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Tourist Food Tour (Part 1)

Twitter is a lot of things to a lot of people. A micro blogging site, a chat room, a forum to vent frustration and rage, news & trend feed, human-powered query engine, and for the more cynical, an inane stream of consciousness.

It was where I was able to offload six unwanted and somewhat used tins of dulce de leche, into the hands of someone who has put to good use something that I would otherwise have thrown out. It’s also the place that I’d met with, and eventually befriended, a total stranger; a tourist no less. One that shares the same passion for food that I do.

So where does one take an out-of-towner on a budget-conscious food tour of Sydney? Whilst this question may have as many answers as there are people who hold an opinion on this matter, for better or worse, the following are some of the establishments we visited.

Jump to: Let’s Eat ThaiChat ThaiThe CounterCordelia’s CafeAdriano Zumbo Cafe (The Lab)

Let’s Eat Thai

Former chefs from Spice I Am branched out on their own and started up this little Thai restaurant located on THE eat street of Marrickville, Illawarra Rd; conveniently situated opposite the train station.

Whilst not my first choice for venues to show off to an out-of-towner, this was where we started none the less. Partly because it was it was a well regarded restaurant in Marrickville back when I was housesitting in the area, partly because of the association with Spice I Am, and partly due to being a convenient, neutral location for two people who have never met to meet.

If the situation ever headed in a southerly direction, I could always excuse myself for a cigarette break, even though I don’t smoke. Once outside, you’re spoilt for getaway options. Make a mad dash across the road to the train station, flag down a bus or a cab or, if things have gotten really desperate, leap onto the hood of a passing vehicle and beg the driver to floor it until you reach the next suburb. Thankfully, it never came to that.

The food at Let’s Eat Thai – Som Tum, Chicken Penang Curry & Pad Prik King with Crispy Pork Belly were all nice enough; which is a euphemism for “did not live up to expectations”. The flavours were very westernised. The Som Tum’s heat was very Angelo-friendly, even though a specific request was made to have it authentically hot. The Penang curry was more sweetness than anything else and the crispy pork tasted, at times, more like overcooked pork, fried to the point of being more tough & chewy than crispy.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite the criticisms, it still is a nice, inexpensive meal. Just don’t go expecting even a glimmer of Spice I Am’s magic, as you will likely be disappointed like I was.

Chat Thai

As with Mamak (a place we’d also ventured to but didn’t bother to take any photos of), Chat Thai offers a lot of experiences for the out-of-town food enthusiast. Good, affordable Asian food culture, late night supper culture, as well as the growing queuing culture that these restaurants are well known for.

Both Mamak & Chat Thai are situated very high on my must-try list for tourists. Hell, it’s very high on the list even for locals. Whilst it may not be considered the absolute pinnacle that Sydney has to offer by some, it’s a very good compromise of flavour and value.

A lot of the popular dishes made the order. The fresh flavours of Som DTum; green papaya salad with its balance of salty, sweet, sour & spicy. The unusual, though non-the-less tasty, Iced Bread; with its syrup & sweetened condensed milk mountain of shaved ice perched precariously onto a pile of bread pieces. There’s also the very popular Par Tuhng Go; fried dough sticks with a custard-like pandan dipping sauce.

In order to make things a little interesting for me, we also ordered something I’d not had before; the Fresh Spring Rolls. Fresh rice paper is wrapped around a filling of smoked fish sausage, shredded poached chicken, cucumbers and shallots, and dressed with a sweet tamarind sauce. A mistake in hindsight as the as the “fresh” rice paper was somewhat dry and chewy, making an otherwise nice dish a little unpleasant to eat.

The Counter

Normally this wouldn’t be high on my food tour list but the made-to-order burger concept of The Counter reminded my tourist friend of a similar place back home, which was well regarded in their eyes. Whilst I’m personally not all that fussed about the burgers at The Counter (they’re nice enough I guess), the shakes, especially the peanut butter and apple pie shakes (not pictured), are well worth the trip.

There’s a wide-eyed look of surprise, followed soon after by the sultry, involuntary closing of the eyes. An overdose of pleasure on the first sip of the peanut butter shake. Its smooth, rich & creamy texture; its sweet and salty flavour. A foodgasm by any other name; a reaction that was, at least for me, absolutely priceless to watch unfold.

The sides, whether they be the onion rings, sweet potato fries or the regular fries (not pictured) should not be overlooked, as they are all rather nice in their own right.

Cordelia’s Cafe

I wouldn’t consider a food tour of Sydney complete without including some form of cafe. As with Let’s Eat Thai, the selection of Cordelia’s Cafe was due to the convenience of location more than anything else.

The coffees are quite nice here. The Chicken Pesto & Brie Sandwich, served on a toasted olive focaccia which baked fresh at the cafe, was likewise rather good. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for my Bacon & Cheese Melt.

