Sydney Food Diary: Wok and Noodle Bar, Potts Point

I’d heard rumours over the last two years of Wok and Noodle Bar’s owner, Jun Toyoda, and Chef Kazuteru O-San’s tiny ramen restaurant at the top of Llankelly Place, but I’d never tried it (or seen an empty seat, as it’s really just a hole in the wall). What a surprise to find that it has such a generic name that doesn’t do it justice, though it seems like its reputation has been drawing in a steady flow of customers.

It’s pretty adorable, a little piece of Japan in Sydney, a tiny hole in the wall like in Tokyo and Osaka. They serve authentic Japanese drinks (as well as the food) and it really does feel like a part of Japan has been transplanted to Potts Point.

One of our friends LOVES this place, particularly for the richness of flavour, for example in the black garlic tonkotsu broth. They also offer both interesting flavours and varieties: so, the tsukemen dish, cold noodles in three sizes, that you dip into a sauce and then eat. Also an interesting soba dish on offer, and if you don’t want one of the super-rich broths, you can go for a lighter miso or soy broth.

The thing is: I’d already gone to RaRa Ramen for lunch, so I opted instead for their udon dish, which was supposed to be spicy. It wasn’t that spicy (it looked like it should be spicy), and it was missing something for me. A really good udon dish has more of a bite and spring to it; perhaps these were overdone. Perfectly fine but not great.

My pals were impressed at how big the large tsukemen dish was, and confirmed that the tonkotsu broth with the ramen they also ordered was, indeed, very, very rich. I think I should come back for the ramen another day (the black garlic one appeals to me) and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the best ramen in Potts Point.

Wok and Noodle Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Two Monsoons, Surry Hills

Does Crown Street and Sydney need more Thai food? In the Mood for Thai always seemed popular, and I liked the mood and decor, so was surprised when it closed down to be replaced by another Thai restaurant.

At first glance, I couldn’t see the appeal: the prices for dinner seemed pretty high. I reckon if you’re going to spend that much, you could spend a little more and go to the various top-notch Thai eateries around the city, or wander down closer to Chinatown for the more famous ones like Chat Thai or Boon Cafe (recently reviewed in the New York Times).

Still, one shouldn’t judge without trying, so for a casual lunch with my pal, we wandered in. It’s cheery logo is on the tables, as you can see, the two o’s taken out of the name of the restaurant and divided by a small line.

In any case, Dan was happy enough with his stir-fry and rice, but I was really surprised at quite how good the Thai beef salad was. Spicy and sour and a generous portion. $19, which is a bit steep, and I think the stir-fry, regularly $20 was on for a bit cheaper for lunch. I still think the prices are too high here but that beef salad was delicious.

Two Monsoons Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Spice Temple, CBD

Pork ribs

 

I’ve always wanted to try Neil Perry’s Spice Temple, hearing that its take on regional Chinese cuisine is fabulous, and have you seen the door, which is a digital picture of a door, on top of a door, that leads down stairs into a dark and contemporary space, pretty much packed on the Sunday night that we went.

The food is expensive and one of our party remembered the portions being small the previous time she went, but we had two appetizers and three mains between us, and were stuffed: some delicious dumplings (pork and garlic chive steamed buns, $26 for 6), a very generous plate of Hunan-style sticky pork ribs ($31) (yum!), a delicate fish dish, steamed flathead Jiang-Xi style with pickled mustard green and chili.

The stir-fried quail with peanuts on top of a delicate egg custard ($44) turned out to taste more like quail mince: I wouldn’t have guessed what the protein was. A Yunnan style braised mushroom dish ($29) with various exotic mushrooms was our nod to vegetables.

Jiangxi-style fish

It was honestly delicious, though I can’t help (but shouldn’t) wonder what the dishes would taste like in a more humble Yunnan or Hunan restaurant (at a much lower price). And I’ve always been fascinated by this Australian phenomenon of Caucasian chefs who specialise in Asian cooking. When I was growing up in Vancouver, Canada in the 70s and 80s, if you peeked into the kitchen, there were always Cantonese chefs who were cooking what passed for fine-dining food at the time, often found in hotel restaurants, but they were also in the back of Greek and Italian restaurants too! It’s a bit of a switcheroo here!

