Monday, August 31, 2009

A Tale of Two Dumplings

Sorry about the misleading headline, this post isn't just about dumplings but it seemed appropriate given that it is one of the traditional dishes by which a restaurant is judged. And I know it's cheating to review two restaurants together but I am soooo behind in my posts that this is the only way to catch up. I hope you're not disappointed!

I've been to restaurants in shopping centres before (The Kam Fook in Chatswood and Din Tai Fung spring to mind) but that both restaurants were extremely busy on the days that we visited says a lot about the food!

The New Shanghai Chinese Restaurant, Lemongrove, Chatswood

Inspired by many other blogs to try this "in our backyard" dumpling restaurant, our party arrived in Chatswood with great anticipation. The restaurant was so full that in spite our booking in advance, we found ourselves sitting at one of the long food court tables outside the actual restaurant. So I can't speak for the decor or the ambience but we did have a bird's eye view of the window where the aforementioned dumplings are made. Quite similar to the Din Tai Fung restaurants (in the city and in Singapore at least), mostly women in aprons and protective headgear totally focussed on what they're doing.

The menu was a cornucopia of offerings - almost like the Denny's of Shanghai cuisine, the border of the A3 sized menu was helpfully bordered with the restaurant's own photographs of key dishes - the usual northern wheat-based Chinese fare.

And the food was not disappointing. Even though we ate this food almost two months ago, looking at the photos, I can still taste the sauce of each of the dishes.

Vegetarian dish - not my cup of tea but interesting textures!
Pork Chops - yum! Went back for seconds and thirds!

Fried fish?! Don't really remember this one ...
Shredded seaweed salad - spicy!
Cold jellied beef shin - traditional, not specially flavourable...
Short soup - great allergy standby!
Soup infused dumplings - lovely springy not too thick pastry and delicious meatball in soup.
Rice noodle stir fry - good flavour, not too greasy
Silver thread bun - beautifully stringy and great light bread texture.
Shallot pancake - a little thicker than some but good amount of shallot and flavoursome.
Pan fried dumplings - crispy, hot and tasty.
Can't recall the name of these dumplings but they really were the stand-out of the meal. With the bread weight of the silver thread buns and the crispiness of the pan fried dumpling, it was very satisfying. Unfortunately it was also one of the last dishes to arrive so we were struggling to fit any more in. In spite of this, they did vanish quickly.

I would like to say that the fact we ate in the food court didn't colour our enjoyment but it wouldn't be quite true. The air conditioning was on full blast to cater to what would normally be a bustling area but on the weekend, as much as the restaurant's customers filled the tables, it wasn't enough to take the edge off the chill of a winter's day.

Given our location and the busyness of the wait staff, we didn't have high expectations of the service but although it couldn't be called attentive, we were delivered all our dishes without too much of a delay and we had no major complaints.

Flavours of Peking, Castlecrag
To be found in the courtyard of the Castlecrag shopping centre, set back from the street, this popular dining spot was packed on the Saturday night we dined there. It has a private function room and whether the pace of the service was due to it being fairly busy or knowing that a 14 course banquet requires digestion to fit it all in, there was time to savour each dish with a decent break in between.
While the photos from this other shopping centre restaurant are a little more blurred due to low lighting even my camera couldn't cope with, there were some stand-out dishes.
Oh and if anyone takes exception to this, apologies for the photos of food in my bowl, one of the foibles of dining with your family vs other foodies is that they don't always follow the blog rules, i.e., no touching the food until the photographs are taken! Part of this is due to the tradition of serving your elders first.
Not sure of the official name of this dish but it's minced pork and vegetables wrapped in a crispy flaky pastry, not a dish that I had come across before but very tasty.
Stir fried rice noodles - not as filled with greens and containing egg.
Tea smoked duck - the stand-out dish from the night. It was tender, moist, lip-smackingly delicious and we took a doggy bag home and enjoyed it again the next day. Worth the trip to Castlecrag alone!
E-fu (hand made) noodles - traditionally stir fried with cabbage. Flavourful and al dente.

Pan fried dumplings - not as nicely presented but tasty just the same.
Hainan chicken - a good staple, tender but not raw.
Stir fried thick vermicelli with chicken & greens - another stand-out dish - al dente and not too salty.
Silver thread buns - didn't break up satisfyingly unlike the Chatswood version so not as much fun for the kiddies but a very fine bread all the same.
Soup infused dumpling - tasty, fine pastry and a good amount of soup.
That duck again!
Greens, standard but welcome after all that meat!

