Lovable Lakemba

It’s a sad fact that although I have lived in Sydney for the past couple of years, my experience of the “burbs” has been limited to a couple of trendy inner city hotspots. With a Sunday careless and free, a friend and I decided to hit up Lakemba after reading about its Muslim-African-Indian-Lebanese-esque culture.

You know the great thing about NOT being from Sydney? I don’t know better! I had only heard short, sharp remarks about Lakemba’s reputation, its colourful past, its shading dealings.

The main street – Haldon Street – is this busy, clustered, eclectic shamble of old buildings, restaurants – their delicious smells wafting through the sidewalk, Indian supermarkets, Lebanese supermarkets, mosques, bakeries packed with baklava, ladies fingers, birds nest. The supermarkets were almost falling out the door, shelves stuffed with curry powders, flat breads, rose water, olives, dates, spices, molasses. For a place that has a bad wrap, this was not a bad start to the day at all! Before I knew it, I’d bought items that I really didn’t need, and probably wouldn’t use (well, at least for a while) – oh well, the perils of food travel.

Of course – the main aspect was indeed food. As we walked along that busy, vibrant, lively street we stumbled across a few restaurants where we, of course, needed to taste the food (all in the name of research).

First cab off the rank was Al Aseel. Knowing we were in for the long haul – a marathon effort of food tasting, you might say – we ordered smart: a mixed platter to share. Oh and this bizarre, yet really very famous, Ayran, the salted milky yoghurt drink. At our table was already a plate of the ubiquitous (and very colourful) pickles, as well as an enormous pile of the even more ubiquitous flat bread.


I don’t love pickles, but they were entertaining nonetheless. They were pretty salty, very crunchy and probably would have gone down a real treat with a cold stubby.

The mixed platter ($20) was basically several delicious pockets of bursting flavours on a plate. In the top left corner, we have felafel – it would have been nice to have more than one, but my bite was very crunchy, not too dry and not too salty. Delicious. In the top right corner, we had a fresh, herbacious, tart, juicy and altogether fabulous tabouli. The bottom left was a trio of smooth, flavoursome dips – a very garlicy garlic dip, a smokey baba ganoush and a creamy, sesame-spiked hommus – all went incredibly well with the pile of flat bread we had, as well as those meats! In the last corner, we had a trio of skewers, packed generously with chunks of chargrilled chicken, lamb and a kofta. The meats were lightly charred on the outside, juicy on the inside and otherwise perfectly cooked. All in all, a VERY satisfying platter.

The Ayran drink was bizarre. I’m a fan of drinking yoghurt and I’m generally a fan of natural yoghurt – and this is sort of what this drink tasted like, just with a salty aftertaste. The drinking process itself was fine, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the aftertaste.

Mixed platter

Switching cultures, we came across this out of the blue Cocos Islands restaurant. They weren’t wholly open, but did have a handful of freshly made curries at the ready, as well a group of about 15 girls practicing music and singing on the drums. Cocos Islands food, as I gather, is similar to Malaysian food, but with more freshness. For $10, we shared a plate of biryani – packed with fruit and the coloured rice, a spicy chilli chicken curry and a falling-off-the-bone lamb curry. You could just tell that these had been cooking for hours and the flavour of these things was just fantastic. It was a huge plate and we couldn’t finish it between the two of us.

Biryani, lamb curry, chicken curry

A further walk – and a handful of baklava later – we faced our third and final meal. Returning to our lebanese theme, we turned up at Jasmins and, of course, ordered the mixed plater ($14).

The restaurant was open only for takeaway as it was indeed the inconvenient in-between-meals time of 3:30pm by now, so we went to a nearby park / spot of grass to eat our meal. The elements were largely similar – the pickles and flat bread were there, as were the tabouli and trio of garlic, baba ganoush and hommus dips. There were two felafel – slightly oilier than the last, but equally as tasty. And the addition of a kibbeh – essentially minced lamb, in a croquette shape and deep fried. The meat in this version was in smaller chunks and slightly fattier than Al Aseel’s version, although it did have a decent piece of juicy chicken thigh that had been char grilled. I felt that the lamb kofta was a little too salty in this version as well.

