BBQ King, Haymarket: Roast duck with dry noodles

Rating: 3 out of 5

BBQ King
18 Goulburn St, Haymarket 2000

bbq king roast duck and noodlesBBQ King has long been a stalwart of Sydney’s late night dining scene.  Open until 2am, it brings in all those revellers that are looking for an alternative to a late night lamb sandwich.  However, this place is open all day, so whenever your hunger strikes, you can get your fill of roasted meats.  Hanging in the window of the take-away kiosk side are glistening samples of whole roasted ducks with deep, red skin, chunks of char siu, and slabs of crisp-skinned suckling pig.

I’ve been to BBQ King many times over the years for their roast duck lo mein.  I love lo mein, or stirred, Cantonese-style, wonton noodles.  They have a slightly firmer resistance when you bite through, with quite a distinctive taste and texture, and when they are served dry, lo mein style, it soaks up all the lovely flavours of the sauce.  I’m a sucker for duck when there is a choice.  Yes, even if there is pork on the menu, and in particular, suckling pig with crunchy crackling.

On this occasion, the roast duck was succulent and tender, although the skin was soft and not as crisp as I’ve had previously.  The noodles were firm with nice bite, and the duck juices at the bottom were a sweet and salty combination of soy and honey, with hints of Chinese five spice and star anise.

Unfortunately, the noodles and the choy sum underneath were not served hot.  In fact, it was barely warm.  I’m not sure whether my plate had been sitting around on a bench for a while before it reached me, but it was disappointingly colder than it should have been.  Otherwise, it’s still a worthwhile visit for the duck, and if I was stuck for a late night meal option, BBQ King would still be a strong contender.

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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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Hakata-Maru Ramen, Haymarket: Black tonkotsu ramen

Rating: 5 out 5

Hakata-Maru Ramen
Level 3, Market City, 9-13 Hay Street, Haymarket 2000

hakata maru ramen

If you thought that the Sydney ramen scene was already pretty crowded, we have welcomed some new joints in recent months. There has been a flurry of openings that raise the bar for a cheap and cheerful Japanese noodle, with Ramen Ikkyu‘s rich broth and thin noodles sending Sydney’s ramen fans into a drooling mess, followed by this new outlet, Hakata-Maru Ramen.

Hakata-Maru has opened in the food court of Chinatown shopping outlet hub, Market City.  It proudly serves Hakata-style ramen, which is known for its milky, white broth made from pork bones, and thin, straight, firm noodles.  The new outlet has been fitted out to look a bit like a traditional Japanese ramen shop, and from the counter, you can peer into the open kitchen.  Huge pots of tonkotsu broth sit on enormous burners, a ramen assistant cooks each batch of noodle and flings the baskets up and down to get rid of excess water, and the ramen master carefully assembles each bowl of delicious noodle.

The menu board shouts out the three main ramen offerings – a white, red or black tonkotsu ramen.  The white tonkotsu ramen is the base for each variety, with the red tonkotsu enhanced by a dollop of red miso paste, and the black tonkotsu by a slick of black garlic oil and garlic flakes.  Being a garlic enthusiast, it was impossible for me to go past the black option.  Hakata-Maru also offers extras for your order, as well as typical Hakata-style toppings for free, such as sesame seeds, benishoga or pickled red ginger strips, and karashi takana or spicy pickled mustard greens.

On my tray, alongside my glistening bowl of noodles, is a colourful cheat sheet, What is Hakata Ramen?, imparting some interesting information on what makes the Hakata-style noodle unique, as well as a guide for maximum noodle enjoyment.

Initially, I thought ramen serving was small, but I was thankful for this after discovering the richness of the tonkotsu broth.  The broth itself had a smooth, creaminess that didn’t leave that collagenic feel on the lips, and had a deep, flavoursome porkiness.  Stirring the garlic oil through white tonkotsu broth turned it into an almost squid ink black liquid, and added a further delicious, garlicky flavour dimension.  The crunch of fried garlic flakes, silkiness of the seasoned egg with wobbly yolk, and tender pork complemented the firmer, “al dente” style of straight ramen noodle, which have a nice bite and good level of springiness.

This place is going to be another Sydney ramen institution.  At a mere $7.80 for the basic, but still more than satisfying, white tonkotsu ramen, and $8.80 for the red or black tonkotsu (and $1 kaedama), Hakata-Maru delivers everything that you could ask for in a food court meal, and more.

hakata maru black tonkotsu ramen

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Kiroran Silk Road Uygur, Haymarket: Dapanji

Rating: 4 out of 5

Kiroran Silk Road Uygur
Shop 3, 6 Dixon Street, Haymarket 2000

chicken big plate dapanji uyghur food

For a long time, Chinese cuisine has been best known in the West for its Cantonese-style dishes. Fans would flock to their local Chinese restaurant for the sugary and cloying sweet and sour pork, lemon chicken, and beef in black bean sauce.  I’m not one to judge though, since the occasional honey king prawns is a guilty pleasure!

Only in the last decade have we really seen people branching out into the cuisines of other regions in China. Punters are embracing the spicy and mouth-numbing dishes of Szechuan province, and flocking to the Taiwanese-style dessert restaurants. One of the lesser known regions, the Xinjiang Uyghur region, has a cuisine that reflects its Central Asian history. It’s big on meats, particularly lamb and mutton, tomatoes, eggplant, and la mian, which brings the Noisy Noodler to Kiroran Silk Road Uyghur.

