After my 9 days in Cuba, I spent 4 days in Sydney before heading home to Perth.
My journey back to Australia was from Miami to San Francisco, then San Francisco to Sydney. I used my frequent flyer points to upgrade my flight to Sydney to premium economy, which turned out to be a great decision. As it turned out, the flight was nowhere near full, so I had no one sitting next to me – having my own space was easily the best part of the flight, even better than the premium economy service (excellent) and food (definitely superior to economy but nothing extraordinary).
I don’t sleep well on planes though, and I felt very tired when I arrived in Sydney after the almost-15 hour flight. After checking in at my accommodation (the Meriton apartments on Kent Street), I only had energy to grab a takeaway lunch from the Thai cafe next door – roast pork and rice, with kailan tossed with garlic and chilli in a hot wok to order – I ate quickly, relishing a freshly cooked ‘real’ meal (always such a pleasure after airline food) before crashing for the next few hours.
I love Sydney and try to fit in a visit every 1 – 2 years (see my blog post on my long weekend in Sydney from 2015). My agenda this time was to go walking (catching Pokémon along the way), catch up with friends and enjoy some great food. Don’t worry, no Pokémon talk – this post is focused on the food part of my visit.
I had a craving for congee, and with Chinatown a five minute stroll away, I googled for breakfast joints nearby. I found Ching Yip Coffee Lounge, a Hong Kong-style coffee shop that sounded perfect for my needs. It is located on the second floor of a building called Dixon House, on Sussex Street. It was early (8am) and when I arrived, the cleaner was still dragging his vacuum over the carpet. With the air-conditioning not yet switched on for the day, it was a dingy, stuffy, kind of sweaty-smelling place. At that time, the escalators were just stairs. Thankfully, the air was cool and circulating at Ching Yip, apparently the only shop open at that time.
Other early breakfast diners
There are several breakfast sets to choose from; I ordered Ching Yip’s Breakfast Set B (AU$8.50) – a choice of congee (minced beef, chicken, sliced pork) and a choice of stir-fried rice noodle or vermicelli with soy sauce/bean sprouts. I chose minced beef congee and stir-fried rice noodle. I also ordered a cup of hot Milo. The noodles were my favourite part of the set – a little greasy but fresh out of the wok, so simple yet delicious. This was perfect fuel to start my day of walking around Sydney.
The next morning, I was startled to see news stories about a gas explosion at Dixon House. Almost 12 hours after I had enjoyed breakfast on the second floor, a gas main exploded, injuring people who’d been in the food court downstairs having dinner. You can read a couple of reports about the explosion here: Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.
I would’ve had breakfast at Ching Yip Coffee Lounge again, but Dixon House was closed for business in the days following the explosion. Fire Department staff and local news crews were onsite when I dropped by the next day.
I googled for an alternative breakfast venue and came up with Super Bowl Chinese Restaurant, just a street away, also open at 8am. I had breakfast at Super Bowl twice; the service was as disinterested as it was brisk, but the food was tasty and cheap.
On my first visit, I chose the Super Bowl Breakfast Set D – Minced beef congee, steamed rice noodles, fried noodles, Chiu Chow dumpling. The congee was garnished with chopped spring onion and little squares fried wantan skin. The steamed dumpling was filled with pork, dried shrimp* and vegetables. Like Ching Yip’s fried noodles, Super Bowl’s were also a touch greasy, but I couldn’t stop eating them. My favourite item of the set was the steamed rice noodles (rice flour rolls), silky and slippery, splashed in sweet hoisin and peanut sauces. All this, plus a pot of Chinese tea for AU$9.20.
Super Bowl Breakfast Set E (AU$9.20) – Chicken fillet congee, steamed rice noodles, deep fried bread stick, Chiu Chow dumpling. I should’ve just had Set D again. The fried bread stick was nowhere as good as the deliciously chewy noodles from the day before.
*You may remember my late onset crustacean allergy? Amazingly, I can eat dried shrimp and dried shrimp paste with no ill effects -dishes with sambal belacan seem to be OK, for instance – I still only have small amounts, to be safe. Sadly, I definitely can’t eat har gow (steamed prawn dumplings) at yum cha though…
My friend Caroline took a few days off work for my visit (I went to King Island and Hobart with Caroline and her hubby Craig, and I spent time with them on my previous long weekend in Sydney).
