Sydney Food Diary: Happy D’s, Redfern


My kingdom for a wine glass with a dumpling illustration on it!

Happy D’s is a very happy place with a long, fake, ironic fishtank, a kick-arse neon sign and a good selection of drinks (wine, beer, sake and cocktails) and dumplings.

Hang out at the long counter after entering the humble, non-descript hole-in-the-wall sort of entrance.

Eat dumplings to your heart’s content, while drinking and chatting with friends. On a Thursday night, early, it was quiet enough for a good conversation but very obviously a cool place to be. We spent $30 each on dumplings and $40 each on booze!

Happy D's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Snag Stand, Westfield, CBD

I’m trying to eat less meat these days. It’s good to do so for the environment and for my health. But sausages are a weakness. I’ve wanted to try the Snag Stand many a time, but flashier fare has called in the Food Court of the Westfield CBD. But this was a perfect occasion to grab something quick and try it out (and this Food Court is turning into my go-to place to grab lunch after mid-morning meetings in the CBD, dentists appointments or Nespresso stock-ups).

Offering a wide range of different types of gourmet sausages, I opted for the ‘Toulouse’, a grilled pork, wine and garlic sausage, with sauteed onions and rosemary mushrooms and truffle aioli on a toasted brioche roll ($10.90).

Honestly, it was perfect. Savoury. Tasty. The right combos of texture. The aioli was delicious. Grilled and assembled on the spot, while I waited, freshly made.

Snag Stand Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Grand Duk, CBD

Does this look like a restaurant to you? I think that’s definitely part of the charm of this breakfast and lunch eatery in the CBD right in the middle of Grosvernor Place across George Street from the cool new Ernst & Young building. It’s a very urban location with tables underneath glass parasols.

The menu seems to have changed from what’s up on Zomato at the moment: simpler and less Vietnamese inspired dishes. This left my vegetarian dining companion with only one option, a pea burger ($15.50), which was sort of a pea omelette. She thought she’d asked for steamed vegetables and got a rather large serving of luscious-looking roast vegetables. I was concerned for her but she said it was tasty.

As for me, I had a roast duck burger ($17.50). I mean how could you go wrong with that: Chinese lacquered roast duck as the meat, and a pretty much perfect combo of coleslaw and soft bun and dressing? I opted for the duck fat potatoes rather than regular (two bucks extra) and they were crispy as anything. I forgot to take photos of the food. Tsk. All fine.

Grand Duk Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Book Review: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer

The SympathizerThe Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I told two friends that I was reading a book about a Vietnamese spy living in America after the Vietnamese war and that it was really funny, and they replied in the same way, ‘That doesn’t sound funny’. And indeed, the central drive of the book, the questions and most of the scenes that make up the narrative are very dark indeed.

But the protagonist IS very funny, in a dark way, with such wit and incisive, cutting observations. It’s a complex reaction: laughter and horror all at once that reflects the constant double vision of the book: a mixed-race hero, reconciling and unreconciled to his Western and Eastern race and culture and location, a spy for the North, infiltrating the South Vietnamese military refugees, who have emigrated from Vietnam, and immigrated to the USA, communities within communities full of conflict and tension, forces that seem opposed at times, and mirrored at others.

It brings to my mind Salman Rushdie, how comic his voice while tackling big questions of history and morality, as in Midnight’s Children and the Satanic Verses. And this too, is a major work, a deep exploration of a part of history, of political and philosophical systems and regimes, and I found it thrillingly engaging.

I found myself making book ears on pages that struck me. The first one simply signalled how beautiful I think Nguyen’s prose is: at the sad burial of the wife and child of the protaganist’s friend, ‘I tried believing that those two bodies were not truly dead but simply rags, shed by emigrants journeying to a land beyond human cartography.’

