Thuy Huong, Marrickville: Bun thit nuong cha gio

Rating: 3 out of 5

Thuy Huong
304 Illawarra Road, Marrickville 2204

thuy huong bun thit nuong cha gioMarrickville has been a melting pot of immigrant cultures for a long time, but is best known now for the plethora of Vietnamese restaurants and Asian grocery stores.  It’s a vibrant little community, with Sunday markets, cafes, restaurants, and an annual Marrickville Festival.

Along the busy Illawarra Road strip is the popular Thuy Huong restaurant.  It is simply decorated with tiled floors and wooden tables, and is a modest, family-run restaurant.  However simple it may look, it is always filled with diners – couples, families, and friends sitting with tables overflowing with large, steaming bowls of pho.

The bun thit nuong cha gio is a good choice if you can’t decide between the pork or the spring rolls for your rice noodles – why not have both!  It’s a huge portion, and the bowl is brimming with BBQ lemongrass pork, three crisp spring rolls, and loads of fresh salad topping the soft, rice vermicelli noodles.  Pouring over the nuoc cham dressing, I tuck into the refreshing mix of cold noodle and salad contrasting with the hot pork and spring rolls.  The charred and caramelised pork is juicy, and the spring rolls are filled with pork mince, cabbage, black fungus, and carrot, although aren’t as porky as I’d like.

I always love a good bun.  This one ticks the boxes, with a delicious mix of textures and flavours – crunchy fresh cucumber, bean sprouts and carrot having a party in your mouth with soft noodle, meaty pork, and sweet, salty and sour dressing. If you’re in the area, Thuy Huong is definitely a good choice for a satisfying Vietnamese feed.

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Hoang Gia, Flemington: Bun cha gio

Rating: 4 out of 5

Pho Hoang Gia
2/98 The Crescent, Flemington 2140

bun cha gio

As much as I love pho whenever I venture out for Vietnamese, sometimes I just really want a lighter meal than a hot, beefy soup.  What these occasions call for is bun cha.  In fact, I think I could easily eat bun cha for the rest of my life.  It has all your food groups in one bowl – vermicelli rice noodles, vegetables and salad, and topped with the protein of your choice.

Amongst all the Vietnamese restaurants in the Flemington strip, this one was recommended by friends in the know.  It is tucked in a lane way behind the main street and is bustling with lunch time diners when I arrive.

My bowl of noodles comes out reasonably quickly, and my eyes excitedly widen at the golden cha gio (or spring rolls) artfully arranged around the edge on the top.  The salad of noodles also comes with crunchy, fresh bean sprouts, shredded lettuce  and carrot, fragrant chopped mint, and crushed peanuts.  I pour over the home made nuoc cham dressing, which brings all the flavours together in a lovely sweet, salty and sour mix.

The noodles are light and refreshing, and I was particularly impressed with the cha gio, where the crisp shell was filled with delicious pork mince, carrot, garlic, black fungus and strands of vermicelli.  Combined with the soft noodles and crunchy, fresh salad, it’s a fun contrast of flavours and textures.

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Shanghai Night, Ashfield: Zha jian mian

Rating: 4 out of 5

Shanghai Night
275 Liverpool Road, Ashfield 2131

shanghai night dumpling making

Ashfield is Sydney’s dumpling hub.  If it’s Shanghai-style dumplings you’re after, whether you’re hungering for the steamed, soupy, flavour burst of xiao long bao, or golden, crisp-bottomed pan-fried dumplings, there are a string of outlets along Liverpool Road to satisfy all your cravings.

Shanghai Night has undergone a bit of a cosmetic freshen up in the last twelve months.  It doesn’t look as dark and moody as the slick joint, New Shanghai, next door, but don’t let its nondescript looks fool you.  This place is renowned for its dumplings, and you can even see them being made behind a glass panel at the back of the dining room.  Deft hands mould and pinch delicate, white skins around the minced fillings to craft identically sized and shaped dumplings, ready for a steamer.  Thankfully, for noodle fiends like myself, there is also a good selection of dishes on the menu that serve bouncy, hand made noodles, la mian.