Caroline and I met up for lunch each day. Poor Craig wasn’t able to take the time off work to join us, so what did we do? Tortured him with photos of whatever we ate, of course!
On our first day out and about we went to Spice Alley at the Kensington Street precinct in Chippendale. We got there just before the office crowd arrived for the lunch rush. There are six Asian eateries at Spice Alley – Malaysian, Singaporean, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and Cantonese. I’d love to work near a place like this.
My ‘Chatterbox Chicken Rice’ and Caroline’s BBQ pork and rice from Alex Lee Kitchen (Singaporean). Our drinks were longan ice (me) and sago rose milk (Caroline) from Old Jim Kee (Malaysian).
I tasted Black Star Pastry’s signature strawberry and watermelon cake for the first time at the Perth Night Noodle Markets last year and was looking forward to having another slice while I was in Sydney.
After lunch at Spice Alley, we walked back to George Street to the Black Star Pastry cafe at Kinokuniya, which is one of my favourite bookshops of all time.
Caroline tried the raspberry lychee cake – layers of pillowy raspberry marshmallow and vanilla cream on a chocolate biscuit base, topped with lychees and raspberries.
My strawberry watermelon cake – two layers of almond dacquoise, rose-scented cream, watermelon and strawberries, garnished with pistachios and dried rose petals. The cool, fresh layer of watermelon crunch is my favourite part.
The great news for Perth cake lovers is that Black Star Pastry is returning for the Night Noodle Markets at Elizabeth Quay (22 March – 2 April 2017) so you can enjoy this sensational creation for much less than the price of a plane ticket to Sydney. Also at the Night Noodle Markets, Black Star will be partnering with N2 Extreme Gelato again on Cake Smash Gelato, which is a flash-frozen, whipped version of the strawberry watermelon cake, complete with the rose petals and pistachios. Personally, I think nothing beats the cake itself.
The next day, Caroline and I went for a walk around Barangaroo. There are loads of cafes and restaurants to choose from here, but we joined the queue for Belle’s Hot Chicken, another place I’ve had my To Eat list for a while.
Our Belle’s lunch: chicken tenders with vegetable pickles (Caroline), drumsticks and Old Bay fries (me), and crumbed mushrooms to share. We chose the ‘wuss’ heat option for our chicken, which is called ‘Southern’ on the menu. There are five heat levels, from Southern (not hot at all) to Really F**kin Hot. Our sauces were House Made Ketchup and Peach BBQ Sauce.
We worked off (some of) the fried chicken with a lovely walk around the parkland surrounding Barangaroo.
I had wanted to check out pie specialist The Pie Tin on my previous trip to Sydney but ran out of time. This time around, Caroline and I caught the train to Newtown for lunch on my final full day in Sydney. The Pie Tin’s range varies daily and they published the day’s selection of savoury and sweet pies on their Facebook page, which always made delicious reading. I wrote the previous sentence in past tense because they haven’t posted the daily list of pies since 1 February 2017.
Slow-roasted maple syrup and Cointreau duck pie (me) and butter chicken and green bean pie (Caroline). We shared a couple of sides – homemade Boston Beans with strips of smokey speck, and potato salad. The beans were very good but I found the potato salad a little too salty (which says a lot, as I like salty food).
The duck pie was one of the meatiest pies I’ve ever eaten – check out the innards.
Sweet pies can be bought whole or by the slice. They can be pre-ordered for pick up. Another difficult choice awaited us in the dessert pie display.
My slice of whipped lime pie – creamy and zesty with light and fluffy whipped layer on top.
Caroline’s slice of pumpkin pie.
Pie Tin dining room. I hear The Pie Tin’s apple pie (known as The Apple Pie that Ate Newtown) is pretty awesome. They didn’t have apple pie that day – hopefully I’ll get to try it on another visit.
I met my friend Karen for dinner on the first night, after waking up from my big nap. I had considered a number of different restaurants for our dinner and Cirrus Dining‘s menu was by far the most enticing. As it is a seafood restaurant, I checked before making a reservation whether a crustacean allergy would be problematic. I would of course avoid dishes that clearly featured crustaceans, but wasn’t sure if crustacean-based ingredients were widely used in the other seafood dishes. I was assured there would be no problem accommodating my allergy, so I went ahead and made a booking for us.
