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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Let’s Eat Thai
352 Illawarra Road, Marrickville
(02) 9558 9508
Chat Thai (Haymarket)
20 Campbell Street, Haymarket
(02) 9211 1808
118 Willoughby Road, Crows Nest
(02) 9436 2700
586 Darling Street, Rozelle
(02) 9555 6369
Adriano Zumbo Cafe (The Lab)
114 Terry Street, Rozelle
(02) 9810 7318