Categories
American

SoCo Kitchen – Wollongong NSW Restaurant Review

Hearing-to-eating time at this restaurant was around 18 months, waylaid by COVID-19 closures, my partner finishing up in Wollongong and moving back to Sydney, and then finally facilitated by a trip down the South Coast to Shoalhaven for my work.

These Buffalo chicky nuggz ($13) were excellent. More like actual pieces of fried chicken than nuggets, these are made of proper pieces of chicken breast rather than mystery mincemeat. The pieces were big, juicy and moist on the inside, with a pleasantly sour and not too spicy buffalo basting on the outside. The side of blue cheese dressing that it came with was alright, though didn’t have such a strong blue cheese taste, really more of a creamy thing. Overall these were huge, however, and excellent. They triggered me to fry my own chicken at home whilst writing this review.

The Cuban pork bites ($12) were the first dish that I had heard about from SoCo, and the actual reason that I had been keen to visit. Though I had been keen, I ultimately didn’t love them. I found them a bit dry yet oily, and not so tasty. While the bowl looks small, the fact that it is full of pork belly means that it is actually quite a substantial entree. If you can only choose one though I’d strongly favour the Buffalo chicky nuggz instead.

I’d never had or even seen gumbo on a menu before, and so we had to get the SoCo Gumbo ($31 including $6 for prawns) to cross that experience off the bucket list. It was a rich and dark stew with a bit of beery bitterness, filled with vegetables, chicken thigh, house-smoked andouille (pork sausage), and a few big prawns. It was really ok, a good experience to have had, but not mindblowing in a way that I would think that I’d eat it all the time. My partner did surprisingly enjoy the andouille, which was a bit unexpected for a woman who does not usually eat parts of the animal that are not muscle.

The gumbo was served with two pieces of cornbread that deserve their own mention. Incredibly heavy, rich, and reasonably sweet these drenched in oil breads were more of a deep fried dessert than a carb in the regular sense. Very tasty, but definitely only in moderation. I can definitely see myself dying an early cardiovascular death if I were to keep eating these.

I thought this bathroom had quite a witchy vibe. My partner didn’t agree.

Overall not bad, pretty-good, worth a stop-by. I wanted some burgers but we just couldn’t eat any more. There really aren’t that many places to get Gumbo and other specifically Southern dishes in NSW and I think they have carved out their niche well. Do note that the restaurant is tiny, so if you’re set on eating here it’s best to call ahead.

SoCo Kitchen & Bar Wollongong
Shop 4/63-65 Crown St, Wollongong NSW 2500
0447 556 816

Categories
Malaysian

Malaysia Small Chilli – Campsie NSW Restaurant Review

My partner was HIGHLY DOUBTFUL that there’d be any possibility of good Asian food in Campsie. We’d have to go to Burwood, she said, for anything yummy. Boy was she wrong.

The Stir-Fried Pork Belly with Salted Fish on Hot Plate ($23.90) was a very tasty dish that also comes as a cheaper and smaller combination with rice, which we foolishly chose to have its own. It had good but strong salty flavours, though probably not something I’d want again. I’m more of a red braised pork belly fan than a sliced pork belly fan.

The House Chilli Chicken Nasi Lemak ($18.90) was excellent. I must be honest that with my limited understanding of Malaysian food I did not know that this was essentially going to be just fried chicken with condiments. This was a huge serving of fried chicken, with wonderfully umami rich chilli sauce, served with rice seasoned with little anchovies and peanuts. Everything about this dish was so fragrant and delicious that it’s clear why this is one of Malaysia Small Chilli Restaurant’s signature dishes.

Not knowing that the house chilli chicken nasi lemak was essentially fried chicken, we also ordered the Chicken Wings with Shrimp Paste ($14). No one stopped us. I wish they had. There is less chicken than the Nasi Lemak, with less fun taste. Definitely not a double up we needed, and not even a double up we finished.

They didn’t ask how much sugar we wanted in our Iced Teh Tarik (Malaysian Iced Tea – $4.50). It was not too sweet, just as it should be. Excellent.

OTHER COMMENTS
We had a good meal in Campsie, and hopefully opened my partner’s eyes to eating out in our suburb a little more, without having to travel elsewhere. I’d come back, possibly for their curry chicken, which my Malaysian friend BCSY has recommended.

UPDATE, VISIT 2

I wanted Malaysian food again, but was too shy to go back to neighbouring Ipoh Dynasty for the third time in a week.

This Hainan Chicken Rice ($17.90) was actually very good, perhaps the best I’ve had in recent memory. I loved how fragrant and oily the rice was, it being more delicious and more of the focus of the dish than the chicken itself. I’d definitely get this again from here.

The curry chicken signature laksa ($17.90) was ordered following my friend’s recommendation to try their curry chicken but with us not willing to order a full dish of just chicken itself without any roti available on the menu. This laksa was really pretty good, with a huge serving size, a rich creamy broth, and a really large amount of chicken that we struggled to finish, all at a good price. It even had pieces of potato in it. How crazy. Two carbs in one.

