Chinese restaurants seem to be getting fancier these days, with the likes of Mr Wong and China Lane setting a new standard. Following the same path is He Tai Open Kitchen in Macquarie Park. The setting is elegant and spacious, with wooden carved screens and decorative tiles adorning the restaurant. It definitely lived up to its name, with the dumpling masters and chefs plying their trade in full view.
Finding the restaurant was a little mission in itself. Whilst listed as being on Level 3 of Macquarie Centre, you actually have to walk through the carpark to enter from the outside of the shopping complex. Food selection is via a tick sheet, without the hustle and bustle of yum cha trolleys. The dimsums had five categories of pricing, ranging from small $6.80 to special $12.80. On first impression, the food was very pricey with only one dish classed as a small (the congee).
The Deep fried tofu had a nice crust and I liked the flavours of the spice mix.
The Prawn dumplings - so often an indicator of overall dim sum expertise - were great, but I was expecting for a little more 'wow'.
The Seafood fried rice with XO sauce was a generous portion. The XO sauce gave it a great flavour but my gripe is they didn't have enough seafood.
The Okra & Mushroom Dumplings with Squid Ink were somewhat of a novel item on the menu. I liked the texture of the filling and the dumpling skin wasn't too thick allowing the flavours of the filling to shine through.
The Snow mountain BBQ pork buns were probably the highlight of the meal. The buns had a flaky crust with a very flavoursome filling. Are they as good as the TIm Ho Wan variety? Almost!
The Vermicelli rolls with prawn were expertly made. The vermicelli was smooth and silky, a notch above the average yum cha fare.
Mango pomelo sago is normally one of my favourite desserts. I love the combination of pomelo, mango, sago and grapefruit. The colour of Open Kitchen's version is a lot more orange than I remember... not exactly sure why but it may have something to do with the fact they used canned mango instead of fresh - disappointing considering it is right in the middle of mango season!
Opening at the end of last year, the service was a little inconsistent - the wait staff were unsure of table numbers and end up walking around each table trying to deliver the dishes before they get cold. I did enjoy the ambience of Open Kitchen and the food overall was of god quality, but not so good to justify the expensive prices.
Himalayan Grill, Crows Nest
One of the greatest things about the Sydney dining scene is the ability to pretty much find any cuisine of the world, at a high and authentic quality. At Himalayan Grill in Crows Nest, we found ourselves digging into Nepalese cuisine. To start off with, we ordered the Pappadoms with spiced yoghurt which were light and crunchy.
The Himali chicken wings were deep fried in a chickpea batter and accompanied by a tomato relish. The coating was very crispy but I was hoping for something a bit more unique from a Himalayan restaurant.
The Chargrilled lamb was very flavoursome but the texture was somewhat consistent - some pieces were incredibly tender whilst others were a bit chewy. I did really enjoy the potato cakes though!
According to their menu, the slow cooked Masala beef cheeks featured on SMH as one of the best in Sydney and it's easy to see why. With great aromatics, the cheeks falls apart at the slightest touch and has a lovely gelatinous texture. We lapped up the sauce filled with Himalayan spices with our roti.
Located in a suburban shoppping arcade, it is definitely not a fancy place, but still worth a visit to try out some tasty Nepalese food.
Lotus, Sydney CBD
Lotus has opened in the Galleries Victoria in Sydney CBD, an offshoot of the popular Lotus Dining Bar in Walsh Bay. It's a vast space but they have managed to create a cosy feel by dividing the space into several dining spaces, ranging from bar seats to private dining rooms. The interior is sophisticated and beautifully styled. Food-wise, the menu is Modern Chinese peppered with native Australian ingredients.
For starters, we opted for the Crystal Ice Plant Salad with Cucumber, Enoki and Black Vinegar Dressing. The salad was delightfully refreshing and no doubt, the crispy iceplant (a West Australian native with little clear raised beads on the leaves) was the star of the dish. It was dressed in the zingy black vinegar, soy and sesame concoction which definitely wakes up your palate.
There was a good selection of dumplings on offer and we opted for the Steamed violet dumpling. The skins were thin and delicate, with the striking violet (or more accurately, the dark red) tint coming from beetroot juice. Inside these morsels were Argyle beef, spring onion and baby bok choy - a flavoursome combination.
For mains, we opted for the Wok-fried Wallaby rump. First time eating wallaby and I was very impressed by how tender it was in texture. The meat was accompanied by sweet bean paste and salt bush, continuing the use of native Australian ingredients.
We also ordered the Crispy tofu with salt and wide fire dukkah. The lightly fried tofu was surprisingly light and the spice mix was delicious.
Lotus is a great addition to the CBD dining scene. The service was very efficient and the food was of high quality, managing to weave native Aussie ingredients seamlessly into Chinese cuisine.
Ester is a restaurant that has been on my wish list for a little while now. I finally had the chance to visit with my family and it lived up to its expectations. With a wood-fired oven as the focal point of its kitchen, the flavours of the food really shines through. For ease of ordering, we opted for the $72 set menu.
Starting off with the Squid dumplings, the appearance of the dish was quite jarring (courtesy of the squid ink). I loved the chewiness of the dumpling skin and the cutlefish and pork filling was quite tasty.
Next was the Wood-fired roasted Rock oysters. The oysters still retained the texture normally associated with a raw oyster but with the additional smokey flavour. Despite not usually being a fan of horseradish, the horseradish emulsion went quite nicely with the oysters and definitely whetted our appetite for the food to come.
The Blood sausage sanga is definitely a step up from the average sausage sanga! The blood sausage had incredibly tasty, served on a fluffy steamed piece of white bread with aioli and caramelised onions. I could have downed a few more of these!
The Kingfish sashimi was beautifully fresh and combined beautifully with the charcoal nori sauce, the smooth bonito emulsion and the orange zest powder. All the flavours just worked when mixed with one another.
The King prawns were chargrilled to perfection and tasted divine with the capers and generous lashings of brown butter. Definitely a dish to savour!
The Peas/ lardo/ corn dish was not very inspriing on paper but it most definitely delivered. The lardo mixed with the fresh peas and corn made this a mouthwatering dish (though most definitely not the healthiest!).
The wood-fired Cauliflower is Ester's signature dish so I was definitely eager to see what all th fuss is about. The cauliflower is ginormous and the time in the wood-fired oven gives it a lovely smokey and sweet flavour. Together with the creamy almond emulsion, toasted almonds and mint, it made cauliflower one amazing tasting vegetable!
The Flank steak was marinated in fermented rice and was wonderfully tender and juicy. I loved the accompaniments to the dish too - the sweet, falling-apart leek and the smoked onion puree.
Onto desserts and the Salted caramel semi-freddo had the balance of sweet and salty just right. I'm a sucker for anything with black sesame so the sprinkling of black sesame powder took this to another level.
Our last course of our very filling menu was Three milks, which consists of a cows milk panna cotta, a sheep's milk foam, a goat's milk dulce de leche, olive oil biscuit crumbs and rosemary. It's best when all the components are mixed together as you get the lightness of the yoghurt, the sweetness of the dulce de leche and the creaminess of the panna cotta. Overall, it was a bit too sweet for me but I really admired their creativity.
I had a great time at Ester and will be back for sure to try the rest of their menu (the bone marrow is calling me!). The use of the wood fired oven injects amazing flavour to the dishes and I love the rustic nature of the food. It's definitely a place meant for sharing so bring your friends or family along!
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