Mixed platter: take 2

Facing certain obesity, we decided to call it quits. A fantastic day indeed – I would definitely recommend getting yourself out to Lakemba for a stroll around. We could have happily fed ourselves for between $10 and $20, which is almost unheard of these days. The food quality is great, the people are friendly and you know what? They’re actually generous and proud of their culture and happy to share it.

Restaurants we visited:

Al Aseel
135 Haldon St, Lakemba

Island Dreams Cafe
47 Haldon St, Lakemba

30B Haldon St, Lakemba

Carb nation

Carbs. Everywhere I look, people are freaked out by carbs. “It’s empty calories,” they say. “You’ll end up being a lardass,” they whine. To them I say: Carbs are fuel. Eat wisely, and you won’t have a problem. And you know what? Sometimes I like a nice, big hunk of fresh, steaming crusty bread and there is nothing wrong with that.

The great thing about making your own bread is control. You have control over everything. You have control over its shape, its form, its flavour, its preservatives (or lack thereof), its size, its look and its taste. With this in mind, I’ve gone for a delicious rosemary and olive soy and linseed bread. I’d call it a “cob” or a “loaf” but its shape turned out alien to me and not one that could really be defined.

For a nice, big, fat loaf, you will need:
– 600gm bread flour (I actually really like the brand Laucke, it’s good quality and seems to yield consistently good results. This time I went with their soy and linseed variety, but you could really go with whatever you wanted). Bread flour has salt in it already, so you definitely shouldn’t add any unless you enjoy eating playdough.
– 6gm yeast (the instant, fast acting one is the easiest…and if you buy Laucke flour, it comes in the pack -woohoo)
– 1 and 1/3 cups of warm water
– 2 tablespoons of olive oil
– 1 teaspoon of sugar
– 3 sprigs of rosemary
– 1 cup of olives, pitted

Step one – I knead you. I did myself a favour and went down and bought a mixer with dough hooks in the last lot of sales. You don’t actually need one – centuries of people have learnt to do something crazy, which we don’t seem to do today: they used manual labour. That said, I have gone down the lazy route of using a mixer and as I like to think of myself as a busy girl in a busy world, that option definitely trumps a hell of a lot of effort involved in kneading dough for 10 minutes. Chuck all of the ingredients except the olives in the bowl, attach the dough hooks and let her rip for about 10 mintues. You want the dough to be nice and elastic-y and not too sticky. Once you’re happy, you need to let the dough rise. At this point, I added the cup of olives and just mixed it in, myself. Given that I was making this dough in the butt-crack of winter, I devised a method of turning the oven on to literally about 50 degrees for a couple of minutes, and then putting the dough in a bowl, loosely covered by glad wrap, in the oven. Let it sit for about an hour, or until it’s doubled in size.

“I want to grow” said the little bit of dough

Step 2 – the punchdown: after the dough has had some time to hang out with its mates, you need to punch down the dough. The first rise is to get this yeast activated to it makes the bread nice, light, tall and springy. The punchdown is to remove the air from the dough, to allow a second rise, where the gluten in the bread will do its thang. Literally form a fist, and punch the dough. Roll it about a bit, and then place it on your baking tray in whatever form you wish. You could use a loaf tin, or just do what I did and go with it (….warning: you’ll end up with an ugly monstrosity). Let this hang out for another 30 minutes

Step 3 – what’s cooking, good looking: Preheat your oven to 190 degrees, fan forced. Chuck your dough in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes. When the bread is looking nice and golden, pull it out and given it a check. Tap the loaf – if it sounds hollow, it’s done. Once it’s out of the oven, let it hang out for about 20 minutes to cool down (and it’ll keep cooking a little bit too).