Zha jian mian is a bit like spaghetti bolognese, Chinese style.  Here, the white, hand-pulled noodle is topped with rich, pork mince and slices of cucumber.

zha jian mian

Mix it all up and you get a wonderful concoction of meaty pork, soft yet toothsome noodle, offset by crunchy, refreshing cucumber.  It’s like a party going on in your mouth.  The sauce also has a delicious hint of chilli, making it difficult to stop until you’ve polished off the entire serving.

It’s worth coming out to Shanghai Night just for this dish, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to have some dumplings on the side either.zha jian mian 2

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Seabay Handmade Noodle Restaurant, Burwood: Chopped noodle with pork

Rating: 4 out of 5

Seabay Handmade Noodle Restaurant
181D Burwood Road, Burwood 2134

chopped handmade noodle

Hand pulled noodles, or la mian, is a well known Chinese speciality which is a fascinating process to watch.  The result is usually long strands of beautifully springy noodle.  However, on a visit to Seabay Handmade Noodle Restaurant in the Inner West suburb of Burwood, I discovered a new way to have these delicious noodles – chopped!  The thicker rope of yellow noodle dough is chopped into little chunks so they look like a pile of corn kernels.  No longer will first daters fumble with their chopsticks in a lame attempt to look like they’re worldly, yet try in vain to prevent embarrassing stains in their lap.  Here is a noodle that you can eat with a spoon!

The chopped noodle was firm due to its thickness, but still had a nice chewy and bouncy texture.  It was served with a loads of pork mince, chopped tomato, red capsicum, Chinese cabbage and chives, all in similar size pieces so that you can get a good mix of everything in each spoonful.  Bringing it all together was a delicious soy, garlic sauce with a hint of vinegary sourness contrast.

A generous serving will only set you back a mere $11.80, which equates to decent value at this popular Burwood noodle joint.  If you haven’t tried chopped noodle before, this dish is a surefire bet to convert you to the convenience and ease of spoon noodle eating!

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707 Japanese, North Strathfield: Yaki udon beef

Rating: 3 out of 5

707 Japanese Restaurant
16 George Street, North Strathfield 2137

yaki udon beef

One of those types that are right up there on the Supremely Annoying People scale are those that will go to a specialty restaurant and will order anything but the specialty. You know the ones – they will order fish at a steak restaurant, or the chicken at a seafood restaurant. I accept that they may have been dragged there against their will, but hey, they have either have inconsiderate dining companions, or they should quit being so picky.

Having said all that, 707 Japanese in North Strathfield specialise in Japanese BBQ, where you can order cuts of wagyu fillet and tenderloin or ox tongue, and cook it yourself over the hot plate in the middle of the table.  It’s infinitely more fun when sharing with others, so on this occasion when none of my dining companions fancied a meat-fest, I was left to order noodles at a Japanese BBQ restaurant.  Yes, I became one of those people!

The yaki udon beef came out on a pretty, rectangular plate, loaded with strips of beef and a rainbow of vegetables, including crunchy broccoli, red and green capsicum, cauliflower, bean sprouts, and shredded cabbage.  The marinated beef was tender and juicy, and there was a good ratio of all ingredients so that I never felt like there was too much of one thing.  The noodles were a good balance of soft, yet firm, chewiness, and it was nice contrast to the crunchy greens.  The teriyaki sauce was sweet but not cloying, and brought everything together nicely.

The service here is friendly and polite, with my pot of hot green tea being refilled without even having to ask.  The decor is modern yet comfortable, with lots of dark wood, and the food came out quickly.  All in all, a solid and decent noodle experience.

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Tre Viet, Newtown: Beef pho

Rating: 3 out of 5

Tre Viet
152-154 King Street, Newtown 2042

beef pho

Newtown is a wonderful Inner West suburb of Sydney that has a cultural style of its own.  It has an eclectic mix of university students and arty types, being a hub for live music, theatre, graffiti and street art, and a vibrant gay and lesbian community.  The other good thing about Newtown is its main drag, King Street, being chock full of cheap eats, from Indian diners, Thai restaurants, bustling cafes, and many many pubs.