Spice Temple Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Coffee in Sydney: In the Doghouse, Surry Hills

As there are cat cafés around the world (including the Catmosphere Space Cat Cafe in Surry Hills, Sydney), a dog café has been awaited. Or at least a dog-themed café, from what I gather from the name. On the corner of Foveaux and Crown Street, I hope this isn’t a cursed location. I liked the last incarnation, which seemed fresher than the café that was there before! If their food is as good as their coffee, hopefully they’ll do OK.

In The Doghouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Coffee in Sydney: Bare Naked Bowls, Surry Hills

After 30 years, the owner and designer of Wheel and Dollbaby, with their shopfront on Crown Street, decided to call it quits, and suddenly there’s a new cafe selling extremely healthy looking meals, and some interesting hot drinks.

Surry Hills is the third location of Bare Naked Bowls (the others are in Manly and Coogee), and as “favourite superfood cafes specializing in serving delicious Acai Bowls, Superfood Smoothies, Breakfast Bowls, Cold Pressed Juices, Organic Coffee, Kombucha and Raw Treats”, I’m predicting success, so long as the trend for this style of healthy food continues (and I think it will). Combining the promise of nudity, health and the current trend for putting food in bowls (how did this become a trend?), the design of this cafe is wood, wood, wood (three times, see?).

We stopped by for an English Breakfast tea (D’s go-to drink, unless they’re out of English Breakfast, in which case Irish Breakfast might do), and while I was tempted by my usual latte, I decided to go with one of their unusual superfood hot drinks. And what would be more unusual than a blue latte made from blue-green algae? It was tasty, and served up in an attractive ceramic cup, I found it so appealing that I’d ordered it again. It tasted like an interesting, savoury, coffee substitute, not herbal or medicine, sort of earthy, and pleasant tasting (I had mine with almond milk, so perhaps that was the predominant flavour, the slight sweetness matched with a lovely creaminess). And blue!

Bare Naked Bowls Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Men’s Clothes in Rome: Used, Resale and Vintage

My post about finding high-quality men’s designer resale clothes in Paris is one of my most viewed sites on my blog. So, I thought I’d do a similar one for Rome, but only being there for a few days (in July 2018), I didn’t get a big sense of what was possible. But what I sense, is that their vintage shops are somewhat different than the ones in Paris and Amsterdam and while they will have the same selection of Hawaiian shirts, flannel shirts with cut-off sleeves, Levis 501s, and army gear, they also might have some high-quality cast-off designer clothes, perhaps because Romans dress so well.

So, I’d give it a go at checking out the vintage shops. A good list is here from the website Romeing (har har). So shops like Kingsize in Monti have a huge amount of clothes (I mean, huge: there is so much stuff here), but they also had a small selection of designer menswear, too expensive for me, and nothing that caught my eye, but I thought it looked fine.

If you’re inclined, I think it IS worth it to do a little treasure hunting yourself. I went to two major outlet malls while in Italy, and boy were clothes expensive! Discounting from full prices by 20% or 30% still doesn’t make something cheap when they’re expensive to start with.

My major recommendation would be try the Humana Stores. These charity stores are located in other places in Europe (I noticed them in Spain too) and they’re pretty fun. Sadly, the one near the Tiburtina train station closed only recently before my trip: so recently that there was no information that it had closed, and I went there (no small journey) to find it closed, but without any signs or explanations. They have a vintage store on Via Cavour near Termini: this is good quality but definitely vintage. So swinging sixties and seventies polo shirts, stuff like that. Nothing contemporary or fashionable.

