Friday, April 29, 2011

Din Tai Fung comes to town

It's about time we got good dumplings in the city. As a CBD rat racer, I've been bemoaning the fact that you can't get dumplings in the city for a while now, and have even trekked down to World Square a few times for my dumpling fix.

Din Tai Fung Dumpling Bar, Level 5, Westfield Sydney
My heel tips have now been saved by the opening of an express Din Tai Fung in the second stage of Westfield Sydney's Level 5 food court.

Din Tai Fung xiao long bao masters
Serving an abridged menu of the world renowned dumplings and more substantial dishes, Din Tai Fung has quickly become a new shining star in a food court of megastars (think the relocated Becasse and new Quarter Twenty One restaurant, providore, cooking school and Becasse Bakery by Justin North, Sassy's Red by Chinta Ria, Thairiffic and more; not to forget Australia's first Zara downstairs).

Shrimp and pork wonton in spicy sauce
Servings, of dumplings at least, are smaller than the World Square DTF outlet and the prices are befitting of its new surroundings, I guess. The xiao long bao obviously made it to the menu, as too my favourite prawn and pork wontons in spicy sauce. Same chewy pastry, same sweet and spicy sauce.

Hot and sour soup
The hot and sour soup is great value at $3.80, perfect as a warming starter as the mercury drops. It features strips of sliky tofu that I don't remember from the restaurant, with the same sour and spicy flavours that really excite the tastebuds.

Drinks and desserts
Some of the drinks and desserts from the restaurant have also made it to the shiny Westfield Sydney food court, including the popular lychee and mint 'juice' and the avocado 'juice' sampled here.

Mango pudding
The smallish mango puddding serve has more mango bits and flavour than some yum cha versions can dream of; somewhat justifying the relatively high price tag. It's a nice cooling sweet after some too liberal use of the roasted chilli oil on the dumplings.

Level 5 food court, Westfield Sydney
With the extension of the Level 5 food court at least doubling what it was before, shoppers and nearby office workers are truly spoilt for choice when it comes to the humble lunch. And while you certainly pay for the luxury, you're also rewarded with lots of seating and pretty tree features - to pretend you've been outdoors perhaps?

I'm keen to try out a few more of the new places, but can say I'm genuinely glad that Din Tai Fung has made it to town.

Din Tai Fung Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Asia tripping - part VI: Hanoi street food, Vietnam

This is the sixth of several brief posts of my recent trip to Asia: photos, food and a few thoughts.

Streets of the Old Quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam
While it may have taken a few outings to get used to, I eventually found myself loving the streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter – for their character, efficiency of sorts, and the way things just work regardless of the hindrances in place.

Streetside fruit stall behind Dong Xuan markets
It felt like a people’s place, as opposed to a place for business or trade – perhaps with the exception of the Dong Xuan markets which were selling mostly cheap clothes.

Food alley next to Dong Xuan Markets
Following a quick tour of the said markets, we stumbled upon an alleyway filled with restaurants and open air stalls. People sat on small plastic chairs in the lane while motorbike and scooter traffic continued to drive through; past the diners and beeping through the pedestrians.

Minding the scooter traffic as you eat
There was lots of food on offer, from spring rolls and pho, to less commonly seen dishes and even a buffet style store. We managed to watchfully dodge and scoot our way to the end of the alley; a little unsure about protocol and cleanliness, but mostly hungry.

Making banh cuon
It was hard not to be enthralled by the fashionable young boy making banh cuon to order. He would speedily ladle and spread a thin, white batter on to a cloth stretched over a steamer pot and put the lid on for no more than half a minute.

Making banh cuon sheets
Lifting up a lid of steam, he would delicately peel the thin steamed rice noodle off the cloth, sprinkle a filling within, and have it rolled, chopped and on a plate in a matter of seconds, before getting on to making the next one.