And so, besides the marron, Moreton Bay bug, crab and lobster dishes, our waiter advised the only other dish I should not order that evening was the coal roasted bass groper + paperbark + aromatic broth – because the broth was crustacean-based. Easy! Like most of the trendy places these days, sharing is encouraged, and that’s what we did. We were one of the first tables seated for dinner, and one of the last to leave. It was fantastic to catch up over what turned out to be one of my best meals of 2016.
Kingfish + Daikon + Yuzu + black bean. Delicate slices of kingfish flavoured with a salted black bean sauce with lime and garlic, served with yuzu-pickled daikon.
The silky smoked ocean trout parfait resembled a slice of cheesecake! Garnished with salmon roe, fennel pollen, spiced crunchy lentils and pickled onions, served with a dill and basil purée and crisp toast, it was a wonderful balance of flavours and contrasting textures. The risk of filling up on bread (with a generous spreading of parfait) rose exponentially… it was totally worth it.
Leatherjacket cheeks + cucumber + yuzukosho + buttermilk. A truly stunning dish. The leatherjacket cheeks were incredibly smooth and tender, like the coveted oysters from a perfectly cooked chicken. I wanted to drink up every drop of citrusy cool green juice.
Flounder + shallot + pickled mushroom + oyster cream. Again, a pleasing assembly of textures and flavours, with buttery flounder fillets, sweet shallots and squeaky sour pickled mushrooms, finished off with ice plant leaves for crunch and a hit of salt.
Another beautifully bright green dish – Spanish mackerel + black garlic + celtuce + mustard flower. We may have ordered one too many dishes (oops!) but I enjoyed this combination of crunchy stem lettuce (that’s the celtuce) with bitey mustard flowers, and rolling a meaty slice of mackerel in that pool of black garlic sauce, like spilled paint on the plate.
Such an outstanding meal would’ve felt incomplete without dessert. We ordered the magnolia ice-cream + passionfruit + almond meringue. Karen was intrigued with the idea of magnolia ice cream; I was ambivalent but open to suggestion. As it turned out, the floral note of magnolia was perhaps too gentle, easily upstaged by the dehydrated tropical fruits that included lychee and pineapple, and meringue shards, all delivered in a rocky cluster. It tasted better than it looked; we dug in with spoons until the asteroid collapsed. Karen described it as “pavlova on acid”.
Magnolia ice-cream + passionfruit + almond meringue
Cirrus Dining is at the base of this building, known as Anadara.
In 2012, Caroline, Craig and I had a brilliant dinner at the now closed down Greek restaurant Xanthi at Westfield Sydney. I’ve kept track of chef David Tsirekas’ ventures since then and had his latest eatery, 1821 Restaurant, high on my To Eat list for this trip. I made a dinner booking for Caroline, Craig and me. Again, sharing was a no-brainer.
Special of the day – a kind of cheese pie. I failed miserably in taking notes about this dish. But I do remember that we polished it off rather quickly.
Yia Yia’s hand cut chips with crumbled feta, mountain oregano and fried egg. The seasoning was perfect on the chips but the egg yolk should’ve been softer. As it was, poking with a fork didn’t result in that satisfying burst and dribbling ooze I had imagined.
Pork belly baklava – date and pistachio, filo pastry, date and mastic sauce. This is chef Tsirekas’ signature dish and the one I was looking forward to the most. Pork belly wrapped in filo pastry, hand-rolled to order, with a sweet date and mastic sauce, each baklava topped with a crunchy square of crackling. It is extremely rich and a glorious indulgence.
BBQ lamb shoulder – slow roasted then grilled meat, served with wilted silverbeet, leek and herbed yoghurt
Caroline and I were keen to try the Moussaka Circa 1910 and we weren’t disappointed. This version comprised potato gratin, eggplant, lamb braised with orange and cinnamon, and of course béchamel sauce.
Another dish we enjoyed previously at Xanthi, there was no question ordering this! Caramel baklava ice cream – thick slabs of vanilla bean ice cream with caramel fudge and baklava nuts. As terrific as I remembered.
Custard filo pie with semolina vanilla filling, served with mixed berry compote and olive oil ice cream, a harmonious combination.
