My nightly drive home from work is punctuated by a number of smells, and a recent addition to this olfactory journey is that of Smoky Cravings, a relatively new Filipino BBQ joint in the vicinity of Mcdonald’s Lakemba (where we parked). Though we normally look at distaste at people who do not order the culturally significant dishes at ethnic restaurants and only order what’s easy and safe-feeling, this was me this time. I just wasn’t in the mood for any kind of intestine. I’ve had them, and just don’t generally enjoy them and felt no need to again subject myself to them.
Instead, I went with some safe options, like these battered and deep fried quail eggs (kwek kwek – $5), which were not super special, but came out quickly and had a great batter for us to munch on whilst awaiting the rest of our food.
As far as grilled meat went, we had the Pork BBQ skewer, Chicken BBQ skewer, BBQ Chicken Wings, Adidas, and BBQ Lamb Cutlets. The skewers were $3.50 each, whilst the lamb cutlet was $5.
Most of their food actually had the same sweet and salty flavour from the basting, which was quite enjoyable and not too unfamiliar tasting. The chicken BBQ skewer was a bit more substantial than the pork in terms of size, but both were quite juicy and flavourful. The BBQ Chicken Wing was quite large, consisting of both a drumstick and the wing in a three-part type deal, and made for good value, probably the best of the bunch, especially with its semi-crispy skin. The adidas (chicken feet) came as two feet on a skewer, perfect for sharing with your partner or nursing colleague from the local hospital a few minutes down the road. The lamb cutlet was my least favourite of the bunch, with a different flavour that I no longer remember. I only remember that I didn’t like it.
The chicken inasal ($12) was really big and juicy and perfectly marinated and grilled. It was one of the best things we ate, good value, and really well cooked. Juicier and moister than other forms of BBQ chicken in the local area (dominated by Middle Eastern-style charcoal chicken), very worth a go.
My partner liked the buko pandan ($5). It was not too sweet. Very viscous, our first ever with nothing else to compare it to.
OVERALL Smoky Cravings was a source of enjoyment. I haven’t always loved every Filipino restaurant that I’ve tried, but I’m glad that my nose led me to this one. The staff tried to talk to me in Tagalog, but despite deep workplace immersion neither my partner nor I have been able to pick up anything of note.
Anyone who’s ever had to work a roster that transitions directly from days to nights knows that the 24-hour period between your last day and your first night is a difficult time to manage. This strange twilight zone, where you’re exhausted from work but trying your hardest to stay awake so that you can get restful sleep in the daytime is probably a contributor to many peoples’ metabolic disorders, including my own.
On occasion I try to optimise my use of this 24-hour period off work by fitting in a meal after I finish work at 9PM. Diem Hen is one of those restaurants a mere 15 minutes from my work that opens until 12 midnight every night of the week, providing a good and valuable service for night owls and shift workers.
Whilst I’m a big fan of pho, I do still try my best to try new and exciting Vietnamese foods like the Bò Né Đặc Biệt (Vietnamese Steak & Egg – $15). My friend CV often gets a text message with a photo of my meal and accompanied by a “how do I eat this?”, and it was on her advice that I dipped the warm, crusty bread into the French oniony sauce and began my journey. I will review each component of this dish separately.
To begin, I think the bread was particularly good. It was freshly toasted, warm and crusty. This is quite special, especially given that Diem Hen is a restaurant, not a bakery. The bread within the crust was a little bit denser than I find in most Vietnamese bakery baguettes, though perhaps this was to improve its ability to soak up the Bo Ne sauces.
The egg in the Bo Ne was very runny and soft, and mixed with the sauce was a much more pleasant eating experience than any other shakshuka (essentially another egg in sauce in cast iron dish) I’ve ever had. Great with the bread. I later overheard some other guys asking for extra eggs for a different dish, and immediately regretted not asking for some extra eggs myself.
The beef was of the Bo Ne was a sliced steak cooked medium and while its cut was a mystery the meat was really quite tender. The Xiu Mai had a good light taste and offered a pleasant interplay of different internal textures. The small sausage had supermarket kransky energy, but not all things can be perfect. All in all this was a good dish, though a little bit on the salty side for all you hypertensives out there.
The Cánh Gà Rang Mắm Nhĩ(Fried Chicken Wings with Special Fish Sauce – $12) was chosen as a bit of a safe bet in the setting of some other unknowns, but ultimately was a bit of a let down. My main issues with them was that they were quite dry and non-crispy, even though they were fried. They didn’t have a strong taste either, despite special fish sauce being advertised as a main component of the dish. The pictured salad I’m actually not sure if it is part of the wing dish or part of the Bò Né. They served the wings with the bread and the Bò Né with the salad, but I suspect that it was meant to be the other way around. Regardless, the salad was actually pretty tangy and tasty.