I know that not all the reviewers here were engaged by the book, but if you’re Asian growing up in North America, there will be parts that make you laugh out loud, the Chair of the department who had ‘hung an elaborate Oriental rug on his wall, in lieu, I suppose, of an actual Oriental’. His description of an immigrant life is as spot-on as I’ve read: ‘we did not simply life in two cultures’ but lived displaced, in ‘two time zones, the here and the there, the present and the past… reluctant time travelers… going in circles’.

I won’t spoil the section by quoting it extensively but where the expert in Vietnamese history and Asian culture, Dr. Hedd, lectures the Vietnamese General and protagonist on the American concept of happiness, and colonial history, and Vietnam, there is a page that sums up so well the improved vision of minorities and outsiders: the General knew ‘as a nonwhite person… he must be patient with white people, who were easily scared by the nonwhite… We were the greatest anthropogists ever of the American people… and we certainly knew white people better than they ever knew us.’ Their relatives read their ‘field notes’ with ‘hilarity, confusion, and awe’.

But of course, the book is much more than that, a page-turner with something profound to say about politics and ideology and the human condition, and incredible social commentary and social history. It really is one of the best books that I’ve read in recent years. Amazing.

View all my reviews

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Sydney Food Diary: The Paddington

Hey, I’m not even going to note in the title that the Paddington is in Paddington, but I was surprised to learn that Merivale took over not only this pub, the Paddington, and started a restaurant, Fred’s, with a hot reputation, and that it’s all so popular that they’re doing take-out chicken at a little stall in between them.

We knew none of this. Just ran across the street in the rain, after an event at the Paddington United Church, figuring that at 10pm, we’d be out of luck for food. But no, the place was absolutely bustling.

We split a full roast chicken, and it came with tasty fries and some perfectly dressed lettuce leaves. I may have lived in Australia since 1999 but asked for ketchup with the fries, and my husband explained that they really don’t do that here.

Regardless: lovely service. Great atmosphere. And what could go wrong with a perfect roast chicken and the trimmings. Yum. I’d come back. Some of the items on the menu look like they could be a bit pricy, but the chicken is a good deal. I had a negroni too. I love negronis…

The Paddington Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Pearson College’s The Nostalgia Project

Pedder Bay

For two years, I went to a tiny international college in Vancouver Island on a bay at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The idea of the United World Colleges, as Pearson College was one of I think six at the time (and now there are 17), was to take bright, promising kids from around the world and put them together in close quarters to develop international understanding, and hopefully develop leadership for a better world.

A marvelous place.

One of their current programs is to have alumni stay on campus for a period of time in a tiny house; at the moment, Trevor Corkum is the grad. I only met Trevor face to face once or twice, but he was one of those people who felt like a doppelganger of sorts. We both attended Pearson, and then Trent University. We both went to a Scandinavian folk high school. And we’re both writers. Trevor proposed a project, the Nostalgia Project, with the idea of sending a postcard to one’s former self at the college. What would you say to your younger self?

I thought it was quite a sweet idea, and in fact have participated in similar projects. For Arsenal Pulp Press’s Second Person Queer: Who You Are So Far, edited by Richard Labonté, I wrote a letter to my younger gay self.

For the Nostalgia Project. I noticed that the deadline was getting close, and discovered that you can create and send postcards through Canada Post these days. You provide a photo, or choose one, and write your message on the back. They print it out and send it. Certainly quicker than sending a postcard from Australia.

Funny thing, though. I wrote it out and sent it and didn’t even cut and paste what I wrote. As a young writer, I was obsessed with keeping everything that I wrote. It was partly connected to nostalgia and record-keeping, as well as the misguided idea that these notes might be useful or interesting someday (my old journals are far less interesting or useful than I once thought they’d be). I also suspect a genetic or behavioural link, as my father recorded everything from meals we ate to the birthdays of nearly everyone he knew. Somehow, I’ve gotten to an age where much of what comes out of daily life is not worth recording or saving.

I was rather proud of this drawing.

