Monday, March 8, 2010

A game of Fat chance

Fat cats and fat wallets may be apt associations with a casino, but now the link is stretching to noodles – fat ones. Amidst the renovation and rejuvenation of the Star City casino complex in Pyrmont, through the lights and action of the gaming floor, the Fat Noodle sits ominously as an oasis among the green felted tables and flashing pokies. It’s a haven away from the exhilaration and adrenalin, yet so very much a part of it.

It’s the launch event for the Luke Nguyen-consulted restaurant, Fat Noodle; a getaway from the gambling hustle and bustle next to the brand spanking new Baccarat Room. Weary punters rejoice – there’s revitalisation (and salvation, if necessary) to be had in a bowl of pho noodles, fish congee or Shanghai Noodles – and now you don’t even have to head to Chinatown for a midnight or even 2am feed. The restaurant is literally on the main gaming floor so that the sounds of coins clanging out of a poker machine or the shouts of glee (or disappointment) can be, and are, heard.

Lychee and soursop frozen cocktails at Fat Noodle,
Star City Casino, Pyrmont

Cocktail greetings are the friendliest sort I know, and the frozen lychee and soursop cocktail becomes my evening’s constant companion. The tamarind martini is a more serious looking escort, with other meandering tray items including Tiger and Tsing Tao beers and various non-alcoholic beverages from the Fat Noodle menu.

Tamarind martini

An impressively long wooden communal table splits the large part of the dining area adjacent to the open kitchen and tonight, instead of feeding the hordes, it’s a paradise of bright florals and Asian trinkets forming a centrepiece among the waiters, trays and guests, including Matt Preston, Mikey Robbins, Sarah Wilson, Ros Reines, Tony Squires and even a neighbourhood visitor in Sean Connolly. And of course, the super friendly and approachable chef Luke Nguyen, who looks completely calm and almost as if he’s having as much fun as the rest of us.

Consulting chef Luke Nguyen of Red Lantern

A ninja army of chefs in the kitchen display their wok fire-breathing and tossing skills along with ornate, detailed work at the cocktail bar. Come to think of it, along with the smiling ninja waiters almost forcing food upon us like Asian grandmothers, there’s quite a familial vibe of the restaurant; warm and welcoming.

Fat Noodle's open kitchen

I don’t know any Asian function that doesn’t centre around food in some way, shape or form – and tonight is no different. Plates of grilled and fried tidbits for the fingers, mini bowls of steaming soups and stews, and small plates of the more substantials do pan-Asian laps around the communal table, with pit stops every second or so into hungry, drooling and mostly impressed mouths.

Grilled Byron Bay organic pork neck skewers

My first taste of the night – and ultimately my favourite – was the grilled Byron Bay pork skewers. Caramelly and charred on the outside, every morsel of pork was succulently tender with hints of lemongrass, chilli and garlic taking this little piggy all the way to my heart via the tastebuds. I must admit that I had to restrain myself from looking too much like one of the skewered species by taking handfuls of the skewers from the plates, but they were simply sensational.

Salt & pepper silken tofu

The quiet ones to watch were the deep fired cubes of salt and pepper tofu – light and meek looking, but packing a fiery chilli kick if you were lucky enough to encounter a bit of red. It was not so much ideal as a canapé with wooden pick-forks though, reminding me of roasted marshmallows, as the silken texture of the tofu would much prefer the sturdy clasp of chopsticks.

Fat pho noodles

There was tangible excitement around the room when the miniature bowls began to circulate, indicating a move away from the finger-manageables. I met my bowl of pho noodles with delight, and oddly enough, I think the feeling was mutual. The thin, rare slice of a beef topper and slippery rice noodles beneath were delicate against the hearty hug of the broth – a man-hug of a soup; back-slappingly good.

Hand-made prawn and pork wontons

Cylindrical tea cups hold more soupy goodness to go around, with a hefty prawn and pork wonton floating among spring onion flotsam. The whole prawn encased within the egg pastry is generous, but I find myself relishing the ingredient-sweet soup even more.

Slow braised wagyu beef brisket and tendons

Merely hearing wagyu brisket and tendon made jelly of me, as well cooked tendon often does. The deep coloured juices from the stew give the initial indication but the palate is simply unprepared for the melange of flavour infused in one little cube of melt-away beef. The tendon is probably unfamiliar on menus outside of yum cha, but a heartily welcome addition I think.

XO large eastern Australian prawns with glass noodles

Cups and bowls strewn everywhere (though not for long with the very efficient staff), it was then time to share a little love with rectangular platters of glass noodles topped with prawns, dished out by staff and thoughtfully accompanied with a choice of chopsticks or a fork. The XO sauce was lightly tongue-tingling with an underlying seafood flavour mixed through the shiny, clear noodles.

Roast duck with tamarind plum sauce and crispy noodles

I must have been visibly excited at the sight of the duck, and even more so after Luke tells me I “have to” try it. Obediently, I sample the slices of duck breast with burnished brown skin beneath a squiggle of tamarind and plum sauce. The contrasting texture of the meat with the crisp fried vermicelli noodles is adorable, but the roast duck is clearly the shining star with its rich flesh and not a trace of gaminess.

Drinks including watermelon juice, ginger lemonade and orange juice

There were also pork-packed crispy spring rolls earlier in the night, duck or prawn filled Vietnamese rice paper rolls later, but with cocktails interspersed with the occasional watermelon juice or sugary ginger lemonade – it wasn’t the noodles getting fat anymore. With food like this on offer, there’s fat chance of anyone on the gaming floor getting hungry.

Thanks to the guys at MP Agency for the invitation to the launch party – and thanks to Luke Nguyen and the Fat Noodle team for a great evening. I can’t wait to try out some of the recipes contained within Luke Nguyen’s adventure of a cookbook, and a beautiful travel journal it seems, The Songs of Sapa (Murdoch Books, RRP A$69.95), or alternatively duck down to Red Lantern for a visit soon.

The Songs of Sapa by Luke Nguyen

Fat Noodle on Urbanspoon


chocolatesuze said...

oh man the wagyu beef brisket was soooo awesome! great seeing ya there!

Tina said...

Hey suze - Good to see you too! Pork skewers were IT for me... :)


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