Sydney Food Diary: Bang Street Food, Surry Hills

Paw paw salad

Just across the street from Bang Street Food, Bill’s has moved a few doors down into a new spot (most recently a pop-up restaurant specialising in dishes with avocado, and much longer back than that, the famous Marque restaurant), a new Italian place is due to go into the space that Bill’s vacated, and Flour Eggs and Water seems to be doing well where Besser used to be, which was once, in the mists of time, Billy Kwong’s.

Kebab with wagyu beef

This is all to say that if Bang Street Food is still making a go of it about three and a half years after my first review, they must be doing something right. And they are: even if I didn’t take photos this time (I’m going to recycle the ones from three years ago). Loved the Kale Bhaji (though my friend didn’t so much). Loved the little arancini balls of Biryani rice, a fantastic little cultural fusion. Delicious tender lamb chops, in between the appetizers and mains, and for the mains, roast cauliflower, very beautiful done on a bed of dahl, and a wagyu beef curry. Along with a few naan bread, we couldn’t quite finish all the food (so yes, if you make a little effort, I think ordering individual dishes is a better deal than the banquet).

A very modern paneer

We also liked the Portuguese wine, though it gave me a sad to see on Vivino that it is a standard cheapo, that people are paying… wait for it… three euros (five bucks Australian) in the grocery stores there, as opposed to the $50 we spent on it here. Still, it was what we wanted. The service was helpful, friendly and efficient.

Bang Street Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review from 28 February 2015 (and as of Oct 2018, Zomato said it had 15,500 views):

In four months away from Sydney, Surry Hills is awash in new restaurants and cafés. The buzz (and sometimes sadly, changeover) never seems to stop. I read a few mentions of Bang Street Food on the net, and it took me a little while to figure out where it was located: just above Hudson’s Meats on Crown Street, the other side of where a doomed Japanese restaurant, Monkey Magic, was (and somewhat above the doomed Mexican restaurant, Agave).

Here’s the thing: this is definitely a winner. The chef apparently has some serious creds from restaurants like Est. and Lucio’s, the owner (of the Farmhouse in King’s Cross, which I’ve wanted to go to, but seems awfully busy) knows design and how to put together a restaurant. To me, it’s the perfect formula for Sydney (and the Eastern Suburbs): you get a chef to celebrate his cultural background, put a modern Sydney spin on it, serve it up in stylish surroundings with friendly and competent wait staff. I would guess that there’s no other high-end Bangladesh restaurant in Sydney. There seems to be a humble diner in Rockdale and another in Lakemba. It’s exciting for Sydney to receive a completely new cuisine and concept.

The paw paw salad (above) was delicious: fresh, sweet and sour. My better half thought there was something missing (salt?) but I rather liked it. Kale bhaji was IMG_2947delicious and crisp. I’ve had a lot of bad bhajis in my time, I tell you, and they can be greasy and the batter sometimes a bit gritty to my taste. We also had a kebab, wagyu beef perfectly done which we got to wrap up in flatbread with some salad greens, saw it in half and split it. The goat curry was exactly as I’d hoped, a rich tasty sauce, super-tender goat, and the lightest pulau rice possible (and some tasty naan).

Washed down with an exceptional mango lassi, and a pricy cocktail (flavoured with cardamon and cinnamon). We were just up for a light meal and I’d love to try more (including the desserts) but we’ll definitely be back.

This is my foray back into Sydney restaurant reviewing. If I did it so frequently in Paris in the last months, why not here? I’ll have to take more photos though. And really, this review of Bang on Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry is much better, with good photos and a full description of the experience. I think, in the context of Sydney, I’m going to have to rename these little write-ups as a ‘Food Diary’, since they lack the vigour and depth of an actual review.

In any case, see you at Bang?

Bang (Bangladeshi Street Food)

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Melbourne Food Diary: Cutler & Co, Fitzroy

Cutler & Co is one of Andrew McConnell’s restaurants, also famous for Cumulus. It’s been around for a while but the renovation is fairly recent. We loved it: a big NYC warehouse feel. We opted for the Chef’s Selection, six courses for $150, though we didn’t do the wine pairing.

I don’t have too much to say excellent we loved it. Wonderful food, great service, great ambience. A really special night out.