Shallot pancakes - more like shallot doughnuts than pancakes but an explosion of shallots compared with other versions - innovative but I'm not sure if it's preferable.
Jellied pig's ear - crunchy with a little spice, it's an acquired taste!
So what can we conclude from these two experiences? Good restaurants don't need to have prestigious locations, they just have to have great food!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What is a WAFFY CHOCCY !? - Chatswood

Now what sort of food would you expect from a cafe called Waffy Choccy? A wide and interesting range of waffle varieties? A menu based on Chocolatey flavours perhaps? Or simple toasted sandwiches, baked potatoes and Song Boo? Yes, of course you are right...the latter is the answer (!?!?!?!?!??!?!!). On my weekly quests through Chatswood to find something different for lunch, I came across Waffy Choccy in the base of an apartment building just near Chatswood station. The name made me stop in my tracks and I had to have a look. Waffy Choccy ? What exactly does that mean???? Its a tiny little glass fronted cafe, and as I approached, and even before I entered, the two ladies behind the counter were smiling broadly and asking me what I would like, or if they could explain anything. It seemed to be be popular enough, the few tables outside were full, and workmen ambled in and out for take away lunch, so I checked out the menu on the glassfront. I was confused, it took me a good 5 minutes to find the ONE waffle on the menu, I don't think I found ANYTHING Chocolate other than hot chocolate, so I was totally bamboozled by the cute and quirky name. The menu seemed quite unusual in its plain-ness, with one or two oddities, such as the song boo (iced red bean drink) that seemed a little pricey at $8.50. I settled on a baked jacket potato with vegetarian fillings. It wasn't quite what I expected (which was a huge, soft centred tatie with brown and crispy skin, oozing with toppings), was a bowl of neatly quarted jacked potatoes, an assortment of vegetables and beans on top, with a side of sour cream. Not quite what I expected, but nice enough albeit a little overpriced. It was a reasonably sized bowl, but strangely quite a light meal. Topped off with what the menu called an "iced lemon, lime and orange coffee". What the? I think it was part of the translation and was a huge shake glass full of crushed ice, with a refreshing luminous green (!) liquid in it. Tangy and refreshing, it had no traces of coffee (thank goodness) but wasn't entirely made from fresh juice I don't think. As we ate, lots of really nice looking toasted sandwiches passed our table, so I'm sure it is just a simple cafe with a few oddities, made totally appealing by the strange and wonderfully mad name and entertainingly translated menu. Waffy Choccy can be found at 1 Cambridge Lane Chatswood. 9410 1521. Definitely a funny experience, and with a name like Waffy Choccy, won't be forgotton quickly. I giggle each time I say it!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Now, I'd like to think I'm a bit of a foodie, but reality dictates that this love sometimes has to make way for other priorities. I find myself today with a weather forecast for another sunny winter's day, and a child absolutely bursting with energy and with his big sister at school, in need of a play mate. So, acting on some past recommendations, today is the day to make the trek down to Mona Vale and to check out the Flying Fox Cafe. You can find this incredibly popular eatery at the end of Mona Vale road, and a little to the left, inside the Winnererremy Bay Reserve. We went on a week day and the parking was easy. However, on the weekends I've heard it is beyond busy, so be warned. The reserve itself is in a beautiful location. Right on the bay, your eye is immediately drawn to the glistening water and the bobbing boats. Across the grass the Cafe is immediately recognisable by the huge coloured sails shading the larger than large play areas. Entering the gate you realise that along with the flying fox, there is two separate areas for play. One for smaller children, and the other for more adventurous older kids. The rope climbing tower is just screaming to be climbed, there is two "skateboards" on rail, that the most energetic of kids can stand on and by holding the bar at waist height, rock themselves along the track until you can't rock anymore (guess what the lad did?). Lots of colour and motion with assorted seating scattered about for the carers makes it great as a park in itself. At the back of this area is a modern pavillion with a covered eating area which houses the cafe and toilet block (a godsend at the park but not always a given). We had arrived just in time for morning tea, so we ordered a latte, chai, kids milkshakes, along with banana bread and a chocolate mousse. Sounds quite run-of-the-mill? Not so. The drinks were great quality and they really cater to the fact that lots of parents need to be on hand in the play area even though the cafe is just on the other side of the fence, so lids for coffees, and cardboard carry boxes are the norm for the food that gets taken away. We had a smaller child with us today, so no sitting down to relax, it was take away all the way! The cafe offers an all day menu and along with the cakes, muffins and wraps, you can also order burgers, beer battered flathead fillets, and other mouth watering feasts. The outdoor setting next to the bay is also a winner, so it would be a perfect place to enjoy a weekend brunch and just let the kids run free. Back to the food. The banana bread was large and thick, and drizzled enticingly with honey. Priced at about $7 I expected it to exceed expectation. It did. Today was the day I was to start my new lower fat food regime, but faced with the itty bitty DELICIOUS looking choccie mousse, I was never going to win that fight. So, giving in willingly, I bought one and realised after the first bite that even though it was small (about the size of a golf ball), it was incredibly rich and sumptious. The base was a disc of milk chocolate, on top of which was the perfectly dense chocolatey mousse, encased in a thin chocolate shell. Just thinking about it I want to revisit it (no wonder I'm in need of a low fat diet). After our snacks, we moved out of the gated area, and through a beautifully landscaped garden, with rock sculptures of sealife which kept the kids interested. We stopped for a bit of a play in a small sandpit area, and then wandered around along the waterside looking at the ducks and boats. I wouldn't say its a peaceful day out, the playground and popularity has made that impossible, but you can get away from it all and take some good food out onto the reserve and roll out your picnic rug whilst the kids dig along the waterline or just run free in the park. Flying Fox is a great day out, worth visiting for both food and activity, just beware on the weekends, I've heard the wait for coffee can be up to 1/2 hour. Flying Fox Cafe is at Winnererremy Bay, 2 Mona Street, Mona Vale 9986 0980. Happi Eating!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

