China Doll, Woolloomooloo
China Doll at Woolloomooloo combines modern Chinese cuisine with alfresco dining. On a sunny but very windy day, we were seated on one of the outside tables with a great view of the Sydney skyline.
The Cured Hiramasa Kingfish was a perfect way to kick start our meal. It was light, fresh and tangy and got us wanting more.
The Fried Tofu with Five Spice Salt were beautifully crisp on the outside and silky smooth on the inside.
I had been to China Doll years early and remembered the Tea Smoked Duck as a highlight. Of course I had to order it again and it was just as good as I remembered it. The aroma of the tea was evident as the dish hit our table. It had a distinct smokey flavour and together with the crispy skin, mandarin segments and the plum and tamarind sauce, made for a stunning dish.
The side of Broccolini with Oyster Sauce & Garlic was simple and gave us our veggie intake for the afternoon.
The Penang Curry, whilst not the most photogenic dish, delivered in terms of incredible flavour. The beef shin was tender and falling apart, soaking in the curry sauce which was salty, tangy and sweet.
We also ordered the Steamed Market Fish, which today was a Snapper. It is cooked in the traditional Cantonese style, topped with shallots, ginger and soy sauce. Whilst not as bold in flavour as the duck or beef curry, it was a very comforting plate of food.
For dessert, we were treated to the Large Dessert Platter (we had ordered the Small but the server upgraded it for us as we were celebrating a birthday). The platter consisted of the Sago pudding with Vanilla Coconut cream and passionfruit coulis, Raspberry and Mango sorbet and Black sticky rice with cris corn and poached pear. Each was very enjoyable in their own way and I especially loved the Sago pudding which had a great balance of salty, sweet and tangy flavours.
China Doll is one of the few fine dining Chinese restaurants that I feel is worth going to with fantastic food, attentive service and water views.
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.
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.
Lan Yuan, Ryde
Lan Yuan is a newly opened Cantonese restaurant located in Top Ryde Shopping Centre. The design of the interior is lush and green, with lots of bamboo plants helping diners escape from the fact they are dining in a shopping complex. A plate of complimentary prawn crackers soon arrived on our table, which is always a good start to a meal!
We got the Snake bean and minced pork. With the garlic and oyster sauce, it's a very tasty, home style cooking dish.
The Crab meat and corn soup was thick and delicious, perfect for a cold winter's night. \
The Shandong Chicken was the highlight of the night. The crispy skinned chicken is juicy and tender, served with a soy, black vinegar, chilli and garlic dressing.
Lan Yuan does not have the feel of a typical Cantonese restaurant. It's a bit more relaxed and a bit less boisterous. Service is attentive and the servings are ginormous. It's a great addition to this part of town.
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!
Work in Progress, Sydney CBD
The Sichuan duck and tofu lo mein wasn't quite what I was expecting. I was anticipating actual slices of duck, rather than the minced variety. The noodles were cooked well and had that bouncy bite. The dish had a big punch of flavour, but the sichuan spice was a little overpowering for me.
Opened as a pop up bar, Merivale's Work in Progress helmed by Patrick Friesen, has been so popular it's now staying open indefinitely. The menu is dominated by Asian favourites, such as Lo Mein, fried chicken and wontons.
First to arrive was the Pork and prawn wonton. In the menu, the description of the dish included 'strange flavour'. I wasn't exactly sure what was so strange about it, but it was definitely tasty - a mixture of soy, peanuts and spices. The wontons were silky and plump with a delicious filling.
Every second restaurants seem to be serving fried chicken these days. I was eager to see how WIP's version measure up. With four varieties to choose from, we opted for the Fried chicken with ginger nuoc cham which comes with a side of pickled diakon, cucumber and kimchi. The batter was crispy and the meat very succulent, another great rendition of fried chicken.
Work In Progress is a great, casual place to go after work with friends (and they do a good cocktail too!) Let's hope they stay open a little while yet.
Tim Ho Wan, Chatswood
Ever since the world's cheapest Michellin starred restaurant Tim Ho Wan landed in Sydney back in late March, there have been constant queues for a table, especially on the weekends. The hype seemed to have died down a little and getting there just after 8 on a Tuesday night a couple of weeks ago, we were seated straight away. The menu contains all the familiar dishes you would find at Yum Cha and you order from the menu rather than from the roaming trolleys.
We couldn't go past the famous Baked bun with BBQ Pork filling. It is definitely sweeter than the average BBQ bun but I didn't actually mind it. The crust of the bun is quite crunchy but the inside of the bun is pillowy soft filled with delicious roasted BBQ Pork. I can see why it is the go-to dish at THW.
Another essential dish at any yum cha is Prawn Dumplings (or Har Gau). They are a bit pricey at $8.30 for four, but the flavour could not be faulted with a generous amount of prawns.
The Turnip cake was less impressive. Whilst it was tasty and had a lovely crispy coating, it could have done with more filling and flavour.
The food came very quickly...and by the time I got to the Steamed Egg Cake, it was getting a little cold. Despite this, the cake tasted delicious. The texture is very much like a chiffon cake - very light and fluffy and with just the right hint of sweetness.
The Spring roll with egg white were very crunchy, though I think I preferred the more common filling of meat and vegetables.
The Rice with Chicken, Sausage and Mushroom was rice full of flavour, but would have loved another couple of pieces of chicken.
One of my all time favourite desserts is Mango and Pomelo with sago and they do it very well in HK. It is almost like a cold soup, light and creamy. The sweetness from the mango goes perfectly with the slightly tangy pomelo.
So would I come back? Definitely. I am keen to try out the rest of the menu selection, but I will definitely order the pork buns again! The service is quick and efficient, and even though it is a bit more pricey than your standard yum cha restaurant, it is still very reasonable.
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