Categories
Café

Ashfield Apothecary – Ashfield NSW Restaurant Review

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.

Ashfield Apothecary
19 Charlotte St, Ashfield NSW 2131
0423 495 012

Categories
Café Chinese

Hong Kong Bing Sutt – Burwood NSW Restaurant Review

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.

SECOND VISIT

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.

Hong Kong Bing Sutt
Shop 8/11-15 Deane St, Burwood NSW
(02) 8387 1820

Categories
Café Latin American

La Mamita’s – Wollongong NSW Restaurant Review

It is tough for me, as a cat lover, to walk past a cafe with two cats on its banner.

My first visit to La Mamita’s was on the thirteenth of October 2021, just two days after the state of New South Wales had started opening up businesses followed a prolonged COVID-19 related shutdown. I was the only customer in the cafe, an eerie experience as there were at least three or four staff there.

I had a pastrami sandwich ($10), an item that I had seen on their specials board many times before as I walked past to visit different Vietnamese bakeries. The pastrami sandwich was a large, oversided sandwich of toasted bread. The heat from the toasting did not quite transmit through to the fillings ,which included unmelted cheese (perhaps Swiss or similar), bulk pickles, ham, and pastrami. I say the pickles were bulk, as I’m pretty sure every square centimetre of this toasted sandwich had a corresponding square centimetre of pickle – quite a nice and tangy surprise, as some sandwich makers are known to be miserly with their pickles. It was a shame that the cheese was not very melted, as I think melted or otherwise differently arranged cheese may have enhanced the experience. Though this sandwich was not the most gourmet sandwich around, I think ultimately for $10 it did its job.

La Mamita’s Cafe
2B/280 Crown St, Wollongong NSW 2500
(02) 4210 8995

Categories
Bakery Café

Hyper Hyper and Punch the Ploughman – Nowra NSW Restaurant Review

This little cafe just opened up in the Hyper Hyper space in Nowra and I’m here for it. There’s plenty of outdoor seating, good vibes, really artisan food, and good tunes.

I had their Lemon Citrus and Strawberry Tart ($6) on my first visit, with a coffee from next door after a night shift and before my drive back to Sydney. It was really pretty good. Eggy, like a portuguese tart, with a good buttery pastry and a lightly tart component from the strawberry. The best part of all was that it was not too sweet, just the right amount of sweet and sour for a little treat.

This is only an initial impression – more to come as I go back and back. They’re only in their first days now, but I think they’re on their way to becoming a Nowra institution.

SUBSEQUENT VISITS

The Maple Bacon Tart ($8) with tomato, caramelised onion, bab spinach, parmesan, and egg was delicious. It was extremely quiche like but with a puff pastry rather than shortcrust, with a deliciously umami mixture of fillings, as well as a great and highly complex, mildly sweet optional chutney on top. At $8 this was quite well sized and punched above its pricing in terms of flavour and fulfillment. I later brought one of these to my friend and colleague DTC. He appeared to enjoy it.

The Drifter Toastie ($12) with roast beef, potato rosti,beetroot relish, horseradish mayo, Jarlsberg, cheddar, baby spinach and caramelised onion was also a treat. One of the best sandwiches, toasted or untoasted, that I’ve had in a while, each bite of Punch the Ploughman’s drifter was full of flavour and texture. The meat had a tinge of smoke and charcoal grill flavour to it, and the serving of Jarlsberg was very generous. My eating (and romantic) partner especially loved the texture and flavour added by the potato rosti, and yet again this sandwich is a star showing of Nowra’s finest.

Baked on site, this Rhubarb Tart ($6) was not very different to the strawberry tart above, though I think a little sweeter and less tarty given the different fruit.

The Handkerchief Treat ($4), also baked on site, is a delicious mix between a cookie and a cupcake, with a slightly crispy exterior crust and a richly buttery interior. Flavoured with spiced pear syrup, this little treat is not too sweet, reminiscent of nothing in particular from Cafe Cre Asion expect for maybe in its high quality.

