Sydney Food Diary: Tropicana Caffe, Darlinghurst

Ah, Tropicana.

This cafe (or caffe) has been at its location, with lots of outdoor tables on the sidewalk and in view of the Coca Cola sign since 1980! Actually, this history is pretty charming.

Surely they must be doing something right. And they are: it’s a fun, cheap cafe for the locals, with a focus on Italian food. Order off the brightly lit menus on the wall, and they’ll bring your food out to you.

My pal said his sandwich was good. My scrambled eggs and sausage were perfectly fine. I think it might be a little cheaper than other places in the neighbourhood. I’ve always had basic, good, humble food here.

Fun fact: Sydney’s famous Trop Fest started here.

Tropicana Caffe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: The Unicorn Hotel, Paddington

OK. I’m confused. Yes, I am. I had this on my list of places to try since Broadsheet lauded it as amusing updated takes on Aussie cuisine (prawn cocktail, Jatz crackers) after being taken over by some of the new breed of hip, young restauranteurs turning old Aussie pubs into gastro-pubs.

After escaping the very loud main floor (Saturday night…), downstairs is dimly lit. Casual, perhaps a bit too casual.

We treated ourselves to some drinks and figured out the menu. It’s order at the counter, but the counter is a crowded, little area; the staff seem to be trying valiantly, but something wasn’t working that well that night.

My dining companion opted for the grilled kingfish (which looks so much like a steak, doesn’t it) and two sides, a bean salad and cauliflower cheese. He liked it.

I’ve never had garfish before, and was curious (photo at the top!). They’re such strange looking fish. So, butterflied garfish with seaweed butter… So, two long snarly garfish, butterflied, with a rather hefty layer of nori seaweed on top and quite a pleasant buttery, salty, lemony sauce. It was also rather cheap, this menu item, $16 compared to the $30 or so for the kingfish. But the fish was rather bony (my fault for ordering it) but had quite a few scales too (not my fault…). On the one hand, I love that they were serving an unusual fish in an unusual way, and obviously fresh from the market. But I’m not sure whether I liked the result.

On the other hand, their version of the chiko roll was pretty fantastic. I tried a few of these when I arrived in Oz, and bleck. I couldn’t understand how this was a national food. Trevor told me that when he was young, and they were made properly (fresh, not mass-produced, nicely crispy and fried), they’re good, and that’s what this was, aside from gigantic, but it was a big tasty Aussie spring roll, and they have now redeemed the chiko roll in my eyes! So, a plus or two, and a minus or two: I wanted to like this place a lot more than I did.

The Unicorn Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Red Chilli Sichuan, Chinatown (Harbour Street)

I’d been craving Sichuan food since a meal at Spicy Sichuan (now closed) four years ago… but it’s hard to get together a big enough table so you can try enough tasty dishes!

Lucky for me I got into the lucky draw with the Food Critics and Bloggers Australia and headed down for an enormous Saturday lunch at Red Chilli Sichuan Restaurant (one of two Chinatown locations, and they’ve got 10 restaurants across Australia).

We were treated to a very special meal: all of their greatest hits, and with nice explanations of Sichuan cuisine (from a cold region, so specialising in spicy food; also good at preserving meats!).

A beautiful selection of appetizers included some dried meats and sausage…

Celtuce, an unusual veggie, apparently from their farm in the Blue Mountains where they grow produce and herbs that aren’t readily available elsewhere (how cool is that?)

Also some spicy tripe and tongue, I think it was.

We also were served this drink, which I’ve never seen before, but the other bloggers/instagrammers seemed to know about!

My favourite was this dish of prawns and corn kernels coated in thousand year old egg yolk, and crispy. Incredible flavour.

But the different flavours and spices of the sichuan peppers and chillis were incredible. Super-crisp tiny pieces of chicken surrounded by shards of chilli (which I didn’t eat) and the cauldron at the top was a lucky dip where you found the fish among the pepper and chilli. I love that weird numbing sensation at the back of the tongue, an unfamiliar sensation compared to other spicy foods I’ve eaten.

This was a version of Kung Pao chicken, except with fish. It has a sour or citrus flavour; not sure what it was, but it was nice.

There was another chili dish with little pieces of tender meat on skewers (lamb? I lost track) and also some cool rectangular fried pieces of sticky rice with a sweet sauce. A nice contrast texturally (and flavour) to the other dishes.