Still, I did have the impulse to write about it, and to write this down. While I did have lots of advice for my younger gay self, when I was thinking about what to write to my younger self at Pearson College, I had little advice or even encouragement. Certainly, I could have advised changes for the college that would have affected me; there was no real attention or understanding of well-being and mental health; and the ways they cared for and supported young students was not developed, not for indigenous students, not for young LGBT students, and in fact not for most students who needed some support.

But considering those were circumstances of the time that I couldn’t have changed, is there anything that I would have secretly whispered in the ear of my younger self? No. My social mistakes, my intensity and neediness, my sensitive and kind nature. I learned from all my experiences there. I knew somehow that life would turn out well so I don’t even think a word of encouragement or hope from a future self, while not harmful, would have been needed. So that’s what I wrote in my postcard to my former self, to simply do what I was doing, and be who I was.

It’s good to look back at a time and experience and be able to think that.

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Sydney Food Diary: Merchants of Ultimo, Broadway

It’s really impressive. They turned a non-descript corner of Broadway Mall into a hipster chic dining area. As designed by George Michael (yes, seriously), and modelled after NYC’s Eataly, it’s a perfectly designed little food experience with a barista, a bakery, a bar and a bunch of other stalls, but since it was Saturday morning, who knows? It looks good, though.

I worry a little for the other humble food stalls, of which we’ve tried a few, when we’re doing our Saturday morning shopping at Harris Farm Markets (and a stop at the butcher perhaps, or buying a new pot for my succulents from Kmart). But it is a big mall, and this place only seats so many. But really, what a fantastic idea and feel. The pastries look mouth-watering! The coffee was delicious.

My better half had an apricot danish, very nice, and I had this perfect bowl of granola. Yum. This is our new regular Saturday morning breakie spot. Look for us here!

Merchant's of Ultimo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Bad Hombres, Surry Hills

Bad Hombres is so hip that it doesn’t have a website, nor Facebook page. It only has an Instagram page. The way you make reservations is that you find a mobile number on their Instagram page and then arrange a reservation by SMS. I think that’s pretty modern.

And the idea of pop-up restaurants is just as modern. I’ve been to Good Luck Pinbone lately, and managed to get to Broadsheet Restaurant on Danks Street before it closed. It makes a lot of sense to me. Offer folks something new. Put the focus on the food rather than the decor. Keep and maintain the energy of a cool place, and bow out leaving people wanting more.

Finally, can you get more now, more Sydney, then choosing two popular cuisines, and creating your own fusion, in this case Mexican-Asian? All served up with natural wines. This idea really appealed to me.

So, for all these reasons (plus a fun, buzzy atmosphere, retro Aussie music, and super cool wait staff), I predict huge success for Bad Hombres. Sadly (for us), the experience wasn’t quite as good as the idea. I love the idea of a limited menu, so between the four of us, we got each of the three share plates: a roasted cauliflower plate ($25), and slow-cooked beef short ribs ($38), and pork shoulder ($28), served with chinese pancakes, corn tortillas and butter lettuce. The flavours did have Asian influence with herbs and crispy shallots and XO sauce. But the portions were a bit small to split between four of us, and since we’d already ordered all three of the mains, we didn’t bother to order something else.

It was tasty, but in other ways, the flavours and concept (slow-cooked meat or grilled veg in a wrap) all melded together. The cucumber salad was tasty (always like that idea) and the mahi mahi ceviche tostada was also good. Two of us loved the natural sparkling wine, from Australia, but two didn’t, and one hated it. The dessert of coconut pandan sago pudding with watermelon granita, mint and Szechuan pepper sounded great (and was only $12) but wasn’t a huge hit (as you can see, it’s not a very pretty dish). And while I hail the hip, these old men were probably too grumpy a demographic, sitting in the corner with the speakers blaring music too loud.

I can imagine the review would have been much different if I’d dine here with just one other person, on a quieter night (not a buzzy Friday night), ordering more appetizers and the right amount of food (and I would go for the sparkling wine again…) and being delighted. But for some reason, that night, it didn’t work for us. On the other hand, I don’t think it will matter. I think Bad Hombres (great name also) will be as busy as it wants to me until the moment they pop-down from popping-up.

