Sydney Food Diary: Cairo Takeway, Enmore

I’d heard of Cairo Takeaway but I got a strong recommendation to try it from an English school teacher who is Chinese and Jewish and called herself Jewsian. I love that! My delight in the multicultural ways of the world is also why I was excited to try Cairo Takeaway, of which I’d heard a bit of buzz.

I’m no expert to be able to say what was different than Middle Eastern food that I’ve tried but I thought this was very fine food: the pickles and spices and condiments, perhaps subtle, was tasty and fresh. We split two dishes between the two of us for lunch (washed down with a beer from Young Henrys); the fuul madamas ($16), slow cooked fava beans which you mix with salad and hard-boiled eggs. I liked it a lot. I was glad we could split it as a full plate of it might taste a bit the same.

We also had a mixed vegetarian plate ($18), and I liked everything on the plate, but the cauliflower in particular. Yup, I liked this place very much.

Cairo Takeaway Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Coffee in Sydney, Lidz Caps and Coffee, Enmore

I am completely up for multi-tasking. I know it’s supposed to be bad for your brain and make you less efficient, but as a creature of the modern world, at least I like to believe that I can do more than one thing at a time. I’m sure I’m fooling myself though.

Still, while sneaking in a coffee before trying Cairo Takeaway, it was a huge pleasure to

  1. Watch the world go by in Enmore, from their outdoors seating
  2. Read a bit of the 3rd Elena Ferrante novel that I’m addicted to
  3. Drink a delicious coffee, as served up by the friendly guy behind the counter.

Thus, in a similar way, to a place that sells caps and coffee at the same time, I say: all power to you. I hope you’re a booming success.

Lidz Caps And Coffee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Cubby’s Kitchen, Circular Quay

I didn’t even know that Cubby’s Kitchen in Surry Hills had popped down, and has now popped up again in Circular Quay. I had a great meal in the Surry Hills location; would it be as good in the new pop-up? Yes sir. It was spectacular.

They take Lebanese street food and elevate it. The flavours all pop. Even the dishes that didn’t look surprising tasted surprising. We did the 5 course menu; I think it was about $65 each, perhaps? I love the smoked labne. The hummus with chili oil was addictive. Two dishes that I’ve had versions of elsewhere but these were the best.

The fried chicken was scrumptious. We had mini falafel kebabs, and then another pita wrap with a chicken shish and lamb kefta. Finished off with a pastry each.

We brought our own wine. The manager seems a friendly and efficient sort, a former NRL player of some fame, apparently. We caught our waitress on what we would guess was her first shift at the restaurant… hopefully she’ll settle in.

The restaurant itself is modern, light and colourful. With everything on the menu that we had a success, I suspect that there’s not a thing that you shouldn’t order on the menu. While the eating IS getting better around Circular Quay these days (it was slim pickings a few years ago), this is a GREAT choice to eat at before you head off to a show at the Opera House.

Cubby's Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Saint Peter, Paddington

 

I’d heard various rumours of greatness; a smart young food blogger told me at our Christmas food bloggers event that Saint Peter was her favourite current restaurant; I’d seen a few good reviews but not read them carefully; SMH’s Good Food section was reporting on new developments such as the plan to open a fishmonger down the street, using particularly modern methods of preservation and sales.

So, I’m happy to report that the rumours are true. Saint Peter gave us a truly great meal for a Friday lunch; and we pretty much loved everything about them. The concept: Australian fish, done perfectly, in a pretty simple setting and with a menu that’s not too long is appealing.

So, we started with a selection of oysters, which were delicious, particularly with a sneaky glass of white wine. I was excited to learn that mahi mahi, a fish I’m familiar with because of my Hawaiian connections, has swum all the way over to Australia and is available in its warmer parts. I had to have that, and wasn’t disappointed. And the tomatoes! I’m not sure the technique but they were so beautiful. My dining companion had the garfish, which as you can see is expertly filleted and breaded: a very pretty dish.

Two options of dessert: we had both of them. The passionfruit tart was creamy, light and basically perfect. I liked the chocolate dessert also. I’d made the mistake of thinking that you can’t make reservations for groups under six (in fact, the website says that you have to call them if you’re a group of six or more) so we were lucky to get in.

Reserve in advance; I don’t with food this good that it’s be easy to walk in without a reservation. The prices were high, but I can imagine fairly reflect the quality. All up, an exciting place to eat, and likely some of the finest seafood in Sydney. I’ll be back for dinner next time!