In hindsight, I should have known better. A melt is nothing more than an open faced sandwich smothered with melted cheese. However, paying $7.50 for something that tasted like a breakfast after an overindulgent, alcohol-fuelled night out on the town? One that would be slapped together with a hangover-addled mind, with little regard for the cooking process or little care for how it tasted. Something that’s little more than two slices of toasted sandwich bread, inexpensive tasting cheddar cheese and about a full rasher’s worth of bacon. I was a little disappointed with the food that was served, to say the least.

I probably should have said something then and there. Raised the issue of the apparent disparity of value with the cafe staff. Perhaps asked some questions at the time of ordering so that I could make an informed decision. I guess I’ll have to put this down as a learning experience. Ask questions, raise issues in a timely fashion, and never, under any circumstances, order a melt.

Adriano Zumbo Cafe (The Lab)

Given the popularity of this real life, modern day Willy Wonka, and the rather unique approach he takes to making macarons and cakes, a visit to Adriano Zumbo’s Cafe aka The Lab, or at least one of his patisserie stores, is something that I feel should be a part of any food tour of Sydney. It shouldn’t be the only place to visit for macarons, cake and the like. There are quite a number of places around Sydney that do a great job. However, how many of these patisseries have an open-plan kitchen that you can observe while you enjoy your desserts, savoury pastries and/or coffee?

Macaron flavours that are available at the cafe, as well as the patisseries, vary periodically. In this particular case, we opt for a small selection of macarons. Clockwise from the top – Ginger, Carrot Cake, Anunziata Chocolate & Toasted Marshmallow.

A Pork & Fennel Sausage Roll was ordered as well, mostly out of curiosity and comparison to the sublime version available from Bourke St Bakery. There’s no comparison; this sausage roll wasn’t even competing in the same league. The pastry tasted a little undercooked to me and the flavours were rather bland. There’s also a lamb sausage roll in a similar vein to the Bourke St. lamb & harissa roll. Whilst I’d be willing to give that a go, I’ll know to temper my expectations to minimise disappointment. Who knows, it could be just as good…

Whilst I can appreciate that there would be many other places that should be included in a food tour of Sydney, for better or worse, this was where we ended up going over a number of days. I’d love to hear your suggestions of places that you feel should be included in a food tour of Sydney.

To think, all of this food, all these experiences, great and small, good and not so great, all occurred due to a single tweet, sent by a total stranger, in response to one of my own messages on Twitter.

If you’re not already on Twitter, why not get in on the action and start up your own account. Whilst I wouldn’t expect the offer of food tours to occur on a regular, or even an infrequent basis, who knows. Social meet ups are organised from time to time on Twitter, not to mention competitions, rants and other random tidbits. Heck, you may even end up with six somewhat used tins of dulce de leche to use in brownies, flavour ice cream and the like.

Feel free to follow my Twitter feed. If Facebook is more your thing, there’s always the heart of food Facebook fan page.

Let’s Eat Thai
352 Illawarra Road, Marrickville
(02) 9558 9508

Trading Hours
Tues-Sun: 11am-4pm
Mon-Sun: 4:30pm-10pm

Chat Thai (Haymarket)
20 Campbell Street, Haymarket
(02) 9211 1808

Trading Hours
Mon-Sun: 10am-2am

The Counter
118 Willoughby Road, Crows Nest
(02) 9436 2700

Trading Hours
Tue-Wed: 5pm-9pm
Thur,Sun: 12pm-9pm
Fri-Sat: 12pm-10pm

Cordelia’s Cafe
586 Darling Street, Rozelle
(02) 9555 6369

Trading Hours
Mon-Tue: 7:30am-6pm
Wed-Sat: 7:30am-9pm
Sun: 8am-4:30pm

Adriano Zumbo Cafe (The Lab)
114 Terry Street, Rozelle
(02) 9810 7318

Trading Hours
Mon-Fri: 6:30am-4pm
Sat-Sun: 7:30am-4pm


Let's Eat on UrbanspoonChat Thai thai on UrbanspoonThe Counter on UrbanspoonCordelia's Cafe on UrbanspoonThe Lab on Urbanspoon

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{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Trisha March 2, 2011, 6:44 am

    What a great foodie roundup, Simon! Will be moving close(ish) to somewhere closer to the city soon so very interested in finding out eating holes around the area. :-)
    Trisha recently posted..Wheelers Oysters Farm &amp Seafood Restaurant- Merimbula

    • Simon March 4, 2011, 1:22 am

      I’m sure you’ll have a lot of fun with that. Have such an extensive list of places I want to check out in the city and I don’t even live around the area!

  • Betty @ The Hungry Girl March 2, 2011, 7:52 am

    Looks like a fun day out! I love Let’s Eat Thai, and it’s so great because it’s just around the corner from me :)
    Betty @ The Hungry Girl recently posted..Soffritto Restaurant- Newtown

    • Simon March 4, 2011, 1:23 am

      Well, few days. I don’t think any sane person would attempt all this in a single day!

  • shez March 2, 2011, 8:12 am

    Sounds like you had a lovely time with your out of towner from twitter regardless of the food at some of the venues selected. I live how twitter connects people that otherwise wouldn’t.