Malaysia Small Chilli Restaurant Campsie
148 Beamish St, Campsie NSW 2194
(02) 8068 2433

Categories
Asian Fusion Fine Dining Indonesian Vietnamese

Sunda – Melbourne VIC Restaurant Review

I don’t know why it’s taken me 9 months to write this review. I don’t have any particularly good excuses, apart from the fact that we had eaten at so many places on our short trip to Melbourne that I had felt a little bit burnt out by all the reviewing, leaving it up to now, when I’ve run out of other things to procrastinate on, to do.

As it’s been nine months, this should not be considered a particularly comprehensive, or even useful piece of writing. It’s more just a few thoughts that I still remember pieced together from notes I jotted down during the meal, and some pictures to prove to myself in later years that I did indeed eat here on the 19th of April 2022.

We started the night with a number of snacks. Featured in the foreground here is oyster, coconut curry vinaigrette, shallot, pepperleaf, prepositions are of course not needed in high end cuisine. I enjoyed this deliciously creamy oyster, with its hint of curry flavouring. One of many creamy oysters we had that trip.

The next snack to discuss is this cracker of carrot, macadamia satay, sunflower, kakadu plum, with a good crispiness and a flavour that I think reminded us of tom yum, unless that was about the oysters.

The caramelised trout, green mango, muntries, prawn cracker was strongly reminiscent of the classic Chinese canned fish known as fried dace with black beans, commonly made by Nanmen Bridge company and sold in a yellow and red oval tin.

The ‘otak otak’, spanner crab curry, finger lime, rice crisp was yummy, and even though there was plenty of curry it was still easy to appreciate the sweetness and crabbiness of the crab.

The buttermilk roti, Sunda’s vegemite curry, a lauded secret item that you have to know about to order as a $20 supplement really wasn’t all that. The roti was very cripsy but hyper oily, but the flavour of the vegemite was at least pretty mild. We were advised that this was a must-not-miss at Sunda, but really I think you can miss it relatively safely. Not game changing.

This heirloom tomato, white sesame, davidson plum, pomelo salad was very fresh, so much so that I jotted down at the time “So fresh, hits of 2021” (I don’t know why specifically 2021, it was 2022 when I had this meal). There was a bit of a yellow curry-like (we found later that it was the white sesame curry paste) paste at the bottom of the tomatoes that had a night sweet and lightly spicy flavour., and some mouthfuls were a bit like white sugar on tomato, a common Northern Chinese snack dish.

The pork belly, rainforest tamarind, rhubarb, daikon radish was a pretty good entree. The meat was extremely tender, with the meat bits having great mouthfeel but unfortunately with too great a fat to lean pork ratio. The meat, “marinated with rainforest tamarind, coconut sugar and pomegranate molasses” as per Khanh Nguyen’s social media was very tangy, and in fact a bit too tangy for us. The lightly pickled daikon radish sheet, thin to the point of translucency, brought the tang back down a notch into mild enjoyability with a hint of sweetness.

The less good of our two mains was the bannockburn chicken, thai sausage, gai lan, bush apple. The gai lan was pretty good, cooked to a normal degree that you might find in any Chinese restaurant, not extraordinarily special. The chicken wrapped within it was moist and tender, delivered over the course of four or five separate slices, enough volume we thought. The Thai sausage had much ginger flavour. The bush apple went unnoticed. This was not an unreasonable main, but paled in comparison to our other choice.

Though people sing praises about their vegemite roti, I think Sunda’s true star dish is their koshihikari congee in a burnt onion broth with pickled cauliflower, confit egg yolk and paperbark oil. I’ve never enjoyed a congee as much in my entire life. This was such a warm and wholesome bowl, with a high degree of creaminess, soft delicate rice grains, and an almost potato mash-like soupy quality. The texture of the carbohydrate was creamy and the taste was mild, but the pool of broth surrounding it was absurd in its complex mix of sweet, salty, and sour flavours. The crispiness of the mushroom, cauliflower, and greens added great textural variation, whilst the opulent slow egg brought it all together with a third. Such a standout.

The gem lettuce, blood lime, shallot, nasturtium salad was truly an experience in whatever. Some of the leaves were a bit better, we did not enjoy. Unlike lilies, the nasturtium appear to be non-toxic to cats. Would you pay for your kitty to have dialysis?

I think this is the coconut sorbet with pineapple and kaffir lime granita, coconut jelly, desert lime jam, coconut yoghurt and sprinkled with candied green peppercorns. I didn’t love it – I think the pineapple was too pineapple for me.

The our take on pavlova, lychee, pandan, pepperberry was my preferred dessert, my more enjoyed part being the pepperberry ice cream. I am also fond of the Van Diemens Land Pepperberry & Leatherwood Honey ice cream that is available in tubs from some supermarkets though, and I did not think restaurant this was particularly superior. Neither of these two desserts really stood out.

