Parramatta, and judging from the number of posts on this blog I feel like I have a broad-enough experience to hold an opinion on this. My first encounter with Social Hideout was in 2018, when my partner took me at the end of a run of ward cover night shifts (my last ever), at the start of my annual leave. Though this was well before the creation of this blog, and before I really started thinking about keeping track of what was good and what was bad, I remember my impression being that the cafe had seemingly spent a lot of effort in decorating, and perhaps could’ve better spent that energy into its food. I have the photos from that September 10, 2018 visit, though given it’s been so long and I honestly have no idea how it tasted I don’t think there’s really any point in my sharing them now. We had a red velvet latte, a taro latte, poached eggs on beetroot toast, and a french toast.
This first visit all the way back in my first year out in the real world of employment and dining out must have left a serious impact on my psyche however, as I spent the next four years trying to avoid going back, until I couldn’t. Dragged by my tail from the exhausted safety of my workplace Entrada Centre in Parramatta by a group of colleagues, I was to remember why I didn’t like this place.
The decor at Social Hideout remains as floral as ever, and though I had hoped that perhaps time and iteration might have resulted in some improvements in their food menu I was disappointed. The Lamb and Cheese Pot of Gold ($22.90) was an extremely salty mixture of tomato, slow cooked pulled lamb, beans, miso mushrooms, and labneh served with sourdough bread and butter. In my opinion this is definitely a dish that looks and reads better than it tasted – I just can’t understate how salty it was, the only saving grace being the bread, while it lasted.
I was glad to hear that opinions were not merely held by me, but also a number of my colleagues, who did not love their chicken-waffle dishes.
Ultimately I think that some cafe-goers want a place where they can take cute photos of their food with attractive floral backdrops, and some just want a place to have a nice meal. Some places manage to do both – the similarly named Social Society in Zetland (and actually quite close to Social Hideout’s Waterloo branch) comes to mind, but in my opinion Social Hideout just doesn’t cut the mustard.
Growing up Asian in Western Sydney and visiting only the highly-Asian establishments around the place I never really understood Ashfield as an “Inner-West” suburb. I think as the West has extended westward so has the inner-West, and places like Ashfield have transformed from a suburb of Asian grocery stores and Beijing roast duck restaurants to a suburb of cute little cafes with their own seasonal merch collection.
This pastrami sandwich ($16) was unusually priced but ultimately pretty good, I guess. The collection of flavours and textures with the overnight-cured pastrami, the crispy toasted and seeded bread, the mild Swiss cheese and the crisp sauerkraut was quite pleasant in the mouth, though not in the wallet. I feel like this would’ve been right on the money at $12, but $16 is a stretch.
A more substantial bowl at $22-ish, the roasted eggplant with halloumi was an oily mix of eggplant, walnut feta, and pomegranate, served with ciabatta. Though my partner did not like this uncharacteristically vegetarian choice, I found the mixture of flavours and textures (thanks, walnut) sufficient to maintain interest throughout the course of the meal. Pomegranate brightens up even the most eggplant everything.
My partner took us to Bitton a couple of mornings (years now, by time of publication) ago. I had pre-peeked the menu and nothing struck my fancy, but the reviews were good and my partner was keen.
We arrived to an almost full house. There were 4 dogs in the cafe’s outside seating, but none inside. We didn’t have a booking but that wasn’t a problem on this Saturday morning – they were able to ready a table for us in minutes, however didn’t wipe it down.
The coffee at Bitton was good, but not a standout. We did enjoy these nice red mugs that it was served in, however.
The Croque Madame ($21) was a enormous letdown. I had wrongly assumed that $21 would afford me something greater than a mere ham and cheese toastie with egg on top. There are numerous places in the local area to get a croque madame for $12-14, and I truly regret paying this amount. For what it’s worth, the sandwich was fine and tasted good. The spicy tomato sauce and the side salad were also good, but it didn’t really justify the cost.
The Lamb Merguez Sausage (2 for $7) were actually quite coarse and complex. We enjoyed them and they added a much needed meatiness to the baked eggs and sweet potato hash.
My partner enjoyed the Baked Eggs and Sweet Potato Hash ($18) much more than I did. I generally don’t like hash, and this was no exception. The dish alone is vegetarian, and $7 was spent on some much needed sausages. I often find hash too bland in taste, and this was again true this time. They serve pepe saya butter with their bread.
I literally don’t know how much they charged for this Vanilla Slice, but I thought it was only ok. The vanilla slice itself was one of the better that I’ve had, though far from the best – a title which still belongs to Bourkies Bakehouse in Woodend, VIC. I did appreciate the vanilla ice cream and berries, which we weren’t expecting. The vanilla ice cream had black dots, an unmistakable sign of quality.