Saint Peter Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Sir Allen Taylor & Co, Taylor Square

A new incarnation of the restaurant on the corner of Taylor Square. The last one, Coco Cubano, lasted for a fair few years, and before that, it was, um, Cafe 191, perhaps?  No matter what incarnation, it’s a good place to look down Oxford Street from Taylor Square, an iconic Sydney view, and the name, appropriately, comes from the 43rd Lord Mayor of Sydney, in office from 1905 to 1906, whose name was bequeathed upon the square, er, triangle.

When we were there, for lunch, the young and friendly wait staff didn’t seem to have the hang of the waitering bit. You know at yum cha restaurants where the staff have developed the ability to look all around you and see right through you and avoid being called upon to find out what you want? They’d definitely mastered that. We sat down and I had to go to the counter to indicate that we had come for lunch. The waitress had thought we were there for a while. She brought us menus, and managed to clear a few glasses but not wipe the table. I next had to literally shout down another waiter to come and take the order… and then wipe the table and provide water…

Amazingly, though I’d definitely turned in to a grumpy old queen (somewhat appropriate for hanging around Taylor Square), my mood shifted when the food arrived. The menu is unusual for a café in the area; my croquettes with a savoury, almost too salty but still tasty sauce with chorizo, was really good.

My vegetarian pal ordered crepes with lentils that I thought a bit dubious in description but was a great dish, especially with the little candied nuts on top. They were both presented really well, and I thought, in spite of myself, that it was a very good lunch. I used an Entertainment coupon, which always make me happy, and thought that the chef is obviously good. If they can fix the service, this might even be a great place to eat. 

Sir Allen Taylor & Co Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Dimitri’s Pizzeria, Surry Hills

Dimitri’s Pizzeria is an absolute institution in Surry Hills. I remember it from my first days in Sydney, from 1999 onwards, though I’ve somehow never managed to make it in. But recently, I was drawn in by their chalk signage advertising good Italian wine when we were looking for a cheap meal. I was surprised at the combination of the restaurant looking classic, but also contemporary, and the menu too: an emphasis on the organic and homemade (in the pizza dough, the pasta).

I asked the friendly owner and he said he took it over many years ago (eight?) from the original owner. We split a pizza and it was totally delicious, and we had a very interesting chilled organic wine, called Rosso Carbo, a 2017 from Abruzzo. A bit pricey for the wine (I didn’t check the prices before ordering it) but very nice.

The other thing I find amusing about the place is that it has always glowed from the inside out, red neon combined with a high overhead lighting over the pizza ovens. Depending on where you sit, you too may glow in red light for the duration of your meal. It’s charming, cosy and very Surry Hills.

 

Dimitri's Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Coffee in Sydney: Corduroy, Surry Hills

I have to admit that what I loved most about Corduroy, the first time I came here, was that I couldn’t see the name anywhere. I’m not sure if I just didn’t look under the counter in the front or if they didn’t have a sign at the time. It just seemed like it was so cool that it didn’t even need a name.

These days, the name is more visible, and it’s just a sweet and relaxed place to either grab a takeaway coffee or sit at the handful of tables in the back. I’ve had a handful of large lattés in the last few weeks here and they’re always perfect.

Corduroy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Chulin Chinese Cuisine & Deli, Chippendale

On Broadway, among all of the restaurants that seemed to be aimed at university students, some from Taiwan, one Malaysian, Indonesian, really a melting hotpot of mostly Asian cuisine, is the Chulin Chinese Cuisine & Deli. I hunted it down after eating at Gingko in Darlinghurst, reading that the owners are the same. But this is night and day.

This is a very casual spot with humble food and prices to match, rather than the high-end Eastern Suburbs interpretation of food from the same city, Harbin, in the far north of China, near the Russian border.

My dining companion had actually visited there and said it’s not really a foodie hotspot. But between him, and the internet, we ordered a few dishes that seemed more typical of the region.

Also, I was thankful he speaks fluent Mandarin. My attempt to ask whether the restaurant was BYO was met with absolute incomprehension. I was pretty impressed that the restaurant is so clearly targeted at Chinese students that the staff seem to speak almost no English at all.

So, I love a sausage, and these are obviously influenced by the Russians. They weren’t identifiable to me as Asian or Russian, just a tasty plate of red-coloured sausage. The dumplings are typical apparently, and they were fine too.