Our banh cuon is served
We squeezed into our seats next to a bubbling pot and power outlet, and had banh cuon in front of us in moments. Topped with fried shallots and a dried seafood floss of some sort, we self-garnished from a big bowl of Vietnamese mint.

A mint garnish
The pieces were easily broken into bite sizes and dipped into nuoc cham; the silky texture savoured with the lumpy pork and woodear mushroom filling, as well as the sweetly tart sauce. It was our first enlightening meal in Vietnam.

Frying banh tom
After what was really a snack, we shifted down one stall to where the smell of deep-fry tempted. Banh tom, we were told, fritters of white sweet potato slivers with whole, unpeeled prawns; battered and fried into a cake.

Takeaway pickles and dipping sauce
An order is accompanied by a shared metal plate of fresh herbs and mixed lettuce leaves, and a bowl each of thinly sliced pickled vegetables, submerged in a dark brown dipping sauce.

One of the ladies at the stall fishes out the cooked banh tom from the woks of hot oil, roughly cuts them up with scissors, and plates them up for the customer. She even does a takeaway trade with a copious use of plastic bags.

Banh tom
The banh tom were expectedly crunchy and a bit oily, which was easily ignored after a dunk in the dipping sauce and wrapped with herbs in lettuce.

A tiny fried prawn
The best part was the prawns – heads, tails, legs and all fried to a crisp, however sparse they were.

Baguettes by bicycle, near Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam
The French influence in Hanoi can't be clearer than locals and their baguettes. Whether street side, on a bicycle or indeed, multiple 'stalls' along the highway on the way to Halong Bay, it seems a fresh baguette, or banh mi is simply a daily ritual.

Baguettes by the street side

Spring rolls by the street side
Baguettes aren't the only things on random street corners. Here, two young girls were making and deep frying two types of spring rolls, with passersby simply ordering and eating by the stall side, amid the usual traffic.

Heavy scooter traffic

One of the beef salad stores near the Hoan Kiem Lake
Later in the day, back towards the Hoan Kiem Lake area, we came across two street stalls across the road from each other – both packed with puffy-jacketed, seated diners munching on what looked like green papaya salads.

Dressing the salad
Watching the stallholders was entertainment itself – a handful of julienned green papaya, a sprinkle of thinly sliced beef, scissor-snipped dried liver (we think) and more snippings of fresh green herbs.

Dressing, much like nuoc cham, came from large soft drink bottles and was poured liberally over the salads, which were then ferried through the seated crowd from a guy who would take payment.

Nom thit bo kho
And with disposable chopsticks, we ate nom thit bo kho on the cold street with the locals, picking every last bit of papaya and every last morsel of beef. The crushed nuts and mint leaves as garnishes were a highlight of the salad.

And indeed, street food in Hanoi was an illness-free food highlight of the city and our trip overall. More Asia tripping posts to come on Vietnam, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Emirates Marquee shines amid Doncaster Day rain

Rain, wind, cold – I couldn’t believe I was putting a fascinator in my hair in these miserable conditions and was actually intending to go out into it. It was quite possibly the worst possible weather for a day at the races, but the horses were going to run for Emirates Doncaster Day, and so I went – with boots and a brolly.

Emirates Marquee, Emirates Doncaster Day, Royal Randwick
With many thanks to PPR, I was able to head into the warmth of the Emirates Marquee after trudging through the muddy grounds from the car park, and battling the windy rain to get to the southern end of the grandstand.

Moet served in the Emirates Marquee
And is there anything more warming than an overflowing glass of Moet to start the day and forget about my slightly damp stockings? Well, perhaps the quite strong sangria, which I decided to keep at bay in favour of the bubbles.

Glasses ready for sangria
Key sponsor of the day’s big race, Emirates had set up decidedly Spanish surrounds from which to quaff endless bottles of Moet and pick on delectable Spanish delights from chef Miguel Maestre and caterers Culinary Edge.

