The Rice Den, St Leonards
St Leonards has been curiously devoid of restaurants, relying on the neighbouring Crows Nest to offer a diverse range of cafes and restaurants. So I was very pleased to hear The Rice Den had set up shop on Chandos Street in St Leonards, offering modern Cantonese cooking. The decor is bang on trend with wooden interiors, exposed bulbs and quitessential Asian ingredients neatly arranged on open shelving. I also loved the use of an abacus feature framing the window, looking into the open kitchen. The restaurant was full and buzzing on a Friday night.
We started with the Roast duck san choy bao. The duck was well seasoned and the pinenuts added a nice crunch, but at $15, I was hoping for a little more.
The Crispy lamb spring rolls were a lot better value for money. The pastry was super crispy and gave a very satisfying crunch, and the lamb filling was full of flavour. The sour plum sauce was just the right condiment to go with them.
Moving on to the bigger plates, we opted for the special of the night - Crispy pork belly with caramelised eggplant and pickled ginger mayo. The presentation resembled more of a Western dish, complete with knife and fork. The pork belly is beautifully tender and the strips of skin was oh-so-deliciously crunchy. The caramelised eggplant reminded me more of traditional Cantonese cooking and I loved its soft, gooey texture.
The Steam broccolini had that lovely vibrant green colour and was a good cleansing dish before dessert.
There's a choice of two desserts on the menu and we opted for the Ovaltine pannacotta served with a whisky glaze, strawberries and roasted chestnuts. The pannacotta had just the right amount of wobbliness and the ovaltine flavour was quite pronounced, a refreshing alternative to chocolate. The strawberry and chestnut mixture was a great accompaniment, and ensured the dessert was not too sweet.
The Rice Den is a welcome addition to the lower north shore dining scene and offers a fresh take on Chinese cooking. The restaurant also has a fully licensed bar with a range of Chinese inspired cocktails, so come hungry and thirsty!
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