COMMENTS Will I come back? Most definitely
Diem Hen 205-207 Canley Vale Rd, Canley Heights NSW 2166 (02) 9728 4430
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.
Chicko’s is a Wollongong icon. It is an institution, forged through its prime position near the beach and the local stadium, and its reputation for consistent fast food and good economy. While knowledge of the restaurant appears to be ubiquitous within Illawarra, I approach Chicko’s from the perspective of an outsider, free from the shackles of local culture and custom.
The Portuguese Wing Pieces (10 for $7.90) were a little on the dry side, with a predominantly salty flavour and not much or really any perceptible spice to explain the Portuguese moniker.
The medium chips ($6.65) were pretty fresh and crunchy. I liked the option to add salt and vinegar for free, and while I only optioned for two lots of this addition I know now I should’ve added as much as the computer ordering system would let me.
The small gravy($3.65) was alright. Pretty good with chips. A bit darker and denser than what you get from the Colonel. There is currently some spilled in a corner at the back of my fridge.
The large scallopini burger ($11.45 with a can of drink) really was large. Pictured here alongside it is my hand. I wear size 8 gloves. It’s really a huge bread roll with two crumbed chicken schnitzels inside side by side, topped with a mushroom sauce. I must admit that I got bored of the bread after chomping through this monstrosity, and discarded the bottom (unsauced) half bun.
Wow, a single piece of fish for $2.85. Pretty good!
Chicko’s Fried Chicken ($13.60 for 5 pieces) kind of amounts of a whole fried bird. The pieces were incredibly varied in terms of size, but all shared the common characteristic of being incredibly juicy and moist, even the half-breast piece. My partner, a fried chicken fanatic, is a fan.
The roast pork meal ($14.99) with crumbed roast potato, peas and gravy, was a tasty and varied pub-style meal. I enjoyed the roast pork, which was moist but with its own layer of crispy skin, though my partner, a lover of potato, didn’t have such strong feelings about this particular potato.
CONS I cannot leave a review for the Greek salad that I paid for as we didn’t receive it.
OVERALL I think the real headline of this story should be that we spent very little money between the two of us for enough food to feed four people. Service was reasonably quick, and while there is no internal seating there is plenty of beach to go around. I can definitely see the appeal for Wollongong locals, but taking into account the vast amounts of deep frying going on and my general desire to live past forty I will probably have to never go back.
Opening up a restaurant in close proximity to other restaurants of a similar theme can be a bit of a double-edge sword. While you may very well attract patrons of your neighbouring restaurants for their next meal in the area, you will also invariably invite comparisons between you and the three other modern-ish Asian diners with whom you are lined up with in a row. This is a comparison that Nanyang Malaya Cafe handles well.
We started with the chicken wings (6 for $10). I thought that I had gotten my photo in before my partner could steal one, but this photo is clearly evidence to the contrary. These were pretty good, marinated in a spicy curry-like marinade and coated in a crispy light starch batter (which contrasts with the breading used in most Western styles of fried chicken). The meat beneath the batter was suitably moist, though probably not at the 99th percentile of moistness as far as fried chickens go. The Terasi chilli sauce was a bit shrimpy but still enjoyed by my partner, which is a success in and of itself. The pickled vegetables were welcome but would not have been missed were they not present.
The Hainanese chicken ($21) was a pretty reasonable amount of food for the price, presented in a keto-friendly arrangement of just the good proteinaceous and vegetable bits without any chicken rice or soup (it is available also as a set for those who like the classics). The chicken had quite a mild flavour but was helped along by the solid ginger and chilli sauces, and I felt this was overall quite a good option.
The curry puffs (2 for $9) are a bit smaller than at Albee’s, less elaborate in their filling, but in no way worse overall. They came with a simple filling of potato, chicken, and curry, but with good flavour with an unexpected hint of star anise. The puff pastry was light and flaky, and this was ultimately quite a pleasurable puff.
The curry fish fillet ($26) came as a large pot of ling fillet cooked with vegetables (ocra – to my partner’s dismay, beans ,onions, and tomato) in a yellow curry. The use of ling as the protein was commendable as I’m sure they would’ve gotten away with a cheaper fish like basa, though the ling did exhibit a stronger (and welcome) texture which you wouldn’t otherwise get. The flavour of the curry was thoroughly enjoyable, if not really soaked up by the fish, and I think this dish would have been even better with some rice.
OVERALL THOUGHTS I enjoyed everything I ate at Nanyang Malaya Cafe, and had a much better time overall than when I ate at its neighbouring modern-Asian restaurant. I can recommend a visit.