We visited A Man and His Monkey on an extra-ordinary windy and cold day in June. Though allegedly outside of the peak COVID-19 season now two and a half years down the track, I made the decision to forgo the warmth of the claustrophobically packed café interior and sit us al fresco next to a non-functional gas heater instead. Some would later call this a mistake, but I would argue that the real mistake was that same person not bringing her own jacket and taking mine instead.
I really enjoyed this grilled salmon salad ($18.50), which truly exceeded all expectations and was exactly what my mouth needed at the time. The salad was a symphony of freshness, primarily composed of the flavourful herby green plants mint, parsley, coriander, spring onion, and a small amount of dill. There was no boring, garden-variety iceberg lettuce in sight, and as such each single leaf provided its own unique flavour. The grilled salmon was able to retain its presence despite being pulled into flakes, with just enough spread out throughout the greenery to exert a umami and fatty mouthfeel. The dried cranberries, another master stroke, provided a textural as well sweet tasting reprieve from the green in just enough quantity, and just when you thought the freshness might get too overbearing the bed of crème fraîche would swoop in with a save.
The poached egg, a $3 addon which I didn’t realise wasn’t part of the salad until re-reading the menu just now, was also excellent.
The men and monkeys of this café are masters of ratio, and all elements of this dish were in the right amounts in perfect harmony. There’s literally nothing that I could imagine that could have made this salad better, except maybe if I had had my jacket back.
Though I loved the salmon salad I didn’t really like the hummushuka with slow cooked lamb ($28). Not being the biggest fan of of shaks to begin with, this particular shakshuka appealed to me even less than normal, with a tomato sauce that was sweeter than usual, a very standard bread, and unfortunately quite unconvincing lamb for the $8 supplement atop the $20 base price. The one redeeming factor of this shakshuka were the again excellent eggs. Having said this, my partner, who chose this item from the menu, did enjoy this dish.
A soy cap for $4.40 is refreshingly reasonably priced these days!
COMMENTS I don’t think I’ve ever stanned for a salad this much in my life. Make sure to make your partner bring her Eastern Suburbs standard-issue North Face down jacket or pay the price.
I think the most puzzling part of Puzzle Coffee was that they didn’t exhibit any shame in charging $8 for a very standard iced coffee. Of all of the expensive but non-special coffees we had on our recent trip to Melbourne, this was the most.
We actually visited Bench Coffee Co a few hours before we did their sister store Saint Dreux. Truly falling for the hype and packaging, we spent a great deal of money on some Korean-style dacquoise (their only food offering) and coffee.
The flavour options on offer are Raspberry, Black Sesame, Vanilla Sea Salt, Matcha, and Chocolate, each sandwiched between identical nutty biscuits ($7 each). We chose a box with one of everything, because I am stupid, but at least it meant that we got a nice presentation box to put in the recycling.
The dacquoise at Bench played like a cross between a macaroon and a macaron as imagined by me as a child when I didn’t know the difference. The pastry, identical between all flavours, was semi-sweet, airy and compressible with a strongly nutty almond-like quality. There was possibly too much pastry after the third dacquoise, and certainly by the fifth.
My favourite of the batch was the raspberry, which was fresh and light in comparison to for example the vanilla sea salt which I felt was too oily and buttery. One positive aspect of these desserts is that no flavour was too over-sweet, but this did unfortunately mean that the oiliness and butteriness was able to come more, and probably too much.
The coffee ($4.50 for a long black and $5.50 for a soy latte) was expensive but only normal in quality. I will however commend them on their bottomless complimentary sparkling water on tap, which they even let us fill our drink bottle with.
If there’s one thing I can surmise from my experiences at LT Cardigan’s two Melbourne stores Saint Dreux and Bench Coffee Co it’s that they have an extremely strong social media presence that is very much in excess of their actual food quality. While their food is by no means bad, one would think that, based on how much hype surrounds them online, that their cafes were unmissable Meccas for anyone venturing North of the Yarra. Ultimately what I think is that their marketing guy should get a raise.
Get one dacquoise for curiosity, maybe another if you enjoyed the first. Not the whole lot.
The first thing my partner said upon reviewing the choices on Aslan’s all-day menu was “I really appreciate you always looking for places for us to eat, and I know it can be hard to always pick winners”. Though technically Indonesian-inspired, the majority of items on Aslan’s menu are classic brunch fare. As pursuers of the fine art of Asian fusion cuisine we opted for the two Asianmost looking items available. It was with these two choices that I would, over the next half hour, make her eat a great meal and also her words.