    • Simon March 4, 2011, 1:28 am

      I feel rather blessed that things turned out as well as they did. In spite of the food in one occasion, the experience itself and the company made it always feel worthwhile.

  • Gaby March 2, 2011, 9:01 am

    I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t been to Chat Thai or Mamak yet. I promise I will soon. That peanut butter milkshake sounds worth a trip to Crows Nest.
    Gaby recently posted..Tips and recipes for a Peruvian-style party

    • Simon March 4, 2011, 1:53 am

      Hope you do enjoy it when you do find the time and inclination to go :)

  • joey@FoodiePop March 2, 2011, 9:27 am

    What a fab tour! I wouldn’t have expected Thai in Marrickville to have over-westernised flavours; what a shame. And no tour of Sydney is complete without a Zumbo experience right? LOL I think a visit to a Simon Johnson providore is also a good idea.

    • Simon March 4, 2011, 1:30 am

      I didn’t expect it either but that’s how it tasted in my opinion. As I said, still good but I was expecting a Spice I Am experience in a suburban location. Perhaps an unrealistic expectation in hindsight.

  • angie March 2, 2011, 9:33 am

    How kind of you to take a complete stranger around town, I guess food is a connection that we all have, we gotta eat to live and it’s even more awesome when you connect with someone else for the LOVE of food =)
    angie recently posted..Caramel Mudcake with Chocolate Ganache Glaze – Its a Birthday Cake!

    • Simon March 4, 2011, 1:33 am

      Yeah, the whole food bringing people together this is what I love about what we do and how we tend to go about doing it, both for the blog and personally.

  • Laura (Starloz) March 2, 2011, 10:18 am

    what an incredibly nice thing to do, great tour.
    Laura (Starloz) recently posted..Safe driving

  • Lil March 2, 2011, 11:42 am

    Looked like a lot of fun!
    Wish I could do something as spontaneous as that!
    Lil recently posted..When things dont fall as planned

    • Simon March 4, 2011, 1:35 am

      I don’t see why you couldn’t? :)

  • Jacq March 2, 2011, 12:51 pm

    Sounds like you had heaps of food! I love the peanut butter shakes at The Counter as well, in fact I think I go there for the shakes rather than the burgers. I still haven’t been to Chat Thai – not a big fan of the ‘queuing culture’ lol
    Jacq recently posted..Birfday!

    • Simon March 4, 2011, 1:37 am

      Thankfully not all on one day!

      Still haven’t been to Chat Thai? Maybe you should go there late at night for supper. Shorter queues (if any) and there’s still a lot of good food available at that time. It wouldn’t be a bad way, to say, cap off the end of a big night out :)

  • Melissa March 2, 2011, 3:45 pm

    awesome food tour! twitter does seem help to connect people in its own way. haven’t been to the counter or cordelia’s. peanut butter shake sounds awesome!
    Melissa recently posted..Danks Street Depot- Patisse

  • the ninja March 2, 2011, 5:53 pm

    Good to hear the Counter left them shaken and stirred. Also quite heartening (if you’ll pardon the pun) to hear about the newmediasphere forging such interesting connections although I have enough trouble choosing restaurants for my friends that I would probably kamikaze if strangers came a-calling
    the ninja recently posted..Kenji

    • Simon March 4, 2011, 1:48 am

      You’re likely working with a cleaner slate. In my case, I found that far easier. Few prior expectations.

      As a Ninja, I imagine going kamikaze is standard operating procedure for a stranger that approaches you unannounced :)

  • Susan March 3, 2011, 2:29 pm

    Oh I wish I had a peanut butter shake right now! That sounds so good. Still haven’t been to Zumbos, but intend to go next time I am in Sydney
    Susan recently posted..Fresh Spring Rolls

    • Simon March 4, 2011, 1:49 am

      The Lab has that voyeuristic allure if you’re into that sort of thing. Otherwise, the patisserie may be the better option due to its range.

      Hope you can find the time to go there the next time you’re in Sydney :)

  • mademoiselle délicieuse March 4, 2011, 12:58 am

    I want to see a straight-from-the-movies getaway scene involving leaping onto the roof of a moving vehicle!

    Although I’m sure you’d be much more at home sipping a coffee and enjoying some quality food and conversation.
    mademoiselle délicieuse recently posted..Exceeding expectations at Sakana-Ya

    • Simon March 4, 2011, 1:52 am

      If a blind dinner outing ever turns south, who knows. You may get your wish :P

  • Heather March 6, 2011, 9:17 pm

    So no surprise, your photos are really great of these meals!!!

    I’ve largely been blessed by the folks I’ve met on Twitter — most everyone I’ve met in Oz has been a tweep to begin with :-)

    Looking forward to reconnecting when I get back to Sydney!! I’ll have my post up on the Asian eats in a few days!
    Heather recently posted..Tasmania- 3 friends- 2 weeks

    • Simon March 6, 2011, 11:49 pm

      I’m sure that there will be much to be discussed and possibly eaten :)

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