White chocolate feta cheesecake – a lemon pound cake base with freeze dried cherries, halva crumble, lemon balm and sour cherry sauce. Personally, I prefer an old-fashioned wedge of cake that stands up on its own that I can have the pleasure of demolishing myself… but this tasted pretty good.
In 2011 Juji and Jay, Craig and Caroline, and I went to Porteño , the restaurant of celebrity chefs Elvis Abrahanowicz & Ben Milgate in Surry Hills for a feast of meat and fire, barbecue Argentinian-style. This trip, I was eager to try their new venture Bodega 1904, located at yet another new dining precinct in Sydney – The Tramsheds Harold Park – and Caroline and Craig were my dining companions again. The bistro-style menu is – you guessed it – designed for sharing!
Bodega 1904 has a dining room, but we were seated at the bar, like these folks. Our bar guy was very busy the whole time managing dining and drinking customers on all sides of the bar, but he was sufficiently attentive to our needs.
1904 sourdough with whipped cultured butter
Smoked eggplant, caramelised baby onions, Meredith goats milk feta – a fancy baba ghanoush, this definitely needs to be mopped up with bread (ordered separately).
Fried queso fresco and leek with a tangy salted lime vinaigrette that I’d love to buy in a jar and slather over everything. And you can’t go wrong with chewy fried cheese.
Grilled broccolini, labna, harissa, and deep fried eggs with gooey yolks and crisp curly fried ‘bits’. The harissa had quite a kick – labna to the rescue!
Smoked pig’s head sausage, plum sauce, and soft & crispy potatoes (that’s mashed potatoes topped with fried potatoes so fine they resemble shallots). I see there’s no more mention of pig’s head on the menu now, it’s merely ‘pork’ sausage. I hope it’s the same superb sausage albeit with the more ‘appealing’ name (but seriously, it’s sausage
– I’m sure even more off-putting pig parts end up in the tastiest sausages).
Our final savoury dish, spatchcock with spring vegetables (cooked broad beans, peas and artichoke, with sprigs of fresh watercress) and lashings of tarragon mayonnaise.
The pearl barley and nutmeg custard tart was our least favourite of the desserts, mainly due to the too-thick and grainy pastry.
Chocolate, mint, tres leche – it looked like a plate of shaved chocolate but the combo tasted like a Peppermint Pattie ice cream. Choc mint fans will love it.
Ginger malt loaf with brown butter ice cream – for those who like a proper pudding to finish a meal. And brown butter is one of those magical substances that enhances everything it touches.
There are plenty of other interesting dining options at the Tramsheds at Harold Park (and there’s a tram, as you can see below!). Check out the link in my list at the end of the post.
Pizza and cats
We also had homemade pizzas for dinner, made by Caroline, at their apartment one night. Friends and cats, pizza and comfy couches… can’t do much better than that!
A visit to Sydney is not complete without seeing these guys. Top left: Mumble; bottom left: Misu; Right: TimTam.
Mumble guarding my sneakers – they probably smelled interesting – a curious mixture of Cuba, Miami, San Francisco and Sydney.
I think you can see why I love Sydney so much…
Where I ate in Sydney
Ching Yip Coffee Lounge
Shop 210, Second Floor, Dixon House
413-415 Sussex Street, Haymarket
Super Bowl Chinese Restaurant
41 Dixon Street, Haymarket
Old Jim Kee and Alex Lee Kitchen
Spice Alley, 18-20 Kensington Street, Chippendale
There are many places to eat and drink (in addition to Spice Alley) at Kensington Street
Black Star Pastry
We went to Black Star Pastry at The Galeries, right next to Kinokuniya on Level 2, The Galeries, 500 George Street, Sydney
Other Black Star locations: Newtown, Rosebery, and Carlton in Melbourne.
Belle’s Hot Chicken
We went to Belle’s Hot Chicken at Barangaroo – Shop 5, 33 Barangaroo Avenue, Wulugul Walk.
Other Belle’s Hot Chicken locations: Tramsheds Harold Park and in three locations in Melbourne – Fitzroy (the original Belle’s), Richmond and Windsor.
There are many places to eat and drink at Barangaroo
The Pie Tin
1a Brown Street, Newtown
23 Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo
122 Pitt St, Sydney
Tenancy 15, The Tramsheds Harold Park, 1 Dalgal Way, Forest Lodge
There are many places to eat and drink at The Tramsheds Harold Park
Until next time…