I have to say that the green onion pancake was one of the tastiest I’ve had lately. Very savoury. Very crispy. And finally a typical dish from the region is stir-fried potato, eggplant and peppers, the name I think translates to Three Treasures of the Earth.

It really was quite interesting, the eggplant and potato are fried so hot they have a light and delicate texture, combing in the sauce nicely with the peppers. The specialties that we missed seem to be smoked meats (chicken, beef and pork) and pork knuckle. I’m not sure I’ll be rushing back though. It was interesting, but didn’t excite me.

Chulin Chinese Cuisine & Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Madame Shanghai, Darlinghurst

After being so impressed in October of 2017, I decided to bring my hubby here for their Valentine’s Day special dinner. It was a glorious evening, and they had the windows open, which apparently they can’t do very often: if it’s too windy it’s mayhem. So, a lovely atmosphere. I think the decor is great here. The staff are friendly and professional.

There were many small courses, an oyster for me and some salt and pepper squid for my better half, very delicately done. Some pretty dumplings. A smoked turkey and cabbage salad with fresh mint; I felt it should have worked better than it did. It’s hard to elevate coleslaw, basically.

Some sashimi with ribbons of cucumber. A glass of Taittinger to start with… we followed it up with sake, served in the traditional wooden boxes (and I purported to know how to drink out of them and didn’t pay attention and still spilt sake on my lap…). The last dish was a beef rib, very tender, the one rib laid on the plate as decoration (we thought it was a spoon at first), the meat cut off the bone. And to finish, a miso-glazed cheesecake with passionfruit centre, and some crunchy sugary bits. This was a highlight. For some reason though, while I thought everything was very good, I didn’t find it great like last time. I’m not sure why: no standouts really. Perhaps the dessert. It was a little rushed, as we had an early seating and I imagine they were trying to fit in someone after us. Maybe I should have followed the champagne with one of their very interesting cocktails.

 

Still, it was a nice evening out. We went to Zambo last year (or was it the year before?) and it was 100% couples, including many who looked like they were newly dating. But this was a much more relaxed event; at least three tables of Galentine’s Day diners, and the rest of couples of various ages and sexual orientations.

Review below from October 2017:

To start with, Madame Shanghai is simply a very beautiful space to dine in. Gorgeous lighting and decor, I did feel transported elsewhere. Neither of us could decide what to choose so went with the chef’s choice… Each dish was tasty and interesting and consistently good. We started out with cocktails, and these definitely have a twist here with inventive Asian ingredients and themes, and moved on to a tasty glass of wine.

The serving size was just enough and the waiter even asked us if we wanted more… The surprise was the dessert, as Asian desserts really are different than Western ones (usually much less sweet and with different textures). So, to get two really luscious and rich Western-style desserts was a good surprise: and these were really good.

Such a good experience I didn’t feel like taking photos of each course. Perhaps next time. I’m also tempted to come back for yum cha. And to try Lotus, of whose restaurant empire this belongs.

Madame Shanghai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Ho Jiak, Chinatown

This ain’t no hawker stand. While the restaurant is cannily designed to feel like you’re in an outdoor market, the dishes are refined, unbelievably tasty and for most Sydneysiders will be a revelation, tasting the best of Nonya cuisine, from Penang, Malaysia – Chinese cuisine that came to Southeast Asia taking on Malay and Indonesian influences.

My favourite memories of food are never about being hungry. Or sustenance. They combine a strong emotion – excitement, pride, love, nostalgia – with the bodily sensations of taste and smell and sight. There was no better guest to take to Ho Jiak then, on the kind invitation of owners William Xie and Junda Khoo, also the amazing head chef, than my friend Lai Heng whose grandmother cooked Nonya food. She was familiar with all the dishes we ordered, able to help with explanations in addition to what we learned from Cassandra, our able host, and Junda, and found the lunch an emotional as well as sensory experience.

It was Friday lunch and there was a line up outside the door. Ho Jiak has a mother ship location in Strathfield and their Chinatown location has only been open about a month, so it’s great they’re doing well already. Lai Heng pronounced herself, mid-meal, in heaven and deemed many of the dishes the best she’s ever had in Sydney, but more so, brought back to the happiest memories of childhood and family. And yet for me, there was excitement with dishes new to me, though the flavours were familiar.