We finished with petit fours, lamington pandan caneles with davidson plum. I am proud to announce that in the time between eating at Sunda and writing this review I now know how to pronounce “canelé” after being schooled by a guy at a bakery in Dulwich Hill NSW.

Quick verdict: We paid $130pp excluding drinks but including the vegemite roti, and I think it would be easy to recommend going back. We already had accommodation, and it would’ve been annoying to move between hotels, but when we ate at Sunda there was a promotion where you could book a night in hotel together with your meal for an extremely cheap price. Might be worth doing for Melbourne suburbanites looking for a nice South-East Asian fusion dinner.

Sunda Dining
18 Punch Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9654 8190

Categories
Japanese

That Katsu Guy – Manly Vale NSW Restaurant Review

The first thing that I noticed on my trip to That Katsu Guy’s market stall at Wentworth Point two weekends ago was that, contrary to my expectations, That Katsu Guy wasn’t one Japanese guy cooking katsu. It was actually just a local Aussie guy and his wife, and while in most situations that would normally be a red flag, it was absolutely not a problem in this circumstance. Reid and Prema Green cook up absolutely delicious, authentic, and innovative Japanese dishes from within the confines of a moveable market stall, so good that they have attracted the nod from celebrated local Japanese chefs like Yuta Nakamura of Gold Class Daruma.

Veteran readers of this blog will know that I went through a big bacon and egg roll phase back in 2020, and That Katsu Guy’s breakfast sando ($11) can kick it with the best. Sandwiched between two layers of soft shokupan is a panko-coated and deep fried combination of a soft and gooey egg, cheese, and bacon. This katsu “patty” is then sauced with a balanced amount of a combination of tonkatsu sauce and mayonnaise and served to the hungry customer. Katsu bacon and egg is not something I’ve had before, and I think is a good fusion of Western and Japanese cuisines.

Also part of our lunch was this Kakuni Pork Belly Kushikatsu ($8), a braised pork belly that was coated in panko and deep fried and skewered. The meat had a great melt-in-the-mouth quality, and again saucing was used conservatively and appropriately. Great.

COMMENTS
My only regret is not having more of their food, but having waited quite a while for the first set of food in the midday sun I didn’t feel like going for a second round. Next time.

That Katsu Guy
C15/1 Campbell Parade, Manly Vale NSW 2093
0405 092 872

And various market stalls across Sydney

Categories
American

BlackBear BBQ – Wetherill Park & Blacktown NSW Restaurant Review

I’ve enjoyed Black Bear BBQ ever since my first visit during internship; back whilst I was living and working in the Deep West. Their little restaurant in Blacktown’s industrial district was my first introduction to Texas-style BBQ, and even though it took a few attempts to try and go (their opening hours were very strange at the time) I finally managed.

My first bearlesque adventure in 2018 was with their Hungry Bear Breakfast Box, featuring big slabs of their beef brisket, pork belly, a hot link, two sunny side up eggs, and some baked beans. My memory fails me (it’s been three years), so enjoy the pretty picture instead. This item is no longer available on their menu.

I recently had the opportunity to enjoy a quick takeaway meal just as the Delta variant of COVID-19 struck Sydney, which is almost funny looking back at it and writing this in the early days of the Omicron strain.

These tater tots ($6) started off pretty strongly. Freshly fried and seasoned with parmesan and rosemary salt, each little tot came with a nice crunch and a warm centre. Unfortunately, as is often the case with deep fried starchy and cheesy foods, as these tots cooled down they started to taste a little bitter. Unavoidable.

The O.G Burger ($14), not to be confused with an O&G Burger, was pretty good. The beef brisket patty was moist with a good mouthfeel, while the salad added a good degree of freshness to balance out the fatty patty and associated cheese. It’s a good thing that this burger is essentially the same as the cheeseburger but with extra salad, as any other differences would have meant us ordering both.

The Hungry Bear Box ($32) is designed to satisfy not only a hungry, but also a peckish* black bear. While you can order Black Bear BBQ’s boxes with a choice of either beef brisket or pork belly for a slightly lower price, truly hungry bears are able to experience a tasting of both, along with a jalapeno and cheese hot link (sausage), some potato crsps, pickles, and coleslaw. Both the pork and beef were tender and juicy, though both my partner and I preferred the brisket over the pork. The hot link is quite tasty and nice, and at $4 a pop are great as a stand-alone or add-on order.

COMMENTS
Black Bear BBQ is a true friend to bearkind. I’d recommend every (non-vegetarian) bear that every there was to gather here.

I have been informed that the word peckish does not describe a bear who wants a little bit of everything, merely a bear who is a little hungry but not fully hungry. I refuse to look this up, and what I don’t know can’t hurt me.

Black Bear BBQ Blacktown
11/27 Forge St, Blacktown NSW 2148
(02) 9672 3353

Black Bear BBQ Wetherill Park
93-97 Newton Rd, Wetherill Park NSW 2164
(02) 9756 1117