One of the more popular establishments on King Street is Tre Viet, a restaurant that claims to specialise in pho and traditional Vietnamese dishes.  Pho is a popular street food dish in Vietnam – cheap and very satisfying – and it’s probably the most well known Vietnamese dish alongside rice paper rolls.  It’s one of my favourite noodle dishes, since it’s a light and seemingly simple dish but still has wonderful complex flavours in the broth.

The beef pho at Tre Viet was served with slices of cooked beef but also beautifully juicy slices of raw beef that poach slowly in the wonderful broth.  The broth had a full beefy flavour with a hint of ginger and star anise, and also smelled of sweet coriander and onion.  A basket of Thai basil, bean sprouts and lemon wedges was served alongside, and these added some fresh crunch and more subtle flavours to the dish.  The thin white noodles were on the softer side but still slurpable.

Despite the busyness of the restaurant, we didn’t have to wait too long for our meals, and the service was friendly and polite.  The beef pho was satisfyingly good, with a lovely beefy broth and deliciously sweet tender beef, even if the noodles were slightly too soft, so definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.

pho garnishes

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Sushiman, Balmain: Spicy seafood ramen

Rating: 2 out 5

Sushiman
321A Darling Street, Balmain 2041

seafood ramen

Although there is a vast array of decent ramen restaurants in Sydney, the common Australian’s experience with ramen noodles is usually the instant variety.  Those little rectangular cakes of fried noodle in cellophane packaging are the staple diet of students everywhere, unless you are a slightly more affluent student, whereby the pot noodle is a bit of a step up.

My previous ramen experience here at Sushiman was decidedly average, with my Spicy Chicken Ramen reminiscent of a packet of Shin Ramyun. Don’t get me wrong, I love Shin Ramyun (it’s my Plan B dinner when I’m lazy – just crack an egg and add some vegies and you have a delicious meal within 10 minutes!), however I expect something more when I’m paying $10 for a restaurant-standard ramen.

On this visit, I was keen to give the ramen another go.  This time I went for the Spicy Seafood Ramen – it’s damn hard for me to go past the spicy version of anything when it’s on offer (KFC Hot n Spicy is a prime example!).  The bowl of ramen was served with a reasonably generous cocktail of frozen seafood mix, which included miniature shrimp, claims, mussels, calamari and octopus, along with a decent variety of fresh vegetables including green beans, sliced carrot, eggplant, and broccoli.  The soup was better than last time, taking on a seafoody flavour, and the noodles were still the instant type, and slightly overcooked as they were a tad too soft.

This is not anywhere close to an authentic style, quality ramen, being made with instant ramen and frozen seafood mix.  It’s still a relatively satisfying feed with a nice mix of vegetables and seafood (even if it is the frozen mix variety), however next time I fancy instant noodles, I’ll make my Shin Ramyun at home.

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Seabay Handmade Noodle Restaurant, Burwood: Beef noodle soup

Rating: 4 out of 5

Seabay Handmade Noodle Restaurant
181D Burwood Road, Burwood 2134

beef noodle soup handmade noodles

Seabay Handmade Noodle Restaurant has a bit of a rock star reputation according to the locals in the know. Despite the nondescript exterior, which includes a large photographic menu board that virtually covers their front window, this place is busy day and night. What the locals come here for is the beautiful hand made noodle, la mian, and the cumin lamb that comes on long metal skewers (in my opinion though, the best cumin lamb skewers in Sydney can be found at Lamb & Cumin at Hurstville station).

One of my friends, who is a Burwood local, could not rave about this place highly enough, and specifically the beef noodle soup. As I walked into the restaurant during their busy dinner service, I could see a few diners hunched over their steaming bowls of beef noodle soup – clearly a favourite! It was a no-brainer to go with their specialty.

When my very large bowl of beef noodle soup arrived, I was struck at first by the beautiful fragrant aroma of the fresh coriander and spring onions, which were sprinkled liberally on the top. It almost reminded me of a pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle soup. The almost paper thin slices of beef were floating tantalisingly on the surface, and the snow white hand pulled noodles were hiding just below.