Happily, I got my used menswear fix from their store near Numidio Quadratato metro station. I ended up with a pretty good haul, considering I had no expectations. The funny thing that happened (was it a sign?) was that when I bent down to look at a lower shelf of clothes, my Alexander McQueen jeans, bought at the winter sales in January 2015 in Paris at the Printemps department store, bought because I liked them but mostly because I wanted something from Alexander McQueen in my wardrobe, split in the back.  Not pretty to have my butt hanging out and definitely not salvageable. In any case, the leather details on the pockets sure looked cool, but were too heavy for the fabric so the stitching wouldn’t hold. Goodbye pants! Is 3.5 years of occasional use an acceptable life-span?

As I really needed something to wear on the bottom half of my body, so I wouldn’t get arrested, I was happy to find a casual pair of shorts that fit. There were some jeans I might have considered, but I’ve got too many jeans as it is. So, an Italian brand, Piazza Italian, a bargain brand, I think: these shorts would have been about 15 euros new, and I got them for 3 euros. But better, I got to pair them with this fun fabric belt from Dirk Bikkembergs, a Belgian designer I’ve always been obsessed with, and who manufactures his clothes in Italy. 5 euros, and that makes me happy. And I donated the ripped pants to the slightly-confused-looking cashier, who indicated that they probably do do repairs and could sell it.

And then I got a casual black t-shirt, of cotton but slightly shiny and an interesting detail on the sleeves… from Kenzo, a Paris brand that I also love. 9 euros. A steal (photos above). All up, 17 euros for a casual summer tourist outfit. Hurrah.

So, please, please shoppers. If you have any hints here, or shopping tales of adventures, leave them in the comments!

In the meantime, see my blog posts on used menswear in Paris and New York City

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Sydney Food Diary: Madam Chai’s, CBD

Madam Chai’s takes over from the loved-up Sedap Malaysian restaurant in Regent Place. Husband and I peeked into the back of Regent Place, which was absolutely packed, after seeing Crazy Rich Asians at the George Street Cinemas. Madam Chai’s was completely empty, so we sat down, me without noticing that the restaurant had changed and was very new. In fact, it was so new that there is hardly any decoration up, and it looks rather bare. Hopefully, they’re fixing that. It’s also so new that it took me a whole week to find the listing and name of the place on Zomato!

The highlight hands down was green beans in salted duck yolk. Crisp, moreish, tasty. They were perfect.

I had high hopes for the fried chicken. I liked how crispy and hot it was. Husband thought that flavour was a bit weird. Also, there were so many bones. Generous portion though.

Finally, the famous Bak Kuh Teh, fatty pork in a rich broth, served with rice. Kind of an acquired taste, I’d think, for Westerners. I liked it enough.

I think there’s potential in this place, though I don’t quite understand this food court. Will they get spillover traffic from those who can’t get into the other places, or want something savoury before Aqua S or the matcha dessert place? Or is this noisy bunch of diners so discerning that they’ll require a place to prove themselves before giving them business?

Madam Chai's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Andy & Stevie’s Matera Travel Guide

We were only stopping off in Matera on our way to Salento in Puglia, but we wish we could have stayed longer in this ancient city in the Basilicata region. In 2019, it will be one of the European Capitals of Culture (along with Plovdiv, it seems a way of promoting cool places…). We were completely enchanted by the place: the dramatic setting, the dwellings built into the cave walls, the different colours of the old city during the day and at night.

It was just so pretty. If you get the chance, do visit this magical place, and stay at least two nights. Maybe longer! It has an amazing history. The caves have been used as dwellings since 10,000 BC! It was a really poor area in the early part of the 20th century, and shut down by the government in the 50s and 60s as an unhygenic slum! But in the 80s, the Sassi (‘stones’) started to be revived and the historic area slowly taken over by artists, hotels and cafes. And yet, it still seems unspoiled, at least this year!

Before we passed through, I stumbled on a little travel guide from New York Times which gave us a good preview of some of Matera’s charms. The guide gave us the tip to go to the amazing Area 8, the hippest and coolest bar in town. Great place for cocktails, food and the ambience. We loved it.

The recommended gelato place was delicious, though all gelato in Italy seems to me to be delicious:  I Vizi degli Angeli – Laboratorio di Gelateria Artigianale.

