Dong Ba, Bankstown: Bun Bo Hue

Rating: 4 out of 5

Dong Ba
296 Chapel Road South, Bankstown 2200

dong ba bun bo hue

When Momofuku’s David Chang came to Sydney for the first time, he was given a list of go-to noodle restaurants curated by Deputy Editor of the AGT, Pat Nourse. Most of them are centred around the CBD but among the few that aren’t is Dong Ba in Bankstown. It doesn’t take a detective to work out that their specialty is Bun Bo Hue, if their windows are anything to go by.

The Bun Bo Hue ($10) is a huge serving of soup noodle goodness. If you’re not shy about animal products like processed meat or offal, this is deliciousness in a bowl. The round, white rice noodles are topped with chunks of tender pork, slices of fish cake, tender beef, and big firm, cubes of jellied pigs’ blood. Chilli flakes and chilli oil float on the golden broth, which is spicy, and fragrant with lemongrass and deep beef and fish flavour.

Enhanced with the fresh, crunchy bean sprouts, torn basil leaves and a squeeze of fresh lemon, you could almost imagine yourself in a busy street side stall in Vietnam. Now you only need to whisk yourself away to Bankstown for a slice of Vietnam.

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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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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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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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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

Tre Viet on Urbanspoon

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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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!

Canton Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Thai Paragon, North Strathfield: Pad thai chicken

Rating: 3 out of 5

Thai Paragon
Bakehouse Quarter, George St, North Strathfield 2137

pad thai chicken

For a good portion of the last decade, pad thai was probably Sydney’s favourite dish, akin to the English and their fondness for chicken tikka masala.  Thai food joints popped up everywhere, often right next door to each other, and we just couldn’t get enough of their delicious red curries, chili and basil stir-fries, and this delicious noodle concoction known as pad thai.  Even though Thai has long been replaced by Mexican and American dude food in trendiness and popularity stakes, it is still a firm favourite amongst many Australians.

Thai Paragon is situated in the Bakehouse Quarter in North Strathfield, a stone’s throw away from Outback Steakhouse and Pancakes on the Rocks.  The restaurant is all dark wood and moody inside, but on a nice sunny autumn day, there is no better seat than outside, even if the cars are passing within metres of your table.

The pad thai chicken is a measley $10.90 as a lunch special, and you get a serving big enough to keep you fuelled for nearby tenpin bowling or laser skirmish activities.  The noodles came out an odd pink colour, but were sprinkled liberally with raw bean sprouts for fresh crunch, along with a wedge of lemon and crushed peanuts.  The bean sprouts and peanuts added a nice contrast in texture to the chewy noodles and tender chicken, and the sour lemon juice cut through the sweet flavour of the noodles.

Strangely, there were two big lonely chunks of red capsicum that seemed a bit out of place in amongst the strands of noodles, but otherwise there was a nice even sprinkling of chicken, mini tofu cubes and egg throughout.

Overall it was a decent dish of springy noodles with sweet and sour flavours and mix of textures.  The service is relatively quick for lunch service and pretty good value too.

Thai Paragon on Urbanspoon

Canton Noodle House, Burwood: Combination chow mein

Rating: 3 out of 5

Canton Noodle House
45 Burwood Road, Burwood 2134

combination chow mein

Something has to be said about a place that is unfussy to look at, with wipe down tables, fluorescent lighting, and a menu handwritten on coloured paper stuck to the wall, but is always filled with eager Chinese diners.

This restaurant is smack in the middle of Burwood, and is a favourite at lunch time and also in the evening.  We dined here on a Monday night, which would normally be a night that restaurant owners have off, but this place is still busy.  We are seated quickly and efficiently, with a pot of hot Chinese tea reaching our table before our bums even hit our seats.

The combination chow mein arrived after only a short wait, and we found a generous mix of seafood, vegetables, tender chicken and beef, and BBQ pork in a saucy gravy, poured over a thick nest of crispy thin egg noodles. One of the best things about chow mein is having a mix of textures, with crunchy noodles as well as soft noodles after the gravy has deliciously soaked in.

This dish was generously proportioned, and the meat was tender and juicy.  There was also a fairly even ratio of meat and vegetables to noodle, meaning you’re not left with lonely noodles or meat towards the end of the meal.  However, the gravy was a little on the salty side, and was a bit too gelatinous, suggesting that the chef was a bit overeager with the corn starch.

Overall, the combination chow mein here is great value at $10.70 for a big serving without the frills but delivers it with no fuss.

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