But meals, while mostly about the food, are also about the company, and what a nice group of people. Expertly hosted by Erica from FCBA, it was fun to get to know a little about @whatemdid, @joto.grr, @chicachia, @sydney_dining_doll, @onceuponacraving, and @droolsnap as part of the @fcba.community – and also get advice on where to eat in Sydney and New York City!

And as I said before, the ultimate way of eating Chinese food is with a big group of people, so what a treat to do this. Also: even though we ate to our fill, I wasn’t uncomfortably full (as say when my family goes out and over orders but insists that we eat as much as we can so we don’t bring any leftovers home…). Thanks Red Chilli Sichuan! Thanks FCBA!

Red Chilli Sichuan Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Bare Grill, Surry Hills

I’d gotten wind of the buzz on this place, but still wasn’t sure what to expect. Yes, stamping your name on a bun is a pretty good effect for Instagram, but what would the food be like? Well, it was very, very good.

First off, let’s start with the sweet potato fries. My friend ordered these and I had to admit to him that normally I don’t like these much. They’re often not crisp enough and too starchy. I prefer regular potatoes. But not these ones: really, really crisp, and really, really tasty.

My pal, a vegetarian had a burger with a portobello mushroom and it wasn’t very photogenic, but he said it was good.

I opted for an extra cheesy burger and my god, it had macaroni and cheese IN the burger, along with more cheese, and some molten cheese. I also found that the beef patties were particularly tasty. All together, I thought this was really an awesome burger. The only thing is that it was almost too much. I was so full. My stomach (unfortunately) doesn’t look like it is shrinking in its old age… Oh well. Still, I’d issue a warning: go with a healthy appetite!

Bare Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Book Review: Jonathan Galassi’s Muse

MuseMuse by Jonathan Galassi
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It is admittedly completely unfair to review this book without finishing it, and I did find Pamela Paul’s recent exhortation in the New York Times to read books you hate convincing. I also have read the other review on Goodreads which said to skip the first 100 pages and get into the much more engaging story of the editor and his rediscovered poetry manuscript.

But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

Let me just give one example from a random page.

Sterling ‘grew into a debonair, eligible, sex-obsessed, bachelor-about-town. Yes, he was something of a wastrel, along with his youthful buddy from Cincinnati Johnnie George, heir to the Skoobie Doo peanut butter fortune, who enjoyed nothing more than swanning around with Sterling, and a couple of starlets for evenings on the town in New York, ski vacation in Jackson Hole, or trouble in Tahiti… No wonder dashing, tall, blond, rich Sterling had wowed local cattle heiress and landowner Jeanette Stevens and promptly gotten her pregnant. Jeannette was lovely and forthright in the Western way, but not all that challenging, Sterling admitted…’

Adjective after adjecting, no real sense of character beyond caricature, the sense that the writer finds himself witty (‘trouble in Tahiti’), silly clichéd language (‘something of a wastrel’; ‘forthright in the Western way’) and as with most of what I read, a cast of thousands of characters, never to be seen again. I can’t decide if it reminded me of talking to a talkative ten-year-old making up stories or a senior citizen, losing the plot.

Life’s too short to read such dead prose.

View all my reviews

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Sydney Food Diary: Pondol Selera, Chinatown

Oh, indecision, indecision. Walked back from Sydney Theatre Company, where I saw a preview of Sydney Dance Company’s Orb (wow, looks great, I’m going on Tuesday), and couldn’t decide where to eat. Home Thai had a line up as always outside. I suddenly thought of wandering into the Dixon Food Court, and very nearly had the famous ramen noodles from Gumshara, but I’d had instant noodles for lunch, and thought: too many noodles.

So, this place caught my eye. I mean, it looked like it could be hit and miss but there were other customers, and I thought: why not? I opted for the Indonesia Special Fried Rice (Nasi Goreng Khas). It took rather a long time, which I thought was a good thing, meaning they were making each component up fresh.

All in all, this was pretty delicious, homestyle cooking, a nice satay skewer, a fried egg that, when its yolk was broken, melded perfectly with the quite spicy fried rice. A few pieces of cucumber and a slice of tomato to contrast with the fried food, a few shrimp chips and a big chicken drumstick. Tasted like home cooking, humble, and way too much (look at that portion of rice). But quite delicious for something from a food court.