BEZZINI - Chatswood

Chatswood is not a foodies paradise, which often surprises me. However, there is a few nice spots for eats amongst the towering office and apartment blocks to be found, if you look hard enough (or try enough of them!). One of the favourites of our office girls is Bezzini in Help Street. Essentially a weekday food source for hungry office workers, it springs to life early in the morning and by 5pm is well on its way to winding up business. However, instead of the usual suspects (and usually suspect taste and quality food in these cafes), it has a creative and tasty menu on offer with daily specials. As with most of the local cafe's they have an outdoor seating area which is preferable to the few tables inside as, due to the variety and quality of food on offer, it is extremely busy and gets quite loud and bustling inside and you can often find your elbow in an untoward place on a customer waiting in line! We chose a sunny spot out front, next to the neat garden, slightly elevated from street level, great for perking up a little after being inside an office all morning. We ordered inside, and the array of food on offer always is the hardest part. Lines of salads which change each day. Thick wholesome soups, home made pies with hugely puffy pastry lids, roll-up sandwiches with lashings of fillings, and their breakfast roles with eggs and bacon will fill any gap ! During our quick get-together (and it is to be noted they are quick to serve), we chose an assortment today including Bezzini fried rice which was a more than ample serve. Unfortunately, "B" was well into her meal before I managed to take a shot, so please disregard the "low tide" look about the bowl. It is a modern twist on the fried rice with quite a spicy element to it. As hungry as she was, B couldn't finish the lot, but enjoyed immensely. Super Sally enjoyed a thick and tasty leek and potato soup with toast which was the soup of the day. I can tell you not a lot was left of that one when it came time to leave! I had a huge spinach and fetta pastry, with a side salad of my choice. I had the pumpkin and fetta to keep with the theme. The helping was really quite generous, and I'm no slouch in the eating department so I was suprised that I only just managed to finish my plate! Caro had a nice array of salads including the pumpkin/fetta, a pasta and pesto variety as well as a greek salad. The bowl was huge, and I'm not sure with all that content, that it was the lower fat option, but again, delicious just the same. Lolly had one of the wraps, which was packed with greens and a tasty beef risole. There is many varieties of wraps including meat lover and vegetarian options. I've enjoyed the roast vegie combo in the past and it really hits the spot. Minnie was only joining us for a minute before racing off to a meeting so took the quick option of choccie and coffee - how very civilised! They also have a great range of little cakes and sweet things, if you do have room for any after you meal. Perhaps its better to pop in for morning tea and a cake, then have a later lunch to beat the crowds? Maybe I'll try that. All of these dishes and lunch specials are around the $10 mark or less so good value for the good food and good variety on offer. That, along with the happy and efficient servic makes it one of the better options for lunch time food in the Chatswood CBD. They also offer catering for office functions but so far we've made it down to the terrace for a quick and satisfying lunch. Happi Eating !