The Hot Smoked Salmon Kedgeree ($16.50) was an aromatic dish of tumeric rice with slaw and salmon mixed in, topped with an egg and a trail of shichimi and served with a small pot of curry sauce. Despite her initial misgivings my partner came to enjoy this dish. She really liked that the slaw was mixed into the rice, providing a crisp and crunchy texture with each bite. The hot smoked salmon provided a good umami flavour without being too salty, and the lemon added an element of freshness to balance out the otherwise quite substantial meal. The little pot of curry came with a warning from our waitress – “be careful, it is very spicy” – though was very good and just the right amount of spice for us to add all of it in.
I have to admit that I enjoyed the multicoloured ?prawn crackers in the Beef Rendang Indonesian Style ($16.50) way more than I should have. They were just warm, freshly fried, crispy crackers filled with umami goodness – far more addictive than they had any right to be. The stated star of the show – the beef rendang, was very generously portioned, with a mixture of melty fatty bits as well as healthier leaner bits. The turmeric rice and salad, though similar to that in the kedgeree, was not as good owing to the discordant placement of its ingredients. We much preferred to have the salad mixed in with the rice. There was adequate sauce for all of the rice, salad, beef, and crackers.
Our soy cappuccino came with an apology – soy is hard to work with to make latte art, though this wouldn’t have even registered with us had it not been mentioned. ASLAN prides itself on its specialty coffee, and their house blend as pretty alright.
VERDICT Though ASLAN’s St Peters menu is pretty light on original Asian fusion dishes, what they do have is pretty good, as well as pretty cheap. I’d recommend a visit if you’re in the area. Just look out for the giant lion’s head mural.
Kinx is an absolute gem of a cafe tucked away in the culinary wasteland of South West Sydney. Kinx’s creative Asian-fusion brunch menu exceeded all geographic expectations, and our visit instantly propelled Kinx to the top of our list of cafes we enjoy in Sydney.
The Pho Beef Ribs were the reason we drove half an hour to go to Kinx in the first place, and boy did they not disappoint. Our waiter suggested a half serve ($20) rather than a full serve, as the kitchen was running low on ribs and we hadn’t had the foresight of booking ahead for this magnetic weekend special. The beef ribs were extremely tender and were in the perfect sweet spot where they fell right off the bone but retained enough internal structure for a good mouthfeel. The pho marinade was true to specification, with a delicious herbal umami taste. The rice noodle cakes, lightly deep fried were absolutely delicious, crisp, and soaked up the saucy marinade well. My partner thought that they had a much more delicate flavour and mouthfeel than just plain old rice cakes, and thought that they emulated thin noodles very well. The small amount of salad with bean sprouts, pickles, chilli, coriander, and Thai Basil was fresh and delicious, cutting through the strong umami flavours of the meat. Overall an excellent dish that I hope all beef-eating readers of this blog can have the opportunity to try.
The All You Can Beef Rice Bowl ($16), was nice but very much overshadowed by the pho beef ribs. The rice bowl features a smoky soy rice, 63 degree egg, and a wagyu beef hamburg katsu patty in bulgogi sauce. Whilst I enjoyed the menchi katsu (the first I’ve found outside of Japan), I thought that the smoked flavour of the rice was a bit too strong, and not to my taste. The 63 degree egg was excellent as always, and the bulgogi sauce was a good pairing for the patty, but neither of us ended up keen enough to finish the rice on account of its smokiness.
The Mama’s Siu Mai was essentially vietnamese pork meatballs in a tomato based sauce, served with bread – a Vietnamese spin on what you would often find on the menu of an Italian restaurant. The meatballs were yummy, as was the sauce and bread, though I think if I’m being honest we could’ve done with only one of this dish or the smoked beef bowl. My partner also wanted to get chips, and I’m glad I said no.
We also rolled for a wild card on the expensive but delicious Taro Coffee ($8). It is a very thick iced drink, of mostly taro with a hint of coffee mixed in, topped with some mixed cereals. It is a special and different experience, and quite good to boot. Sweet but not too sweet, kind of like the taro milk tea of your childhood but all grown up.
The regular coffee is regular.
SECOND VISIT We spaced out our second visit to around twelve months after our first, taking advantage of their seasonally updated menu as well as a chance to try their weekend special.
The weekend special was the Braised Beef Cheeks ($23) in bio kho sauce with potato puree, baked onion, charred enoki, and scallion oil. This was a surprisingly large dish for the price, which we ultimately found we could not finish. The beef cheek was incredibly tender, and melted in the mouth without much need for chewing. The potato mash was rich and smooth, made in a French style. The sauce and the onions imparted a milder taste to this dish, which started off welcoming but towards the end became all a bit samey. I think that ultimately with such a large volume of food in a dish it can help to incorporate a few more flavours, and while we started eating these cheeks with enjoyment we just couldn’t finish it in the end.