Let’s start with the Beef Rendang. This is a pretty known dish but at first bite (of a huge, generous portion), I thought: this is not regular. It has heat, but not too much; it’s a beautiful balance of spice. But the meat, simply, was incredible, more than tender and melt in your mouth, as any good beef rendang is, but something higher quality. I was right! Junda tells me they only use a high grade of wagyu beef (4?); and Lai Heng confirmed it’s the best Rendang she’s had in Sydney. At $30 it reflects the quality and the size of the portion; when I come here, I’m going to order it no matter how much other food we order. I’ll just take home the leftovers!

Sam Wong Dan is a good contrast ($15), three kinds of eggs: century, silky and duck. A humble egg dish. Steamed eggs, done well, take on a light, creamy, delicate texture, and here there were many textures with the addition of the century egg. As explained in the menu, Junda learned to cook from his grandmother in Penang; this in fact the inspiration for the whole restaurant. This dish tastes of home cooking and love. A humble dish elevated. Out of some great dishes, this was my favourite.

Lai Heng tells me that Pai Tee, delicate pastry shells that you fill with turnip and crab (or vegetables, or shrimp) is so difficult to make that she’s never seen it on a menu in Sydney, and in fact, the last time she had it was at her wedding! Perfect little appetizers ($17).

Razor clams are rare in restaurants in Sydney (first photo, up top). I think I’ve only had them as part of high-end tasting menus in Europe, and very occasionally in British Columbia, my home province, at a Chinese restaurant or elsewhere. I love them: they’re crazy. Clam goodness elongated to the shape of a long thin crayon. We ordered them with the Kam Heong option, so they were stir fried with dry shrimp and belachan, and surprise, a perfect bed of crisp green beans were underneath ($25). This was such a treat and luxurious to have these. If you like molluscs, I implore you to try this dish.

As a “grill house”, we were interested to try one of their specialties. We tried the fish ($25), bar cod, which came with two very tasty sauces. I couldn’t quite figure out the marinade, a balance of sweet and spicy and a bit sour; the grilled, charcoal flavour was sensational. Lai Heng said the sambal belachan, the deep red sauce, was the best she’s tasted, and certainly not store bought.

Finally, Kiam Ah Nui squid, battered in salted duck egg yolk with butter and curry leaves… ($25) I’ve had this salted duck egg yolk mixture at Malacca Straits (with their addictive eggplant dish) and I can’t get enough of it. It’s so moreish. The squid was very tender.

It’s of note that Junda likes his wine and recommends on the menu which different kinds of wine or drink might pair well with particular dishes. I’ve seen this rarely in an Asian restaurant, and I love a white wine paired with the spice of an Asian dish. Our pinot grigio (and then pinot gris… this was a Friday lunch for the ages) went very well with the food. Ah, we also loved the beautiful porcelain dishes they serve on, and they have their own branded cutlery too.

The menu is not only extensive but intriguing. I wanted to try everything so this will be a tough one, when I return, wanting to try new dishes yet I’d reorder everything we had! We were invited upstairs at the end of lunch; there’s a space for special occasions, and it’s decorated to look like Junda’s maternal grandmother’s house, rather than the hawker theme of downstairs.

It reminded me of the Chinese family association’s headquarters in Chinatown in Vancouver that my Dad used to take me to visit as a kid, up some dark and rickety stairs (here the set of stairs was brightly lit but a similar set) to rooms with ornate wooden chairs and framed photos of ancestors. I like the vibe and would consider it for an event or special dinner; there’s even one room which basically looks like a big Chinese family dining room.

Or course, one ends a meal with dessert. Ho Jiak offers an afternoon tea where you can have sweets (and savouries), washed down with tea or… champagne. Sounds like a fun way to spend the afternoon. We were treated to a selection of traditional desserts. An expert grandma and her assistants come in EVERY MORNING to make them.

These were delicate and tasty,  the slightly sticky texture of the sticky rice and various coconut variations. They reminded me of some Thai desserts that I’ve had (and certainly not like any of the Cantonese desserts that I’ve had..) Love the crazy blue colouring on the rice in the middle treat.

Between the desserts, the main dishes, my dining companion and our hosts, I finally understand Nonya cooking, Chinese techniques of cooking but with ingredients, like coconut and various spices, that you wouldn’t get in China. The southeast Asian flavours, like in Thai food, chili, lime, are muted here; there’s often a savoury, pungent, earthy note, say to the richness of the Rendang or the razor clam sauce. With so much xenophobia in the world, multicultural societies and their results, like amazing cuisine, can give me a Kumbaya moment.

Junda, William and Cassandra. Thank you for an amazing meal and experience. I’ll be back… with friends!

Ho Jiak Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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