Pondok Selera Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Three Williams, Redfern

Although it seems that to be a slave to fashion is considered a bad thing, I find it pleasurable to stumble in somewhere and feel that you are in the midst of something buzzy and popular and… now. Located next to a few fancy furniture shops (Great Dane has beautiful stuff in it) and with no visible competition anywhere in sight, you head down into a rather vast basement space alive with activity, and with a casual thrown-together feel that could even be a pop-up bar or restaurant.

So, liked the space, liked the vibe. The food was fine; neither of us thought our dishes were outstanding but perhaps we chose the wrong things. My crab omelette was tasty and nicely presented. A solidly good dish. My pal’s take on an apple crumble was interesting with a lot of different elements, but he found that it looked more interesting than it tasted and the yoghurt base was a little monotonous by the end. Pretty as a picture though.

Still, well worth a visit I’d say, and you could go for a stroll on ever-changing Redfern Street afterwards.

Three Williams Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: Mezzanino, Waterloo

I have three words for you: Italian. Yum. Cha.

The aptly named Mezzanino is on the mezzanine floor, the top floor of what used to be Fratelli Fresh. Wow, what they’ve done with this place. Crammed it with so many little stalls and so much food goodness: it’s really fun. You could just shop here, for the rest of your life.

Now, I don’t know who came up with the idea of Italian Yum Cha but it’s obviously marketing genius. I’d heard about them before coming here. Other friends I’ve mentioned to have heard about them too. In reality, what it translates to is the sleakest yum cha cart you’ve ever seen (marble!) with the day’s selection of yummy small plates. Some of them, you can grab on the spot; others, you just point to and they make it in the kitchen.

It only represents part of their menu, as you can also order proper pastas and other Italian delights, but it’s a really fun idea. And the thing is: it works. You can see and be tempted by yummy plates.

We had a really delicious dish of salty anchovies, some tasty burrata (I love burrata) and this amazing stuffed pasta with a homemade pork sausage filling. Everything was really tasty with specific flavours that came through.

Love, love, loved the atmosphere; open and airy, casual and yet upmarket. The only thing is we wondered if they’re only open for lunch, how do they pay for such a nice place and so many staff and serving up such nice food?

Then what we liked the most was their version of a tiramisu. This is a must-try. A sort of rolled chocolate rum ball without the rum, but a bit dense and rich and… with the flavours of tiramisu. High recommendation. This is a really fun place to try (and probably more fun to sneak out and try on a weekday; I imagine it gets pretty busy here on a weekend).

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

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Sydney Food Diary: Hopper Kadé, Glebe

So, I’ve been meaning to get to the Tramsheds for a while, even though I had no idea where it was or what it really looked like. What a cool space. Chock-full of tempting restaurants and apparently, as my expert friend informs me, a good grocery and liquor shop.

So, hoppers. Yum. Basically. We split a traditional string hopper with chicken. I loved the texture of the noodles. The chicken was perfect and crispy. And the dahl for dipping the hopper into was delicious. And the coconut sambal. Wow, that is divine.

We also split a fish curry hopper, with the more light, crispy pancake-like hopper. The flavours were sensational, and everything tasted very delicate, the light hopper, the sambal, the fish. It was delicious.

So, no complaints food-wise. The service, on a Friday lunchtime, was surprisingly slow in terms of getting the food out. We washed it down with ginger beer, and it’s a nice, casual and open place to sit and catch up with a friend. I’d be happy to come back here!

Hopper Kadé Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sydney Food Diary: 2.0 coffee co, Stanley Street

It was an excellent suggestion of Darryl’s to head down to Stanley Street for brunch rather than our usual ‘hood. A few interesting places were open, and Bill and Tony’s was packed. We grabbed a table outside at this unfamiliar place (I think it’s been under new management for a year) and while I should have had the coffee, because of its name, I had an Irish breakfast tea. Sometimes lately coffee is jazzing me up, and not in a nice way.

In any case, Darryl said his poached eggs and avocado on toast was delicious, and I have to say my scrambled eggs, with asparagus and bacon, were pretty much perfect. Lots of butter on that toast. Everything perfectly composed. The cafe has a really humble feel but this was a perfect Sydney breakfast (so good that it made me think how mediocre my last breakfasts were at similar cafes). And next time, I really do have to try the coffee. I hear they do great latte art!

2.0 Coffee Co Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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