The Blueberry Danish, another in-house creation (they get some of their other stuff from Brickfields, but I guess it’s really only worth writing about the stuff they bake on site), was not bad, but probably not as good as some of their other offerings. The pastry of this was quite dense and bready, and I found the filling of lemon curd and blueberry to be a bit sweeter than I’d like.

I’m not usually one for smashed avocado ($12) as I feel like there are often more interesting options available, but after ripping through most of Punch the Ploughman’s menu in our first few visits there was not much left uneaten. I shouldn’t have discounted their avo offering so easily – this particular smashed avo was quite delightful, with a bed of crispy grilled sourdough and a sprinkling of hemp seeds, tomato salsa and pomegranate. This dish, in two easily shareable pieces, exhibited an extremely high degree of freshness and would easily sell for 50% more at any Sydney cafe.

The Brekky Burrito ($15) with mildly-local South Coast Tilba Jersey milk haloumi (though to be honest, Tilba is further from Nowra than Nowra is from Sydney), dukkah scrambled eggs, tomato salsa, avocado, percorino and sriracha had amazing and unexpected kebab energy. Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good kebab, and the overall Middle-Easternness of this burrito (wrapped in a pita, not tortilla) elevated this above every other brekky burrito I’ve had to date.

A rare misstep for Punch the Ploughman is their Brekky Burger ($14), with bacon, scrambled egg, aioli and chilli jam, and avocado on Turkish bread. Though I’m a big fan of the brekky burrito, I had two areas of complaint for this burger, which appears intermittently on their specials board. The first is the bacon, which was in my opinion a bit harder than I would’ve liked. There is always a fine line between crispy and hard, and I didn’t feel like they walked on the right side of that tightrope. My second point of criticism would be about the chilli jam. I understand that it’s trying to be different from all the other bacon and egg offerings in town, but it was a flavour combination that personally did not tickle my pickle. Get the burrito instead. Maybe you can ask them to add bacon to it. I don’t know. I’d be too shy to.

Another item off the specials menu, another item I was less keen on is the Quiche of the Day with salad ($14). You can tell that by this point I’ve already eaten everything I actually want from them. Starting with the positives, the salad was quite good, with the surprise showing of a little bit of smashed avocado and feta. The quiche, however, did not live up to my expectations. It’s vegetarianess wasn’t stated on the specials board, and although I didn’t ask I don’t think that’s necessarily a given for all quiches. It was very pumpkin forward, and whilst I did like the egg and feta I felt that overall it was lesser than their much better maple bacon tart, which is extremely quiche-like in and of itself. I also felt that the special sauce from the maple bacon tart would’ve gone a long way to adding some more flavour to this, but I say that at risk of sounding like I should’ve just ordered the tart from the start. This quiche might be good for someone who is prohibited from having meat or bacon and who wouldn’t miss that extra dimension of umami that a good cured meat provides, but for the non-dietarily-restricted out there there’s definitely a better option already on the menu.

The Journeyman Toastie ($12), the second of their three toasties (the other is vegetarian and I have no plans to try it given my other experiences with their vegetarian food), both in order of me trying it as well as in my enjoyment. This particular toastie consisted of ham, tomato apple chutney, Jarslberg, cheddar, and a whole load of baby spinach. Though it was lesser than the Drifter, I found myself enjoying the synergy between the saltiness of the deceptively thick ham, the sourness of the pickle, and the BBQ-sauce-like tomato apple chutney. The intermingling of flavours was different and new, but also not crazy like that of the brekky burger. A very safe and good choice, though when I brought my colleague DTC a surprise toastie for lunch I got him the Drifter instead.

This vanilla custard tart ($5), baked in-house, was pretty good. It was substantially sized, with a soft and creamy and not-too-sweet filling with the occasional black dot of goodness. The pastry was also soft (sadly), which I did not like as much as the Portuguese tart at Hyper Hyper and supplied by The Portuguese Corner. It came room-temperature, and though I wanted to take it home and heat it up in the oven to see if it would make it any better, it did not survive the 850 metre drive home before it was eaten. There was a red traffic light along the way to blame for that.