Step 4 – enjoy the fruits of your machine’s labour:

The face of a bread only a mother could love…


New Shanghai, Ashfield

A cool Sunday night and my housemates and I were feeling lazy, tired after a big weekend and generally less than impressed at the thought of a new working week approaching. Also feeling unusually ethnic, we decided to hit up the streets of Ashfield in search of the perfect dim sum dinner.

We ended up in New Shanghai, mostly due to the large number of Chinese locals wandering through the doors. My parents may have had me believe many false statements during my time, such as their lame attempt to get me to eat broccoli as a child by saying that it was Bart Simpson’s favourite food (…it worked). But one thing they did tell me was that you can always trust a good Chinese restaurant by the number of Chinese diners inside.

A considered scan of the menu later, we decided that grossly over-ordering was the way to go. Our order spanned xiao long bao (who wouldn’t get this?!), pan fried pork bun, pan fried pork dumpling, green shallot pancake, salt and pepper prawn and shanghainese noodles. They were all insanely cheap – circa $8, with the most expensive meal being the salt and pepper prawns at about $18. And these meals were huge, I’m talking laaaaarge. We probably could have skipped about 2 plates, but with smells wafting, nearby tables chattering and plates clinking, we just went with it.

First up: xiao long bao

Xiao Long Bao – a couple missing by this stage

The Xiao Long Bao was absolutely delicious. The cool thing about New Shanghai – as with a number of dumpling houses – is that you can watch the dumpling making process. They were folding and weaving and stuffing and rolling and stretching and steaming like wildfire. I hadn’t realised that the filling actually contains the broth (I’d always thought it was a gelatinous blob of soup that they would somehow stuff in the dumpling, that would melt during the steaming process) that eventually melts out to become this warm, soupy liquid that can burst out of the dumpling spectacularly if you fail to eat with the appropriate delicacy and skill. After some hilarious soup squirts, we realised that the way to get about this beautiful morsel is to bite a little hole in the skin and carefully pour the soup out into your spoon, and then go for gold.

Shanghai noodles

The Shanghai noodles as a dish was not particularly exceptional. There’s a little bit of chicken and a little bok choy thrown in, but what was actually pretty great was the noodles themselves. Hand made, slightly odd shapes and sizes and stir friend to al dente (to borrow a term…)

Fried pork bun

Next out came this mammoth plate of fried pork buns. I have to admit – and I’m probably the first person in the world to ever say this – but I don’t love steamed pork buns (I find the sweetness of the bun mixed with salty pork is super hard to get past), so the fried version wasn’t really ever going to get rave reviews from me. The buns were slightly less sweet, which was actually a good thing, though, and the pork was quite flavoursome. These guys also had the dangerous spurting soup.

Fried pork dumpling

Now, I’m not exactly sure what the real difference is – in terms of filling – between the fried pork bun and fried pork dumpling. The filling for both tasted very similar, and both had the squirting soup filling. The fried pork dumpling was actually quite different to what I had been expecting. I had sort of had in my head this beautiful, thin-skinned gyoza-type dumpling, but instead the skin was actually quite thick, although not as thick as the pork bun. The filling was also a little bit disappointing – it would have been great to see some chinese mushroom, or just some sort of accent towards one flavour – garlic and ginger is always a winner.

Shallot pancake

The shallot / green onion pancake was pretty good – it was plentiful with shallots and the pastry was deliciously flaky courtesy of the laborious rolling technique that I had just seen in the kitchen. It was a little bit oily, but then again it was fried so that is to be expected to a certain extent.

Salt and pepper prawns, and the very large spread

The salt and pepper prawns were well cooked – plump and juicy with a nice kick of salt and pepper. I hadn’t expected them to be lightly battered and deep fried, however, and would definitely have preferred them to be wok-tossed in the shell. That said, thinking about it, all other forms of salt and pepper goodness – squid, tofu etc – are invariably battered in the salt and pepper batter…

Overall – not a bad night. The Xiao Long Bao was delicious, although I had hoped for a little bit more from the other dishes. That said, for a huge feed for a low cost, with a cool hurried, boisterous and efficient atmosphere, it was actually a pretty good experience.