The first thing I did was the pick up a spoon and taste the beautiful clear broth, and it had a clean beef flavour with a hint of sweetness, and my whole mouth and nose filled with the fragrance of the fresh herbs. The noodles had the perfect level of firmness and chewiness, which despite the overly generous portion, were so delicious that I just had to fish out every last noodle from the bottom of the bowl!  A simple meal, but oh so satisfying.

This was pretty much a perfect bowl of noodle soup, save for beef slices, which were a tad on the dry side. If they could have served the sliced beef raw, this would have been my idea of heaven in a bowl. And at a mere $9.80 for a massive serving, you could not get better value anywhere else in Sydney.

beef noodle soup handmade noodles

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New Shanghai, Ashfield: Stir fried la mian with pork and vegetables

Rating: 2 out of 5

New Shanghai
273 Liverpool Road, Ashfield 2131

hand made noodle la mian

One of the most mesmerising experiences one can have is to witness la mian being made.  In Chinese, it means “pulled noodle”, and it’s a fascinating sight seeing the noodle puller repeatedly stretching and pulling a nondescript pile of dough into fresh, springy noodles.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the noodles being made tonight at New Shanghai, as it was a late 8pm weeknight dinner visit.  Despite this, the restaurant was still full of chatty diners, overwhelmingly of Chinese background, which is always a good sign for a Chinese restaurant!  We were seated quickly and served a hot pot of tea, with the waitress coming back within around 30 seconds to take our order.  Eager to please, or get us in and out so that they could go home!

We ordered the stir fried la mian with pork and vegetables, since it was the first item on the noodle menu and presumably the safe choice, but also because the photo illustration at the bottom of the dish looked pretty damn good.  When it arrived, we looked at each other with instant disappointment. The noodles only just covered the bottom of the white rectangular dish, with no whiff of volume or generous proportions.  It certainly looked nothing like the picture on the menu.

The noodles themselves were deliciously springy and not too soft, stir fried in a tasty soy-based sauce with a hint of chilli.  However, the noodles were the only salvation for this dish.  The aforementioned pork was barely existent, with only a few scratchings of marinated meat which were even outnumbered by the small amount of choy sum vegetable.

Overall, the dish was disappointing considering our high hopes.  A paltry serving with very little meat overshadowed the beautiful noodles.  Not a good value proposition at all.

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Canton Noodle House, Burwood: Beef chow ho fun

Rating: 3 out of 5

Canton Noodle House
45 Burwood Road, Burwood 2134

beef ho fun

Ho fun, or the thick, flat rice noodles, is probably my favourite type of noodle in the world.  Soft and silky, and readily absorbing the flavours of whatever you add, it’s delicious even when served simply with a little bit of soy sauce and chilli oil.  Growing up, my dad often made beef chow ho fun, served with marinated strips of beef, so it’s certainly a nostalgic dish for me.

This restaurant is in the suburb of Burwood, which has a healthy Chinese population, and as a result, a multitude of Chinese restaurant choices.  The Canton Noodle House is popular during both lunch and dinner services, serving with military efficiency a big variety of noodle dishes as well as the favourites like sweet and sour pork or salt and pepper squid.

The beef chow ho fun was a generous size, as is the case with pretty much every dish here, and had a pleasing glossy sheen without being too oily.  The noodles were soft and elastic, just as they should be, and this was contrasted with the crunchiness of fresh bean sprouts and subtle hint of aromatic onion from the stir-fried chives.  There was plenty of tender grilled beef to keep meat fans happy, although for a noodle fan like myself, I would have preferred a higher ratio of noodles to meat.  One slightly annoying thing was the varying sizes of beef, with some pieces small and dainty, but others so big that you couldn’t fit a whole piece in your mouth with looking gluttonous, let alone having some noodle with your mouthful of meat.

The dish was polished off without too many complaints, and considering the portion size, a good value proposition when washed down with free hot tea!

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