Cutler & Co Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Drinking in Sydney: Handpicked Cellar Door, Chippendale

Right at the end of Spice Alley in Chippendale is Handpicked Cellar Door. And what a fun place to hang out. I love visiting vineyards and tasting different wines, and this place brings the cellar door experience right to you, even recreating the feel of one of those big, airy, high-ceilinged tasting rooms in Margaret River or the Hunter Valley.

A wonderful selection of wine from Australia and beyond, at a range of prices: with very reasonable glasses starting at $8. You can order them in ‘flights’ and try four little glasses, and you can also match them with selections of cheese.

My pal did a flight of red wine; I opted for individual glasses of white (as there were a few on I wanted to try that weren’t in the flights. Like an Australian-made fiano!). We ordered a plate for three soft white cheese and they were stunning.

I like the service, a chatty Aussie fellow and a more reserved European; my pal wanted better explanations of how the place worked and to know more about the wine. A great place for a drink for dinner or… just settle in and have a liquid dinner. I could do that.

Handpicked Cellar Door Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Melbourne Food Diary: Dex2rose Nitrogen Gelato, Little Bourke Street

Four Sydneysiders in Melbourne checking out the local offerings. We decided to get dessert, and one of our party led us here.

Sometimes you just go with the flow. This place is hilarious. It’s great people-watching. Seems to have a buzz, always.

Everyone is hanging out taking photos of their ice cream.

The appeal of the items is great. Fun gimmicks. Tasty-sounding ingredients.

Is it curmudgeonly to say that I found it took forever for the one person who was perfectly creating each of our dishes.
And that they were fine, but pricey, and didn’t blow my hair back?
Dex2rose Nitrogen Gelato Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Coffee in Sydney: Two Daughters, Surry Hills

How about this weather? These burst of rain, not heavy, but enough to soak you. I even checked the satellite before heading out to do a chore, and while I had planned on treating myself to a coffee, I didn’t expect to have to dash into Two Daughters Cafe to avoid getting wet.

It’s a humble little cafe, with a jumble of tables, all of which were occupied when I came in, but I grabbed one by the window within minutes. The barista seemed kind of flustered, and manage to confuse me with the other Asian guy who was waiting for coffee.

But when she brought me my large latte, she apologised, and then seemed to settle into a nice routine with the other customers with friendly chatter and remarks. And while I thought the first taste of the latte was unremarkable (not distinguishable by being particularly creamy or with a certain taste), it sort of settled into a nice robust, strong flavour, not bad at all, and exactly what I needed at the time. In fact, I had a caffeine buzz after I left!

Two Daughters Cafe and Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Ramon’s Books

After the memorial for Ramon, I was about to leave when I heard his sister asking a small group of people, ‘What shall we do with his books? They were his most prized possessions. How can we get them to a good home?’

I though immediately of Writing NSW, with their big office in Rozelle, who have a library, and I thought: I can help out. I couldn’t imagine trying to sort out a loved one’s possessions in a city that wasn’t mine. And it’s one of my traits, to try to put everything in its right place.

I did not know Ramon Loyola well, a Filipino poet, who had lived in Sydney for decades, and died suddenly from a brain aneurysm in September at the age of 51. He had introduced himself to me at The Bookshop Darlinghurst once, and pointed out his books, self-produced poetry books that he was leaving for sale there. I looked him up online afterwards and I think I would have run into him another time or two at literary events, and then remember him reading the work of a Filipino writer at the launch of Julie Koh’s Books Actually’s Gold Standard at Better Read than Dead. From the event, he posted a photo of me and Tom Cho talking, calling us ‘brilliant writers’ and himself a ‘fan boy’. I found that flattering. He wished me happy birthday on Facebook every year.

And when I heard he’d died, I wanted to go to his memorial, organised by Michele Seminara, who worked with him on the literary magazine Verity La. She asked for readers for his poems, and I wanted to read one of his poems  to honour him. I never had the chance to tell Ramon how much I admired his quiet determination to write, constantly, and to get his writing out to the world, through his books (one of the latest of which was published by Vagabond Press, who I also admire) and his websites. I knew he had a true passion for words, and for sharing them with others.