Though the braised beef cheeks were a fumble in sameness, the Pork-E Pot ($21.50) was an absolute masterclass in variety. Arriving in three separate bowls in a wooden tray, each component of this meal had a refreshing and delicious uniqueness to it.
The claypot braised pork belly was sweet, rich and herby, with a melted egg tossed in for good measure.
The pickles, herb, and beansprout salad was extremely fresh and an excellent foil for the richer claypot pork and rice dishes, and the ginger and shallot atop the bowl of sticky rice was just a divine use of one of the best condiments from Chinese cooking., with these little buttery but crunchy bits of likely fried lard that just made the whole thing come together.
I just can’t say enough good things about this dish, and I hope that anyone reading this can find their way to Kinx to try it before it leaves their menu.
The girlfriend, now fiancée, enjoyed a very good soy matcha latte, with a small warning from our waitress that it was not very sweet and that we may not like it without sugar. We found the sweetness level perfect however with soy milk.
INTERIM THOUGHTS AFTER TWO VISITS Wow. What a wonderful place. You owe it to yourself to pay them a visit once the southwest is liberated.
THIRD VISIT (Dinner)
We had the opportunity to have dinner at Kinx just as they started to field their dinner menu in August 2022, and thoroughly enjoyed everything they had.
The charsiu pork jowl skewer (3 for $18) with apple slaw was quite good. The fatty meat was soft and melted easily in the mouth, and though jowl is fattier than the leaner cuts of pork used in traditional char siu the fattiness was not at all overpowering. The marinade was again sweeter than your stock standard Chinese char siu but with an excellent charcoally smokiness which was evidence of excellent grilling. The apple slaw was crisp, fresh-tasting, and a good complement to the fatty pork.
The pulled pork & wagyu brisket pad kee mao ($26) with 63 degree egg, gailan, basil, and bean sprouts was excellent. There was a great sense of wok-hei, plentiful vegetables and tender and flavourful meat, though I must admit the fact that there were two different animals in this was lost on me during eating. The use of cheung fan (肠粉), rice noodle rolls (like the things you would fill with prawns or pork for steaming at yum cha) rather than your standard rice noodles was excellent, as these are much softer and more delicate, easily chewed and great for soaking up the chilli and basil flavours. I don’t understand why chángfěn isn’t used more for Thai noodle dishes. It’s not traditional, but it’s absolutely amazing. Kinx’s pad kee mao is my all time favourite pad kee mao, and by extension my all time favourite Thai style stir fried noodle.
My partner was a big fan of the ox tongue taco ($10 each) with salsa verde, pickled onion, herbs, and khao khua. She really enjoyed the “flavours” of it, though she couldn’t quite elaborate on why. Possibly it was the mixture of herbs and avocado that did it for her. The meat had a bit of texture to it as ox tongue is meant to, and it was overall a pleasing dish, though not extremely different like the last ox tongue taco we had at Cafe Paci. I liked the thoughtfulness of providing each taco with two tortillas, though I realised too late that the intention was probably so that each taco would turn into two tacos after consumption and loss of the original taco’s fillings onto the second one.
Finally, the Smoked and Fried Quail with Lime Pepper Dipping Sauce ($25). Not every part of every meal is always amazing, and their nightly special, the smoked and fried quail, was certainly not. Chicken and duck are by far my favourite fowls, and while I like to eat quail eggs, quail as a bird meat is not something that I really go for. That was not the problem with it. What I didn’t like about this was the completely unexpected and weird batter, which was not at all hinted at in the photo (see below). I guess that it makes sense that smoked and fried bird would have a bit of batter on it, but this pale thin batter with a smokiness that tickled the same neurons as staleness just really didn’t do it for me. I really wish that the batter hadn’t been a part of it, as the lime and pepper dipping sauce was actually really tasty, and would’ve gone well with just a regular bird. Not even peeling off the batter could make me feel better about this, and so we ended up having like one and a half pieces each and leaving the majority of the plate untouched. We didn’t even take it home. I could not see a future in which I wanted to eat it.
Compare expectations vs reality. My partner tried to tell them about our disappointment at the quail but she dropped her spaghetti in the worst possible way, and failed to use a compliment sandwich. I fear that my partner might have been a bit rude and I really hope they let us back. We loved every other component of our meal, and Kinx remains one of my top cafes and restaurants in all of Sydney. This quail does not make me want to go back any less, and I will continue to go back and recommend them to anyone who reads this blog.