Overall I can’t recommend Bitton Cafe. We paid an exorbitant amount for food that was just fine. I’m particularly angry at myself for paying $21 for a toastie. I don’t care if it’s French. Never again, though I’m sure that I would have fonder feelings about the place had the prices not been so high.
I watched Lucas Sin’s cha chaan teng video for VICE at least three times over the last few months of lockdown here in Sydney, and have had a hankering for some Hong Kong Cafe style food ever since. Luckily the Instagram algorithm saw it fit to serve me photos of Hong Kong Bing Sutt’s delicious looking beef noodle soup over the same period of time, and while I was unable to order takeaway via the app (as I am illiterate) I took myself and my Cantonese-speaking girlfriend over there the first chance I could.
Hong Kong Bing Sutt’s milk tea ($5.30) is extremely rich and dark, likely owing to the traditional method of brewing Hong Kong milk tea which undergoes multiple prolonged steeps through a silk stocking filter to ensure deep extraction. While this is only imagined (the brewing of the tea was not witnessed by me), the rich and smooth flavour of the tea was directly confirmed. While the hot version served at the restaurant comes unsweetened with some sugar on the side, HKBS also sells bottled versions of its chilled pre-sweetened milk tea for $7 a bottle, which are also pretty good, if pricey.
The Mixed Beef Noodle ($15.80) was what drew me in initially, and was actually pretty great in reality. It comes default with thin egg noodles, stewed beef brisket, beef tripe, beef tendon, and beef tendon balls, though many of these elements can be customised to taste. The beef brisket was represented by both fatty and less fatty pieces, all of which were rich tasting and cooked to an extreme degree of tenderness. There was no skimping on any of the other components, including the deep soy marinated tendon and tripe, and even shared between the two of us we felt like we each had enough. The soup was flavoured with chu hou paste, which is a traditional sauce for Cantonese style beef brisket, and nice and warming. The noodles were not extraordinary, rather acting as a mere vehicle for the rest of the very good bowl.
I wasn’t such a huge fan of the BBQ Pork and Over Easy Eggs with Rice ($16.80), but my partner loved it. I felt that the big slabs of char siu were actually not as flavoured as I am used to, which was fine, but didn’t help to carry the bulk of the rice underneath as well as I would have liked. The over easy egg was very well done, extremely soft and runny in the centre. It was only at the bottom of the rice that we found some soy sauce. I think ultimately this was a dish that would have been more suited to being served in a claypot with a bit of thick soy sauce on top, and the bowl format just didn’t work as well.
This rice noodle roll was fine, but too vegetarian for me. The rice noodles themselves were soft and not too oily, coated in a sauce of sesame seeds, hoisin, and probably peanut butter. The sauce wasn’t overpowering, but I just like my chang fen with a bit of prawn or meat in it.
The scrambled eggs and beef satay sandwich was pretty yum. This, the rice noodle roll, and the hot signature milk tea came to a combo total of $13.80, which is pretty decent. The satay beef was good, as was the very light and soft scrambled eggs. The bread was mostly de-crusted, although some edges still had a bit of unfortunate crust.
These are the chicken wings in house made Swiss sauce ($8.80). I’ve recently been trying to lower my carb intake, so sadly many of the items on the menu at HKBS were mildly off limits to me on my second visit. The Swiss sauce in this dish is similar to the Swiss made stamp on my Chinese-made “Rolex” “Submariner”. More of an abstract vibe than a statement of origin, Swiss sauces are a purely Chinese based invention, a mixture of sugar, dark soy sauce, and shaoxing cooking wine. Classically boiled and shocked in an ice bath, these wings exhibited a good tender texture with a firm skin, however I must admit that after a couple of wings the strong shaoxing cooking wine flavour put me off having any more.
The beef brisket with special curry sauce and rice ($14.80) was a really good value, large meal of a classic Hong Kong style curry, big chunks of beef brisket, and potato served alongside a ball of rice. I appreciated that the curry and rice were served separately, minimising mess and also the desire to eat all of the rice. The beef brisket was tasty, though in my opinion could have been cooked to a higher degree of tenderness. The flavour of the curry was good overall, with the sauce highly compatible with the supplied rice.
The crispy pork belly with red beancurd sauce ($13.80) was really quite nice. The exterior batter is extremely crispy and made with fermented red bean curd (jiang dou fu 酱豆腐), which imparts a slightly salty, slightly sweet, and quite funky taste to the pork, almost similar to marmite pork ribs. The meat encased in the super crispy batter was moist, tender and fatty pork which tasted great on first eating, especially with the red sauce that neither my partner nor I could pinpoint as sweet-and-sour or sweet-chilli. Unfortunately as with many deep fried dishes this dish was a victim of entropy, and as our meal progressed on the loss of heat to the environment dulled its shine.
VERDICT Overall I enjoyed, though I think charging $7 for a small bottle of milk tea is a bit absurd.