The memorial was on Labour Day weekend, so a number of his friends couldn’t make it and were away. It was an intimate, beautiful gathering at a Turkish restaurant in Glebe. His sisters, one who had flown in from the Philippines and the other from California, his brother who lives in Sydney, and his favourite niece from the Philippines were all there. There were beautiful cards printed with one of his favourite photos of himself on the front, and a poem on the back, appropriately, a farewell.

It was wonderful to learn more about him: that he was from a family of 8 children, how shy he was, how he didn’t like photos of him smiling as he believed it made his face look too wide, how he was respected as a lawyer at his workplaces, and how he was so positive and supportive of other writers. He was always working on his writing, never feeling it was good enough, and likely had no idea how much he was loved and respected. His niece explained that when they were together, they would sing, always, and one of his favourites was the Carpenters. She sang, a capella, in a beautiful voice, shaking with emotion ‘I won’t a last day without you’. It broke my heart.

His sister told us that he loved his mother so much that he sent her money regularly to take of her. But she in turn loved Ramon so much, and hoped that he would come back to the Philippines to retire and would need money, so she saved all the money that he sent her… for him. She also told us that his apartment was a mess! He spent all his time on the more important tasks of writing (or reading or watching DVDs and listening to CDs) rather than taking care of the place.

A few days after, I had realised that Ramon’s family needed to get his books out from his apartment: they had important things to do, finishing cleaning up and cleaning out the apartment, getting permission to get him back to the Philipines for his funeral, and then fly home. The organisations I had thought of to take books may take a few, but not all: it would be easiest for me to just to take them all and figure it out. So, late at night, when Ramon’s brother Rey could park his car outside of Ramon’s Newtown apartment and load up eight large packing boxes of books, he and his beautiful niece Chrissy dropped them all off at my apartment building in Surry Hills.

And now I’m surrounded by Ramon’s books, and getting to know him through them. A huge collection of mostly literature with bookmarks and receipts from Better Read than Dead in Newtown, the Bookshop Darlinghurst, Oscar & Friends, Elizabeth’s, the Book Depository and Booktopia. He had a healthy collection of gay fiction (which I’ll give to Twenty Ten, the LGBT youth counselling service). We had many favourite authors in common such as Michael Cunningham, Jonathan Franzen and Edmund White. The great writers are all here like Alice Munro, Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He had a good amount of Australian writers: Helen Garner, David Malouf, Patrick White. A stack of books from Filipino writers and on Filipino history, which I’ll get to his friend Eunice, a young Filipina writer, who spoke at the memorial service.

There was also a collection of Anne Rice in hardcover, as well as the books of her son Christopher Rice, and a handful of other fantasy and horror books, as well as a handful about Australian soldiers, and the war. He was an eclectic reader and there were many books of contemporary international and Australian fiction.

The other largest selection is books of poetry, and many of them anthologies of new and younger writers, put out by various Australian writing collectives and universities. I would guess that there were poetry books from nearly every Australian poet that I know. You can feel that he was both interested in other people’s writing, but also supportive. I found copies of all four of my books; most of my friends don’t even have the full Andy Quan collection.

There were many Australian literary magazines, and some international ones. A stack of reference books, dictionaries and phrase books, and many books about writing and how to be a writer and how to read fiction. A small stack of legal reference books, which I’ll get to my lawyer who works not far from me. There are books that hint at other passions – on photography and drawing – and preoccupations – anxiety, being an introvert, how to combine work with passion.

Today, there’s an article in the New York Times about tsundoku, a Japanese word referring to the books you’ve bought but not yet read. Kevin Mims says that the ‘sight of a book you haven’t read can remind you that there are many things you’ve yet to learn. And the sight of a partially read book can remind you that reading is an activity that you hope never to come to the end of.’ I like those sentiments, wondering which of these books Ramon read, and which he didn’t get around to reading, and which of his books that I find new homes for will be read or unread.

Now, they’ll go out to the world, reminders of Ramon. I’ve printed up a label to put near the front of the books, and I picture, for decades, people picking up books and finding the inscription and either remembering Ramon or googling him to find out who he was. I’m good at this giving away business. I’ve been through it, helping my Mom clear out the family home after Dad died, so she could move into a much smaller apartment. I’ve invited various of Ramon’s friends to come over to look at his books, have taken a stack for myself, and have a few organisations in mind to give them too. The Australian Red Cross or the Wayside Chapel might get the last ones. It makes me wonder about where my books will go, when I die.