Thursday, August 13, 2009

CAFE SPLAT! Queenscliff

Cafe SPLAT..what can I say? What a great name ! A few weeks ago, I happily discovered Cafe Splat whilst on a jaunt to Manly with the kids. Parking is a nightmare down there, and this was a sunny 21 degree winters Sunday, so EVERY MAN and his DOG was out there soaking up the rays and as such there was little chance of parking ANYWHERE within coo-ee of Manly promenade. There was a few spots but it was limited to 2 hours which anyone with kids will know is not enough time to get the herd back to the car before the parking cops get you and on a day like this, with such an enticing stretch of promenade (we made it almost to Fairy Bower on scooters), we had buckley's and none of getting back within 2 hours (we ended up spending 5 hours down there just for the record). So, off I went to the northern end of the beach, and up the winding hills in search of an un-timed parking spot. Curving up Queenscliff road, I took a sharp right and came across a spot at the top of some stairs..perfect! No parking restrictions, and just a few steps down, and across a the Stuart Sommerville bridge and I was at the beach. As we circled the block, my head was turned by a cute corner cafe called SPLAT! Again, those with kids will understand that it isn't about you, it is ALL ABOUT THEM so even though I was BUSTING to get to Splat, I knew that with the water shimmering below us, and scooters eagerly at the ready, there was no blogging or latte-ing for mum today! I simply had to file it in the memory for later on. Happily I skipped down to the water and had a lovely day, and even saw dolphins playing up and down the beach so all was good with the world. 4 weeks later, with a lunch date cancelled, and another sunny winter's day on my hands, what else was I to do, but revisit Cafe Splat? With just the lad and myself to amuse, I knew I could work it so I got to get a nice hot brunch in before enjoying the park down at Manly Lagoon. The day was beautiful, perfect for our outing. I found a close parking spot, just around the corner from the cafe, so when the lad got cranky that I hadn't packed the bucket and spade, then I realised there was nothing left to do but go eat? We wandered in to the cafe, it was open, airy, light, easy going, cool music, nice staff (I think the man that served me was actually the owner after looking at their website). As the lad had his sad face on, there was no negotiating on what he wanted to order, so we took a seat outside, and looked down at the beach (I thought it wise to keep him segregated from other diners but really wanted to be inside as it was cosy and chilled out which was what I wanted to be at that moment). The owner took my cue and brought us a huge strawberry milkshake with an old-fashioned paper straw (more about that later), and my a chai latte. A bit of jolly-ing, and a menu, and we were left alone. The lad wouldn't give an inch, so I ordered a bit for me and something I knew he'd like. There is a great all day menu, which includes b.l.t, (the regular bacon, lettuce and tomato), b.l.a.t (add avo), and even b.l.e.a.t (with egg too!). All of their produce is local and fresh, organic and environmentall where possible, back to the paper straws. Whilst drinking the milkshake, the lad asked me "what is that mum?", it was just a paper straw, but I realised he hadn't ever seen anything but the regular brightly coloured plastic ones before. The owner explained to him that he liked to skin-dive and that he saw lots of plastic straws in the ocean, and the fish ate them and died, then other fish ate the dead fish and died too, so he decided never to have plastic straws in his cafe. The lad was totally intrigued with this idea and many questions ensued. Great, we were making headway with the big freeze. It came to ordering, and the lad still wouldn't budge, so I ordered two free-range poached eggs with ciabatta toast, a side of their award winning pumpkin and lentil sausages ( I ordered a side of one and was given two at no extra cost), and a potato cake. MMM, the poached eggs were tasty and done to perfection. Not too soft, not too hard. They really were just right. The lad pinched the toast, and tasted the potato cake which was less of a hash brown and more of a fantastically fresh herb ridden pattie. Again, YUM. The sausages were really tasty, not fatty and a bit peppery. I would have liked less pepper, but thats just because I love pumpkin and its soft taste. All in all, it was really delicious and healthier than many similar fry ups I have had in other cafes. I think the real philosophy here is healthy quality food, served in a relaxed atmosphere with a little humour thrown in. Feeding of the soul type of atmosphere? As we ate, we spotted some "interesting books" that were just inside the window. There were books on sea life that weren't just pretty kids books, but very informative as well as bright and interesting. Many more questions were thrown up by the lad, and this really was responsible for the big thaw, and by the time I'd polished off my latte, we were good to go! The owner and I had a quick chat about the change of attitude that had evolved during our brunch and decided it was a good result all 'round. We paid the $21.50 and away we went off down the steps to begin our days beach adventure. The cafe is small, and is in the ground floor of an older style red brick apartment block. It has those great bi-fold windows that allow the sea breezes to amble through, a surfboard hangs lazily above the counter, and the Bob Dylan was drifting around in the background. From every seat inside and out you can see the beach, and if you just want to just grab a coffee on your way down the hill you enjoy it on the custom built viewing bench out front and check out the surf as you enjoy your coffee. If you were stressed when you came in, you would be certain to be more relaxed when you left. The service was attentive, and with a quiet humour. If you visit the website you will get and idea of the vibe of the place. Warnings like "this place may have traces of nuts, they own it", and the lost and found section advising that anything left in the cafe that isn't the size, colour or taste of the owners, will be posted on the website! Love it. You are guaranteed of a happy experience, not just good food, but the whole feeling of wellbeing when you visit Cafe Splat. Found at 68a Queenscliff Road, Queenscliff 9905 0600, it is open 7 days, from 7.30 until 3.30ish (dependent on mood of the owners, weather and traffic!). Make it a must visit next time you are down Manly way, it is well worth it. Happi eating!