The restaurant is a mere stone’s throw from the heart of Chinatown, and is situated up a flight of stairs above another Uyghur establishment.  On my visit, it is a brightly lit and cheerful atmosphere inside, with a few large groups sharing laughs and drinks over their communal hot pot.

One of my dining companions hails from the Xinjiang Uyghur region and recommends the dapanji.  It literally translates to big chicken plate, and he assures me that it’s not only the best known dish from the region, but it also has Uyghur-style hand pulled noodles.  My friend also tells me that this dish is famous for its tender chicken, which is due to the addition of beer during cooking.  A clear no-brainer!

The dapanji is a large sharing dish of tomato-based Uyghur-style soup with big chunks of tender, slow-cooked chicken, potato, whole dried red chillies, capsicum, celery, and coriander.  Buried beneath the soup and chicken are glimpses of the white, flat noodle.  They are almost rustic with their uneven length and thickness, but are beautifully chewy without feeling like hard work.  The noodles go down such a treat that we order another serving of fresh noodle, kaedama-style.  The soup has a lovely aroma from the coriander and chillies, sweet with a hint of vinegary sourness, and the chicken pieces are soft and readily absorb the flavours of the soup.

If you’ve not had the chance to try Uyghur cuisine, the dapanji is a good place to start.  Sharing a large dish between a few people is a fun, communal way of eating, so bring a few friends too!

big plate chicken uighur

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Pho An, Bankstown: Beef pho

Rating: 4 out of 5

Pho An
27 Greenfield Parade, Bankstown 2200

beef pho an bankstown

When the topic of Sydney’s best pho crops up, Pho An regularly gets a nod from pho enthusiasts.  I was a little skeptical that the best pho could come from somewhere other than Sydney’s Vietnamese heartland of Cabramatta, but in the interests of impartial noodle testing, I was happy to make the trip to Bankstown in the search for good bowl of pho.

Pho An is a large, brightly-lit setting with rows of wipe-down tables and chairs, reminiscent of a Chinatown food court.  As soon as we walked in, we were quickly ushered to a table in the very back corner by our host.  Our bums had no sooner been planted on our seats before our host asked us for our order.  We quickly craned our necks to peer at the large menu board on the wall and concentrated as hard as we could in an attempt to decipher the Vietnamese and Chinese writing before our host finally put us out of our misery and asked whether we’d like to see a menu in English.

We looked over the menu to find that this place isn’t called Pho An for no reason – the only dishes they served were their specialty pho. There is a choice of beef or chicken, with further decisions to be made on the combinations of these animals that you fancied, including rare or cooked beef, cartilage, chicken, heart, liver, and blood jelly.

We couldn’t go past the pho topped with the beef combination of rare and cooked beef, tendon and tripe.  The large serving is a mere $1 more than the small, but it is dauntingly bigger portion.  The pho came topped with juicy pink, rare beef and feathery slices of tripe, and deep within the bowl of fragrant broth were hunks of smooth and buttery soft tendon, and silky noodles.  The broth was wonderfully beefy with strong flavours and aromas of coriander, shallots and ginger, although it had a slight bitter aftertaste which was effectively neutralised by lemon juice and chilli sauce.

If it’s noodles you’re after, this is a no-fuss and slick operation that specialises in decent pho.  Don’t bother with the menu – just go straight for the beef combination pho, and in no time, you will be in beefy bliss.

beef pho an bankstown

pho an bankstown

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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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Ramen Ikkyu, Haymarket: Ikkyu miso ramen

Rating: 5 out of 5

Ramen Ikkyu
Shop F1A, Sussex Centre Food Court, 401 Sussex Street, Haymarket 2000

ramen ikkyu

Sydney’s ramen fans undoubtedly squealed like teen One Direction fans at the news that Haru Inukai, formerly head chef of Blancharu in the city’s east, finally opened his own little ramen bar.  Hidden amongst the bright and shiny outlets of the Sussex Centre food court, Ramen Ikkyu is a sleek looking outlet with a photo board of only eight noodle dishes.

Ordering your meal is done via the two tablet screens, with the helpful assistance of the friendly lady behind the counter, although whether this system is faster than the manual method is debatable.  Although I had decided on the Ikkyu miso ramen before approaching the tablet, once I started tapping away, I was tempted to change my mind after getting a close-up look at all the other options.  In addition to choosing from the Ikkyu or Tokyo ramens in shio, shoyu or miso flavours, you can also opt for extra ramen toppings, including half a soft-boiled egg, bamboo shoots, and sweet corn, or if you feeling like spoiling yourself, a hefty side of pork rib.

After only a short wait, my Ikkyu miso ramen came out with thinly sliced carrot, caramelised onion, half a boiled egg, sweet kernels of corn, shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, and tender pieces of roasted pork.  The broth was a thick and full-flavoured, porky affair, which struck me at first with its saltiness.  Submerged under the broth and colourful toppings was the fresh, thin style ramen noodle, which was soft and held onto the flavoursome broth as I picked it up in my chopsticks and put it hungrily in my mouth.  The shredded roast pork actually outshone the broth with its sweet, smokey flavour, and I regretted not ordering more of this soft and tender meat as a side.

Ramen Ikkyu is already attracting the eager noodle crowds to the Sussex Centre, which is definitely one of the nicest Chinatown food courts.  Haru Inukai has created an elegant and simple ramen bar that is sure to be a hit with the ramen fans of Sydney.    I’m already making plans to come back here to try the Ikkyu shio ramen.  Anybody want to be my noodle companion?

ikkyu miso ramen

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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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