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Melbourne Food Diary: Self Preservation, CBD

The friends who brought us here had come for dinner and think the food is great! For dinner that is.

While amused by the retro furnishings and feel (and formica top on the table), the food was just OK. My baked beans on toast (the waitress forget that I’d asked for chorizo) was fine. An eggs on toast and muesli were also deemed OK. The potato rosti (with smoked salmon) was deemed a huge failure, as it really wasn’t a rosti but some sort of not-so-crisp potato cake.

Shall we try it next time for dinner instead?

Self Preservation Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Melbourne Food Diary: Bar Lourinhã, Little Collins Street

What does one do if you’re Sydneysiders in Melbourne for the weekend? Eat and drink, I’d say (though we also loved the MOMA exhibit at the NGV). Bar Lourinhã was a superb choice for dining. It felt like Melbourne. Stylish and hip, kind of quirky too. It was very crowded on the Friday night, but we’d made our reservation.

It was hard to choose what to order because everything looked good. And it was. In fact, there was not a miss, and every dish that came out, we oohed and ahhed over. No, I should admit that the chicken liver and pistachio migas (a sort of deconstructed sandwich) was a bit too livery for the rest of the table, but I liked it.

We all particularly liked the croquettes to start with, perfectly light and crisp yet with an intense flavour (nettle and manchego were the ingredients). A simple fish dish of yellowtail kingfish with lemon oil had such a beautiful flavour combination. Suckling pig was as rich as hoped for. A brussels sprouts dish, with cauliflower and jamon was gorgeous. The food seemed both straightforward in that you got what you ordered, but there was always an interesting twist.

We polished off two bottles of wine, and they’re relatively expensive here (we paid $75 for the bottle, which was one of the cheaper ones). Yet the wine was delicious and not run of the mill. And while I thought that the dishes were on the small side and might be a bit expensive, food for the four of us was only $125. So, it was all in all quite reasonably priced, and we all thought it was a great night out.

Bar Lourinhã Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Coffee in Sydney: Ampersand Cafe, Paddington

I was walking home after dropping off some used clothes at the Australian Red Cross in Paddington (my favourite op-shop to donate to) and grabbed a takeaway latte with my handy keep cup from Ampersand Cafe. It was so good, and the ambience so excellent that I managed to head back for a proper sit-down latte a week or so later.

The coffee has a lightness about it, a creaminess, which I liked. And I loved the atmosphere: sit among the books at the back, if you like.

Or there are tiny tables in a small courtyard, with books on top of most of them. The view of Oxford Street is not necessarily a beautiful one, but the café’s vibe makes up for it.

Friendly staff and good people-watching. Lots of army folks from the Victoria Barracks across the street were popping in for their caffeine fix; possibly a little business meeting in the back, other meanderers like me.

Ampersand used to have a place next to the library on Crown Street, which I found charming: a bookshop next to a library, but this is the surviving outpost nowadays. I recommend it!

Ampersand Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Melbourne Food Diary: Meatball & Wine Bar, CBD

Ermigod. Offering meatballs and wine, it was very unlikely that I would be disappointed by the Meatball & Wine Bar on Flinders Lane in Melbourne’s CBD. And I wasn’t.

The menu is uncomplicated and appealing. We both decided to do the choose-your-own option, so one of us chose pork and the other beef, one of us chose a white sauce and the other a tomato sauce, and as a base, creamy polenta and the daily vegetables (market special).

The daily vegetables were completely unexpected though. Roasted fennel and eggplants with pomegranate seeds and raisins (I think, though could it have been figs?). It was gorgeous and could have been a feature dish on its own, the oily roasted flavours with sweet undertones.

We loved both dishes though, and did swapsies half way through. Beef meatballs = yum (and surprisingly light, I thought). Creamy polenta = yum. The pork meatballs atop the market vegetables = super yum. Knowing I’d be drinking to excess this holiday weekend in Melbourne (we made it a holiday), I managed to skip having a glass of wine with the meatballs, but next time… I thought this place was perfection.

Meatball & Wine Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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