Bad Hombres Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Neptune Palace, Circular Quay

Neptune Palace has been around forever. At least it seems that way to me. Every once in a while, I’d stop in and use an Entertainment Guide coupon, usually as a quick meal before an event at the Opera House. This time, it has been so long since I’ve been that I thought I’d already done a blog on this (and hence, took no photos). But the food was actually better this time than the last; I think because I had a Malaysian dining companion to point towards better dishes.

The Sayur Goreng Balachun was a perfect vegetable dish to order, all green vegies: okra, broccoli and beans, with a delicious shrimp paste.

The soft-shelled crab Mantega was not the way Lai Heng makes it at home, though described as fried in butter with curry leaves. It was more like a salt and pepper fried dish, but I thought it was quite tasty.

We finally had Kelantan chicken in a coconut shell, a nice mixture of turmeric, coconut milk and tender chicken pieces.

All of this with rice meant we could send some leftover chicken home for Seb’s school lunch tomorrow, and the Josef Chromy Pinot Gris was delicious.

Service is the slightly formal, trying to hard, old-fashioned Asian restaurant, where they dish your rice and pour your wine, and were very attentive but in a slightly abrupt way. Gone are the terrible waistcoats of a few years ago. The place has a funny old-fashioned feel to it. And between Circular Quay and Sydney, the prices are high… I think my family would faint at the idea of a vegetable dish in a Chinese restaurant costing over $20. But that’s the way things are around here. I think I’m finally getting used it…

Here’s the review from 2 June 2005 (with just under 5ooo views)… on Zomato. It might have been Urban Spoon then. This blog review above I think will automatically replace it.

‘Revisited Neptune Palace after a long while. We ended up ordering 3 quite similar dishes, the trout in banana leaf, scallops, and crispy boneless duck all had the same turmeric and coconut sauce. It’s absolutely delicious (especially the duck, that’s my high recommendation of the day) but we should have ordered for more variation. The roti chennai was average or slightly below. The menu has been updated since the last time I was there and I think is even more expensive. The prices are really ridiculously high here. And the vests are different and are even worse. Almost as bad as the wallpaper. Consider the awful colours as entertainment. With an entertainment card and 25%, it makes the place better value, and there are some standout dishes.

I think that the decor is quite tacky and garish and so are the waiters’ vests! But that’s part of the fun. The first time I went here for a quick pre-theatre meal, the food was a 5, the beef rendang and scallops in turmeric were perfection. When I went back with a few friends, the appetizers were great, the dry fried okra very nice and the soft shell crab yummy. But the rendang wasn’t as good. I think I’d give the food a 4. It’s pricy for Asian food but it is very good. Worth a try, I’d say.’

Neptune Palace Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: The Spice Room, Circular Quay

Review sites and restaurants intrigue me. How does the Spice Room consistently make it into the Top Ten restaurants on TripAdvisor, when it’s not a particularly known restaurant, say, in other listings or guides? Is it that TripAdvisor’s clientele all stay near Circular Quay and need a good restaurant to go to?

Regardless, the Spice Room’s good ratings, and that it’s constantly busy, did make me want to come here, so I finally arranged it before a most excellent concert by James Vincent McMorrow at the Opera House.

So, we ordered too much. The portions are generous, compared to some other Indian restaurants. I think the selection of pakora did us in (very nicely done; cheap pakoras can be so greasy; here, they were light and crisp and tasty), though the fried beet patties were also substantial. The emperor’s biryani was delicious as was a dahl that was the specialty of the house. And we split my favourite naan, the one with fruit and coconut in it.

We also thought that the decor was particularly charming. It’s done just right, so cozy and cool, great food and service; this is a really good option for eating in the area (and certainly better than the tourist traps along Circular Quay).

The Spice Room Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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