This is an in-house raspberry muffin ($5), which was pretty good, with softness, sweetness, and some white custard-cream like substance baked in.

The 14th item I tried at Punch the Ploughman was this chocolate chai cake with strawberries, vanilla cream, and walnuts. My partner had actually saved me some of hers from her previous trip down to Nowra, but sadly one of our cats got to it before me. This cake was not too sweet, with an interesting chai presence and extreme moistness owing to the mountain of cream. The cake pieces were chocolately with a brownie like consistency, which was different. Not bad, but too much for one human.

I finally managed to try the steak and ale pie ($8) at Punch the Ploughman on my final morning in Nowra, after being in town for the last three months. Perhaps the pie was better as a concept rather than a reality, and perhaps I had hyped it up in my mind too much before finally getting to eat it, but sadly it did not hit the spot, flavour-wise. The topping of their house chutney rather than the standard tomato sauce was a good move, but the flavour of mirepox, beef, and ale was exactly as it should have been, but I’m afraid just didn’t hit the salty spot that I was looking for that day. Despite this, I can say with certainty that the consistency and ingredient-packed nature of the filling was far superior to local pie-based competitor Earnest Arthur, whose pies I have found too strong in gravy and too low in solids (but more to my preference in terms of flavours).

This lumberjack hummingbird cake ($6), made by a customer, was not bad. Relatively moist, with a good apple-like flavour and interesting textural differences between the top layer and the body of the cake. I don’t know if it will be a regular thing.

OVERALL I’ve eaten most of their menu, and all but one item that I actually want to eat from Punch the Ploughman. Most of their stuff is great, though their meat pies elude me, as they come on at around 10:30 (after I get home from a night shift) and disappear a few hours after that (before I wake up after my final night shift and drive back to Sydney). What can you do?

(EDIT: See above, finally got the pie)

Both their sweet stuff and their savoury stuff is good, but I would avoid their vegetarian stuff in favour of their meated stuff for the non-vegetarians out there.

Punch the Ploughman
85 North St, Nowra NSW 2541

Categories
Fine Dining Modern Australian

Poly – Surry Hills NSW Restaurant Review

We ate at Poly to welcome my friend and colleague HZM into the warm embraces of the NSW public service.

The fried potato with salted egg yolk ($16), layered internally and topped with some chives was a bit of a cube-like hash brown. I think it’s generally well liked, and certainly my potatohead of a fiancé liked it, but it didn’t really do much for me. It was just salty and oily like every other fried potato dish out there.

This comté tart ($20) was small and expensive but kind of amazing. The pastry was good, but the filling was superb, rich and creamy flowing cheesy umami, though I think it was a bit less warmed-up than the online photos from secondary sources show it as.

The cannibal sandwich ($18) with mostly raw beef (presumably) and horseradish cream between buttery fried bread was excellent. I don’t know if this photo shows a quarter or half of the full serving, but either way the quantity you get is low, but the taste is high and you shouldn’t look past it if you’re an animal eater.

The grillda ($12), was very good. I didn’t love the gilda at Continental Deli, but this skewer of anchovy, tuna, olive, and pickled chilli was a completely different story. So umami, and yet so fruity. Incredible.

I don’t know what this was, but do not really care enough to try and find out. Some kind of plant. Didn’t wow me.

This Black Angus sirloin steak with bone marrow and pepper sauce ($68) was not bad, but not astounding. I don’t really like to order steak at restaurants as I feel like I can cook steak myself without much drama and to a fairly good degree, and so I am always quite doubtful of the cost-quality balance. I know that there are many out there who will disagree, but the combination of small butchers offering dry aged beef and easily accessible home-based sous vide techniques has really changed the game as far as steak is concerned over the past decade. Sure, I might not be able (or rather willing) to make a pepper sauce to smother my steak in, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the optimal thing to smother a steak in anyway. Essentially all this is to say is that it was fine.

COMMENTS
With a lot of very good but expensive things and a constantly changing menu, I think I will be back, in time.

Poly
74-76 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 8860 0808