New Shanghai
273 Liverpool Rd
Ashfield, NSW 2131

Food: 5/10
Drinks: (well, it was chinese tea – can you really stuff it up?)
Atmosphere: 6/10
Recommend? Yes for a casual, cheap eat

New Shanghai Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Duck, Duck, Goose

I’d been fearing this weekend. The first weekend that I actually had to return to study, since finishing uni a couple of years ago. I discovered that studying whilst working is even less fun than studying without working, so my day was one massive wrestle against the ugly head of procrastination.

Naturally, procrastination won out. I decided to call it quits after abysmally listening to one hour-long lecture and promptly falling asleep.

I decided to go all out. I decided to try my hand at a meat that I feel is definitely under-utilised in Australia: the duck. Duck has a reputation for being difficult to cook – screw it up and you’ve got some tough bites to wrestle with.

Being half Malaysian, I had actually only ever tried Chinese roast duck – what I had thought was the most delicious of all ducks. But more recently, I have been ordering duck cooked in western ways and if you haven’t had it, do yourself a favour and go out and order this delicious meat.

I’ve decided to go with a crisp skin duck with red wine jus and pumpkin and sweet potato mash (I maintain it sounds wankier than it actually is).

Step 1 – lucky ducky: score the skin of your duck (not the meat!) at, say, 1cm intervals. You’ll only be scoring about 2mm as the skin is not particularly thick. Rub a little salt over the skin and let it hang out for a few minutes. Heat your oven to 200 degrees celcius (fan forced).

Beautiful, deep pink, luscious duck

When you’re ready to cook, pat any excess moisture off the skin. Heat a fry pan to a medium-hot heat. The idea is that you fry the duck, skin side down, without any oil as the duck fat sitting under that skin will render and flow out into your pan. Fry the duck for about 6 minutes, or until you see a drool-worthy golden colour. Flip the duck over and cook for about 3 minutes on the other side.

By this point, the house smelled like a meal

Take the duck out of the pan and place skin side up into a roasting tray, and whack in the preheated oven for about 8 minutes. After this, return the duck to the pan, skin side down for less than a minute, just to re-crisp the skin.

Step 2 – veg out: This one’s easy. I decided on a pumpkin and sweet potato mash as it was nicely sweet against the slightly salty, crispy duck skin. Once the pumpkin and sweet potato is boiled and the water drained, I like to add a clove of finely chopped garlic just to give that extra bite of interesting-ness.

Step 3 – just jus: I have to admit I just went mental with this and started adding little quantities of this and that until it tasted just about right. I went with a red wine jus and the basic premise is that you add a whole lotta liquid and flavourings, and then boil it down until it’s thick and almost syrupy. Start off by frying a couple of cloves of chopped garlic and a sprig of rosemary with a couple of teaspoons of butter. Definitely don’t let it burn otherwise your jus will be bitter and foul, just let the garlic soften a little. Pour in half a cup of red wine and a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar. When this has halved in volume, add a half a cup of chicken stock. Again, let this boil on down. Tweak the flavours as you see fit – salt if needed, vinegar to sweeten etc.

So jus-y

Step 4 – plate up: Let your duck hang out a bit and rest up before you slice it. It’ll mean the juices and run through the meat instead of onto your chopping board. I like to present mine atop a bed of the vibrant orange, sweet, creamy, chunky mash, with the juicy, pink duck sliced thickly – its golden, crispy skin shining towards the sky. Drizzle a few spoons of that deep, dark, sweet, jus over the duck and attempt to wait until you get to the dining table before pigging out.