AJC Ambassador and actor Roy Billing
It was a celebrity spotting haven, with Ronan Keating and Sonia Kruger spotted within seconds, as well as John Singleton; Rick Stein; Les Hill, Peter Phelps and Gigi Edgley from Channel Nine’s Rescue Special Ops; Roy Billing; Guy Sebastian; Jessica Mauboy; and Bill and Alex from My Kitchen Rules.

I later also spotted a stunning Jodi Gordon, the gorgeous Zoe Ventoura, racing royalty Kate Waterhouse and Luke Ricketson chatting to footy boys Chris Walker and Jason Cayless. In between Kirk Pengilly asking me for my race picks, that is.

Seared sea scallops with fennel and chilli served in shell with
caper breadcrumb and lemon butter
Food was plentiful – not that Moet needs any help going down – ferried about by smiling waitresses dressed in dramatic Spanish theme. Levi’s Choice in the fourth race didn’t do it for me (just), but the scallops certainly did – sitting beneath a seasoned crumb in their half shells, so freshly sweet and crunchy at the same time.

The freshly shucked Sydney rock oysters with a simple squeeze of lemon or lime were just divine, so I might have been seen chasing them down a few times.

Cooked king prawns with herb aioli

Prawn-y goodness
Also seriously divine were the huge cooked and deveined king prawns; the vibrant pile hit up and dipped into the aioli by the likes of Rick Stein and I.

Chilled almond soup with Muscat grapes
The cool soup wasn’t quite my cup of tea; a creamy and thick, almost grainy liquid with sweet slivers of grape, though I imagine it would have been very refreshing on a warmer day.

Meanwhile, my stolen half of the fig tart with manchego cheese, honey and toasted walnuts was delightful – crunchy with sweetness all round – though I unfortunately had trouble in locating another half.

Dill crumbed white anchovy with chilli and oregano salsa
Not my favourite sea critter, the crumbed anchovies were like a fancy fish finger – just too fishy for my tastes, but improved with a drizzle of the salsa.

Barbeque chicken skewers marinated with paprika and oregano
with lime citrus yoghurt
The ample barbequed skewers of juicy chicken pieces played an important role in providing sustenance for the long day ahead, which picked up slightly for me when Vintedge ran a place in the fifth race in Randwick.

Snapper and red capsicum croquettes with saffron garlic aioli

With a sprinkle of salt and parsley
One of the popular more canapés of the day were the domed croquettes; golden crumbed inners of creamy, smooth snapper and capsicum, served in a paper boat with a golden-yellow saffron aioli. Hot, easy to pop in the mouth and so very moreish, I’d rather not count how many of these I had.

Smoked cured beef on almond and queso iberico wafer with
tomato, fennel and raisin jam

A flavour bomb
Tip of the day Brazilian Pulse did nothing in race six, unlike the smoked cured beef canapé, which was a flavour bomb – the salty beef tempered wonderfully by the tomato, fennel and raisin jam on the crunchy wafer.

Patinack Farm 100th AJC Oaks

Miguel Maestre and Alex and Bill from My Kitchen Rules
cook up a large paella
And as if the exquisite canapés weren’t enough, there were more substantial eats, which started to circulate when Miguel started up the huge paella pan, adding rice and oil to start his paella, and eventually chicken, stock and seasonings.

Classic Spanish paella
The paella was a warm delight, quite light and tangy from lemon, and with big chunks of toppings dominating the small bowls.

Slow-cooked roast smoked paprika lamb shoulder with potato puree
Even more hearty and weather-appropriate was the lamb with potato mash; the meat fall-apart tender and rich with paprika flavour.

Fresh king crab salad with avocado, citrus salad and gazpacho dressing
The salad was the polar opposite of the lamb, perhaps a form of hedging in case it was a stinking hot day like Derby Day the week prior. With cold shredded crab, avocado and pink grapefruit among the ingredients, it was a sprightly summery dish that was fine as long as you didn’t look at the weather outside.