I really wanted to try Cucina Povera in Matera, cuisine of the poor, the local specialty. But their recommended pick, Osteria al Casale, was closed. How lucky were we to stumble on this gorgeous, high-end restaurant, Dedalo, instead. Not cuisine of the poor at all, but a beautifully designed restaurant serving incredible high-end food. My TripAdvisor review is here. It felt all the more luxurious for being unexpected. We were welcomed with complimentary prosecco, floating at the surface tiny beads of white chocolate with raspberry shells.

There seems to be lots of accommodation available and we were really lucky. Our reservation at an Agriturismo venue, outside of Matera, had lost our booking! This lead us to find a hotel and our room was right in the Sassi. It was a cave! It was wonderfully charming: the owners were so friendly and we loved this place. Thymus. Highly recommended. Cars aren’t allowed in this area, but the hotel owners arranged that we could drop our luggage off with the car and then there is free parking before you enter the cave area.

You can’t leave Matera without zipping across to the park across the way, Parco della Murgia Materana, where you get a full view of the Sassi di Matera. We spent a lovely half an hour there, no more, just for the view, though a longer walk might have been nice.

Finally, what they are selling to tourists, we found charming. They carve the calcareous rock, known as tufa stone, and it is the same material which the caves and churches are carved out of. So, the carved stone feels like an authentic piece of Matera, and for us, it made a perfect souvenir of an amazing trip through Southern Italy.

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Sydney Food Diary: IKEA, Tempe

So, I would completely understand someone who would call IKEA’s famous meatballs as bland and without texture, and wonder from where its fame came from. However, I am not that person. I find something deeply comforting about industrial food. I don’t know. In university, I found that the tuna noodle casserole and macaroni and cheese that was prepared to feed hundreds of students at a time in the college cafeterias tasted much better than trying to make it at home.

While I’d heard about IKEA meatballs, I think it was a Filipina friend Malu who first told me that this should be your priority for IKEA shopping. And while I have enjoyed the various other things you can buy, after you escape the main section, the meatballs are my favourite (though I like Daim bars, that Daim bar cake, and the condiments for the meatballs: the mix for making gravy and the lingonberries).

So, now whenever I drag my husband to IKEA to stock up on tealights, napkins or whatever-else lately is sporting a Swedish name, we have a meal here. Neither of us could stray from the meatball platter, with its dollop of mashed potatoes, the afore-mentioned gravy and lingonberries. The only thing is that when I make them at home, I bake them in the oven for longer, and it is a more tempting colour, with a bit of crispness. In fact, the illustration on the package shows the same browning, so it would seem the cafeteria was rushing these or having an off-day. They could have used a bit more oven time. But I still loved them.

We washed them down with large cups of coffee.

By the way, after many years, they’ve changed the packaging on the meatballs. So, some things don’t stay the same.

IKEA Restaurant & Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: The Orient Hotel and Mrs Jones

Looking for a little Sunday lunch in between sessions of the Antidote festival of thoughts and ideas at the Sydney Opera House, we decided to wander over to the Rocks. I thought it was my obligation as an Oriental person to see what the Orient Hotel is all about. In fact, it seems like they’ve added a Mrs Jones to elevate it above the usual pub food and fare (and I spotted *at least* one other Oriental there besides me).

It’s an airy and welcoming place; we sat around the side where there were tables but there’s a fun-looking drinking area…

We decided to split a whole bunch of appetizers: duck spring rolls, a charcuterie plate and lamb croquettes. We liked the croquettes the best, little meaty bombs of goodness with a crisp coating, and a lovely combo of sauces.

The spring rolls were fine and elevated by their duck filling, tender and flavourful.

The charcuterie plate was also fine. My friends were in rapture over how good it was; I thought it was fine but not special. They kindly brought us some extra pieces of bread with no charge. The cost of a glass of wine was reasonable.

I’m not sure what the options are in the Rocks, but this certainly isn’t a bad one! A nice place to while away some time on a weekend afternoon, I reckon.

Orient Hotel - Pub Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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