Masterchef would not be proud of these presentation skills

Bangbang, Surry Hills

Despite the fact that uni students go to class for about 12 hours a week, when I was going through my uni years, there was always something happening. Sport…doing an assignment…working a part-time job…studying like the nerd I was (am)…recovering from a big night out. I always thought to myself “I can’t wait until I start work, apart from the working week I’ll have so much time to myself on weekends”. I’m sure I never told a grown-up person that, because they probably would have scoffed at me, mercilessly.

Now that I am a real, bona fide grown up, myself, I finally realise that those days of leisure during uni are only to be repeated the day I retire. So, for the first weekend in far too many weekends that I had nothing planned, I thought “what the hell” and treated myself to a deliciously, delightfully, care free lazy brunch.

My housemate and I went to a spot halfway down the hill from hell, Bangbang espresso bar and cafe, in Surry Hills.

11:30am in Surry Hills and its prime trendy brunch time. We had actually planned on going to Rueben Hills, a couple of streets over, but facing what was looking like a 40+ minute wait we brought out our ghetto voices, saying “hellllll no” and cantered off to Bangbang. I’ll admit I was sceptical upon seeing it. The interior looked sort of like there weren’t enough tables/chairs to fill the place and create that sought-after “buzz” and the cake cabinet looked overpriced ($4.50 for a bite-sized gluten free cake??) and nothing special (chocolate crackles. Cute, but really?).

I ate my words as soon as I saw the menu. In my rush of hunger and drool I failed to take a picture of it, thinking I could later return to their website (…there is none) and describe some of the fantastic-sounding dishes. From memory…potato rosti with spinach and poached egg, muesli “trifle”, the standard bacon and eggs, a big breakfast, a scottish breakfast (complete with black pudding!), french toast with mascarpone and fruit. With this being one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make all week (first world problems), I (and my housemate) settled on toasted brioche with onion jam, chorizo, avocado and coriander mash and rocket ($16.50) as well as a soy cappucino and a chai latte (…obviously).

No complaints about the coffee. Apparently the milk was not “nutty” as other soy caps have been in the past. My chai latte was fantastic.

More so a picture of the cup than the actual chai…

Somewhat bizzarely, it tasted exactly like the Punjabi Chai I bought from Mrs Oldbuck’s pantry in Berrima (…as you do), which I really do love. It had such a nice spicy flavour and plenty of ginger. Brewed in the pot, it was a very generous serve, filling 2 glasses and served with a cute pot of honey and a strainer on the side.

There was a bit of a wait for the brunches, but I’m fairly certain the cooks were about to collapse from the sheer business of the morning, so I’ll cut them a bit of slack for that.

Toasted brioche, onion jam, chorizo, poached egg and avocado and coriander mash

Upon first glance, it was a fairly small serve. But thinking about it, I’d call it an appropriately-sized, non-obese serve. But I tell you what, the flavours just exploded. The avocado mash was chunky, generous and fresh, packed with fresh coriander leaves.

The brioche was ever so slightly on the oily side, but was topped with a sweet, dense, caramelly onion jam and topped with charred, thick slices of spicy chorizo and a perfectly poached egg. The decent handful of spicy rocket on top was a nice touch. The charred wedge of lime that accompanied was a nice, caramelly addition, which really freshened the whole dish and really worked to make the slightly oily brioche far less noticeable.

The great things about Bangbang were that all of the dishes looked incredible – I may actually break my no-restaurant-repeats rule and go back and try some of the other brunches (the lunch menu, from 12pm-3pm held its own as well!); the staff were still polite and efficient, and despite the rush we were given as much time as we wanted, without feeling pressured to get the hell out of there (as so many busy restaurants make you feel).

Bangbang, I was sceptical at first, but boy did I change my mind. You know what? I will definitely be back.

Bangbang Espresso Bar and Cafe
113 Reservoir Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010

Food: 7/10
Drinks: 8/10
Atmostphere: 6/10
Recommend? Absolutely

Bangbang Espresso Bar and Cafe on Urbanspoon