Traditional potato tortilla with artichoke and salad of broad beans, mint, parsley
and shaved Murcia al Vino lemon dressing
The potato tortilla dish was a jumble of ingredients, including radish slices, rather large mint leaves and crumbed and fried artichoke that was unexpectedly cheesy, all atop the eggy potato slice.

Coyne Bay barramundi with hot garlic sauce and chilli dressing, quinoa grains
and sauteed zucchini
It was near overload when the fish dish arrived. A petite slice of grilled barra sat on a fun base of red, white and black quinoa - almost as fun as trying to eat flying fish roe one by one in the mouth.

Emirates Doncaster Mile
In the day’s feature race, heavy favourite More Joyous race didn’t deliver any joy; instead, Love Conquers All almost did it with a second place, ending my gambling for the day on a not so sour note.

Cinnamon dusted churros with chocolate dipping sauce
Aiding that was a selection of desserts as the Moet continued to flow and the marquee seemed to get more crowded than ever. Freshly cooked circular churros scented the air and drew us to their sugary cinnamon outers, made decadent by a quick dip into the pool of chocolate sauce.

Spiced dark mousse with honeycomb and strawberry wafers
The gorgeous glass of chocolate mousse held a surprise; not just in its attractive and contrasting garnishes of honeycomb pieces and delicate dried thins of strawberry, but the spiciness of the mousse itself. Going by the tingle in the back of my throat, I’m guessing the spice was chilli.

Baked caramel delight with orange caramel syrup
The caramel delight was cool and creamy, the orange sauce a little on the bitter side from either the orange or some intentional burn of the caramel sugar. Sweet, but not too exciting.

Santiago almond and red currant tarts served with lemon cream
My favourite of the desserts was undoubtedly the red currant tarts. Served warm and dusted with icing sugar, the frangipane-like filling had just enough sweetness to balance the tartness of the currants while the delicate short pastry shell was a crumbly treat.

I would have chased down a couple more of these were I not stuffed with food, champagne glass still in hand.

So I thought it was a bit odd that savoury food started coming around again. A menu check shows this as ‘the soak’ – I’m not sure if this is a reference to the weather or some status reading of my liver, but the food came and the people ate.

Calamari fritos with lime aioli and shoestring fries

Irresistable calamari
I need to work on resisting deep fried calamari in all its forms, and French fries too for that matter. A bit cooled by the time I got this cone, the squid was still commendably tender and not too oily.

Veal meatballs with tomato and olive sauce
I didn’t think I could stomach a veal meatball (or risk tomato sauce on a cream lace dress – we’re talking several glasses of Moet in now), although they looked scrummy with a jaunty cheese shaving garnish.

Flamenco dancer
Aside from food, booze, celebrity schmoozing – oh, and the horses, of course – there was formal entertainment in the way of flamenco dancing.

Fiery eyes of the dancer

Supporting dancers
Two sessions featured a dramatic soloist in red with supporting back-ups and then a vivid couple in black and purple. I even heard Miguel describe the soloist as exceptionally good, while I had trouble keeping up with her furiously fast stamping feet.

Flamenco dancer’s feet

Flamenco couple

Passionate dancing
When we called it quits - from eating and gambling - and had to face reality again, the rain, wind and cold brought home the fact that the Emirates Marquee is a complete, luxurious treat.

However, the general admission and member's stands were equally busy, with all and sundry seeming to enjoy the day despite the wet weather (and the inevitable losing bets).

Emirates Marquee crowd at Doncaster Day
The last meet of the 2011 Sydney Autumn Racing Carnival is this Saturday's (23 April) Sydney Cup Day, which is also family day. Get your tickets for your last chance to frock up for the races this season.

Food, booze and shoes attended the Emirates Marquee on Doncaster Day 2011 at Royal Randwick with thanks to PPR.


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